It’s important to understand that the JCPOA is not just an agreement between the US and Iran, but one negotiated alongside our partners in the P5+1 – the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany – and endorsed by the United Nations security council. Trump’s withdrawal further deepens tensions with our most important democratic allies, France, the UK and Germany, who all continue to support the agreement and have consistently said that it is in their own national security interests to see it upheld.
Trump also rejected the advice of his own top national security officials like the joint chiefs chairman, Gen Joseph Dunford, and defense secretary, James Mattis, both of whom have repeatedly stated that staying in the agreement is in the national security interests of the US. Nuclear non-proliferation and national security professionals around the world share that assessment. Just as he has done on the issue of climate change with his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, Trump has chosen to ignore the overwhelming expert consensus and sided instead with a small ideological faction, with disastrous consequences for our global security.
Meanwhile, Columbia University’s Silencing Science Tracker documents news stories about climate scientists who have been discouraged from conducting, publishing or otherwise communicating scientific research. These groups have documented four ways that climate-related information has become less accessible since Trump took office.
So, even with the inherent uncertainty in the pace and potency of these overwhelmingly negative effects of climate change, safety from it all is only likely in a handful of countries – those that currently have mild climates, that are wealthy and resource-rich, that have good healthcare systems, that aren’t politically unstable, and aren’t likely to experience dangerous weather extremes on a regular basis.
That leaves us with a pretty short list, then: Canada, Northern Europe, New Zealand, and perhaps Japan, for example. Wait, what about the Land of the Free – the wealthiest, perhaps most resourceful nation on Earth? Isn’t this a safe haven? Actually, no, not quite.
those who deny Climate Change and the overwhelming scientific consensus seek to justify their belief by attaching themselves to a minority of science deniers with obscure qualifications or worse-to right-wing shock jocks and journalists with no scientific training what so ever.These people have no way of evaluating the volume of data produced by the various scientific institutions. One of the most outspoken deniers (Andrew Bolt) has, in recent times, been found guilty of deceptive lying in that he defamed some white skinned aboriginals. One has to wonder how many he has told when writing about his favorite topic climate change.Which brings me to the point of this piece: Hypocrisy.Now who said this?
As Turnbull theatrically struts around throwing out childish taunts like Blackout Bill and No Coal Joel, it should be remembered that it isn’t Labor who has changed their support for emissions reduction and renewable energy.You cannot privatise an essential utility and then create such uncertainty that the industry effectively grinds to a halt.Our energy crisis can be laid squarely at the feet of a divided Coalition whose own power struggles over the last decade have made it impossible for them to come up with any sort of enduring policy.
So far, major broadcast networks are failing to note the link between Harvey and climate change
The acclaimed political critic and philosopher delves into a number of pressing subjects in a special hour-long talk with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!
Syria and Nicaragua are proud to accept the United States into their league of third-world nations for whom climate change is neither a priority nor a concern.Meanwhile, the President of the United States has now informed the world that he is willing to cede leadership on climate change to China, preferring to bow before the Kochs and other oligarchs instead.
The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy “now appears irreversible” as the cost of green power plunges, according to a new report. In The Transition Takes Hold, Clean Energy Canada said some 6.7 million people were working in the sector worldwide with one out of every 50 new jobs in the US being created by the solar industry alone.
Financial officials from the world’s biggest economies have dropped from a joint statement any mention of financing action on climate change, reportedly following pressure from the US and Saudi Arabia. Finance ministers from the G20, which comprises more than 80 percent of the global economy, debated the wording of their final joint statement on trade at their summit in the German resort of Baden-Baden.
Over the past three years, almost all of the world’s reefs have experienced summertime heat stress.
The greatest hallmark of the Coalition’s baked-in streak of climate denialism is the extent to which it will contort itself not to have a credible policy.
A senior NASA official has taken the extraordinary step of personally rebuking One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts’ claims the agency had falsified key data to exaggerate current extreme warming in the Arctic.
Australia the only country to receive a rating of ‘very poor’ in a majority of categories in Climate Transparency scorecard
The Queensland government has agreed to recommendations that will help the reef survive climate change.
Despite aggressive attempts to convince the public otherwise, new analysis of the vast body of research shows 97% of scientists agree that human activities are fuelling climate change.
A new study warns coral’s ability to withstand bleaching would suffer in warmer oceans.
By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – – The US corporate press is letting the presidential candidates set the …
ATLANTA – (CT&P) – The Weather Channel is advising all elderly or weak individuals in the path of Winter Storm Jonas to go ahead and commit suicide before the storm hits.
Weather Channel stalwart Jim Cantore, reporting from the nation’s capital, told viewers today that suicide would be preferable to a slow, agonizing death at the hands of the blizzard.
“If you are elderly, weak, or disabled, and unable to flee the path of the storm, it would be much better for you to go ahead and end it all now while you still have power,” said Cantore, after shooting up half a gram of methamphetamine.
“You certainly don’t want to slowly freeze to death in your home surrounded by cats, who are sure to devour your bloated corpse in the days to come. In fact, I advise even young adults who are depressed or have bleak economic futures to do the same. Remember, no one will be coming to check on you because you have no friends and you alienated your family a long time ago. Just get it over with, for God’s sake.”
David Clark, president of the Weather Channel, was quick to point out that although Cantore’s recommendations had merit, they represented his opinions alone and were not those of Weather Channel management.
ATLANTA – (CT&P) – The Weather Channel is warning its viewers in Tennessee and North Carolina that when ice forms on roads, cars tend slide out of control, which can cause wrecks.
Winter Storm Ilias, which has caused raised blood pressure, racing heartbeats, and raging hornyness among Weather Channel personnel, is currently moving across Tennessee and western North Carolina causing hazardous driving conditions in higher elevations.
Since no one in Tennessee or North Carolina has ever seen snow or ice before, the helpful folks at the Weather Channel have mentioned about 500 fucking times this morning alone that when it’s cold, water falling from the sky turns to something else, and it can be damn dangerous.
“I don’t know what I’d do without the Weather Channel,” said Greta Hangnail of Ducktown, Tennessee. “I’ve seen pictures of all that ice and snow in my National Geographic, but I had no idea it could happen in the United States. I thought all that stuff was up in Canada.”
Jeffrey Scrotum of Mulebutt, North Carolina told a local TV reporter that he had heard from his grandpa that one time it snowed up in the Smoky Mountains but that was a long time ago.
“I don’t know nothing about no snow and ice,” said Scrotum. “You really think I can’t drive on it? Why would that be?”
The Weather Channel is advising that everyone in both states should go ape shit and go buy all the milk and bread in every fucking grocery store within 100 miles of their homes just in case the storm traps them in their miserable homes for more than three or four hours.
They also advise that no one should drive for at least three or four days after the storm is over because black ice could be lurking everywhere and cause massive casualties on a scale not seen since World War II.
“It’s always best to cower in fear and hunker down wherever you are once the storm hits,” said Bernie Shortschlong, a winter storm specialist. “From what I’m seeing on radar I think it’ll be safe for folks in the Deep South to return to work sometime next week.”
China — the world’s biggest polluter — will use this week’s UN conference in Paris to stake a global leadership claim on climate change.
When the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference opens in Paris on November 30, annual global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) will be about 32 billion metric tons.
In a recent poll, two-thirds of Americans say they accept climate change, and the vast majority say human activities cause it – but they aren’t very worried
There’s much more variety than you might think.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has been caught on tape joking about low-lying islands being swamped by rising seas in a 23-second exchange that risked offending Indigenous people, ethnic leaders and Australia’s Pacific neighbours in one fell swoop.
There’s a part of the story you might not have known.
Australians who install coal-fired power stations on their roof at home will soon be eligible for a Government-funded rebate, under new plans unveiled today.
Speaking at the program’s launch, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the initiative would become the centerpiece of a range of Government policies designed to address the country’s future energy needs.
“Let’s be up front about this, the world is changing. So we need to think differently about how we generate our power needs into the future,” he said.
Mr Abbott said the new scheme was innovative and cost effective. “What this new scheme does is allow ordinary Australians to generate their own electricity, reducing their reliance on more traditional forms of energy, and lowering the monthly bill at the same time”.
Homeowners will be eligible for rebates of up to $5,000, depending on the size of their power station.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the scheme will mean production and emissions levels at large-scale coal-fired power plants will fall. “We expect carbon emissions in some stations to fall by as much as 30%. That’s above and beyond the targets set by many other OECD countries,” he said.
Mr Abbott said as part of the new initiative rebate schemes for solar panels will be scrapped. “People can still install solar panels if they wish, but there won’t be a rebate. They’re unsightly and ugly, so we’re trying to discourage them”.
Since ascending to the Catholic Church’s top perch in March 2013, Pope Francis hasn’t shied away from taking political stances that rankle conservatives. He has said evolution and creationism aren’t mutually exclusive. Asked about gay priests, he responded, “Who am I to judge?” And he has embraced a populist approach to tackling income inequality.
Now the pope risks drawing conservative ire on climate change. In a document set to be released on Thursday—which leaked to an Italian publication and was published as an act of “sabotage against the pope,” according to a Vatican official—Francis will apparently call for a strong, multi-country push to curb global warming and the “human causes that produce and accentuate it,” according to the Guardian. The message will reportedly call out climate deniers, saying “the attitudes that stand in the way of a solution, even among believers, range from negation of the problem, to indifference, to convenient resignation or blind faith in technical solutions.”
There’s a growing contingent of congressional Republicans who are Catholic, and a number of the party’s leading presidential candidates (or potential candidates) are Catholic. If those candidates’ past statements on climate change are any indication, they could soon find themselves at odds with the pope over the looming encyclical. Here’s what they’ve said:
Rick Santorum: “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”
Jeb Bush: Bush has said anybody who thinks the science on climate change is settled is “arrogant.”
Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor’s views might be the most in line with the pope’s: “I think global warming is real. I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it.”
Bobby Jindal: While acknowledging that human activity has had an impact on the climate, Jindal has decried Obama’s environmental regulations as “reckless and based on a radical leftist ideology that will kill American jobs and increase energy prices,” according to the Associated Press.
Marco Rubio: “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. That’s what I do not. And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has tabled a plan that he hopes will placate supporters of wind turbines, while removing the ugly, noisy devices from view.
The ambitious strategy will see the turbines removed from roadsides and windfarms, and placed inside unused storage sheds in regional Australia. Some new sheds may also be built if enough existing space cannot by found.
Mr Abbott said it was a sensible plan that demonstrated the Government’s ongoing commitment to renewable energy, while ensuring Australians did not have to look at anything ugly. “When you look across the globe, no one else is putting wind turbines inside sheds. This is an innovative, workable solution, and once again Australia is leading the world”.
A Liberal party insider said it was an example of a more consultative, balanced Abbott who was willing to compromise to get things done. “He’s really listening. He really understands the planet’s energy issues, and he’s willing to do something about it”.
Coal-fired power stations are a stunning addition to the Australian landscape, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said this morning.
“When you get up close to these things, it’s something quite special. The sheer size of the stations, the elegance of the chimneys themselves, the plumes of smoke filling the air around you. I’d recommend all Australians take the family out to see one”.
The PM said they made good spots for camping trips. “They’re not only visually beautiful, there’s a serenity about them too. You can hear a pin drop. A largish pin”.
He singled out the smell as a particular highlight. “It’s that distinctive smokey aroma that you get with these types of set ups”.
Mr Abbott said if it weren’t for the Senate, Australia would have a lot more coal stations gracing our farms, regional towns and countryside. “I drive to Canberra to go to Parliament, and I must say, I would love to see rows and rows of coal stations, around Lake George for example. It would bring the area to life”.
SANTA ANA, CALIFORNIA (CT&P) – Leaders of the Criminally Negligent Parents Association and the Vacuous Housewives Club of Orange County, the two largest anti-vaccination groups in the country, have called a crisis meeting this weekend to discuss how to respond to the barrage of criticism the groups are receiving over the measles outbreak currently sweeping the country.
Officeholders of both organizations will be present at the emergency summit as well as several luminaries and public advocates for the misguided cause. Former Playmate and Rhodes Scholar Jenny McCarthy, serial killer and conspiracy theory kook Jeffrey John Aufderheide, virus rights advocate Senator Thom “Typhoid” Tillis (R-NC), and New Jersey governor and planetoid Chris Christie will all be in attendance.
The emergency summit will commence on Saturday morning with a series of round table discussions on how to best deflect the criticism of nearly every sane person in the United States and carry on with the asinine policies that have loosed a once-eradicated disease on an unsuspecting public.
The discussions will be followed up with a gala dance featuring West African witch doctors and shamans on loan from obscure Brazilian rain forest tribes.
Late Saturday night, VIP guests will be treated to a gathering where famous medium and charlatan John Edward MaGee Jr. will conduct a séance in an attempt to reach long-dead anti-intellectuals and enemies of science to seek their advice in averting a catastrophe for “The Cause.”
Mr. MaGee will enter the “spirit world” and try to speak with such revered personalities as Puritan John Cotton, Chairman Mao of China, various former leaders of the Spanish Inquisition, and most importantly, leader of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge guerrillas, Pol-Pot.
“We’d like to get some advice on just how we can keep this dumb ass anti-vaccination movement going,” said Jenny McCarthy, president of the Vapid Blonde Models Society. “I’d really like to get in touch with General Fransisco Franco of Spain to get some advice on how we could initiate our very own ‘White Terror’ campaign. After all, I think we can all agree that intellectuals and scientists are Public Enemy #1 in this country.”
Jeffrey John Aufderheide agreed with McCarthy saying: “We have to nip this criticism in the bud. Most of it is coming from alien lizard people from outer space posing as cable TV pundits anyway. If we don’t find some way to stop this invasion from Planet 10, the earth is doomed.”
Most pundits believe that the summit meeting has a snowball’s chance in hell of stemming the tide of criticism for the anti-vax crowd. “Even the mentally deficient American public has enough sense to see the logic in protecting our kids from the ravages of preventable diseases,” said Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.
Even in California the tide seems to be turning against the dunderheads in the anti-vax crowd. State politicians from both sides of the aisle are proposing legislation to join 32 other states in limiting exemptions for childhood vaccinations.
“We’ve got to get a grip on things before these morons fuck things up for the rest of us,” said California State Senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician from the 6th District. “If these idiots don’t want to vaccinate their kids, fine. Let them live in total isolation from the rest of us. The nitwits don’t make any valuable contribution to society anyway. Fuck ‘em!”
What is it about the temperature that some of us find so hard to accept?
The year just ended was one of the hottest on record. In NSW it was the absolute hottest, in Victoria the second-hottest, and in Australia the third hottest.
The first step in getting people to at least agree that it’s getting hotter is to stop talking about how to prevent it. Muddying the two, as we do all the time, gets people’s backs up.
The measure is compiled by the Bureau of Meteorology. It dates back to 1910. A separate global reading prepared by the World Meteorological Organisation has 2014 the hottest year since international records began in 1880. Not a single year since 1985 has been below average and every one of the 10 hottest years has been since 1998.
That it’s getting hotter is what economists call an empirical question – a matter of fact not worth arguing about, although it is certainly worth arguing about the reasons for the increase and what we may do about it.
But that’s not the way many Australians see it. I posted the Bureau of Meteorology’s findings on Twitter on Tuesday and was told: “Not really”. Apparently, “climate-wise we are in pretty good shape”.
If the bureau had been displaying measures of the temperature on a specific day or a cricket commentator had been displaying the cricket score, there would be no quibbling. The discussion would centre about the reasons for the result and its implications.
But when it comes to the slowly rising temperature some of us won’t even accept the readings. And that says something about us, or at least about those of us who won’t accept what’s in front of our faces.
I am not prepared to believe that these people are anti-science. Some of them are engineers, some mining company company executives. Like all of us, they depend on science in their everyday lives.
Nor am I prepared to believe they’ve led sheltered lives, although it’s a popular theory. In the United States a survey of six months of coverage on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel found that 37 of its 40 mentions of climate change were misleading.
The misleading coverage included “broad dismissals of human-caused climate change, disparaging comments about individual scientists, rejections of climate science as a body of knowledge, and cherry-picking of data”.
Fox News called global warming a “fraud”, a “hoax” and “pseudo science”.
Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal fared little better. 39 of its 48 references were misleading.
In Australia it’s not as bad. Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian gives more space to climate change than any other newspaper. Its articles are 47 per cent negative, 44 per cent neutral and 9 per cent positive, according to the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.
It’s impossible to read The Australian‘s articles without feeling at least a bit curious about climate change.
Another theory is that it’s to do with psychology. Some people are more threatened by bad news than others, making them less able to accept that it’s real.
And now a more sophisticated theory suggests that it’s not about the facts at all. It’s really a debate about the implications, disguised as a debate about the facts. Troy Campbell and Aaron Kay, a researcher and associate professor in neuroscience at Duke University in North Carolina find that belief in temperature forecasts is correlated with beliefs about government regulation and what those forecasts would mean for government regulation.
They assembled a panel of at least 40 Republicans and 40 Democrats and asked each whether they believed the consensus forecast about temperature increases. Half were told that climate change could be fought in a market friendly way, the other half that it would need heavy-handed regulation. Of the Republicans, the proportion who accepted the temperature forecast was 55 per cent when they were told climate change could be addressed by the free market and only 22 per cent when they were told it would need regulation.
(Democrats were about 70 per cent likely believe the temperature forecast and weren’t much swayed by how climate change would be fought.)
The finding is important. It means that the first step in getting people to at least agree that it’s getting hotter is to stop talking about how to prevent it. Muddying the two, as we do all the time, gets people’s backs up.
It is getting hotter. Seven of Australia’s 10 hottest years on record have been since the Sydney Olympics. Last year was 0.91C hotter than the long-term average. Last year’s maximums were 1.16C hotter than long-term average maximums. Warming is a fact. The Bureau of Meteorology accepts it, the government accepts it and it shouldn’t be beyond our abilities to accept it.
Then we can talk about what to do.
Peter Martin is economics editor of The Age.
Deal would for first time commit all countries – including developing nations – to cutting emissions
International negotiators at the Lima climate change talks have agreed on a plan to fight global warming that would for the first time commit all countries to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.
The plan, agreed at United Nations talks on Sunday, was hailed as an important first step towards a climate change deal due to be finalised in Paris next year. The proposals call on countries to reveal how they will cut carbon pollution, ideally by March next year.
“As a text it’s not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Peruvian environment minister, who presided over the talks.
However, negotiators acknowledged they had put off the most difficult decisions for later.
And with 2014 on course to be the hottest year on record, campaigners warned the plan was far too weak to limit warming to the internationally agreed limit of 2C above pre-industrial levels, or to protect poor countries from climate change.
“It’s definitely watered down from what we expected,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
They also warned negotiators had left too many contentious issues unresolved before the deadline for reaching a deal in Paris. “The countdown clock to Paris is now ticking. Countries had the chance to give themselves a head start on the road to Paris but instead have missed the gun and now need to play catch up,” said Mohammed Adow, Christian Aid’s senior climate change advisor.
But after a difficult negotiation – which over-ran by two days– officials said they were satisfied with the outcome.
“It was contentious along the way but it fundamentally accomplished what we wanted it to,” Todd Stern, the US State Department’s climate change envoy, said.
The five-page text agreed on Sunday – now officially known as the Lima Call for Climate Action – represents the embryonic phase of the deal due to be delivered in Paris.
As sketched out in Lima, all countries, rising economies as well as rich countries would pledge action on climate change.
Wealthy countries would help developing countries fight climate change, by investing in clean energy technology or offering climate aid.
Countries already threatened by climate change – such as small island states which face being swallowed up by rising seas – were promised a “loss and damage” programme of financial aid.
The all-inclusive nature of the emissions cuts constitutes a break with one of the defining principles of the last 20 years of climate talks – that wealthy countries should carry the burden of cutting carbon dioxide emissions.
“I think for the first time ever the world can contemplate a global deal applicable to all and Lima has helped that process,” the UK’s energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, said.
If all goes well, China, whose emissions have overtaken the US, will as part of the agreement formally pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as will India, Brazil and other rising economies.
But much remains uncertain about the prospects of a strong deal emerging from Paris – not least because of the problems that arose during the negotiations in Lima.
The Lima negotiations had opened on 1 December amid a spirit of optimism following an agreement last month between the US and China to cut carbon pollution.
But it soon became apparent that the US-China deal on its own would have no effect on bridging the perennial dividing line of climate negotiations – the responsibility for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
The talks over-ran by two days because of clashes over which countries should carry the burden of fighting climate change.
There were also disputes over climate finance. Wealthy countries were accused of failing to live up to their earlier promises of mobilising billions to help developing countries fight climate change.
But after a day of brinkmanship on Saturday – with Stern warning of a “major breakdown” – the deal was done.
“We got what we wanted,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister, said.
But much now remains to be done if the broad outlines agreed at Lima are to materialise in a full-fledged climate deal.
The US, China, and the European Union have already come forward with pledges for cutting greenhouse gas emissions after 2020.
Under the plan, countries are due to come forward by March 2015 with their proposed emissions reductions targets.
The United Nations would then weigh up those pledges and determine whether the collective action was enough to limit warming to 2C.
But much remains vague or poorly defined. The countries put off decisions about the legal structure of the agreement, and deferred decisions about ensuring a flow of finance to developing countries.
The biggest issue left unresolved for Paris is the burden for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The draft text retains language of “common but differentiated responsibilities” that has over the years given developing countries a pass on cutting emissions. That language remains in the text although with a rider “in light of different national circumstances”. Stern acknowledged to reporters the issue was likely to come up again at Paris.
And the text adopted on Sunday no longer makes it mandatory for countries to provide detailed information about their prospect reductions targets.
Campaigners said that would make it increasingly difficult to be sure the deal would manage to keep warming within the 2 degree threshold.
A while back, University of Alabama at Huntsville Scientist Roy Spencer, who has a history of the same kind of errors always going in the same direction, managed to get a study published under an implicit theory that “clouds drive climate,” rather than also serve as a response to it.
The study was sufficiently flawed that the editor of the science journal involved (“Remote Sensing”) took responsibility for it’s publication, and chose to resign over it; citing the degree and type of the error, which went outside the normal curve of “mistake” in the highly professional and well vetted world of academic journal publishing. He also, however, blamed not only himself, but the scientists involved in the paper, which itself was not only comprised of “fundamental error” and “false claims,” but which was written as if the scientific arguments or views with which the authors tried to take issue, did not even exist.
By both trapping earth surface radiated thermal radiation on the one hand, but increasing the earth atmosphere albedo (and thus reflecting more solar radiation directly back into the upper atmosphere and space) on the other, clouds of course play an enormous role in weather.
And while clouds also help shape a large part of climate over time, they form as a result of underlying climatic conditions. Unlike long lived atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, ice sheet and permafrost conditions, incoming solar radiation, and ocean heat concentrations, clouds are extremely ephemeral, and ever changing on an exceedingly short basis.
Thus, the idea that clouds, formed by evaporation and atmospheric water vapor (which serves as a very important but extremely short lived and changing greenhouse gas) don’t reflect a response to the fundamentals that drive climate, but serve as a key driver of climate, is far fetched.
Seemingly far fetched arguments are fine – even needed – in science: they check conventional thinking and sometimes lead to great breakthroughs, and often better understanding. But the most critical focus when presenting a potentially far-fetched argument, is of course foremost to assess the arguments against it, and help illustrate where and why they are in error. Spencer, and his colleague William Braswell, rather astoundingly, simply ignored all the “arguments” that went counter to the rather strange claims they made.
This is not just bad science. It is, fundamentally, almost anti-science.
There is a lot of pseudo science on the issue of climate change, widely, repeatedly, and passionately promulgated around the world – and in the U.K., the U.S.,and Australia in particular – that often terribly misconstrues the issue:
Consider the wildly popular notion of claiming that Climate Change is not real or major, since “antarctic sea ice extent has been growing,” despite the far more relevant fact, usually completely ignored, that total polar ice – arctic sea ice, antarctic sea ice, northern polar land ice sheet mass, and southern polar ice sheet mass, has been diminishing; and diminishing at an accelerating, rate. (The arctic sea ice extent is also more relevant than the antarctic extent because the arctic is open water, and historically has had a solid ice cover through the summer months, which may be changing, while the Antarctic is land. Ans so antarctic sea ice – a little further way from the pole – has traditionally largely disappeared during the summer months. So unlike in the north, a complete disappearance wouldn’t comprise nearly as radical of a change.And it is more relevant since the rate of change – diminishment – in the arctic, has been massive in comparison with the rate of change – augmentation – in the antarctic.)
To pick out one of the four areas of polar ice melt to argue one way, when all four, far more relevantly, illustrate the exact opposite, would be considered remarkable in any other area of scientific inquiry; yet passes for routine, and acceptable, when it comes to Climate Change Naysaying. (“CCN”)
While Climate Change Naysayers have falsely turned the issue of ice melt into a refutation of Climate Change, the issue of ice melt is actually the opposite, and very relevant:
Even small changes in ice sheet mass can have large climate consequences. Additionally, the increase in antarctic ice sea ice extent masks key regional shifts, and is slowly increasing due to major changes in the Southern Annular Mode (“SAM” winds), pushing the new ice northward and allowing new formation, and also likely due to increased glacial melt insulation. More importantly, the rate of loss of arctic sea ice- which in some regard is again a more important indicator since the north pole is mainly open water while the south pole is a continent (Antarctica) is about 10 fold (~1000%) faster than the rate of antarctic increase. And that rate of decline of arctic sea ice itself is profound, and, accelerating.
The massive ice sheets at both ends of the earth stabilize our climate, and have kept us in the moderately temperate to occasionally frigid (i.e, “encroaching glaciation”) range of the Ice Age period we are currently in, and have been in for over a million or more years. (Note that our alteration of the long term greenhouse gas concentrations now extends back at least several million years, to a time period pre-dating the current ice age with its massive ice sheet structures at both ends of the planet.) And these ice sheets are also now melting: And melting at an accelerating rate, at both ends of the earth.
To thus claim that the earth is not warming – as is now routinely done, and which even forms a good portion of Climate Change denialism, “skepticism” and confusion – during a short term geological period of consistently high (and even on a shorter term basis, still very moderately increasing after a very high shorter term increase in the 90s from the decade before) is both preposterous and extraordinarily misleading, as the earth is still accumulating heat – which is what matters – and at an accelerating pace.
Energy going into melting ice sheets will not be reflected in geologically short term ambient air temperatures. Yet we over focus on current air temperature as if this defines Climate Change, when right now, ambient air temperature is the least important aspect of a problem that ultimately reflects the changing (increasing) net energy balance of the earth.
And much of this accumulating energy is going into melting these ice sheets; melting permafrost regions (within which are over a trillion tons of carbon – almost double the amount of total carbon in the atmosphere right now – much of which will be released in the far more atmospheric heat energy absorption and re radiation intensive CH4, or methane, form, and ultimately a positive feedback loop); and, most notably of all, heating the world ocean – and doing so at a geologically massive, and, accelerating, rate.
In fact, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s annual 2013 report (emphasis added):
About 93 per cent of the excess heat trapped in the Earth system between 1971 and 2010 was taken up by the ocean.
From around 1980 to 2000, the ocean gained about 50 zettajoules [10 to the 21st power] of heat. Between 2000 and 2013, [the ocean gained] about three times that amount
Part of the ignorance on this issue – which is not just lack of knowledge, but incorrect knowledge and conclusion constantly, and often aggressively promulgated to the world and media – is fed mainly by non scientists, or scientists in other fields than those directly connected to climate change, who have either been misled on the issue themselves (further reinforced by a massive number of wildly popular, highly insular, and self reinforcing anti Climate Change websites and even media outlets); or – though often quick to project the argument of “belief” outward onto others – by ideological belief or scientifically irrelevant conflation of the actual science of the issue, with concern and presumption over possible political and economic ramifications and assumptions of it.
And part of it has been fed by a few, if rare, actual climate related practicing scientists, such as in the case of the far too disproportionately influential Roy Spencer, among a few others – such as, for example, John Christy, who, ironically, is also at the very same University of Alabama at Huntsville as Spencer.
Spencer (as well as Christy and the small handful of others), is far too disproportionately influential in part because he is one of the very few actual practicing climate scientists who takes a dim view of the idea that radical long term atmospheric heat energy re absorption will significantly alter future climate; and in large part it is because of the massive use, constant exposure, and promulgation of any possible seemingly credible argument or arguer in support of Climate Change Naysaying.
But Spencer’s strange cloud argument was not novel, nor creatively expressive of the flaws in current understanding, nor an improvement upon or even contribution to it; but instead, consisted of hype and base misrepresentation masquerading as science.
Notably, although tens of thousands of such “papers” have been “published” by anti Climate Change organizations and lobbying groups, very few if any have been been published by vetted scientific journals that actually undermine the basic theory of Climate Change itself.
Naturally, Climate Change Naysayers have a theory for this as well – as when one wants or needs to have a belief, self-plausible appearing theories are infinite. Hence it’s a “conspiracy,” that all of the “Climate Change” refuting “studies don’t get published in any of the fully vetted and highly professional and rigorous scientific journals – even though the basic process of science relies upon contention, questioning and constant re-examination, and there is far more interest, and likely even fame, in scientifically (not rhetorically) showing our massive and still ongoing alteration of the long term nature of our atmosphere to not be a big deal future climate wise. So such studies, if valid, or at least reasonable and not based upon basic misconstruction or misinformation, would be welcome, and a big deal.
There is just no solid argument for it because the only thing keeping Climate Change from being so slam dunk clear that it would be more patently obvious to the non scientific, is that it is in the future, it scans a broad range of time, and it covers a broad range of general responses which due to the very nature of climate itself can’t realistically be broken down into concise pathways of short term precisely predictable and in advance measurable (until, somewhat, after the fact) change, as opposed to broader and longer time frame scale change.
And of course there is massive desire to believe that we are not affecting the environment, so that we “don’t have to” change; don’t have to shift what are probably long term counter productive agricultural practices for a whole host of reasons; don’t have to have rigorous and open minded economic conversations about just what really defines economic progress and freedom long term, what measures it, and what really contributes to it; and perhaps most of all, don’t have to to actively rather than passively switch off of fossil fuels upon which we have grown so “comfortable.” (With former President George Bush even going so far to call our reliance upon oil an “addiction” in his 2006 National State of the Union Address) or infringe upon what some see as a basic, inviolate, “God given” right – namely, very cheap fossil fuel energy.
For despite the hype to the contrary, the cherry picking of select data, the constant conflation of the normal process of scientific correction, adjustment and learning with refutation of Climate Change itself, and the constant assertion that a failure to be able to precisely predict that actual short term geological path of Climate Change itself means that the issue of major climatic shifts is therefore not valid, the basic Climate Change theory – contrary to what is often so loquaciously if misleading expressed – is fairly straightforward, if imprecise:
Greenhouse gases absorb and re radiate mid to long wave thermal radiation (surface heat emission, whereas incoming, and immediately re reflected solar radiation, is mainly in short wave form), that would otherwise continue to radiate upward into the upper atmosphere and space. And a radical shift in their concentrations to levels not seen on earth in millions of years will likely be masked for quite some time upon a “relatively” stable climate system; but, as the underlying conditions of that stability – earth albedo, ocean energy, ice sheet presence, permafrost coverage, and the ongoing increased (and still massively increasing) thermal absorption and re radiation itself, in conjunction with the increasingly changed underlying conditions – all change, will ultimately and invariably have to fundamentally alter that system.
Roy Spencer is not trying to figure out the nature of this change, what contributes to it, and what we can learn about it; but, along with a large portion of the world and in particular online and lobbying community, is instead trying to refute it, and for very specific reasons. And his wacky, and widely repudiated “contrarian” study that not only misrepresented his findings but oddly also even failed to address the substance of the very theories he was attempting to repudiate – in, lo and behold, the direction of concluding that Climate Change is “much less significant” – was no coincidental happenstance simply arrived at through objective analyses of the relevant science, facts, and data. It was in fact instead very purposeful, and part of a broader pattern that has nevertheless conditioned itself to believe it is really simply following the “better” science.
Part of the problem isn’t just the constant perpetuation and amplification of misinformation and issue misconstruction itself by interested, misinformation, conspiracy theory, or ideological led groups (along with often facilitatingly poor explication, and a lot of presumptive “conclusions” over what an average individual should somehow know in a veritable sea of misinformation on the issue by some groups concerned with the issue or even the massive misrepresentation on it) – but a good portion of the media itself. This includes, among others “talks a good game” but misinformation radical Glenn Beck’s provocative online “magazine” Blaze; Forbes; and the widely misnamed “Fox News.” (It is misnamed not because of the fairly ironic “Fox” title, but because it should be Fox Advocacy, as it is really advocacy couched as news – something, when recipients believe they are getting actual “fair and balanced,” to use Fox’s constantly iterated term, “news and analysis,” which is far more effective than outright advocacy at influencing belief.)
Let’s take an example, tying it into the Spencer paper so flawed, that, questionable action or not, the editor of the publishing paper resigned over it.
So how did Fox News handle this story? A search of all Fox Roy Spencer related articles made no substantive mention of any error, retraction or correction.
Yet here, in marked contrast, is the very first sentence of Fox’s online story about the study itself.
Has a central tenant of global warming just collapsed?
Famous comedian and satirist Jon Stewart was one of the first to categorize the extensive use of Fox’ News question marks as a form of veiled advocacy; that is, opinion, often extreme opinion, pushed across as if it were investigative analysis.
The study covered a period of about 10 years – from 2000 – 20009. Given the enormous range of climate variability itself, let alone one expected to shift (and one that is starting to show such signs, “oddly” coincidental or not), and as the climate is expected to shift over time, the heightened expectation of increased weather and overall variability, and unpredictability, ten years is a remarkably short period to draw contrary conclusions from.
Making the assertion that Climate Change is much less relevant than previously thought, based upon ten years of temperature of “random” cloud cover, misses what the Climate Change issue really is. Far more problematically, yet for reasons again never illuminated, it also relied upon the wild presumption that cloud cover, even though an ongoing ephemeral phenomenon, is largely irrelevant to the process of anthropogenic or atmospheric heat re radiating molecular driven climate change, and yet itself an initial driver of climate rather than at least in part a resultant conditional phenomenon, or in part, “result,” of it.
Again, this goes against the entire body of scientific knowledge on the subject. Which itself is fine if there is a coherent reason offered as to why; but more potently, the argument makes little sense, and again, there is no coherent reason (or any reason) offered as to why.
Climate change, as noted in this previous link, more accurately refers to “the long term geologic history of earth, and the recent rapid additions to the long lived concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, to levels not collectively seen in at least several million years; and the expected, if somewhat uncertain, range of likely and even severe changes to longer term climate in response.”
The issue or “theory” sits somewhere between the “theory” of gravity and a strong hypothesis, based upon basic earth physics; our long standing geologic record; the earth’s tendency to somewhat easily shift and change climatically as it is; and the geologically radical, outstandingly rapid, and still ongoing change upward in the atmospheric level of long lived greenhouse gases.
And the scientific theory is that this change is likely to bring about a lagging, possibly jagged, almost certainly non linear, increasingly volatile, and short term unpredictable (and long term unpredictable in terms of being exact or precise) shift or series of shifts in our climate: With our long term climate overall, ultimately shifting over to a new, stable stases, well after current atmospheric concentrations of long lived greenhouse gases, from a geologic perspective, have stabilized. (Right now, from a geologic perspective, far from stabilizing, they are essentially shooting straight up.)
Models try to capture this as best as they are able, and invariably get caught up in the problems of trying to pinpoint with accurate precision, what future climate is not only going to be, but exactly when it will be as well, and along what exact path it will follow as well.
This would be a difficult if not near impossible task with respect to just basic climate alone. It is even more so when the atmospheric concentrations of long term heat trapping gases have shot up to geologically radical levels – leading to far more re radiated atmospheric heat, and over time, the increase in energy build up of the earth itself: Something – with respect to warming ice sheets, increasing net ice melt, increasing permafrost subsurface temperatures, and ocean temperatures – also, again, correspondingly observed.
Yet the inability to exactly pinpoint both the precise degree of average ambient rise or just change, as well as the precise almost geologically meaningless path on a nearly year to year or decade to decade basis, has been widely mistaken for the efficacy, vitality or sensibility of the “Climate Change” phenomenon itself, and again, also aggressively and repeatedly promulgated as another false repudiation, or refutation, of it.
Yet regarding that Fox story – of which a google search provided not a one follow up correction, even after the Spencer study, prompting a major headline proclaiming the Climate Change theory itself to have been all but undermined, was largely repudiated and shown to be hogwash, including even by the publishing Journal itself, here are the second and third sentences :
Climate change forecasts have for years predicted that carbon dioxide would trap heat on Earth, and increases in the gas would lead to a planetwide rise in temperatures, with devastating consequences for the environment.But long-term data from NASA satellites seems to contradict the predictions dramatically, according to a new study.
Yes, according to a study – albeit subsequently left out by Fox – so fundamentally flawed, by an author who has a systematic pattern of always making mistakes in the same direction, and apparently strong non science oriented reasons for doing so, that the two year editor of the journal resigned over it. Not over pressure, but over the egregiousness of the mistake and “most likely problematic” falsity of the claims, according to the editor himself.
Yet nevertheless, without ever a subsequent correction to be found, here are the fifth and sixth sentences of the Fox article:
“The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show,” [Spencer] said. The planet isn’t heating up, in other words.
Except, it is:
Net ice melt is increasing. Glaciers and ice sheets are warming and melting not just in the arctic, but the antarctic as well. And again, at an accelerating rate. Subsurface temperatures in permafrost regions, which cover over a fifth of the globe, are increasing (even faster in some areas than the ambient surface air temperature above them). And the oceans, which cover almost three quarters of the globe, are gaining warmth at a rate that is many times, and according to one scientific study, 15 times (or fifteen hundred percent) faster than at any time in the past ten thousand years.
And, less important than the above changes, but still notably, overall temperatures over time – as in climate, the longer term, not shorter term, trend matters – are increasing, in a way that is already geologically unusual, with almost all of the 20 warmest years on record in the past 25 years alone, and, astonishingly, 13 of the 14 warmest years ever on record – even with the oceans still warming when they should have cooled to keep the air so consistently warm if the globe itself wasn’t still warming – all occurring in the past 14 years. And, though somewhat minor, but simply augmenting the general trend a little more, according to the National Climatic Data Center, the “meteorological” summer (June, July, and August) was the hottest on record. (It was the fourth hottest according to NASA), and 2014 is on track to possibly become the new hottest year ever.
But Fox, before ending up the piece with one of the more tame quotes on the matter (and on Spencer) by Texas A & M atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler, calling it “incorrect,” further honed its powerful and completely unsubstantiated underlying “Climate Changes is not really real” message veiled as news, by publishing what not only dances near the edge of pure fiction, but crosses firmly over the line into it:
James Taylor, a senior fellow for environment policy at conservative think-tank The Heartland Institute, wrote at Forbes that the meaning of the new research is clear — and it compromises what he called a “central premise of alarmist global warming theory.”
Yes, Taylor – a paid advocate for the Heartland Institute, itself designed and funded specifically for the purpose of repudiating the concept of Climate Change – did write that. And Forbes, another near constant (but not always) Climate Change misinformation media source, did publish it.
Yet most scientists (although suddenly the word scientist, in an overt attempt at wildly spun advocacy – the opposite of news reporting, almost by definition – means “alarmist,” not scientist, in every single of the many pieces that Forbes has “published” by Taylor), note that Spencer is not really practicing science here; that the paper got some of the most basic things backward; that Spencer has a scientific history of being repeatedly wrong, and always in the same direction; and that while it is nice to model, Climate Change refers to the long term general expected effect over time from what has been a multi million year geologic change in a matter of a mere few hundred years, much of which has occurred in the past 50 or so years alone. Not models.
But for Fox, one of the leading sources of “news” in America and the leading and, according to studies, not just the most watched, but the “most trusted,” of the very few national cable news channels, it was not actual climate scientists, but James Taylor – a lawyer who took science classes in college, and a paid advocate who works for a center specifically designed for the purpose of refuting Climate Change, – who is the science expert that Fox nevertheless elected to quote in terms of the article, and achieve Fox’s seeming aims: namely, to undermine and refute the idea of Climate Change and, it seems, any real understanding of the issue that doesn’t align with its extreme (if common in the Internet and its extremely self selecting and self reinforcing) and highly misinformed view that Climate Change does not pose a significant threat of major, non linear, climatic shifting, with major to massive consequences for the specific world in which we evolved, and built up our civilization upon.
And so the powerful beat of misinformation continues to reverberate through the land, and alter the informational landscape upon which a democracy, for good analysis, assessment, and decision making, relies.
The International Panel on Climate Change is at it again.On Nov. 2, the IPCC released its latest report, “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability — Fifth Assessment.” It was written by 306 authors from 60 countries and runs 1,820 pages. And consistent with previous reports, this one portends gloom and doom for the planet unless we begin to make a concerted effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide.
Also consistent with previous reports from the IPCC were the reactions from the climate change deniers, especially Republicans, and more especially Sen. Jim Inhofe, the 79-year old Tulsan who was just re-elected. Inhofe is set to become chairman of the Environment & Public Works committee in January under the new Republican-controlled Senate and will be heavily involved in any legislation regarding climate change.
With that in mind, consider Inhofe’s response to the IPCC report: “It comes as no surprise that the IPCC is again advocating for the implementation of extreme climate change regulations that will cripple the global economy and send energy prices skyrocketing.”
He apparently thinks his predictions are better than the IPCC’s.
Sen. Inhofe has been the champion of climate change deniers for years. In 2012, he wrote a book on the subject: “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” Not surprising for someone whose campaign treasure chest is overflowing with money from the petroleum industry and related parties.
As an evangelical, Inhofe has also claimed that human-influenced climate change is impossible because “God’s still up there,” and that it is “outrageous” and arrogant for people to believe human beings are “able to change what he is doing in the climate.” Like many other religionists in the political theater, Inhofe confuses belief and dogma with science and facts.
If Inhofe had been around in the early part of 1492, I’m pretty sure he would have been absolutely convinced that Earth was flat and that Columbus’ proposed voyage West to find the Far East was doomed to fall off the edge.
Besides the outspoken Inhofe, there are many others, mostly conservatives, who deny that climate change is caused by humans and that it is a natural phenomenon over which humans have no control.
The carbon tax, the subsidies for alternative energy sources and the retrofitting of certain industries to reduce greenhouse gases, which are suggested as means of abating human contributions to climate change along with the attendant growth in government bureaucracies, are all anathema to the right wing of the political spectrum. Big business is better than big government, they say.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, a climate change denier who soon will control the environmental legislative agenda in Washington, is expected to oppose carbon emission reduction
Climate change denier heads environment panel
U.S. President Barack Obama’s ambitions to reduce carbon emissions and lead the world toward a treaty on climate change are about to collide with an unyielding Oklahoma “mountain man.”
Republican Sen. James “Mountain Jim” Inhofe, 80, is a self-proclaimed climate change denier – in 2012 he published a book called The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future – and in January, when Republicans take control of both houses of Congress, will return as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.
It’s a powerful job that gives him control of the environmental legislative agenda on Capitol Hill and allows him to hold to account White House emission reduction initiatives. This inevitably will place him at odds with Obama’s legacy goals of guiding the U.S. – and the world – toward a clean energy future.
Equally important is the fact he will become a pivotal player within a Republican Party deeply divided on whether climate change is man-made and, if so, what the role of government should be in dealing with it.
“There is a struggle going on, some even call it a civil war, within the Republican Party over this issue and others,” Prof. Tony Leiserowitz of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication said.
Inhofe will play an important role in rallying the conservatives, who have proven unassailable adversaries. The question is whether his ideology ultimately will shatter against the hard rock of reality.
“That’s when ideology is forced to confront itself and look itself in the mirror and say OK what’s more accurate, my ideals or the way things look on the ground,” Leiserowitz said. “Eventually, usually, ideology finally gives way. But it doesn’t give way easily.”
If there were any doubt about his determination to unravel Obama’s climate policies, Inhofe last week put them to rest: “The president’s climate change agenda has only siphoned precious taxpayer dollars away from the real problems facing the American people. ” Inhofe, who declined to be interviewed before he is officially elected chairman, has promised to scuttle any possibility of an international treaty coming out the United Nations climate negotiations in Paris next year.
Environmental groups are girding themselves for a fight.
“Sen. Inhofe is an avowed opponent of reducing carbon pollution and moving toward clean energy,” Keith Gaby of the Environmental Defense Fund said. “The fact that he holds this position means that there will be some really high-profile fights.”
The hope is that the moderate faction of the party will prevail. “If Sen. Inhofe interprets this as a mandate to dismantle environmental protections and climate protections I think he’s going to quickly realize that he’s making a very unpopular choice,” Gaby said.
Of that, however, there is indeed little certainty. Americans’ climate change beliefs trend toward the fickle. Polls show belief in climate change reached its peak in 2007. After the 2008 recession – when media coverage of climate change dropped by up to 90 per cent and when the Tea Party gained popularity – that belief dropped 14 percentage points. It has yet to work itself back to 2007 levels.
(Canadians’ belief in manmade climate change, on the other hand, has remained over the past decade relatively steadfast, recently rising to 87 per cent, according
to a Université de Montréal poll. Compare that with 50 per cent of Americans.)
On the international level Inhofe has campaigned against global climate treaties and actively worked to assure that the Senate never passes climate legislation.
Despite the relentless drumbeat of advancing climate change – rising sea levels, intense storms, ocean acidity, wildfires and drought – Inhofe has not wavered.
Yet while his biggest donors come from the fossil fuel sector, his motivation is both ideological and religious.
When debating climate change, he quotes Genesis 8:22: “‘As long as the Earth remains there will be seed time 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.”
Andrew Robb: Obama misinformed in ‘unnecessary’ Great Barrier Reef speech
Work for Abbott and your face changes. Politics the Anti-Science
Trade minister Andrew Robb has slammed US president Barack Obama’s call for Australia to do more to save the Great Barrier Reef, saying the speech was unnecessary and Obama was misinformed.
Robb is the latest high-profile minister to criticise the climate change speech, which Obama made on the sidelines of last weekend’s G20 meeting in Brisbane.
On Friday, foreign minister Julie Bishop publically rebuked Obama for the address, saying that she had a briefing with the US secretary of the interior Sally Jewell before the G20 in which she’d outlined the action Australia was taking to protect the reef.
The trade minister took up the fight on Sunday, saying the content of the speech was wrong.
“It was misinformed, and I think it also was unnecessary,” Robb told Sky News.
“I felt that the president was not informed about Australia’s achievements, which have been bipartisan achievements. You know, we get a lot of people lecturing us from around the world about meeting targets. We – Australia – have met the Kyoto targets … Most of the countries lecturing us did not meet their targets.”
“I don’t think others should be coming and lecturing us on climate change,” he said. “[The speech] gave no sense of the first world, high-class efforts that Australia is making successfully on that issue.”
Robb said the speech unfairly highlighted the issue of climate change, which wasn’t the focus of the G20 meeting.
“There had been 12 months of work gone into shifting the focus of the G20 to greater growth, sustainable growth.”
But he wouldn’t be drawn on whether he thought Obama had shown a deliberate disregard for the Abbott government, saying that the two governments had worked well together on a number of key issues over the last year.
Australia’s attempts to keep climate change off the G20 agenda were hijacked by the announcement of a climate deal between the US and China in the lead up to the high-profile leaders’ meeting.
A final communique by the leaders included a call for all countries to contribute to the international green climate fund, a call previously rejected by Australian prime minister Tony Abbott.
Denial: Australians burying their heads in the sands of Bondi Beach to send a message to Prime Minister Tony Abbott about the dangers of climate change.
This was, after all, a politician who had built a political career on climate scepticism, with his famous remark in 2010 that it was “absolute crap” to assert the science was settled.
It took only two days, but the doubters can claim vindication after revelations that the government sent a briefing note to Barack Obama to dissuade him that the Great Barrier Reef was under threat by climate change.
In an interview with Fairfax Media’s Latika Bourke in New York, Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said the Reef was “not under threat from climate change because its biggest threat is the nutrient runoffs agricultural land, the second biggest threat is natural disasters, but this has been for 200 years”
This is disingenuous, and factually wrong.
To be sure, the government believes the world is warming, and that human factors play a part.
But when it comes to acknowledging the urgency of the problem, how climate change will impact on the world, and what must be done to avert a catastrophic four-degree rise in global temperature, the Abbott government offers obfuscation and excuses.
So it was with the response to Obama’s speech in Brisbane last week, when the US leader called on Australia’s youth to rise up and demand more action to combat climate change, remarking that “incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened”.
The US leader’s speech might have been undiplomatic and rude to his hosts – but his analysis of the impact of climate change on the Reef was spot on.
Just ask the federal government agencies charged with monitoring and protecting the Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said in its 2014: “Climate change remains the most serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef. It is already affecting the reef and is likely to have far-reaching consequences in the decades to come.”
Averting further degradation of the Reef can “only be successful if climatic conditions are stabilised” reported the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), another government body.
The size of the Reef has halved in the past 30 years. Outbreaks of crown of thorn starfish which consume soft corals – along with cyclones – have contributed to about 90 per cent of that decline, says AIMS.
Coral bleaching is responsible for the remaining 10 per cent.
Coral bleaching is the direct result of rising sea temperatures caused by global warming. The acceleration of crown of thorn starfish infestations – which spawn in warmer months – is also driven, at least in part, by hotter weather.
And, warns the government’s marine scientists, cyclone activity will only increase as the planet heats up.
Bishop’s personal political stocks have soared in recent months due to some forceful international diplomacy on the MH17 disaster and the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group.
Her intervention on the Reef is unlikely to faze Obama, or harm relations. But some of the gloss has come of Bishop’s credentials as a moderate alternative to Abbott.
And, the government’s climate change credentials, once again, have been battered
Some 20 years ago, climate scientists arrived at the conclusion that the vast acceleration in the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution was causing the temperature of the Earth to rise. Almost all agreed that we were facing a genuine crisis. Some came to believe that we were facing a catastrophe deeper than any other in the history of the human species. James Hansen of NASA, perhaps the pre-eminent climate scientist in the world, argues in Storms of My Grandchildren that if over the coming decades and centuries we continue to exploit all the fossil fuels that have lain under the surface of the Earth for hundreds of millions of years – all the coal, oil, natural gas and tar sands that have been or are yet to be discovered – then inevitably all the polar ice on Earth will melt, raising the level of the oceans by 75 metres and turning the planet into an alien, barren and unrecognisable place. He contends we have already passed certain “tipping points”.
So far nations and the international ‘community’ have failed conspicuously to rise to the challenge posed by these dangers. Since the Rio Earth Conference of 1992, which initiated the search for an international agreement, carbon dioxide emissions have risen by 40% or more. At Kyoto in 1997, a first, modest agreement was reached. It did nothing to prevent the pace of emissions increasing. Since the failure of the Copenhagen conference in 2009 to find a replacement for Kyoto, there has been no prospect of any new international agreement. Nothing was expected from the conference held at Rio in June on the 20th anniversary of the initial international gathering. Nothing was achieved. Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker has captured perfectly the world’s response so far to the warning issued by climate scientists 20 years ago: “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”
As greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, as evidence of global warming has continued to grow, as the unwillingness of the world to act to curb emissions has become increasingly clear, a determination not to notice the looming catastrophe has taken hold of large parts of the population. At one level, this determination is psychological – the incapacity of a society of consumers to accept the need to sacrifice even a part of material prosperity to ensure the wellbeing of the Earth. At another level, the determination is political – the willingness of large numbers of people to listen to those who are telling them that the group of experts upon whom they customarily rely, the relevant cadre of trained and published scientists, have comprehensively got things wrong.
For reasonable citizens there ought to be no question easier to answer than whether or not human-caused global warming is real and is threatening the future of the Earth. Thousands of climate scientists in a variety of discrete disciplines have been exploring the issue for decades. They have reached a consensual conclusion whose existence is easily demonstrated. Every authoritative national scientific body in the world supports the idea of human-caused global warming. So does one of the most remarkable collaborative achievements in the history of science – the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in which the research findings of the world’s leading climate scientists, as outlined in leading peer-reviewed scientific journals, are periodically presented to and then accepted by the governments of the world.
If a citizen was not convinced by this alone, three studies have been conducted that reveal an overwhelming core consensus. In 2004, Naomi Oreskes published in Science the result of her examination of the abstracts of every article in the world’s leading scientific journals published between 1993 and 2003 that was concerned with global climate change. There were 928 articles. Not one challenged the core consensus. In 2009, two scientists from the University of Chicago published in Eos the result of a survey they conducted among a group they called “Earth scientists”. They discovered that among those who called themselves climate scientists and who had published recently in the field, 97.4% agreed with the proposition that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures”. And, in 2010, the eminent climate scientist Stephen Schneider revealed in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that 195 (97.5%) of the 200 most published climate scientists were convinced by the evidence of anthropogenic climate change.
Consensus does not imply unanimity. Nor does it suggest that climate scientists are in agreement about the most difficult questions concerning either the past or the future – their calculations of temperature over the past centuries and millennia or their precise predictions about the pace and the nature of the changes that will be visited upon the Earth and its inhabitants as a consequence of the ever-accelerating injection of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It should go without saying that the existence of a consensus on the core issue of human-caused global warming does not provide any answers to the diabolically difficult public policy questions that arise for nations and the international community. What is clear, however, is that a rational citizen has little alternative but to accept the consensual core position of climate scientists. Discussion of this point should long ago have ended. That it has not is the most persuasive possible example of the feebleness of reason, the futility of argument and the failure of politics.
There are three possible words to describe the political movement that has sought to convince citizens to reject the core conclusion of climate scientists: scepticism, contrarianism and denialism. ‘Scepticism’ suggests an open mind. The minds of those who dispute the consensual core of climate science are closed. ‘Contrarianism’ is a term commonly used, even by some of those who are best informed, like the climate scientist Michael Mann. ‘Contrarian’ might be the right term for the small minority among climate scientists who have not accepted the consensual conclusion of their fellow scientists. The contrarian is a loner, perhaps cranky, but also genuinely independent of mind. Most of those who dispute the consensual conclusions of the climate scientists are not mavericks or heretics but orthodox members of a tightly knit group whose natural disposition is not to think for themselves. To dispute the conclusion drawn by climate scientists involves for them neither the open mind of the sceptic nor the cranky independence of the contrarian but the determination – psychological or political or both – to deny what those who know what they are talking about have to say. They are denialists.
Political denialism is not a general political movement of the world or even of the West. Recently, in Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate Scepticism, James Painter outlined the results of a study of the profile of climate change denial in the press of six countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Brazil, India and China – in two three-month blocks of time – early 2007, and late 2009 to early 2010. Painter selected a quality newspaper on the Left and on the Right in five of the six countries studied. (China, of course, has no right-wing press.) In the official Chinese press and in both the right-leaning and left-leaning quality press in France, Brazil and India there was almost no sign of climate change denial. It was, however, a major element in the climate change journalism in both the US and the UK. Significantly, the profile of climate change denial was much greater both in the US and the UK in the later period. In addition, although the coverage of climate change scepticism was reasonably evenly spread between the right- and left-wing papers, the kind of coverage was very different. In opinion pieces and editorials, overwhelmingly the voices of climate change denial were uncontested in the right-leaning press and contested or dismissed on the Left.
Painter’s survey and others like it show that, as a political phenomenon, climate change denialism has grown greatly over the past two or three years. It is predominantly a phenomenon of the Right. While climate change denial as a psychological phenomenon occurs across the West, as a high-profile political phenomenon it exists almost exclusively in the English-speaking democracies. And although it has spread to Canada, Australia and the UK, within the Anglosphere its place of origin and heartland is the US.
The American climate change denialist movement was organised quite rapidly in the late 1980s in response to two main developments. One was James Hansen’s unambiguous and dramatic evidence of human-caused global warming and what this meant for the future of the Earth, as delivered to Congress in 1988. The second was the creation, in the same year and under United Nations auspices, of the IPCC at the initiative of Bert Bolin, the scientist who had been a prime mover in the identification and solution of the cross-border problem of acid rain.
Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s Merchants of Doubt is the most important account of the movement’s political and intellectual origins. They show that by the time the problem of global warming moved from a concern of scientists to the centre stage of national and international politics, a small group of sometimes highly accomplished right-wing scientists existed inside a pro-Reagan scientific think tank, the George C Marshall Institute. The most important were Frederick Seitz, S Fred Singer, William Nierenberg and Robert Jastrow. By the late 1980s this group had already been involved in a series of set-piece battles with those they thought of as the anti-capitalist scientific Left – in particular, the Union of Concerned Scientists – over a series of health, strategic and environmental issues: tobacco; Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ missile defence program and the ‘nuclear winter’ controversy; acid rain and the thinning of the ozone layer. The Marshall Institute intellectuals were Hayekian neoliberals who regarded arguments about the need for government economic regulation to prevent harm to health and environment as socialism by stealth. They were ideologically predisposed to disregard any problem that mainstream scientists attributed to market failure. They were also Cold Warriors who had once supported the Vietnam War and the neoconservative hawkish policies of the early Reagan administration. As the Cold War drew to its end in the late 1980s, these intellectuals transferred their fears from Reds to Greens, that is to say from communism to environmentalism. Their mindset morphed easily from the Cold War to the culture war.
As is now well understood, the key insight of climate change denial was the political potency of a technique pioneered in the struggle over tobacco in which both Seitz and Singer had been deeply involved – the manufacture of doubt. The principle was outlined in a now famous memo by a public relations adviser to the tobacco industry in 1969: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.” The logic here was simple. To inhibit government regulation of tobacco or chlorofluorocarbons or fossil fuels, the commercial interests involved did not need to demonstrate that their product was safe. All they needed to do was to create confusion and uncertainty in the public mind. George Monbiot, the Guardian journalist, discovered documents of a phoney grassroots movement, the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, created in 1993 by the tobacco company Philip Morris. They showed that the ASSC intended to counter claims about the dangers of passive smoking by linking its propaganda with other instances of “junk science”, like global warming. A decade later, in preparation for the 2002 Congressional elections, the tobacco strategy of manufacturing doubt was explicitly linked to global warming in an infamous piece of political advice offered to the Bush Republican Party by the spinmaster Frank Luntz: “The scientific debate is closing but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science … You need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.” The tobacco strategy was likely to be particularly effective when applied to global warming because the scope of the proposed actions was so vast and the potential interference in the lifestyle of the general public so real.
In all contemporary societies the authority and prestige of science stands high. Of necessity, the struggle over global warming had primarily to be fought on the battlefield of science. As virtually all those with true expertise in the field of climate science were convinced that human-caused global warming was happening and that its potential for catastrophe was real, the climate change denialists had to construct an alternative scientific community, or what Oreskes and Conway call a “scientific Potemkin village”.
One method of building this village was to locate and then to heavily promote an alternative cadre of scientific experts who could be mobilised to create the necessary confusion and uncertainty. In the early days of the denialist campaign, the fossil fuel industry worked closely with a handful of climate change scientific mavericks – Richard Lindzen, Robert Balling, Patrick Michaels, Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon. One or two were genuinely distinguished climate scientists, like the fanatically anticommunist Lindzen, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Others were second-raters in the field of climate science. As journalist Ross Gelbspan revealed in his pioneering 1997 study of climate change denial, The Heat Is On, Michaels and Balling received hundreds of thousands of dollars from coal and oil corporations. Greenpeace USA conducted detailed research into the funding that Soon, of the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, had received since 2001 from fossil fuel corporations and conservative think tanks or foundations for his denialist-friendly publications on solar influence on climate change or on the resilience of the polar bear. The total came to over $1 million. The high profile of this handful of scientists over two decades has been critical to the success of the denialist movement. As careful research has shown, they have testified to Congress as frequently as the mainstream scientists. They have conjured the illusion of a hotly contested and evenly divided scientific debate, or what one scholar has called the “duelling scientists” false narrative.
This is not the only way the denialist Potemkin village has been built. James Hoggan in Climate Cover-up shows just how industrious the denialists have been in creating and promoting phoney scientist public statements. In 1999, the Global Warming Petition Project, known as the ‘Oregon Petition’, was organised by an obscure chemist and fundamentalist Christian, Arthur Robinson, and launched by Frederick Seitz. Eventually it was signed by 30,000 “scientists”, the overwhelming majority with an undergraduate degree unconnected to climate science. In 1995, the Leipzig Declaration was launched, promoted by S Fred Singer. Many of the supposed signatories had never heard of it. Many others had no climate science expertise. In 2007, the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank, published a list of ‘500 Scientists Whose Research Contradicts Man-Made Global Warming Scares’. Many scientists named on the list were furious, even “horrified”. Sometimes the efforts to mislead were astonishingly crude. One article, co-written by Robinson’s son, Noah, and Willie Soon, was printed in the exact layout of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. In answer to the IPCC, the denialists created their own ersatz alternative, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change.
Yet there have been more serious attempts to sow confusion. One of the most powerful arguments of mainstream scientists is the near-total absence of peer-reviewed denialist publications. An obvious denier response was to characterise the peer-review process as corrupt and dominated by cronyism. Another was to create friendly peer-reviewed journals, like Energy and Environment. Yet another was to infiltrate first-rank journals. A New Zealander, Chris de Freitas, was appointed as an editor of the prestigious journal, Climate Research. Odd articles began appearing. Eventually one by Baliunas and Soon was published in 2003. It attempted to reinstate one of the by now standard myths of the denialist movement, namely that temperatures were higher during the “Medieval Warm Period” than in the past 20 years. The science was shoddy. Four reviewers had independently argued against its publication. The newly appointed editor-in-chief, Hans von Storch, was denied the right by the German publisher to print an editorial repudiating the article and resigned. Nonetheless the publication had done its work. It entered denialist cyberspace. Philip Cooney, a White House employee and former fossil fuel industry lobbyist, even recommended it to Vice President Dick Cheney as the knockdown refutation of the paper of which Mann was lead author, which was illustrated with the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph that calculated the world’s temperatures over the past thousand years.
As important as the building of the scientific Potemkin village has been the effort to undermine the credibility of leading mainstream climate scientists through protracted campaigns of character assassination, which Mann has called the ‘Serengeti strategy’ – hunting down supposedly vulnerable targets one by one. An early and infamous instance was the campaign launched in 1995 by the Marshall Institute Cold Warriors, Singer and Seitz, against Ben Santer, a distinguished young climate scientist from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Santer was a lead author for one of the chapters of the IPCC’s second assessment report in 1995. Essentially, because he had summarised studies that had been completed but not yet published and had edited his chapter under instruction to align it with the style of the others – he was asked to remove a concluding summary because in other chapters summaries were found only in the introductions – he was accused by Singer in the pages of Science and by Seitz in the Wall Street Journal of removing material and of scientific fraud. Seitz wrote that in “more than 60 years as a member of the American scientific community … I have never witnessed a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review process”. Singer and Seitz were supported by the most important denialist lobby of the 1990s, the Global Climate Coalition, which published a report accusing Santer of “institutionalized scientific cleansing”. Seitz and Singer had brought to climate science the unmistakable mental and rhetorical habits of the Cold War, where opponents were enemies and differences were deliberate deceptions. Santer never really recovered from their attacks.
This was merely a beginning. As he explains in his poised and well-tempered Science as a Contact Sport, Stephen Schneider was a target throughout his career. In 1971, he had speculated about the possibility of global cooling. Forty years later, the know-nothing denialist and conservative columnist George Will, dismissed him as the “environmentalist for all temperatures”. More damaging was the persistence in cyberspace of a calumny based on the distortion of a comment Schneider had made in 1989 in an interview for the magazine Discover. He had spoken about the tension between his obligation as a scientist towards nuanced truthfulness and his responsibility as a human being to fight for the future wellbeing of the Earth. One passage of the interview read: “Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.” A journalist published the first sentence and omitted the second. For 20 years, on this basis, Schneider was defamed on denialist websites as a self-confessed liar.
He got off lightly. The attacks on Hansen have been remorseless and ruthless, especially once he became politically active. Michael Mann chronicles the process in fine detail in The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. After his ‘hockey stick’ graph morphed from an illustration in a scientific paper to an icon of the climate change campaign, Mann became the sworn enemy of the denialists, the subject of a politically inspired Congressional investigation, never-ending vicious lampooning, public heckling, constant email abuse and a plausible death threat. What was interesting in all this was the steady rise in the degree of the verbal violence. Santer was merely accused of deception and fraud. After the ‘Climategate’ scandal broke in November 2009 – the leaking of over a thousand emails between climate change scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit – Marc Morano, the denialist operative and the political friend of our own former Senator Nick Minchin, argued that the climate scientists “deserve to be publicly flogged”. Even he was outdone by an ultra-right wing blogger, the late Andrew Breitbart, who called for “capital punishment for Dr James Hansen. Climategate is high treason.”
Naturally in a matter where so much was at stake for the fossil fuel industry, if doubt was to be manufactured and inaction engineered, serious money would be needed. The money was found both directly through fossil fuel interests and indirectly through wealthy conservative foundations whose involvement was as much a matter of libertarian anti-regulatory ideology as it was of commercial considerations. During the 1990s, probably the most important sources of denialist funds were American coal and electricity corporations like the Western Fuels Association, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association or the Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of 50 or so corporations and trade associations. In the late 1990s, this alliance fell apart, beginning with the defection of BP. The largest source of funds for the denial campaign was now probably ExxonMobil. By 2006, its support for climate change denial had become so notorious that it was chastised in a letter from the head of Great Britain’s Royal Society, which was leaked to the press. Although in 2008 ExxonMobil announced that its funding of denial had ended, evidence soon emerged that this was not entirely true. Nonetheless, in recent years the most important sources of funds for climate change denial have most likely not been fossil fuel corporations but vastly wealthy and profoundly conservative foundations like Scaife and John M Olin.
The earliest study of climate change denial – Gelbspan’s The Heat Is On – offers a fairly simple and rather characteristic materialist explanation of the funding: “A major battle is underway: In order to survive economically, the biggest enterprise in human history – the worldwide oil and coal industry – is at war with the ability of the planet to sustain civilization.” Such an interpretation probably underestimates the importance of ideology – the anti-regulatory, anti-state market fundamentalism that shapes the funding agendas of the conservative foundations.
In recent years, massive financial contributions to climate change denialism and many other conservative causes have been made by the three foundations managed by Charles and David Koch. In the case of the Kochs, there is no need to choose between the material and ideological explanations of the millions they have injected into the cause of climate change denial. On the one hand, their vast fortune comes originally and still predominantly from oil and gas. On the other, as the sons of a right-wing oil man who did business in the Soviet Union, whose anticommunism was grounded in his firsthand observation of the terror under Stalin, and who became, following his return to the US, a founding member of the John Birch Society, they have remained faithful to their father’s heritage: deeply ideological anti-socialist, anti-regulation, anti-statist, low-tax libertarians.
The corporations and the conservative foundations sought to conceal their direct involvement by funding anti–global warming organisations, such as the dozens of market fundamentalist think tanks that became a vital dimension of the American political landscape during the Reagan era and beyond, and are at the centre of the climate change denial campaign. A study called ‘Defeating Kyoto’, by Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap, showed that in the build-up to the 1997 Kyoto conference, these think tanks – Heritage, the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heartland Institute and, of course, the Marshall Institute – produced a large amount of denialist material on their websites, described with unusual wit as “consciousness lowering activity” and “the social construction of non-problematicity”. Another study, ‘The Organization of Denial’, whose lead author was Peter Jacques, looked at all the anti-environmental books published in the US between 1972 and 2005. Of the 141 such books, 132 were connected to one of the right-wing think tanks. These books were published at an ever-accelerating pace – six in the 1970s, 14 in the 1980s, 72 in the 1990s, and 49 between 2000 and 2005. The conservative think tanks also provided fellowships for many denialist scientists and helped arrange their access to the media.
Even more powerful than the right-wing think tanks were critically placed members of Congress who could assist in the prosecution of the anti–global warming struggle. Three names stand out: Dana Rohrabacher and Joe Barton, both members of the House of Representatives, and Senator James Inhofe. Inhofe’s greatest claim to fame is his description of climate change science as possibly the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people. After Climategate broke, in imitation of an earlier senator, Joe McCarthy, Inhofe called for the criminal prosecution of 17 climate scientists. Rohrabacher was chairman of the committee on Energy and Environment following the resurgence of the Republican Party in the 1994 Congressional elections. As George E Brown, the ranking minority member of the committee, demonstrated in a prophetic article, ‘Environmental Science Under Siege’, at the 1995 hearings of this committee it was Rohrabacher who was primarily responsible for the partisan politicisation of climate science and for the injection of the voices of denialist scientists into the centre of American national debate.
A decade later the situation had further deteriorated. At a time when Republican environmentalists were fast becoming a ‘vanishing tribe’, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, Joe Barton, summoned Michael Mann to appear before Congress in 2006 and then acted as if he had summoned not a climate scientist but a criminal conspirator. Barton demanded detailed records covering every aspect of Mann’s scientific career – financial support, data archives, computer codes, evidence of his attempts to replicate research. He then commissioned an inquiry into Mann’s science by a politically friendly statistician, Edward Wegman.
Climate science was by now one of the most fiercely contested fronts in the increasingly bitter American culture wars. As in all such battles, the role of the media would prove critical. In ‘Balance as Bias’, a 2004 study that became famous because of its appearance in Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, Maxwell and Jules Boykoff showed that by adhering to the journalistic convention of balance, between 1988 and 2002 the American prestige press had unintentionally aided the denialist cause. They had provided their readers with a misleading impression of a more or less equal divide between the overwhelming majority of climate scientists who were convinced that human-caused climate change was occurring and the handful of mavericks who were not. Maxwell Boykoff replicated the study later in the decade. He found that by 2005 and 2006, the prestige press, as opposed to the tabloid press, had replaced its earlier “balanced” coverage with accurate reports of the state of the science (though he had missed the drift towards denialism of the Wall Street Journal via its opinion pieces and editorials). However, when he surveyed American television, he found that denialist voices were common. With the ever-expanding influence of the Rupert Murdoch–Roger Ailes innovation, the 24/7 conservative populist propaganda cable channel, Fox News, they would become increasingly so.
More importantly, it was becoming clear that the most effective denialist media weapon was not the newspapers or television but the internet. A number of influential websites, like Watts Up With That?, Climate Skeptic and Climate Depot, were established. One of this online network’s early victims was Michael Mann. For this reason, he developed an excellent understanding of how the denialist disinformation distribution system operated. In The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars he analyses in some detail the attempted debunking of the paleoscientist Keith Briffa’s Yamal tree-ring analysis by one of the most remorseless denialists, the retired Canadian mining executive Stephen McIntyre:
First, bloggers manufacture unfounded criticisms and accusations. Then their close allies help spread them … Ross McKitrick writes an op-ed piece in the right-wing National Post more or less accusing Briffa of fraud … Individuals such as Marc Morano, Anthony Watts … UK Telegraph blogger James Delingpole … spread the allegations through the Internet echo chamber. That is all the justification that apparently is needed for commentators such as Andrew Bolt of Australia’s Herald Sun to eventually propel the unfounded accusations onto the pages of widely read newspapers.
By the process Mann describes, a confected controversy of utter obscurity about ancient tree rings was presented within hours in living rooms on the other side of the world as knockdown proof that all of climate change science was a fraud.
Through the denialist websites a simple, endlessly repeated standard narrative had by now taken shape. Climate scientists, who were called “warmists”, were involved in a sinister conspiracy. They were deliberately conjuring an environmental panic that they knew was mendacious, and were lining their pockets with research grants at taxpayers’ expense. In addition, on the more extreme edges of the denialist movement, people like Marc Morano and Lord Monckton argued that climate scientists were engaged in an international conspiracy to destroy capitalism and to impose socialism and world government upon the unsuspecting masses. On some websites the Jewish ethnicity of some climate scientists was duly noted.
By now an ugly and altogether unrestrained language appeared on websites and in comments responding to articles that criticised denialists or merely accepted the conclusions of the climate scientists. This verbal violence is to the personal computer what road rage is to the motor car. No one knows how much is spontaneous and how much is somehow organised.
What is known is the demographic profile of the main contributors. A fascinating academic study of the American Gallup poll over ten years called ‘Cool Dudes’, once more by McCright and Dunlap, showed that ageing conservative white males are many times more likely than any other segment of the population to be denialists. The denialism has nothing to do with lack of education or ignorance. The more such people think they know about climate change the more convinced they are that the orthodox science is a fraud. To judge by the flood of vitriol that inevitably follows any online defence of climate science or criticism of the denialists, a goodly part of this group is very angry indeed. They seem to dislike being told that industrial capitalism is threatening the wellbeing of the planet and – to choose my words deliberately – that man’s ambition to achieve mastery over the Earth has spiralled out of control.
The aim of the verbal violence is clearly intimidatory. Morano – the inspirer of the ‘swift boat’ advertisements that converted presidential candidate John Kerry from Vietnam hero to coward – by now routinely published the email addresses of climate scientists on his website, Climate Depot. By the time of Climategate, most had become accustomed to frequent deranged abuse and occasional death threats.
As late as 2009, most writers on the politics of climate change were convinced that the denialist movement would fail. In 2005, Ross Gelbspan told James Hoggan “the denial campaign was kaput”. In 2006, George Monbiot wrote in Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning: “After years of obfuscation, denial and lies about climate change, all but the most hardened recidivists in the US government are re-branding themselves as friends of the earth.” In 2008, Gwynne Dyer argued in Climate Wars “the denial industry is in full retreat”. Shortly after, in Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes and Conway concluded: “Until recently the mass media presented global warming as a raging debate … Maybe now the tide is turning.” Mann tells us that by 2009, even among the climate scientists, a “troubling complacency” could be observed; many believed that “the climate wars had been won”.
This turned out to be a mistake. Towards the end of 2009, two principal events occurred. The first had nothing to do with the denialists – the abject failure of the Copenhagen conference, where rational hope that the Kyoto Treaty would be replaced by some more effective international agreement died. The second was all their work. By that time, a new breed of denialists, most importantly Stephen McIntyre, had been pursuing several leading climate scientists remorselessly, searching for methodological or empirical mistakes in their work and demanding from them, frequently with a blizzard of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, the raw data from which their conclusions had been drawn and even the computer codes they had devised. As a result, a small number of minor errors were unearthed – in Michael Mann’s statistical work, for example, or in the Chinese weather station data that had been used in a seminal study of the urban heat island effect. As soon as a real or supposed error was discovered, an article was published in a journal as prestigious as could be found. And as soon as it was published, the error’s existence became known to the world through the denialist echo chamber. The political logic was captured perfectly by Johann Hari in the The Nation: “The climate scientists have to be right 100% of the time, or their 0.01% error [is used to show] they are frauds. By contrast, the deniers only have to be right 0.01% of the time for their narrative … to be reinforced by the media.”
This strategy was highly effective. For the climate scientists, pursuit by McIntyre was probably a greater source of frustration and anxiety than Morano’s vile abuse or even Joe Barton’s attempted Congressional inquisitions. One of those pursued by McIntyre was Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research Unit. On the eve of the Copenhagen conference more than a thousand private emails to and from climate science colleagues were somehow acquired and published on denialist websites. This coup immediately made its way to the front pages of the newspapers and the television news in countries where the long denialist campaign had already raised questions in the public mind about the reliability of climate science. The actions of the denialists had been very carefully planned. They had already found damaging sentences in the emails – like the one concerning the need to “hide the decline” in temperature, or the one which said, “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t” – whose meaning could be twisted to suggest the fraudulence of climate science. Some of the emails revealed the intense frustration of the scientists. One email suggested that if peer-reviewed journals published denialists, the status of those journals should be reconsidered. In another, anxiety about McIntyre-style FOI harassment led to Phil Jones’s foolish suggestion that certain emails might need to be deleted.
Many journalists accepted the language that denialists had used as their frame – Climategate, the “smoking gun”, the “final nail in the coffin”. Even the best informed climate change journalists – like Andrew Revkin of the New York Times and Fred Pearce of the Guardian – treated the accusations of the Climategate conspirators with a far greater seriousness than they deserved. George Monbiot even called for Phil Jones’s resignation. Months later, when the political damage was already done, Jones was exonerated by three separate enquiries (Monbiot duly published a retraction: “It was unfair to call for his resignation”). In a culture war of this kind, where the enemy is so ruthless and the stakes are so high, ill-judged overscrupulousness by decent people anxious to appear fair can do real harm.
By now the denialists were on a roll. A serious error was discovered in the most recent IPCC assessment – a claim that the Himalayan glaciers might melt by 2035. A few essentially trivial ones followed. ‘Glaciergate’ was born. Just as a few email comments had been used to discredit all climate scientists in Climategate, so was one foolish error used to discredit the entire work of the IPCC in Glaciergate.
It was obvious that climate change denialism had influenced Americans more than elsewhere. Yet it was only after the combination of Copenhagen and Climategate that the denialists’ political victory in the US became clear. According to Gallup’s annual opinion polls on global warming, in 2008, 35% of Americans thought the media was exaggerating the threat from global warming. By 2010, the number had risen to 48%. In 2008, 58% believed that global warming was caused by human beings while 38% attributed it to nature. By 2010, 50% blamed human activity and 46% blamed nature. A 20-point difference had been reduced to four. It had taken 20 years of work, but the triumph of doubt over reason had been secured.
Global warming had never been a major political priority of the American people but the issue now seemed to drop off the map. In the year to 2010, according to one survey, climate change coverage on the networks’ Sunday shows fell by 70%. An even more remarkable achievement of the denialist campaign was transformation of climate change in the American public mind from a question of science to one of ideology. In the 1990s, climate change disagreements between Democrats and Republicans were modest. By 2010, there was a 30–40% gap between Democrats and Republicans and between self-identified liberals and conservatives on all the fundamental global-warming questions. Most extreme were Tea Party supporters: half say that global warming is naturally caused, and one fifth that it is not happening at all.
Yet there is more to this question than the movement of public opinion. Following the 2010 Congressional election it became clear that the Republicans had become the first major political party in the Western world to be wholly captured by climate change denialism. In April 2011, a bill was introduced into the House of Representatives to overturn the findings of the Environmental Protection Authority about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions. It received unanimous Republican support. A Democrat amendment supporting the science received just one vote from a Republican. In 2008, the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, had been almost as fervent about the danger of climate change as Barack Obama. In the 2012 contest for the Republican candidacy, every contender was and indeed had to be a climate change denier. A once nearly bipartisan issue had by now been transformed into contested territory in the increasingly bitter American culture war being fought between the political parties.
This destroyed all possibility of American participation in the international struggle against global warming. In 2008, Obama pledged that he would lead the world struggle to combat climate change. The words ‘climate change’ now rarely pass his lips. As Michael Mann points out, in 2000 Bill Clinton based his State of the Union on the solidity of the consensual core of climate science; in his 2010 State of the Union, Obama argued: “I know that there are those who disagree … But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future.” A once idealistic President had been neutralised by the bloody-minded ideological intransigence of the Republican Party and the denialism and indifference pervading the political culture. If Obama had honoured his promise to lead the world in the struggle against global warming the chance of serious progress would still have been minimal, but with America’s withdrawal it is certain in the near term at least that nothing serious can be achieved.
In June 2011, a reporter from the New York Times attended the annual conference in Washington at what was then the most important denialist organisation in the United States, the Heartland Institute. It had about it, she said, “the air of a victory lap”. The jubilation was warranted. The long war the denialist movement had fought against science and against reason, in the US and throughout the English-speaking world, had indeed achieved a famous victory. This is a victory that subsequent generations cursing ours may look upon as perhaps the darkest in the history of humankind.
German village Feldheim the country’s first community to become energy self-sufficient
The rural village of Feldheim, 80 kilometres south of Berlin, is at the vanguard of Germany’s energy revolution, boasting a wind farm, solar plant, biogas and biomass facilities.
Germany is undergoing an energy transformation called Energiewende, which aims to reduce carbon emissions, increase the use of renewable energy, and stop all nuclear power.
Feldheim is the country’s first community to become completely energy self-sufficient.
The village now attracts thousands of ecotourists every year and has set up an educational group to spread the word.
The New Energy Forum’s Kathleen Thompson told the ABC it all started back in 1995.
“A student by the name of Michael Raschemann decided as part of his studies he’d like to install some wind farms,” she said.
With the support of local council, Feldheim’s 145 residents were quickly convinced of the wind farm’s merits.
One of those residents is 73-year-old Joachim Gluck, who has lived in the village his whole life.
Germany’s energy transition
- 80 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2050
- Nuclear plants shut down by 2022
- Carbon emissions cut by up to 95 per cent of 1990 figures by 2050
“There wasn’t much headwind … the project was done in open discussions at resident’s meetings. Everyone was allowed to voice his or her opinion,” he said.
Residents were invited to join a limited company to manage the wind farm in which they contributed 3,000 euros each.
Mr Raschemann founded a company, Energiequelle, which planned and implemented the project.
The wind farm now has 47 turbines, which produce 175 million kilowatt hours of electricity every year.
The town of Feldheim uses just one per cent of that, the rest is sold back into the wider grid.
Residents and businesses now pay a third less for their electricity than other German communities, at 16.5 eurocents per kilowatt hour.
The biggest local business is the agricultural cooperative which produces milk, pig meat and grains.
After the success of the wind farm, the cooperative, in partnership with Energiequelle, built a biogas plant to use manure and silage to heat the village.
The plant cost nearly 2 million euros and much of that was provided by government subsidies.
It has cut heating costs and saved the import of 160,000 litres a year.
The partnership has also built a solar farm with 10,000 modules, which has an annual output of 3,000 megawatts.
The town does not waste a thing, with a small woodchip heating plant burning timber by-products from nearby forests.
Mr Gluck said the big energy groups fought against Feldheim’s transformation.
“The permit process took longer than the actual building process,” he said.
But that has not deterred the villagers from new projects.
They are now spending 13 million euros on battery storage, which will help with consistency of supply.
Berlin citizens looking to buy back electricity grid in aim of using more renewable energy
Confidence and credibility
Unfortunately projected confidence as the most important determinant in judged credibility.
Does this mean that the poorest-performing — and hence most over-confident — expert is believed more than the top performer whose displayed confidence may be a little more tentative?
In contested arenas, such as climate change, the Dunning-Kruger effect and its flow-on consequences can distort public perceptions of the true scientific state of affairs, yes.
To illustrate, there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions. This consensus is expressed in more than 95% of the scientific literature and it is shared by a similar fraction — 97-98% – of publishing experts in the area. Research has found that the “relative climate expertise and scientific prominence” of the few dissenting researchers “are substantially below that of the convinced researchers”. In other words Bolt and his denier sources are not only a minority but are below par when it comes to research. Those ‘for’ are counted in the 1000’s whereas those against wouldn’t fill a small room. What News Corp and Bolt fail to recognize is the false balance they present is actually bias.
‘I’m not an expert, but…’
How should actual experts deal with the problems that arise from Dunning-Kruger, the media’s failure to recognise Bolt’s lack of “balance” as bias, and the fact that the public uses projected confidence of commentators as a cue for credibility?
1 The pervasive scientific consensus on climate change IPCC report based on 100’s of the top climate scientists In the same way as there is a consensus that smoking causes cancerThe public has a right to know that there is a scientific consensus on climate change.
2That the public wants scientists to work closely with managers and others to integrate scientific results into management decisions. This opinion appears to be equally shared by all stakeholders, from scientists to managers and interest groups. That decisions aren’t made on Bolt’s notion that “I’m not an expert but think of the economic harm therefore…..”
Advocacy or understanding?
Given the consensus “the only unequivocal tool for minimising climate change uncertainty is to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions”. In the same way that given the consensus on smoking and cancer quitting will minimise the risk of cancer.It is not advocacy.
Both statements are true. Both identify a link between a scientific consensus and a personal or political action.Neither advocates any specific response or non response.— but both require an informed decision based on the scientific consensus.
Spurious accusations of advocacy which Bolt uses is merely a ploy to marginalise the voices of experts.removing their opinion from public debate. The consequence is that scientific evidence is lost to the public and is lost to the democratic process.Sober policy decisions on climate change cannot be made when politicians claim that they are not scientists while also erroneously claiming that there is no scientific consensus which immediately shows their advocacy and conservative bias.
Obama faces a fight to protect his climate change agenda after midterm results suggest Senate’s top environmental post will fall to Republican stalwart of climate denial
The Senate’s top environmental job is set to fall to Jim Inhofe, one of the biggest names in US climate denial, but campaigners say Barack Obama will fight to protect his global warming agenda.
Oklahoma Republican Inhofe has been denying the science behind climate change for 20 years – long before it became a cause for the conservative tea party wing. Following midterm elections which saw the Republicans take control of the senate, he is now expected to become the chairman of the senate environment and public works committee.
However, advocates believe Obama will work to protect his signature power plant rules from Republican attacks, and to live up to his earlier commitments to a global deal on fight climate change.
“We think he sees this as a critically important part of his second term legacy and there is no reason why he should not continue to go forward on this… both domestically and around the world,” Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, told a press briefing.
The campaigners were less clear, however, how far Obama would be willing to fight to block the Keystone XL pipeline project.
Obama will get a chance to show he is still committed to fighting climate change during a trip to Beijing next week, where the US and Chinese are expected to announce new energy co-operation.
Extracting a pledge from China to cut emissions is hugely important now for Obama, who faces growing pressure from Republicans to demonstrate that other countries beyond the US – especially the high-emissions, rising economies – are acting on climate change.
“It is a domestic political imperative for the president to gain emissions reductions from China and other major emitters as much as it is an international policy goal,” said Paul Bledsoe, a climate change official in the Clinton White House.
“The president is under increasing pressure to gain emissions reductions from China and other major emitters in order to justify US domestic mitigation policy. That is going to be the spin Republicans put on it – that we are wasting our time with domestic emissions reductions because they will be swamped by developing countries’ pollution.”
Obama is going to feel that pressure the most from Congress. With his opponents now in control of both houses, the top slot on the Senate’s environment and public works committee passes from a climate defender, the California Democrat, Barbara Boxer, to Inhofe.
He published a book in 2012 calling global warming a hoax, and has compared the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the Gestapo.
A spokeswoman for Inhofe said his first concern was passing the defence budget, and that he would make no comment on his leadership roles until next week.
But if, as expected, Inhofe becomes the new committee chair next January, he will probably try to dismantle the EPA rules cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants – the centrepiece of Obama’s environmental agenda.
Industry lobbyists and campaigners said Inhofe lacked the votes to throw out the power plant rules entirely.
Obama would also veto any such move, said Scott Segal, an energy and coal lobbyist with Bracewell & Giuliani.
“I’m not sure we have the votes to advance those across the finish line particularly if they are vetoed,” Segal told a conference call with reporters. Instead, he said he expected “tailored changes”, which could weaken the rules.
Bledsoe did expect, however, that Obama will sign off on the controversial Keystone XL project early next year.
Republicans have said approving the pipeline, built to pump tar sands crude to Texas Gulf Coast refineries, would be an early order of business.
Obama in his post-election press conference gave no indication what he would decide. But Bledsoe said: “I actually believe the president is likely to approve the piepline and in the process deny Republicans a politically potent issue.”
From his perch in the Senate, Inhofe is expected to launch multiple investigations into the EPA – including Republican charges that the agency leaned heavily on a campaign group in drafting the proposed new rules.
But as committee chair, Inhofe is unlikely to indulge in quite the same level of theatrics on climate denial, said RL Miller, a California lawyer and founder of the grassroots organising group, Climate Hawks Vote.
“I expect we are going to see less headline-grabbing efforts on the EPA and more of simply throttling their budget,” Miller said. “If he touches climate denial at all he is going to be ridiculed in public and in the media. If he is smart, he is going to be very quiet publicly, and it will be death by a thousand cuts in the kind of budget battles that people like Jon Stewart don’t pay attention to.”
Despite their upbeat postures, Tuesday’s results were a big setback for campaign groups which had invested an unprecedented amount in trying to elect pro-climate candidates to Congress.
The former hedge fund billionaire, Tom Steyer, spent nearly $75m on advertising and organising in only seven races, making him the biggest known single spender in these elections. Only three of his candidates won.
“There is no way to dance around the issue that in too many races we lost good allies,” Michael Brune, the director of the Sierra Club, told a briefing. “We see those people being replaced by people that are against our values.”
But the environmental leaders blamed the poor showing on low turnout in an off election year – and continued to insist that climate change was becoming a top-tier issue.
They insisted their effort had put climate change on the electoral map – a big shift from 2012 when virtually no candidates would even utter the words climate change.
This time around, Republican candidates were forced to back away from outright climate denial, the campaigners said.
They noted Cory Gardner, the newly elected Republican Senator from Colorado, had appeared in campaign ads with wind turbines, after earlier disparaging climate science. “Climate denial is an endangered species,” Brune said.