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September 02nd 2014 print

Tony Thomas

We’re Doomed … Kittens and Puppies Too

If you have a bill of climate goods to peddle, as Naomi Oreskes always does, what better foil than ardent warmist and Science Show compere Robyn Williams? When flogging a book, it is handy to have a radio pal who has never encountered an alleged peril too silly to inspire a raised eyebrow -- not even the mass extinction of household pets

the dog gets itGlobal warming is going to “wipe out” every Australian man, woman and child, according toNaomi Oreskes, the much-quoted Professor of the History of Science at Harvard. Revered by catastropharians the world over, she was a guest on a recent edition of Robyn Williams’ Science Show on Radio National.

The glum forecast is in her latest book, The Collapse of Western Civilisation (co-author Erik Conway). She is so globally famous that her previous book, Merchants of Doubt, about the great warming-denialist conspiracy, is now being made into a movie  by Sony Pictures Classics. This film-to-be is being touted as the successor to Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth,  which may be an ironically apt comparison, as Gore still hasn’t amended his flick to correct the nine howlers identified in a UK High Court judgment.

Robyn Williams doesn’t seem to have read Oreskes book about Western civilisation’s collapse,  because its forecast of Australians’ extinction (at 464/1172 on my Kindle version) went unmentioned on his Science Show.

What Oreskes predicts is that some people in northern inland regions of Europe, Asia and North America, plus some mountain people in South America, wil survive the killer warming. These lucky ones are able to “regroup and rebuild. The human populations of Australia and Africa, of course, were wiped out,” she says, writing from a viewpoint some 400 years into the future.

I have to wonder: will some future Pat Dodson arrive and plant the Aboriginal flag on our climate-scoured terra nullius?

But Oreskes forecasts something much worse than the death by climate for every Australian human.  She prophesises the climate deaths of  puppies and kittens. One reader, she says, “started crying when the pets die, so I didn’t mean to upset people too much…I was just trying to come up with something that I thought people wouldn’t forget about, and I thought, well, Americans spend billions of dollars every year taking care of their pets, and I thought if people’s dogs started dying, maybe then they would sit up and take notice.”

I looked up that bit in the book, and found the Great Kitten & Puppy Extinction occurs in 2023, along with the incidental deaths of 500,000 people and $US500b financial damage. Oreskes writes,

“The loss of pet cats and dogs garnered particular attention among wealthy Westerners, but what was anomalous in 2023 soon became the new normal. A shadow of ignorance and denial had fallen over people who considered themselves children of the Enlightenment.”

To make sure no-one misses the pet die-off, she repeats it in a bold-type breakout.

Radio National’s Williams was delighted with Oreskes’ pet-panic strategy. He chimed in,

“Yes, not only because it’s an animal but it’s local. You see, one criticism of the scientists is they’re always talking about global things…And so if you are looking at your village, your animals, your fields, your park, your kids, and the scientists are talking about a small world that you know, than it makes a greater impact, doesn’t it.”

 Oreskes responded:

Well, exactly. It was about bringing it literally home, literally into your home, your family, your pet, the dog or cat that you love who is your faithful and trusted companion.”

As I type this, I look down at my faithful (but not always trusted) spaniel companion, Natasha, and let my own tears fall.

Oreskes doesn’t think she’s writing fiction. She told the admiring Williams, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, no less:

“Well, it’s all based on solid science. Everything in this book is based on the scientific projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All we did was to add to the social and human aspects to it … and to ask the question; what does this really mean in terms of what its potential impacts would be on people and its potential impacts on our institutions of governance?”

Oreskes starts The Science Show by reading from her book. Be afraid:

“By 2040, heatwaves and droughts were the norm. Control measures—such as water and food rationing and Malthusian ‘one-child’ policies—were widely implemented. In wealthy countries, the most hurricane- and tornado-prone regions were gradually but steadily depopulated…

“In poor nations, conditions were predictably worse: rural portions of Africa and Asia began experiencing significant depopulation from out-migration, malnutrition-induced disease and infertility, and starvation…

“Then, in the northern hemisphere summer of 2041, unprecedented heatwaves scorched the planet, destroying food crops around the globe. Panic ensued, with food riots in virtually every major city. Mass migration of undernourished and dehydrated individuals, coupled with explosive increases in insect populations, led to widespread outbreaks of typhus, cholera, dengue fever, yellow fever, and viral and retroviral agents never seen before.

“Surging insect populations also destroyed huge swaths of forests in Canada, Indonesia and Brazil. As social order began to break down in the 2050s, governments were overthrown, particularly in Africa, but also in many parts of Asia and Europe, further decreasing social capacity to deal with increasingly desperate populations.

“As the Great Northern American Desert surged north and east, consuming the High Plains and destroying some of the world’s most productive farmland, the US government declared martial law to prevent food riots and looting. A few years later, the United States announced plans with Canada for the two nations to begin negotiations toward the creation of the United States of North America, to develop an orderly plan for resource-sharing and northward population relocation.

“The European Union announced similar plans for voluntary northward relocation of eligible citizens from its southernmost regions to Scandinavia and the United Kingdom…”

The ever-credulous Williams, instead of asking Oreskes, “Mmm, you’re smoking something good?”  merely observeds that all of the above is “fairly shocking”, further wondering why it is only Western civilization that collapses, leaving the Chinese in charge. Oreskes gave two reasons. One,  Chinese civilization is more durable, and two, authoritarian regimes are better able to deal with climate catastrophes.

It’s no surprise that Oreskes is a fan of our very own Professor Clive Hamilton, ethicist and leading public intellectual. In Collapse, she cites approvingly his book Requiem for a Species, in which he says that combating climate change  will impose moral obligations superior to mere obedience to the law. Hamilton has also welcomed the prospect of emergency measures, such as the suspension of democratic processes. If you are as smart as Hamilton thinks he is, what need to take the views of lesser mortals into account?

Oreskes’ other Australian bestie is former Greenpeace International CEO Paul Gilding, of Tasmania, author of The Great Disruption. Gilding doesn’t quite forecast the extinction of all Australians, but he does say:

“I do believe it’s going to be catastrophic by today’s standards. Potentially, billions will die in famine, there will be conflict between nations, there will be a dramatic change in lifestyle enforced by a war-like effort in response…We should be on a war-footing…” 

Oreskes seems to share the same authoritarian yearnings. She said last February that sceptic groups ought to be prosecuted via the Racketer-Influenced Corrupt Organisations (RICO) statutes that have been wiely used in the US to convict leaders of criminal syndicates  for helping third parties to commit crimes. In Merchants of Doubt, she notes with approval how RICO, conceived to de-rail the Mafia, was later used to prosecute tobacco-industry executives for suppressing knowledge of health impacts.

Oreskes, the frequent object of Williams’ gushing admiration, — insists ‘no one’ in the ‘scientific community’ now thinks global warming can be confined to 2degC.

 “Things that only a few years ago scientists thought were unimaginable, almost unspeakable, like a four-degree or a five-degree temperature range, now we realise we have to speak about them because that is where we are heading.”

Given there’s been a warming halt of between 14 years and 18 years, depending on whose charts you consult, it’s hard to see why her climate scientists are suffering such rising panic. The halt even seems to have penetrated Williams’ warm brain, since his next (excellent) question was:

Williams: How much sympathy do you have for the ordinary person who picks up bestselling daily papers and sees that there hasn’t been a temperature rise in 15 years, who sees that the IPCC is quoted as predicting that sea level will hardly change at all, that the temperatures won’t go up beyond two degrees and they are quoting all this stuff, as if (and you use the word in your book) people like yourself are just alarmists?

Oreskes: “Well, I have tremendous sympathy for the ordinary citizen…. We have been victims of two things really; a systematic and organised disinformation campaign … and then we’ve also been the victims of a tremendous amount of false equivalence in the media…

“There are hundreds of millions of people around the globe… who will say to me, ‘Well, I read in the New York Times‘ or ‘I read in The Australian’    and then they will spout some nonsense, something that we know is factually incorrect, and yet it has been presented in the media as if it were somehow equivalent to actual scientific data…The media has done a huge disservice by perpetuating what are really lies—lies, misinformation, disinformation—that ordinary people read and think are true.”

Well said, Naomi, except that you’re now calling the IPCC crowd liars, since they’ve acknowledged the 15-year hiatus.  (5AR,  Policymakers Summary).

Williams, or the ABC (the official website isn’t specific) introduced the Oreskes   episode on the Science Show with a big fib:

“The Earth’s climate is changing at the highest of predicted rates.”

In its draft for its Fifth Report, the IPCC showed actual temperatures running below the lowest bound of   the IPCC forecasting. This graphic conveniently disappeared from the published report, replaced by this account:

However, an analysis of the full suite of CMIP5 [modeling] historical simulations … reveals that 111 out of 114 realisations  [forecasts] show a GMST [global mean surface temperature]  trend over 1998–2012 that is higher than the entire HadCRUT4 [actual temperature] trend ensemble …” Chapter 9, WG1, Box 9.2

In other words, actual temperatures are running lower than  97% of the forecast runs, not at “the highest of predicted rates” as claimed by  The Science Show. Expect a  correction from Robyn Williams any day (as I’ve put in an official complaint).

Oreskes finished her interview by claiming, improbably, that some readers of her Collapse wanted her bok to be longer. She explains,

“We didn’t want it to be too depressing, we didn’t want to go on and on and on, like 300 pages of misery, that really wouldn’t be any fun. So we are sort of hoping that the book, despite the fact that it’s a depressing topic, it’s actually we think kind of a fun read.”

Apart from the dead kittens, she means.

Tony Thomas blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com