Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Unreality check

This piece by Tom Clynes is a really good summary article on the current state of climate change denial. Much of it is familiar, the same story of the distribution of misinformation and denigration of good scientific research, substituting wishful thinking for reality. There is also something deeply unpleasant happening; the publication of climate scientists' email addresses on denialist sites and the resulting deluge of death threats and obscene hate mail that follows. Here is one example from Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist:
“When I get an e-mail that mentions my child and a guillotine,” Hayhoe says, “I sometimes want to pull a blanket over my head. The intent of all this is to discourage scientists. As a woman and a mother, I have to say that sometimes it does achieve its goal. There are many times when I wonder if it’s worth it.”
But what struck me most were two numbers. The first comes from the Steve Milloy who runs a denialist web site. He said, "There’s really only about 25 of us doing this". Yes, only twenty-five people are claiming that, at worst, there is a global conspiracy of tens of thousands of research scientists to falsify their findings or, at best, in one of the greatest outbreaks of mass incompetence the world has seen, that they are all wrong and have been so since serious research into the impact of greenhouse gas emissions began in the 1950s. The fact that these few have recruited so many supporters is enormous testament to their skills as lobbyists and publicists and to the extraordinary power of the internet when it comes to the dissemination of information (or of complete bollocks).
The second number raised my spirits though. 

This spring, four major universities released polls showing that a clear majority of American citizens now say that the world is warming and that the country should take action. Jon Krosnick, a professor of communications at Stanford University, conducted one of the polls. He found that 83 percent of Americans say they believe that the Earth has been warming. One significant factor, he suggests, is that Americans can finally see and feel climate change happening.
In other words, this band of twenty-five, despite their deep penetration of the Republican Party and their base in the Tea Party, are losing. And they are losing because however much reality is denied, it has a funny habit of winning out in the long run. Vociferous, noisy and abusive climate change denial may be, but it is on its last legs. The fear was that the 'skeptics', as some like to be known, were winning. And now there is confirmation that they are not. They are becoming marginal, inhabiting solely the dark corners of the internet and the recesses of the political right. 

Yet, once again, mainstream politics seems to be running behind this mass outbreak of sense. Leaders seem scared to take action, putting off dealing with the problem, hoping that everything will turn out for the best. The tragedy of this is that, instead of the dystopian primitivism conjured up by denialists, action on climate change should be leading us to the brink of a new industrial revolution, one based on different sources of energy. An era of low-carbon sustainable industry and prosperity beckons and instead the skeptics wish to keep us in a warming world with disturbing potential consequences.

Hat tip to Stephen 


Strategist said...

Good stuff. One thing that has not been adequately exposed is the question of why/how climate denialist comments always appear within minutes of a climate change article going up on (say) The Guardian, and how these are carefully designed to hijack the subsequent comment thread.

The Chinese Government apparently employs an army of geeks to trawl the web and hijack or steer any web discussion away from anything really dangerous to the Chinese Government's interests. It seems pretty obvious to me that exactly the same tactic is used by "the 25" and their organisations, but they rarely seem to get called out on it.

I always wonder when reading trolls how many of them are doing for the money and how many them don't need to be paid by the 25, because they'll do it for free.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Eh? This is sarcasm, no?

You don't actually still believe this stuff, do you?

There are not many of you left, you know - even James Lovelock is no longer a believer.

And after thirteen or so years of no warming whatever, complete failure of the computer models, resolute refusal of the sea level to rise much, who could blame him?

Reality always breaks through in the end.

The Plump said...

Weekend Yachtsman

At least you could give Lovelock the respect of quoting him correctly. He has come out in favour of fracking because he feels that it omits less CO2 than burning coal. Just as he has always been in favour of nuclear power. He also feels that his earlier predictions on the impact and timescale of the effects on global warming were exaggerated. He does not question the scientific consensus on climate change.

And this from a recent profile:

He (Lovelock) displays equal disdain for those who do not accept science on climate change: "They've got their own religion. They believe that the world was right before these damn people [the greens] came along and want to go back to where we were 20 years ago. That's also silly in its own way."


As for not many of us left - well I am always interested in how a small minority persist in believing that they are a majority. All evidence points the other way. Even the CEO of Exxon Mobil has accepted the science of climate change (on 27/6/2012), although he feels that humans will learn to adapt to it.

The statements about no warming over the last thirteen years, the failure of computer models and that there has been no rise in sea levels are simply untrue and openly available data is there if you care to read more widely.

Here are some quick, comprehensible sources:

On temperature rise see here:

On sea levels see here:

On computer models see here:

I suggest you follow some of the links too.

The Plump said...

And on temperature data and the misinterpretation and misrepresentation of statistical noise, a link to this post from the LSE dropped into my newsfeed today.


It is worth reading