Doomed Planet

The Settled Science of Refusing to Debate

The silly season came early this year, at least to Ultimo and the ABC Science Show. According to the latter’s homepage, it offers “unique insights into the latest scientific research and debate, from the physics of cricket to prime ministerial biorhythms”. Yet the site also provides a safe space for climate wafflers and promulgaters of pejorative bile, while emphatically denying a voice to scientists who continue to question the alarmist orthodoxy.

Planet saviours, gender warriors and merchants of “climate change denialism” (CCD), however, seem especially welcome. They can share their eco-anxiety with the public free from harassment here, hit guys where it hurts , blame the lack of “climate action” on “fragile masculinity”, and pontificate sagely about all manner of alleged “links” until the methane-belching cows come home; the latest being between (naturally) white male “climate deniers and the anti-feminist far-right”:

The idea that white men would lead the attacks on Greta Thunberg is consistent with a growing body of research linking gender reactionaries to climate-denialism—some of the research coming from Thunberg’s own country. Researchers at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, which recently launched the world’s first academic research center to study climate denialism, have for years been examining a link between climate deniers and the anti-feminist far-right. (The Misogny of Climate Deniers, New Republic, August 28, 2019)

Consider the following segments from the Science Show episode of December 7, 2019:  “Students continue protests as bushfires destroy houses, farms, infrastructure and forests” (10mins 58secs); controlled burns destroy ecosystems and may not reduce fire risk (4mins 41secs); and the origins of climate denial tracked (5mins 45secs).

Why spend millions of dollars – probably billions globally – on climate modelling and so-called attribution studies? For according to presenter, Robyn Williams, AM:The Science Show first broadcast warnings about climate 44 years ago.” Transcript here

Mr Williams then quoted the late Peter Ritchie Calder (1906-1982), described in his Wikipedia entry as a “Scottish socialist author, journalist and academic”.

Peter Ritchie-Calder: You will simply be confronted with a situation which will make life virtually intolerable. It also reminds us of the enormous stupidity of policies over the last 40 years. Now, we were very emphatic in 1963, that’s 12 years ago…you know, these are the years that the locusts have eaten, we’ve really wasted our opportunity. In 1963 we were talking at the UN conference on new sources of energy, which is rather sardonic because we weren’t talking about atomic energy at all, we were talking about the older sources of energy, which is the sun and the wind and the water and geothermal. There is nothing that we are now discussing with such alarm and despondency that we weren’t discussing over the last 25, 30 years.

Robyn Williams: That was 1975. We are about to enter 2020.

Next came a predictably apocalyptic quote from António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, a past prime minister of Portugal (1995-2002), secretary-general of the Socialist Party (1992-2002) and president of Socialist International (1999-2005).

António Guterres: What we need is not an incremental approach but a transformational one. We need a rapid and deep change in the way we do business, how we generate power, how we build cities, how we move and how we feed the world. If we don’t urgently change our way of life, we jeopardise life itself.

Robyn Williams: UN leader António Guterres. And so to Sydney, Australia, last week.

Science Show narration: As bushfires raged in 6 states, school students held sit-down strikes at almost 60 locations across Australia on Friday 29th November 2019. This followed an international day of protest by students two months earlier calling for more action on climate change.  Jonica Newby [Williams’ long-term partner] was at the Sydney rally and captured these sounds including an address by school strike leader from Nymboida NSW Shiann Broderick who lost her home to the bushfires.

Luca Saunders: I’m Luca Saunders, I’m 14 and I’m a school strike organiser from the Blue Mountains. I’m here today because our government is obligated to help its people and are doing no such thing. It’s not even summer yet and already New South Wales and Queensland are in the grips of a catastrophic fire crisis. It has already burned more than the last three years combined.

The mining and burning of coal, oil and gas is the main driver of climate change which is causing these record-breaking fires, droughts, heatwaves, and the weather conditions that are fuelling them, pushing rural communities to the brink and even us here in Sydney. What do you think of that!?

Crowd: Boo!

Luca Saunders: Together we are powerful, and we will not stop fighting! We will rise, we will rise, we will rise!

Join the dots, dear reader. Here is climate politics in action. But where, you may ask, is the verifiable “link” between bushfire frequency and domestic carbon dioxide emissions? Yet the crowd – and presumably the ABC — seem to believe the latter is the “main driver of climate change”.

Change, of course, is what the climate does — with or without emissions – as shown in the geological record. Creating a Goldilocks climate for everyone everywhere is a seductive fantasy. As for the school-striker demands, do they have any idea what life would be like in an Australia without oil, gas and coal exports, resource development and a reliable energy grid?

No mention, ironically, of the Indian Ocean Dipole – the “aperiodic oscillation of sea-surface temperatures” – although experts say it is the “main driver” of national heatwaves and droughts. Between 1960 and 2016 there were 11 negative (good) and 10 positive (bad) IOD events. The cause (or causes) of this natural phenomenon remains a mystery, at least to me. There is no link between its frequency and atmospheric “carbon” (dioxide) emissions.

Ask a nutty academic, however, such as Ms Megan MacKenzie, Professor of Gender and War at the University of Sydney, and you may get a different response. You might be told the problem here is “fragile masculinity” at the Bureau of Meteorology. For it would take cajones to suggest such a “link” given the lack of evidence, even in a “climate emergency”; or to expose the fiction that the nation’s weather is somehow within our control.

No mention, either, of climate’s uncertainty principle.  Yet many agree with atmospheric physicist, Garth Paltridge, that regional climate forecasts are “just nonsense”.

The bottom line of politically correct thought on the matter—the thought that we must collectively do something drastic now to prevent climate change in the future—is so full of holes that it brings the overall sanity of mankind into question…..The beliefs are similar to those of the established religions in that they are more or less unprovable in any strict scientific sense.

The ABC’s Mr Williams, it seems, made up his mind on the matter years ago. Interviewed here by The Guardian’s Graham Readfearn on November 9, 2015, he said they have been saying the same thing “for bloody years”, so he won’t “broadcast shameless climate science deniers.” Anyway, they are all (allegedly) driven by “vested interests”.

Robyn Williams: As I’ve written many times here and elsewhere, much of the doubt about the science linking human emissions of greenhouse gases to dangerous climate change is manufactured.

Vested interests, either ideological or economical, have worked hard to convince the public that sufficient doubt exists about the causes or the impacts of climate change to warrant doing little or nothing about it.

You can even get views like that getting a free and unchallenged ride on Radio National now and then, such as the interview back in May where host Tom Switzer gave climate science denialist Lord Nigel Lawson half an hour to dismiss climate science and attempts to cut emissions.

Graham Readfearn: So how does Williams feel when he hears denialists doing their thing? I’ll leave you with his thoughts.

Robyn Williams: How do I feel about some person like that doing the usual encyclical? It’s what put me off broadcasting them as I used to.

Now all of the people who are deniers have been on the programs that my colleagues and I put out. We did so because most of us frankly like and enjoy contrarian views. We like a variety of opinion.

But then you find – as I did – that the people you are inviting in to give their contrarian views are always saying the same bloody thing. You can actually mouth the paragraphs. Here it comes again … just as if they were politicians rather than people considering science.

The people I put on the radio [now] have just written papers, they have published considered books. In other words, you are doing what you hope is serving the public by getting fresh ideas out to them to consider. But the people you are describing – those deniers – I have not noted saying anything new in bloody years.

Here it comes again. Favourite phrases are … CO2 is a colourless harmless gas … it’s good for growing plants … and on and on it goes. It’s shameless.

If on the other hand we had really solid science that made you think twice about the standard climate concerns then on [to the radio] it goes, as it does.

But it just so happens that a lot of the science, like evolutionary theory, coheres from a zillion points of view because it’s good science that’s describing what is really there. So you will not get stuff that’s off with the pixies or where green turns into red.

When I see them going on again I think, how can people take it seriously?

Given the above perspective, it is no surprise, dear reader, to discover that so many heretical authors are not welcome at the national broadcaster*.

Nor is it surprising to be served a pre-Christmas treat: a double helping  in the form of a two-part interview with Martin Hultman, associate professor in science, technology and environmental studies, and Paul Pulé from the Centre for Studies of Climate Change Denialism (CEFORCED) at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

Part I: Why climate change denial persists (Sat 23 Nov 2019) (No transcript)

Science Show intro: The effects of the fast-changing climate make the headlines every night.  Fires more intense, earlier and later than expected, droughts, floods and rising seas. So why do we still hear from people saying it isn’t happening? Ann Holmes seeks answers.

Part II: Origins of climate change denial tracked. (Dec 7, 2019) Transcript here

Science Show intro: Two weeks ago, we heard from the Centre for Studies of Climate Change Denialism about their investigations into those who continue to say climate change is not happening, or that human activity is not the cause. This week, they trace the source of these ideas, and discuss proposals for new laws allowing nature to bring legal actions against those who harm it.

Something curious happened in the weeks between Part I and Part II. Did you notice?  Whoever wrote the second intro tossed in “or that human activity is not the cause”.

CEFORCED promotes itself as the “world’s first global research network looking into climate change denial”. Clearly worried about the increase in CCD, it is “collecting the world’s foremost researchers in this area to examine the ideas and interests behind climate change denial, with a particular focus on right-wing nationalism, extractive industries, and conservative think tanks.”

As for Hultman and Pulé’s perspective, the following description of their book, Ecological Masculinities, will give you a clue.

Around the globe, unfettered industrialisation has marched forth in unison with massive social inequities. Making matters worse, anthropogenic pressures on Earth’s living systems are causing alarming rates of thermal expansion, sea-level rise, biodiversity losses in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and a sixth mass extinction. As various disciplines have shown, rich white men in the Global North are the main (although not the only) perpetrators of this slow violence. This book demonstrates that industrial/breadwinner masculinities have come at terrible costs to the living planet and ecomodern masculinities have failed us as well, men included.

Greta Gaard, ecofeminist scholar, activist, author of Critical Ecofeminism (2017) and Professor of English at University of Wisconsin-River Falls, USA, is a big fan. Fortunately, “the green tendrils of feminist ecomasculinities have persisted [despite everything], and their re-emergence here signals real possibilities for transforming the global terrorist triumvirate of climate change, colonialism and corporate hegemony.” 

After an exhaustive analysis, Hultman and Pulé concluded: “People see their lifestyle and assets threatened, with the result of any organised change felt in the far distant future, the easiest path is to resist, pillory and carry on.”

Not a word about the many critiques of CCD, climate science, the fallibility of model in silico experimentation, the IPCC’s seldom mentioned uncertainties and so on. For the focus here is on gender and the (male) perpetrators of the current mess. Nevertheless, eco-wafflers everywhere are keen on the book: for “studies of how hegemonic masculinities are connected with–and drivers of–varied forms of ecological destruction are sorely lacking.”

Listening to the Ann Holmes interview one could not help but reminisce about Stephan Lewandowsky, currently professor of cognitive psychology at Bristol University. What a stir he caused several years ago! For it appears as if his controversial work in this space has been given an eco-gender makeover.

On March 28, 2013 a Lewandowsky et al. paper, “Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation”, was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. It described the reaction of so-called climate change deniers to pre-publication versions of a “NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax” study that had been submitted to Psychological Science in 2012. The analysis claimed to find that, of the hypotheses generated by the so-called climate change deniers in response to the 2012 study, “many…exhibited conspiratorial content and counterfactual thinking.” The Frontiers in Psychology journal received immediate complaints and retracted the paper in March 2014. (Quadrant, 26 March, 2014) Reference

Associate Professor P Matthews, a reader in mathematics at the University of Nottingham, posted the following comment at Frontiers in Psychology on March 22, 2014.

While the retraction of this paper is to be welcomed, the claim that the “investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study” is absurd and quite worrying.  The paper named a number of individuals and labelled them as conspiracy theorists, in the main text of the paper and in the supplementary information. In fact, most of those so labelled were merely pointing out errors in the previous paper. Such labelling is derogatory and insulting, and very clearly contrary to the ethical standards of your field, for example the key principles specified at your university, which emphasise “Respect for human beings”, “Justice” and “Beneficence”. Your statement that there were no ethical issues, but there were legal ones, is quite ridiculous – you seem to be suggesting that it is ethical to libel people in a scientific paper. Reference 

The above examples suggest that CCD is little more than semantic trickery, an Orwellian smokescreen conjured up to avoid dealing with the real – scientific – issues.  CCD rhetoricians use the jargon of gender and ideology – “masculinities politics, deep ecology, ecological feminism and feminist care theory” – to avoid argument and neuter opposition.

The ABC’s Mr Williams, incidentally, seems to have been a fan of Professor Lewandowsky for some time, at least since his Science Show of November 24, 2012, Attitudes to Climate Change. It remains a tipping point for many unhappy with the CCD movement. Joanne Nova is one of them.

Nova: This morning on the “science” show Robyn Williams equates skeptics to pedophiles, people pushing asbestos, and drug pushers. Williams starts the show by framing republicans (and skeptics) as liars: “New Scientist complained about the “gross distortions” and “barefaced lying” politicians come out with…” He’s goes on to make the most blatant, baseless, and outrageous insults by equating skeptics to people who promote pedophilia, asbestos and drugs.

Nova quotes Williams and Lewandowsky:

Williams: What if I told you pedophilia is good for children, or that asbestos is an excellent inhalant for those with asthmatics, or that smoking crack is a normal part and a healthy one of teenage life, to be encouraged? You’d rightly find it outrageous, but there have been similar statements coming out of inexpert mouths, distorting the science.

These distortions of science are far from trivial, our neglect of what may be clear and urgent problems could be catastrophic and now a professor of psychology at UWA has shown what he says is the basis of this unrelenting debauchery of the facts.

Lewandowsky: They were rejecting the science not based on the science, but on other factors. What we basically found was the driving motivating factor behind their attitudes was their ideology. They are also rejecting the link between smoking and lung cancer, and between HIV and AIDS.

Nova: Ladies and gentlemen it’s time to get serious. This is degradation and a malicious attack on skeptics with misinformation. Both Williams and Lewandowsky are ignoring the scientific evidence, denigrating their opponents, destroying rational conversation and honest discussion. It has to stop.

Robyn Williams, what you do is not science. It’s crass tribal warfare.

Stephan Lewandowsky, skeptics base their arguments on evidence. You are in denial. We don’t deny AIDS or that smoking causes cancer, and we never have. Your tactic of deliberately seeking out a few nutters (or fakes) to interview, then besmirching the names of serious commentators is blatant, obvious and documented.

If only Mr Williams had remained faithful to the “unthinkable” sentiments he expressed in his Forward to Max Charlesworth’s 1982 booklet, Science, Non-science and Pseudo-science: “that the scientific process is uncertain, varied, perhaps sullied by the same human foibles as other enterprises…”; for nothing could be as sullied as CCD.

Christmas is coming. Should you see three bearded camel-riding or Cadillac Eldorado-driving persons bearing gifts of bitcoin, UN carbon credits, frank nonsense and mire, useful idiot sneakers and filibuster bourbon, shield your eyes.

Gaze instead on the star beyond them far, the one giving great light day and night free of charge; shining on all, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, class, colour or orientation; be they harassed or haughty, impeached or bleached, nice or naughty, mad or melancholic, young and foolish, clever and clueless, fruitless or fulsome.

Let the climate-wafflers waffle and prostrate themselves at the feet of their young climate-prophet. Let them throw another denier on the barbie and start a new wildfire. The wise, meanwhile, should sing songs of praise to Old Sol and the miracle of photosynthesis, whatever the weather. For it’s the sun, actually.

* The ABC’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum, 1. Latin: index of prohibited books. 2. ABC: the list of publications classified as denialist, anti-consensus or otherwise heretical since the 1992 Earth Summit, including: The Skeptic’s Handbook (J Nova, 2009); The Climate Caper: Facts and Fallacies of Global Warming (G Partridge, 2009), Heaven and Earth (I Plimer, 2009); Confessions of a Climate Sceptic (V Grey, 2010); Slaying the Sky Dragon: Death of the Greenhouse Gas Theory (T Ball et al., 2010); The Real Global Warming Disaster (C Booker, 2010); Climate: The Counter Consensus (Robert M Carter, 2010); Climatism! Science, Common Sense and the 21st Century’s Hottest Topic (S Goreham, 2010); Watermelons: The Green Movement’s True Colours (J Delingpole, 2011); How to get Expelled from School – A guide to climate change for pupils, parents and punters (I Plimer, 2011); The Inquisition of Climate Science (J Powell, 2011); The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert: IPCC Exposé (D Laframboise, journalist, 2012); Taxing Air: Facts & Fallacies about Climate Change (R Carter, J Spooner, et al., 2013); The Age of Global Warming: A History (R Darwall, 2014); About Face! Why the world needs more carbon dioxide & the failed science of global warming (A Hughes, M Khandekar & C Ollier, 2014); Not for Greens – He who sups with the Devil should have a long spoon (I Plimer, 2014); “A Disgrace to the Profession”: the world’s scientists (in their own words) on Michael E Mann, his hockey stick, and their damage to science (M Steyn, editor and compiler, 2015); Warmth (S Wolfson, 2015); Climate Change: The Facts 2017 (Institute of Public Affairs, Australia, 2017); Climate Change – 40 Ways to Win a Pro Global Warming Argument (M Wu, 2017); Green Tyranny: Exposing the totalitarian roots of the climate industrial complex (R Darwall, 2017); Groupthink (C Booker, 2018); The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change (M Morano, 2018); The Devil’s Dictionary of Climate Change – Wicked words to impress your friends and upset your enemies, G Lexicon, 2018) and The Fluid Catastrophe (J Reid, 2019).

  • ianl

    >” … “the green tendrils of feminist ecomasculinities have persisted [despite everything], and their re-emergence here signals real possibilities for transforming the global terrorist triumvirate of climate change, colonialism and corporate hegemony.” [Greta Gaard]

    OMG. Bring back the trollster 🙂

    Michael Kile is correct, though. The winning stroke over time for the activists has been the refusal to debate in public – and to keep the relevant literature, paid for from tax, behind Journal paywalls to discourage the plebs from accessing it. Witchdoctor/tambaran haus stuff.

    I read where the Trump administration is examining how to break that nexus between tax-funded research and its’ paywalled results. I wish him luck and persistence. That is one helluva fight.

  • Lawrie Ayres

    I do note that those who spruik climate change ad infinitum are nearly all swinging from the public teat including of course the people at the ABC. The kiddies gluing themselves to the pavement are either on the dole, getting some form of education allowance or just bludging on those that actually earn a living. As pointed out without the primary industries they all abhor there would be no funds for their foolishness. The left are leeches existing on the sweat of others so to destroy them simply remove the funding. It must be obvious to even the most un-observant politician that the ABC is anti Australian and getting more so by the day with impunity. Ita Buttrose is a complete waste of space and should be replaced or better still just sacked and not replaced along with the whole stinking show. If universities were made responsible for the repayment of HELP they might be a bit more selective with students, teaches and courses. No point in lending a student money to study a course to gain a degree that leads to no job and no repayment. What possible advantage to the taxpayer are academics teaching gender studies? If people want to study such tripe have them pay up front like they do at TAFE for personal interest courses. It would be so easy to stop the left and it would save money. A truly win win situation.

  • Tony Tea

    What I would really like to know is whether there has been a causal link established between climate change and carbon emissions.
    And if a link has not been established, how does Big Climate address the lack of a link? Presuming they do indeed address the lack of a link.

  • Peter OBrien

    ‘Denial it’s say the same bloody thing year after year’. So consistency on the part of sceptics discredits them yet CAGW proponents can change their story every year or so and that somehow validates them?

  • Alice Thermopolis

    “What I would really like to know is whether there has been a causal link established between climate change and carbon emissions.”
    Me too. Establishing causation is a very tricky business. Davide Hume (1737) said it couldn’t be done.
    Treating one component – carbon dioxide – as some kind of independent variable/”main driver” in a complex (non-linear) system – the global climate – is a crazy-brave call IMO.
    “A process is called non-linear when there is no simple proportional relation between cause and effect. The climate system contains many such non-linear processes, resulting in a system with a potentially very complex behaviour.” (IPCC Glossary, 1997)
    You won’t read about it in the MSM, but members of the “climate modelling community” can’t even agree among themselves:
    “Among other lacking items, perhaps the most important one regards the absence of definition for the word cause. Several recurrent controversial arguments in the realm of [climate] event attribution may possibly be related to this lacking definition of causality: for instance, an argument often made (Trenberth, 2012) is that any single event has multiple causes, so one can never assert that CO2 emissions, nor any other factors, have actually caused the event. (A Hannart, et al., American Meteorological Society, January 2016, page 100)

    “When the stakes are high, people are much more likely to jump to causal conclusions. Language further contorts the problem, as some media outlets use words that imply causality without saying it. Without clear reasons to accept causality, we should only accept the existence of a correlation. Two events occurring together or in close proximity does not imply that one caused the other, even if it seems to make perfect sense. Unfortunately, intuition can lead us astray when it comes to distinguishing between the two. (R Goldin, mathematician, 19 August, 2015)

  • DG

    Not only is a causal link between CO2 concentration and the figmentary ‘global temperature absent, so is correlation, with the two time series distinctly discorrelated. So bang goes that thinly established hypothesis.

  • Alice Thermopolis [behind paywall]
    Unusually high differences between surface temperatures on the ocean, which spans from East Africa to Western Australia, is a major cause of this year’s heatwaves. And its reversal [early 2020] may be the key to breaking the country’s dry spell.
    Scientists call it the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) or the Indian Niño, a reference to its analogue in the Pacific Ocean, El Niño.
    Wenju Cai, Director of the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research at CSIRO, said the influence of the phenomenon on fire conditions should not be underestimated.
    “The connection to bushfire conditions is very strong. They are much more strongly connected to IOD than to El Niño,” he said.

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