In his opening remarks at COP 15 in Copenhagen, the current head of the IPCC told the world that sceptics fuel doubt about climate change. Amazing: sceptics doubt things. But truly amazing is that he used the term “sceptics” rather than “deniers.” These guys have become almost polite since Climategate. The IPCC head also said there may have been a plot to discredit the IPCC, by persons willing to engage in “illegal acts.” No doubt Scepticism Inc.’s covert black operations unit is behind the Climategate leaks. Meanwhile the political wing of Scepticism Inc. has carefully worked out subtle talking points: Is there really a problem at all? Who says? Oh yeah, how do they know?
What? You thought there’s something more to scepticism’s talking points than simple questions that any reasonable person would ask? But that’s all it ever was about. There is no political wing of some mystery faction. Scepticism isn’t an ideology. There is no hidden agenda. There are no meetings to plot talking points and define positions. It’s not funded by anyone. Not the oil companies. Not the coal companies. There is no plot or lobby group. It’s simply the normal stuff of thinking with your own head. Scepticism is simply human, and hitherto socially acceptable. However, for many years now on climate, those who practiced the honest sceptic’s trade as scientists have felt more and more like they are on the run from a pack of crazed hounds.
Recently, a US Democratic Party strategist, James Carville, was ranting about the “pollution lobby.” Is any one actually in favour of pollution? Are people really organized and paid to encourage more pollution? Does this make any sense at all? Then there are the more general allegations that there are scientists being paid to lie that the world is not about to end. How does that make any sense either? “Yeah, give me a few grand and I will stop those people from saving my life!” But it sounds like sense in the current zeitgeist, because good, wholesome scepticism has been relentlessly depicted as a political faction instead of the bread and butter of rational thought. That is precisely what the head of the IPCC was doing.
What’s the source of this? I’ve been prepared to be vague about that, because questioning our assumptions, while crucial to clear thinking, is hard. The self-discipline needed so easily slips from our grasp. But now, after Climategate, we have ugly, public evidence that there is indeed a small, coherent, and very powerfully backed faction of scientists prepared to act directly against the careers of scientists who do not follow their very narrow party line. They have at their disposal an array of media allies and well-funded activists, not to mention entire governments, who are prepared to smear or set back any scientist willing to speak out publicly. Activist websites created with the sole purpose of smearing the “liar deniers” have been around for years. But now we can show evidence that they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Climategate is a glimpse into the hidden inner workings of an extraordinarily powerful, self-organized, global socio-political phenomenon. Those who are part of it see themselves as superheroes, while the sceptics are seen as their evil comic book foes who, depending on the talking point, either don’t exist or are numerous, well-organized, well-funded, villains standing in the way of “action.” Celebrities, prime ministers, activists and journalists all openly subscribe to this self-contradictory, unsustainable fantasy. It only survives because they have all of the money, political power, and social activism to keep it alive.
The sceptics, who have actually spoken out, are a motley crew of individuals, who don’t only question the party line, but each other as well. The big money never was in scepticism, although there was some talk about cashing in with a famous sceptics pinup calendar. But we don’t actually need money. We have a secret weapon. Despite the money power fame and influence we are up against, we know that neither the IPCC nor its supporters know what climate will do. No one does.
Christopher Essex is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Western Ontario.
See also: Christopher Essex on “Sceptics in Wonderland”