Here's Michael Shellenberger with a simple equation which undergirds everything we're seeing in Ukraine right now and which will inform everything that happens once the war is over:
Putin knows that Europe produces 3.6 million barrels of oil a day but uses 15 million barrels of oil a day. Putin knows that Europe produces 230 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year but uses 560 billion cubic meters. He knows that Europe uses 950 million tons of coal a year but produces half that. The former KGB agent knows Russia produces 11 million barrels of oil per day but only uses 3.4 million. He knows Russia now produces over 700 billion cubic meters of gas a year but only uses around 400 billion. Russia mines 800 million tons of coal each year but uses 300. That’s how Russia ends up supplying about 20 percent of Europe’s oil, 40 percent of its gas, and 20 percent of its coal. The math is simple. A child could do it. The reason Europe didn’t have a muscular deterrent threat to prevent Russian aggression—and in fact prevented the U.S. from getting allies to do more—is that it needs Putin’s oil and gas.
He's right that a child could follow the math here. What's sad is that our leaders can't seem to. Shellenberger goes on at length about how the nations of the west have gone all in on a "delusional" environmentalist ideology which "insists that it’s just a matter of will and money to switch to all-renewables" and calls for rapid "'degrowth' of the economy" in order to avoid a "looming human 'extinction'" that's never going to come. Meanwhile, "Vladimir Putin made his moves":
While Putin expanded Russia’s oil production, expanded natural gas production, and then doubled nuclear energy production to allow more exports of its precious gas, Europe, led by Germany, shut down its nuclear power plants, closed gas fields, and refused to develop more through advanced methods like fracking. The numbers tell the story best. In 2016, 30 percent of the natural gas consumed by the European Union came from Russia. In 2018, that figure jumped to 40 percent. By 2020, it was nearly 44 percent, and by early 2021, it was nearly 47 percent.
We've said before that America likes to buy green, fuzzy feelings from China when we purchase the solar panels they've built using energy generated by coal power plants. Russia has done much the same for Europe. They enjoyed being on Team Thunberg and having the adulation of right-thinking people all over the world. But they also liked charging their iPhones and having heat in the winter. Crazy old Uncle Vlad let them have both.
Shellenberger's solutions to this problem are pretty straightforward, and you should make it a point to read the whole piece to find out what they are. But when you do, despair, because the chance that our leaders give them a try is essentially non-existent. Doing so would make Greta mad, and they can't have that.
The Perils of Consensus: Beware 'Climate Change'
Many today believe that the globe is heating up and that something must be done to prevent a looming apocalypse. Carbon is ravaging the planet and fossil fuels must be replaced by wind and solar. The science is apparently settled. Yet predictions of global devastation have predictably failed for as many years as we can remember. Wind and solar are prohibitively costly, land defiling, and almost entirely unreliable, as every significant study has shown.
Important books by top-tier scientific investigators like Bruce Bunker (The Mythology of Global Warming), Rupert Darwall (Green Tyranny), Bjorn Lomborg (False Alarm), Michael Shellenberger (Apocalypse Never), and John Casey (Dark Winter) credibly put paid to the accepted narrative of rising seas and falling skies—though such books seem to have gone unread. Here in Vancouver, BC, winter came early this year, with temperatures clearly falling—we were bundling up in October; yet, it is difficult to get people merely to observe and assess for themselves, given sensationalist and misleading news reports to the contrary.
Consensus is always moot, regardless of how many people adhere to a general theory or a global assumption, as Charles Mackay has definitively shown in his classic study Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds and Eric Hoffer has laid out for us in The True Believer, an analysis of mass movements and the dynamics of fanaticism. It’s hard not to get swept along when we are told every day by our news anchors, newspaper editors, digital platforms, elected politicians and “science guys,” who have their own agenda of profit and power, that flood, fire and hurricane are our imminent future, that icebergs are melting by the minute and polar bears are starving, that Pacific islands are sinking, and that millions of people are about to starve. The overwhelming consensus of our experts and authorities cannot be accidental or wrong, can it?
But consensus is a funny thing. It can change unpredictably, very much like our weather reports. Paradigms tend to shift rapidly. Not so long ago, we might recall, we were all getting ready to freeze. As I indicated in a previous article for The Pipeline, in 1971 the Global Ecology network forecast the “continued rapid cooling of the earth.” In 1975 the New York Times brooded that the earth “may be headed for another ice age.” In the March 1975 issue of Science, we were informed that “the approach of a full-blown 10,000-year ice age [was] a real possibility,” and in the July 1975 issue of National Wildlife, C.C. Wallen of the World Meteorological Organization warned that “the cooling since 1940 has been large enough and consistent enough that it will not soon be reversed.” (Much of this information can be found in a provocative Forbes article by Gary Sutton).
Turn the calendar page and we are all getting ready to bake. As Robertas Bakula explains in The American Institute for Economic Research, dodgy statistics, ideological zealotry and partisan massaging of data work to falsely establish that “the scientific consensus on the human origins of climate change is beyond doubt.” Nothing could be further from the truth. He continues: “Thus it is not surprising to see an array of messiahs, from honestly concernedactivists to self-righteous politicians, gather in theircongregations, prophesizedoomsday, and come up with theirgenocidal plans to banish all evil, that is, reliable energy.”
Coming to a planet near you.
The original consensus may have been closer to the truth. Climatologist Kenneth Tapping of the National Research Council of Canadaconcluded in 2008 that sunspot activity, the driver of global temperatures, had diminished to the point of presaging the onset of colder winters and widespread cooling. Global warming was a temporary phenomenon. A decade later,The Science Times reported that it would appear the earth is indeed cooling, signaled by “a surprisingly long period of very low sunspot activity.” A decreasing number of sunspots is crucial, leading to changing climate cycles and declining temperatures.
As Brian Fagan writes in The Little Ice Age, evidence for the period derives from radiocarbon dating of dead plant material collected from beneath the ice caps of Greenland and the Arctic. In the words of Historical Climatology, “growing seasons shortened, food shortages spread, economies unraveled, and rebellions and revolutions were quick to follow.” This suggests the time may now have come for political caution and scientific revaluation of the warming hypothesis. As the journal Phys.Org observes, “The sun is now on track to have the lowest recorded sunspot activity since accurate records began in 1750.”
Further corroboration is provided by Arnab Rai Choudhuri’s fascinating studyNature’s Third Cycle, which explains the daunting complexities of “solar dynamo theory” and “meridional circulation inside the sun’s convection zone,” furnishing evidence for drastically reduced sunspot activity and the prospect of cooling summers and harsh winters to come. Although “precise theoretical calculations are hardly possible in climate science,” Choudhury remarks, we seem to be heading toward a cryogenic future, utterly unprepared to adopt contingency plans to adjust to and cope with colder temperatures and its attendant miseries—a condition that Choudhuri calls “the verdict from the Sun-God.”
Old and busted: "global warming."
The debate will continue to rage. The science is quite definitely “unsettled,” as Steven Koonin, a moderate among climatologists, tells us in his book of that title. In his just released Hot Talk, Cold Science, Fred Singer believes that “modest warming is likely to occur in the century ahead,” and that it should be welcomed. Carbon is our friend.
Brian Fagan, whose knowledge of the Little Ice Age is unquestionable, is a true believer in global warming and the advent or “record-breaking heat, mild winters [and] Category 5 Hurricanes.” Unlike Singer, he stresses that global warming must be mitigated. Energy and Technology scientist Peter Taylor’s Chill: A Reassessment of Global Warming Theory, which appeared ten years before Fagan’s volume, is a penetrating antidote to Fagan’s consensus thinking.
The prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, for its part, vigorously disagrees with both Singer and Fagan. “Our main message,” it proclaims, “is that global climate is moving in a direction that makes abrupt climate change more probable… and the consequences of ignoring this may be large. For those of us living around the edge of the N. Atlantic Ocean, we may be planning for climate scenarios of global warming that are opposite to what might actually occur.” Resistance to the prevailing narrative of thermogenic catastrophism is growing.
In its November 23 edition, The Epoch Times reports on an interview with British scientist Valentina Zharkova, a member of the department of Mathematics, Physics and Electrical Engineering at Northumbria University, who foresees “the onset of a grand solar minimum between 2020 and 2053 [that could] reduce global temperatures by up to 1 degree Celsius.” Zharkova warns that “governments in the Northern Hemisphere should prepare their citizens for a sharp downturn in temperatures during the next several decades.” She also believes that some scientists involved in promoting global warming are aware of the prospect of terrestrial cooling, but want to profit from green technology “as soon as possible, because they will be exposed very quickly.”
Into the sunny uplands of Green! Maybe.
Admittedly, the dilemma of consensuality is not easily resolved. One can only go with the best evidence available after diligent inquiry and honest appraisal, aided by a certain saving skepticism. As Peter Taylor advises, “I would urge these people uneducated in science to trust their ability to think for themselves and to use this material to open up discussion and further study.” Whenever one hears the word “consensus” in the news or on any Internet site, a warning light should flash where the idea bulb is presumably located.
In the present circumstance of cold fury and heated controversy, the global cooling hypothesis is well attested by reputable scientists who do not depend on academic approval and government grants serving to promote a political ideology—and who are regularly censored as iconoclasts and purveyors of “misinformation” by social media and the influential digital platforms, generally a sign that a maverick truth is being deliberately suppressed. However unsettled the issue remains, they are worth attending to.
Damned Lies and Statistics: 'Climate Change'
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics,” a quote which Mark Twain in his Autobiography attributed to Benjamin Disraeli—though it more likely derives from the obiter dicta of the First Earl of Balfour. We all know—or should know—that statistics can be deceptive. Like language itself, they serve a dual function: to tell the truth and to lie—except that, unlike ordinary language, statistical contrivances appear to share the property of pure mathematics, that is, they seem objective, factual, impartial, and irrefutable. People are easily convinced, writes Darrell Huff in How to Lie with Statistics, by a “spurious air of scientific precision.”
The only way to disarm plausible but specious statistical accounts is to dig down into the source data or, when feasible, simply to use one’s common sense. Of course, statistics can be woven out of whole cloth, total fabrications which are easily rumbled with a modicum of attention, but it is their subtlety, their playing with half-truths, that can be most persuasive and damaging. Telling half the truth can be more insidious than a manifest falsehood.
Stars and shadows ain't good to see by.
Global Warming statistics are among the most readily manipulable, delivering factoids that are true and yet false—in other words, in other words. The tactic is to present a lesser truth that disguises a greater one. For brevity’s sake, let’s take just a few examples of how “climate change” statistics can rank among the most effective means of producing assent to outright mendacities, coating whoppers with honey.
Consider the twaddle that came out of the University of Illinois’ 2009 survey that 97.4 percent of scientists agree that mankind is responsible for global warming, a finding which is easily debunked when one accounts for the selection methodology.
As Lawrence Solomon explains in a crushing putdown, the Illinois researchers decided that of the 10,257 respondents, the 10,180 who demurred from the so-called consensus “weren’t qualified to comment on the issue because they were merely solar scientists, space scientists, cosmologists, physicists, meteorologists, astronomers and the like.” Of the remaining 77 scientists whose votes were counted, 75 agreed with the proposition that mankind was causing catastrophic changes in the climate. And, since 75 is 97.4 percent of 77, overwhelming consensus was demonstrated.
The real percentage, however, of concurring scientists in the original survey is a paltry .73 percent. That the chosen 75 were, as Solomon writes, “scientists of unknown qualifications” adds yet another layer to the boondoggle. This sort of thing is not a little white lie or an inadvertent statistical error. Once it reaches the point where a deliberate misconstrual must be maintained by the omission of details, the distortion of data and the suspicious liability to intentional error, we are in the presence of the great statistical charade as it is practiced by our accredited “experts.”
Not to be outdone, the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia developed a graph showing the trend to global warming, but neglected to note that it is calibrated in tenths of degrees rather than whole degrees, giving the misleading impression that the world is heating up when there is, in effect, little to no global warming to speak of. Similarly, the British climate journal The Register points out that NASA data have been “consistently adjusted towards a bias of greater warming. The years prior to the 1970s have again been adjusted to lower temperatures, and recent years have been adjusted towards higher temperatures.” Moreover, NASA data sets, as is so often the case, were predicated on omission, so-called “lost continents” where temperature readings were colder than the desired result.
Eureka! It's alive!
As The Register writes, “The vast majority of the earth had normal temperatures or below. Given that NASA has lost track of a number of large cold regions, it is understandable that their averages are on the high side.” Additionally, NASA reports their global temperature measurements “within one one-hundredth of a degree. This is a classic mathematics error, since they have no data from 20 percent of the earth's land area. The reported precision is much greater than the error bar.”
The problem, warns Joel Best in Damned Lies and Statistics, is that “bad statistics live on; they take on a life of their own.” Their longevity supports their putative truthfulness. And the public is gullible, prey to the baked-in lies that Best calls “mutant statistics,” no matter how implausible.
Similarly, Tim Harford in The Data Detective, a celebration of good and useful statistical models, refers to the tendency toward motivated reasoning, i.e., “thinking through a topic with the aim, conscious or otherwise, of reaching a particular kind of conclusion.” Obviously, such thinking can work both ways, disparaging reliable statistics as well as valorizing dubious ones. The whole point, of course, is obfuscation, to keep people in the dark. Our soi-disant climatologists could just as well have written that climate is defined by a statistical curve in relation to a congruence subgroup of a modular elliptic, and the effect would have been the same. Whatever it means, it sounds official and incontrovertible.
In his essay, “March of the Zealots,” John Brignell comments on such acts of dissimulation. “If the general public ever got to know of the scandals surrounding the collection and processing of data [about global warming]… the whole movement would be dead in the water… It is a tenuous hypothesis supported by ill-founded computer models and data from botched measurement, dubiously processed.”
Flawed statistical analyses have become the established currency of the climate economy.
Thanks Again, Fracking!
In a recent article in the Toronto Sun, Lorrie Goldstein comments on a surprising fact: that Justin Trudeau, the dream political leader of the environmental lobby, is going to have to concede that Canada has missed the emissions reduction target it agreed to in 2009, while America -- after four years under Donald J. Trump -- will actually exceed that target. Says Goldstein:
This despite the fact Trump, unlike Trudeau, never imposed a national carbon tax on the U.S. Nor has any American president done so. Also, despite the fact Trump, unlike Trudeau, announced he was withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate agreement in 2017, saying it was contrary to the economic interests of the U.S.
The 2009 targets, negotiated by the prime minister and the president's respective predecessors as part of the Copenhagen Accord, informally committed both nations to reduce emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. While America's emissions projections for 2020 are about 20 percent below 2005 levels, Canada's projections are down only 0.14 percent. For Canada to meet its commitments for 2020, Goldstein points out, "we would have to cut our current emissions by 123 million tonnes — the equivalent of the annual emissions from our entire agriculture sector and most of our electricity sector — in less than a month."
How could this be? Well, part of the story of America's success (if you could call it that) is the government imposed Covid-19 lockdowns. Goldstein mentions that U. S. emissions for 2020 are down roughly 10 percent from where they otherwise would have been without the lockdowns, which sounds great until you consider the economic devastation they also wrought. The cure in this case was far worse than the disease.
Of course, Canada also locked down and had an equivalent emissions drop. Which is to say, the pandemic doesn't even begin to tell the full story.
What actually happened is that, while the Trudeau government dove deep into virtue signaling environmentalist rhetoric, the U. S. allowed "market forces, innovation and [smart] energy policy" to do their work. Among other things, the U. S. leaned in hard to hydraulic fracturing, allowing us to gradually transition away from our reliance on coal towards natural gas, which "burns at half the carbon dioxide intensity of coal."
Meanwhile in Canada, Goldstein points out, "several provinces have banned fracking," bowing to anti-fracking sentiment in the green movement, while the Trudeau government has imposed a national carbon tax (and doubled it mid-way through a global pandemic), and put real political capital into transitioning away from oil and natural gas, which accounts for roughly 10 percent of the nation's GDP.
It'd be nice if more environmentalists started recognizing (as Michael Schellenberger has) that their preferred methods of addressing these issues are mostly hokum and started advocating for policies which actually work. Both don't hold your breath. Most of them are just hypocrites who mindlessly condemn President Trump as a Captain Planet-style villain, while lauding all of the Trudeaupian fluff.
Time to Take a Breather on Climate Politics
Not so long ago, we were all getting ready to freeze. In 1971, the Global Ecology network forecast the “continued rapid cooling of the earth; in 1975 The New York Times brooded that the earth “may be headed for another ice age,” as did Newsweek; in the March 1, 1975 issue of Science News, we were informed that “the approach of a full-blown 10,000-year ice age [was] a real possibility,” and in the July 1975 issue of National Wildlife, C.C. Wallen of the World Meteorological Organization warned that “the cooling since 1940 has been large enough and consistent enough that it will not soon be reversed.”
A few years later, we are all in danger of frying to a crisp. Over the past decades, as we know to our cost, a consensus has developed that the world is warming as a result of AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming). There is, apparently, no room for doubt.
The trouble is that the “science” involved has been commandeered by an army of political pulpiteers whose underlying purposes are distressingly suspect. Some of the movement’s advocates, to put it bluntly, are more concerned with saving their careers than saving the planet; others are building new careers at the expense of public credulity, the perks and salaries being just too good to give up. I imagine that a great number of them are dealing from the bottom of the deck.
Thus William Gray, professor emeritus of the Atmosphere Department of Colorado State University, laments that “fellow scientists are not speaking out against something they know is wrong. But they also know that they’d never get any grants if they spoke out.” Consequently, they must insist that “the science is settled”—an unscientific statement if ever there was one.
Gray received unlikely support from culture-hero James Lovelock who, in his various books on the apotheosis of Gaia, had been an ardent proponent of the Global Warming conjecture. In a late interview, Lovelock more or less reversed course, claiming that the science is far from settled and that “our university and government scientists might fear an admission of a mistake would lead to a loss of funding.”
In adding his réclame to the debunking of climate conformity, Lovelock -- who's now 100 years old -- showed both honesty and courage, rare attributes for climate commentators. If so-called climate skeptics need nerves of steel to oppose the reigning ideology, it takes even more courage for a “Warmist” to buck the trend. Lovelock, who in The Revenge of Gaia prophesied the charring of the planet, now confides he had been “extrapolating too far.” Despite predictably hedging his bets and deferring catastrophe into the indefinite future, he avers that “we don’t know what the climate is doing” and disparages his previous work, as well as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers, as “alarmist.”
Financial Post journalist Peter Foster believes that progress toward a more sensible accord on climate may be occurring: “alarmist science, grand schemes of UN-coordinated global governance, carbon taxes, and government promoted ‘technologies of the future’—are crumbling.”
But is that really the case? Our professional elites seems not to be aware—or interested—as they continue to promote a failed ideology. National governments and ambitious politicians are still beating the climate drum, whether Justin Trudeau in Canada or Gavin Newsom in California, leading their people down the road to economic perdition.
Thankfully, authentic scientists, men of courage and integrity, have no intention of surrendering to the climate commissars of the day. Their persistence in disseminating truth may eventually pay off. Perhaps people may gradually become aware that the so-called greening of the earth is actually leading to the blackening of the earth.
Where good intentions go to die.
The toxic waste flowing from Green renewables, unreported in the mainstream media, is off the charts. Writing in Forbes, Michael Shellenberger, author of Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, cites reputable figures showing that by 2016 there were 250,000 metric tonnes of solar panel waste to deal with, producing carcinogens washed into the soil by rainwater.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), he continues, “projected that this amount could reach 78 million metric tonnes by 2050.” In addition, costs are unsustainable. Today, “recycling costs more than the economic value of the materials recovered, which is why most solar panels end up in landfills.”
Additionally, burning e-waste materials, which include plastic components, produces fumes that are teratogenic. Wind farms create their own waste issues regarding the disposal of uncrushable, 100-to-300 feet long, used wind turbine blades, “a waste problem,” writes Christina Stella at NPR, “that runs counter to what the industry is held up to be.”
Perhaps people are also beginning to twig to the fact that, as P.F. Whalen writes in American Thinker, “the climate change cult’s agenda, is less about climate change and more about Socialism; maneuvering for the redistribution of wealth and increased government control over our lives, while disguised as well-intentioned activists striving for cleaner air.”
There’s nothing like the threat of an imminent apocalypse to advance a suspect agenda.
The scientific consensus today, as Foster believes, may be slowly shifting away from the catastrophism of the climate gurus, despite official and partisan resistance. True, the shift has been tentative. Carbon-driven global warming was an easy sell, but it will be a hard buyback—too many professional reputations are on the line.
Nonetheless, the evidence is growing to suggest, variously, that the human contribution to global warming is far less than originally assumed, that there may be no global warming, and that in any event a meteorological calamity is highly unlikely. As far back as 2008, two-thirds of the scientists attending the 33rd International Geological Congress were “hostile to, even dismissive of, the U.N.’s IPCC report” on catastrophic climate.
In addition, a coalition of 49 former NASA scientists and seven Apollo astronauts, including the deputy director of the space shuttle program, has accused the bureaucracy of both NASA and the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), with which NASA is affiliated, of diddling with the facts. They write: “We believe that [their] claims that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled.”
And a little child shall mislead them.
If Lovelock is right and we don’t know what the climate is doing, then it is surely time for a moratorium on oracular pronouncements foretelling climate doom and vaticinal prescriptions for drastic and irreversible action.
The sickly obsession with "green energy" has to be put out to pasture. It behooves us to proceed gingerly and with humility when engaging in practices that can alter and even destroy livelihoods, that can profoundly affect the industrial and economic infrastructures on which prosperity depends, and that may meddle harmfully with natural processes. Scientists are neither soothsayers nor sorcerer’s apprentices no matter how many degrees and laurels they have acquired.
Meanwhile, civilization is in no danger of collapsing—at least, not from natural causes; the earth is not about to become an orbital cinder; hydrocarbons are not about to be exhausted; and there is time to reflect, plan, experiment and test a diversity of sustainable energy replacements. Nuclear power plants, for example, are not only increasingly secure but create 300 times less toxic waste per unit of energy than do solar panels. Working in proportionate tandem with oil-and-gas, a safe, plentiful and affordable energy source can supply the energy needs of the future while preserving the environment as well as the job economy.
Precipitate action may benefit crony capitalists, corrupt politicians, academic imbeciles, Reset leftists and scientific sell-outs at the cost of planetary degradation and common suffering. The possibilities for creating fear and panic to further the schemes and purposes of Green profiteers are endless. “Some say the world will end in fire,/Some say in ice,” wrote Robert Frost. In the 1970s it was ice; now it’s fire.
A pandemic, a Biblical flood, erupting volcanoes, the separating of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates that may release the hell of Tartarus upon the planet, as James Rollins fantasizes in his Sigma Force thriller The Last Odyssey—all are equally plausible, which is to say, implausible scenarios. Perhaps it’s time to stop fetishizing cataclysmic theatrics, whether for lucre, reputation or political control. Moreover, the untutored enthusiasms of credulous multitudes need to be treated with unqualified skepticism as well.
In short, informed and honorable people know it’s time to take a breather on climate politics. Too little is known and computer models are notoriously unreliable, often reflecting their programmers’ biases or ineptness rather than the real world. This practice of presuming on results is called by those in the field “climate model tuning” or “parameter estimation targeting a chosen set of observations.”
According to the American Meteorological Society, “tuning methodologies may affect fundamental results of climate models, such as climate sensitivity.” There are, as the AMS goes on to admit, “consistency issues across the model and its components,” as well as “limitations of process studies metrics,” such as sampling issues, and also the fact that “the climate system itself is not observed with sufficient fidelity to fully constrain models.” The language is technical but the meaning in layman’s terms is clear: the results of current climate and environmentalism studies, given the “arcane aspect of model construction,” are untrustworthy and corrupted.
What is needed is not ad hoc adjustments to confirm a theory or ratify an antecedent conclusion, but, as the AMS advises, “a vigorous debate on model tuning and evaluation.” There is far too much uncertainty arising from the inductive procedures currently in play.
Michael Crichton was right when he urged in State of Fear that we need “more people working in the field, in the actual environment, and fewer people behind computer screens.” No matter how sophisticated the regressive correlations and projective parameters used in computer simulations may be, there can be no substitute for concrete empirical work. Ultimately, we should agree, at the very least, that a large amount of comprehensive research still needs to be done before the science is sufficiently stabilized to yield results that are not perennially contestable.
The old Latin maxim applies: In dubio non agitur: when in doubt, don’t act. Or at any rate, act circumspectly and with gradually accumulated knowledge rather than with the doctorings of desire, the existence of prior convictions, or a raft of maniacal assumptions.
To Save California from Fire, Burn It
As the state of California slowly returns to the state of Nature, politicians such as Gavin Newsom -- the worst governor in Golden State history, so bad he makes one yearn for the second coming of Gray Davis -- and the arsonists in Sacramento propose to make things worse, not better. Newsom, whose name should be changed to Noisome, blames the outbreak of fires during, um, fire season on "global warming" and "climate change."
“The debate is over on climate change,” Newsom added. “Just come to the state of California.”
Well, governor, I've lived in California multiple times in my life, including growing up in San Diego, working as a reporter and critic in San Francisco, and writing in Hollywood. I love California -- or at least what it used to be. I knew California -- and your state ain't no California any more. But that's what happens when the same few interlocking wealthy families control the state's destiny for far too long: it becomes Mexico, ruled by aristocrats and cauldillos as they punish the peasants for their penury.
The fact is, the current wildfires are not, as the Huffington Post would have it, "among the largest wildfires in state history." Maybe in recorded state history, but that doesn't go back very far. Bjorn Lomborg, the "Skeptical Environmenalist," has a few words for the governor:
The massive fires raging in California are being blamed squarely on climate change. Alongside ominous photographs of orange skies, the front page of the Sunday Los Angeles Times blared: “California’s Climate Apocalypse.” Golden State Gov. Gavin Newsom says the cause is climate change. Anyone who thinks differently, he insists, is in denial.
The governor is right that climate change is real, man-made and something we need to deal with smartly. But the claim that the fires are caused by climate change is grossly misleading. To understand why, it helps to know that California wildfires used to be much bigger. This past decade, California has seen an average burnt area of 775,000 acres. Before 1800, however, California typically saw between 4.4 and 11.9 million acres burn every year.
In other words, up to 12 percent of the entire area of the state — had its modern boundaries existed in the 18th century — burned every year. This all changed after 1900, when fire suppression became the norm, and fire declined precipitously. In the last half of the 20th century, only about 250,000 acres burned annually.
But because most fires were stopped early, this left ever more unburnt fuel in the forests. According to one estimate, there is now five times more wood-fuel debris in Californian forests than before Europeans arrived. Californian fires are slowly coming back to their prehistoric state because of the enormous excess fuel load. Putting up solar panels and using biofuels will be costly but do virtually nothing to fix this problem. Prescribed burns will.
Ah, but the Left -- which systematically discourages the study of history -- believes (as did the French revolutionaries and the Soviet communists) -- that the world began anew with them. As far as the modern California Left is concerned, the Golden State sprang into being fully formed, like Athena from the brow of Zeus. They never give a thought to the white male easterners and midwesterners who came out west and made the desert bloom, who dammed the Sierra lakes and rivers, tamed the Colorado River, built the beautiful neighborhoods of San Francisco and Los Angeles, and most of all, learned to prevent forest fires via brush clearing and controlled burns (so, by the way, did the Indians).
That couldn't stand -- why, didn't they know that managing the fire threat was inflicting pain on Mother Gaia? The Left is nothing if not superstitious and anthropomorphic, and in the guise of "environmentalism" is hurtling the state back to the stone age.
Here's Michael Shellenberger, who like Lomborg believes that the warming trend is in part attributable to human activity, giving the governor a meteorological lesson. Please watch the video:
People are missing what's important about fires & climate change so I made this short vid
- Well-managed forests surviving despite cl. ch.
- 5x more wood fuel in forests means mega-fires were likely w/o cc
The climate hysterics don't want to hear this, of course. It's critical to their view of the world to believe in the innate evil of mankind, the better to salve their consciences as they punish their fellow citizens with ever higher taxes to appease the angry climate gods who do not, in fact, exist. Of such delusions are the ruination of once-great states made.
The Year the Lights Went Out in California
A famous definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. California energy policymakers have been monomaniacal about imposing the “climate” agenda. California is presently imposing rolling blackouts due to a shortage of supply, for the second time in less than a year. Energy crises there are not infrequent, and policymakers only press for more in the wake of the havoc this wreaks.
The insult to their own self-inflicted injuries is the demand that the rest of the country suffer under it, as well. Call it the “Green New Deal” though, like most flops, it has already been re-branded, as “Net Zero.”
The climate agenda is not an agenda that claims it will impact the climate, so let’s get that out of the way up front. “Climate,” in policy terms, means imposing energy scarcity.
This is done through price rationing – recall a presidential candidate boasting to the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board that “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket… because I’m capping greenhouse gases”? The key word wasn’t “skyrocket,” it was “necessarily.” It’s a feature of climate policy, not a bug. Call it a way to force seniors and the poor, indeed anyone on a low or fixed income, to choose between heating and eating.
It is also done through rationing the actual physical supply of reliable sources of electricity, known as “dispatchable” sources, i.e., whose production can be sent where it’s needed, when it’s needed. The combination leads to “energy poverty” for some, and blackouts for all.
California’s problem is elementary and one that dogs all “green”-obsessed jurisdictions. In short, each state must have the capacity at all times to produce (or arrange for the importation of) enough power to run its needs. It can dial the dispatchable power down as renewables get into the mood of pitching in, and dial it back up when they stop (say, when the wind ebbs or sun goes down).
That’s wasteful and inefficient of course, but the agenda creates perverse incentives – build expensive redundancies to meet mandates and with a guaranteed return of investment, but don’t replace or even maintain older, working equipment. Rent-seeking utilities have supported it because the system encourages them to lobby for more new construction with a guaranteed return on investment. The more expensive and redundant, the better!
So, California is not building dispatchable capacity, and instead is prematurely forcing closure of both nuclear and gas plants while mandating renewables and expensive battery storage, which at the scale required is not realistic. In fact, we are seeing again how grossly irresponsible it is.
True, one small power plant failed and another was unavailable because it had been put out of service – coherent systems are designed with the understanding that a certain portion of supply will be off-line at any given time. That is, one ensures power reserves. But California has closed its margin for error in response to anti-nuclear and climate change hysterias.
Not long after the October 2019 rolling blackouts, a report commissioned by the beleaguered utility PG&E, obtained under California’s Public Records Act by the Wall Street Journal, predicted that the frequency of these backouts would double over the next 15 years and then double again in the next 15. Also in 2019, California’s Public Utilities Commission warned of shortages as early as 2021 on hot summer evenings. The Journal editorial page gave credit it where it’s due.
That day has arrived a year early. Congratulations to Democrats for beating their own forecasts.
Michael Shellenberger is a former candidate for governor of California who ran largely on the insanity of the state’s man-made energy policy disaster. Reminiscent of the old joke, waiter, the food was horrible, and the portions too small, he notes that “California saw its electricity prices rise six times more than the rest of the United States from 2011 to 2019, due to its huge expansion of renewables.”
This dangerous misery is inarguably the result of misguided policies. Whether this agenda is cruel by intent or merely some condition like the aforementioned definition of insanity, its practitioners show no signs of learning from their own debacles. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris each have sworn fealty to imposing this on the rest of the country.
They do so in the name of the climate, of avoiding more deaths from heat by imposing policies no one actually claims will impact the temperature – but which are shown to increase risk of death not only from heat stroke, but massively increase deaths from hypothermia. These deaths are mostly among seniors, the same demographic ravaged by reckless policy responses to Covid-19 (which also were grounded in worst-case – i.e., least likely – computer-modeled projections).
It’s past time for rational Democrats to stand up to the radical environmentalist wing of their party. Republican must free themselves from the rent-seeking lobbies of utilities and renewables “investors” (actual investments require risk, not guaranteed welfare). Those are the two halves of the Bootleggers-and-Baptists coalition enabling the Climate Industrial Complex.
Policymaking is full of the Noble Lie, the cynical understanding that the public will accept this or that policy so long as it’s to avert catastrophe -- take the government-imposed restrictions attending the Wuhan virus, for example. But as the social costs of energy rationing increase, including the disgrace of a butcher’s bill from energy poverty, it is difficult to argue that the Noble Lie of climate policy is not the most ignoble of them all.
In Praise of Climate Practicality
In the last few months we’ve seen an apparent surge in what is called, according to taste, either climate skepticism or climate denial.
Producer Michael Moore and director Jeff Gibbs distributed their movie Planet of the Humans free to millions of internet viewers until it was removed by YouTube.
Environmental activist Michael Shellenberger published his book, Apocalypse Never, which was in effect an apology to his followers and earlier readers for greatly exaggerating the dangers of "climate change" (aka global warming) and frightening everyone. Danish economist and public intellectual Bjorn Lomborg, by now a thirty-year veteran of the climate wars, is currently on tour to publicize his latest book, False Alarm, which argues that a sensible cost-benefit analysis of climate policy means the world should rely more on adapting to it and less on resisting (in the jargon “mitigating”) it.
And Anglo-Hungarian sociologist Frank Furedi has just published How Fear Works on the theme that modern society terrorizes itself with fears because it has lost earlier moral values that allowed it to cope with uncertainties about the future.
All four works have been well publicized, getting criticism as well as praise, but they are all very different works. Moore and Gibbs are passionate believers in the risks and imminence of global warming, stationed as they are at the left extreme of the alarmism-denial spectrum. Shellenberger and Lomborg both accept that climate change is real but believe it to be a more manageable problem than the U.N., most governments, and the environmentalism movement claim. And Furedi’s book is not specifically about climate change at all, but cites how it has become one of several semi-apocalyptic fears about a frightening future.
The net effect of all four together is to make us reconsider how we should think about climate change and how we classify those who think, argue, and write about it. For the choice between alarmists and deniers is a false one, or at the very least a greatly exaggerated.
Moore and Gibbs, far from being climate deniers, are skeptical only about the theory that we can escape from doom by mass switching from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy. They regard the case for “renewables” as both an intellectual delusion, since they cannot possibly replace sustain the present level of world population or anything like it, and as a capitalist tactic to divert environmental concern into money-making schemes financed in part by government subsidies. Their solution to the problem is a drastic reduction in world population which, however, they give no strategy for achieving (understandably, you may think.)
“Climate alarmism” does not seek to be an unfair description of this view.
But what about climate denialism? Any fair-minded look at Shellenberger and Lomborg establishes that they can’t reasonably be described as “climate deniers” on the opposite extreme of the spectrum since they both devote a great deal of attention to how to cope with what they treat as a serious problem for the world. A quick and easy introduction to this approach is available online in Dr. Lomborg’s address earlier this year to the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, Australia.
To over-simplify it brutally, however, Lomborg’s argument is that climate change is real, and man-made, and serious; but it’s not an insuperable problem and many of its symptoms such as drought are getting better; our current overwhelming (and very expensive) stress on cutting carbon emissions isn’t working—they’re rising; and we can adapt to climate change (e.g., as the Dutch have historically done by building dykes and actually extending their territory).
Lomborg is not that out of line with the conventional and official views. If you look at the forecasts of President Obama’s scientific panel on climate change, for instance, it claims that “droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U.S. over the last century.” Or the U.N.’s IPCC scientists? “There is low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought.” And the same is true for floods, hurricanes, and (of particular concern to Australians) wildfires. These long-term trends contradict both newspaper headlines and the statements of politicians, but they’re what the Science tells us.
As the CIS’s summary of Lomborg’s big picture says: “The UN’s best estimate of the costs of unmitigated global warming by the end of the century is about 4% of global GDP. This is a problem, not an emergency . . . For most of the world's 7.5 billion people, however, climate change comes far down the list of priorities when faced with infant mortality from easily curable diseases and malnutrition, suffering from poor education and low energy access.”
And tackling those problems--along with proposing measures to adapt sensibly to climate, which people will do anyway—is the work that Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center has pioneered. Again, it’s an exaggeration to describe that approach as climate skepticism, let alone climate denialism. A fairer term would be climate practicality.
But practicality gets lost in atmospheres of panic and fear—and fear-mongering. That’s the message of Furedi’s book, and if there had been any lack of evidence to support his arguments, an excess of it has been provided in the last three months by the thrashing about of the scientists in their various solutions to the Covid pandemic. Their record on the usefulness of masks alone—first denying their utility, then recommending them, and finally making them mandatory—has shown that we can’t rely on even the most expert of human beings to provide both dispassionate and truthful advice in circumstances of fear. And when the public realizes that, it has to confront the truth that it has reposed its trust in an Authority it has exaggerated—and that only makes the panic worse.
The hopeful outcome is that we’ll learn from this; that in dealing with the threats of climate change, our best approach would be to forget labels like "climate denier," make a fair accounting of the problems, and set about tackling them practically. That can’t make matters worse, it may make them better, and in any case there’s no practical alternative.
And, finally, there really are such people as “climate deniers” who argue such points as that the models predicting climate disasters have not been confirmed by the time that the dates of the predicted disasters arrive (and are surpassed.) The Maldives, for instance, have not sunk beneath the sea and show no signs of doing so.
That said, climate deniers are a relatively small sub-set of those interested in climate policy. They have scored some important successes, but they have zero influence on the policies of governments and the U.N. And the claim that anyone who expresses skepticism on any point of climatist orthodoxy is simply a strategy by climate alarmists to prevent any serious discussion of climate policies.
And the more that strategy succeeds, the more likely it is that bad policies will continue and cost trillions of dollars without seriously addressing the real but manageable problems that climate change does bring.
Re-Visiting the Climate Dump
In November 2009, the Hadley Climate Research Unit at the university of East Anglia in Britain* was hacked, releasing thousands of files suggesting a covert mega-operation to propagate an "anthropogenic global warming" myth. The evidence showed that data was tampered with to paint the wished-for canvas, that counter-evidence was deliberately suppressed, that character assassination against climate skeptics was an accepted tactic and that experimental results were falsely replicated.
A new bundle of “hide the decline” email dumps, known as Climategate 2.0, confirmed that the “climate science” had been cooked and that, in the words of Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute, “the new cache offers ample confirmation of the rank politicization of climate science and rampant cronyism that ought to trouble even firm believers in catastrophic climate change… it’s another case of policy-driven science, and not science-driven policy.” Even some of the specialists involved in the enterprise had begun to question or object to the findings as, to quote from the emails, “not statistically significant,” as “truly pathetic,” and as “defending something that increasingly cannot be defended.” No wonder the lead researcher at the East Anglia CRU, Phil Jones, went so far as to recommend deleting all incriminating emails and/or changing the wording of others (Climate Audit, February 23, 2011).
The Hadley fable was thoroughly debunked by Rael Jean Isaac in Roosters of the Apocalypse, which showed in explicit detail that the ostensibly “scrupulous seekers of scientific fact” were really “hardcore zealots” mining “an ever richer vein of chicanery.” In the same year, James Delingpole put out his alphabetary The Little Green Book of Eco-Fascism, as devastating as it is amusing, exploding the Hadley as a coven of plotters. Certain figures in the movement had already made his point for him. In 1989 the late Stephen Schneider, Professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change at Stanford University and a vociferous global warmist—who twenty years earlier had been warning the world of an advancing ice age—had already advised his droogs: “So we have to offer scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.”
And there is much that is doubtful. Michael Shellenberger, a longtime climate activist who has now seen the light, has just published Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, a balanced account of the subject that remains in the temperate zone of argument. It points to the many “scary scenarios” and exaggerations that the eco-activists have foisted on the public: wood fuel is preferable to fossil fuels, the Himalayan glaciers are melting, the oceans are dying, extreme weather events are on the rise, industrial agriculture is a disaster, massive crop failures are to be expected, and so on, all leading to the collapse of civilization and the looming extinction of human life. Actually, climate is doing fairly well, but you’d never know it attending to so alarmist an agenda.
What is going on here? The climate industry is brewing perhaps the greatest deception of our times. An integral part of this deception is the intent to redistribute First-World wealth to so-called developing countries. Ottmar Edenhofer, former co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III, admitted in an interview with Germany’s NZZ Online on November 14, 2010 (reported in Global Warming Science, March 17, 2011), that “We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.”
But there is obviously more to it than that. The climate change scam is a cash cow for research scientists, universities and climate institutes on the receiving end of lucrative government grants, which they have no intention of relinquishing. The global warming scenario is also a gold mine for energy companies, crony capitalists and financial speculators, a multi-billion dollar boondoggle in which Big Oil has been replaced by Big Green, the major exploiter and benefactor of the pseudo-ecological scheme. Michael Moore’s new documentary Planet of the Humans, as Charles Battig points out in American Thinker, reveals how “energy corporations gained access to government funding/subsidies for wind turbine and commercial solar power installations,” despite the fact that the unreliability and intermittence of such energy substitutes ensures that “fossil fuel plants will remain the primary energy sources.”
The plot thickens. Mark Levin’s chapter “On Enviro-Statism” in his book Liberty and Tyranny provides a compendious summary and critique of the various stages of the global warming hoax and how it functions as an instrument of statist control of civil society. Like single-payer medicare and auto-industry bailouts, the myth of global warming enables government to concentrate more and more of a nation’s economy into its own hands, leading eventually to a top-down socialist dispensation and a citizenry dependent on the whims and dictates of an autocratic managerial class.
The totalitarian mindset is a monstrous thing, and Climatocracy is one of its most arresting contemporary manifestations. Global warming, said Philip Stott, Professor Emeritus of Biogeography at the University of London, “has become the grand political narrative of the age, replacing Marxism as a dominant force for controlling liberty and human choices." Similarly, Glenn Beck in Common Sense warns us about “what is really going on: leaders who want more government control over our businesses, economy and personal lives…need a vehicle to take them there…climate change is that vehicle.”
What it boils down to, according to Delingpole in Watermelons, is the entwining of “the ideology of the modern environmental movement and the ideology of the liberal-left,” both of which are political cartels of a collectivist bent that “believe in a bigger state” and lobby for “more of our decisions to be made on our behalf by politicians [and] technocrats.” Thus the term “watermelons”: green on the outside, red (or pink) on the inside.
Perhaps all is not lost. Michael Walsh writing on this site is gratified to note, if not a sea change, let’s say a river change among former climate activists and radical environmentalists who are “defect[ing] to the side of reason” and “joining the community of the sensible.” But it’s not an easy slog for so-called “climate skeptics,” who are regularly slandered as heretics, as paranoid, as clueless and so on. They must often feel like modern-day Quixotes tilting at wind turbines, risking their careers and livelihoods in the process. They know that the issue is not about science at all. Apart from the inevitable cohort of useful idiots who see themselves as world-saviors and Gaia lovers, it’s all about money and power founded on deceit, persuasion and threat.
And there we have it—what the global warming (aka “climate change”) movement, a fit candidate for the dump of history, actually comprises and intends. The evidence is overwhelming and incontrovertible. We are being pummeled into believing that we are facing an existential menace. In 2009, then Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, warned that “We have just four months to secure the future of our planet.” Now, we’re informed that it’s 12 years or maybe, according to teenage wunderkind Greta Thunberg, a mere eight years. The experts at the IPCC give us a decade to change our errant ways—or else! It could be just 18 months, as that renowned climatologist Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh has admonished us. We are constantly on the brink of extinction, it seems.
Don’t fall for it.
*On a personal note: Visiting the University of East Anglia as a conferee in 2005, I recall standing before a strange, bartizan-like structure, a kind of Martello tower fused to an enormous ingot of glass and concrete, and wondering what purpose so bizarre an edifice might possibly serve. It was only later that I learned I’d been standing before the CRU building, described by Ian Wishart in Air Con as “one of the temples of global warming belief,” sheltering a conclave of scientists whose analytic hijinks might have tempted one “to laugh out loud.”
Studded with machicolated windows from which to pour boiling oil and hurl rocks during a siege, it seemed an appropriate pile in the circumstances. Protecting their own, the university syndics, posing as an “International Panel,” released a report attempting to rehabilitate the high priests of climate change sheltering behind their oylets. The boiling oil of bureaucratic rhetoric seems to have been largely effective. Nonetheless, Phil Jones was forced to step down as head of the Unit. The fraud itself, however, gives no indication of abating.
The Quick Brown Scientist Jumps Over the Lazy Hack
One of the sentences young journalists used as a training exercise when they were learning to type was “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” It probably still is; you find discussions of it on websites around the world. Being journalists, they played word games around it and produced variations on how different newspapers would report the event.
The winner, as I recall, was “I jump over lazy dog—Writes ExpressFox on the spot.”
The problem with modern journalism is that much of its energy goes into suppressing news rather than reporting it on the high ethical principle that some topics are too important for their readers and subscribers to understand. Last week’s Forbes, for instance, should have had on its front page the proclamation: Lazy dog blue-pencils scoop by quick brown fox. Don’t read all about it!
The scoop in question was a self-help one (and none the worse for that)—a column by environmentalist author, Michael Shellenberger, excerpted from his book Apocalypse Never, in which he explains that many of the most popular themes of climate alarmism are false claims or predictions of events that will never happen. Mr. Shellenberger has Green credentials up to the kazoo, and he has written before for Forbes, but when these heresies appeared, they quickly disappeared.
At least from Forbes. They were picked almost instantly by some quick brown fox on Quillette, possibly my old colleague from the National Post, Jonathan Kay, and republished. My colleague Michael Walsh has already examined the very different works of Shellenberger, Michael Moore, and Bjorn Lomborg who question the establishment orthodoxy on climate policy.
But since the latest stern warning from Greenery International is that very soon we shall have to stop eating meat—or at least face wartime levels of rationing of it—in order to save the world, I can’t resist this one modest factoid:
The amount of land we use for meat—humankind’s biggest use of land—has declinedby an area nearly as large as Alaska.
Now, I don’t as yet know whether all these revisionist claims are accurate, but they come from people with some claim to expertise, and they are certainly interesting. And in Shellenberger’s case, because they are also the opposite of what readers might expect from him—some of his old allies are disappointed with him, others regretfully admiring—they fit very comfortably into the classic definition of a good news story as “Man Bites Dog.”
On this occasion, however, the lazy dog bit Shellenberger, and though the wound proved superficial, it was meant to silence him. Down, Forbes, down, boy. So why?
A glance at almost any newspaper or television news program will give you the answer: skepticism about climate alarmism (not climate change) is a taboo subject for the dedicated young idealists who now go direct from good universities clutching diplomas that testify to their mastery of “Woke” opinions into the newsrooms of the Anglosphere. And the most important respect in which they differ from the newsrooms’ older inhabitants is this:
Just the facts, please.
Good old reporters took the view that you had to give the public all the relevant facts, including those that would enable their readers to reach a different conclusion from the one the reporter had arrived at; new idealistic reporters believe that you must shield readers from those facts that might get in the way of their going quickly to the Truth and staying there. That constitutes a firewall almost as impermeable as the Chinese government’s electronic control of the Internet.
Their justification for shielding readers from what Al Gore once called “inconvenient facts” is that there is a “scientific consensus” supporting climate change, and that means there should be a journalistic consensus too. One problem with this justification—and there are many—is that consensus is neither a scientific nor a journalistic concept but a political one.
That was borne in on me the other day when I came across a reference to the 97 percent of scientists who support global warming in a lecture on the philosophy of science delivered in 2015 to the Danube Institute by Professor Anthony O’Hear, the editor of the journal Philosophy, to the Peter Pazmany Catholic University in Budapest. (Hungarian philosophers have made major contributions to the philosophy of science.)
Science is consensus, comrades.
I had an interest in this topic since I had devoted a recent column to demonstrating that this 97 percent claim was at best ridiculous and at worst fraudulent. So I was slightly disconcerted to read this cautious but more withering conclusion from Professor O’Hear:
We are often told that (e.g.) 97% or some such figure of scientists all agree… This has been questioned, but, frankly, it is irrelevant. The question is not the solidity of the consensus, but the openness to differences of view, and the way in which anomalies are handled. Peer review and funding mechanisms could just be reinforcing dogma. Dissent is not popular in this area, papers [are] being turned down because they are ‘less than helpful’, potentially critical data is withheld, the hockey stick fiasco, shiftiness about the 15 year blip. Maybe this sort of thing is more common in science generally than one likes to admit, but… a suspicion that what really needs explaining in this area is the nature and cause of the scientific consensus. It is, in any case, a very bad argument to be told that we have to accept something because of a ‘consensus’; in science things are supposed to work the other way round! [My italics.]
I am quoting here from notes. We at the Danube Institute shall be publishing Professor O’Hear’s entire lecture in the near future. My amateur comments on it that follow here should therefore be read with caution until the full text arrives. But the dubious character of a scientific consensus arises from the contested nature of what science is and does. For these are less straightforward questions than they appear at first sight or in public debate.
To oversimplify brutally, for about half the period between 1945 and today, the theory of science that probably held greatest sway rested on the notion of “falsification” advanced by Karl Popper in a 1934 book (revised and re-published in 1960 as The Logic of Scientific Discovery.) A new scientific theory might be confirmed any number of times by “positive” experimental results without being proved true; but a single negative result was enough to prove it false. Science had to be capable of being falsified.
Of course, it didn’t work out exactly that way in practice. If you had a nice little theory that had been put on a pedestal and greatly admired by learned societies until some provincial hobbledehoy came along with his annoyingly negative test results, you didn’t just smile manfully and rip up your application letter to the Nobel Prize Committee. You set about demonstrating that his test results were wrong. And since many experimental results are wrong, falsifying a theory was very rarely a simple matter of one negative result. It was more like an American football game between two equally matched teams, each trying to shove the other towards the goal line.
That’s why Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, challenged Popper’s falsification theory by suggesting that scientific knowledge advances not by passing or failing some “objective” test but because scientists gradually come to believe that as between different sets of scientific ideas, one theory is preferable to another—in Kuhnian language, there are “competing paradigms” until one replaces another in a “paradigm shift.” If you wish, you can use the word “consensus” to describe the results of that shift, provided you realize that it too is as provisional as a theory about to be falsified.
Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Popper’s theory is useful because it gives you an objective way of advancing or confirming knowledge; Kuhn’s approach is a better explanation of what scientists actually do and how they decide questions. One result is that two competing paradigms (or accounts of reality) may exist side by side for a long period, maybe indefinitely, until...
Thus, some theories of global warming have generated predictions that have already been falsified, but the overall concept is still supported by a large number of scientists because they haven’t found a better explanation of climate change. So the experiments may bark, but the global warming caravan passes on. It is all a little less cut-and-dried than the clinical certainty the word Science suggests to us.
Now, throw in a third factor—government funding of scientific research. That presents to scientists a set of incentives that may also be a conflict of interest. If scientists are humanly reluctant to abandon a theory under attack if it has enhanced their professional reputation, would they not be still more defensive on its behalf if it also carries a substantial program grant?
Thus, the more that climate change orthodoxy is either questioned reasonably or refuted altogether on specific points, the more unjustifiable any uniform consensus of science or journalism becomes. And the more scientists openly debate their differences, the more reporters should impartially describe the controversies rather than simply announcing the winners. But let Anthony O’Hear have the final word (emphasis mine):
'Global warming’ and the tactics of its scientific proponents look much more like a political campaign than a scientific matter. It is internationalist (seeking to reduce the influence and prosperity of nation states in the face of a ‘global’ threat); it is absolutist (brooking no compromise or negotiation); it rides roughshod over other interests (e.g. for food, for power); it sacrifices the present for an unknowable future; it discounts the benefits of warming; it is a single issue campaign (ignoring the rest of life and other values); and finally, by seeking to bankrupt the developed nations of the West by driving fuel costs up unsustainably, it will actually undermine the potential (through research and development) to deal with the problem, to the extent that there is one.
These are not topics that in democracy we can put in a box marked “Not in front of the Voters” and congratulate ourselves on our social responsibility.