Category Archives: Climate change

Stunning NASA images of Victorian fires: why we are choking on smoke

Some stunning images that give you an idea of the scale of the fires we are currently experiencing in Victoria:


The paranoid tradition and climate change: where crisis, paranoia and politics collide

[See introduction here]

Why is it that people continue to believe Jews, international bankers and socialists are conspiring to destroy Western civilisation? And how is that those beliefs have become entwined with the climate change debate?

Some months ago I was struck by the thought we may be looking at a tradition within our culture that goes back centuries.

That at moments of crisis this tradition can exert a powerful influence on individuals and politics.

Indeed, I will be putting forward the following hypothesis:

Deeply embedded within political and cultural tradition is a parallel tradition of looking at the world in a very specific way. It divides the world into good and evil, and offers a universal explanation for events that satisfies the needs and prejudices of individuals. I call this the paranoid tradition.

It has its own rules of evidence and reasoning, its own rich history and litany of writers and thinkers who have shaped the course of conspiracy culture – and by extension “mainstream” culture.

We have ignored the paranoid tradition in politics, dismissing it because it is irrational to our scientific and “rational” world view. We dismiss the ideas as fringe, and their proponents as cranks. We call followers of the paranoid traditional ignorant and irrational.

But in doing so we have ignored its influence throughout history.

Indeed, look at the climate change debate and ask yourself how central have claims of conspiracies been to the sceptic world view?

So what is the paranoid tradition?

It is the intersection between individual and group psychology, political crisis and culture. These influences create and shape the paranoid tradition. For long periods of time the paranoid tradition it can be safely ignored. However in times of great crisis and profound social, social and political change it can exert an influence on politics and society.

The paranoid tradition within our culture has come alive once again in the climate debate.

The origins of the paranoid tradition

In the late 18th century politicians and ordinary individuals were gripped by the strange fear that the Illuminati and secret societies were behind the revolutions, banking crisis and wars of the period.

They argued there was a pattern behind all these events, and that there were groups looking to profit from the chaos and reshape the world.

Nearly three centuries later we once again find voices arguing that secret societies are behind the wars, banking crisis and climate crisis of today. They also argue there is a grand conspiracy in play, and that there are those working to both create and profit from chaos.

Cycles of paranoia and the shock of the new: climate change made the emergence of the paranoid tradition was inevitable

Looking back we can see the paranoid tradition breaks into the mainstream on 15-20 year cycles, profoundly influencing politics, culture and society.

I would argue the conspiracy laden world view of climate sceptics is merely a recent example of this “cycle of paranoia”.

This is why find it hard to accurately place the sceptics in their proper context.

Are they conservatives who simply fears change, or slaves to ideal of the free market? Do they believe what they say, or are they merely the paid hacks of fossil fuel interests. How did climate change become part of the culture war?

Given the epoch defining nature of climate change, a re-emergence of the paranoid tradition was inevitable.

If we look back we can see the paranoid tradition coming to life at pivotal points of history:

  • the millenarian craze of the 1990s that provoked a rash of apocalyptic conspiracies
  • the McCarthyism of the Cold War
  • the Nazi belief Arians and Jews were locked into a bitter fight for global dominance
  • the infamous Show Trials of the Soviet Union during the 1930s
  • fears of the Illuminati in the 18th and 19th centuries
  • the rich tradition of conspiracy beliefs held in Europe and the US in the 19th century.

As we go in history we see nearly each decade yielding a fresh bout of conspiracy mongering in response to the events of the day.

Consider the ideas being put forward by arch-conspiracy theorist Lord Christopher Monckton:

…the U.N.’s anti-irrigation, anti-pesticide, anti-farming, anti-business, anti-environment, anti-population, anti-human, anti-Western, anti-capitalist, anti-everything Agenda 21 program…

Monckton’s arguments are no different from the same claims put forward over two centuries ago. They’ve been updated to include climate change, but is the same narrative employed by conspiracy theorists for centuries.

I would argue that during moments of crisis that the paranoid tradition flourishes, escaping the political and cultural fringes.

Because of the political and societal crisis climate change is creating, it was inevitable paranoid tradition would once more come to life.

Drivers of the paranoid tradition: the influence of psychology, political crisis and culture

We struggle to find explanations for the strange views of conspiracy theories and the sudden popularity of their ideas.

Are these views the product of a form of psychosis or weird psychological ticks? Does religion play a part?

Do the inbuilt cognitive biases we all possesses somehow shape the world view of a conspiracy theorist?

To all of this, I would say yes.

But it is the intersection between individual and group psychology, political crisis and culture that creates and shapes the paranoid tradition.

It is this fusion of events, human nature and crisis that Age of Paranoia that I’m hoping to explore.

Many thanks for your thoughts and comments on this topic.

Mike @ WtD

Back next week!

My much-needed sabbatical is over. I’ll be back writing and blogging next week.

In the first couple of posts I’ll sketch out what to expect from WtD this year.

Shorter version: I’ve decided to pay far less attention to refuting every argument or nonsense claim put forward by the sceptics movement.

Enough time and energy has been spent on the sceptics. I’m hoping to take a much broader view of the issue of climate change, our collective failure to address the challenge and the urgent necessity to start adapting to a much hotter world.

I hope the content will be interesting, challenging and – by necessity – controversial.

Thanks for you patience and the continued visits to the blog.

Mike @ WtD

Back in 2014

Dear all,

I’ve had a small break in writing and blogging during the rush to Christmas, as both work and life can get very busy.

However WtD will be back in 2014 in early January.

Til then, have a safe holiday.


Open thread – November

News, view and (civil) debate.

“To anyone who continues to deny climate change… pay a visit to the Philippines right now”

The devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan is both staggering in scope and heart breaking. At least 10,000 people have been killed, while millions have been displaced. Food and water is in short supply. There have been reports of wide-spread looting and shell-shocked survivors staggering across a devastated landscape “like zombies”.

There is little point in engaging in the sterile debate over whether or not to attribute this monster storm to climate change. Studies predict storms will become stronger as the globe warms:

“…future projections based on theory and high-resolution dynamical models consistently indicate that greenhouse warming will cause the globally averaged intensity of tropical cyclones to shift towards stronger storms, with intensity increases of 2–11% by 2100. Existing modelling studies also consistently project decreases in the globally averaged frequency of tropical cyclones, by 6–34%. Balanced against this, higher resolution modelling studies typically project substantial increases in the frequency of the most intense cyclones, and increases of the order of 20% in the precipitation rate within 100 km of the storm centre…” – Tropical cyclones and climate change, Nature Geoscience 3, 157 – 163 (2010)

Storms like Haiyan are what we can expect.

To those denying the seriousness of climate change, attempts to link the events in the Philippines with the well understood science are anathema. Apparently drawing a connection between unprecedented weather extremes and climate change is “insensitive” to the victims and politicises human tragedy.

Thus in typical fashion, the Murdoch owned Herald Sun (home to arch denier Andrew Bolt) rails against anyone who dares suggest there is a connection:

First it was Greens MP Adam Bandt who foolishly tried to somehow make Prime Minister Tony Abbott responsible — because of his government’s climate change policy — for the recent bushfire tragedy in New South Wales.

Now, as the Herald Sun reveals today, Greens Senator Richard Di Natale has drawn a link between the devastating Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and the Federal Government’s plans to axe the carbon tax.

“You’ve got record storms in the Philippines and now you’ve got record stupidity from Tony Abbott, who’s basically going to unwind some of the world’s most ambitious and important climate change legislation,” Di Natale told the Herald Sun’s Phillip Hudson.

He then accused Mr Abbott of making no sense at all by taking an anti-science stance on climate change.

What is really stupid and makes no sense is this repeated use by the Greens of death and destruction to try to gain political advantage.

It is to be hoped Australians of all political persuasions see this unsavoury tactic for what it is — cheap opportunism of the sort to be deplored.

Bandt was wrong to make the link last month and Di Natale was misguided in following Bandt’s lead yesterday.

They both deserve our widespread condemnation for their ridiculously insensitive and hurtful statements.

Clearly the Greens are ideologues who will use any human tragedy, no matter how large the loss of life and property, for their own selfish political ends.

To silence those making a connection is a political act. The very last thing sceptics want is the public drawing connections between extreme weather events, climate change and the inadequecy of Tony Abbott’s laughable “direct action plan” (or more broad scale policy failures).

Perhaps the editor of the Herald Sun should pay attention to the words just spoken by the Philippine representative, Yeb Sano, at the latest round of climate change negotiations in Warsaw:

To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of you armchair. I dare you to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels; to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and the Andes to see communities confronting glacial floods, to the Arctic where communities grapple with the fast dwindling polar ice caps, to the large deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon, and the Nile where lives and livelihoods are drowned, to the hills of Central America that confronts similar monstrous hurricanes, to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water becomes scarce. Not to forget the massive hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard of North America. And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.

Sano wept as he described the devastation.

He also made clear the link between climate change and Haiyan:

“The science has given us a picture that has become much more in focus. The IPCC report on climate change and extreme events underscored the risks associated with changes in the patterns as well as frequency of extreme weather events. Science tells us that simply, climate change will mean more intense tropical storms. As the Earth warms up, that would include the oceans. The energy that is stored in the waters off the Philippines will increase the intensity of typhoons and the trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm.”

Sano pleads for the world to “end the madness”:

“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.”

We await the condemnation of Sano by the editors of the Herald Sun for making the link between climate change and the deaths of tens of thousands of his fellow citizens.

Let them call Mr. Sano an oppurtunist for begging the world to take serious action.

Or perhaps the editors of the Herald Sun should take up Mr. Sano’s invitation and get out of their ivory tower and see first hand the devastating impacts of climate change.

Back this week

Thanks for you patience guys, I’ve finally got over that rather nasty virus. Needed a few weeks to fully recover – posts resume tomorrow.

Open thread

Open thread for a few days, I’ve come down with a rather nasty virus!

#GregHuntResearch takes off: twitter meme that parodies Enviro Minister Greg Hunt

Environment Minister Grey Hunt’s attempts to dismiss the connection between climate change and the NSW fires by citing the Wikipedia has generated laughs around the world.

#GregHuntReserach has been generating all kinds of mirth:

Jump in and have fun, but do keep it civil and refrain from personal insults.

Satire is fine, but abuse isn’t.

Deers in headlights: Abbott’s government of “grownups” losing control of climate change narrative


To the horror of the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Environment Minister Greg Hunt and the conservative media, everyone is talking about climate change.

If only they’d shut up about it!

Maybe it is folly to try and stop people talking about climate change when significant parts of the country are burning in early spring. Reality, unlike a compliant and supportive News Corp journalist, is not in the business of denying global warming.

And yet it was supposed to be easy for Tony Abbott once he’d parked himself in the big chair.

All he had to do these past three years was run a great big scare campaign against the great big tax. Who would have thought the tricky part would come after taking government?

Mr. Abbott seems to have assumed that simply warming the chair of his predecessors would magically fix things to his liking. The nightmare years of Labor in government and the inconvenience of having to do anything about climate change would be magically wiped away.

Repeal this, slash that and hey presto we’re back to Howard’s glory years.

But what exactly Abbott is doing in government is anyone’s guess. Outside of repealing legislation, dumbing down the NBN, jumping on a fire truck for a spot of back burning and cutting the Climate Commission there doesn’t seem to be much of that “vision thing”.

However to his increasing frustration, the more people talk about the connection between the fires and global warming, the more the Abbott’s agenda to scrap the carbon tax comes under scrutiny.

What’s a PM sceptical of climate change to do?

Well, if you’re Mr. Abbott you’re desperate to stop people talking about “it”. And by “it” I mean the reality of climate change.

Thus we owe Adam Bandt a great deal of gratitude for daring to suggest a link between the NSW fires and the badly conceived and ineffective Direct Action Plan.

What Bandt did what was both brave and necessary. He made explicit the obvious link between the fires and global warming. He also drew attention to the incongruous situation of the government tearing down Australia’s response to climate change as some of the worst fires seen in NSW history ravage the state. Here merely pointed what folly such actions are.

Did I also mention we’ve seen the hottest day, hottest month and hottest year on record during these past 12 months? And that we’re due for a horror fire season? Gosh, it’s almost like there is a link.

Thus, when highly placed UN official Christiana Figueres also drew the same connection to the unpredicted scale of the fires and questioned the government’s plans, she drew the ire of the PM:

Mr Abbott batted away the comments on Wednesday, saying that Australia had had ”bad fires” since the beginning of European settlement.

”Well I think the official in question is talking through her hat, if I may say so,” he told Fairfax Radio.

”Climate change is real as I’ve often said and we should take strong action against it. But these fires are certainly not a function of climate change, they’re a function of life in Australia.”

It is patently clear the government is losing control of the climate change narrative.

In fact it is getting impossible to wave away peoples concern about the issue, especially during extreme weather events. Over the next few years the Abbott government is going to find the politics of climate change even trickier to manage as incidents such as the NSW fires happen with greater frequency and ferocity.

Climate change will define this government.

So far it looks like Abbott & Co are floundering badly. On this and a range of other issues the government is looking out of touch and ill equipped to manage the act of governing Australia in the 21st century.

Wasn’t this supposed to be a government of grownups?

Then why do I get the impression they’re more like a bunch of timid deers caught in headlights, transfixed by the oh-so-shiny-but-dangerous-glare of forces greater than them?

Rather than embracing challenges as grownups should, the response of Abbott & Co is to stay in denial, attempt to shut others up and pretend the problem will go away. In the long run this strategy is bound to fail.

Still, along the way we’re promised many fine and amusing incidents as senior members of the Abbott government try wave the issue of climate change away.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt was in especially fine form today, dismissing the connection between global warming and the fires by doing (wait for it) a quick scan of Wikipedia:

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has hosed down suggestions of a link between climate change and increased bushfire intensity, saying he had ”looked up what Wikipedia” said and it was clear that bushfires in Australia were frequent events that had occurred during hotter months since before European settlement.

Given he has access to experts at the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian scientific community, Mr. Hunt seems satisfied with a quick Google search.

And yet somehow such a person managed to get elected to high office?

Grownups eh?

Deers in headlights.



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