After Einstein brought about the great controversy in physics with relativity theory, he is quoted as saying: “This world is a strange madhouse. Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.” He also said: “Anti-relativists were convinced that their opinions were being suppressed. Indeed, many believed that conspiracies were at work that thwarted the promotion of their ideas. The fact that for them relativity was obviously wrong, yet still so very successful, strengthened the contention that a plot was at play.”
One of those people who argued in favor of this “relativity conspiracy” was Petr Beckmann a libertarian scientist from Czechoslovakia and editor of an Ayn Rand publication. He claimed that he had debunked Einstein’s theory in his book Einstein Plus Two, published in 1987, a full 82 years after Einstein’s famous theory was introduced.
It is therefore quite fitting that Rush Limbuagh producer and swiftboat-smearer Marc Morano was given the “Petr Beckmann Award for Courage” by the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, a pro-war, anti-climate lobbying group, for his work in fighting the global warming conspiracy.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Apparently, “courage” to them means contesting a scientific theory that satellite data had (or in Morano’s case, has) proven for 20 years. And just to prove that he was truly deserving of such an honor for douchebaggery, Morano, within hours of receiving the award, posted the email of a climate scientist in response to a story of said scientist receiving death threats from a neo-Nazi website.
Morano runs a climate denier website called Climate Depot. As an example of it’s journalistic integrity, it ran a piece called “‘Runaway climate change’ ‘unrealistic’, say scientists”, written by Tim Edwards. Edwards quotes Max Planck Institute scientist Markus Reichstein as saying, “Particularly alarmist scenarios for the feedback between global warming and ecosystem respiration (CO2 production) thus prove to be unrealistic.” Edwards says that “Climate change skeptics might say the new study is yet another nail in the coffin of the IPCC report,” yet Reichstein himself has said of the Edwards story:
This is indeed a very bad report about our research, strongly misinterpreted and with a unnecessarily sensational tone. In particular the statements in relation to the IPCC report are exactly opposite to what I said (and what is correctly reported in other newspapers). The 4th IPCC report is not challenged at all by our study, because it does not contain “alarmist” scenarios at all. On the contrary, the simulations therein still do not contain the carbon cycle feedback.
This kind of thing happens all the time. Just last March, climate scientist Simon Lewis had to lodge a complaint against the Sunday Times when their journalist Jonathan Leake tried to source him as an expert to make the erroneous claim that the UN had based the statistic for the Amazon depletion on an unsubstantiated claim from “green campaigners.” The Sunday Times apologized and retracted the story.
The UK Telegraph also apologized last month for an erroneous piece by Christopher Booker (and another one with Richard North) smearing IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri.
Meanwhile, a third inquiry into the “Climategate” scandal has yet again cleared all involved of trying to mislead the public on global warming. As a Guardian editorial puts it:
Even Charles Darwin might have wilted under the sort of scrutiny recently imposed on the Climatic Research Unit. Sir Muir’s report follows two other, briefer inquiries this year, by a Commons select committee and the Royal Society. It also comes on the heels of the environmental journalist Fred Pearce’s exhaustive series of reports for the Guardian. Perhaps no body of scientific research has been so intensively examined for flaws in its process: and the science – if not all the scientists – passed the test.
Of course, anyone who stopped to think about the convenience of how this controversy suddenly materialized on the run up to Copenhagen should hardly be surprised. Newsweek points out that “Bloomberg News’s headline was ‘Climategate’ Scientists Wrongly Withheld Data, Probe Finds’. It is inflammatory and misleading—the report did not say that information was withheld.” (Notice a similar difference between the BBC story “Dutch review backs UN climate panel report” and the Wall Street Journal story “Review Finds Issues at Climate Panel”)
But don’t think this tri-vindication bothers the deniers one bit. No, the vindication is actually good news! No, i’m not joking:
This is the third Climategate whitewash job and it would be tempting to see it as just as futile as its predecessors. That, however, would be to underrate its value to the sceptic cause, which is considerable.
This is because Russell’s “Not Guilty” verdict has been seized upon as an excuse to reinstate Phil Jones at the University of East Anglia CRU, this time as Director of Research. That is very good news. It spells out to the world that the climate clique looks after its own; that there is no more a culture of accountability and job forfeiture for controversial conduct in AGW circles than there is in parliamentary ones; that it is business as usual for Phil and his merry men. Or, to put it more bluntly, the brand remains toxic.
Apart from Michael “Hockeystick” Mann, there is no name more calculated to provoke cynical smiles in every inhabited quarter of the globe than that of Phil Jones. The dogs in the street in Ulan Bator know that he and his cronies defied FOI requests and asked for e-mails to be deleted and that people only do that if they have something to hide. Every time some UN-compliant government or carbon trading interest group tries to scare the populace witless with scorched-earth predictions of imminent climate disaster and cites research from the East Anglia CRU – of which Phil Jones is Director of Research – it will provoke instant scepticism.
Please reread that to get the full effect.
You see, Gerard Warner says that it’s good that the story was “whitewashed” because it only proves the fullness of the conspiracy. Allowing Phil Jones to keep his job is helpful to the skeptic cause because he is already so deeply distrusted among skeptic circles that any future evidence unrelated to him that comes up will instantly be discounted based on that distrust for Phil Jones. The story is a fascinating case study for gastrio-phantasia, the science of how far one can stick their head up their own ass.
Take for instance: “It spells out to the world that the climate clique looks after its own…” Yeah, because this dipshit isn’t part of any “clique” of non-scientists arrogantly making scientific postulations they have absolutely no expertise in. If he or any of his friends with “cynical smiles” did have any knowledge of the topic they’re talking about, that would automatically make them a part of the “climate science clique” and therefore their opinion would be worthless. Only non-scientists who don’t know shit about the climate can say anything meaningful about global warming.
Warner simply dismisses scientists as “white-coated prima donnas and narcissists” who have “never been lower in the public esteem.” He also says Rush Limbaugh was right that the entire scientific establishment was collapsing because the “pointy-heads in lab coats have reassumed the role of mad cranks they enjoyed from the days of Frankenstein to boys’ comics in the 1950s.” It sounds more like 1950s comics is as close to a scientist as this guy has ever gotten. Oh, and it’s because a scientist only categorized pot as a Class C risk and not higher that: “The public is no longer in awe of scientists. Like squabbling evangelical churches in the 19th century, they can form as many schismatic sects as they like, nobody is listening to them any more.”
Another thing is that just back on December 9th, Warner said that “When a pending investigation provokes panic among suspected wrongdoers, the first thing to collapse is any sense of solidarity in their ranks.” Yet despite this “solidarity” problem, the global warming conspiracy remains completely united in defending the validity of the work of Phil Jones and his scientific team.
By the way, remember when it was so ridiculous to talk about global warming because it snowed a lot in North America during the fifth-warmest winter ever recorded? Well, we now have had the hottest March on record, the hottest April on record, the hottest June on record, the hottest April-June on record, and the second hottest January-June on record behind 2007, according to NOAA. This despite a minimum in solar irradiance reported from NASA. The NOAA Environmental Visualation Labratory has a devastating visual comparison of the “above average” snow cover over the United States and the “lowest April snow extent in history.” Hundreds in India died in May when temperatures reached 122. Over 1,000 were dead by the time it hit 129 in Pakistan on May 26th. But more important than any of those statistics is the fact that all 10 of the hottest years ever recorded since 1880 have happened in the past 15 years.
Remember how new evidence had proven, this time for realz, that Michael Mann’s “hockey stick was broken”? Well, the hockey stick has been exonerated, again. (Following the vindication of a 2006 National Academy report and a corroboration by a 2008 study.)
And remember how funny it was when world leaders went to Copenhagen to talk about global warming during a blizzard? Well, the Tea Party Nation had to postpone their Las Vegas “unity” convention, with key-note speaker, climate-denier Sharon Angle, due to the heat.
A Politico article written by four of the leading climate scientists reads:
Consider the identification of the ozone hole in the 1980s. A consensus emerged among experts within a few years of finding key evidence — though a small number of experts remained unconvinced.
Such is the case with climate science. Theories and observations have been tested, retested and reviewed. Today, a large body of evidence has been collected to support the broad scientific understanding that global climate warming, as evident these last few decades, is unprecedented for the past 1000 years — and this change is due to human activities.
This conclusion is based on decades of rigorous research by thousands of scientists and endorsed by all of the world’s major national science academies.
The urgent need to act cannot be overstated. Climate change caused by humans is already affecting our lives and livelihoods — with extreme storms, unusual floods and droughts, intense heat waves, rising seas and many changes in biological systems — as climate scientists have projected.
According to a new government report, Climate change is already affecting U.S. and other industrial nations’ public health.
Experts estimate that as many as 250 million people in Bangladesh — a population almost that of the entire United States — could be on the move by 2050.
The East Antarctic ice sheet, which makes up three-quarters of the continent’s 14,000 sq km, is losing around 57 billion tons of ice a year, much more than expected, into surrounding waters, according to a satellite survey of the region. Greenland is losing almost 300 giga-tons of ice a year: here’s a visual comparison of how much water that is.
Experts found methane emissions from the Arctic have risen by almost one-third in just 5 years, and that sharply rising temperatures are to blame. Massive pressure changes caused by melting ice could even cause volcanoes to erupt.
Another study conducted by multiple universities finds that Climate change will increase the amount civil war in Africa due to water crises. In 2006 CNA convened a Military Advisory Board of 11 retired 3-star and 4-star admirals and generals to assess the impact of global climate change on key matters of national security, and they concluded that the projected climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security. Recent war games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response. In 2009, the CIA opened a Center on Climate Change and National Security.
A new survey by the Political Psychology Research Group says 75% still believe the earth has been gradually warming as the result of human activity. According to another survey by Yale, 91% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans and Independents support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
A new report out by the International Energy Agency (IEA) makes it clear that if we just stopped subsidizing the fossil fuel industry (or, at least, subsidized it a lot less) we could significantly cut climate change pollution.
Just last month, Texas oil giants Valero and Tesoro began fighting a California jobs initiative to spur the state’s clean-tech business. Schwarzenegger lashed back, saying, “This initiative sponsored by greedy Texas oil companies would cripple California’s fastest-growing economic sector, reverse our renewable energy policy and decimate our environmental progress for the benefit of these oil companies’ profit margins.”
Jonathan Kay argues that “Global Warming Deniers are a Liability to the Conservative Cause” in the National Post:
Have you heard about the “growing number” of eminent scientists who reject the theory that man-made greenhouse gases are increasing the earth’s temperature? It’s one of those factoids that, for years, has been casually dropped into the opening paragraphs of conservative manifestos against climate-change treaties and legislation. A web site maintained by the office of a U.S. Senator has for years instructed us that a “growing number of scientists” are becoming climate-change “skeptics.” This year, the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation gave a speech praising the “growing number of distinguished scientists [who are] challenging the conventional wisdom with alternative theories and peer reviewed research.” In this newspaper, a columnist recently described the “growing skepticism about the theory of man-made climate change.” Surely, the conventional wisdom is on the cusp of being overthrown entirely: Another colleague proclaimed that we are approaching “the church of global warming’s Galileo moment.”
Fine-sounding rhetoric — but all of it nonsense. In a new article published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, a group of scholars from Stanford University, the University of Toronto and elsewhere provide a statistical breakdown of the opinions of the world’s most prominent climate experts. Their conclusion: The group that is skeptical of the evidence of man-made global warming “comprises only 2% of the top 50 climate researchers as ranked by expertise (number of climate publications), 3% of researchers in the top 100, and 2.5% of the top 200, excluding researchers present in both groups … This result closely agrees with expert surveys, indicating that [about] 97% of self-identified actively publishing climate scientists agree with the tenets of [man-made global warming].”
How has this tiny 2-3% sliver of fringe opinion been reinvented as a perpetually “growing” share of the scientific community? Most climate-change deniers (or “skeptics,” or whatever term one prefers) tend to inhabit militantly right-wing blogs and other Internet echo chambers populated entirely by other deniers. In these electronic enclaves — where a smattering of citations to legitimate scientific authorities typically is larded up with heaps of add-on commentary from pundits, economists and YouTube jesters who haven’t any formal training in climate sciences — it becomes easy to swallow the fallacy that the whole world, including the respected scientific community, is jumping on the denier bandwagon.
This is a phenomenon that should worry not only environmentalists, but also conservatives themselves: The conviction that global warming is some sort of giant intellectual fraud now has become a leading bullet point within mainstream North American conservatism; and so has come to bathe the whole movement in its increasingly crankish, conspiratorial glow.
Conservatives often pride themselves on their hard-headed approach to public-policy — in contradistinction to liberals, who generally are typecast as fuzzy-headed utopians. Yet when it comes to climate change, many conservatives I know will assign credibility to any stray piece of junk science that lands in their inbox … so long as it happens to support their own desired conclusion. (One conservative columnist I know formed her skeptical views on global warming based on testimonials she heard from novelist Michael Crichton.) The result is farcical: Impressionable conservatives who lack the numeracy skills to perform long division or balance their checkbooks feel entitled to spew elaborate proofs purporting to demonstrate how global warming is in fact caused by sunspots or flatulent farm animals. Or they will go on at great length about how “climategate” has exposed the whole global-warming phenomenon as a charade — despite the fact that a subsequent investigation exculpated research investigators from the charge that they had suppressed temperature data. (In fact, “climategate” was overhyped from the beginning, since the scientific community always had other historical temperature data sets at its disposal — that maintained by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, most notably — entirely independent of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, where the controversy emerged.)
Let me be clear: Climate-change denialism does not comprise a conspiracy theory, per se: Those aforementioned 2% of eminent scientists prove as much. I personally know several denialists whom I generally consider to be intelligent and thoughtful. But the most militant denialists do share with conspiracists many of the same habits of mind. Oxford University scholar Steve Clarke and Brian Keeley of Washington University have defined conspiracy theories as those worldviews that trace important events to a secretive, nefarious cabal; and whose proponents consistently respond to contrary facts not by modifying their hypothesis, but instead by insisting on the existence of ever-wider circles of high-level conspirators controlling most or all parts of society. This describes, more or less, how radicalized warming deniers treat the subject of their obsession: They see global warming as a Luddite plot hatched by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Al Gore to destroy industrial society. And whenever some politician, celebrity or international organization expresses support for the all-but-unanimous view of the world’s scientific community, they inevitably will respond with a variation of “Ah, so they’ve gotten to them, too.”
In support of this paranoid approach, the denialists typically will rely on stray bits of discordant information — an incorrect reference in a UN report, a suspicious-seeming “climategate” email, some hypocrisy or other from a bien-pensant NGO type — to argue that the whole theory is an intellectual house of cards. In these cases, one can’t help but be reminded of the folks who point out the fluttering American flag in the moon-landing photos, or the “umbrella man” from the Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination.
In part, blame for all this lies with the Internet, whose blog-from-the-hip ethos has convinced legions of pundits that their view on highly technical matters counts as much as peer-reviewed scientific literature. But there is something deeper at play, too — a basic psychological instinct that public-policy scholars refer to as the “cultural cognition thesis,” described in a recently published academic paper as the observed principle that “individuals tend to form perceptions of risk that reflect and reinforce one or another idealized vision of how society should be organized … Thus, generally speaking, persons who subscribe to individualistic values tend to dismiss claims of environmental risks, because acceptance of such claims implies the need to regulate markets, commerce and other outlets for individual strivings.”
In simpler words, too many of us treat science as subjective — something we customize to reduce cognitive dissonance between what we think and how we live.
In the case of global warming, this dissonance is especially traumatic for many conservatives, because they have based their whole worldview on the idea that unfettered capitalism — and the asphalt-paved, gas-guzzling consumer culture it has spawned — is synonymous with both personal fulfillment and human advancement. The global-warming hypothesis challenges that fundamental dogma, perhaps fatally.
The appropriate intellectual response to that challenge — finding a way to balance human consumption with responsible environmental stewardship — is complicated and difficult. It will require developing new technologies, balancing carbon-abatement programs against other (more cost-effective) life-saving projects such as disease-prevention, and — yes — possibly increasing the economic cost of carbon-fuel usage through some form of direct or indirect taxation. It is one of the most important debates of our time. Yet many conservatives have made themselves irrelevant in it by simply cupping their hands over their ears and screaming out imprecations against Al Gore.
Rants and slogans may help conservatives deal with the emotional problem of cognitive dissonance. But they aren’t the building blocks of a serious ideological movement. And the impulse toward denialism must be fought if conservatism is to prosper in a century when environmental issues will assume an ever greater profile on this increasingly hot, parched, crowded planet. Otherwise, the movement will come to be defined — and discredited — by its noisiest cranks and conspiracists.
George Monbiot makes a very similar point, writing:
Views like this can be explained partly as the revenge of the humanities students. There is scarcely an editor or executive in any major media company – and precious few journalists – with a science degree, yet everyone knows that the anoraks are taking over the world. But the problem is compounded by complexity. Arthur C Clarke remarked that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. He might have added that any sufficiently advanced expertise is indistinguishable from gobbledegook. Scientific specialisation is now so extreme that even people studying neighbouring subjects within the same discipline can no longer understand each other. The detail of modern science is incomprehensible to almost everyone, which means that we have to take what scientists say on trust. Yet science tells us to trust nothing, to believe only what can be demonstrated. This contradiction is fatal to public confidence.
There is some good news. A new report from M.I.T. says that “Natural Gas Could Serve as ‘Bridge’ Fuel to Low-Carbon Future.” But whenever I read an article like this one from Science Daily, reading, “Climate Change Played Major Role in Mass Extinction of Mammals 50,000 Years Ago, Study Finds,” it makes me wonder if the reason dinosaurs will outlive us by millions of years will be because they didn’t evolve any of those inconvenient higher functioning systems in the brain that would allow them to create tools that would eventually destroy them. They had to wait around for a meteor to come and make a drastic change in the earth’s climate.
[Update: The climate bill is now officially dead. Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas W. Elmendorf said that opposing cap and trade legislation would have the effect of raising the federal deficit by about $19 billion from 2011-2010.]