“Somewhere between a flat earthist and a holocaust denier”

The editors at New Civil Engineer are letting readers deal with members who deny anthropogenic climate change. I think this is probably necessary, because outside scientific and political circles climate change is widely passed over as a threat – The Guardian being a notable exception (let us not forget, though, that The Guardian has been subsidised by Auto Trader for a very long time, and taken as a whole its message is mixed to say the least).

Anthropogenic climate change deniers are pretty loud. Unable to get to grips with the complexity of the evidence themselves, they nevertheless feel comfortable refusing to defer to scientific consensus. Perhaps this is because the scientific consensus is also a political consensus, and they hold politicians in such low esteem? Or because science has been so done down in this country? Or perhaps it’s because to engage with the findings would challenge strongly-held beliefs they have about the way they are entitled to live their lives.

From the 29th October 2009, issue, Letters, p15:

Questioning global warming.

Antony Oliver (NCS Comment 8 October) would not feel so bad about flying to Scotland if he took a little time to look at the scientific evidence against the hypothesis of man made, or athropogenic, global warming.

A good start would be with professor Robert Carter’s 2008 paper Knock Knock: Where is the Evidence for Dangerous Man Made Global Warming, which covers most of the bases.”

“I’m a recent convert and feeling currently somewhere between a flat earthist and a holocaust denier – but the evidence is very compelling.”

You can read the rest towards the bottom of this page.

The reason flat earthists and holocaust deniers feel uncomfortable is because they are impelled to ignore or falsify evidence by prejudices they do not or cannot acknowledge. This is clear to most of the people they seek to persuade, and consequently they are pitied, treated as a threat, or held in contempt. Nevertheless they persist in thinking of themselves as brave speakers of truth to power.

Following week: New Civil Engineer, 12th November 2009, Letters, p16, has a number of enlightened correspondents. One:

Why does NCE continue to print letters from man-made global warming deniers (Letters 29 October)?

Professor Carter’s paper was mentioned, he’s on the research committee of the Institute of Public Affairs − a right wing group funded by the oil companies, so hardly an independent view. As for being convincing, his views have been widely discredited.

I doubt if the Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors is still questioning whether the earth is round or flat, they have moved on, and it is time that NCE moves on as well.”

Hopefully they will – you can read the rest of that one towards the bottom of this page.

And I’ve reached my limit – like the first correspondent, I have the impression that deniers in the face of evidence share some attributes, but I can’t get into that now.

Instead, and to pre-empt an argument which will almost certainly be added to the case against Israel sooner or later, one final correspondent. Climate Denial is a blog dedicated to exploring the psychology of climate change denial. I notice it is currently topped by a substantial Postcard from Israel by Lucy Michaels, a researcher located on a kibbutz who is currently investigating climate change denial in Israel, where drought vies with conflict for attention. It’s a piece which deals a little too freely in unsubstantiated assertions about cultures for my liking but for all that it seeks to understand rather than to blame. From it:

“Confronted with the more tangible sense of threat by a ‘terror’ attack or the incessant and somewhat obsessive discussion on the streets as to whether Ahmadnijad will drop the bomb and obliterate Israel altogether, it is perhaps understandable that the more diffuse and distant threat of climate change does not register highly on Israeli risk-o-meters.

Israelis are regularly bombarded by ‘disaster’ images. As has been found in research elsewhere, disaster imagery of climate change is most likely provokes feelings of powerlessness rather than the desire to take action.”

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14 thoughts on ““Somewhere between a flat earthist and a holocaust denier”

  1. Pingback: “Somewhere between a flat earthist and a holocaust denier” « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism

  2. Brian Goldfarb

    If a non-member of the Green Party may be permitted a comment here, it is not only the non-scientists and those in the UK who are prepared to deny “anthropegenic climate change…”. In _the_ major US science fiction magazine, Analog, one of its regular bi-monthly science commenters, a US physicist, had a column two months back which used some legitimate doubts about US (automatic and unmanned) climate stations to query the whole argument about climate change, never mind the “anthropogenic” part of it. Thus, out of the window goes the melting of the arctic ice-cap and the Greenland ice shield, etc and so forth.

    How can we expect laypeople to take climate change on board when natural scientists reject the scientific evidence.

    Sorry, but I reserve comments on Holocaust denial for another place.

    Reply
  3. Mira Vogel Post author

    Brian, I can’t dig out the study now, but I know that you’ll understand this: the media have tended to present the two ‘sides’ of the climate change debate as if they were equivalent or equally valid.

    Also read George Monbiot from earlier this month rounding up some evidence and statistics on the surge in denial (and look! he’s not boycotting Israeli academics):

    “One such is the critic Clive James. You could accuse him of purveying trite received wisdom, but not of being dumb. On Radio Four a few days ago he delivered an essay about the importance of scepticism, during which he maintained that “the number of scientists who voice scepticism [about climate change] has lately been increasing.”(6) He presented no evidence to support this statement and, as far as I can tell, none exists. But he used this contention to argue that “either side might well be right, but I think that if you have a division on that scale, you can’t call it a consensus. Nobody can meaningfully say that the science is in.”

    Had he bothered to take a look at the quality of the evidence on either side of this media debate, and the nature of the opposing armies – climate scientists on one side, rightwing bloggers on the other – he too might have realised that the science is in. In, at any rate, to the extent that science can ever be, which is to say that the evidence for manmade global warming is as strong as the evidence for Darwinian evolution, or for the link between smoking and lung cancer. I am constantly struck by the way in which people like James, who proclaim themselves sceptics, will believe any old claptrap that suits their views. Their position was perfectly summarised by a supporter of Ian Plimer (author of a marvellous concatenation of gibberish called Heaven and Earth(7)) commenting on a recent article in the Spectator. “Whether Plimer is a charlatan or not, he speaks for many of us”(8). These people aren’t sceptics; they’re suckers.”

    I like Clive James. Times like this I like to remind myself: people are never always right or always wrong.

    Reply
  4. Brian Goldfarb

    Mira, no argument on that. Scepticism is nowadays too often taken to mean “I can disagree with you by calling myself a sceptic”. What the term _really_ means, of course, is “where’s the beef? Show me your evidence. Convince me with it and, if necessary, blind me with _good_ science”. It’s a shame that too many people hide behind it and are, effectivley, saying, “my mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts” (a favourite saying of my wife’s – thing is _she’s_ joking, but _they’re_ not).

    Reply
  5. Fredrick Toben

    What amazes me is that Climate Change believers are so absolute in their scientific conclusions where doubt of results is banished through ridicule, etc.
    Such absolutism is authoritarianism writ large – any scientific hypothesis yields tentative results because science is not absolute…
    Fredrick

    Reply
  6. Dr Richard Lawson

    In the end, this is not an academic debate, because we and our children are part of the experiment. The consensus among scientists (yes, with a few exceptions, as is always the case in science) is that we should decarbonise our economy as a matter of urgency.

    There is a choice to be made.

    Say we decarbonise our economy, and it turns out (unlikely as that may be) that IPCC view is wrong? Well, we will have created hundreds of thousands of jobs in insulation and renewable energy manufacturing and taken thousands out of fuel poverty. Not bad, but that’s not all. We will also have reduced the shock of Peak Oil and Peak Gas, and reduced the acidification of the oceans. And addressed our energy security problems. And increased prosperity in hot countries. Not bad, not bad at all.

    Say on the other hand, we go the way of the denialists/skeptics, and it turns out, as per all reasonable expectations, that they are wrong? We will have problems with energy security, Peak Oil, Peak Gas, acidified oceans, acid rain, fuel poverty, unemployment, poverty, civil unrest and finally, massive, catastrophic climate disruption from droughts, floods, crop failures, disease, and war. With massive migration caused by environmental collapse. Not good.

    Any sensible policy makers must put their money on decarbonising the global economy

    Reply
  7. Mira Vogel Post author

    We’re in a strange position at the moment – almost all politicians, enlightened scientists and environmentally conscious people basically share an opinion which the majority of the population (left, centre, and right) doesn’t. Still, that coalition have sufficient wherewithal to simply make policy, don’t they? What’s the problem?

    Both the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the New Economics Foundation agree: our financial system is myopic and unless it gets some long term vision we’re going to crash. I’m putting all my hopes in nef. Must give them some £.

    Reply
  8. modernityblog

    If I were a pessimist or cynic, I might answer that it’s fairly clear that a chunk of society does not particularly base their views on facts or evidence and have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Age of Reason.

    There is a mountain of evidence concerning climate change, which has been building up since the late Eighties (or before) yet still people have problems with the issues, even though they have access to the Internet (a vast encyclopaedia of knowledge) and can read up on the topic themselves.

    Why, I can’t say, but it is rather revealing on the collective consciousness?

    Reply
  9. Mira Vogel Post author

    Goes with the territory of mistrust of authority as proxy for critical engagement – mistrust of authority is generally dramatised as somehow good, but put like that it is actually anti-science and anti-expert, rather than anti-power.

    Last night I saw Stephen Jones (as in genetics) talking about race for black history month, and between him and the cultural theorist (Lindsay Johns) who was also on the panel, you got the impression that together they were an unstoppable force which could put racism to bed.

    I hope that nef and the climatologists can form a similarly personable – even lovable – relationship with patience and a human face.

    Reply
  10. Dr Richard Lawson

    Fredrick

    “What amazes me is that Climate Change believers are so absolute in their scientific conclusions where doubt of results is banished through ridicule, etc.
    Such absolutism is authoritarianism writ large – any scientific hypothesis yields tentative results because science is not absolute…”

    RL: We agree that science is not absolute. It is essentially always open to refutation, but that refutation is by bringing scientific evidence to bear. To be fair, it is the deniers who use ridicule as their stock in trade. Believe me, Frederick, we would be more than happy to be proved wrong. If it could be shown that the physics of GHGs was wrong, or that the GHG load has not increased, or that the glaciers and ice caps were not in retreat, then we would be delighted to accept that.

    Please tell us exactly what scientific evidence would be needed to refute your theory that GHGs are not threatening the atmospheric balance?

    And please address the point I made earlier, about the costs and benefits of the political and economic choice to be made in the light of AGW theory.

    Reply

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