Category Archives: Conspiracy theories

Carbon tax is socialism: Tony Abbott’s great big conspiracy theory


In case there was any doubt Prime Minister Abbott shares the same conspiracy driven world view of the more extreme elements of the climate sceptic movement, his recent speech to the Tasmanian Liberal Party Conference makes it clear (ABC reports):

Mr Abbott also said the carbon tax was a socialist policy in disguise. 

“Let’s be under no illusions the carbon tax was socialism masquerading as environmentalism,” he said. 

“That’s what the carbon tax was.”

This claim is straight from the New-World-Order playbook of paranoia.

Equating environmentalism with a global plot to take over the world via concerns about climate change is often referred to as the “watermelon theory”. It has been a staple of right-wing conspiracy culture for almost two decades. And it seems our Prime Minister is happy to share his paranoia in like-minded company.

In Battlelines Abbott hints at his belief in this great-big-conspiracy:

“For many, reducing emissions is a means to achieving a political objective they could not otherwise gain.” [page 171]

So – according to our Prime Minister a market based mechanism as represented by the emissions trading scheme is “socialism”. And yet supposed to we’re accept the Direct Action Plan, which plays polluters using the public purse, is the epitome of free market.

In retrospect, Abbott becoming Prime Minister is not such a bad thing – the lack of scrutiny that was missing in media during these past few years is dissipating. The world’s eyes are on the PM, and we’re getting a far better understanding of how Abbott sees the world.

[Hat tip Tim @ New Anthropocene]

The Law of Denial and Prime Godwins; in the climate debate, the probability of conspiracy theories being invoked is one

Between work and study, I’ve taken the time to jump into a recent debate on The Conversation. The article itself is worth reading, as it discusses science education and climate change in the classroom.

Of course the moment climate change is discussed in any context sceptics begin peppering the discussion with misinformation. Like a swarm of irritating and persistent gnats, they arrive to disrupt the conversation and seed disinformation.

However it was fascinating to see one troll jump into the conversation and instantly invoke Godwin’s Law:

A good argument for home schooling! And opposing any federal ideological rubbish on climate change. The science is still undecided, fast fading from view due to a number of factors, and highly controversial. Climate change is possibly the most compromised perversion of science ever perpetrated. A parallel is the indoctrination under Nazi Germany. Almost a form of child abuse!

For those who don’t know Godwin’s Law:

Godwin’s law (also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies) is an assertion made by Mike Godwin in 1990 that has become an Internet adage. It states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, Godwin said that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis.

Very shortly this same troll invoked not only Godwin’s Law for a second time but explicitly linked the Nazi’s with the “Green Agenda”, the IPCC and Agenda 21:

There is a lot of ignorance of the history of philosophy here. Heidegger (prominent Nazi philosopher) was one of the forerunners of the deep ecology movement and the desire to return to a romantic past. It was essentially a philosophy that longed for a return to a mythical pre-technological past, very much like that desired by the IPCC and their Agenda 21. So I’m not that far off the mark!

I think we’ve seen a variation of Godwin’s Law emerge.

And with more than a hint of self-indulgence I’m going to call it WTD’s Law (or The Deniers Law; or The Law of Denial):

In any online conversation related to climate change the probability of conspiracy theories, political/religious orthodoxy and totalitarian regimes being invoked is 1.

Sceptics will jump in and make conspiracy claims at the beginning, middle and end of the conversation. Whereas under Godwin’s Law online conversations inevitably produce a comparison to Hitler, in the climate debate one expects such claims to be made immediately and throughout the conversation.

Go have a look at any conversation on the internet regarding climate change.

I think I’m correct in this assertion.

A Prime Godwin

In discussions with some others in the same thread we decided we’d witnessed a variation of Godwin’s Law. The troll/poster instantly jumped to Hitler and the Nazi’s.

“Instant Godwin” was suggested, however I think a better term is Prime Godwin:

When your first and last argument is HITLER you are engaged in invoking a Prime Godwin.

Let me know your thoughts.

[Hat tip Felix MacNiell for helping me refine The Law of Denial. ]

Conspiracy nation: 37% Americans think climate change a hoax; 30% fear a New World Order; 27% think Obama is the anti-Christ


The prevalence of conspiracy theories within a society or nation can have a profound effect on its politics. Indeed for the last several decades scholars of conspiracy culture have been signalling the growing acceptance of conspiracy beliefs across the globe and their potential to distort political debate.

As Kathryn Olmsted notes in her work, Real Enemies: conspiracy theories and American democracy from World War 1 to 9/11the prevalence of conspiracy theories can lead the ordinary citizen to become:

“… less likely to trust the government to do anything: to conduct fair elections, say, or spend their tax money, or protect their children or the planet. The result is a profoundly weakened polity, with fewer citizens voting and more problems left un-addressed for a future generation that is even more cynical about the possibility of reforms.’ (page 238)

And while there has been a growing acceptance of conspiracy theories, there are some that are particular to what is called American “New Right”.  There can be no doubt they have been influencing the tone of political debate within the United States (even spilling over into Australia and across the globe thanks to the Internet).

George Johnson in his text Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia on American Politics notes the New Right emerged in opposition to liberalism and the perceived incursion of the state beyond what was necessary: 

“Since the 1970s, New Right leaders have been building a well-organised political force whose members are motivated by the conviction that their beliefs are rooted in the absolute truth of the Bible or in old-fashioned American morality based on individualism and laissez-faire capitalism.” (page 163)

[For a brief overview of the New Right, start with the Wikipedia article; see also a the history of conservatism in the United States.]

For some time I have argued we should stop viewing climate change sceptic movement as simply a tool of big oil. We should also stop viewing climate sceptics as cynical shills, funded by the polluting industries to prop up their bottom lines for as long as possible by delaying action on climate change.

Most sceptics are genuine in their belief climate change does not exist . For many evidence exists of a vast, overarching hoax involving scientists, the UN and even international bankers. Nor did they simply come these conclusions themselves: much of this conspiratorial thinking has come from the New Right and were formulated decades ago.

A recent survey conducted Public Policy Polling in the United States lends weight to this argument.

Conspiracy nation: fear of the coming New World Order, Obama the anti-Christ and climate change as a hoax

Recently the group Public Policy Polling (PPP) looked at 20 “widespread and/or infamous conspiracy theories” and surveyed their acceptance or rejection by >1240 registered Republican and Democrat voters.

The results were telling, as far greater number of Republican/conservatives held conspiratorial beliefs. Here are some of the numbers (see the full survey here):

  • 37% believed global warming a hoax while 51% don’t – Republicans a 58-25 margin; Democrats a 11-77 margin
  • 21% of voters say a UFO crashed in Roswell – More Romney voters (27%) did so than Obama voters (16%)
  • 28% of voters believed a “secretive power elite” where planning a New World Order – 38% of Romney voters feared the NWO
  • 27% believed Obama was the Anti-Christ – 22% of Romney voters believed that and – would who believe it – 5% of Obama voters?

On a few issues Democrats and Republicans were roughly equal (19% of Democrats believed vaccines caused autism, as opposed to 22% of Republicans). As they note:

“There is an intense partisan divide on whether or not global warming is a hoax: 58% of Republicans agree that it is a conspiracy, while 77% of Democrats disagree. 20% of Republicans believe that President Obama is the Anti-Christ, compared to 13% of independents and 6% of Democrats who agree. 51% of Americans believe there was a larger conspiracy at work in the JFK assassination, while 25% think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. 29% believe aliens exist and 21% believe a UFO crashed at Roswell in 1947…” – Public Policy Polling

In nearly every conspiracy theory, Romney/Republican supporters seemed to be more readily accepting of conspiracy theories. The question is why?

Much of this I think has to do with the history of conservatism in the United States and the emergence of the New Right in the 1970s.

From the New Right to climate sceptics movement: the lineage is plain to see

The climate sceptic movement is but one subset of a broader movement whose agenda includes the propagation of libertarian values, advocacy for limited government, conservative or explicitly Christian morality and the free market: the New Right.

Fears of a New World Order emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, but were particular to the Evangelical movement from the 1970s onward. Militia groups also feared the coming NWO, and there was a great deal of cross-over between these two groups, as they exchanged ideas about who was behind the NWO – usually a mixture of the UN, bankers and communists.

While the fossil fuel lobby helped seed the climate sceptic movement (pace Oreskes and ConwayWashington and Cook) it’s true heritage lies with the emergence of the New Right and its tendency to accept and propagate conspiracy theories.

The results of this can be seen in the PPP survey results and the clustering of conspiracy beliefs among Republican/conservatives. This is why political debates – not just in the US – but across the world are becoming intractable.

If you’re primed over decades of conspiratorial thinking and paranoia about a coming NWO, then the idea that climate change is a hoax will come naturally. Indeed, these two ideas are often folded together. 

If climate change is a hoax perpetrated by that Anti-Christ Obama in collusion with New World Order types about to herd you into a FEMA concentration camp, why do anything?

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Toxic legacies: Malcolm Roberts, his CSIROh! report and the anti-Semitic roots of the “international bankers” conspiracy theory


Conspiracy theories for sceptics?

According to parts of the climate sceptic movement, the world is not as it seems.

The CSIRO is a tool of international bankers, who over the past century have also orchestrated every major financial boom and bust since 1913. The United Nations was created at the urging of international bankers, who are using it as a vehicle to usher in a New World Order.

The Rockefeller and Rothschild families have been working behind the scenes for centuries manipulating events. These same banking families instigated both the First and Second World War in order to profit from the chaos. Every Australian Prime Minister of the post-War period – except John Howard – was a Fabian-socialist-Manchurian candidate.

Or so claims Malcolm Roberts, project manager for the Alan Jones sponsored Galileo Movement .

In early February Roberts published a report titled CSIROh! Climate of deception? Or first step to freedom? (CSIROh!). I would point readers to Graham Readfearn’s brilliant post detailing Robert’s activities and his strange exchange with Sydney Morning Herald journalist Ben Cubby.

CSIROh! is only 25 pages in length, however it is accompanied by 30 frenzied, barely comprehensible and obsessively detailed appendices.

Roberts has distributed electronic and hard copies of his report to politicians, journalists and scientists across Australia. Those lucky enough to receive the fruits of Robert’s research include David Karoly, Tim Flannery and Ross Garnaut. Many prominent members of the media have also received his report: Andrew Bolt was on the distribution list, as well as many ABC and Fairfax journalists.

The patron of the Galileo Movement Alan Jones also received CSIROh! Indeed, in an email dated 8 February 2013 Jones thanked Roberts for his report, calling him a “magnificent” worker. We know this because Roberts published the email from Jones on his website.

What is going on here?

Background: the perceived antisemitism of Roberts conspiracy theories

For those readers not familiar with Roberts, he is the project manager for the climate sceptic group the Galileo Movement. The mission of the Galileo Movement is to see the “carbon tax” repealed and to cast doubt on the science of climate change.

Last year in an interview with Sydney Morning Journalist Ben Cubby Roberts claimed a cabal of international bankers were behind the climate change “scam”. This revelation ultimately lead to conservative columnist Andrew Bolt repudiating both Roberts and the Galileo Movement due to the implied whiff of antisemitism of his claims.

Since then Roberts has clearly been smarting, and in CSIROh! he attempts to set the record straight and vindicate his claims.

However, CSIROh! is not an ordinary report. In it Roberts creates an alternative history of the world, in which the Rockefeller’s and Rothschild’s have been working behind the scenes to wreck and profit from financial chaos, incite major wars and build the foundations of a tyrannical world government.

The international bankers conspiracy to control the world

Most of CSIROh! and its supporting documents contain the usual dross generated by the climate sceptic movement: CO2 is not a pollutant, the globe stopped warming etc. There is little need to review these claims as they are easily debunked.

But it is not his attacks on the science we should be concerned about: it is the motivations he ascribes to the dark satanic forces allegedly behind the entire “scam”.

The most telling document is Appendix No. 14 titled Why? Motives driving the climatefraud (Why?). In it Roberts makes the following claim:

The UN’s forty-year campaign fabricating climate fraud used strategies and tactics proven 100 years ago. They’re similar to those used by international bankers in their thirty-year campaign from the 1880’s to gain control of the USA’s money supply, finances and economy. Their campaign succeeded in forming the USA’s Federal Reserve Bank in 1913.”

In this document Robert sketches out the links between the CSIRO, international bankers, the IPCC and every government, financial and non-government organisation (NGO) in existence today:

Such power is extended through the bankers’ global creations including the Bank for International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Through these the European-American banking alliance controls global finances. The alliance’s global organisations dictate to other nations outside America and Europe, including Australia. (Why? pg.13)

This is conspiracy theorizing on an epic scale. Indeed, Roberts rewrites the entire history of the world since the late 19th century. Presidents and Prime Ministers have either colluded or been manipulated by the international bankers:

Both Woodrow Wilson and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt benefitted from support from this cabal of narrow financial and political interests. Woodrow Wilson later regretted his reliance on their favours and entrapment into doing their bidding under their control.” (Why? pg.14)

According to Roberts the international bankers have manipulated every financial boom and bust since 1913:

With this tight and complete control over national economies the international bankers have used their power to create every boom and every bust since 1913. They have wreaked havoc and misery on millions and now billions of people. In every boom and every bust they have profited enormously. They do so at the expense of the people.” (Why? pg.15)

Roberts also taps into problematic tropes about Jewish banking families:

“…as a result of deceit over many years involving secret meetings led by prominent German bankers colluding with the influential Texan Colonel Edward Mandel House, congress delegated it to a group who they did not fully understand: a group of European and American bankers. The alliance featured Germany’s Warburgs and London’s Rothschild’s. Passage through congress of The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was achieved when many congressmen were absent prior to their Christmas break. The President at the time was Woodrow Wilson who owed bankers a favour for funding his 1912 electioncampaign.” (Why? pg.16)

Ah yes, the Rothschild’s.

Not content with taking over the globe via financial means, Roberts claims the Rothschild family and other international banking families have corrupted the American education system in order to create a subservient class of serfs – or sheeple in conspiracy language:

In The Underground History of American Education (2000), educator John Taylor Gatto traces how Rockefeller, Morgan and other members of the financial elite influenced, guided, funded, and at times forced compulsory schooling into mainstream America. They needed three things for their corporate interests to thrive: (1) compliant employees, (2) a guaranteed and dependent population, and (3) a predictable business environment. It was largely to promote these ends, says Gatto, that modern compulsory schooling was established.” (Why? pg.17)

Roberts also recycles some of the most shameful myths of the last century, that international bankers were behind the world wars and profited from them:

Increasingly investigators and historians are discovering that international bankers played a major and highly destructive role in initiating and benefitting from wars, genocide and devastation in the twentieth century. The century was mankind’s bloodiest with more deaths than in all preceding centuries.International bankers own major armament manufacturers and made fat profits financing both sides in World War 1 and again in World War 2.” (Why? pg.54)

The same bankers are also behind communism:

As Anthony Sutton, Gary Allen, Ellen Brown and others have revealed, international bankers funded, enabled and drove communism.” (Why? pg.58)

Putting aside the absurdity of his claims, Roberts has done us all an enormous favour by citing his references. At the very least it gives us the opportunity to evaluate his claims based upon the evidence he presents.

Indeed, reading through Roberts turgid conspiracy theory is beneficial as he cites the texts, articles and YouTube videos that inform his world view.

And what a read it is. Roberts synthesizes nearly every conspiracy theory and canonical text of conspiracy culture from the last 100 years. No conspiracy stone is left unturned by Roberts in his monomaniacal pursuit of “the truth” – or at least, his version of it.

Most disturbingly he uses one most notorious antisemitic texts of the 20th century to buttress his arguments.

Roberts and The Secrets of the Federal Reserve by Eustace Mullins

Roberts has repeatedly claimed he is not antisemitic – we should accept his claim on face value. Thus I do not claim Roberts is anti-Semitic.

However, throughout Why? Motives driving the climate fraud Roberts quotes The Secrets of the Federal Reserve by Eustace Mullins as an important source that underpins his arguments:

The cabal of international bankers wield massive financial power across industries internationally. They control all three American TV networks through direct ownership and/or through cross-directorships. They own the major and most influential American newspapers. They own many of America’s major corporations and control others through cross-directorships. Please refer to references by Gary Allen and Eustace Mullins above and to the book entitled The True Story of the Bilderberg Group by Canadian investigative reporter Daniel Estulin.” (Why? pg.16)

Next to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Secrets of the Federal Reserve is one of the most notorious antisemitic texts of the twentieth century.

More than likely Roberts has weaved together a vast array of conspiracy literature, real world facts and the hackneyed plots of B-grade thrillers and fused them into CSIROh! and its 30 appendices.

This is how conspiracy theorists work – they are completely indiscriminate in their use of materials, often ignorant of their historical context of sources.

Roberts may not be a bigot, but he is clearly a fool when it comes to basic historical research and evaluating source materials. It is why he is unable to correctly read the intent of tone of works such as The Secrets of the Federal Reserve. Indeed, Roberts appears completely tone-deaf to the blatant antisemitism of Mullins work – who by the way was completely open about his prejudices.

This explains why Andrew Bolt ran a mile from the likes of Roberts and the Galileo Movement: Bolt may be a dunce on the science, but he is not an idiot.

However, as stated context is important. Thus, what follows is an examination of the historical context of the claims of Roberts and the sources he draws upon.

Toxic legacy: international bankers and antisemitic roots of the Federal Reserve conspiracy theory

As I noted last year, the Federal Reserve conspiracy theory originated in the early to mid-twentieth century. Indeed, I speculated that the likes of Roberts were drawing upon texts such as Secrets of the Federal Reserve. Roberts confirms my initial hypothesis.

Until 1945 such claims were the staple of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. After the Second World War and the Holocaust such overt antisemitism was impossible due to its association with the barbaric crimes of the Third Reich. Later incarnations of the Federal Reserve conspiracy theory have shed their overtly antisemitic overtones, however to this day it remains popular among the extreme right and conspiracy crowd.

The earliest manifestations of this claim first surfaced in early 1920′s in the writings of Henry Ford. Ford – yes the Ford of Model T fame – was notorious for his antisemitism, publishing his rants and material from Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the weekly newspaper he owned, The Dearborn Independent.

In 1921 Ford published an article titled Jewish Idea Molded Federal Reserve System in which he claimed:

The Federal Reserve System is a system of private banks, the creation of a banking aristocracy within an already existing autocracy, whereby a great proportion of banking independence was lost, and whereby it was made possible for speculative financiers to centralize great sums of money for their own purposes, beneficial or not.” (Henry Ford, The International Jew, pg. 361)

And that:

Certainly enough has transpired to render it desirable that the American people look again into the purposes of those Jews who were instrumental in reorganizing our financial system at a most critical time in the world’s history.” (Henry Ford, The International Jew, pg. 371)

As prominent conspiracy scholars Chip Berlet and Mathew Lyons note in their work Right-wing populism in America: too close for comfort, this theory was prevalent in the 1930s:

The overt British-Jewish conspiracy theory continues to be pursued in many publications, based primarily on tracts “written by British fascists in the 1930s, according to Denis King… The most energetic purveyor of this theme is Eustace Mullins, the antisemitic author of the 1952 book Mullins on the Federal Reserve and the 1954 book The Federal Reserve conspiracy. Mullins writes in two styles, one ostensibly focusing on banking practices, the other expressing open and vicious antisemitism.” (Berlet & Lyons, Right-wing populism in America pg. 195)

Mullins took the conspiracy ball and ran with it: to this day his work remains influential.

Old wine in a new bottle: repackaging old conspiracy theories

Move forward to the early 1950s, and the immediate post-War period.

The Cold War is heating up, while McCarthyism and “Reds-under-the-bed” paranoia is gripping large sections of the American public and political elite.

The genesis of contemporary conspiracy culture took place in the period between 1950-1960. Conspiracy theorists not only feared communists, but the United Nations as a precursor of a coming one world government. Many of the motifs used in conspiracy culture today were germinated in this intense period of Cold-War conflict and paranoia, including ideas about the New World Order, banking conspiracies, secretive Communist plots and that the US Government itself had been infiltrated and held captive by demonic forces.

During this period conspiracy theorists started to examine the works of Ford and other conspiracy theorists of the pre-War period and re-purpose their theories. In order to make them more palatable to a post-War audience they shed the overt references to Jews and replaced them with references to international bankers.

Into this intense political environment comes Library of Congress researcher, one time helper of Senator Joseph McCarthy and anti-Semite Eustace Mullins.

[Note: For further background see this 2012 WtD post on some of the materials being created in the 1950s and 1960s by conspiracy theorists.]

Mullins and the Federal Reserve

Mullins, born in Virginia in 1899, served in the armed forces during the Second World War and obtained a number of college degrees. In 1950 he became a researcher at the Library of Congress and worked with Senator Joseph McCarthy in investigating the sources of funding for the Communist Party.

Prior to this Mullins became intrigued with and befriended the poet Ezra Pound. Pound is one of the great poets of the twentieth century, but he was also an anti-Semite and turned to fascism during the 1920s.

In 1924 Pound decamped to Italy and became infatuated with fascism and Mussolini’s regime. During the war Pound broadcast on Rome Radio in support of the Axis war effort. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the war in 1945 Pound was arrested for treason by the US government.

In 1949 (seriously, are you following this?) Mullins decides to visit Pound in an insane asylum where the latter is being incarcerated and they strike up a friendship. Pound then sets Mullins off to research the Federal Reserve. Mullins details the event himself;

In 1949, while I was visiting Ezra Pound who was a political prisoner at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, D.C. (a Federal institution for the insane), Dr. Pound asked me if I had ever heard of the Federal Reserve System. I replied that I had not, as of the age of 25. He then showed me a ten-dollar bill marked “Federal Reserve Note” and asked me if I would do some research at the Library of Congress on the Federal Reserve System which had issued this bill. Pound was unable to go to the Library himself, as he was being held without trial as a political prisoner by the United States government. After he was denied broadcasting time in the U.S., Dr. Pound broadcast from Italy in an effort to persuade people of the United States not to enter World War II. Franklin D. Roosevelt had personally ordered Pound’s indictment.” (Mullins, Secrets of the Federal Reserve)

Mullins tootles off to research the Fed and Pound’s claims, and voila, in 1952 produces the book that becomes Secrets of the Federal Reserve. As Wikipedia explains:

Like Pound, he had sympathy for Fascism, because of its apparent anti-Usury and anti-Communist measures, though he later withdrew that sympathy, as he came to believe that without the Nazis, Zionism would never have been a powerful force, and that the Nazis were puppets of Jewish bankers, specifically Max Warburg, who he claimed financed them to build up the Nazi war machine, as well as the leaders of the J. Henry Schroeder Bank, who were facilitated by the Dulles brothers, and that Nazi opposition to these bankers, insofar as it went beyond rhetoric, occurred only well after they had ascended to power. In his book Secrets of the Federal Reserve, he also claimed that World War One was contrived and managed by a triumvirate consisting of Paul Warburg, Bernard Baruch, Eugene Meyer, and to a lesser extent, the leaders of Morgan banks, in the United States, and men like Max Warburg in Germany, so that they might increase their profit and power.” (Wikipedia)

Secrets of the Federal Reserve is riddled with anti-Semitic claims and freely borrows from the work of Henry Ford (the full text of it can be seen here) and other pre-War anti-Semitic literature.

Mullins text is freely floating around the internet, a favorite of conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, neo-Fascists and the like. It is worth noting that Mullins also denied the Holocaust, and stated America owed Hitler a favor for instigating the Nazi “war” on Jews:

America will never forget that the Jewish International bankers, together with Franklin D.Roosevelt, their tool, led us into World War II. Why? Because Hitler drove the economic leeches of the Rothschild and Warburg families out of Germany. The Jewish “refugees”poured into America and enlisted us as cannon fodder and errand boys in Europe. Hitler warned America in 1945, that we would have to face the ultimate battle against the Jewish Frankenstein Monster of Communism alone. America had helped created the monster, now it would destroy her…” (Mullins, Hitler an appreciation)

This brings us back to today – and the conspiracy theories of Roberts in CSIROh! His work is peppered with the same claims about the Warburg and Rothschild families working behind the scenes:

Yet as a result of deceit over many years involving secret meetings led by prominent German bankers colluding with the influential Texan Colonel Edward Mandel House, congress delegated it to a group who they did not fully understand: a group of European and American bankers. The alliance featured Germany’s Warburgs and London’s Rothschilds. Passage through congress of The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was achieved when many congressmen were absent prior to their Christmas break. The President at the time was Woodrow Wilson who owed bankers a favour for funding his 1912 election campaign. (Why? pg.16)”

Roberts absorbs and retells the conspiracy narrative of Mullins.

Roberts other influences: Gary Allen and the New World Order

Simular claims can also be found in the work of conspiracy theorist Gary Allen (None dare call it conspiracy, 1971), another author Roberts approvingly cites.

Allen, an American conspiracy theorist, was a prolific writer producing many books and articles between the late 1960s and 1980s. Allen specialised on writing about the plans of the “global elite” and that hoary old favorite of contemporary conspiracy theorists, the Bilderberg Group.

Unlike Mullins, the writing of Allen is not normally classified as anti-Semitic. J. Byford and Michael Billig in 2001 paper titled The emergence of antisemitic conspiracy theories in Yugoslavia during the war with NATO(Patterns of prejudice, 2006) note:

A distinction can be made between the conspiracy theories of Gary Allen or Avramov, that concentrate on organizations such as the Bilderberg Group, and more mystical, quasi-religious theories, such as those being propounded in Yugoslavia by Đurđević. The former have a more ‘reasonable’ appearance: they cite existing organizations as the hub of the world conspiracy. They do not necessarily see these organizations as ciphers for the hidden esoteric workings of Jews, Freemasons or the Illuminati. Most crucially, Gary Allen and others have not identified an ethnic group as being in control of organizations like the Bilderberg Group. (Byford & Billig pg. 312)

However they do note troubling and problematical nature of Allen’s writings:

However, on closer examination, the differentiation between nonantisemitic,‘reasonable’ conspiracy theories and antisemitic theories is not hard and fast, especially as the ‘reasonable’ writer attempts to understand the present political situation in terms of a longer history of conspiracies. To do this, that writer often draws on earlier theories, including those belonging to the antisemitic tradition….” (Byford & Billig pg. 312-313)

Byford & Billig are writing about the emergence of anti-Semitic theories during the NATO conflict with Serbia, when extreme Serbian nationalists drew upon older conspiracy narratives in their attempts to make sense of the conflict. Some did so unwittingly, while others were more explicit in their anti-Semitism.

This point is worth emphasising: in times of crisis, conspiracy theories flourish. Again and again, we see the same pattern.

Roberts has committed the former sin: driven by a conspiracy world view and ignorant of historical methodologies when it comes to using sources, Roberts unwittingly draws upon the most toxic legacies of conspiracy culture.

This is par for the course for all conspiracy theorists: no matter how toxic or stigmatized their original sources are, they will find a way to weave them into the alternative reality they create.

Fusion paranoia: pseudo-history, climate scepticism and the failure to evaluate sources

Roberts has stepped outside climate scepticism and into the realm of pseudo-history in constructing an alternative narrative of world events since the late 1800s. He unwittingly draws upon narratives and materials associated with the world view found within anti-Semitic literature.

In the world constructed by Roberts, historical events are tied together to prove the carbon tax is not a tool designed to reduce the amount of heat trapping gases in the atmosphere, but one of the cudgels wielded by a global cabal wishing to usher in a world government.

Roberts failure is common to all pseudo-historians and conspiracy theorists: he fails to understand source materials and their context. Even to the most casual reader, the Mullins text is a deeply paranoid piece of crack-pottery.

Like its source materials, CSIROh! is a muddled and paranoid re-imagining of world history. However Roberts takes old myths and filters them through climate scepticism.

Today’s conspiracy theorists fuse contemporary paranoia with myths and older conspiracy theories in an attempt to explain the world. Sometimes they know what they are doing, dropping in coded references to “international bankers” as dog-whistle racism for the knowing.

More often than not, conspiracy theorists look back to the previous ideas within conspiracy culture and fuse them with their own interpretation of world events.

Roberts takes preexisting conspiracies and weaves them together with climate scepticism. It is a textbook example of what scholars of conspiracy culture call fusion paranoia.

Times of crisis, toxic legacies and pathways to hate: why I’m not laughing

Sceptics will see this as merely another attempt to besmirch their good name. Thus I stress I do not equate climate scepticism with antisemitism or holocaust denial. However, I would argue that much of the climate sceptic narrative is framed in terms of conspiracy.

Many will see this as an opportunity to laugh at Roberts expense. But honestly, I’m not laughing.

What terrifies me is the new life given to some of the worst ideological excesses of the last century. Roberts and his patron Alan Jones are helping – inadvertently or not – to inject the ugly intellectual baggage of the twentieth century into contemporary politics.

Conspiracy theories are toxic to democracy: they are not merely the product of the fringe. They distort public debate, and even worse lead to the scapegoating of individuals and groups.

They can also act as pathways to hate: by demonizing one group within society (scientists, environmentalists and international bankers) it makes it permissible and acceptable to hate others.

In times of crisis – war, economic downturns and massive societal changes – conspiracy theories flourish. That we are seeing an upsurge in conspiracy theories in relation to climate change and mitigation policies is to be expected: climate change is a time of crisis.

Hence, we should expect the flourishing of conspiracy theories as equal, if not more, lurid as those propagated by Roberts.

What I fear in coming years is the rise of a vicious form of right-wing populism, with demagogues riding a tide of conspiracies and hatred to positions of power. Our public debates are toxic enough when it comes to refugees and marriage equality. The climate debate is equally toxic, if not more so.

The work of Roberts falls squarely in the tradition of both conspiracy culture and right-wing populism: for this reason I’m neither laughing nor dismissive.

CSIROh! is gaining an audience and is bound to become the accepted truth by numerous individuals. It will be picked up and promoted in areas of our culture most politicians, journalists and academics never see. The criticism Roberts receives will only drive him to greater efforts to promote his theory and reinforce his belief about a grand conspiracy: this is the pattern of all conspiracy theorists.

Without doubt, his words will flourish in the dark corners of the internet. Don’t believe me? Then look at how CSIROh! is already being embraced by the conspiracy community of Australia here, here and here. Or perhaps this glowing review of CSIROh! by the Climate Sceptics Party?

How did the climate debate come to this?

We like to imagine that our society is the product of the Enlightenment. Because our society is so dependent upon science, we hold fast to a naive faith that reason will prevail over ignorance and the old primitive hatreds.

And yet we stare in transfixed horror and disbelief at the coming storm. We watch aghast, or avert our eyes, in a state of disbelief as this familiar beast, its hour come again, slouches once more towards Bethlehem.

The sleep of reason produces monsters; it opens the gates for old hatreds. 

Here – here is the genesis of future monsters.

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Scepticism damaging the conservative political brand: Aussie media becoming alert to the paranoid style of climate sceptics

One of the better sites focussed on the economic and business aspects of climate change is Climate Spectator. Apart from some great coverage on business, climate change policy and the energy industry, they also publish thought provoking opinion pieces.

Thus I’d like to point readers to a great piece by Tristan Edis titled The Mad Monk and Monckton’s mates. To my mind it is indicative of mainstream media (MSM) now understand the fact that Monckton and many climate sceptics are – to put it ever so politely – barking mad.

Edis notes in somewhat amazed fashion Monckton’s connection to the political fringe: 

“So why was a person who made their name questioning global warming invited to launch such a party?  Because Monckton dreams up many of the stories that feed these people’s sense of paranoia and victim hood. Monckton’s beef is not so much with the science of global warming; it’s with the liberal-left agenda more generally. In a January article in WND Weekly, he labels Obama a communist that will bankrupt America within a matter of a few years, claims he has faked his birthplace and confidently predicts will be jailed in five years time. He rails against Obama for allowing “unfettered immigration”, “baby-butchering”, gay marriage, and being “soft on Islam” (whatever that means – presumably nothing to do with executing Osama Bin Laden).”

For many of us, this isn’t new. More importantly, Edis notes by associating itself with Monckton, the conservative Liberal National Party (LNP) have hurt their brand:

“A number of individuals and groups that are influential within the Liberal Party and its membership have embraced and championed Monckton’s views on climate change.  These include the Institute of Public Affairs, Andrew Bolt, Hugh Morgan, and Gina Rinehart.  Cory Bernardi, who was one of the key backers of the coup against Malcolm Turnbull that installed Tony Abbott, expresses views and is involved in organisations which are closely linked to Monckton and websites like WND Weekly.

The Liberal Party needs to guard themselves against being infiltrated by this kind of extremist nonsense. Abbott was persuaded to meet Monckton back in 2010 just a day after releasing their climate change policy. This was a mistake…”

Let me reiterate that point: climate change scepticism is damaging the conservative “brand”. It may have had a political utility at one point, but no longer. Let’s not forget the cash thrown at conservative politicians by the fossil fuel industry – one wonders if that influenced their views on the science:

Fossil fuel lobby: Campaign donations anyone?

Conservative politician/s: Oh, that’s lovely innit! Thanks, but is there a catch?

During the last American election the Republicans ran on a platform that included the explicit denial of climate change. Readers may recall the events of November 2012 and how that strategy worked out… hint it didn’t go well for the Republicans.

Still, I can appreciate why those in the MSM may have baulked on reporting the actual world view climate change deniers – who are neither sceptical or dispassionate on climate change, but fringe dwelling conspiracy theorists.

Firstly, News Limited owns 70% of the news print market in Australia and has been championing the views of extremists like Monckton for years. Not many journalists, in an industry in considerable turmoil and declining job security, are going to take on editors such as Chris Mitchell at The Australian – or the Sun King himself, Murdoch – who push the sceptic agenda.

Secondly, if my experience is anything to go by, once you start pointing out the obvious connection to conspiracy culture and start criticising said beliefs it brings out an army of angry, embittered trolls. Your inbox and article/website comes under sustained assault.

Fun? Well suffice to say over the years I’ve developed a very thick skin.

Thirdly, much of the activities of these climate sceptics and conspiracy theorists happen on the fringe: you have to know where to look in the very dark corners of the internet. Sites such as World Net Daily (heck even Jo Nova’s blog) aren’t exactly choice online destinations for mainstream Australia.

But crucially it takes time to become attuned to what sceptics are saying – as in what they are really saying.  

When deniers like Monckton reference “Agenda 21” the phrase and its connotations will go over the heads of the MSM and average punter. But to those attuned to the world views of conspiracy culture, the phrase “Agenda 21” is a reference to the “sceptics” belief in a coming New World Order, black helicopters, death camps for pensioners and micro-chips embedded into the skulls of every living person on the planet.

At this point it is safe to say Monckton’s down under tour is a damp squib, fizzing out like firecracker under a torrent of indifference. In previous years he enjoyed far more attention, getting gigs on the ABC, Channel 7, televised debates at the National Press Club, radio chats with disgraced shock-jock Alan Jones and huge support from conservative columnists and News Limited. All of which seems to have evaporated.

If you want a picture of Monckton 2013 Australian tour, imagine a doddery, elderly crank standing in an empty lecture theatre muttering aloud “Good lord, where did all my good friends go?”

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Even Andrew Bolt has had enough of Monckton: yes Andrew, climate sceptics are cranks

Even for the most hard-core climate sceptics, the penny can sometimes drop. In this case a discus-sized-penny has dropped on the head of conservative News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt (aka “The Bolta”).

Over the years Bolt has championed both Lord Christopher Monckton and his brand of conspiracy infused climate scepticism – indeed he once referred to him as a mathematician, when he is no such thing.

Now even Bolt thinks Monckton has gone to far:

Why on earth was Christopher Monckton endorsing the nationalist Rise Up Australia Party? Great chance for warmists to paint climate sceptics as fringe dwellers.

Why on earth indeed?

Does Andrew really need to ask himself why Monckton is associating himself with a radical, right-wing, homophobic, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, fundamentalist Christian sect with aspirations to create a Taliban-style theocracy down under? 

Andrew – climate sceptics are fringe dwellers.

The core narrative of the climate sceptic movement is conspiratorial: “climate change is not real, it is a hoax  created by scientists and their NWO puppet masters”. 

Recall Perth sceptics Jo Nova and David Evans who believe in a centuries long conspiracy involving international bankers and climate scientists. According to this dynamic duo, said bankers may – or may not – have been behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Yes, you read that correctly: they’ve actually made that argument.

I’d also remind readers to take a look at the recent paper Recursive Fury (Lewandowsky which further demonstrates how conspiracy ideation permeates the climate sceptic movement.

I’m not sure why Andrew is surprised – the evidence has been overwhelming and in the public domain for years.

All you need to do is look. I’ve been writing about climate sceptics and their conspiratorial world view for three years. The amount of evidence supporting this assertion is overwhelming. 

Where to begin?

Well, in this 2010 video we see Alan Jones and Ian Plimer sharing the stage with Monckton as he explains what the New World Order is, suggesting it goes all the way back to the FreemasonsMonckton states the New World Order “was one of the things the Freemasons used to advocate three or four centuries ago…”

There is this 2012 video in which Monckton explains how Obama’s birth certificate was most likely faked.

Monckton has also been a regular guest on the Alex Jones show:

If further evidence is needed to support to the contention that many climate sceptics have embraced a cluster of conspiracy theories, look no further than Lord Christopher Monckton. 

The prominent climate sceptic – who has been feted by figures such as Gina Rinehart, Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Australia’s climate change “sceptics” – now claims the birth certificate on the White House is a forgery (which many of us know, he has been for some time). 

Monckton has been spending time in Hawaii “investigating” Obama’s birth certificate and detailing the results of his investigation in a series of ongoing interviews with Alex Jones, host of InfoWars. 

Jones is known for his support for New World Order conspiracy theories and that the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks… 

Alex Jones is a 9/11 Truther and is one of the most high-profile conspiracy theory peddlers in the United States. Monckton and Jones have been pushing the “Birther narrative” for some time now…

“Why on earth is Monckton associating…”

Does Bolt really have to ask that question?

Now Andrew – if you’d care to stop by the WtD blog I’ll happily share the vast amount of material clearly indicating the link between conspiracy culture and climate scepticism.

Get ready for the lumps if you do: the pennies will fall hard, and fast.

See also Loon Pond for an amusing take.

[Hat tip reader EoR]

Recursive Fury: the involvement of conspiracist ideation in rejection of science

An interesting paper has just been published further examining the connection between climate scepticism and “conspiracy ideation” (see title above): 

Conspiracist ideation has been repeatedly implicated in the rejection of scientific propositions, although empirical evidence to date has been sparse. A recent study involving visitors to climate blogs found that conspiracist ideation was associated with the rejection of climate science and the rejection of other scientific propositions such as the link between lung cancer and smoking, and between HIV and AIDS (Lewandowsky, Oberauer, & Gignac, in press; LOG12 from here on). This article analyzes the response of the climate blogosphere to the publication of LOG12. We identify and trace the hypotheses that emerged in response to LOG12 and that questioned the validity of the paper’s conclusions. Using established criteria to identify conspiracist ideation, we show that many of the hypotheses exhibited conspiratorial content and counterfactual thinking. For example, whereas hypotheses were initially narrowly focused on LOG12, some ultimately grew in scope to include actors beyond the authors of LOG12, such as university executives, a media organization, and the Australian government. The overall pattern of the blogosphere’s response to LOG12 illustrates the possible role of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science, although alternative scholarly interpretations may be advanced in the future

The paper explores the sceptic response to research suggesting there is a link between climate scepticism and conspiracy ideation (i.e. conspiracy theory making). For those who may recall, I’m referring to the 2012 Stephen Lewandowsky paper NASA faked the moon landing: therefore climate change is a hoax (NASA paper):

Although nearly all domain experts agree that human CO2 emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific c evidence. Internet blogs have become a vocal platform for climate denial, and bloggers have taken a prominent and influential role in questioning climate science. We report a survey (N> 1100) of climate blog users to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Paralleling previous work, we find that endorsement of a laissez-faire conception of free-market economics predicts rejection of climate science (r ‘ :80 between latent constructs). Endorsement of the free market also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the CIA killed Martin-Luther King or that NASA faked the moon landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific c findings, above and beyond endorsement of laissez-faire free markets. This provides empirical confirmation of previous suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.

No one expected the level of interest the NASA paper generated within the sceptic blogosphere.

Indeed, it seemed to have struck a chord (or nerve) within the sceptic movement as a kind of “recursive fury” dominated the pages of their blogs for several weeks. Sceptic bloggers engaged in (what appeared to be) a rash of conspiracy theory making.

There was wide-ranging speculation about the intentions of the NASA paper authors , attempts to undermine the methodology of the research and Stephen was subjected to FOI requests.

In the weeks following the publication of the original paper I was invited to participate in a study of the  sceptic response. To have had the opportunity to work with people such as Stephen Lewandowsky, John Cook and  Klaus Oberauer was a real privilege. My gratitude towards these individuals is enormous. 

I’ll be doing a series of posts on the paper and some of its conclusions – and some of my own thoughts about conspiracy culture and its influence on the sceptic movement. As long time readers of the blog appreciate, understanding what drives individuals to accept and promulgate conspiracy theories is one my main areas of interest.

It is a topic I hope to explore more fully this year, and will be the focus of my research and writing efforts.

Questions and comments can be made on the blog or directed to

Mike – “Watching the Deniers”

See also:

The sceptic response

I’ll also track and make note of the claims of sceptic bloggers in response to this paper:

  • Skeptic baiting and academic misconduct, The Lukewarmers way: “As a non-skeptic I feel the strong desires to a) defend skeptics as not fitting Lewandowsky’s description and b) slap him across the face for contributing to the cheapening of the already debased nature of climate conversations.”
  • More shameless conspiracy theory from the ‘Skeptical Science’ smear quest team, Watts Up With That: “The cartoonist (John Cook, purveyor of the laughably named “Skeptical Science”) and the psychologist (Stephan Lewandowsky), the two rightmost people in the photo above, are working together again to smear anyone who has doubts about the severity of the global warming.”
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It’s a mad, mad and hotter world: the top 6 climate stories of 2012

As the year comes to a close its time to reflect upon the previous year’s climate related news. I mean who doesn’t love a good end of year “The best of” list?

So what made headlines? What events mattered? And crucially what shaped the public’s understanding of climate change?

In order to address the above questions I’ve selected what I believe are the top six “breakthrough” climate stories of the year. These are the issues that had a strong influence on the public’s understanding of climate change.

I’m confident we’ve witnessed an important shift in the climate debate as (a) evidence of rapid global warming has manifested with a vengeance and (b) the majority of the public now accept the reality of global warming.

But what caused this shift? Ultimately the climate stepped in to adjudicate the debate.

In a year of record temperatures and super-storms, the physics of climate change demonstrated its reality.

And while the debate between sceptics and warmists will grind on for several more years it was the evidence presented in the form of drowned cities, withered crops and searing temperatures that shaped public perception.

1. It’s global warming stupid: Hurricane Sandy and the North American summer. And the drought. And the derecho storm. And killer tornadoes. And wildfires.

Perhaps it was the thousands of temperature records smashed, the devastating drought that gripped large sections of the United States, the rare derecho storm that lead to millions losing power or the hundreds of tornadoes that that ripped through the country that taught millions of Americans the climate was changing. Let’s not forget the wildfires either.

By the end of 2012 the belief the climate was not changing became untenable. An overwhelming majority of the American public now accept the reality of climate change (up to 70% according to Business Week).

And then there was Sandy. Who can forget the images of a devastated New York and East Coast?

Not only did Sandy influence the US Presidential election in painting Mitt Romney and the Republicans as the party in dangerous denial – they had a good chuckle about climate change at their convention – it also tangibly and tragically demonstrated what to expect from a climate spinning out of control.

2. Red alert: Greenland melt accelerates

There are troubling things happening up north, not least of all the record breaking seasonal melt for Greenland in August of this year. And while some claimed this news was insufficiently reported in the mainstream press (of which there is some truth) bloggers, tweeters and social media activists did the job for them.

While the fourth estate slept, denizens of what I’d like to call the fifth estate (social media content creators) stepped in to spread the word.

3. Going, going, gone: Arctic sea-ice reaches lowest minimum

If you want to know what the Arctic’s death spiral looks like merely cast your eyes over the above graph. George Monbiot said it best: “Stupidity, greed, passivity? Just as comparisons evaporate, so do these words. The ice, that solid platform on which, we now discover, so much rested, melts into air. Our pretensions to peace, prosperity and progress are likely to follow…”

And how did humanity react to this worrying trend? Giving fossil fuel companies license to rush in and explore for more oil.

4. Apocalypse averted: the Carbon Tax debate fizzles out

The end product of the merchants of hate (source News)

In the coming decades, future generations will puzzle over how the Australian political system almost imploded over the fight to introduce a price on carbon.

The Murdoch press ran an orchestrated campaign against the tax while right-wing radio shock jocks worked up the angry masses into even greater levels of well.. anger. The Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, ran a two year fear campaign against the tax claiming “We will be rooned, roooooned!”

Australian political debate reached a new low with nasty catch phrases such as “Juliar” (in reference to Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard) entering the popular lexicon and radio presenter Alan Jones claiming climate science was “witchcraft”.

The forces arrayed against the tax included private think tanks, News Ltd, the Liberal National Party, large segments of the resources sector and eccentric billionaires such as Gina Rinehart.

And yet the government managed to get the legislation through both houses of Parliament. In retrospect it is amazing the minority Gillard government didn’t collapse and still manage to introduce a price on carbon – something that had eluded previous governments for almost 20 years.

So did the world end? Did Australia become an improvised, backwards economic wasteland? Are we Aussies now all living in caves, desperately missing hot showers and street lighting?

Rest assured – the world didn’t end, the sun is still shining and industrial civilisation didn’t collapse as the sceptics warned us.

5. It’s worse than you think: PWC, World Bank reports and news of the permafrost melting

Imagine you’ve just been told by your doctor you have cancer: you’ve got maybe five years. But with treatment you could extend your life well beyond that.

You’d be alarmed and no doubt take positive steps to address the issue: you’d undergo medical treatment, change your diet, exercise and consider changing you life.

Who want’s to die prematurely? Or maybe you’d still be in denial.

Either way, you’re presented with this information and the opportunity to act.

But a month after being told the above, you return to see your doctor only to be told he was wrong. A new round of tests conclusively proves you’ve got a year – maybe two.

“So sorry…” states your doctor “…but the cancer is far more aggressive. Fortunately we’ve caught it early due to some new technology and diagnostic methods. But we need to start treatment right away.”

This is the situation humanity faces.

In the past six months a series of reports and a rash of new scientific evidence has been presented that makes for alarming reading:

It not just the IPCC or those radical socialists otherwise known as “climate scientists” saying the climate is changing more rapidly than anticipated. Some of the most conservative institutions and corporations have joined the chorus for urgent action by signalling their alarm.

Which means either one of two things: the need to act is increasingly urgent or that every scientific, political, media, business and professional association is part of the conspiracy.

6. No sympathy for the devil: Peter Gleick disembowels the Heartland Institute

I believe scientist Peter Gleick did humanity a favor, even if his methods were controversial.

Gleick obtained key strategy and planning documents from The Heartland Institute – the US libertarian think tank – by pretending to be one of its board members. He simply called up reception and asked for documents to be sent to an email account.

Was it worth it?

In retrospect, yes.

The documents revealed how Heartland and other think tanks manufacture doubt.

Once the story went viral and was picked up my mainstream media the reputation of Heartland suffered enormously – it lost millions in funding and was forced to cancel their annual conference for sceptics.

Gleick revealed the dark underbelly of the climate sceptic movement: the anonymous funding and the deliberate campaign to deceive.

Sceptics were furious of course – “How dare he, that criminal!” they fumed. Anthony Watts and others threatened to sue Gleick or bring in the authorities- but as suspected, nothing eventuated. Such actions would have brought a level of accountability bodies such as The Heartland Institute seek to avoid.

And that’s just what Gleick did: bring greater transparency and accountability to the climate debate.

The denial movement has been milking Climategate for years. To this day deniers continue to salaciously drool over the half dozen meaningless emails hacked form the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

But the public twigged to the hypocrisy: the Gleick episode demonstrated the public has no sympathy for the devil.

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The 97%: when told scientists accept climate change, the public “gets the science is settled”

Welcome back readers!

I’ll be leading with an interesting article republished from The Conversation this week which discusses a recent paper in Nature Climate Change, and which in many respects goes right to the heart of the issue: how the denial movement has sought to mislead the public on the scientific consensus.

As many of you understand the vast majority scientists and all reputable scientific academies and associations accept the reality climate change.

This is problematical for climate sceptics as one of their key strategies is to push the myth – and it is just that – that no such consensus exists (see recent WtD article Here we go again: Watts up with that pushes the no consensus myth).

Indeed, the infamous Luntz Memo (see in WtD evidence library) written by an advisor to the George W. Bush administration made this one of the key strategies in fostering doubt:

The scientific debate remains open: Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming with the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.

The recent paper in Nature by Stephan Lewandowsky,Gilles E. Gignac and Samuel Vaughan titled The pivotal role of perceived scientific consensus in acceptance of science clearly demonstrates how this long running campaign to discredit the science can be defeated.

When told a scientific consensus exists, and that it is on the order of 97% of climate scientists, the vast majority of the public accept the science. As the article abstract notes:

Although most experts agree that CO2 emissions are causing anthropogenic global warming (AGW), public concern has been declining. One reason for this decline is the ‘manufacture of doubt’ by political and vested interests, which often challenge the existence of the scientific consensus. The role of perceived consensus in shaping public opinion is therefore of considerable interest: in particular, it is unknown whether consensus determines people’s beliefs causally. It is also unclear whether perception of consensus can override people’s ‘worldviews’, which are known to foster rejection of AGW. Study 1 shows that acceptance of several scientific propositions—from HIV/AIDS to AGW—is captured by a common factor that is correlated with another factor that captures perceived scientific consensus. Study 2 reveals a causal role of perceived consensus by showing that acceptance of AGW increases when consensus is highlighted. Consensus information also neutralizes the effect of worldview.

The last sentence is revealing: acceptance of the science “neutralizes the effect of worldview”.

Yes, even the most right-wing conservative free market fundamentalist can come to terms with the science. Those that don’t remain the committed to their scepticism” are mostly the conspiracy theorists and idealogues.

Scientific consensus shifts public opinion on climate change

By Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation

People are more likely to believe that humans cause global warming if they are told that 97% of publishing climate scientists agree that it does, a new study has found.

Despite overwhelming evidence showing that human activity is causing the planet to overheat, public concern is on the wane, said the study, titled The pivotal role of perceived scientific consensus in acceptance of science and published in the journal Nature Climate Change on Monday.

“One reason for this decline is the ‘manufacture of doubt’ by political and vested interests, which often challenge the existence of the scientific consensus. The role of perceived consensus in shaping public opinion is therefore of considerable interest,” the study’s authors said.

Overall, participants in the study greatly underestimated the level of scientific agreement on the issue, the study said.

Lead researcher Stephan Lewandowsky from the Cognitive Science Laboratories at the University of Western Australia said the study involved two surveys.

In the first, 200 Perth pedestrians were asked about their views on the scientific research linking human CO2 emissions to climate change as well as their thoughts on medical research linking smoking to lung cancer and HIV to AIDS.

The results showed that people who had faith in scientific or medical research in general were more likely to accept expert opinion on climate change.

“So some people just accept science as an endeavour and it doesn’t matter whether is the science is about climate or something else,” said Prof Lewandowsky.

The second study involved surveying 100 Perth pedestrians — half in a control group and half in a ‘consensus group’.

The control group was asked about their views on the causes of climate change but the consensus group, however, was first told that 97% of publishing climate scientists agree that global warming is a direct consequence of the burning of fossil fuels by humans.

People in the consensus group were much more likely to say that human activity caused climate change, even if their political views were otherwise broadly in line with free market ideologies that eschew the government regulation required to curb emissions.

“So providing the consensus information is boosting acceptance, particularly for those people who would otherwise reject the evidence based on their world view,” said Prof Lewandowsky.

“Telling them about this numeric fact about agreement in the scientific community does make a difference. That’s quite remarkable because few things work.”

Other studies have shown that presenting evidence alone does little to change minds and can even lead to people becoming more entrenched in their disbelief of human-caused climate change, he said.

The study showed it was important for scientific communicators and journalists to tell their audience that the vast majority of climate change experts believe that human activity is causing global warming.

“It is reaching even those people who would normally tune out when you tell them the evidence,” Prof Lewandowsky said, adding that journalists should not give denialists and climate change experts equal air time.

“The media is being irresponsible if they are pretending there is a scientific debate in light of this consensus.”

Will J Grant from the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at the Australian National University said it was an interesting and useful study.

“We can say people are convinced by the consensus but the big caveat is sceptics and climate change sceptics in particular are never going to be convinced by this,” he said. “They will say science doesn’t work by vote, it’s about facts.”

“Realistically, though, most of those sceptics are of an older generation. We are never going to convince them but they will be disappearing from the political discourse soon.”

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Genesis of the watermelon myth: how right-wing popularism shaped climate scepticism for the past two decades

The emergence of the New Right and climate scepticism

Further to the previous post, I thought I’d share an interesting presentation from The Public Eye, a progressive think tank that conducts research on right-wing popularism. It is a very high level overview of the movement, but worth looking at if you have the time (download the copy from the WtD archives here).

It does need to be said the right is not a monolithic entity – it is comprised of various groups, some in broad agreement and others in violent disagreement.

However they share deep commonalities.

My research has lead me to the thought that the climate sceptic movement is an offshoot, or component, of a broad based right-wing popularist movement that has been emerging and growing in political power since the 1950s.

In order to support such an argument I’ve been tracing the genesis of the ‘watermelon” myth – that environmentalism is merely a new form of socialism (Wikipedia definition here):

Eco-socialists are critical of many past and existing forms of both Green politics and socialism. They are often described as Red Greens – adherents to Green politics with clear anti-capitalist views, often inspired by Marxism (Red Greens should be contrasted with Blue Greens).

The term Watermelon is commonly applied, often as an insult, to describe professed Greens who seem to put “social justice” goals above ecological ones, implying they are “green on the outside but red on the inside”; the term is usually attributed to either Petr Beckmann or, more frequently, Warren T. Brookes,[2][3][4] both critics of environmentalism, and is apparently common in Australia,[5][6] New Zealand[7] and the United States[8]

Clearly the watermelon theory has its antecedents in anti-communism – and yes, some socialists and Marxists have written on environmental issues.

And yet despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall it seems many sceptics are still fighting the Cold War.

Not all environmentalists are Marxists, and scientists aren’t socialists simply because they’ve pointed out the globe is warming: is it that some conservatives simply can’t let go of the Cold War paradigm?

President of the Czech Republic (sceptic and advocate for free markets) Vaclav Klaus is noted for his comparisons of climate change science to Marxism, as this 2011 ABC interview demonstrates:

Geraldine Doogue: Could we talk first about your idea, how much the politics of climate change reminds you of the politics of the communist era in the old Czechoslovakia, please?

Vaclav Klaus: Well, I would like to put it in a mild way, that comparison. You know, I lived, I spent almost half a century of my life in the communist era, where I was forced to accept similar arguments. And I was very angry. I protested, I tried to explain it differently and now I again live in a world of political correctness; in a world when you have one idea you are considered a ‘climate change denier’ or you are considered a ‘sceptic’, and I always try to say that I disagree with those terms, labels, as sceptic, pessimist, denier.

I’d suggest there is more to this than simple right-wing paranoia.

There is a deeper story, far more nuanced than simply equating climate change scepticism with either fossil fuel funded disinformation or lingering fears about reds under the bed.

But first we need to look at the emergence of “the New Right” and the ideologies that informs it.

From reds under the bed to watermelons: the 1950s to today

Public Eye provide an good diagram illustrating the emergence of right-wing popularism since the 1950s and the McCarthy era;

Into this time line – around the mid 1980s – the issue of climate change came to the attention of the various right wing movements that form the basis of this movement.

Conservatives immediately began to formulate a response – and counter-movement – to the perceived threats of a) increased government regulation and b) challenges to cherished values and norms.

It is only now, twenty years after the fact, that we are beginning to recognize how climate change became embroiled in the ‘culture war”:

Taken together, these three facets of our existential challenge illustrate the magnitude of the cultural debate that climate change provokes. Climate change challenges us to examine previously unexamined beliefs and worldviews. It acts as a flash point (albeit a massive one) for deeper cultural and ideological conflicts that lie at the root of many of our environmental problems, and it includes differing conceptions of science, economics, religion, psychology, media, development, and governance.

It is a proxy for “deeper conflicts over alternative visions of the future and competing centers of authority in society,” as University of East Anglia climatologist Mike Hulme underscores in Why We Disagree About Climate Change. And, as such, it provokes a violent debate among cultural communities on one side who perceive their values to be threatened by change, and cultural communities on the other side who perceive their values to be threatened by the status quo.

In attempting to understand climate scepticism I believe we have overlooked how it has been shaped by broader cultural forces. As I have often said, “we” were incredibly naive to think it was simply about presenting the scientific evidence in a “rational and logical manner”.

Parallel cultures and counter-knowledge: think tanks and the fusion right-wing popularism and environmental scepticism

As part of this analysis, I believe we need to draw attention to the important role of conservative think tanks.

They are not merely the ciphers of corporate propaganda.

They are the critical formulators and disseminators of counter-knowledge: disinformation packaged as fact and tailored to the world view of cultural groups.

They are cultural institutions (see above), specifically established in the 1970s to produce counter-knowledge and scholarship in opposition to “official” sources such as academia, mainstream media and science.

They are a critical component of a parallel conservative culture which frequently rejects established scientific theories such as evolution and climate change.

We need to rid ourselves of the simple notion that their corporate funders pay them to spout free-market propaganda: many of their funders share the same world view and cluster of conservative, right-wing values. 

Indeed, one merely needs to look at the context and mission of think tanks when they were established in the 1970s.

The famous memo Lewis Powell memo of 1971 urged the US Chamber of Congress to begin building a parallel system of thought and idea generation to counter ‘socialism” and the enemies of freedom:

The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.

Moreover, much of the media-for varying motives and in varying degrees-either voluntarily accords unique publicity to these “attackers,” or at least allows them to exploit the media for their purposes. This is especially true of television, which now plays such a predominant role in shaping the thinking, attitudes and emotions of our people.

One of the bewildering paradoxes of our time is the extent to which the enterprise system tolerates, if not participates in, its own destruction.

Note the broad application of the “enemies”: media, the arts, sciences and politicians.

Powell’s memo did not single-handily create the think-tanks, but it did provide powerful impetus for their creation.

Today, the think tanks are the great “fusionists” of right-wing thought and conspiracy culture.

Over the past several decades they have fused scepticism of environmental issues with a free market ideology and – critically – conservative social values.

One merely has to visit their websites to see the cluster of ideology and values loudly proclaimed: the literature and language of think-tanks abounds with terms such as “liberty”, “freedom” and “democracy”.

Take a closer look, note the language and imagery:


Freedom; liberty; freedom; liberty; freedom; liberty; freedom.

Notice a pattern?

An enormous strategic error has been made: by simply and naively focusing on the scientific arguments promoted and extolled by the think tanks we missed the broader context.

We spoke in facts, they have always spoken of values.

It was always a culture war, and it has been raging for decades.

What do we mean by “right-wing popularism”?

I’ll produce another slide from the Public Eye presentation which illustrates some of the key components of right-wing popularism:

I’d draw the readers attention to two key concepts listed above:

  • Anti-intellectualism – suspicion of elites, including an emphasis on conspiracist allegations of in shadowy forces control the economy and media
  • Producerism – a form of scapegoating that sees attacks from both those above and those below, defining proper identity along very narrow lines.

Sound familiar?

The producerism of climate sceptics: Australia’s Dr. David Evans as an example

The motifs and language of producerism is a common thread throughout sceptic literature.

One has to look no further than the persistent and frequent claims by sceptics that scientists, bankers, government and the media are all engaged in a conspiracy. Public Eye defines Producersim in more detail:

Calls to rally the virtuous “producing classes” against evil “parasites” at both the top and bottom of society is a tendency called producerism. It is a conspiracist narrative used by repressive right wing populism. Today we see examples of it in some sectors of the Christian Right, in the Patriot movements and armed militias, and in the Far right. (see chart of US right). Producerism is involved in the relationship between Buchanan, Fulani, Perot, and the Reform Party. 

Producerism begins in the US with the Jacksonians, who wove together intra-elite factionalism and lower-class Whites’ double-edged resentments. Producerism became a staple of repressive populist ideology. Producerism sought to rally the middle strata together with certain sections of the elite. Specifically, it championed the so-called producing classes (including White farmers, laborers, artisans, slaveowning planters, and “productive” capitalists) against “unproductive” bankers, speculators, and monopolists above—and people of color below. After the Jacksonian era, producerism was a central tenet of the anti-Chinese crusade in the late nineteenth century. In the 1920s industrial philosophy of Henry Ford, and Father Coughlin’s fascist doctrine in the 1930s, producerism fused with antisemitic attacks against “parasitic” Jews.

I’ll be exploring producerism in more detail, but I would draw attention to the fact that bankers and other ‘parasitic classes’ are frequently the perceived enemies identified by parts of the climate sceptic movement.

It also explains the strangely antisemitic strain of thought that finds expression in some climate sceptic literature and expressed world-views (see here and here).

We see echoes of this in the writings of Perth sceptic Dr. David Evans and his partner, blogger Joanne Nova.

Evans and Nova write frequently on the influence of the financial industry and Rothschild family as being the “true powers” in the world manipulating global events.

The genealogy of this form conspiracy first found expression in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century: however it has continued to be influential within conspiracy culture and is a motif frequently recycled and used today.

In one of his recent papers, Evan’s writes about a parasitic class he calls the “paper aristocracy”:

The paper aristocracy has overwhelming wealth. They own or influence all the media – if only because every media organization borrows from banks. They influence almost all the institutions that employ professional economists, by supplying the money for PhDs and providing most of the lucrative consulting jobs for economists. They buy politicians by the truckload. The banksters have even killed the occasional thorn in their side—including, probably, two US presidents, Lincoln and Garfield…”

So when you hear sceptics repeat the oft repeated phrase “follow the money” it is not simply a claim that scientists and environmentalists are motivated by venal self interest: the money is used to exert influence and reshape the political system behind the scene (or so the conspiracy theory claims).

It is a claim to a massive conspiracy that has its roots in a number of strands of right-wing thought.

Again, patterns in thought and conspiracy making can be seen to be emerging.

Eternal vigilance: the existential socialist threat that never fades

I would also add the above the persistent right-wing fear of socialism or Marxism as a resurgent force. The Berlin Wall may have fallen, but the cultural and Cold War warriors have sworn to remain every vigilant to the danger.

This is why the conflict between “freedom” and “tyranny” can never end; it is a holy war, apocalyptic in nature and an existential threat that can never fade.

Again, we see this in a 2012 speech by Vaclav Klaus:

From the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, that is from the establishment of the Club of Rome and its first reports, I became afraid of the green ideology, in which I saw a dangerous alternative to the traditional socialist doctrine. It was evident that it was another radical attempt to change human society. The alleged depletion of natural resources and the so called population bomb were merely a pretence. At that time it was not possible to see the Global Warming Doctrine that arrived later, nor the power and dangers hidden inside it…

The barbarians are always at the gates, waiting to destroy civilisation.

Climate scepticism: the roots of the movement go beyond big oil

One of the most important works on climate scepticism is the Oreskes and Conway text Merchants of Doubt.

I do not intend to challenge the very sound assumptions of that book.

But I did think as I read the work (and I humbly suggest this) it only told part of the story.

Thus I decided to revisit the primary materials from the same periods – the immediate post war years until today.

I also thought it worth while expanding my research beyond the sources listed in Merchants of Doubt and review a broader range of texts, articles and videos by the individuals discussed.

Very quickly I began finding “climate sceptic” materials from the late 1980s and early 1990s demonstrating the sceptic movement is more than simply the product of the right wing think tanks funded by “big oil”.

Their language and motifs echoed the claims of right-wing popularism to a surprising degree.

Indeed many of the arguments we are still responding to today – action on climate will destroy the economy, climate change is a religion or a manufactured hoax etc. – were formulated in the mid to late 1980s and have been endlessly recycled in the decades since.

Conspiracism is a key feature of all these movements, and has heavily influenced the culture of the climate sceptic community.

An argument can be made that in addition to the think tanks funded by “big oil”, a broad based right-wing conservative movement has waged a “war on science”.

For far too long we saw scepticism as the one defining characteristic of the deniers: however their scepticism is merely one component of a much broader world view.

Indeed the attack on climate science has been running for decades on multiple fronts by a broad coalition of conservative forces using the language and tactics of right-wing popularism.

Genesis of the watermelon myth: the religious anxiety and climate scepticism Dixy Lee Ray

Those who have read the Oreskes and Conway book may recall Dixy Lee Ray, the conservative Democratic governor of Washington state (see page 130 ff).

Ray wrote one of the earliest sceptic books titled Trashing the planet: how science can help us deal with acid rain, depletion of ozone, and nuclear waste (among other things).

In this work Ray sang the praises of DDT and dismissed the threat of Ozone depletion, helping establish the sceptic methodology for the attack on climate science.

As Orekes and Conway note, Ray was a practitioner of ‘denial as a political strategy”:

“…We see this narrative first emerging someone we have already met: Dixy Lee Ray. In Trashing the planet, Ray sang the praises of DDT and constructed a set of ‘facts” that have circulated every since…”

Oreskes and Conway examine her role in the early sceptic movement, her scientific misunderstandings (or if you are less charitable distortions) and her legacy. However, Ray’s legacy goes beyond the “DDT is safe” myth.

When I looked at the full extent of Ray’s writings I was curious to find the following interview in the Fall, 1992, issue of Science and the Environment: a Publication of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty (note the title).

In this interview Ray reflects on the original Rio Earth Summit and claims environmentalism is the next big threat to “liberty”:

R&L: With the world-wide decline of socialism, many individuals think that the environmental movement may be the next great threat to freedom. Do you agree? 

Ray: Yes, I do, and I’ll tell you why. It became evident to me when I attended the worldwide Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro last June. The International Socialist Party, which is intent upon continuing to press countries into socialism, is now headed up by people within the United Nations. They are the ones in the UN environmental program, and they were the ones sponsoring the so-called Earth Summit that was attended by 178 nations.

Ray then goes on to make a remarkable series of claims that foreshadows much of the sceptic movements claims about world government, climate change as a religion and the conspiratorial notion the UN Agenda 21 program is intended to usher in a world government:

R&L: Did you see a big influence by the radical environmentalists there? 

Ray: Oh yes. No question about that, the radicals are in charge. One of the proposals that did indeed pass as part of Agenda 21 proposes that there be world government under the UN, that essentially all nations give up their sovereignty, and that the nations will be, as they said quite openly, frightened or coerced into doing that by threats of environmental damage. 

R&L: Much of the current environmental movement is couched in terms of pagan religions, worshiping the Earth, goddess Gaia, equating the value of trees and people, animal rights, etc. Can you account for how this is accepted in the public forum, when traditional Judeo-Christian religious ethics are basically outlawed from policy making decisions? Do you think the general public is just unaware of the tendency to make environmentalism a religion?

On the role of government, Ray is very clear:

R&L: One could argue that the decline of Marxism vindicates Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that the less government does to the complex order of a national economy, the more likely it is that the economy will prosper and the liberty of its citizens will be secured. In the complex order of the environment, what things are appropriate for government to do in order to protect the natural workings of the environment and simultaneously secure liberty?

Ray: I think it’s appropriate for the government to set standards. For example, to describe what is permitted in the terms of releasing waste products into the environment. I think that it’s appropriate for there to be standards with respect to pollution of the air and the water and so on. I do not believe that the government is in any position to say exactly how every single business and every single activity shall reach those performances. The government should set a goal for a clean environment but not mandate how that goal should be implemented.

And there you have it: climate scepticism, religious conservatism, free market fundamentalism and conspiracy ideation.

Ray’s thoughts epitimise the culture war; they also point to the genesis of “the watermelon” myth in context to climate change.

The debate we have been fighting for the last 20 years has been informed by a fusionist mix of social and religious conservatism.

In the Ray interview we see – in its most nascent and earliest form – the contemporary climate sceptic movement born from a culture of right-wing popularism.

Thus when Sen, Jim Inhofe claims in his book The Greatest hoax: how the global warming conspiracy threatens your future about the role of God in climate change:

Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that “as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.”

My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

…he is not saying anything new.

Indeed his world view and politics is shaped by the sometimes conflicting and at other times overlapping ideology of the New Right.

We also see this with UK journalist and climate sceptic James Delingpole who has devoted an entire work to the concept of “watermelons”. It echos the claims made by Dixy Lee Ray over twenty years ago.

The book, Watermelons: the green movement’s true colors, merely works in an established tradition (form the blurb which says it all):

Watermelons shows how the scientific method has been sacrificed on the altar of climate alarmism. Delingpole mocks the green movement’s pathetic record of apocalyptic predictions, from the “population bomb” to global cooling, which failed to materialize. He reveals the fundamental misanthropy of green ideology, “rooted in hatred of the human species, hell bent on destroying almost everything man has achieved”. 

Delingpole gives a refreshing voice to widespread public skepticism over global warming, emphasising that the “crisis” has been engineered by people seeking to control our lives by imposing new taxes and regulations. “Your taxes will be raised, your liberties curtailed and your money squandered to deal with this ‘crisis'”, he writes. 

At its very roots, argues Delingpole, climate change is an ideological battle, not a scientific one. Green on the outside, red on the inside, the liberty-loathing, humanity-hating “watermelons” of the modern environmental movement do not want to save the world. They want to rule it.

Delingpole, like Ray, warns about vast global conspiracies and the stealth motives of “Agenda 21′ in his text.

Conclusions: climate scepticism as a form of right-wing popularism?

I tend to think the voluminous primary material similar to Ray’s interview supports the assertion the climate sceptic movement is an offshoot – or part thereof – of the right-wing popularism that has been growing in power and influence for the past several decades.

Climate sceptics have utilized the tactics and language of this movement since the late 1980s and early 1990s: I believe the documentary evidence supports this hypothesis.

Indeed, the climate sceptic movement shares many of the same characteristics and traits of right-wing popularism:

  • anti-intellectualism
  • social conservatism
  • conspiracy claims
  • producerism

These topics will be explored in future posts, and I believe it is a hypothesis worth exploring.

Final thoughts

Key message to the environment movement: stop fighting the war over scientific facts; stop thinking climate scepticism is the product of fossil fuel industry disinformation; start speaking of our values; stop being obsessed with “who” funds which think tank, the public is indifferent to this failed strategy. It’s bigger than that: it has always been so.

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