Tag Archives: science

Orwell’s 1984: the greatest environmental novel of last century, even if author didn’t intend it as such

Our imagination allows us to create all versions of Hell; and Heaven too

Our imagination allows us to create all versions of Hell; and Heaven

All art is theft.

Thus it comes as no surprise that aspiring writers with an interest in politics and the environment fall under the spell of George Orwell. Not just his novels 1984 and Animal farm, but his majestic essay Politics and the English Language.

Christopher Hitchens, perhaps one of the greatest essayists of the last decade, was an enormous fan of Orwell. One can consider Hitchens writing a long exercise in paying tribute to – and wanting to be – Orwell.

Fortunately for Hitchens (and us) he found his unique voice. Hitchens has the same command of language, clarity and sense of justified outrage found in Orwell’s work. Read Hitchen’s God is not Great to see his righteous anger filtered through a powerful prose style.

A recent piece on The Conversation about the value of art in understanding the environmental crisis got me thinking about which novels and films we regard as having an “environmental” theme.

Novels like Cormac McCarthy’s biblical The Road paint a bleak world – the product of some unknown apocalypse. It depicts the journey of the unnamed father and son. They are simply called The Man and The Boy – through this world to the perceived safety of the coast. It is both nightmarish and grueling.

And yet it ends with hope.

Indeed, the ending of The Road is poetic and uplifting: its prevailing mood of pessimism is sharply punctuated by hope. Maybe it is just a glimmer, but it burns all the more brightly in contrast to the ash and death of the world painted by McCarthy.

McCarthy affirms a truth we all know – the human spirit can endure the worst horrors, provided we retain our humanity.

For “the Man” of McCarthy’s novel, it is not enough to merely survive: retaining one’s humanity in a world that has gone to literal Hell becomes the central question, far more important than finding the next meal.

This is also the core of Orwell’s 1984.

The focus of 1984 is Winston Smith’s struggle to retain his humanity in a world that may not be Hell, but is something very akin to it. He has only the vaguest memories of his childhood and mother. All he recalls is loss and horror, and some snippets of a song.

Winston implicitly understands the world is not as it should be – that it does not have to be this way. He suspects he exists in a counterfactual nightmare; a parallel universe to what might have otherwise been. As the reader, we know the world is better than what Winston experiences. But for us, that increases the horror, not reduce it for we step into the world of Big Brother.

Winston can imagine better worlds. He may not know where they are or what they look like, but he is convinced they exist. The tragedy is Winston’s failed struggle to find this world and retain his humanity. We all know how 1984 ends.

The facility to imagine a better world, despite the evidence before our eyes, is a crucial component of our moral imagination. This is what makes us human: to reflect on all possible worlds, and hope to create one closer to Paradise than Hell.

Perhaps this Utopian impulse is unrealistic. At times this impulse has been dangerous, as the distorted racial and economic utopias of Nazism and Stalinism of last century taught us.

However, at times this impulse has been liberating for humanity: Martin Luther King had a dream.

It is my firm believe this impulse resides within all of us, and this is a good thing. We should cultivate it, but temper it with realism, compassion and dare I say it – a dose of conservatism? At least the kind of Edmund Burke who feared the horrors the French Revolution unleashed.

But fear of change? We should embrace change, for that is the permanent state of the universe.

Thus, reflecting on the great “environmental novels” mentioned in The Conversation article it struck me Orwell’s 1984 contains implicit environmental themes.

Ostensibly Orwell’s novel is about politics, the dystopian future of Big Brother and the creation of a monstrous and intrusive police state. It is Stalin’s Russia writ large across the globe and taken to logical extremes. For good reason Orwell was signalling the dangers of totalitarianism.

But the politics of the world Orwell creates shapes the fictional environment, even if the author did not recognise this.

We now know Soviet industry made a polluted wasteland of large parts of Russia and regions of the Soviet Empire. The industries of the Eastern Bloc countries were technologically backwards and polluting. Their  collapse increased the air quality and well-being of the environment of those countries, but at great economic cost and social dislocation.

Does not the political process and the choices our society make shape the environment of today? If you doubt that claim, merely look at our failure to act on climate change.

Are today’s coal-fired generators soon to be the equivalent of the shuttered and empty factories of Eastern Europe – relics not merely of a failed industry, but a failed world view?

It is unlikely Orwell would view his work as an environmental critique. However, authorial intent is often at odds with the perception of readers.

Environmental themes are there in the details of the world of Big Brother and Oceania.

The streets of Airstrip One (the renamed England) are strewn with refuse – everything is ruin.

The universe is in a state of entropy, of falling apart. And yet everyone is indifferent to this state of affairs. They are too preoccupied with the basic questions of survival: of having enough food to eat and avoiding the worst aspects of the security state.

All is ruin.

All live in indifference.

All avoid the truth before them.

All seek the safety of anonymity.

All live in denial: even those in the elite of The Party.

However, don’t let your imagination stop there: dwell on the image of the world Orwell created in 1984.

It is run down and exhausted.

Look in the corners of his world and you will see the poverty and shambolic social services.

What else do you see?

The exclusive use of resources by the military and political elite at the expense of the populace; the stifling of voices who question this status quo; every organ of the state exists to control the use of resources and keep the people compliant through violence, language and surveillance.

People are distracted by a vast political-entertainment complex, the “proles” living on an information diet of sensationalist news and pornography.

How very prescient of Orwell – no doubt unintentional – to paint the picture of an exhausted and run down world, in which the elites squabble over the remaining scraps.

How very much we risk the creation of such a world.

All art is theft.

All art is truth.

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Children, to have or to have not: be childless for the environment?

WtD's garden: winter vegetables on display for every passer by to see

WtD’s garden: winter vegetables on display for  all to see

The topic of children frequently comes up in the climate discussion.

Not merely about the kind of future the children of today – and future generations – will inherit, but should people be even having children at all?

Such thinking stems from the belief there are “too many people” on the planet; if we simply reduced our numbers it will mitigate our species environmental impact.

It’s a fraught debate to say the least.

However I wanted to write as a parent concerned about climate change, but also sympathetic to those who express this view.

Let me begin: the decision to have, or not have, a child is one of the most significant decisions an individual can make. I know, I’m the parent of a 5-year-old.

To have a child – or not – cannot be labelled a selfless or selfish act. We all have the right to control our life and bodies – regardless of gender, age, race, and sexual orientation. The question about having children is personal. No one should answer it for you.

But the question people sometimes ask is how much difference will it make to the environment if they remained childless? And is that the only course of action?

To answer this question, let’s start with some perspective.

All organisms – regardless of the species – leave an imprint and shape the Earth. Humanity does, so do ants and so do microbes. All life shapes the biosphere – life is an integral component of the climate system itself. Consider the role of plants in regulating the climate. But also consider the impact humanity is having: changing the atmosphere and ushering one of the six major mass extinction events of the last 560 million years.

Those who understand the deep history of the Earth and the climate know how radically different the planet has been over the vast eons. Remove humanity from the planet, and the climate will continue to change.

What matters to us – today – is the type of change we are inducing. How fast, how disruptive and how much potential suffering will these changes induce?

Thus to my mind, the question about having children is framed incorrectly.

Let me rephrase it thus: is having any impact negative?

My response: no, not at all.

Even if we substantially reduce the individual carbon footprint of every person on the planet, we will continue to have an impact at the local, regional and global level.

What matters is the scale of the impact an individual or community has. It is not the numbers of individuals that matter, it their level of consumption and resource use. 

If you move through world disregarding the impact you have, thoughtless about the harm you are inflicting it does not matter if you have a child or not.

A childless CEO flying from point to point in their Learjet, driving a SUV and investing in the fossil fuel industry will do more harm than 1000 families living modestly and within environmental constraints.

Help life find the places to grow

Car park converted into productive space for growing food

Car park converted into productive space for growing food

Let me tell you a story.

A few weekends back my five-year old daughter and I were tending our vegetable patch.

We started growing it with neighbors in the front yard of our apartment, right on the street. Anyone who walks past can see the vegetable patch (see the photo above). I’ve seen people grab a sprig of rocket – and that’s OK.

As we tended our garden people stopped to talk. Others smiled as they walked past. My daughter helped, but really she spent a couple of hours playing in the mud. I planted an olive tree. I’m hoping it will fruit in a few years so I can start preserving my own home grown olives.

Out the back of the apartment complex you’ll find the spaces for the residents cars – a grey, flat and dull expanse of concrete. But in places the concrete is cracked, exposing the soil beneath.

A neighbor planted a cherry tomato plant in one of those cracks – it flourished, yielding the most delicious fruit. All during summer my daughter and I ate cherry tomatoes fresh of the vine. Food from a place were the only plants normally to be found are invasive weeds.

And why shouldn’t we plant food in that space?

It is merely a matter of perspective and convention that tells us certain spaces are for certain things.

Life can grow anywhere: sometimes it is our role to help life find those cracks in the pavement. In doing so we make something wonderful.

Through this simple activity of helping the garden grow I’ve come to know my neighbors; my daughter learns something about where food comes from; we all share fresh food.

This is what it means to be human: we are social creatures. We flourish when we belong to a community.

As a parent you experience both joy and hardship: but overall, children bring delight. Children bring joy. This is part of being human.

And yet I would stress (just as strongly) one can also live a joyous and flourishing life without being a parent. I know many such people, and regard their choices as valid. The lives they live are just as flourishing. At times, especially when parenting is hard, I envy their freedom from the responsibility of child rearing.

But that makes me human.

You can tread lightly: even as a parent

I live in the inner city: I use public transport, I sometimes walk to work and have a hybrid car. I cycle to social engagements. I’m active in the climate discussion.

I’ve changed my life in accordance to my values: but I’ve not made myself poorer in any way.

I work for a large company, but I restrict flying for meetings: I video-conference. I enjoy my role in a large professional services firm and receive a decent salary; I do not reject the free market outright, though I believe it needs to be appropriately regulated.

Ditching a large mortgage and most of the trappings of consumption was liberating. I don’t have a TV.

I’ve not sacrificed – I’ve gained.

I save more, have less stress and more time by having a smaller place.

In doing so I’ve rediscovered the insights philosophers over the centuries have extolled – live modestly; reflect on your actions; act ethically; the rest will follow.

What matters is the life you wish to lead – what will make that a flourishing life?

Only the individual can answer that. Picture that life, work towards it.

You can tread lightly – that can be done as a parent, or by making the valid choice not to be.

Remember, to have a child is not to commit oneself or your child to a life of mindless consumption.

You have a choice – you can teach your child to have the skills to make valid choices.

What better legacy is there but teaching your child about the universe, their responsibilities to others and the environment?

When they grow up, they may go into the world and teach others.

The legacy we leave does not have to be one of abstinence, or sacrifice only.

What matters is what you choose to value.

There are many paths and options open to you: don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The rest will follow.

—————–

[Note: I will watch the comments on this post carefully, NO debates about how climate change is a conspiracy between Greens and those advocating a radical eugenics program to de-populate the Earth. If comments becomes too “heated” offending posters will be banned.]

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Crank alert! Organisers of the Oregon petition also have a cure for cancer

TinFoilHatArea

The recent paper by Cook et.al demonstrating the 97% consensus among the climate scientists has generated considerable angst among climate sceptic movement.

However, rather than accepting the research they’ve resorted to denial – see here for Anthony Watt’s particularly amusing response.

Perth sceptic and conspiracy theorist Jo Nova has pulled out the old Oregon Petition Project arguing that 31,000 scientists don’t agree with the consensus:

You want authority? Skeptics can name 31,500 scientists who agree, including 9,000 PhDs, 45 NASA experts (including two astronauts who walked on the moon) and two Nobel Prize winners in physics.

I won’t bore you with yet another dissection of this deeply flawed petition, but simply direct you to DeSmogBlog.

However, what I find curious is the credentials of originators of the petition project: the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM).

Firstly, this grandly named organisation operates out of what can only be described charitably as a shed:

 OISM_Faculty

Ok – perhaps it is not fair to judge a book by its cover.

They could be doing some amazing, cutting edge research in their shed in rural Oregon (not to disparage what is most likely a charming part of the world).

So let’s be fair and evaluate the bona fides of the OISM by the quality of the research they conduct. After all they claim to conduct research into the following:

Current projects include work on the deamidation of peptides and proteins as it relates to fundamental biochemistry and to protein aggregation diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease; research on improved techniques for medical diagnosis; improvement in precollege education curricula, especially in the sciences; and improved civilian emergency preparedness.

In other words they sell kits to survive a nuclear war.

More interestingly they claim to have found a cure for cancer. No really they do.

Let me step you through this discovery of mine.

First, let’s start at the OISM homepage:

OISM_Home 

Note the left hand navigation menu and the option “Nutrition and Cancer”? This is what you get after clicking on the link:

Nut_Canc

Note the text:

This website presents a paper on Nutrition and Cancer that may well be the most important information a cancer patient can find to help him fight this dread disease.

Clicking the link takes you to yet another page:

Still_more_clicks 

Let me say for the record, this is really bad web design: three-click-rule be damned.

They’ve buried the “most important information a cancer patient can find” in a thicket of interlinked pages lacking a consistent design or user experience. It’s like they don’t want you to find it!

Eventually you get to the following essay subtitled “Beating cancer with a diet of raw fruits and vegetables.”

Let me quote:

A surgeon telephoned me to ask some questions about this diet. During the conversation, he told me why he had become interested in it (to the great displeasure of his colleagues).

A patient had come to him in whose throat was growing a completely inoperable and soon-to-be-fatal cancer. He told the patient that there was nothing he could do for him and that he would soon die.

The patient, however, went to Ann Wigmore’s establishment and started eating their initial diet of strictly raw fruits and vegetables. He pursued this fanatically, however, and never switched to Wigmore and Hunsberger’s phase-two diet including additional staples.

Many months later, the patient returned to the surgeon. The surgeon told me that there were three things that were unusual about this patient.

1. He was back. He should already have been long dead.

2. There was not a trace of cancer in his throat.

3. He looked like he had just stepped out of a Nazi or Communist concentration camp. The patient was almost dead of malnutrition. He was a walking skeleton.

The surgeon nursed him back to good nutritional health – but the cancer never returned.

Note the anecdotal and highly suspect nature of this claim: neither the surgeon nor patient is named. As far as personal testimonials go, that’s pretty p*ss weak.

Oh and the cancer – like totally gone.

Like it was never there…

Wooooooooooh waaaah woooh!

Amazing right?

Just so you know, the “raw fruit and vegetable” diet is pure alternative-medicine crapola.

What they are suggesting is a version of a macrobiotic diet: as far as science is concerned, it is totally implausible as a cure. Actually, it may be dangerous to cancer patients who elect to follow it.

It is one of the many alternative cures to cancer sold by hucksters who prey on those dealing with a life threatening disease.

This is yet another variation of the “extreme diet” cure, which the Cancer Council of Victoria (CCV) notes:

There are hundreds of alternative cancer therapies. You may hear about them from friends and family, or come across them in books, on the Internet or on radio, TV, etc. There is no science-based evidence to prove they can treat, control or cure any type of cancer.

There is some evidence a balanced diet – that includes raw fruit and vegetables – can help reduce the risk of some cancers.

But what our friends at the OISM claim is what experts in the field call “woo”.

To quote the CCV, promoters of such therapies are acting unethically:

Unfortunately, there are people who falsely promote treatments which don’t work or are even dangerous as ‘cancer cures.’ There are also people who wrongly claim that mainstream or conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapies don’t work. These people are acting unethically.

Whose opinion do you trust?

The peer-reviewed work of John and his team, or the “We have a cure for cancer!” woo from the cranks at OISM?

——

[Note: I will not be sanctioning a discussion on the merits alternative treatments: the evidence against them is compelling. Nor will I allow this bog to be hijacked by promoters of therapies known to be dangerous to people undergoing treatment for cancer and/or other serious illnesses.] 

 

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Stopped clocks, bad debts and climate sceptics: or why the latest paper on climate sensitivity does not vindicate the sceptics (nor suggests complacency)

clock_broke

For those who pay attention to minutiae of the climate debate, you may have noticed the denial-blog-sphere is all-a-flutter with claims of “Sceptics proven right.”

This source of this self-congratulation among the sceptics is a recently published paper in Nature Geoscience titled Energy budget constraints on climate response by Alexander Otto et al [doi:10.1038/ngeo1836].

I was able to source a copy of the paper and took the time to appraise how it could possibly be the source of so much sceptic excitement.

Let me quote from the paper so that you may judge whether-or-not the sceptics have been vindicated:  

“The rate of global mean warming has been lower over the past decade than previously. It has been argued that this observation might require a downwards revision of estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity, that is, the long-term (equilibrium) temperature response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations…”

The paper notes:

“The most likely value of equilibrium climate sensitivity based on the energy budget of the most recent decade is 2.0 °C, with a 5–95% confidence interval of 1.2–3.9 °C…”

From this, sceptics have claimed the death knell of climate science. Having read it, the take home points are for me are:

  • the oceans have been sequestering a great deal of heat – much more and much more rapidly than we thought 
  • that will come to an end at some point in the future, with the heat coming back out as the climate system tries to reach a point of equilibrium (note: as the atmosphere and oceans exchange heat)
  • the rate of warming for the last decade has been at the lower end of model projections
  • thus in the short-term the climate may warm 20% more slowly than previously expected (i.e. transient climate response)
  • even though we may not see some of the extremes predicted in earlier models, a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration opens the door for an average temperature increase of +/- 4.0C.

Good news story and the death knell of the climate conspiracy?

Hardly.

The research is not that a radical departure from the results of climate science, but consistent with other work within the field.

It is also worth noting the paper does not take into consideration tipping points or other anticipated positive feedback mechanisms such as increased methane emissions – the release of vast quantities of this most potent greenhouse gas from beneath the Arctic tundra due to warming.

A small and maybe irrelevant point? Must likely not.

Indeed there are a quite few nasty surprises like methane out-gassing lurking out there – things known but generally avoided in many models (the planets decreasing albedo effect as the extent of the Arctic ice decreases anyone – anyone?).

It will be worth watching the research on climate sensitivity over the coming years: at least form the perspective of how policy makers, sceptics and the public react to this informaiton.

Just how fast, and how extreme, will the warming be?

A very interesting question indeed.  

Bad “climate” debts accumulating: no time for complacency

A 2.0C-4.0C increase in average temperatures will have a significant impact on large parts of the globe, if not devastating large swathes of it.

As the oceans draw down heat it will fuel their thermal expansion, a major driver of projected sea level rise. Nor will the oceans continue to do humanity a favour by acting as endless sink for the additional heat we’re adding to the climate system.

Crop production around the mid-latitudes is going to be hit hard, which incidentally is where most of humanity resides. Remember the aforementioned sea level rise? Many millions in the mid-latitudes will be forced to relocate.

But hey, wheat production will increasingly shift to Canada and the Arctic circle. You win some, lose some right?

Like avoiding a bad debt by taking out another high interest credit card to cover your repayments, this warming is going to raise its ugly head in the future. One may avoid paying your debts in the short-term, but at some point the Sheriff will come a-knocking and take the keys to your car and what personal property you have.

Likewise, the climate will come and “ask” us for the debt we “owe it”.

Things like coastal cities and productive farmlands will be the collateral confiscated to service the “warming debt” our species is accumulating.

Perhaps we’ve gained a little extra time – a tiny window of opportunity really – to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps we have more time to plan adaptation measures.

Whatever the case, the window for action is still narrow: this research is not cause for complacency.

Sadly I fear laggard policy makers and the mischievous will see it as such, and continue to push the cause of inaction.

Deep time, deep history, climate change and living through interesting times

Let’s also place this “pause in warming” in context.

In geologic terms, the rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 and the warming trend is unprecedented in the planet’s history.

It is vital we stop thinking in terms of a climate change as the up-or-down temperature swings of a particular decade. We accuse sceptics of cherry picking; likewise we need to remove our own myopic filters.

We need to pay far closer attention to the paleoclimate record: as James Hansen has recently argued, we cannot fully appreciate the profound changes the planet is undergoing without drawing on the lessons of the geologic past.

Nor should we disregard the warming oceans, the decline of Arctic sea ice and the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere – and the many other metrics – all point to the same conclusion: warming has not stopped.

Perhaps it is the own cognitive limitations and the transient nature of how we experience time that creates such a short-sighted and myopic view of climate change.

I suggest we think in terms of both deep time and deep history.

2.5 billion years from now, should our descendants or a successor species of comparable intelligence dig into the Earth’s crust they’ll find evidence of our civilisation: but not in artifacts or fossils.

Instead they will note the abrupt disappearance of species in the fossil record (evidence of a mass extinction event) and the changed chemical composition of ocean floor and terrestrial sediments.

The evidence will point to a warmer world relative to other periods within geologic history. Billions of years into the future, a faint but still distinguishable trace of humanity’s impact will be evident. 

That’s how profound and long-lasting the changes humanity has wrought are.

We’ve not seen this level of CO2 in the atmosphere in millions of years: most recently during the mid-Pliocene (5.3-2.5 million years ago).

At that point the average temperature was 3.0C-4.0C higher, while sea levels were 25 meters higher.

However, we won’t have the luxury of billions of years of perspective to ponder what happened: we’ll be living through those profound planet-shaping and epoch-defining changes.

Actually, we are living through those planet-shaping and epoch-defining changes.

Of stopped clocks and claims the planet is no longer warming

What also interests me is the sceptic response.

As anticipated, they’ve misinterpreted the paper and claimed it as vindication of their views.

My response to that is even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day.

It’s well understood the rate of temperature change has varied over the last 150 years: to claim such a pause is evidence against warming is to merely be right by chance, and not for the reasons the sceptics likes to claim.

The sceptics are in no way vindicated: a slower rise in land temperatures does not imply climate change has stopped, or was “exaggerated”.

Indeed, lead author of the paper Alexander Otto makes that point in an interview with The Guardian:

“Otto said that this most recent pattern could not be taken as evidence that climate change has stopped. “Given the noise in the climate and temperature system, you would need to see a much longer period of any pause in order to draw the conclusion that global warming was not occurring,” he said. Such a period could be as long as 40 years of the climate record, he said…”

Sage advice the sceptics are won’t to ignore.

Which of course they do…

Perth’s resident climate sceptic and conspiracy theorist Jo Nova is the most self-congratulatory, breathlessly announcing they (sceptics) where right all along:

I think the climate sensitivity figure is still too high but it’s good to see estimates being revised in the right direction. Reality bites back. The deniers were ahead of the climate experts. We said the models were exaggerating and we were right.

Andrew Bolt in his usual fashion is not even close to being wrong claiming “alarmists” have finally admitted defeat:

Sure, warmists exaggerated the temperature rise so far, The Age finally admits. But we still have to believe they’ll be right about the apocalypse to come:

The rate of global warming caused by rising greenhouse gas levels could be slower than previously thought, but will still result in the same eventual higher temperatures as earlier forecast, new research has found.

Note also the story suggests there has been a “rate of global warming” over the past decade, without actually telling you what it is. If the reporter did, he’d have to admit there’s been no warming at all…

Bolt completely misrepresents the results of this paper; his view that there has been no warming is completely contradicted by Otto’s statements – whose work Bolt seeks to misappropriate to support his fallacious argument.

Bolt also gets it spectacularly wrong in his first sentence: no one is revising historical temperature increases down (as his wording implies), they are revising the short-term (i.e. transient) rise in the global temperature average slightly down over the coming decades.

Global warming has not stopped; it just may have hit a very small and minor speed bump. It is virtually certain to pick up speed again. 

Thus it would seem Mr. Bolt is struggling with such basic concepts as the past and future. But, hey like whatever Andrew: us warmists have always got it wrong.

I’m sure he got his “facts” from Watts up with That? or some other climate sceptic blog and they fitted nicely with his prejudices – he tags the post “Dud predictions” without fully appreciating what he is posting.  

Sorry to disappoint Andrew, but we’re still heading towards a much warmer world.

The sceptic response: the enemy of my enemy is the fact we can cherry pick

What’s remarkable here is not the paper itself, but the sceptic response. Indeed, their response is ripe with irony.

For decades sceptics have claimed the models constructed by climate scientists are unreliable and not to be trusted.

And yet, when a model or a piece of research shares the barest hint of concordance with their views they proclaim it as a victory for sceptics.

It seems the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” applies. 

To paraphrase in sceptic terms, “the enemy of my enemy is the facts I can cherry pick”.

Sceptic victory?

Hardly.

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Andrew Bolt’s “The Death of Global Warmism”: Plimer’s book sold 40k copies, ergo climate change not true (part 4 of 11)

200px-DaVinciCode

More convincing then Plimer’s Heaven+Earth (if you go by sales)

[Part 4 of 11]

Summary of Bolt’s argument: Climate sceptic Ian Plimer sold lots of copies of his book Heaven+Earth. Ergo climate change is not real.

Summary response: Andrew Bolt commits a classic logical fallacy – the argument from popularity. If truth was based solely on the sales of a book, then the Da Vinci code must be extra true for selling 80 million copies.

Logical fallacies present: Argumentum ad populum (x1)

I’m going to jump ahead to Andrew’s 10th sign as it is the easiest to dispel – and perhaps the most farcical.

Bolt’s claim: “That wall is now breaking. Dissent is being heard, with Professor Ian Plimer’s sceptical Heaven and Earth alone selling more than 40,000 copies here. Yes, the world may start warming again. Yes, our emissions may be partly to blame. But, no, this great scare is unforgivable. It’s robbed us of cash and, worse, our reason. Thank God for the 10 signs that this madness is over.”

Response: We can easily dispatch Bolt’s last claim as an example of a logical fallacy: argumentum ad populum. To translate form the Latin, “appeal to the people”.

By claiming the popularity of a belief Andrew argues it must be true.

Dan Brown’s conspiracy tome the Da Vinci Code sold 80 million copies and was made into a film. Compared to Plimer’s paltry sales of 40,000 the Da Vinci Code must be extra, extra-true. After all, how could 80 million Dan Brown fans be wrong?

Putting aside Andrew’s argument it is worth noting that Plimer’s book is riddled with errors. Scientists who have reviewed it have dismissed it as case study in “how not to be objective”.

Ian Enting, a mathematical physicist from the University of Melbourne reviewed Plimer’s book and found over 100 errors.

In a review published in The Australian, astrophysicist Michael Ashely stated Heaven+Earth contained “no science” and noted Plimer drew upon some ludicrous examples of pseudo-science:

Plimer probably didn’t expect an astronomer to review his book. I couldn’t help noticing on page 120 an almost word-for-word reproduction of the abstract from a well-known loony paper entitled “The Sun is a plasma diffuser that sorts atoms by mass”. This paper argues that the sun isn’t composed of 98 per cent hydrogen and helium, as astronomers have confirmed through a century of observation and theory, but is instead similar in composition to a meteorite.

It is hard to understate the depth of scientific ignorance that the inclusion of this information demonstrates. It is comparable to a biologist claiming that plants obtain energy from magnetism rather than photosynthesis.

Selling 40,000 copies of Heaven+Earth must make Plimer’s claim about the sun true.

One million people visit Andrew Bolt’s blog: that makes everything Bolt says true. 

Justin Bieber has sold over 15 million albums: this makes him the greatest artist in the history of the world.

I mean, who can argue with 15 million Bieber fans?

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Andrew Bolt’s “The Death of Global Warmism”: false claims about the planet not warming and cherry picking his facts (part 3 of 11)

Summary of Bolt’s argument: The world has stopped warming; a famous scientist states this; even the IPCC makes this claim.

Summary response: Andrew Bolt cherry picks his data.

Logical fallacies present: Cherry picking (x2); association fallacy (x1).

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Bolt’s claim: “Yes, the planet warmed about 0.7 degrees last century, but then halted. Professor Richard Lindzen, arguably the world’s most famous climate scientist, has argued for two years that “there has been no warming since 1997″. Others date the pause as late as 2000.”

Response: Andrew begins his list of 10 signs the global warming scare is “over” with an egregious falsehood which has been debunked more times that can be counted: the myth that warming stopped in 1997.

One of the sources for this myth is a 2012 Mail on Sunday article by David Rose. I won’t cover the same ground so many others already have. However I would point readers to the following:

As Gleick’s article notes, it is an example of cherry picking facts – its both a logical fallacy and intellectually dishonest.

Bolt – and sceptics who make the same claim – ignore the even more compelling evidence of a warming planet: rising levels of ocean heat content.

Bolt only refers to land temperatures, data that pertains to only 29% of the planet’s surface.

The other 71% of the planet is covered by water.

As this graph from Skeptical Science indicates warming has not paused, but is accelerating:

Note the warming of both oceans to 700 metres and below.

Bolt tries to bolster his claim by associating it with the views of “the world’s most famous climate scientist” Richard Lindzen.

Once again, Andrew Bolt employs another logical fallacy – the fallacy of association. His argument is no more valid than this:

Richard Lindzen likes cheese flavoured corn chips: Richard is famous. Therefore, cheese flavoured corn chips are the tastiest.

By associating a value with Lindzen – his fame – Bolt hopes to persuade the reader that his argument that the world stopped warming in 2007 is factual.

Lindzen’s fame has nothing to do with the truth of the claim: it is no more persuasive than stating Lindzen enjoys a particular kind of corn chip.

Even the IPCC admits the world has stopped warming?

Claim: “Even the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admitted in its latest draft report that while its usual measurements of global temperature found some warming trends since 1998, “none of these are statistically significant”.

Response: The last sentence contains a blatant example of cherry picking. While it is now difficult to obtain a copy of the leaked documents, the IPCC did not “admit” the planet had stopped warming.

If anything AR5 further confirms humanities role as virtually certain in causing climate change, as this article from The Conversation notes:

“The draft report, which was still undergoing a peer review process, said that “there is consistent evidence from observations of a net energy uptake of the earth system due to an imbalance in the energy budget.”

“It is virtually certain that this is caused by human activities, primarily by the increase in CO2 concentrations…”

Bolt has merely lifted a single phrase from thousands of pages and used it to misrepresent the conclusions of the IPCC.

Cherry picked facts, falsehoods and logical fallacies.

And this is only the first of Bolt’s ten signs.

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Andrew Bolt’s “The Death of Global Warmism”: how Andrew poisons the well (part 2 of 11)

Putting Andrew's claims to the test

Putting Andrew’s claims to the test

Part 2 of a line-by-line examination of the claims made by Andrew Bolt in his article The death of global warmism.

Summary of Bolt’s argument in the opening paragraphs: The claims of scientists don’t stand up; they have engaged in dubious, if not illegal activities and need to be held to account.

Summary response: Andrew Bolt’s opening is a text-book example of a logical fallacy – poisoning the well. He prefaces his article with an attack on the credibility of scientists, implies their activities are both self-seeking and perhaps even criminal. He cherry picks his sources and employs a number of logical fallacies.

Logical fallacies present: Poisoning the well (x1); argument from personal taste (1); guilt by association (x2).

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Introduction: poisoning the well

Andrew Bolt is a master of employing rhetorical devices to prejudice his audience against those he sees as his opponents – in this case scientists and those accepting the scientific consensus on climate change.

The death of global warmism opens with the (informal) logical fallacy known as poisoning the well.

He is priming the reader by preemptively attacking the credibility of scientists and ridiculing the science of climate change. A writer employing this rhetorical device will employ emotive terms, typically negative.

An example of poisoning the well would read thus:

“You may not wish to listen to the evidence of my opponent, as they have been proven time and again to be a liar and fraud”

Or:

Any claims made by person X cannot be relied upon because of Y

The following is a deconstruction of the opening paragraphs.

Bolt: “The 10 signs of the death of the scare are unmistakable. Now it’s time to hold the guilty to account.”

Response: The choice of words helps prime the audience: “scare” and “hold the guilty to account” strongly imply scientists are engaged in something illegal or morally dubious. A text-book example of poisoning the well.

Bolt: “Just why did we spend the past year paying the world’s biggest carbon tax, which drove our power bills through the roof?”

Response: There is very little evidence to support his claim – and Bolt offers none. While Australian electricity prices have been increasing, the impact of the carbon tax has been negligible. Six months after its introduction the government reported a 9% reduction in emissions from power generators. As I noted earlier, the Australian economy has not collapsed with 50,000 jobs added in the last quarter.

Bolt: “Why were our children forced to sit through multiple screenings of Al Gore’s dodgy scare-flick An Inconvenient Truth?”

Response: Bolt implies the forced watching of Al Gore’s film was a form of child abuse. He offers no evidence to support the claim it was a negative experience for children.

Bolt: “Why did we scar the most beautiful parts of our coast with ludicrously expensive wind farms?”

Response: Wind power is a rapidly growing source of energy in Australia: in the five years prior to 2011 the annual rate of growth in installed capacity grew by 35%. In South Australia wind power accounts for 21% of electricity production in the state – it is neither a marginal source of power, or “ludicrously expensive”.  Bolt’s main objection appears to be based upon his own aesthetic values: however to quote the old Latin maxim “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes”.

Bolt: “And why did so many people swallow such bull, from the British Climatic Research Unit’s prediction that “children just aren’t going to know what snow is” to ABC science presenter Robyn Williams’ claim that 100m rises in sea levels this century were “possible, yes”.

Response: The quote “children just aren’t going to know what snow is” was cherry picked from an article published by the Independent in 2000. It misrepresents the words of  Dr David Viner (CRU). Viner prefaced this statement by saying snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event” – he did not claim snow would stop falling.

In 2007 episode of the ABC’s Science Show, Robyn Williams spoke about how coral reefs have helped science understand how sea level rises and falls in response to global temperatures.

He noted:

“How are ancient sea levels determined? It’s with corals. They act as bathtub rings. Ancient reefs now exposed can be dated and placed in time. Sea level has been 100m higher than present, when there were no ice sheets, and about 120m lower than present during glacial periods.”

Bolt took this to imply Williams was arguing we would see a 100m sea level rise this century.  Bolt and Williams argued this point in a heated exchange on The Science Show on (10 March 2010):

Andrew Bolt: I ask you, Robyn, 100 metres in the next century…do you really think that?

Robyn Williams: It is possible, yes. The increase of melting that they’ve noticed in Greenland and the amount that we’ve seen from the western part of Antarctica, if those increases of three times the expected rate continue, it will be huge, but the question…

Williams notes it is possible that if we see warming of 3-degrees this century, we may see a significant increase in seal level rise. I will not argue whether or not Williams is correct: but I will note he is drawing his conclusion based upon the paleoclimate record.

In choosing these two quotes Bolt is employing the guilt by association fallacy – citing these as examples of poor predictions by scientists, he implies all the claims made by scientists are equally poor.

To given another example of the guilt by association fallacy:

Bob has a black beard, he also has a history of robbing banks: therefore all men with black beards are bank robbers.

Given that thousands of papers on climate change are produced every year supporting the scientific consensus, Bolt’s conclusion is as absurd as the claim all men with black beards are bank robbers.

Bolt: “Yes, we may yet see some warming resume one day.”

Response: Bolt makes a concession – warming may resume.

Bolt: “But we will be wiser. We have learned not to fall so fast for the end-of-the-world sermons of salvation-seekers and the tin-rattling of green carpetbaggers.”

Response: In this final sentence of the article’s introductory paragraphs Bolt implies scientists and activists have a hidden agenda: either converting people to a set of beliefs (salvation-seekers) or venal self-interest (green carpetbaggers).

This is a variation of the climate sceptic myth that scientists are perpetrating a hoax for funding, while green activists are employing the global warming “scare” to destroy capitalism and usher in a one-world-government.

It is yet again an example of the guilt by association fallacy.

Next: Part 3, Andrew continues to claim the world isn’t warming despite the overwhelming evidence.

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Andrew Bolt’s “The Death of Global Warmism”: a special WtD response to his most recent article (part1)

Overview: The first in a special 11 post series examining the validity of the claims and arguments made by Andrew Bolt in his article of 13 May 2013  in the Herald Sun, “The death of global warmism: 10 signs of hope”.

Followers of the climate debate may be familiar with the name Andrew Bolt.

Bolt, a commentator for the News Limited tabloid the Herald Sun [1] is perhaps one of the most vocal climate change sceptics in the Australian media.

He claims to have one of the most widely read blogs in Australia (most likely true), and uses it as a platform to disseminate climate sceptic disinformation. He also hosts his own television show, The Bolt Report, in which he frequently takes swipes at scientists and climate science.

In December of last year the Australian Press Council (APC) adjudicated three separate complaints made in relation to an article by Bolt in which he claimed “…the planet hasn’t warmed for a decade – or even 15 years, according to new temperature data from Britain’s Met Office”.

The claim stemmed from an article by David Rose in the UK’s Mail on Sunday, which the Met refuted.

The APC found the Bolt had ignored the Met Offices correction:

The Press Council has concluded that Mr Bolt was clearly entitled to express his own opinion about the Met Office data but in doing so he needed to avoid conveying a misleading interpretation of the Met Office’s own views on its data. In a blog posting two days earlier (30 January) he had quoted Mr Rose’s assertion about the lack of warming and a reader then posted a comment referring him to the Met Office’s description of that assertion. The Met Office description should have been mentioned in Mr Bolt’s print article and blog of 1 February, even if he then rebutted it as unconvincing. It was not sufficient in these circumstances to assert ignorance of the response or to rely on the reader’s previous posting to inform other readers about it. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld on that ground.

Being proven wrong does not seem to concern Bolt. Ignoring the findings of the APC, Bolt continues to make the same claim.

Thus I was interested to see in today’s Herald Sun an article by Bolt titled “The death of global warmism: 10 signs of hope“.

Bolt believes he has marshaled ten “killer” arguments against the science. A full-page is given over to the article in which Bolt makes this and a number of other claims: climate models are unreliable; climate change is a scam; and even if it was warming, it’s a good thing.

Having read the article it became very apparent I could not begin to address all of his claims in a single post.

Thus this week my focus will be on this one Bolt article.

Why you may ask?

This latest article by Bolt serves as a kind of magnum opus of all of his claims. He recycles the same claims he has made about the science and scientists for years. Thus it allows us to critically examine Bolt’s position on climate change in one article.

I will examine the 10 claims individually: I’ll match quotes and sources he cites against original sources; I’ll look at the underlying structure of his arguments; and I’ll test his arguments against the basic rules of logic (whether his premises match the conclusions).

I’ll also pay attention to his language and his use of metaphor in constructing his arguments.

Each post will adopt the following structure:

  • Bolt’s Argument – A direct quote or summary of Bolt’s argument
  • Summary response – A single paragraph summarising my findings
  • Full response – an in-depth examination of Bolt’s claims, use of evidence and argument structure.

I’m going to treat Andrew’s article to forensic analysis to see how well his arguments stack up. Some may argue that I’m not a disinterested commentator. I acknowledge Bolt and I differ on the science: I accept the scientific consensus, Andrew Bolt rejects it.

However it is worthy examining how Bolt arrives at his conclusions. I will acknowledge that he is a good communicator, with a persuasive style and a flair for weaving his personal opinions with “facts”.

Andrew Bolt has a disproportionate influence on the discussion about climate change in Australia: he is given a national platform via News Limited’s 70% market share of the Australian newspaper market. Channel 10   has given him a Sunday morning television show in which he ridicules scientists and showcases a parade of climate sceptics. 

Next post: Poisoning the well against climate science: how Andrew’s  introduction to “The death of global warmism” frames his arguments and primes the reader.

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[1] The Herald Sun is one of Melbourne’s daily newspapers with a circulation of approximately 2 million. It is one of the papers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation who control 70% of the Australian newspaper market.

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Saving the Great Barrier Reef: is it in our own self interest?

The GBT seen from space (source: NASA)

The GBR seen from space (source: NASA)

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the true wonders of the planet, however thanks to climate change and development it is as risk.

The United Nations has let the Australian Federal and Queensland State government know that they plan to list it as an endangered world heritage site:

The United Nations has put the Queensland and federal governments on notice that the Great Barrier Reef could be added to a list of endangered world heritage sites. 

In a draft decision released Friday night, expected to be adopted when UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meets in Cambodia next month, it will be recommended the Great Barrier Reef be included in the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2014 ‘‘in the absence of a firm and demonstrable commitment’’ from the state and federal governments to take action…

Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said it was worrying that Australia was on the brink of joining the ‘‘list of shame’’ as a country that could not manage its world heritage sites.

‘‘Australia would be the only developed country in the world to have a world heritage site on endangered list. It would be a huge international embarrassment and it would be a big blow to our tourism industry,’’ she said.

‘‘We’ve got 54,000 people who rely on a healthy reef and a thriving tourism industry and those jobs would be at risk if international tourists think, ‘Oh, the reef’s on the endangered list, gee it must be completely trashed, we won’t bother coming to visit’.‘‘It would be a massive blow to the tourism industry, which is about $5 billion a year in revenue and that’s revenue we could have for years to come – it’s not just a one-off mining boom.’’

I’ve only visited the reef once but count it as one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It is a place of extraordinary beauty. It also provides many Australians with a livelihood, supporting a $5 billion a year industry.

But is that only way we should we value the reef? Should we consider its own intrinsic value – and those of the myriad of species that live among it – or do we value it in purely economic terms and the aesthetic value it provides to us?

Do we simply sweep aside any concerns about environmental degradation and species loss and place the interests of humanity – and the economy – first?

Should we save the Great Barrier Reef?

The interests of humanity, other species and ecosystems  are not mutually exclusive: there is a relatedness between all species and environments. This includes not only natural environments, but urban ones as well.

Humanity is not separate to nature: our civilisation has become a geologic force of nature by ushering in the Anthropocene.  No part of the planet has escaped the impact of our footfall.

So, let us think of the planet as a continuum of environments: from the great cities of the world to the frozen wilds of Antarctica. At risk environments such as the GBR demand our attention because they are at risk: they are fragile, and the loss of the reef would impact both species and the people whose livelihood depend upon it.

Thus – put crudely – in protecting the GBR the interests of humanity, the reef and the many species it hosts converge.

In preserving the reef we save a place of extraordinary natural beauty, maintain a $5 billion a year industry and – just as importantly – help sustain an ecosystem that supports countless species.

The continuum of urban, natural and at risk environments: managing the planet

[Warning: speculation ahead!]

Now extend this kind of thinking to the continuum of both urban and natural environments. Every part of the planet is inter-related: from the atmosphere, to the oceans, farmlands, cities, the suburbs and remaining wild spaces.

The Earth is now a system of both anthropogenic and natural systems – each impacting the other. The system we call the economy is embedded within and impacts systems such as the carbon cycle. A warming planet will impact our economic system in the form of increased weather extremes and the destruction of property. Likewise there will be increased economic opportunities driven by a warming planet – investment in alternative energy and the redistribution of agricultural production to more benign parts of the globe.

This kind of systems approach does not distinguish between natural and man-made systems – such distinctions are now meaningless.

What defines humanity: our intelligence as a species or our impact on the planet? 

Planetary boundaries: how we impact the planet

We presently view the Anthropocene as a tragedy: the sixth great extinction and a period of immanent environmental collapse.

At the same time we are continually urged to “save the planet”, however I don’t see it that way: calls to save abstract notions as “the environment” fall in deaf ears. And for good reason.

I take an exception to those environmentalists who believe we can return the world to a pristine state: there is no going back to some romanticized pre-civilisational Eden. There are billions who still live in poverty who need to be lifted from the conditions that prevent their flourishing. We cannot overlook the need to redress such inequality.

And yet, to return to my original point, the interests of humanity and other species converge.

Climate sceptics deny we’re having such an impact on the planet. And yet many environmentalists deny the end of nature. Ironically both sceptics and environmentalists deny the role our species has to play in actively managing the planet.

Our environmental policies, governance arrangements and crucially how we view ourselves need to change: what defines us as a species is not our intelligence, societal structure, economic system or even the constitution of our genes.

What defines humanity is the act of geoengineering. 

So its good-bye homo sapiens and hello homo ingeniare. 

I say this somewhat facetiously – but to make a point. How we see ourselves and the world matters.

For thousands of years we have been accidental geoengineers: at this point in history the future of our species and all others depends on us accepting the role of self conscious planetary engineers.  

After all, it is in our own self-interest.

Sunday morning musings

….hopefully the above makes some sense. Treat this post as my Sunday morning musings over coffee.

My thinking has been shaped by environmental philosopher Bryan Norton and his “convergence hypothesis” outlined in his 1991 book Towards unity among environmentalists. I’m also interested in the writings of Anthony Weston who has written on environmental pragmatism. Also consider Eaarth by Bill McKibbon; The God Species by Mark Lynas; The New Nature by Tim Low; Here on Earth by Tim Flannery; Earth Masters by Clive Hamilton; and Al Gore’s The Future. In addition concepts such as planetary boundaries.

There is a great deal of literature on this subject, and I appreciate I’m not doing it justice – or my own thoughts.

Being somewhat overwhelmed at work I have little time to write – thus the sparsity of posts. So feel free to agree, argue or pass over these musings.

Cheers

Mike @ WtD

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How Tony Abbott killed the Australian climate sceptic movement and schooled them in realpolitik

In June of 2012 I wrote a post on the politics of climate change in Australia and what to expect in 2013 and 2014. At the time I thought it overly optimistic, if not risky given that most predictions turn out to be spectacularly wrong.

Titled The coming disappointment: how the deniers are about to get a harsh lesson in realpolitik I suggested:

  • Tony Abbott and the LNP would win the 2013 Federal election
  • Abbott would look to “axe-the-tax” (price on carbon) in name only, introducing a face-saving sleight-of-hand in but still maintain a price on carbon
  • The climate sceptic movement would be bitterly disappointed, as the realisation began to dawn on them that Abbott played the populist hand against the carbon tax in order to undermine the Gillard government’s legitimacy
  • For the climate sceptics (deniers) it would be an object lesson in realpolitik.

I should have also added it would signal the death knell of the sceptic movement as a cultural and political force in Australia. Abbott may shut down the Climate Commission as a symbolic act, but it will be no more than that – a sop for the more rabid elements of the Murdoch Press.

Now that Abbott is assured the Prime Ministership both he and the LNP are distancing themselves from climate change scepticism.

Abbott has just recently indicated that once he becomes Prime Minister he will work with China and the United States to formulate a global agreement and (believe it or not) raise their emission reduction targets:

The coalition will consider ramping up the national target for reduced emissions as part of its Direct Action policy, The Australian Financial Review reports.

According to the newspaper, Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt told an audience in Canberra last night Australia would “easily meet” the already set target of reducing emissions by five per cent by 2020.

Mr Hunt conceded his confidence was rooted in a future coalition government’s willingness to consider raising the emissions reduction target as early as 2015.

Mr Hunt’s concession comes as opposition leader Tony Abbott unveiled plans to play a lead role in convincing China and the United States to sign up for a global climate change deal if he wins government.

Mr Hunt said under a coalition government Australia would still be part of a UN climate change process but would also pursue action with key members of Group of 20 nations.

“Where a real global agreement will come is when China and United States reach a point of common position and when that’s backed up with India and the EU,” Mr Hunt told ABC TV on Thursday.

Mr Hunt said Australia would chair the G20 summit in Brisbane next year and it was in a unique position “to bring together the G4 as the basis for a global agreement”.

“I think (Tony’s) a fantastic negotiator,” he said

Yes that’s right – a global governance regime and working with the UN. The very things the likes of Christopher Monckton, Jo Nova, David Evans, Andrew Bolt and James Delingpole fear. Does this make Abbott an agent of the New World Order?

Hunt also recently appeared on the Andrew Bolt show arguing the case for global action:

GREG HUNT: If we act with China, the United States, India and the EU, that can be a positive. But acting alone, and at the moment, the Government is acting alone in a way where we have a higher tax than anybody else in the world is ultimately not effective, particularly when you are simply sending the emissions and the jobs to China, to India and to Indonesia. 

ANDREW BOLT: Can you explain to me why, and I always ask the question of you whenever I see you as you know… 

GREG HUNT: You do. 

ANDREW BOLT: And I always try to ask that of the Government when they don’t come into the studio anyway. But why is that I don’t get an answer anyway on that? I mean it’s quite a, scientists have got the figure, and they put it out there, this is the difference you will make and you guys never tell us, yes or no. 

GREG HUNT: The answer is we will make a difference of 155 million tonnes… 

ANDREW BOLT: No in temperature. 

GREG HUNT: Acting alone the difference is minimal but… 

ANDREW BOLT: Everyone watching us now has just seen me asking you the question a couple of times and everyone watching this now has seen you dodge it and they will say he’s not answering it. 

That’s what really strikes me, why do politicians never answer the very basic question. For all this pain what is the gain in temperature? 

GREG HUNT: There are different views on the impact. 

ANDREW BOLT: And what’s your view? 

GREG HUNT: My view is that alone it is minimal. With others you can have some sort of impact but above all else, we’ve got an environmental policy which is about clean air and clean land, things that you can support irrespective of where you stand on the science.

The LNP’s pivot back to the centre: ditching the crazies

Mainstream politicians don’t win elections pandering to extremists and conspiracy theorists. The Republicans failed to learn that lesson in 2012.

However Abbott & Co. is doing what the GOP and Mitt Romney failed to do in the final stages of the 2012 US election: swing back to political centre to capture moderate and undecided voters. Abbott learnt the lesson the GOP failed to learn – ditch the crazies.

The carbon tax protests of several years ago demonstrated to most Australians the sceptic movement is a collection of intellectual fringe dwellers and conspiracy theorists. Only 6% of the Australian public identify themselves as climate sceptics. It is a demographic the Coalition and LNP and Abbott would do well to ditch – and so they are.

Conservative commentator (and George W. Bush speechwriter) David Frum recently wrote the harm extremist views can have on the electoral prospects of a political party. Reflecting on the reasons for the GOP’s defeat in the last US Presidential election he noted the toxic role the “conservative entertainment complex” played :

“The alternative information system built by conservative elites imprisons them as much as it does the movement’s rank and file. Exactly at the moment when realism and restraint are most needed, those qualities are spurned by a political movement that has furnished its collective mind with pseudo-facts and pretend information.” (Why Romney Lost, 2012)

The climate sceptic movement is just that: an alternative system of knowledge. If you recall, every GOP presidential candidate stated they were a climate sceptic: not one of them became the President of the United States.

Abbott and Greg Hunt are smart enough to start freeing themselves from the grip of the sceptic movement: which is why the climate sceptic movement is dead.

Where’s the love Tony? Sceptics feel the cold shoulder

This reality is only just dawning on Australia’s more vocal sceptics. Evidence of this can be seen in a recent post by Jo Nova in which she lashes out at Abbott and the LNP.

Titled Australian conservatives going Labor lite – pandering to the “green vote” or just confused? she states:

Tony Abbott has a plan to try to convince China and the US to sign up for the “global climate change deal.” As if the world’s number one and two economies, with a population of 1.6 billion combined, will be waiting for instructions. And as if the global climate needed “a deal”. Hey but we do have 22 million people. squeak. squeak.

To make matters worse, Greg Hunt — the opposition spokesman for the environment — said a Coalition Government might not wipe out the emissions reductions target but… wait, they might lift the target instead. Thus taking something useless, expensive and ineffective against a problem-that-doesn’t-exist and making it moreso [sic].

It’s a mistake every which way. The Liberal Party could play them at their own green game and beat them, just by applying common sense. Instead its appeasing the politically correct namecallers [sic] (who wouldn’t vote for them anyway), and the price they pay is to look weak, irrational and lacking in conviction.

Jo can’t understand why Abbott and Hunt accept climate change as real:

If the Liberal Party were serious about protecting the environment, they would promise to drop funding for pointless fantasies and token do-gooder projects and get the science right first. A government that was serious about the environment would use some saved funds to set up an entirely new climate science research unit — one that aimed at predicting the climate (inasmuch as it is possible). Better climate models would help farmers, town planners, tourism operators, emergency services, dams and water catchments. It’s not just green, its a productivity thing too. Better than a wind-farm…

The new unit could compete with the BOM and CSIRO and may the best scientists win.

A real green policymaker would audit our temperature records independently. How can we be serious about managing Australia’s climate if our records have biased and inexplicable adjustments, that are described as “neutral”? Why would anyone who cares about the environment be prepared to accept shoddy data, bugs, and mysterious black box methods that no one can test?

Put aside her fantasy of creating yet another scientific institution – at great expense to the taxpayer – the necessary competition between scientists has already happened: it’s called the peer-review system. Over 95% of climate scientists agree humanity is changing the atmosphere of the planet.

Abbott and the LNP have accepted that scientific consensus: which is why the climate sceptic movement is dead.

Abbott’s coming political challenge: Australia’s business community want’s a price on carbon

A recent article in the Australian Financial Review stated both power and multinational firms are signalling their strong desire to see a price on carbon is maintained:

Power companies are demanding the federal opposition rethink its “direct action’’ plan for reducing carbon emissions, warning that its company baseline approach could be more difficult to operate than Labor’s trading scheme.

The Energy Supply Association of Australia said falling demand for power meant the Coalition must review its energy and climate change policy if it gains power at the September 14 federal election.

The warning comes amid growing support by multinational companies and major business groups for a market-based scheme, such as an emissions trading scheme, linked to the currently low prices set in European and other international markets.

ESSA, which represents big power companies such as Origin, TRUenergy and International Power, has long supported an emissions trading scheme.

“What we are seeing is the conditions in the market moving so quickly that there is a need to rethink the rules with a view to resetting or rethinking Direct Action,” ESAA chief executive Matthew Warren told The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday.

But the Coalition is refusing to budge. The opposition’s spokesman on ­climate action, Greg Hunt, said on Tuesday that it was committed to dumping the carbon tax.

“We remain completely committed to the policy as it removes a costly tax on business,” he said.

After the 2013 election the LNP will face enormous pressure from business to shift its position.

The hard sell will be trying to convince the voting public retaining a price on carbon is not a price on carbon. But a price on carbon is here to stay.

Would not the public see that as a cynical ploy, thus hurting freshly minted Prime Minister Abbott’s approval ratings? More than likely.

But the LNP will have a sizable majority in the lower house and the potential to ride out initial voter backlash.

Cynical? Perhaps.

But that is how the game is played.

Realpolitik triumphs: which is why the climate sceptic movement is dead.

Ironically it is Tony Abbott driving some of the final nails into the coffin of the climate sceptic movement –  the same man who famously called climate change “crap” and ran a tawdry scare campaign against the carbon “tax”.

There are times when politics creates situations of exquisite irony.

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