Climate Change – am I a sheeple?

After a few of my recent Ethical Co-op newsletters referred to climate change, I wasn’t too surprised to get contacted by those who believe it’s all a hoax. Some emails were highly aggressive, others were friendlier, simply aiming to inform me that I’m mistaken.

The most recent issue of Biophile magazine also had a feature on global warming, unfortunately not available on their site, but it’s pretty much word for word available here and here.

The article is extremely poor, full of soaring rhetoric and irrelevant anecdotes.

It starts off with a statement of “fact”. The sun has a bigger impact on Earth’s climate than all the tailpipes and smokestacks on our planet combined. That’s a simple enough statement of fact, of physics and of plain good old common sense. It’s a pretty meaningless statement really. Of course the sun has a bigger effect than anything, but so what? It’s already laying the groundwork for the old trap of single-mindedly attributing cause to a single effect. So although the sun has the most effect, what does that have to do with the changes humans are causing from burning too much fuel? Not much really.

Then there’s an innocuous statement on what a climate-literate person should understand, followed by claims of death threats for those who don’t toe the line, neither of which add anything to the argument. The first real claim of any substance is that Two thirds of temperature recording stations dropped out in 1990 and most of them were rural. No urban adjustment was made and we all know that urban areas are warmer than outlying areas. This is attributed to Joseph D’Aleo of the Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project.

This is a good claim to understand, as, besides the fact that it’s disputed, it highlights the essential difference between climate and weather. Weather changes each day, each year. You have cold days, hot days. The fact that it’s snowing outside, a weather phenomenon, in no way debunks any claim about climate change. (Actually, since I’m in Cape Town, and it never snows here, perhaps it would, but let’s not get distracted). So claims about 1990 weather are meaningless. It’s the overall trend that’s important. 2005 and 2007 were among the hottest years on record, and the trend is towards increasing temperatures.

Next comes the claim that the last two years of global cooling have nearly erased 30 years of temperature increases. To the extent that global warming ever existed, it is now officially over.

Yes, 2008 and 2009 so far have not been as hot as 2007, one of the hottest ever. But to claim that it’s officially over is, again, a total misunderstanding of the notion of climate.

The article continues with more unhelpful anecdotes about the weather.

Next comes a classic straw man. Global Warming is facing a serious challenge from over 650 dissenting scientists from around the globe who are criticizing the climate claims made by the UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and former Vice President Al Gore. Yes, it’s Al Gore and the UN versus hundreds of scientists! Actually, the number of scientists claiming no human impact is diminishing. Since 2007 no scientific body of national or international standing has maintained a dissenting opinion although a few hold non-committal positions. The very last body of any standing that changed its position was the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Their 1999 statement rejected the likelihood of human influence on climate change, but by 2007 they bowed to scientific evidence, and also the reality that their official statement did not accurately reflect the beliefs of their members, and changed their position to recognise that accepted human activity as at least one contributor to climate change.

Ronald Bailey, author of the 2002 book Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths, wrote in 2005 that Anyone still holding onto the idea that there is no global warming ought to hang it up”, and by 2007 Details like sea level rise will continue to be debated by researchers, but if the debate over whether or not humanity is contributing to global warming wasn’t over before, it is now… climate change Pollyannaism is no longer looking very tenable.

It’s interesting that a wide survey of scientists found almost unanimous acceptance of the human impact on climate change amongst climatologists, while the further one moved from climate science, the higher the rate of scepticism. Petroleum geologists had the highest rate of scepticism.

Petroleum geologists? Oil companies, led by ExxonMobil, have been instrumental in spreading misinformation. ExxonMobil paid $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to various advocacy organizations to manufacture uncertainty on the issue. Why would an oil company concern itself with this? Could it be that perhaps they realise that any urgent response to climate change would lead to limits on burning fuel, which would be most inconvenient for their business model. So they’ve funded sceptics, and are behind much of the misinformation still prevalent today.

I mentioned earlier the demonising of Al Gore and the UN. The influence of the oil companies means this kind of thought is particularly prevalent amongst the US far-right, where fears of communists and liberals (when they’re not confusing the two as the same thing) are particularly easily exploited. So when arch-villain Al Gore, a, gasp, ex-presidential candidate of the US Democratic Party happens to be the most prominent spokesperson, it’s easy to start arguing against Al Gore, since there’s already an emotional dislike amongst those constituents, rather than those inconvenient facts.

The article further contains quotes linking it to the US right, for example Global waming… is the new religion of the American and World Left, again a meaningless political statement, but one designed to fire up its followers.

The argument then becomes that the real reason for this global warming scam is to introduce a new tax.

Put another way, the cap-and-trade approach is the equivalent of a permanent tax increase for the average American household, which was estimated to be $1,100 in 2008, would rise to $1,437 by 2015, to $1,979 in 2030, and $2,979 in 2050. claims a quote from The Cost of Climate Regulation for American Households, a study released by the Marshall Institute. The Marshall Institute is notorious, funded by ExxonMobil and chaired by a former official of the American Petroleum Institute. It was originally founded in 1984, to lobby for Reagan’s Star Wars, and continues its highly destructive political role today.

The email correspondence I had went a bit further. The hoax was linked to the peak oil scam, the codex alimentarius, and the plan by the world government to exterminate 6 billion people.

I’ve written before on why we choose to believe what we do. And if we believe that the elite is planning to exterminate 6 billion, for example, accepting incoherent arguments about climate change become really simple. Unfortunately, in most cases, the argument doesn’t remain very coherent.

Arguments that the earth is cooling (which is one argument), that it’s warming, but not due to human activity (which is a separate, and contradictory argument) all get jumbled into a mishmash, which reflect more our tendency to believe certain things, rather than form a convincing argument.

More convincing and coherent is the guide to climate change controversy, which lists and debunks most of the commonly-used arguments.

True science is humble by nature, open to learning new things all the time, and having a long-held belief proven wrong. When we think we know is when we’re most open to disinformation, and furthest from our true nature. As Zen Master Wu Bong famously said, Only Keep “Don’t Know” Mind. It’s this very state of mind which keeps us open all the time. Being trapped in our thoughts lead us down all sorts of rabbit holes!

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  1. A very good piece.

    Your critics sound like Daily Fail readers, Melanie Philips and Richard Littlejohn fans. Climate change denial is a psychosis related to a very immature refusal to take responsibility for our actions.

    I think it is particularly prevalent in Cape Town, where people are intellectually isolated (low level of discourse in SA generally), smoke too much dope and live alternative lifestyles that encourage wishful thinking, paranoia, conspiracy theories and an epistimology that consciously chooses to believe what ever reinforces the reality they want to live in. I was a bit like that when I lived there, though I hope not too much.

    I am not sure what the answer is, except maybe patiently and consistently explaining, and clearly not having a vested interest.

  2. A very interesting read, thank you. Clearly illustrates the problems many people have distinguishing fact from fiction and outright lies, when confronted by the huge amount of conflicting information available online.

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