A good starting position in discussions about ‘climate change’

One of the resolutions I had prior to the new year was to sort out my Blogroll. Some of the sites there I now don’t go to much, while one or two have practically stopped operating. And new ones seem to put their hands up for inclusion. One of them, called Climate Resistance, has been going since 2007, and is run by someone called Ben Pile. I haven’t found out much about him, but here is what was said when he was a guest speaker recently: Ben Pile is an independent political researcher, film-maker, writer and blogger. His research interests are energy and environmental politics, and the intersection of science and society. He is convenor of the Big Potatoes energy working group and a frequent contributor to spiked. In his writing, Ben identifies the social dimensions that underpin seemingly technical discourse, and argues that environmentalism is in fact a political idea requiring political debate, rather than a narrow, face-value response to scientific discoveries.

He writes well, about every two weeks, and his essays are much longer than mine. But you keep reading, which is probably why I thought I should check out his website. I was struck by his rationale, a set of statements that he put down eight years ago, and that he doesn’t think require anything more than polishing. Here they are, having been polished. I’ve done a tiny bit of editing.

1. There is good scientific evidence that human activities are influencing the climate. But evidence is not fact, and neither evidence nor fact speak for themselves.

2. The evidence for anthropogenic climate change is neither as strong nor as demanding of action as is widely claimed.

3. Our ability to mitigate, let alone to reverse, any such change through reductions in CO2 emissions is even less certain, and may itself be harmful.

4. The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported inaccurately reflects the true state of scientific knowledge.

5. How society should proceed in the face of a changing climate is the business of politics not science.

6. Political arguments about climate change are routinely mistaken for scientific ones. Environmentalism uses science as a fig-leaf to hide an embarrassment of blind faith and bad politics.

7. Science is increasingly expected to provide moral certainty in morally uncertain times.

8. The IPCC is principally a political organisation.

9. The current emphasis on mitigation strategies is impeding society’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, whatever its cause.

10. The public remains unconvinced that mitigation is in its best interest. Few people have really bought into Environmentalism, but few people object vehemently to it. Most people are slightly irritated by it.

11. And yet climate change policies go unchallenged by opposition parties.

12. Environmentalism is a political ideology, yet it has never been tested democratically.

13. Widespread disengagement from politics means that politicians have had to seek new ways to connect with the public. Exaggerated environmental concern is merely serving to provide direction for directionless politics.

14. Environmentalism is not the reincarnation of socialism, communism or Marxism. It is being embraced by the old Right and Left alike. Similarly, climate change scepticism is not the exclusive domain of the conservative Right.

15. Environmentalism will be worse for the poor than climate change.

16. Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In polishing his original ideas, Pile has re-ordered them, but otherwise they are much as they were. And I think they do provide a good  starting point. There are things I might have added, but he is offering a starting point, not a finishing point. The first response from somebody who supports the orthodox (=IPCC) position might be to ask: With what authority can one put these statements forward? On what are they based?

I would respond like this, using his numbers.

#1 The IPCC itself points out that there is low or only medium confidence about some of the factors involved in ‘climate change’, while only a few sceptics deny that CO2 has the capacity to warm the planet. The key questions are: How much? And what is the set of other factors able to amplify and reduce the contribution of CO2? No one knows.

#2 The evidence that CO2 is a serious problem is hard to find in the real world. The alarm is based on models, and is tortuous and ambiguous.

#3 On all the evidence, whatever anyone does about greenhouse gas emissions will reduce global temperature by only the most minuscule amount. Why is it worth doing at all?

#4 Pile wrote this long before the recent notion that 97 per cent of scientists agreed about human attribution. There is no doubt that the official position of many scientific academies is that AGW is bad and that carbon dioxide reductions have to be implemented, but they have not asked their members. (I’ll write about the recent statement by the Australian Academy of Science shortly.) In addition, scientific academies are closely connected to government, and receive considerable funding from government. Their published statements have to be taken with more than a grain of salt.

#5 That is a value statement with which I agree.

#6 There is a real confusion in the climate issue about what is ‘science’ and what is not, and science as revealed in published papers is quite equivocal about most of the issues.

#7 Yes, another value statement that is hard to disagree with. People use ‘science’ in much the same way as the religious used to say ‘the church’ or ‘the Pope’ (‘Science says that we must…’  Or, ‘Research tells us that …’)

#8 Yes, it is. It was set up by governments, who appoint its members, and it is accountable to governments.

#9 I think that adaptation is becoming more popular, vis-a-vis mitigation.

# 10 It’s a broad generalisation, but I think it’s pretty accurate.

# 11 Yes, there is a sort of consensus politically about AGW, mostly because electoral politics requires that you don’t offend any minor section of the polity unless you really have to (that is, the benefit will outweigh the costs). See #10.

# 12 I’m not sure about this. On the one hand every political party says that it has an interest in the environment. On the other hand, the Greens are the standard-bearers, and they get about one vote in ten in Australian elections.

#13 I agree about ‘widespread disengagement from politics’, and I’ve written about it recently, but I’m not sure about the second sentence.

#14 I agree with both statements, and quite strongly.

#15 I agree, though I would write it differently.

#16 I don’t quite know what he means. I would put it rather that, no matter how many national parks or other improvements we make there will always be environmental concerns, so the Green movement will not go away.

I recommend Ben Pile. I find his essays thought-provoking and most readable. I’ll get round to doing something about the Blogroll in due course, or when I get one of those round Tuits.




Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • PeterE says:

    Thanks for drawing Pile’s comments to attention. Generally, I think they are correct, indeed, they are an excellent starting point for action. Environmentalism did originate, I think, in a genuine concern for the environment but all sorts of interests have jumped onto the bandwagon. In subtle propaganda shows like the ABC’s ‘Two Men in a Tinny’ the influence of leftist politics is clearly visible. Environmentalism is now a strong part of ‘political correctness’.

  • David says:

    Looks more like a set of conclusions!

  • Dasher says:

    When you are on a good thing overdo it! Hardly original but my view on the environmental “movement” I am pleased with your comments on #4. Is the 97 percent another example of “truthiness” in action? I would like to read the results of a properly constructed survey which asks probing questions about what scientists in the relevant disciplines think about climate change. I agree that because of the money flow and other issues (group think?) the result may not be as accurate as one would like but at least it would be a useful start. The current appeal to authority and head counts is very unsatisfactory.

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