Friday, 10 May 2013

Climate Wars?

The Norwegian SINTEF organisation has just published a fascinating report, 82 pages in length, analysing the 'debate' between the Anthropomorphic Global Warming supporters and those who take a different view. It makes very interesting reading, and I have to thank Dr. Judith Curry for posting links to it on her blog, Climate etc. Rather than providing an argument over the 'science' of the debate, the SINTEF authors have looked at the attitudes, approaches and positions of both sides and draw some very interesting conclusions.

The report is titled "Consensus and Controversy; The Debate on Man-Made Global Warming" and it was commissioned by, among others, a Norwegian Oil and Gas company. They have drawn on a number of sources in compiling the report, but the Introduction struck a particular cord in highlighting something I have commented on before this. The language and the mindset driving the 'Green' Climate Change argument is all about 'apocalypse'. From the selection of titles mentioned by the researchers -

This alleged ”climate war” is a scientific, political, economic, social and moral public field that is co-constructed and intersects in numerous ways, and which, to some extent at least, is characterized by the rhetoric of apocalypse, war and the communicative logic of the military trenches. Several other popular titles illustrate this: “The Suicidal Planet: How to prevent global climate catastrophe (Hillman 2007); “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity” (Hansen 2009); ”Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming” (Hoggan and Littlemore 2009); “The Climate Crisis” (Archer and Rahmstorf 2010); “Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence” (Parenti 2011).

The introduction continues, drawing on the work of Professor Hulme who claims the rhetoric has been 'embellished' post 9/11 and this is picked up in a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research, whose report states -

“The alarmist repertoire uses an inflated language, with terms such as “catastrophe”, “chaos” and “havoc”, and its tone is often urgent. It employs a quasi-religious register of doom, death, judgement, heaven and hell” (2007: 55). Likewise, the widely popular “tipping point” metaphor signifies the possible coming of sudden apocalypse. 

Professor Hulme is quoted in Chapter 1 suggesting that there are four 'myths' (he is using this word in its anthropologic sense) of Global Warming and catastrophic AGW as follows -

1. Lamenting Eden,
2. Presaging Apocalpyse,
3. Constructing Babel, and
4. Celebrating Jubilee.

In the first, the discourse on climate change is driven by the concept of a 'perfect' and 'idyllic' past in which humans, animals and their activities were in some kind of balance, life was simple, food and everything else abundant and its subscribers yearn for the return of this idealised 'Eden' state. In the second draws on this and presents humanity as the blight, or as recently on German television, human activity in the form of 'rampant capitalist exploitation', as being to blame. (I had to laugh at this, since it was uttered by a man from the former East German governing Party whose 'benign socialist exploitation of the environment' is one reason the former West German states are still paying a surcharge tax to clean up ...) It is the ideological position of many Green Party members as well, and ignores the fact that the 'State Owned' industries were the world's ultimate nightmare polluters.

The third 'myth' is a telling one as it identifies the belief that mankind can control, manipulate or alter the climate to suit our wishes and desires. One has only to think of the various schemes proposed to 'geo-engineer' various things to 'save the glaciers' or refreeze the polar ice cap. Probably the most stunning example of how this can backfire must be the diversion of almost all the rivers feeding the Caspian Sea by the Soviet Union. They did it for what they considered valid reasons, mainly to supply water to arid areas for agriculture. What it has achieved is reducing the 'sea' to a quarter of its original area and the ground they turned the water onto is now suffering from over use. I suppose we can be thankful their other 'big' idea was never implemented - massive 'space mirrors' directed onto the Siberian steppes to give them daylight in the Arctic winter and 'improve' temperatures. As the report states -

This myth, according to Hulme, mobilises ideas about our abilities to engineer climate utopias, to craft the climate of our own desire. This human creation of a “global thermostat”, through various technological measures, to gain control of a climate that supposedly has “run amok”, partly due to the recklessness of humanity’s actions, is according to Hulme a “Procrustean option for delivering climate utopia to the masses. And which masses? Those who speak loudest, those who pay the most, or those who are condescendingly judged to be most in need of a dose of (our) utopian climate?” (ibid.: 351-2).

The final 'myth' is a trickier one, since this is idealism run amok. The language used is all about ethics and moral values, but what it really boils down to is much less ethical or moral. Once again, it harks back to the 'vision' of a 'restored Eden'. It offers 'salvation' to those who 'follow the righteous path' and cut their use of resources, adapt their lifestyles and ushers in a new era of 'balance and justice'. All four feed into one another at different levels and in interesting ways. Often quoted is the 'Consensus' which, when examined closely is far from what most of those quoting it think it is.

The report is largely sympathetic to the 'Climate Change' argument, as, I would suspect, are most people. The huge question is really how big a part do humanity play, in particular how big an impact do western societies have, and what, if anything, can be done about it, but that bis NOT what this report set out to address. It is an honest, and in my view, very balanced attempt at understanding why there is almost no common understanding of either side's point of view.

I would identify myself as a 'Climate Skeptic' in so far as I do believe that the climate is changing. I also believe that humanity does impact on this. What I do not believe is the assertion that we can stop or reverse it. I do not believe that erecting more wind turbines, shutting all coal, oil and gas plants, curbing the use of hydrocarbon fuels and forcing everyone onto bicycles or public transport will achieve one jot of change in the direction the climate chooses to go. I don't believe in the apocalyptic visions of the Greens and I don't fear the use of nuclear reactors to boil water to make steam to drive turbines and generate power. I don't believe in the 'lost Eden' idyl either. Life before modern technology, medicine and food production tended to be rather short, very smelly and extremely hard. Those of the 'smell the flowers/feel the breeze' mindset who quote Wordsworth and his fellow poets lamenting 'Paradise Lost' and those 'dark satanic mills' blotting the landscape need to remember that the poets tended to belong to the 'Gentry' and had servants, gardeners and minions running around picking up after them. Fine if you were Wordsworth, not so good if you were the minion.

Nor do I believe in the 'Babel' model. In this those who aspire to it see themselves as the 'captains and kings' who will benignly condescend to allow the rest of us to have access to the resources they consider we need, and to dictate how we should use them. Look no further than the annual Climate Change Conferences its pundits attend, all earnestly believing that only by persuading the rest of us to do as they tell us can the world be saved, the climate tamed and Eden restored. It's a lovely vision, but so deeply flawed it must be obvious to all but the terminally uncritical.

At the conclusion of the SINTEF report, Professor Hulme is once again quoted, identifying that the answers to the three primary questions the IPCC was set up to answer are anything but conclusive, certain or final. We should note with caution that Hulme also identified (and he was a member of the IPCC team of scientists) that the Panel is actually governed by a 'Bureau' of 'government representatives' whose job was to ensure the Panel's report 'served the needs of government and policy and was not to be a self-governing body of scientists. Immediately one can identify that the politicians were driving an agenda and the scientists were being more or less told what to find. That, perhaps, explains more than anything else, why the skeptical side of the argument has continued to grow. Tellingly the report concludes with a sentence the politicians and those who seek to make the case for the environment, climate change, or ecology would do well to remember -

Efforts to make people bow uncritically to the authority of a dogmatic representation of Science, seems largely to produce ridicule, opposition and inaction, and ultimately undermines the legitimacy and role of both science and politics in open democracies. 

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