Am I an Alarmist?

The following idea has been stewing around in my head for a little while now, but as I referred to it in a comment on WTD, I figure that I might write it up now.

What is an Alarmist?

Wikipedia tells us that “alarmism is excessive or exaggerated alarm about a real or imagined threat”.

So, to be an alarmist, one is said to be inflating a potential threat beyond anything realistic.

I cannot speak for all the writers out there, however I know that those who I link to, as well as the work that I provide here, are all based on the wealth of science available. Where others have referred to the 4th IPCC report, it’s even likely that potential risks in continuing mismanagement of resources and pollutants are somewhat played down. From experience with working on scientific governmental reports, I know that there is a push to find some positive spin of everything.

If you care to look through the posts on this blog or those in the blogs that I’ve linked you, you will find thoughtful, evidence rich pieces (ie. lots of references to relevant scientific literature and explanations) that lead to concern. You don’t find anyone invoking fear or rallying up the readers into outrage against some establishment.

This is quite clearly NOT the work done by alarmists.

Now, if we look at the opponents of reason; from the misinformation of WUWT or Monckton, to the rally-talk of Donna Laframboise or Jo Nova and then to all those who spread out from such resources, once sufficiently inspired, to parrot off their work in various other comment threads; we see something else.

Here, the treat is a Green Agenda. The IPCC reports, Mann and co. and over a century and a half scientific investigation are all designed to one day, shift the masses into a perpetual state of poverty, with others excelling to dizzying heights of wealth, all under a single communistic world government.

Their evidence? A few mined quotes, some confused interpretations of the data (by unrelated scientists, reporters and whatever Monckton can be called), which have continuously been shown to be wrong and most importantly – a whole heap of emotions (mainly anger).

While concern expressed at this blog and those I link to, try to remain level-headed and focused on what recent studies have revealed, our main opposition is a non-technical group who simply holds up some emails, re-interpreted IPCC graphs and insane conclusions (such as the Urban Heat Island effect or solar activity being the cause of the change to the global temperature anomaly over the past century) all while demanding that we should be angry that our free speech is at risk.

Honestly, how could the IPCC lie about the findings of so many scientists? We wouldn’t need this band, “willing to stand up [against reason, if the truth be known]” , for every single scientist involved would have made a stand against the misinterpretation of their work.

If there was a plot to take over the world, would this one small band be all that stands between democracy and oppression? Of course not (every time I think of this bloody silliness, I’m reminded of that WB’s cartoon, “Pinky and the Brain” – I can’t help but laugh).

No, quite frankly “alarmism is excessive or exaggerated alarm about a real or imagined threat” and as far as I can tell, those who label the rest of us alarmists are the only group that hold onto imagined threats. The rally style of Nova and Laframoise is nothing but excessive alarm of this imagined threat.

It’s obvious that the same group that deny the validity of the scientific evidences are the true alarmists.

Climate Change Denial is Not Grief

It’s winter in the south east Victoria. The year is 1986. The rolling green fields beneath a dark grey sky; the giant skeletons that hold the power cables, seemingly in frozen march across the landscape; the lonely tree near a few grazing cattle; all of this cold, undulated rural land seems a world away to the children rugged up on the back seat of a white Ford Cortina. The windows up, the radio and heater on; the boy is more interested in his transformer. No doubt when they reach their destination, their cousins will smell the cigarette smoke on their clothes, but they can’t. They’re used to their home and the family car smelling of smoke.

Twenty years on it’s appalling to witness someone smoking in the vehicle – even with the windows down – especially with children on board. Twenty years even the guilty mother above regrets ever smoking in the vehicle (now 15 years free from that addiction).

Reflecting on this situation and how the views of my mother changed over the years (from carefree smoker through pregnancy – the doctor said that it would only lead to slightly smaller offspring – to anti-smoker), I’m somewhat sceptical of argument put forward that Anthropogenic Climate Change [ACC] denial shows the hallmarks of the stages of grief. It just doesn’t seem to fit to me.

Grief that a previous paradigm just doesn’t work and is leading us to increasing hardship unless addressed? Please, the industrial revolution has taught us that we’re not powerless.

Ignoring climate change for a moment, another related issue is even more disturbing – grief over peaking oil supply? Sure, I’d agree that many people would deny that oil is peaking  (but that is more the result of misinformation), however few would deny that oil prices have been on the rise over the past decade.

It’s easy to say that many are only too eager to bury their heads in the sand to avoid discussing a changing world, but it’s only easy to say as much because it is wrong.

Long before the end of my mother’s addiction to nicotine, she was well aware of the health threats to herself and those around her – but it was so damn hard to stop. The science behind cigarette related illness was strong and the campaign to inform the public had done it’s job for her. However, how to change her habits? How to overcome the desire to light up again? Eventually, with the help of science and a bit of will power, she met change.

The problem with ACC and peak oil is that the relating science is being attacked. There is no real need for grief of what would be lost (except if you’re one who makes profits from business as usual), because there is ample evidence that new paradigms can lead to greater general standards of living across the globe, instead of the great inequality between the successful and forgotten people of the industrial revolution. It’s not even a case that the information has failed to be provided – I remember the early to mid years of this last decade; look at ICLEI for instance. There are ample case studies of companies, governments and individuals who have been years in front of the pack to achieving low carbon practices.

However, all this enthusiasm changed in the last few years.

Sure, the think tank behind ACC denial has been hard at work for many years – but something change more recently. Had western prosperity created the enthusiasm and the GFC brought concern back to ones personal situation over long-term and environmental concerns? Did the emergence of  global terror slowly retreat the average view to a more conservative outlook? I’m not sure.

I am sure, however, that part of the success relates to a more deeply held suspicion. Something that is occasionally stirred to entice outrage and unjustified scepticism. This is of course the idea that there is something wrong, evil or corrupt with science.

That Climategate and minor errors of the 4th IPCC report probably got more coverage than the actual message of the 4th report is an example of this.

That the deniers jumped with joy at snow storms in the northern hemisphere winter of 09-10, screamed in outrage when the Russian fires and Asian floods of 2010 were suggested to be related to ACC and that in fact, the sudden frequency of freak events in general is probably the most telling sign, which is largely ignored in the press is yet another example.

That the advice of unrelated scientists are taken more seriously, in some groups, than relevant working experts is yet another example. If I wouldn’t trust a geologist to diagnose my illness, why should I trust them to understand all the processes behind climate science over more relevant experts?

Environmental sciences have always faced some unfair radical-left criticism*. Nowadays it’s not uncommon for any field related to climate science to be labelled neo-fascistic, eco-communistic etc, equally common is the plea that such scientists are out to send the masses to poverty. In years when living expenses are becoming too much for many families and terrorism seems on the doorstep, it seems easier than ever to utilise some think tank to paint reason in the same light as the “enemy”. The breathless alarm of Christopher Monckton’s tone when he finally reaches this “hidden plot” in his presentation clearly demonstrates this tactic – even if you know enough to know what you’re hearing is utter nonsense, you cannot help the sinking feeling in this “sudden realisation”. Much like hell and the devil that the church used to push to maintain a following and sell rubbish like Indulgences, the old fear propaganda technique finds itself just as useful in our time of uncertainty.

People are not denying ACC because it threatens how they saw the world. If anything, it’s empowering. Look at the wonders of the modern world. Look at what we know about the environment and climate – we are a force of nature! We have as much ability to change our activities and stop degradation as to maintain business as usual and continue depleting resources and changing the climate. We have a custodial obligation to choose the former and grief is not enough to account for this paralysis.

Maybe my mother wouldn’t have given up smoking if my father was one of those bozo’s who denied the scientific basis behind cigarette related illness and wouldn’t shut up with harping in her ear about it. Worse – what if he convinced her that the tobacco industry was the only thing holding back communism and poverty? It would be surprising if she didn’t start smoking more! But why would he do that, other than if it was somehow beneficial to him? Of course, my Dad’s a champ and did all he could to help my Mum through quitting.

No, denial of ACC is not one of the stages of grief. Denial of this nature comes from employing fear propaganda. Many of the individuals who deny the science do exactly that – they deny the validity of the evidence regardless what is said about it. The reason for this denial is because they are scared of the future, but not the end of business as usual, rather a hidden and unrealistic enemy. Evidence won’t help them. Reason will not sway them. Even debunking their heroes of denial is merely seen as oppressive.

I guess we really need to focus on answering the question, “What’s in it for the people that propagate fear nonsense?”

Maybe then, showing their true colours, we can simulate planning that will benefit progress of all societies and ecosystems and not simply line the pockets of a few trumpets for business as usual.

*As a side note, it’s perhaps surprising that an industry traditionally opposed to many fields of environmental science, agriculture, has actually begun to make a radical shift; exploiting ecological functions and increased biodiversity to improve their plot, yield, running costs and long-term sustainability.

Between Science, Media and Sceptics: Do we have a chance?

Very recently, Klaus Hasselmann wrote an excellent piece in Nature Geoscience; The Climate Change Game (2010. 3: 511-512, doi:10.1038/ngeo919).

It’s well worth a read, but I’ll sum it up here regardless.

In his piece, Hasselmann suggests that there are three major players, all with their own personal and professional objectives – climate scientists, the media and climate sceptics. Here, he comments on one of the major points that I often find myself arguing with “sceptics”; that it is exceedingly unlikely that scientists could successfully make claims that are false – with many others also analysing the data, soon these errors would soon be discovered ultimately, this would be vary damaging, professionally, to those scientists caught out, without potential benefit great enough to merit such an absurd risk.

However, with climate science a slow process, the sceptics have a wonderful window for providing gossip for the media that is both entertaining and useful for industries at risk from climate-related policies. This includes exploiting the few minor mistakes in the IPCC reports as well as the much hyped “Climategate” saga. Both, of course, prove to be non-events (only held onto, in my experience, by the most bizarre conspiracy theorists), but as we saw with Copenhagen, where damaging enough.

What I found most interesting, and by far the most important message in Klaus Hasselmann’s piece, is that, to date, much of the education and defence (in the face of scepticism) by the scientific community has been ineffective. For instance, Klaus argues that uncertainties should feature more prominently, as to counter the misunderstanding of scientific uncertainties, such as “the probability that most of the measured warming during the past 100 years was caused by human activities is so high (well above 90%), that politicians, whose job it is to make decisions in the face of uncertainty, should work on the premise that it is a fact.” It’s your everyday risk management approach.

Another point mentioned is that too much emphasis is based on problems and the predictions, but compatibly little attention is given to how affordable and obtainable a low-carbon future actually is. Arguably Barry Brook discusses this extensively and in great detail (I’ve also mentioned this in minor detail a number of time, especially in the Innovation series and in this recent post). All the doom-and-gloom talk actually assists the sceptics with inducing paralysis. Klaus argues (as I did in the recent piece linked above) that scientists have an unrealised opportunity for collaboration with private enterprise – where a number of business leaders can see great potential for growth and profit in reducing their dependency on fossil fuels. Where the media have different objectives as the scientists and thus drawn to sensationalism to sell their service, science can utilise private enterprise to demonstrate real industry leadership and potential for change – this obviously will also be beneficial to economy (something denial always runs back to in defence).

As like anyone who has entered this blogosphere, initially inspired by the hope of providing a scientific basis, I too grew to realise that almost all the resistance comes not from casual readers, hoping for clarity, but from a small group with strongly held views that are contrary to the vast majority of scientific evidence and observations of the real world. Soon, you find that such individuals employ the tricks discussed by Dr. Glikson in The art of denial. This eventually leads to either industry/political motivation or all-out lunacy. The latter being ignored, as Hasselmann also argues, science cannot really debate within a political frame, just as political views cannot argue with much scientific rigour. However, they can, and must, work together with all their cards exposed to find the best answers for future planning. This will include interest as well as science.

Hasselmann makes the point that science has so far failed to be much of an effective advisor, which is urgently required. I couldn’t agree more. I would also go on to say that if we are to successfully move through this next phase, the most significant change is going to be within our species rather than how we attempt to manage the world around us. Our energy supply is the most noticeable change ahead, however, I would expect that this is only one of many changes; such as how we’re distributed, how we exploit natural resources, how we move around the world and probably the most radical – how we communicate.

The rules of yesteryear are quickly becoming outdated as are the expectations of living space, resource availability and our perception of the impact that we have on the world. We need a fresh perspective in facing a world as we’ve never known it, which is on our door step.

Climate Denial Should Face the Microscope

Last week, I discussed some inaccuracies in the work of Donna Laframbiose, Jo Nova and Andrew Bolt when they discuss science. For some time now, Mike has also been reporting on their inaccuracies at Watching the Deniers. It’s certainly questionable whether these people are simply unaware of scientific thinking (yet feel that they have some authority to write opinion pieces on scientific matters) or deliberately misinform to promote certain agendas.

What is clear is that all three loudly screamed for blood in the wake of the stolen email event that became known as “Climategate”. Now that this event has been investigated to death, there is a growing call for a similar microscope to be used to look over those who present misinformation. The three mentioned above have quite publicly published inaccurate statements that promote inaction in regards to climate change and ecological conservation. Their efforts can be seen as counter-productive to long term standard of living and species protection. I feel that they should be held accountable for their inaccuracies which will ultimately be at the detriment to life on this planet.

A similar response has developed in the wake of Monckton’s bizarre reply to John Abraham’s rebuttal. Last Friday I made the point of how damaging Moncktonian logic is to scientific investigation. Scott A Mandia has put together an excellent post, “Turn the Tables on Monckton”, in which his supplied an example letter and nearly 60 media email addresses. He is calling for people to “email bomb” the media as Monckton has asked his fans to do to John’s university.

I feel it is time that we indeed turn the tables on such anti-science. The scrutiny that has followed climate research, both in the forms of formal investigations and citizen scientists, has largely clouded the reality of our influential impacts on climate change. Denial has been loud and has enjoyed far less prosecution than professional science.

Examples:

Many people have dismantled What’s Up With That?, Wott’s Up With That? being a good example, and yet denial continues from the former. John Cook and others put together an excellent Scientific reply to Jo Nova’s Skeptical Handbook and yet Jo celebrated that her handbook survived!?! Donna busily works on her book, “Decoding the Climate Bible”, when authoritative bodies have come to quite a different conclusion than that of her citizen audit of the 4th IPCC report. Andrew Bolt just continues being himself; falling for legend rather than facts… all the while a group of grumpy readers cheer him on. Monckton’s only response to John Abraham’s deconstruction of his presentation is an overly excited list of questions and attacks (no scientific basis at all) and when John’s presentation is shortened by 10mins, to remove some of the statements that hurt Monckton the most, Christopher’s supports cheer that Monckton wins again (see WUWT Abraham climbs down and Nova’s Abraham surrenders to Monckton. Uni of St Thomas endorses untruths), without at all addressing the fact that John’s presentation continues to demonstrate a wide range or errors in Monckton’s work (oh, wait; Nova links to his presentation as the newer but “still incorrect version” – so I guess she’s blown Abraham’s presentation out of the water just as well as she avoided the Scientific guide… hmm…).

Many of us may see how flawed the scientific basis is in this loud denial movement, however, no-one can deny that within popular media, this movement is given far too much freedom and weight. The three writers above are openly opposed to the science. In Scott’s piece he opens with fighting words and I can’t help but agree. I think we need to fight fire with fire and demand accountability where obvious misinformation is allowed to be published – both of the writer and the publishing agent. We who blog might demonstrate the inaccuracies of these writers, but unless our work goes viral, there is no way our word travels as far as their print. It’s time for denial to face the scrutiny it demanded of the science.

Dutch review of the 4th IPCC report gets the thumbs up

I tend to avoid the AGW “debate” and rarely mention science/political reports such as the IPCC reports unless drawn into discussions in comments. I don’t think such things are necessary with the wealth of literature and healthy reasoning for increased efficiency and sustainable practices already at hand. Indeed, I feel that the “debate” itself is simply another ploy by do-nothing advocates to maintain business-as-usual for as long as possible.

A little while ago, I learnt of Donna Laframboise; a self-employed photographer who developed the noconsensus website and designed the citizen audit of the forth IPCC report. I’ve previously commented on her audit and obviously limited understanding of climate science. However, her apparent success in the 1990’s to help a wrongly accused man be set free has led her to believe that she has the sleuthing skills to debunk climate science.

Obviously there is a fair amount of difference between political reporting and scientific analysis. Over the Innovation series and previously, I’ve posted on the relevant literature that looks into a whole host of bio-physical indicators of change. You don’t need a consensus; the entire world is demonstrating change and it is not an automatic acceptance, but rather one that is based on the disturbing evidence.

Anyway, the reason I brought this up is that on the BBC News website, they had an article that explained how the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) has also conducted an audit of the 4th IPCC report. Unlike Ms. Laframboise’s “F” grading, the PBL did, in general, find the report up to scratch. I guess Ms. Laframboise would, or at least should, be the first to say that a civilian judgement cannot be held beyond scepticism. Someone who gets weather and climate mixed up on her page and obviously doesn’t understand predictive modelling (see Laframboise’s global warming theory 101 page) probably isn’t the best and most experienced to gather suitable auditors, while it’s safe to say that the PBL would most likely have the required skills.

In both cases (and especially the findings of the PBL) this should be kept in mind as work begins on the 5th report. The PBL called for greater transparency in the coming report – which is a great thing as it will further stress the reality of climate change. It is always difficult discussing politically sensitive material in political reports. It’s a bit like being a nervous, politically correct GP trying to tell an overly sensitive patient that they have to lose a lot of weight – there’s no way to do it without ruffling a few feathers.

Hopefully improving on the previous report, the 5th will lead people like Ms. Laframboise to begin discussing how we can approach a changing climate rather than worry about the occasional typos. The sooner we begin to address the effects of climate change, the less the impact will be on biodiversity, food and water availability, economy and ultimately our health.

Cheers to MT for pointing this comic out.

For more on Donna Laframboise, see Donna Laframboise and Cloud screaming