Category Archives: War on science

Of ice ages, the view from nowhere and the value of one’s soul: Graham Lloyd, The Australian and the repackaging of fringe science

Not long ago Hollywood rediscovered the disaster genre, delivering to the movie viewers a spate of gloriously visualised, but implausible apocalyptic visions. As examples of the zeitgeist they’re fascinating examples of our existential fears made real.  

In what lovers of the genre call “disaster porn” the CGI wizards of Hollywood treated us to a variety of end time scenarios: from giant meteorites in the execrable Armageddon (1998); global pandemics in Outbreak (1995) and I am Legend (2007); the Godzilla inspired monster of Cloverfield (2008); the New Age eschatology implied by ending of the Mayan Long Count calendar in the film 2012 (made in 2009); to the current most-favoured harbingers of the apocalypse, the zombies of The Walking Dead.

My favourite of this genre has to be The Day After Tomorrow (2004), a film which imagines the globe caught in the grip of a sudden ice age which descends over a series of days rather than the millennia it normally takes. The film chronicles a series of extreme weather events, precursors to the Northern Hemisphere being blanketed in ice.

The film treats us to a touching father-son reconciliation, a trite love story and lots of ice.

Pure bunk of course – however scientists have long resigned themselves to the fact that Hollywood will choose spectacle over fact. Most of us can discern fact from film fantasy. But sadly, not all of us can make such distinctions.

Point in case The Australian’s Environment Editor, Graham Lloyd, who recently published an article containing “facts” about as plausible as the script as The Day After Tomorrow.

According to Graham there is serious scientific debate about a coming ice age. No really, he argues such.

An ice age cometh: we’re about to enter a 30 year cooling period?

In an article titled Emissions debate heats up while experts warn of a coming ice age (May 4 2013), Lloyd rips his facts straight from the big screen and pages of fringe science blogs to suggest there is some debate over an imminent ice age:

In Russia, one of the world’s leading solar physicists, Habibullo Abdussamatov, says the planet is well on the way to another deep freeze. Abdussamatov is the head of space research at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St Petersburg, and director of the Russian segment of the International Space Station.

In an interview with Principia Scientific International, Abdussamatov said results of research from the ISS had indicated a decline in total solar irradiance, which was having a dramatic effect on the global climate.

Data indicated the onset of a mini ice age.

If true, then all this fuss over global warming is actually distracting us from the actual (and in Graham’s view equally plausible) threat of an imminent ice age.

The impressively credentialed Habibullo Abdussamatov seems uniquely qualified to put forward such an argument. That is until one starts digging as Abdussamatov seems to hold some very strange views.

Abdussamatov: does not believe in any greenhouse effect

Abdussamatov is a vocal sceptic of global warming within the parallel universe the deniers inhabit, but as far as the science community is concerned he is relatively obscure.

He is not a leading solar physicist: this is merely another example of the old sceptic tactic of inflating the reputation and achievements of “experts” such as Abdussamatov. In fact, a quick search of the internet will find he has been making the same claims for several years.

His most unusual claim is that the greenhouse effect does not exist at all. In a 2007 article published on Canada.com (website of Canadian newspaper publisher Postmedia Network) Abdussamatov is quoted as saying:

Dr. Abdussamatov goes further, debunking the very notion of a greenhouse effect. “Ascribing ‘greenhouse’ effect properties to the Earth’s atmosphere is not scientifically substantiated,” he maintains. “Heated greenhouse gases, which become lighter as a result of expansion, ascend to the atmosphere only to give the absorbed heat away.”

Such a claim would be news to the scientific community to say the least.

Actually, it is almost impossible to convey just how absurd his proposition is – it is the scientific equivalent of arguing the sun still goes around the Earth. His view of the behaviour of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere is pure fantasy without a shred of evidence.

Even the most extreme sceptics – Jo Nova, Lord Monckton and Anthony Watts – don’t subscribe to this view.

They acknowledge the greenhouse effect: they argue a doubling of CO2 will have a negligible impact on global temperatures. According to them, the heat trapping potential of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been overstated by the scientific community.

Thus Abdussamatov would be considered fringe even by their standards – which is saying a lot. If that is not bad enough, things go from bad to worse in Lloyd’s article.

Graham Lloyd plagiarizing content: word for word his article mimics a 2007 article from Canada Free Press

The practice of using material word-for-word without attribution or acknowledging the source is generally frowned upon by journalists. 

The more cynical call it plagiarism. Sadly, Lloyd appears to be engaged in this very activity.

Lloyd attributes the following quotes to Abdussamatov (italics mine):

Abdussamatov said there had been five deep cold periods in the past 1000 years – in 1030, 1315, 1500, 1680 and 1805.

 He said another cool period was due and would come about regardless of whether industrialised countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions.

“Mars has global warming – but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” Abdussamatov said.

“These parallel global warmings – observed simultaneously on Mars and on the Earth – can only be a consequence of the effect of the same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”

 Abdussamatov said a new “little ice age” would start this or next year and hit a low around 2040, with a deep freeze that would last for the rest of the century.

The quotes Lloyd use mimic word-for-word quotes in the aforementioned 2007 article (italics):

Mars has global warming, but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” he told me. “These parallel global warmings — observed simultaneously on Mars and on Earth — can only be a straightline consequence of the effect of the one same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”

Lloyd has merely broken the later paragraph up and substituted some words.

Perhaps Lloyd was sloppy, or merely forgot to correctly attribute his sources. We all make mistakes.

The more cynical of us would call it plagiarism.   

False balance: Lloyd’s view from nowhere is really the view from the fringes

Lloyd is a practitioner of the journalistic style of “the view from nowhere”.

He tries to eschew any editorialising in order to present “both sides of the debate” so that the informed reader can make up their own mind.

In reality, Lloyd’s view from nowhere is the view from the fringes of the scientific community: more specifically the view of a crank, Abdussamatov.

Lloyd elevates Abdussamatov to the level of one the world’s “leading solar physicists” and a voice we should be paying attention too. Lloyd frames the article in such a way to imply there is some debate amongst the scientific community that an ice age may very well be immanent.

Let’s be clear: there’s no debate: there are no concerns about a mini-ice age.

What we have is the spectacle of The Australian plucking fringe beliefs from the sceptic blogosphere and given them credibility.

The real story that needs to be told is not that of scientists debating about scenarios reminiscent of The Day After Tomorrow.

The real story that needs to be told is just how partisan The Australian has become on the issue of climate change.

Lloyd’s article smells of desperation: it is the feeble clutching for facts in order to deny reality.

The planet is warming; climate change is real; humanity is the architect of this warming.

We all have a choice: one can accept reality or live in denial. Lloyd seems to have made his choice: he is a nowhere man living in an alternative reality of facts made to suit the opinions of Editor Chris Mitchell and owner Rupert Murdoch.

But what is cost of this?

Not only to Lloyd and the reputation of The Australian as a news source – but to us, the general public who needs to be informed? We may shake our heads at the antics of Lloyd, but ultimately it is a grossly misinformed public who suffers most.

At least Lloyd gets paid for his efforts: I guess I gain some satisfaction in correcting his falsehoods.

But again – at what cost?

All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.

Graham Lloyd and The Australian: rapidly fading credibility

It says a lot about the quality of a newspaper when their Environment Editor is either a) unable to distinguish fringe beliefs from actual science or b) happy to publish such tripe if it undermines the scientific consensus on global warming.

Over the years we’ve witnessed The Australian publish some appalling misinformation on climate change: this without doubt is the nadir of their reporting on climate change.

For a paper which likes to think of itself as the “voice of the nation” this is an appalling lapse in journalistic standards.

We – the reading public – have a right to expect better than this. This is the very impulse that motivated me to start this blog. We are all ill-served by the mainstream media if this is the best they have to offer.

Perhaps there is a circle in Hell for once good journalists who have turned away from the ethics of the profession: if so it must be full of News Limited journalists who felt compelled – or were coerced – to publish pieces such as Lloyd’s.

For good reason many of us are exhausted auditing the self-proclaimed auditors of science. We’ve been engaged in this activity for over thirty years when the “debate” first emerged.

I believe there is a more important question to address: the question of why. Of why elements of the media – who have the power to shape public opinion and debate – have granted themselves permission to distort the truth and mislead the public.

All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.

[Note: see also Graham Readfearn’s piece on the same topic – what can I say? Great minds think alike. Readfearn does some great detective work on finding all the sources Lloyd uses.]

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[Disclaimer: This article contains both original research and some elements of satire. Every effort is made to ensure the validity of the claims made by the blog’s author. ]

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Money quotes and ripe cherries: can scientists avoid having their research “cherry picked” by climate sceptics?

 cherrypicking

Every  day there are dozens of new research papers on climate change related matters published, monthly there are thousands of them. In addition to the peer reviewed literature hundreds if not thousands of white papers, articles and blog posts are produced by the science community on climate change.

And while this cornucopia knowledge can be overwhelming even for the most dedicated reader on the topic, it represents a rich field of opportunity for those who wish to mischaracterise the work of scientists.

We are of course talking about the practice of cherry picking: selecting data and quotes from the vast sea of climate change related informaiton and reproducing it out of context. In doing so, opponents to mainstream science hope to cast doubt on the scientific consensus and undermine the public’s trust in scientists by taking their words out of context.

Two recent examples illustrate the practice of cherry picking by sceptics. In addition some suggestions are made to avoid or mitigate this tactic.

The Australian: no link between sea level rise and global warming?

The first example is that of The Australian’s misleading coverage of recent research on sea level rise. Environment Editor Graham Lloyd wrote a series of articles implying that there was no link between sea level rise and global warming during the 20th century.

Lloyd referenced the paper Twentieth-century global-mean sea-level rise: is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? and seized upon by the following sentence in the abstract:

“Semi-empirical methods for projecting GMSLR (global mean sea level rise) depend on the existence of a relationship between global climate change and the rate of GMSLR, but the implication of our closure of the budget is that such a relationship is weak or absent during the 20th century.

A reading of the entire paper suggests no such thing. As Graham Readfearn pointed out it was merely an attempt to “murder a scientific paper” by cherry picking a single sentence. Indeed one of the papers authors, John Church stated the article produced by Lloyd was misleading.

Fortunately in this case The Australian was forced acknowledge the article was factually incorrect, even going so far to issue a rare correction.

Did NASA scientist James Hansen really admit global warming “stalled”?

The second and most recent example is provided by sceptical blogger Anthony Watts (Watts up with that?).

Watts cherry picked a quote form a recent paper by noted NASA scientist James Hansen, implying Hanesen recently admitted there has been no global warming for the last 16 years:

Dr. James Hansen and Reto Ruedy of NASA GISS have written a paper (non peer reviewed) with a remarkable admission in it. It is titled Global Temperature Update Through 2012.

Here is the money quote, which pretty much ends the caterwauling from naysayers about global temperature being stalled for the last decade.

The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for the last decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slow down in the growth rate of net climate forcing.

Gosh, I thought Hansen had claimed that “climate forcings” had overwhelmed natural variability?

A simple check of the original source demonstrates the clumsy manner in which Watt’s has cherry picked the quote to turn it into a “money quote” about stalled global temperatures. Here is the sentence in context (relevant quote underlined):

Global surface temperature in 2012 was +0.56°C (1°F) warmer than the 1951-1980 base period average, despite much of the year being affected by a strong La Nina. Global temperature thus continues at a high level that is sufficient to cause a substantial increase in the frequency of extreme warm anomalies. The 5-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slowdown in the growth rate of the net climate forcing.

An update through 2012 of our global analysis (Fig. 1) reveals 2012 as having practically the same temperature as 2011, significantly lower than the maximum reached in 2010. These short-term global fluctuations are associated principally with natural oscillations of tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures summarized in the Nino index in the lower part of the figure. 2012 is nominally the 9th warmest year, but it is indistinguishable in rank with several other years, as shown by the error estimate for comparing nearby years. Note that the 10 warmest years in the record all occurred since 1998.

The long-term warming trend, including continual warming since the mid-1970s, has been conclusively associated with the predominant global climate forcing, human-made greenhouse gases, which began to grow substantially early in the 20th century.

As can be seen Watts has merely lifted a single sentence to mischaracterise the paper. Hansen and Ruedy do provide the appropriate context, highlighting the fact that “the 10 warmest years in the record all occurred since 1998”.

So in this charged environment what can the scientific community do to mitigate such abuses?

Don’t give them cherries

Real Climate noted the sentence in the Church et.al. sceptics seized upon was “awkwardly phrased”. However the Hansen and Ruedy paper is well written, clear and when seen in context the cherry picked sentence makes perfect sense.

For this reason scientists should not berate themselves for seeing their own words used against them.

A first step – and not to slight the authors of the paper on sea level rise – would be to avoid giving sceptics the oppurtunity to pick low-hanging fruit (it is acknowledged the vast majority of scientists are indeed very careful).

However, Watts unintentionally reveals the mindset of climate sceptics by referring to the sentence he lifted from the Hansen/Ruedy paper as a “money quote”.

Sceptics such as Watts are not engaged in reading the scientific literature in an intellectually honest way: they are hunting for anomalies. Regardless of how much caution a scientist may take, it is inevitable sceptics will cherry pick the literature in order to cast doubt on the science.

Stopping the lie before goes around the world: rapid response and press council complaints

To quote Mark Twain “a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” But once the lie has taken flight how should we respond?

Rapidly, calmly and with the facts.

The recent example of The Australian being forced to issue a rare correction offers a salient lesson in dealing not only with the claims of climate sceptics, but with blunting a potent “meme”.

Sites such as Skeptical Science, Real Climate, DeSmogBlog, The Conversation and Climate Progress are all excellent platforms for countering misinformation. Were possible, getting corrections published in the mainstream media is worth pursuing. That includes authoring articles or writing letters to the editor. Even jumping into the forum comments might help undo some of the damage.

Nor should individuals and scientists be afraid to take their concerns to regulatory bodies such as the Australian Press Council (PAC) to tackle misinformation that appears in the mainstream media (MSM).

A member of the public is free to lodge a complaint; however doing so is not a trivial matter. It is vital to review the guidelines for making a complaint.

While sceptics often cry “censorship” when they find themselves corrected, it is vital to counter their misinformation.

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Staring down denial: The Australian forced to correct story, admits sea rise linked to global warming

Today a good news story.

Readers may recall The Australian published a misleading story on sea level rise (see WtD here) earlier this week. Many people in the science community expressed their frustration: not only with The Australian’s blatant misrepresentation of the paper referenced in the story, but with their continuing “war on science”.

I’m pleased to say there has been an encouraging development – The Australian has been forced to print a correction in page 2 of today’s printed edition (hat tip JonDee):

OZ_Correction

Perhaps it was the general outcry from scientists or the widespread and rapid response from the blogging and science community (see Graham Readfearn’s superb article) – whatever prompted this correction it is encouraging news.

It also offers a salient lesson: it is possible to stare down the denial machine.

UPDATES

Crikey reports: “Crikey understands the scientist relied on in Lloyd’s story to back up the claim of sea level rise not being linked to warming, the CSIRO’s Dr John Church, has expressed disappointment with that story. At least one environment group has complained to The Oz about the story. The Australian has been criticised in the past for running stories which some perceive as misrepresenting the science on anthropogenic climate change, but it has rarely issued corrections on its climate change stories.”

Graham Readfern writes: “Lloyd’s story ran on January 15, the day after he had decided to criticise the national broadcaster for the way it was covering climate change in a week-long series of stories from the ABC’s environment correspondent Sarah Clarke. Essentially, Lloyd’s rather churlish argument seemed to be that Clarke hadn’t interviewed the people he would have interviewed and cited facts in the way that he would have cited them. Discussing an ABC report on sea level rise, Lloyd wrote: “But the ABC did not mention recent scientific findings that there was no firm link to sea-level rises and climate change in the 20th century.” Oh the irony, it burns. To me, it seems a little rich for a journalist who is able to invert the findings of a science paper to feel confident enough to publicly lecture other journalists…”

The Bolt report named one of the worst shows of 2012: and we’re surprised?

The Sydney Morning Herald listing some of the worst shows of 2012, and to the surprise no one, The Bolt Report is one of them. Poor Channel 10 – they really should have known better. How could a show built around Bolt be anything but a dull and plodding.

But like a zombie, the Bolt Report refuses to die:

VIEWING figures for The Bolt Report were slightly up in 2012, which suggests either that the partisan commentator is making converts or that those who love to loathe him simply can’t resist screaming at their television sets every Sunday morning. Either way, it was hard to fault his perseverance as the newspaper columnist proved himself the scourge of dead horses everywhere, returning to favoured topics week after week. But Bolt hasn’t managed to find a decent sparring partner, and a fair degree of his initial ”I’ve got my own TV show! Me!” enthusiasm has dissipated. The show has become a forced march.

Climate sceptic Bolt will no doubt convince himself the lack of viewers is a conspiracy among left-wing scientists somehow manipulating the numbers.

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War is over: victory over the deniers

Time for bold claims: the war is over.

The International Herald Tribune picks up on what may be an emerging trend: the decline of climate scepticism:

In a blog entry this summer, famed international correspondent Christiane Amanpour opined that the climate change denial club “is actually now shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.” 

Opinion surveys suggest she’s right. Two factors that may contribute to the changing attitude about the changing climate — and the melting away of many skeptics — are the extreme weather events that have affected the United States recently and the legions of climate activists who make it their business to convince and motivate an increasingly receptive public.

The post referenced above is titled The climate debate is over:

In the fierce and sometimes ugly fight over global climate change, we finally have an answer coming from the earth itself: the weather is telling us climate change is here and we are causing it. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku is among the scientist who say the world is giving us signs that climate change is already happening (to see how he explains it, watch the video above).

This summer, there have been relentless droughts, wildfires, melting glaciers and unprecedented storms – all happening at the same time. And around the world people are demanding something be done about it. Even in the United States, ground zero for climate change denial, six in ten Americans say they believe it is indeed happening. But political leaders are missing in action – cowed by a vociferous climate change denial club, which is actually now shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.

In the video physicist Michio Kaku admits he was a sceptic until he looked at the evidence.

War is over…

Personally, I believe the climate change denial movement will splutter and rage on for a few more years as the most prominent voices and their well funded supporters continue to rage against reality.

But already one gets the sense the voices of Andrew Bolt, Jo Nova, David Evans, Anthony Watts, Marc Morano et.al are becoming increasingly marginal. Ironically they are becoming even more shrill in their claims of conspiracy theories and “It’s not happening”.

News Corporation and the think tanks will continue their desperate rearguard action against the public’s acceptance of the science: history’s judgement will be no doubt be unkind.

The deniers will achieve a few more Pyrrhic Victories: maybe they’ll find a flaw or two in the next IPCC report (AR5), publish a few hundred more op-ed pieces in major dailies and delay a carbon tax in the US for an electoral cycle or two.

Sure – public acceptance of the science will swing this and that for a few more years, but the trend is towards majority acceptance of the science. At some point public tolerance for the deniers will shift from a bemused indifference to disgust and exasperation.

Will that greater public acceptance of the science translate into voter demand for action?

The denial machine will attempt to arrest that as well – after all, that is their raison d’etre. They’re skilled at halting progress so they’ll continue to block, obstruct and show the seeds of disinformation.

But that’s all the denial movement has to look forward too: small scale, tactical victories in a war that is over. The funding for their activities will soon begin to dry up: they will retreat to the fringes of internet culture with flat Earth fanatics, UFO enthusiasts and other intellectual fringe dwellers.

How the war was “won”

However we must be honest: the victory was not achieved by activists or science communicators. Too late it was realized it was never about the science, but values and world view; ideology was the crucial driver of those rejecting the science.

We – the journalists, activists, bloggers, politicians, scientists fighting to bring climate to the forefront of public perception – fought the good fight. We did all we could have been asked to do: but the denial machine was more organised, better funded and prepared to engage in suspect and unethical behavior. Ruthlessness tipped the battle in their favor for close to three decades.

But at some point physics and chemistry was going to resolve the debate: brute reality was always the final arbiter.

And so 2012 will be regarded as the year the debate “shifted” against the sceptic movement – the extreme weather events of this year and Sandy ensured that.

But something like Hurricane Sandy was inevitable. Whether a storm of Sandy’s kind arrived this year or next, something of Sandy’s scale was always coming – and with it the profound  social and political implications of such a storm.

[Note: upon reflection, I think Tamino is very correct: activists and bloggers fought a valuable holding action, doing their best to hold off the onslaught against science.]

War is over – if you wan’t it

And so – with mock solemnity and virtual trumpets – I declare the end of hostilities in what is merely the opening phases of a longer conflict over containing climate change.

Let’s call it the “First Climate War”, a virtual battle over public perception fought in the opinion pages of newspapers, on blogs and social media and in back rooms across the globe. It was fought in the streets of Copenhagen and influenced the Australian election of 2007.

Participants included global media corporations, NGOs, sovereign nations, transnational bodies such as the UN, the fossil fuel industry, think tanks, scientists, eccentric billionaires, bloggers and politicians.

The First Climate War was a messy and brutal conflict more impenetrable and confusing than the Thirty Years War – and much like the Thirty Years War it was a conflict that drew in major powers, religious fanatics and obscure principalities, off of whom were sucked into its vortex by a mixture of principles and power politics.

But this initial phase of the conflict is coming to a close.

War is over…

Can we can go “home”; can we go back to how things were?

Can we dismantle our blogs; discontinue our Twitter accounts?

Can we can lay down our (metaphorical) arms, and begin to count the cost?

Those of you have been personally involved in this “debate” knows how it can feel: like brutal, bloody trench warfare.

But Like all wars, the cessation of hostilities is merely the prelude to reconstruction and new debates, the emergence of strange new alliances and emergencies.

As the World Bank notes in their recent report:

“A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided – we need to hold warming below 2°C,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest.”

And that:

As global warming approaches and exceeds 2°C, there is a risk of triggering nonlinear tipping elements. Examples include the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet leading to more rapid sea-level rise, or large-scale Amazon dieback drastically affecting ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production, and livelihoods. This would further add to 21st-century global warming and impact entire continents.

The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen.

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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The coming assault on AR5: get ready for the next war on the IPCC in 2013

Via the Sydney Morning Herald:

The Australian government has begun its review of the latest draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, pledging ‘‘an open and comprehensive approach’’ as it taps selected input.

The review will draw on comments from experts, state and territory governments, industry groups and research organisation, the government said in a statement. “IPCC Assessment Reports are a vital reference and evidence base for policy considerations on climate change by governments around the world,” Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Greg Combet said.

The review will run to the end of November and involves a ‘‘second-order draft’’ of one of the three working group reports, examining the physical aspects of the climate system and the changes under way.

These include observations of changes in air, land and ocean temperatures, rainfall, glaciers and ice sheets, and sea level, as well as evaluations of climate models and projections of future conditions.

The first working group’s report is due for public release in September 2013. Draft IPCC reports are typically not made public, with the review process intended to test the data and analysis, and identify any errors.

So what can we expect from the sceptic movement?

Time for some predictions!

Coming soon to a climate sceptic blog: conspiracy theories and cherry picked facts*

As we get closer to the release of the next Assessment Report (AR5) we can look forward to renewed attacks on:

  • the integrity of the IPCC
  • those associated with the IPCC
  • the integrity of individual scientists and scientific institutions
  • the idea of a scientific consensus on climate change.

We will no doubt see the deployment of the following tactics:

  • dragging out all the old complaints about AR4
  • sceptics hunting for anomalies and small errors in the report
  • mutterings about global conspiracies and scientists fabricating data
  • counter-conferences and publications that present a “counter-consensus”
  • climate sceptic bloggers working themselves up into frequent episodes of rage.

Since the publication of the last IPCC synthesis report  (AR4) the science has become even more settled. Thus in that context it will be interesting to see how the sceptic movement responds to both the report and media coverage.

Will the media allow the sceptics to frame the debate again?

How much the mainstream media will pander to the sceptics and repeat their accusations remains to be seen.

Increasingly we are seeing their views getting less and less airtime in the mainstream press. 

It now seems parts of the maintream media are a) bored with the messages of the sceptic movement and b) has twigged to the fact the sceptics are in the business of manufacturing faux scandals and outrage.

“Another typo in the IPCC report? Gosh, how clever of you Mr Climate Sceptic (yawn).”

2013 sceptic response: expect the spectrum of outright denial to luke-warmism

So what to expect? 

Parts of the News Corporation will pick up sceptic talking points and quote all the usual climate sceptic suspects on Fox News, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and other parts of Murdoch’s empire.   

More respectable outlets such as the WSJ may change their tone from outright denial to a form of luke-warmism: “Sure the climate is changing, but it will be fine – or we will adapt – so no need to change!”

The Australian will strive for its usual balanced approach (i.e. war on science) of trotting out professors that have gone emeritus and surrender occasional column space to cranks like David Evans and Joanne Nova.

Lets hope those two start talking about the Rothschild’s and the climate scam on the pages of The Oz.

Andrew Bolt will speak approvingly of cranks on both his show The Bolt Report and on his blog.

Fox News will continue to offer fair and balanced commentary by getting the science wrong and promoting outright falsehoods.

Climate sceptic blogs will run amok with the usual dross – getting especially shrill both prior to and after the release of AR5.

I anticipate Anthony Watts will release another special pre-peer reviewed analysis of temperature data in the later half of 2013 to counter the work of the IPCC (lulz).

Reader predictions welcome

So readers, what are your predictions for the sceptic response?

As we get closer to the release of the first draft I’ll start pointing tactics and sceptic responses.

But to be frank, I think we can condidently predict the sceptic response.

 

* In other words, nothing will change.

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Merchants of hate: the right wing populism of Alan Jones versus “decent Australia”

I’ve not commented on the so called Jones Affair yet, but I’ve been watching developments out of curiosity. For those unfamiliar with the issue, Jones is a Sydney based right-wing radio shock-jock whose now notorious comments about the Prime Minister’s father have generated intense controversy.

And while the Jones affair has sparked enormous debate it is merely symptomatic a broader issue: for too long our media has been infected, shaped and effectively ruled by the merchants of hate.

The merchants of hate: who are they?

What the merchants of hate have wrought (Source: News)

Every day in both print and radio we are constantly assaulted by men – and they’re mostly older, white conservative males (with some few token exceptions) – espousing a toxic brew of climate scepticism, disdain for the environment, free market fundamentalism and a loathing for women, refugees and anyone who does not fit into a narrowly defined category of what is acceptable to their world view.

One only have to look at the writings of Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt, the daily content of The Australian, Daily Telegraph and the messaging from the Liberal-National Party as evidence for the above.

It is the diffusion of right-wing popularism from the United States into Australian political culture, and the blending of conspiracy culture and hate. But what was once restricted to the fringes of society has been made popular via the Internet and – let us be frank – Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Noted economist John Quiggin also recently made this point on his blog:

For practical purposes, any comment, wherever it is made, is addressed to the world as a whole. More significantly, political debate has been globalised. In particular, the “cranks and crazies” who dominate the US Republican Party, along with the right-wing of the Tory party in the UK, inform the thinking of much of the Australian right-wing commentariat.

This is line with some of my thoughts: right-wing popularism (as I’m attempting to describe it in relation to climate change scepticism) has burst into the mainstream. In turn, it has had a toxic and destructive effect on the political process and public debate.

I believe a strong case can be made that climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts have been compromised by the intensity of the more extremist elements of the conservative movement opposing both the science and any attempts to address the challenge.

Which brings us back to Alan Jones.

Alan Jones: merchant of hate and unreality

For years Jones has suffered very little in the way of repercussions for the vitriol he directs against his perceived enemies. But now it seems Jones has gone to far.

His comments that Prime Ministers Julia Gillard’s father, recently deceased, died of shame has prompted a feeling of disgust across the country.

To date over 110,000 people have signed a petition to get Jones off the air. Major sponsors have dropped their association with his breakfast show (if you’re interested in signing see here).

Jones behaviour has prompted – to quote Sydney Morning Herald journalist Peter Fitzsimmons – “decent Australia” to stand up and call him on his behaviour:

What has in fact happened in the last week has been the rise of decent Australia  saying enough is enough. And yes, sponsors like Gerry Harvey have publicly  worried that by withdrawing from the Jones program they are taking part in a  lynch mob, but they misunderstand. What you are actually doing, Mr Harvey, is  refusing to sponsor any further “lynch-mob radio”.

The public outrage in relation to the Jones affair as given me a sense of optimism: perhaps we have reached a tipping point, when ordinary citizens have said “enough!”

Nor is it just Jones comments about the passing away of the Prime Minister’s father people are reflecting upon.

It is Alan Jones and his world view that is now under the microscope, as Jones subscribes to the usual cluster of right-wing popularist nonsense:

As one of the most prominent climate sceptics in the Australian media he frequently distorts the public’s understanding of the science. It is worth noting that earlier this year the Australian media watch dog found he’d made “unsubstantiated comments” about the science.

But merely being wrong about the science was not enough to stop Jones.

He had to prompt the disgust of the nation.

And even then, like any school-yard bully pulled up for their behaviour he is claiming the mantle of victim.

Countering the merchants of hate

Perhaps in the public’s justifiable outrage we are seeing the stirring of a new counter-movement against the merchants of hate – one that calls for a return to civility and reasoned debate.

It is vital that we do so with urgency.

Those of us attuned to reality appreciate we are confronted by a broad range of challenges: environmental collapse, resource depletion, an ageing population and less certain economic times to mention but a few.

It is not the end of the world, but some nasty shocks are on the horizon if we don’t start seriously planning a response.

And yet we cannot meet these challenges creatively or with a sense of common purpose when the merchants of hate preach division and call out scientists and environmentalists – indeed anyone perceived to be in opposition to their paranoid world view – as the enemy within.

The likes of Alan Jones are not dissenting voices; he is not the representative or champion of unpopular causes as he and his defenders are so very quick to claim.

The language of hate peddled by Jones, Bolt and News Corporation is merely a tool to silence critics of the status quo. Told that we cannot consume blindly or pollute the world’s atmosphere without consequences, and their response is blind fury and denial.

And yet in opposition to their fury what is an appropriate response?

Censorship in a free society is untenable, and destructive; it is not an option in a genuinely democratic country like Australia. Nor do I advocate it.

What then?

Limits to hate: victory over the merchants of unreality?

We can reclaim the media and public debate by standing up to the likes of Jones; we can bring back accountability.

Which is what 110,000 Australians did in signing that petition to get Jones off the air. It is a genuine grass-roots initiative taken up by tens of thousands. Which is why sponsors are fleeing from Jones in horror at being associated with his tainted brand.

Decency, humility and respect for the rights of others never went away or into decline: the values of our society are not in free fall.

But you would not know that tuning into Alan Jones or picking up The Herald Sun.

By capturing the media and using it as a platform for their distorted reality, the shrill and panicked voices of right-wing popularism attempted to drown out any sense of common purpose in a tirade of hate filled invective.

They wanted to divide the world into us and them and for the public to follow their conspiratorial lead. They treated climate science as a subversive heresy and have been attempting to stamp it out.

Indeed there can be little doubt in coming decades Jones and the climate sceptics will be mocked for their beliefs; that climate scientists perpetrated a gigantic hoax for funding; that environmentalists wanted to de-industrialize the West; or that the Rothschild family is behind it all.

We have listened to Jones and his fellow travellers for years; we have tolerated their hate filled world view far longer than was necessary. They have had their opportunity to put their case forward, in a manner befitting their temperament.

But there are not merely limits to growth; there are limits to the level of hate a pluralistic society will tolerate.

Perhaps those limits are now finally being reached.

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Polling of 13,500 people show most believe climate change is happening; USA remains the “sceptics” heartland

An interesting poll via the Telegraph:

An online poll of 13,500 adults in 13 countries found that most people believe that climate change is happening. 

The figures ranged from 98 percent in Mexico and Hong Kong and 97 percent in Indonesia to 80 percent in Belgium and 72 percent in the United States.

Rising average temperatures, drought and extreme rainfall were the phenomena that people most cited.

However countries had a much more variable opinion over whether whether it is mankind causing global warming. 

Asked whether human activity was mainly responsible for climate change, 94 percent of citizens in Hong Kong agreed, followed by 93 percent in Indonesia, 92 percent in Mexico and 87 percent in Germany.

The United States remains the “heartland” of climate scepticism: this may lend support to the idea that denial is a product of right-wing popularism. Thus it is strongest where the culture war is being waged and think tanks, conservative politicians and fundamentalist Christians are most actively opposed to the science and regulatory efforts:

Dissent was strongest in the United States, where 58 percent agreed with the question, in Britain (65 percent) and Japan (78 percent).

The survey was carried out from July 5 to August 6 by the opinion poll group Ipsos for the insurance firm Axa.

It was conducted in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.

The results come as the climate change debate becomes more important to the US election. 

Campaign groups are threatening to target the vulnerable congressional seats of Republicans who dismiss the dangers of climate change. 

In the UK, trust in climate change science was damaged by the theft of emails from the University of East Anglia or so-called ‘climategate’. Sceptics claimed that the emails showed scientists were willing to exaggerate global warming – although later inquiries found the science remained sound.

In Japan global warming has been dismissed as nuclear industry propaganda. 

In comparison, developing countries, that are more likely to be hit by extreme weather events, are more likely to believe mankind is responsible for climate change.

The countries with strongest public support are those most likely to suffer the worst impacts.

Makes sense does it not?

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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:

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.

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