Tag Archives: climate change deniers

Heatwave: Australia’s new weather demands a new politics

By George Monbiot – originally published in The Guardian

Climate change clashes with the myth of a land where progress is limited only by the rate at which resources can be extracted.

Five of Australia’s six states are still suffering fires after the counrty’s fiercest heatwave in more than 80 years. Photograph: Kim Foale/EPA

I wonder what Tony Abbott will say about the record heatwave now ravaging his country. The Australian opposition leader has repeatedly questioned the science and impacts of climate change. He has insisted that “the science is highly contentious, to say the least” and asked – demonstrating what looks like a wilful ignorance – “If man-made CO2 was quite the villain that many of these people say it is, why hasn’t there just been a steady increase starting in 1750, and moving in a linear way up the graph?” He has argued against Australian participation in serious attempts to cut emissions.

Climate change denial is almost a national pastime in Australia. People such as Andrew Bolt and Ian Plimer have made a career out of it. The Australian – owned by Rupert Murdoch – takes such extreme anti-science positions that it sometimes makes the Sunday Telegraph look like the voice of reason.

Perhaps this is unsurprising. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal – the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. It’s also a profligate consumer. Australians now burn, on average, slightly more carbon per capita than the citizens of the United States, and more than twice as much as the people of the United Kingdom. Taking meaningful action on climate change would require a serious reassessment of the way life is lived there.

Events have not been kind to the likes of Abbott, Bolt and Plimer. The current heatwave – so severe that the Bureau of Meteorology has been forced to add a new colour to its temperature maps – is just the latest event in a decade of extraordinary weather: weather of the kind that scientists have long warned is a likely consequence of man-made global warming.

As James Hansen and colleagues showed in a paper published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the occurrence of extremely hot events has risen by a factor of around 50 by comparison to the decades before 1980. Extreme summer heat, which afflicted between 0.1% and 0.2% of the world 40 years ago, now affects 10%. They warned that “an important change is the emergence of a category of summertime extremely hot outliers, more than three standard deviations (3?) warmer than the climatology of the 1951–1980 base period”. An extremely hot outlier is a good description of what is roasting Australia at the moment.

So far Abbott has commented, as far as I can tell, only on the fires: “Our thoughts are with the people and the communities across the country who are impacted by the bushfires,” he says. Quite right too, but it’s time his thoughts also extended to the question of why this is happening and how Australian politicians should respond. He says he’s currently on standby with his local fire brigade, but as his opposition to effective action on climate change is likely to contribute to even more extreme events in the future, this looks like the most cynical kind of stunt politics.

To ask him and others to change their view of the problem could be to demand the impossible. It requires that they confront some of the most powerful interests in Australia: from Rupert Murdoch to Gina Rinehart. It requires that they confront some of the powerful narratives that have shaped Australians’ view of themselves, just as we in the United Kingdom must challenge our own founding myths. In Australia’s case, climate change clashes with a story of great cultural power: of a land of opportunity, in which progress is limited only by the rate at which natural resources can be extracted; in which this accelerating extraction leads to the inexorable improvement of the lives of its people. What is happening in Australia today looks like anything but improvement.

This, I think, is too much for Abbott to take on: as a result he has nothing to offer a nation for which this terrible weather is a warning of much worse to come. Australia’s new weather demands a new politics; a politics capable of responding to an existential threat.

Clive Hamilton: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change

A paper to the Climate Controversies: Science and politics conference
Museum of Natural Sciences,
Brussels, 28 October 2010

For a full pdf of the article click here.

Repudiating science
Let me begin with a pregnant fact about United States’ voters. In 1997 there was virtually no difference between Democratic and Republican voters in their views on global warming, with around half saying warming had begun. In 2008, reflecting the accumulation and dissemination of scientific evidence, the proportion of Democratic voters taking this view had risen from 52 to 76 per cent. But the proportion of Republican voters fell from 48 per cent to 42 per cent—a four percent gap had become a 34 per cent gap. What had happened?
The opening of the gulf was due to the fact that Republican Party activists, in collaboration with fossil fuel interests and conservative think tanks, had successfully associated acceptance of global warming science with “liberal” views. In other words, they had activated the human predisposition to adopt views that cement one’s connections with cultural groups that strengthen one’s definition of self. In the 1990s views on global warming were influenced mostly by attentiveness to the science; now one can make a good guess at an American’s opinion on global warming by identifying their views on abortion, same-sex marriage and gun-control.
That global warming has been made a battleground in the wider culture war is most apparent from the political and social views of those who reject climate science outright. In 2008 they accounted for seven per cent of US voters, rising to 18 per cent if those with serious doubts are added. Among those who dismiss climate science, 76 per cent describe themselves as “conservative” and only three per cent as “liberal” (with the rest “moderate”). They overwhelmingly oppose redistributive policies, programs to reduce poverty and regulation of business. They prefer to watch Fox News and listen to Rush Limbaugh. Like those whose opinions they value, these climate deniers are disproportionately white, male and conservative—those who feel their cultural identity most threatened by the implications of climate change.
Those on the left are as predisposed to sift evidence through ideological filters; but in the case of global warming it happens that the evidence overwhelmingly endorses the liberal beliefs that unrestrained capitalism is jeopardising future well-being, that comprehensive government intervention is needed, and that the environment movement was right all along. For neo-conservatives accepting these is intolerable, and it is easier emotionally and more convenient politically to reject climate science.
The United States is a deeply polarised society. In Europe, the absence of a longrunning and rancorous culture war explains the relative weakness of climate denial. Where it does prevail it is associated with parties of the far right. It seems perfectly natural, for example, that the British National Party should adopt a denialist stance. In Italy and some former Eastern bloc countries, where anti-communism and remnantfascism still influence right-wing politics, denial is more potent.
The aggressive adoption of climate denial by neo-conservatism was symbolised by the parting gesture of George W. Bush at his last G8 summit in 2008. Leaving the room he turned to the assembled leaders to say: “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter”. It was a defiant “joke” reflecting the way US neo-conservatives define themselves by their repudiation of the “other”, in this case, the internationalist, environmentally-concerned, self-doubting enemies of “the American way of life”. Conceding ground on global warming would have meant bridging two implacably opposed worldviews. Bush’s words, and the fist pump that accompanied them, were read by those present as a two-fingered salute to everything the Texan opposed.
The fragility of the Enlightenment
In these circumstances, facts quail before beliefs, and there is something poignant about scientists who continue to adhere to the idea that people repudiate climate science because they suffer from inadequacy of information. In fact, denial is due to a surplus of culture rather than a deficit of information. Once people have made up their minds, providing contrary evidence can actually make them more resolute, a phenomenon we see at work with the upsurge of climate denial each time the IPCC publishes a report. For those who interpreted “Climategate” as confirmation of their belief that scientists are engaged in a conspiracy, the three or four reports that subsequently vindicated the scientists and the science proved only that the circle of conspirators was wider than previously suspected.
In a curious twist, climate deniers now deploy the arguments first developed by the radical social movements of the 1960s and 1970s to erode the authority of science. This was perhaps first noticed by Bruno Latour when he lamented the way climate deniers set out to explain away the evidence using a narrative about the social construction of facts. However, while constructivists developed an epistemological critique of science, climate deniers, adopting the heroic mantle of “sceptic”, claim to be protecting official epistemology from internal corrosion. The strategy required an attack on the system of peer-review and sustained attempts to “deconstruct” the motives of climate scientists. They are always on the lookout for biases and prejudices that could lie behind the claims of climate scientists, explaining away the vast accumulation of evidence by impugning the motives of those who collect it. That was the genius of the “Climategate” scandal—the emails were hard evidence that the “hard evidence” had been fabricated. The leaking of routine private exchanges between professional colleagues tarnished the public image of scientists as whitecoated experts too preoccupied with their test tubes and retorts to be political.
Since the founding of modern science, matters of fact have been established through the common assent of those qualified to judge under rules laid down in the 17th century by the Royal Society. The break from the past lay in the fact that the “potency of knowledge came from nature, not from privileged persons”. “Climategate” allowed deniers to claim that climate science indeed emerged from privileged persons rather than disinterested nature. In their study of Robert Boyle’s struggle to found the new scientific method of experimentation observable by suitably qualified others, Shapin and Schaffer note that “democratic ideals and the exigencies of professional expertise form an unstable compound”. Deniers have adroitly used the instruments of democratic practice to erode the authority of professional expertise, including skilful exploitation of a free media, appeal to freedom of information laws, the mobilisation of a group of vociferous citizens, and the promotion of their own to public office. At least in the United States and Australia, democracy has defeated science.
Innocently pursuing their research, climate scientists were unwittingly destabilising the political and social order. They could not know that the new facts they were uncovering would threaten the existence of powerful industrialists, compel governments to choose between adhering to science and remaining in power, corrode comfortable expectations about the future, expose hidden resentment of technical and cultural elites and, internationally, shatter the post-colonial growth consensus between North and South. Their research has brought us to one of those rare historical fracture points when knowledge diverges from power, portending a long period of struggle before the two are once more aligned.
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How much proof do the global warming deniers need?

“When you stare out over the wave of Weather of Mass Destruction we are unleashing, who looks crazy – the protesters, or the people who have yet to join them?”

Originally published in the UK Independent, by Johann Hari

Thank God man-made global warming was proven to be a hoax. Just imagine what the world might have looked like now if those conspiring scientists had been telling the truth. No doubt Nasa would be telling us that this year is now the hottest since humans began keeping records. The weather satellites would show that even when heat from the sun significantly dipped earlier this year, the world still got hotter. Russia’s vast forests would be burning to the ground in the fiercest drought they have ever seen, turning the air black in Moscow, killing 15,000 people, and forcing foreign embassies to evacuate. Because warm air holds more water vapour, the world’s storms would be hugely increasing in intensity and violence – drowning one fifth of Pakistan, and causing giant mudslides in China.

The world’s ice sheets would be sloughing off massive melting chunks four times the size of Manhattan. The cost of bread would be soaring across the world as heat shrivelled the wheat crops. The increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be fizzing into the oceans, making them more acidic and so killing 40 per cent of the phytoplankton that make up the irreplaceable base of the oceanic food chain. The denialists would be conceding at last that everything the climate scientists said would happen – with their pesky graphs and studies and computers – came to pass.

This is all happening today, except for that final stubborn step. It’s hard to pin any one event on man-made global warming: there were occasional freak weather events before we started altering the atmosphere, and on their own, any of these events could be just another example. But they are, cumulatively, part of a plain pattern where extreme weather is occurring “with greater frequency and in many cases with greater intensity” as the temperature soars, as the US National Climatic Data Centre puts it. This is exactly what climate scientists have been warning us man-made global warming will look like, to the letter. Ashen-faced, they add that all this is coming after less than one degree of global warming since the Industrial Revolution. We are revving up for as much as five degrees more this century.

Yet as the evidence of global warming becomes ever clearer…

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Climate change deniers exposed and explained

Professor Clive Hamilton’s absolutely brilliant five-part series of articles (originally published on the ABC website) is a clear-headed and searing exposé of climate change denial and the people and motivations behind it.

This is highly recommended reading.

A brief overview of each article is below, together with a link to the full piece. A warning – the comments after the articles quite clearly confirm (in Prof. Hamilton’s words) “that denial is only nominally about the science and really about ideology and cultural identity“, and that they are an angry and aggressive bunch with lots of time on their hands!

Part 1 – Bullying, lies, and the rise of right-wing climate denial
Details the cyber-bullying that scientists, journalists and others endure when they speak publicly on climate science.

Part 2 – Who is orchestrating the cyber-bullying?

Looks at the major blogs and news outlets, such as The Australian, that drive climate change denialism.

Also describes the driving factors behind climate change denial and exposes it for what it is, an extremist political movement that has nothing to do with science or scepticism.

…becoming a denialist does not follow from carefully weighing up the evidence (that is, true scepticism) but from associating oneself with a cultural outlook, taking on an identity defined in opposition to a caricature of those who support action on climate change. It is the energy in this wider movement that has seen climate denialism morphing into a new form of political extremism.

Part 3 – Think tanks, oil money and black ops

Looks at who are the major think tanks behind climate change denial, who is funding them and what their motivations are.

Part 4 – Manufacturing a scientific scandal

Outlines the process by which climate change deniers manufacture scientific scandals with the support of a lazy or biased media without any evidence. This article also provides an update of where the science is really at.

This is a quote from the article talking about the CRU email “scandal” after scientist emails were hacked last year:

“Although sceptics have been gnawing away at the credibility of climate science for years, over the last five months they have made enormous leaps owing to the hacking of emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and the discovery of a number of alleged mistakes in the benchmark reports of the IPCC.

“While the “revelations” have been milked for all they are worth, and a lot more, the science remains rock solid. If instead of cherry-picking two or three that lend themselves to spin, you read the 1000 or so emails that were posted on a Russian server the picture that emerges is one of an enormously dedicated group of men and women doing their best to carry out research of the highest quality.

“If there were a conspiracy among scientists to manipulate the truth, you would expect the evidence to be there in spades in these private emails. But it’s not. Instead they show scientists working their backsides off to do good science, with email exchanges stopping briefly on Christmas Eve to be resumed on Boxing Day, with apologies to colleagues for taking time out to have surgery or get married, all with a sub-text of worry about the implications of their work for the future of humanity.”

Part 5 – Who’s defending science?
Contains a list of lies about climate science that The Australian newspaper has published in recent times and the techniques it uses to further its political aims.