Two little essays, both published on The Conversation (13 and 14 March*), and a compilation of surveys, provide the basis for this post. I’ll start with the surveys first, which come courtesy of Donna Laframboise, who has written an amusing little piece on surveys about ‘climate change’. Imagine, she asks, that you are on a transcontinental rail journey. You go to eat in the buffet car, and at every meal you are asked what you would like — but, whatever you ask for, the food is always vegetarian. She says opinion surveys and political oratory about global warming are like that.
American surveys routinely place global warming or ‘climate change’ last in the list of important issues, so far as the electorate is concerned, and the same is largely true both of the UK, and of the United Nations’ own global surveys. In Australia the poll evidence is that Australians are more concerned than Americans, but there are no truly equivalent poll results. Ms Laframboise points out that despite this lack of interest, politicians and the ‘concerned’ go on telling us that we are wrong: we should be concerned like them, and must be deficient in sense and altruism for not being so. She lists Secretary of State John Kerry as a Cassandra example, pointing to the same speech that I wrote about three weeks ago.
So the orthodox go on waiting impatiently for the warming to return, and becoming even louder and more aggressive in their contempt for those of us who ask for good argument and good data and point out what seem to be problems in the orthodoxy. The decline in interest in AGW is certainly connected to the lack of significant warming to match the increase in carbon dioxide, but there is a lot more to it, I think. So to the first of these articles, which is by Rod Lamberts, Deputy Director of the ANU’s National Centre for Public Awareness of Science. What do you think of this?
The fact is that the time for fact-based arguments is over. We all know what the overwhelmingly vast majority of climate science is telling us. I’m not going to regurgitate the details here, in part because the facts are available everywhere, but more importantly, because this tactic is a core reason why climate messages often don’t resonate or penetrate. If, like me, you’re convinced that human activity is having a hugely damaging effect on the global climate, then your only responsible option is to prioritise action.
I don’t think that what he proposes is at all a ‘responsible option’. The most responsible surely would be to look hard at what you think are the facts. Like Bernie Fraser, however, of whom he speaks well in this essay, Mr Lamberts knows what ‘the vast majority of climate science’ is telling him, though he won’t tell his readers. I’m certainly not sure what it is, and I think by now I have a reasonable understanding of ‘the science’. We don’t need any more facts, he says, we need action. Nor is it clear what sort of action he has in mind, other than noisy behaviour. But then we get this: What we need now is to become comfortable with the idea that the ends will justify the means.
That really worries me, and it should worry anyone. That is not how democracies should behave, and indeed it is what people object to about people who think they know The Truth: they are always telling the rest of us what to do. Mr Lamberts says that deniers should just be disregarded. Ignore them, step around them, or walk over them. I object to this sort of talk, especially from an academic at the ANU, from which I have my PhD. It is stormtrooper stuff, and has no place either in universities or in a website funded by universities.
The second essay is by Lawrence Torcello, an American academic who teaches philosophy in the USA. It is not in any way a sensible article, and while I wonder why it was accepted for publication in Australia it is certainly another good illustration of the aggressive style which you can find from the ‘believers’. Here is a sample:
We have good reason to consider the funding of climate denial to be criminally and morally negligent. The charge of criminal and moral negligence ought to extend to all activities of the climate deniers who receive funding as part of a sustained campaign to undermine the public’s understanding of scientific consensus… What are we to make of those behind the well documented corporate funding of global warming denial? Those who purposefully strive to make sure “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” is given to the public? I believe we understand them correctly when we know them to be not only corrupt and deceitful, but criminally negligent in their willful disregard for human life. It is time for modern societies to interpret and update their legal systems accordingly.
Nowhere in this is any attempt to define anything; apparently it’s not needed by philosophers like Mr Torcello, though I would have thought ‘climate denial’ at least needs some kind of explanation if funding it is to be regarded as criminal behaviour. As I’ve said a few times, I am simply unaware of any funding that flows to me or to the others with whom I discuss AGW. Nor can I see any ‘sustained campaign to undermine the the public’s understanding of scientific consensus’. What does Mr Torcello have in mind?
No matter. Any innocent reading this will come away with the view that ‘climate deniers’, whoever they are, should be jailed. It’s different stormtrooper talk, and just as objectionable. Neither Lamberts nor Torcello deserves much respect, on the evidence of these essays, but I put to them that it is indeed time for a debate, a real debate, the kind that I mentioned in my piece on Bernie Fraser last week. The more they denounce citizens who ask questions about ‘climate change’ the weaker their position becomes. Let us discuss these ‘facts that are available everywhere’, and in public. And soon.
* I don’t seem able, at least at the moment, to provide a direct link to these essays. [Update: But see Baa Humbug’s comment below, which does provide the links,]