Category Archives: Follow the money

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:

And;

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.

James Delingpole Raising Cash for Australian Climate Sceptic Think Tank


James Delingpole Raising Cash for Australian Climate Sceptic Think Tank (via Desmogblog)

REPOSTED: James Delingpole is a UK columnist waging a long personal jihad against wind farms, environmentalists and climate science. A resident blogger and columnist at The Daily Telegraph, Delingpole is probably best known for being among the first mainstream columnists to declare, wrongly as it turned out… CLICK ON LINK TO READ FULL

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Myth of the climate science gravy train: scientists studying Greenland forced to pay their own airfares

One of the more absurd claims made by the denialists is that climate science offers scientists a veritable “gravy train” of funding.  

I’ve always found it a curious argument: after all do biomedical researchers need to “make up cancer” in order to obtain funding? Do biologists make up evolution in order to get grants?

How about those wacky physicists over at CERN who managed to scare up nine billion US dollars to build an atom smasher?  

That’s your tax money being scammed by leftist-pinko-scientists who believe in relativity!

Did they fabricate quantum physics in order to get some hot grant money? I mean, who has actually seen a sub-atomic particle?  

Andrew Bolt, the Herald Sun’s resident denialist-in-chief, typifies this kind of thinking in a article from last year:

PSST. Want a surefire way to get a grant – maybe $300,000, or even more – for your university research? Then gather around, my dear professors, and say these magic words.

Climate change.

You scoff? You say it’s too crazy to work, given that your expertise is actually in Bible studies, Aboriginal history, ceramics or sorghum?

More fool you.

After listing various grants and the amount scientists and researchers received, he ends his article in typical Bolt fashion:

But what might less fussy folk conclude from this farce, as they figure how to get a piece of the action, too?

And how about you? Are you surprised, now, that sceptical scientists can seem hard to find?

Are you at last wondering what’s in the carpetbags of those less rebuttable followers of the warming faith – the pay-per-speech preachers, the carbon traders, the windfarm moguls, the insurance salesmen, the offsets merchants, the solar panel makers, the Prius peddlers; the bio-fuel farmers and the whole hooting, hollering and repent-repent! gimme-cash crowd?

I’m surprised Bolt didn’t label scientists with his favourite insult-du-jour, “barbarians!”.  

According to the standard “conspiratorial” world view scientists are exaggerating – or fabricating – global warming in order “scare up grants and funding”.  

But is that really the case?  

Let’s look at what is happening in Greenland right now and how scientists have “taken advantage” of funding for research.  

Scientists studying Greenland miss out on the climate change gravy train…  

Recent reports indicate the Greenland ice sheet is a perilous state.  

As noted in this article in the Guardian, Greenland’s ice sheets may reach a dangerous “tipping point” within 10 years:

Greenland shed its largest chunk of ice in nearly half a century last week, and faces an even grimmer future, according to Richard Alley, a geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University

“Sometime in the next decade we may pass that tipping point which would put us warmer than temperatures that Greenland can survive,” Alley told a briefing in Congress, adding that a rise in the range of 2-7 °C would mean the obliteration of Greenland’s ice sheet.

The fall-out would be felt thousands of miles away from the Arctic, unleashing a global sea level rise of 23 feet (7 metres), Alley warned. Low-lying cities such as New Orleans would vanish.

“What is going on in the Arctic now is the biggest and fastest thing that nature has ever done,” he said.

The article continues to describe how changes to the Greenland ice sheet are exceeding scientists worst fears:

Andreas Muenchow, professor of ocean science at the University of Delaware, who has been studying the Petermann glacier for several years, said he had been expecting such a break, alt

hough he did not anticipate its size.

You would expect such information to trouble most people: it certainly concerns me.  

We should be throwing money at this problem! How fast, how soon, what are the impacts!  

However, I can guarantee that at this point most “deniers” will stop reading those facts and head off to blogs such as “What’s up with that?” for some information that will soothe their anxiety. 

They may also make themselves feel a little better by throwing a few insults at scientists and bloggers such as myself (a.k.a killing the messenger).  

My advice to the deniers: good luck with that strategy fellas.  

While you’ve got your heads stuck in the sand, others will be working on how our societies can adapt to climate change. Just remember to thank us later when we (just barely) work out how to maintain the necessary infrastructure to support a technologically advanced civilisation.  

Oh, where was I? That’s right… the climate science gravy train.  

The same article highlights the reality of research funding. More often the not there is a critical lack of funding:

Muenchow told the briefing that over the last seven years he had only received funding to measure ocean temperatures near the Petermann Glacier for a total of three days.

He was also reduced, because of a lack of funding, to paying his own airfare and that of his students to they could join up with a Canadian icebreaker on a joint research project in the Arctic.

Climate change gravy train?  

Greedy scientists?  

Hardly.  

Perhaps Al Gore forgot to send these guys a cheque?  

What we really see are dedicated professionals working tirelessly to help inform the public.

That they are paying for expenses out of their own pockets is testiment to their dedication.

It also highlights the just how low “deniers” such as Bolt are prepared to go in their “war on science”.

Jo Nova is about to reveal an even BIGGER conspiracy… the “paper aristocracy”

Jo Nova, Perth’s resident science (mis)communicator has recently signalled a new direction for her blog, expanding it from climate denial to encompass economics:

Before I wrote about climate science I was writing about the markets.

Just to add some background, we’ve been invested in gold and gold related stocks for ten years. We watched money supply figures and “inflation” statistics and saw the gaping discrepancy. I was writing about gold and the coming financial storm in 2008 for news outlets like The Mining Chronicle before Lehman Bros fell, I was buying and selling gold contracts on the Comex futures exchange for a while too.

This is some explanation for regular readers who might wonder “why” non climate stories will begin to appear. The blog is here to expose deceitful reasoning and poor communication and how they are used against us. In the sense that truth is stranger than fiction, I’ve been lucky enough to come across some extraordinary tales.

This is also a primer for people who think that the economics jargon is not worth the effort. Wait til [sic] you hear what’s been going on.

Carbon is the second largest scam in history.

Which makes one ask, what is the biggest scam in history?

Nova is pushing her blog in a new direction, and of course I’m curious. Over the past months I’ve noted Nova’s rabid contempt for the finance industry. In her view it is “they” who are really behind the “climate scam”.

For some time I was puzzled: generally many sceptics are pro-market (viz such as Matt Ridley author of “The Rational Optimist”).

Still, I was puzzled by this apparent disconnect between the more general concerns for economic growth more “moderate” sceptics have than Nova’s disdain for finance?

In this instance it appears both Nova and her husband – David “Rocket Scientist” Evans – are firm followers of an obscure branch of the “Church of Conspiracy Theory”.

I’ve noted in the past that Nova’s blog attracts a large number of conspiracy theorists.

From what I can tell from the writings of both Jo Nova and her husband David Evans, their objections to the science of climate change is driven by a deeper, more ideological view of the world.

Bear with me as I introduce you to the strange, murky world of “fiat money” conspiracy theory.

Fiat money: here comes the real conspiracy on Nova’s blog

The following 2009 post by Nova caught my attention. Since then I’ve trying to fathom why Nova repeatedly makes connections between climate change and the finance industry:

Carbon credits are a form of fiat currency, yet as calls for carbon trading grow, ironically, another fiat currency collapses—destroying life savings, wiping out jobs, and taking down historic institutions overnight.

Meanwhile, global warming alarmists are asking us to create another fiat currency, this time based on hot air. Large multinational conglomerates are already pouring billions into exchanges and derivatives in anticipation of carbon trading. There are ‘options’ to buy credits in the future.

There’s no longer any evidence that carbon matters much to our climate; and in the unlikely event that carbon might matter, the benefits of trading carbon don’t add up. If the US adopted Obama’s strict 80% reduction in emissions tomorrow, thus transforming the main energy source used by Americans since Columbus, the savings in carbon merely delay the claimed warmer-Armageddon by six years.

Nova belongs seems to belong to the “fiat money” conspiracy school. It’s an obscure branch of conspiracy theory family, and it took me some time to recognise it. However, recent posts on her blog are starting to reveal more about her world view.

Fiat money conspiracy theorists say “Watch out, the ‘general economic collapse’ is coming!”

The term fiat money “derives from the Latin fiat, meaning “let it be done”, as the money is established by government decree.” All modern currencies are “fiat monies including “the euro, and all other reserve currencies, and have been since the Nixon Shock of 1971” when the US abandoned the gold standard [1]

There is a large, complex and ongoing debate between economists on the role of central banks, money supply and policy. Since 1971 when most countries abandoned the gold standard there has been a small, but dedicated body of cranks and the occasional academic who have called for the the gold standard to be adopted once again.

“Fiat money conspiracy” theorists take their objections a step further and believe governments are issuing “false” or “useless money” in order to control our society.

In the minds of Evans and Nova there is a small cabal of families who have been manipulating money markets for centuries in order to maintain power of society (see below). It’s a conspiracy theory that get’s a lot of traction with fundamentalist Christians and those who believe the Freemasons/Illuminati/Lizard Overlords are manipulating things.

It’s also echoed by others, particularly in the United States. Ultra-conservative Republican, and former Presidential wannabe, Ron Paul is constantly talking about “fiat money” and how it will be used as a tool to create hyper-inflation:

“Hyperinflation favors the people with a lot of money, depending upon their investments.

You see, the very rich will not have trouble getting by. They have hardened investments and extra money to invest in new things. Like land. Like devalued real estate and homes in the aftermath of a bubble pop. They can afford to buy more. Especially if they know how the cards will fall on the table, in advance…

…Let’s say we go through a three year period of turmoil caused by the Fed’s Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation, and at the end of the cycle, they finally stabilize the currency with gold, so the inflation they generated does not spin completely out of control.

After the hyperinflation wave ends:

— A can of Campbell’s vegetable soup costs $7.

– A new five-bedroom suburban home costs $900,000.

But you just bought a new five bedroom home a couple of years ago for $75,000.

You can sell it, or you can rent it to tenants. Either way, you have achieved massive profits.”

Hyper-inflation will be used to reduce the majority of humanity to poverty, thus leaving “those” in power with the only remaining wealth and the ability to fully control the world.

Says one poster on the thread discussing Paul’s article, the elites want to have “have control over all the resources” and their “…end goal is a world banking system, a world government and a world army that keeps the slaves in line so the privileged few can use and abuse them for their own amusement.”

Amongst the conspiracy “community” there is often talk about the coming “general economic collapse”. According to this theory – and it has many forms – an elite will usher in an age of hyper-inflation to impoverish citizens in the developed world. Having achieved this they be in possession of the only real assets (property, gold) and thus have even greater political power.

Depending on the conspiracy these “elites” are either the Freemasons, Fabians or Bliderberg Group.

The gold connection

Of particular concern to fiat money conspiracy theorists is gold. They work very hard to buy and hoard it in the eventuality that economic “Armageddon” is just around the corner. Which is why Nova admits to being “studying gold markets” for years.

As further prove of this, Nova and Evans has set up a company called “Gold Nerds“:

“…GoldNerds focus on the fundamentals of the North American and Australian listed companies that are producing gold or exploring for gold. We live and breathe numbers! The founding members are scientists and engineers who are also investors and monetary historians. The GoldNerds research team is spread across Perth, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney, the US, and Switzerland, and includes ex-stockbrokers, business analysts, accountants, and full time investors.”

Where you can:

  • Make money through gold investments.
  • Spread the word that gold is the only currency not created out of thin air by governments and banks.
  • Meet like-minded people.

But is there really a connection between Nova’s obsession with gold markets and fiat money conspiracies?

Yes, in a 2008 article written by Nova for website “Gold 321” she discusses” just how ominous this is:

This is what the start of hyperinflation would look like.

And:

Because the gold standard was dropped in 1971, money can be effectively created out of thin air. So it is no surprise to find that since September, newly created money has been raining from the sky. (Apparently this rain falls only on banks and a few large financials.)

The scale is unlike anything seen since the US Federal Reserve was formed in 1913. As the weeks progress on, all previous giant distortions shrink to goosebumps as the scale of the graph is redrawn.

What is that Nova fears? Hyper-inflation as a weapon of economic mass destruction. It’s what many subscribers of this particular conspiracy theory fret about. Traditionally gold has been seen as a “defence”:

Representative money and the gold standard protect citizens from hyperinflation and other abuses of monetary policy, as were seen in some countries during the Great Depression. However, they were not without their problems and critics, and so were partially abandoned via the international adoption of the Bretton Woods System. That system eventually collapsed in 1971, at which time nearly all nations had switched to full fiat money.

The darker fringes of those subscribing to fiat money conspiracy usually subscribe to the believe that the “New World Order” is imminent. the site Overlords of Chaos is typical of this school of thought:

Who issues money is perforce both politically and economically a very important question, for control of a nation’s money supply ipso facto brings with it control of that nation’s credit and thus control of that nation.

And the purpose of this?

“…But what is this New World Order Plan? In a nutshell the Plan is this. The Dark Agenda of the secret planners of the New World Order is to reduce the world’s population to a “sustainable” level “in perpetual balance with nature” by a ruthless Population Control Agenda via Population and Reproduction Control. A Mass Culling of the People via Planned Parenthood, toxic adulteration of water and food supplies, release of weaponised man-made viruses, man-made pandemics, mass vaccination campaigns and a planned Third World War. Then, the Dark Agenda will impose upon the drastically reduced world population a global feudal-fascist state with a World Government, World Religion, World Army, World Central Bank, World Currency and a micro-chipped population. In short, to kill 90% of the world’s population and to control all aspects of the human condition and thus rule everyone, everywhere from the cradle to the grave..”

What to make of all this?

I’ve seen the same claims made by posters on Nova’s make similar claims:

  • “The general agenda is to depopulate the US, while some of them enrich themselves at our expense…”
  • “The actual agenda is to destroy the idea and practice of private property, and hence capitalism…”
  • “Australian Nartive Title legislation is part of this diminishment of the concept of private property…”

Comments by regular posters on her recent foray into politics make the same points:

“And agree with you on the world government/fabians etc but one of the things they believe is the world is overpopulated and needs to be reduced to 500 million (from 8 billion plus). I think that they know we are in for a cold time they are just making sure we are not prepared for it and in doing so they will cause the most damage they can. (poster “twawki”)

I’d note not all comments follow that pattern, but the trend towards supporting conspiracy theories is marked.

In the words of Richard Hofstadter who famously characterised this “paranoid style of politics“:

“The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman—sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced. The paranoid’s interpretation of history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will. Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction…”

Nova’s support for the extreme fringes of conspiracy theory

At first I thought Nova’s views on “fiat money” where closer to those of libertarians and those of the “Austrian School” of economics who detest any form of government intervention in the market because it gives it too much power. We can have a robust debate on these questions, they remain in the realm of real policy discussion.

However, in another 2009 post Nova cites a paper by her husband on fiat money:

David Evans has written up a paper that describes just what kind of Octopus we are dealing with, and it’s bigger and more insidious than almost anything you can imagine. It’s a long paper, but if you are not aware of how our currencies are created out of thin air, backed by nothing, and why the Global Financial Crisis was not a surprise to those of us watching the money supply, then stand back, hold onto your hats and take a deep breath.

It’s like living in The Matrix.

Nova cites one of her husband’s papers made available from notorious denial think tank, the “Science and Public Policy Institute” (the home of Lord Monckton). At the end of his paper Evans makes the following claims:

“…There are a small number of families who, over the centuries, have amassed wealth through financial rent seeking. They are leading members of the paper aristocracy. For example, the Rothschild’s are the biggest banking family in Europe, and were reputed to own half of all western industry in 1900. That sort of wealth doesn’t just dissipate, because unless the managers are incompetent the wealth tends to concentrate. The banking families don’t work for a living in the normal sense, like the rest of us. They avoid scrutiny and envy by blending in and make themselves invisible. Since they own or influence all sorts of media organizations, it isn’t too hard. There are unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories, but nobody can really credibly say how much wealth and influence they have…

…Perhaps today’s fiat currencies—the US dollar, pound, yen and so on—will go up in smoke in an inflationary crescendo in the next few years, perhaps as planned by the paper aristocracy. Maybe they will reintroduce an asset backed currency. And guess who has all the gold? Those banking families have been salting it away for years. Possibly a global currency, so one cannot escape the predations of the paper aristocracy. This is not just about money, but about power, of course. Anyway, these are only unsubstantiated rumors. We shall see.

This is full-blown conspiracy theory in its most purist form. Like Ron Paul and the more extreme Overlords of Chaos, Evans make the direct link between “manufactured” money and its role as a weapon.

This is not the harmless and charming “Elvis is still alive and living in Florida” kind, but a kind of David Icke “Lizard-people-are-going-to-eat-our-brains!” level of conspiracy theory making.

Nova and Evans seem to believe that the current powers-that-be are intent on using fiat money to exert political control over the global population and have been working towards this end for centuries. As noted, fiat money is a particular obsession of “New World Order” fantasists who believe a shadowy cabal are trying to create a one world government through the UN, IPCC and international treaties.

This is truly the “paranoid style of politics”.

It clearly explains Nova’s rabid hatred of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which in her eyes is nothing more than a massive scam to create “false wealth” and yet another lever of power to be used by “them”.

Conclusion: we take Evans/Nova seriously why?

It explains a great deal about her and Evans obsessions with banks, money and gold. It also explains why they have to reject climate science.

After all, if it leads to the creation of more fiat money, it therefore must be part of “the conspiracy”.

Which has to prompt one to ask: why do so many people take Nova and Evans seriously?

Why should two extreme conspiracy theorists be given a voice in papers such as The Australian?

I suspect the extent and depth of their conspiracy making is not well understood, as they’ve taken advantage of the “report both sides” of reporting and the conservative press who question climate change for other reasons.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiat_currency

[Edited 9/6/10 for additional comments]

Six aspects of denial: the common strategies of anti-science movements

How to win arguments against those scientists

I’ve recently been reading “The Making of the Fittest” by biologist Sean B. Carroll, a fascinating book on the evidence that DNA provides for evolution. For anyone with an interest in science it’s well worth a read.

However, chapter 9 really caught my attention. Titled “Seeing is believing” it details how opponents of science frame their arguments in an attempt to dismiss evidence that contradicts their world view.

Carroll discusses in-depth how the anti-vaccination movement and chiropractors use similar strategies in order to challenge the medical professions consensus on the efficacy of vaccines and the fact that there is no good evidence for the effectiveness of chiropractic treatments. Each movement in their own way wages a “war” against the scientific establishment in order to protect their own ideological position.

He uses these examples as a perfect point of comparisons for the creationist movement.

And so, inspired by Carroll I’ll be introducing a new feature to this blog.

New framework for categorisation: six aspects of denial

I call these strategies the “Six Aspects of Denial”.

These are the most common non-scientific objections to the science of climate change. Actually, I will be so bold as to say these six “aspects” are pretty the only arguments the denial movement has: there is no science that supports their position.

I’ll be this framework to “tag” or categorise the type of arguments used by the denial movement in all future posts. At the end of each post I’ll nominate which aspect of denial I note, and offer a brief explanation. In this I’ll be taking a leaf from the wonderful work that John Cook has done at Skeptical Science. I’m hoping such a framework helps people identify the type of arguments used by the denial movement.

I hope this framework helps people understands the flawed logic behind many of the arguments used by the denial movement.

Six aspects of denial

  1. Doubt the science – This is the standard tactic of all denial movements. Creationists attack evolution and geology as they contradict the belief a god/s created the world just under 10,000 years ago. Alternative health practitioners claim the science that demonstrates the lack of effectiveness of their treatments is at fault. On web sites, in books and on in internet forums they attack the science by cherry picking data, misrepresenting research or making bogus claims.
  2. Question the motives and integrity of scientists – This is the favourite tactic of the climate change denial movement. They claim the scientists are engaged in fraud, or are being pressured by governments to make up the results. They make up vast conspiracy theories in order to cast aspersions on the motives of climate scientists, physicists and biologists whose work confirms the reality of climate change. They use the “follow the money” argument, stating scientists are making up climate change in order to get research funding. All them are simply ad hominem attacks: playing the man.
  3. Magnify disagreements among scientists and cite gadflies – Again, one of the favourite tactics of the denial movement. The tiny percentage of actual scientists who express scepticism (Plimer, Lindzen) are dwarfed by the thousands of scientists who agree with the consensus that climate change is happening. But the denial movement exploits the media’s tendency to present “both sides” of the argument and thus help perpetrate the myth scientists are still debating climate change, when in fact there is near unanimous agreement.
  4. Exaggerate potential harm – This normally takes the form of “harm” the economy if the government intervenes. This is why opposition to cap-and-trade (or emissions trading schemes) are anathema to some parts of the denial movement. They also claim a climate change is an excuse to usher in a “world government” into existence. The denial movement plays up to these fears, playing on the anxiety that they will lose their freedoms (see below).
  5. Appeal to personal freedom – One of the great fears of the denial movements a loss freedom. Whether economic or political, they have a paranoid fear that someone (government, scientists, greens, politicians) are going to restrict their right to unlimited consumption or their freedom of speech. But reality is not a democracy. We don’t get to choose the truth about climate change, just as a popular debate about evolution decides the scientific evidence. The denial movement loves to frame this as a “debate” when none exists, claiming they have a right to doubt the science. Of course they do. But it does not mean they are correct.
  6. Acceptance repudiates key philosophy – For libertarians and free market advocates, climate change is a direct challenge to their assumption of unlimited growth. Any response to climate change will involve government intervention and global governance structures (such as a binding treaty to limit CO2 emissions). To such ideologues, it is axiomatic that such responses are “bad”. And yet the “market” can’t fix climate. Caught between having to accepting the science and what it entails and rejecting it in favour of their faith in the market, they reject the science. The same could be said of religious conservatives: like evolution, climate change is a direct challenge to the idea that a god/s has a governance role and is directly responsibly for managing the day-to-day affairs of the world. That a god/s would let climate change happen and not intervene is deeply challenging to the idea that a) they would allow such “evil” and b) the god/s is omnipotent.

Kill those memes: there was no decline to hide, and yes we can follow the money

There are quire a few things worth noting in the Science and Technologies report, most interestingly their discussion of the (in)famous quote “hide the decline”:  

“We are content that the phrases such as “trick” or “hiding the decline” were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead. Likewise the evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers…”

 

The denial movement has turned the out-of-context quote “Hide the decline…” into a lucrative meme. Not only has it been a handy quote to throw around, they’ve  branded publications, websites and t-shirts with it (kaching!):     

Yes, let's follow the money. The denial movement cashes in...

Let’s not forget how much money people like Lord Monckton made on their recent speaking tour “down under” (about $100,000 according to the organisers themselves). 

Yes, we really are followng the money Lord Monckton!

That the denial of a movement tells us to “follow the money” and then sells gimmicky products and charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for their speakers is an irony too rich to ignore.How much does the average scientist make? Have a look at New Scientist Jobs. A specialist in earth or environmental science can earn a decent salary of $94,802 per annum. Think of the years of training, the dedication to honing their skills and the sacrifices an individual would have to make in order to enter science. Does $94,000 sound a lot to you?

Science is not the easy path to riches. 

Graduates starting in banking and finance with just an undergraduate degree can expect to earn that much in their first year out of university. Now contrast those figures with the unqualified Monckton who charges tens of thousands for one speaking gig.    

It’s time to quash these ridiculous memes and remove them from the popular debate. We need a good counter-meme. My suggestions: 

  • No decline to hide
  • It’s your decline
  • We’ve followed the money

Comments and suggestions welcome.Next week I’ll be looking out how the denial movement will spin this defeat. A counter-attack is inevitable.  

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