Joined: 12 Jan 2004
| Post subject: Exchange with a climate change 'sceptic'
|The following is quite typical of some of the exchanges that we've had with people over the years on climate change. It's worth quoting in full as it might be quite interesting to see the way it plays out...
Subject: Global Warming and other minority causes
Hi - I got to your website a few days ago via a link on JohnPilger.com. Have to say, I greatly admire a lot of what you are doing and the way that you advocate personal enquiry and search for truth over the glib acceptance of authority in any form. It's a perspective grievously rare and lacking in so much analysis both left and right.
Because of this I want to ask you about the climate change issue.
Let me just say I was raised a socialist and am a lifelong radical-thinker.
I was in CND, used to be a vegetarian, vote Green. You get the picture. I'm the demographic that should be worrying about my carbon footprint, and I admit I often do. But I'm recently starting to get cognitive dissonance on the subject and have a feeling if anyone can understand that you guys might.
So excuse me for throwing some thoughts at you.
First area of dissonance. - We're invited to see Climate Change as a minority cause. It's the relatively powerless and altruistic Green movement on one side ranged against the oil industry and other vested interests on the other. At face value it looks so obviously true, and so in line with all previous and usual issues of this kind that it's incredibly easy to overlook a few weird things going on.
I've been involved in radical politics all my life, and, without being overly cynical, I've *never* seen a minority issue that threatened vested interests get anything like the airtime and media attention that Climate Change is currently getting. I mean what kind of minority issue gets sympathetic op-eds in the Observer, Indy, Guardian and NY TImes? What kind of radical movement has the BBC and an ex-VP backing it and a large part of its budget funded by the US State Department? (The IPCC gets millions from that source it was recently revealed).
Imagine CND or any other environmental cause getting that kind of funding and exposure! I mean it's kinda weird isn't it?
Of course this doesn't automatically mean something is bogus - human issues are far more complex than that - but it throws out a warning note I think more of us should be heeding. At very least it implies the vested interests might be hedging their bets and at worst it might imply something a lot nastier.
So, because I noticed this odd behaviour I started looking closer. I started actually visiting those 'denier' websites and reading into some of the background science. And the more you read it seems to me the murkier and more dissonant the situation seems to get.
For example, while some of the 'deniers' are wildly right wing and a little crazy, and some of them are probably being paid by vested interests, the claim put out by so much of the media that the science is 'settled' and that all deniers are fools or shills is blatantly untrue, and begins to look like a very familiar type of propaganda by omission and smear.
I was surprised to discover the fact the planet is warming is *not* denied by most of these 'deniers'. What they question (rather than deny) is whether the warming is caused by man and whether it is really likely to cause an environmental disaster. And these questioners are not all in the pay of Big Oil; some of them are just physicists, and climatologists and journalists and ordinary people who happen to have doubts. They claim we are being railroaded into accepting the 'truth' of manmade global warming on the basis of unproven science in service to a political agenda which includes the reintroduction of nuclear power, oil-price hikes and possibly even genocidal population reduction in the name of 'saving the planet'.
Are they right? I don't know. But when I see the mainstream media selling a simplified and dishonest image of something - anything - I know the last thing I should do is simply accept it unquestioned, and, for whatever reason, the image of the Climate Change is being sold in just this way.
I'm currently asking myself and wanting to ask you - can it be? Is it possible the legitimate questions about the climate have been hijacked? Can it be those very vested interests we think are opposed to climate legislation have actually seen a way to profit from it and are insidiously manipulating it and backing it? is this why Climate Change is the one 'minority issue' that the mainstream media seems happy to acknowledge, even (let's be honest) to sell fairly relentlessly?
I mean it would be clever wouldn't it? Because a lot of the natural opponents of Orwellian social control will possibly be persuaded to accept it in pursuit of saving the planet. Perhaps Garrison's dictum should be amended and fascism will come to us not in the name of anti-facism but in the name of Environmentalism?
I think we at least need to put this question on the table because failure to do so in the event the worst case scenario is true would be catastrophic both to the Green movement and possibly to humanity a a whole. I think the only way to address the situation is for more of us to be non-partisan about Climate Change. To be prepared to ask the questions we're being told don't need to be asked.
Obviously don't take this on my say-so alone, but do please look as deep as it takes to get a good bead on things. Read those unappealingly smug 'denialist ' websites and books - because I think you might get the same sinking feeling I did. You'll want to dismiss them because of the cognitive dissonance but you won't be able to. Not entirely.
Would love to talk more about this if you're willing
Glad you found us and thanks for the kind words about our work. Those are important questions that you raise and we actually get similar queries from time to time. That's part of the reason we devoted a chapter to climate change in both Media Lens books. The crux of it was a section in the 'Newspeak' chapter about 'The Eight Unmentionables' which we revisited in a media alert last December (near the end):
I don't agree that we're 'invited to see climate change as a minority cause'. We're invited to see it as a matter of general concern - we're all expected to 'do our bit', for instance. But it is (a) much reduced in coverage than it used to be; and (b) what coverage there is, systematically avoids the *real* fundamental issues - just as the propaganda model predicts. Again, see that list of eight unmentionables....
By the way, there's no significant doubt anymore that anthropogenic climate change is happening and is potentially catastrophic. The scientific evidence
- modelling, observations and improved understanding - is simply overwhelming. Most corporations, investors and governments pretty much realise and accept that. But their priorities are to maintain the balance of political and economic power, e.g. Shell, Exxon and BP are determined to keep a tight grip on their share of the energy sector, renewable or otherwise (and, of course, it will remain dominated by fossil fuel for a long time to come). They will do their utmost to keep gains to themselves and minimise losses due to climate chaos... did you ever read Susan George's 'The Lugano Report'? Deeply scary and all too plausible...
By the way, an excellent website to check out is:
http://www.skepticalscience.com/ especially this really handy list:
It's a brilliant resource.
Does any of this help at all?
Thanks again for writing.
Hi David - thanks for a thoughtful reply.
I actually agree we are all being invited to 'do our bit '- but isn't that in itself a little dissonant? I mean if the Establishment really felt threatened by the theory of manmade climate change (or AGW as the scientists call it) then wouldn't it be buried, just like all the *really* inconvenient truths?
I mean if you want to find out about the creeping police state or GM food, or the atrocities committed by our 'heroes' in Afghanistan or Libya then you have to search and search quite deeply. Whereas London is presently hosting a climate change conference 'Planet Under Pressure', partly funded by NASA, and the problem of 'global warming' is very often headlines in all the most controlled corporate media. Even if it has fallen off lately, as you say, you have to admit it gets a hell of a lot of coverage for something that supposedly threatens so much BIg Money.
And isn't it legitimate for us to question what NASA and NASA-paid scientists are doing backing this movement? Are they known for their selfless radicalism? It's enough to at least alert us to something a little odd going on.
Then we have some promoters of AGW advocating suspension of the democratic process, like James Lovelock in the Guardian a couple years back (this was one of the red flags for me actually).....
"We need a more authoritative world. We've become a sort of cheeky, egalitarian world where everyone can have their say. It's all very well, but there are certain circumstances – a war is a typical example – where you can't do that. You've got to have a few people with authority who you trust who are running it. And they should be very accountable too, of course.
But it can't happen in a modern democracy. This is one of the problems. What's the alternative to democracy? There isn't one. But even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."
Even if Lovelock means well it's not hard to see how Establishment elements who are looking for reasons to seize control could see arguments like this about 'saving the planet' as a very nice way of legitmising their aims.
Lastly, you say - "there's no significant doubt anymore that anthropogenic climate is happening and is potentially catastrophic. "
But what do we regard as 'significant'? How do us non-scientists evaluate? There are hundreds of climate scientists and physicists and the like who don't agree with the hypothesis of manmade global warming at all. Whether they're ultimately right or wrong is beside the point - what's worrying is the way in which the media downplays or even ignores their viewpoint, and any evidence they try and present. We're certainly being told the doubts are not 'significant', but is that because they are or because the PTB want to sell that line?
I've read Skeptical Science, a LOT. it used to be my Climate Change bible! I'm less convinced than I used to be though. Have you visited any of the skeptic sites, or the luke warmists (as they call themselves)? judithcurry.com is one who tries to tread a middle line. And I recently read 'The Hockey Stick Illusion', which is a good source for finding out about the 'other side'.
I don't know if they are hopelessly wrong or not , but I'm damn sure the media want me to think so - and that is enough to make me want to find out more, you know?
I'm wondering if we can really afford to keep ignoring the possibility of AGW being used as a covert means of asserting anti-democratic social control? I know climate skepticism is being sold as the preserve of right wingers and militia type, and there's some truth in it, but I think it's also part of the rather clever hype, and we should challenge it not give in to it. We need to feel free to examine the issue honestly, and not be corralled into ideological camps.
How about you consider doing an article at least examining the points I've raised?
all the best
And I agree with you that climate change may well be used as an excuse to further crush the life out of what remains of ‘democracy’: hence my mention of Susan George’s disturbing book, The Lugano Report. There’s also Surviving Climate Change (2007) which I co-edited with Mark Levene – lots of relevant material in there, e.g. the chapters by Dave Webb and Steve Wright (not the radio 2 DJ!).
I don’t know how long you’ve been reading Media Lens, we tackled the issues raised by climate sceptics when Martin Durkin’s ‘Great Global Warming Swindle’ was broadcast a few years ago on C4. You can find them in our archive of media alerts.
Lovelock is an excellent scientist – but he does indeed have decidedly odd and dangerous views (advocate of nuclear power, plus his suggestion to prepare human refuges around the planet!).
‘There are hundreds of climate scientists and physicists and the like who don't agree with the hypothesis of manmade global warming at all.’
That’s what sceptic websites say all the time. Actually there are very few such qualified scientists if you dig deeper – I spent 20 years in the climate community and the vast majority of relevant scientists accept that climate change is real and largely anthropogenic. I agree you don’t need to – nor should you – take it all on trust. But it’s websites like Skeptical Science (and realclimate.org) that do such a brilliant job of sweeping away the obfuscation and making the issues clear for general readers.
There is no need for ‘selfless radicalism’ in doing good climate science. It’s long been a discredited smear that climate scientists skew their studies and conclusions to obtain funding – especially unfair when I’ve just heard in the past few days that many of my former colleagues at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton have been told their jobs are being cut.
Again, it comes down to the issues that are listed in the alert I linked to in my first email – those eight key components of the climate debate that are systematically overlooked.
I admit I haven't been reading you long, so I will check out more of your stuff and also read Susan George's book.
I guess there are two connected areas of discussion here - 1) the potential political and social implications of the AGW issue and 2) the actual science itself. The first is something we can all have opinions about, but the second is all about evidence, repeatability and proof and this is where I have another set of misgivings.
You wrote "Actually there are very few such qualified scientists if you dig deeper".
Ok I engaged with you on this, but ultimately we're both debating something meaningless, because science isn't about consensus or opinion. It stands or falls on the data. And the simple truth is that even its proponents accept that AGW is still only a *theory* about why the earth has been warming recently. It offers one possible explanation for the data, but it isn't yet definitive. Its predictions have failed in some major areas, and in science when predictions fail it obviously casts doubt on the theory. There are also other competing theories which conform to the data just as well, though probably not perfectly. - This is the messy, complex, uncertain scientific reality.
But, for some unknown reason, the corporate media has taken up the theory of AGW and expunged the doubts, complexities and questions. It has presented manmade global warming to the world, not as part of an ongoing open investigation, but as a 'truth'. It presents the scientists who accept the theory wholesale as being 'qualified', or 'significant', and those who question it even partially as being deluded or in the pay of Big Oil, or the equivalent of Holocaust deniers.
This is obviously not a scientific position. It's a political and propagandist position that is actually warping the complex science into simplistic and dishonest soundbites in order to sell us something. And it should alert us, but currently it hasn't. Instead the Green movement has bought the media story with barely any question, and thrown its weight behind the AGW proponents.
Which means that currently we have the US government and NASA, with the vocal support of an ex Vice President, throwing funding into a campaign based on partial evidence to push a theory as if it were fact and to silence or ridicule and diminish any opposing views. And a large number of the very people who would naturally be questioning this authoritarian move are actually its most vocal supporters.
I'm thinking - is it not time for a re-evaluation?
Maybe Susan George deals with that question in her book, I'll know when I read it. But even if she does, I think we can agree it's not a POV that gets a great deal of airtime and might deserve a little more?
Virtually every week, there is at least one new paper in Nature and/or Science strengthening the conclusion that human-induced climate change is real. There is overwhelming scientific consensus about this; and the consensus is firmly founded on multiple, overlapping, cross-strengthening insights into the climate system: from numerous datasets (land, sea, even space-based observations), numerical modelling, and physical-chemical-biological understanding of the climatic processes themselves. You say it’s ‘only a theory’ – a pejorative phrase that is often used to imply something is speculative but not real. Is evolution only a theory? Is relativity only a theory?
I can see I’m not going to convince you... but that’s ok. ) It’s been good exchanging emails with you and I wish you well.
David - even its proponents acknowledge AGW is still just a theory. Even the IPCC acknowledges it's still a theory. if you doubt this then I think you need to read their press releases and publications more carefully. What they say is that the planet has warmed (which it has) and that the *most probable cause* is human produced CO2. Which means even at its very heart AGW is still potentially untrue, or at least overstated. It's just media sleight of hand that turns this state of complex uncertainty into simplified and therefore bogus 'truths'
Yes, the overwhelming majority of papers published in Nature are pro-AGW, because it's next to impossible for anyone who disputes it to get a paper published! That is my point.
How can this hegemony be justified? If the case for AGW were proven and established then maybe - just maybe- it would be right to suppress counter arguments and data. But when AGW is still a theory, and when numerous other competing theories conform to the data just as well, then suppressing their exploration becomes a political not a scientific act.
In fact it becomes censorship.
I see you are an open-minded person so please - try to open up for just a moment to the possibility that your present sense of certitude might be just as imposed and false as the certitudes of those who believe everything the BBC tells them? Before you just dismiss me and walk away at least test your belief system asI did. Go to the places that tell the other side of the story. Find out what they have to say about the 'settledness' of the science. If you feel reluctance to do this then maybe you're encountering cognitive dissonance and the need to challenge yourself is all the greater.
Go on. Visit judithcurry.com Read 'The Hockey Stick Illusion' . And if you come out with your beliefs unchanged at least you'll know you put them to the test.
All the best, and I still admire your site
Thu Apr 05, 2012 9:24 am
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