Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to Think About the World's Problems

I needed a break from environmental catastrophism, so today's post refers to two positive comments designed to promote thought and constructive action.
The first is the latest comment from Bjorn Lomborg who continues to strive for realistic thinking on policy priorities, especially those related to the environment, sustainability and development.  As he writes:
  • The global food crisis has sadly underlined the danger of continuing on our current path of fixating on poor solutions to high-profile problems instead of focusing on the best investments we could make to help the planet.
  • Acknowledging that some investments shouldn't be our top priority isn't the same as saying that the challenges don't exist. It simply means working out how to do the most good with our limited resources. It will send a signal, too, to research communities about areas that need more study.
The second article, is a commentary by Ronald Bailey in the form of a review of a new book by Terence Kealey on the failure of centralised government planning for science.  It tackles a central question:
  • Does government funding of scientific research speed technological progress and spur economic growth?
The answer is presumed to be axiomatic: of course government investment is essential to the initiation of change and for this reason it is basic within every advocate's solution for environmental progress.  Indeed, it is this presumption and a perceived disdain for capitalism that precludes many advocates from considering other options.  However, the evidence does not sustain the proposition:
  • Kealey shows in nearly every case the crucial inventions of the past two and half centuries were called forth by markets, not invented by scientists working from ivory towers. These include the steam engine, cotton gin, textile mills, railroad engines, the revolver, the electric motor, telegraph, telephone, incandescent light bulb, radio, the airplane—the list is nearly endless.
  • Everyone now agrees that centralized planning fails to produce economic progress. Kealey may well be on to something when he argues that centralized planning also fails to produce scientific progress.
First, teach people how to think.  Then challenge them to think properly.  Lomborg and Kealey provide grist for those wanting to understand that the future can be characterized by political rhetoric and hot air: or by decisive intervention, technological innovation and material progress.  The former rests on advocacy: the latter on entrepreneurship.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Two leading Canadians

Tim Ball has published a series of articles on how a political agenda overwhelmed and took over climate science in the creation of global warming hysteria.  His latest is here.
I have never met Dr. Ball personally but knew him by reputation as a fellow Canadian academic and respected climate scholar long before the controversy over global warming.  So I have watched with interested at attempts to smear him as a reaction to his leading position in speaking against the falsehoods he sees in the AGW hypothesis.  In the fight for climate realism, he is probably one of the two most prominent Canadians.
The other leading Canadian is Steve McIntyre, well known to readers of this blog for his award winning site, Climate Audit.  Unlike Tim Ball, Steve McIntyre did not have a tenured professorship at his back and he has borne a double dose of abuse for not only questioning the scientific validity of the basis of global warming dogma but for having the temerity to do so as a non-tenured academic -- well we can't just have anyone question science can we now!
For many, the name Steve McIntyre will be familiar.  Less clear for them, will be the basis for his refutation of the mainstay of the AGW hypothesis, the infamous 'hockey stick' graph and the provenance of the claim that today's climate is characterized by unprecedented warm temperatures.  Recently, McIntyre was invited to speak at Ohio State University and a PDF of his talk is available here.  It is an excellent summation of the events, the controversy and the science behind the AGW dogma. It also serves as a template for the extensive series of posts and discussions on Climate Audit on the themes arising from an audit of some of the essential science underpinning claims for AGW. 
It remains an indictment on the established model of journal publication and peer review within academia that a blog was the vehicle for uncovering some of the more inconvenient truths behind the AGW myth.  Climate Audit, and other such quality blogs, signal the value that the blogosphere has for intellectual discussion and the development of understanding.  I would only urge that blogging become more recognized and valued within the merit system that drives the academic career model.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

32,000 deniers

One canard that is often harped upon is the supposed consensus on AGW. Strange then, that over 32,000 scientists have put their names on a petition stating that there is no convincing evidence to sustain the AGW hypothesis. Stranger still, that the mainstream media appear to have ignored this overwhelming contradiction of settled scientific consensus.

But perhaps, it is not so strange. Advocates of AGW have not taken kindly to having their dogma challenged. Indeed, even the most basic of questions, can cause the PR machinery behind AGW to go into conniption fits.

This reflects the broader pattern of politicization of climate science excellently summarized by Roger Pielke, Jr., here.

Reading Pielke's comments and the posts that follow, reinforces the central message on environmentalism as an ideology over on Climate Resistance. AGW advocates share a common zealotry with other environmental activists. Convinced of the correctness of their own message, they see any questioning as a product of contrary ideology without realizing, nor acknowledging, that their own position also is entirely founded on an ideological perspective. Central to this conceit is the assumption that their advocacy of AGW (or any soft green environmentalism) is axiomatic as their views are supported by THE SCIENCE. Indeed, the credibility of environmentalism as an ideology rests solely on the certitude of its science.

So now we are back to what the science does or does not say. Problem is, the climate science we have is incomplete, still developing, often imprecise and frequently inaccurate. Moreover, science provides a measurement of environmental status: what that measure means, is entirely dependent upon how the question is framed, by who and with what ideological perspective.

Environmentalists are in the business of selling the message that the glass is half-empty, and that action must be taken to preserve what is left. It is an ideology steeped in a belief in limits, in stasist control and a fear of progress. It is also an ideology that loses traction very quickly when scientific evidence indicates progress and/or improvement.

In contrast, those questioning the environmentalist dogma view the the glass as half-full, based on a belief in prosperity, faith in the potentiality of the human spirit, the empirical evidence of technological advancement and hope for future development. Rather than fearing the future, they embrace the dynamics of change and seek ways for all people to adapt and prosper from development. Evidence of improvements and human progress are generally accepted as supportive of this optimism.

Half-empty. Half-full. Both these perspectives represent quite different world views. They are contrasting ideologies.

But they are both ideologies.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Global Warming: Mostly Hot Air

Two complementary posts today that require very little comment and deserve wide distribution.
The first is a summation about climate change alarmism and the fact that the data are not in support of that strange amalgam of pseudo-science, crystal ball gazing, and mass hysteria that was formerly known as global warming.
Lest anyone perceive the facts to be merely a temporary inconvenience, an empirical blip in the dogma of accepted wisdom and truth, here is a post suggesting that anyone be prohibited from reporting on climate change until they have both watched and assimilated the teachings in the lecture by Bob Carter available on YouTube (here and here: also permanently linked on the sidebar to this blog).
My favourite line in Bob Carter's talk is when he refutes the cause and effect claims of carbon dioxide on temperature as akin to saying lung cancer causes smoking (n.b. throughout history, temperature increases have always preceded any increases in carbon dioxide levels).
As stated, both posts deserve wide dissemination.  Who knows, they may even incite reflection, discussion and, insightful political analysis

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Environment as false politics

This is a new post from one of the most thoughtful and well-written blogs in the blogosphere.  It tackles the question of environmentalism as a political ideology, yet its influence on policy decisions is not challenged politically in this country, and barely anywhere else. How come?
The answer is an excellent summation of environmentalism as a dominant ideology within contemporary politics:
  • The closest thing to a challenge are the scientific discussions offered by 'sceptics', 'deniers', 'realists' or whatever you want to call them. Of course, these challenges are waved away by many as 'politically-motivated' - as if Environmentalism was above that sort of thing. And there's the rub. 'Politics' has become a dirty word, and Environmentalism fills the void, because, with 'scientists' backing it, it is presented as a 'value free' set of imperatives that we must all respond to. Environmentalists will tell you that it's not a question of political values, it's a matter of material fact, scientifically established by the IPCC.
  • But the truth is that the unchallengeable measurements that the movement depends on do not exist. Instead, science only lends Environmentalism credibility through the 'precautionary principle'; it is superficially plausible that anthropogenic CO2 will cause global catastrophe (given a substantial number of mainly political assumptions), therefore it is worth treating the possibility of a nightmare as a certainty, according to this doctrine.
  • From here, Environmentalism easily becomes a religious world view...
  • The reason there is no challenge to Environmentalism is that there is nothing to challenge Environmentalism with. Instead, Environmentalism, and the senses of crisis and urgency it generates, are useful vehicles for policies for the sake of policies, and for the purfunctory policy initiatives that masquerade as 'progress'.
  • Politics today,...needs crises - real, or imagined - in order to maintain their relevance to an increasingly disengaged public. These appeals to catastrophe are wrapped up in the language of political change. But claims to be about radical change for the sake of "SAVING THE PLANET" belie an exhausted political perspective on the world that increasingly fails to connect with the public in any other way than through high drama, and struggles to distance itself from its opposition.
  • Challenging environmental orthodoxy will take more than not mentioning it. That is not because Environmentalism is a powerful political idea, but because it exists as a consequence of the inability of political perspectives - Left and Right - to reflect on their own collapse.
This analysis was written from the perspective of British politics.  But I would suggest no editing is necessary to transpose the same insight to an assessment of the political landscape in the United States, Canada or Australia. 

Lessons of the Quaternary

I love blog posts like this one that explain the science and increase awareness of what scientific research is discovering.

What it does not do, is use science as a smokescreen to hide behind. It does not seek to build science up as a vague, inaccessible authority that regular people should best avoid and leave to the experts and it does not develop the science as all-knowing myth to justify a priori ideas and beliefs. What this blog shows is that there is a lot to learn from science and little to fear.

Sadly, there is a lot to fear about how science is taught, how it is presented and how it is framed. In short, how it is politicized.

  • The Quaternary has a lot to tell us about how the climate system behaves in warm and cold periods, and while we at World Climate Report are listening, we suspect the global warming crusade will have little to do with the lessons of the Quaternary.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Global Warming and Cooling - The Reality

One of the key reasons people remain skeptical about AGW is that it is hard to reconcile the predicted, the modeled and the possible that comprise the basis for dire conjecture about changes in climate. The importance of Gore's Inconvenient Truth is that it touted AGW in a format that was easily comprehended, had the illusion of scientific authority and utilized powerful imagery to package its moralism. Lately, however, there have been several attempts to explain the science behind the global climate in terms accessible to the layperson that seek to clarify why skepticism is a healthy reaction to the fearmongering usually accompanying discussions of AGW.

The latest comment is this from Stephen Wilde which makes several key points:
  • CO2 increase has always lagged behind temperature rises and the lag involved is estimated to be 400 to 800 years. There has never been a period when a CO2 rise has preceded global warming.
  • [AGW advocates]..avoid the issue of the rather small proportion of the overall greenhouse effect provided by CO2 and the even smaller proportion provided by man.
  • The greenhouse effect does not create new heat. All it does is increase the residence time of heat in the atmosphere.
  • ...on the basis of historical evidence from weather and solar cycle records the largest single factor influencing global temperature, whatever it might be at any time, is variations in the input of heat from the sun.
Perhaps more people are listening, reading and questioning the haste with which policies predicted upon AGW are being foisted onto the electorate. From the UK to California and Australia, people are querying both the high cost and the necessity for many of the schemes promoted on the basis of AGW.

And, in the closest thing to a political referendum on AGW, voters in the city of London rejected Ken Livingstone's green tyranny, voting instead for a mayor with a quite different agenda, despite its lack of clarity. At the same time, the wider British electorate signaled its disdain for a government that had championed the need for more AGW-induced controls and regulations.

What will happen to AGW once the politicians get off the bandwagon? And will the environmental activist movement be able to recover and/or shift to new priorities once the politicians do jump ship?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Iconoclast, or not?

This is a comment I wrote for the weekly paper at my home university at the request of its editor.  It seems appropriate for eco-myths as well.

I do not believe in anthropogenic global warming (AGW).  There, said it. Out in the open.  There are lots of reasons really but they are irrelevant to this essay.  Because this essay is not about AGW or climate change or environmentalism.  Instead, this essay is about thinking.  And what it's like to profess something at a university  outside of the mainstream of accepted thought.

Iconoclast.  That's a label I could live with.  But it's not one usually applied to me.  I am a "denier", an "ideologue", an idiot, a joke.  This is an essay on why I am not considered an iconoclast at my university and what it is like to work in an atmosphere that is intolerant of individualism.

An iconoclast is a nonconformist, a rebel, a dissenter or radical who attacks cherished beliefs and traditional institutions as being based on error or superstition.   It is a term of respect and most often used in the arts or humanities for individual thinkers who inspire others to view the accepted paradigms of a culture in new and challenging ways.

So why am I not an iconoclast?  Well academia has this propensity for embracing radicals only from the left, those that espouse socialist politics.  Those that advocate social justice and the overthrow of the accepted evils of capitalism.  Those that embrace the mantra of established radicalism i.e. intellectualism.

Me? Well my politics are the politics of Jefferson and Locke, of Hayek and Milton Friedman.  I am a dynamist (not a term familiar to most).  O.K., a libertarian then.  Well that gets some recognition but the explanation most jump to is the less useful and more sweeping label of right–winger.  To which they then add their own descriptors: capitalist, corporatist, etc..  Their views reflect a perspective that maintains that the left is a diverse and complicated political spectrum, but the right just a monolith of commonality and indifference.   Purely Bush league.

My area of expertise is resource management.  The prevailing paradigm is that of sustainability.  So far, so good.  But the intellectual orthodoxy for sustainability has but one branch: it is small scale, local (except for supra-national, government and non-government institutions),  moralist, regulatory, dependent upon theoretical constructs (like the precautionary principle and the ecological footprint), imbedded with myths and rituals (Silent Spring, Earth Day) and stuck in the reactionary politics of 1960s activism. 

I spent the best part of 20 years as an apostolate perfecting the dogma of soft-green environmental ideology.  In the mid-1990s I began to respond to the growing disconnect I observed between the academic study of sustainability and the real world of environmental problems and issues.  After an extended period of engagement with NGOs, businesses and government agencies in the implementation of environmental solutions, I realized that an alternative approach was needed: one that did not take as axiomatic all of the cherished constructs that environmentalist dogma used to justify its persistence with 1960s advocacy of awareness, more governance and increased economic intervention.

After much reading and reflection, I found there was a sound philosophical and ideological basis for an alternative perspective within the sustainability paradigm.  A perspective based on individual responsibility, capacity building and the dynamics of change.

In my innocence and belief in academic freedom, I believed an alternative perspective would be both welcomed and respected.  To my dismay, it has been neither.

I recently gave a talk to the Senior Alumni at my university.  It was entitled 'Global Warming and other Eco-myths'.  A reporter from the university paper covered the talk and it made the cover story.  Nothing unusual about that, except for the reaction my talk and the paper's coverage provoked.  Senior professors wrote despairing of the paper for giving me the time of day.  How can they be a real newspaper and give press to an "ideologue"?  At the very least, the paper should publish text "correcting" what I had said.  Two other letters were published; a whole host were received but not published as they reflected a similar intolerance for diversity.

It seems diversity in academia only extends in one direction.  I could be a radical Marxist and wear revolutionary insignia when I lecture and no-one would say a word.  In my department and on environmentalism, I wear a tie and slews of colleagues feel compelled to make remarks and snarky comments. Complain to the chair you say: often it was the chair who was making the comments (no, not the present incumbent, he is an honorable man).

I could be a Marxist and demonize Big Oil, advocate the need for UN intervention on food, security and environmental justice and rail against the perceived inequalities of capitalism, and no one would try to revoke my course, query my selection of course texts or question the merit of student theses.  But I am not.  So instead, I question the merits of NGO activism, government regulation, the political framing of issues, the politicization of science and the paucity of science underlying environmental dogma.  I focus on the facilitation of individual empowerment, on social equity and on leadership.  I do so, all from the perspective of dynamist ideology.  And, sadly, I have had to endure attempts to revoke one of my courses, questions to the chair expressing reservations about the appropriateness of one of my texts (Lomborg's Skeptical Environmentalist) and more than once, students taking what they have learnt from my courses have been actively dissuaded from using that knowledge in other courses on campus.

Am I paranoid? No, there is a climate that is not encouraging and conducive to alternative perspectives both on this campus and within academia generally.  I am not the first to experience this, nor sadly, do I expect to be the last.

Do I irritate people?  When I first started in academia I lacked a lot of social graces and I know I rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.  That in itself is not unusual: many academics lack social skills and are self-centered.  I have spent a lot of effort avoiding conflict, indeed avoiding those it appears I irritate.  But it doesn't change things.

So why the cold climate? Intolerance.  We speak a good game. And after all academia is constructed upon intellectual freedom and it is enshrined within the tenure system.  But within that pretence is an unspoken premise that if one is to be a radical; it had better be along pre-approved lines and within safe parameters.  Don't bite the hand that feeds your discipline, make sure you keep up the grant/grad student/publish/grant cycle and definitely don't stop long enough to reflect, comment and select an alternative perspective, media for expression and popularize that perspective with the students.

I hope this article offends you and you take umbrage with the scenario I have painted.  It won't remove nor devalue the personal hurts I have experienced over the past 10 to 15 years, but your offence will indicate that you disagree and will not allow such intolerance within your sphere of influence.  Show me that the concept of open mindedness is alive and well in academia.  Go ahead; prove me wrong with your actions.  Maybe today, even read the National Post and not just the Globe and Mail.  Be really daring and read my blog (privately and not so that anyone knows).  Iconoclast.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Mainstream Media Begins to Go Skeptic

Much to the chagrin of many zealots, the mainstream media is beginning to be more questioning of the AGW rhetoric, especially in light of reports on natural ocean changes and their influence on climate trends.

This skepticism follows reports that Kyoto signatories have been over 3 times worse than the US in their increases in greenhouse gas emissions, that warming is not happening, the apocalypse has been postponed, the whole AGW scare is a hoax and is unraveling.

Now, the stock answer is that all these "minor" contemporary changes in climate are "consistent" with the models predicting dire consequences and AGW of a severe, imminent magnitude.

So, the central question then becomes, what, if anything, is inconsistent with the models and their projections?
Because if no empirical data exist, nor can exist, to invalidate the models, we do not have a scientific theory at all: we have a faith, a religion, a belief system.

Which is fine and dandy for dogma perpetuation and educational indoctrination, but it ain't science. And I am tired of people trying to pass off on me stuff under the mantle of science that does not pass muster on the most basic of levels: what invalidates the models?

Because, all empirical evidence appears to be pointing in quite the opposite direction from that touted by the purveyors of panic and moralism. To the layperson, it would seem reality is not in agreement with the models. And the mainstream media knows this and is adjusting its stance accordingly.

On Prometheus, the discussion around the "consistent with" issue reveals much about the relative ideologies people bring to this question. I was impressed, in particular, wioth the one comment posted by a respondent Jim Clarke, that I reproduce here:

Yesterday, Roger Pielke, Sr. began a post on Climate Science with the following:

"The climate issue, with respect to how humans are influencing the climate system, can be segmented into three distinct hypotheses. These are:

The human influence is minimal and natural variations dominate climate variations on all time scale;

While natural variations are important, the human influence is significant and involves a diverse range of first-order climate forcings (including, but not limited to the human input of CO2);

The human influence is (dominant and) dominated by the emissions into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide."

(Note: I added the parenthesis in the third hypothesis as I believe this more accurately describes the IPCC position and what RP senior meant to say.)

The question is: are any of the observations claimed to be consistent with the third (IPCC) hypothesis in your article above, inconsistent with the other two hypotheses? No, they are not! These claims of consistency are being used to suggest that the third hypothesis is the 'correct' one, when in fact, they do no such thing. The observations are just as consistent with the other two hypothesis (if not more so), and don’t shed any light on what is the ‘cause’ of the observed.

Furthermore, we should not be asking ourselves if any given observation is consistent with any given hypothesis, but what hypothesis is MOST consistent with ALL observations on all time scales. That is how the most accurate hypothesis is determined. That is how science is supposed to work.

RP Sr. concludes that the observations fit the second hypothesis more than any other, while I lean a shade more towards the first. Now that the climate change community is being forced to admit that ocean cycles play a significant role in observed changes, I can not think of any observation that is more consistent with the third hypothesis than the other two.

On the other hand, there are many observations that are not consistent with the third (IPCC) hypothesis. For example, no Antarctic warming, insufficient upper-tropospheric warming, Spencer's work in water vapor and clouds, regional step changes in temperature consistent with ocean step changes, the history of 20th century temperature change, the current lack of warming in the oceans and atmosphere, historical evidence of global climate change throughout the Holocene and so on...

Granted, elaborate excuses have been contrived, with little or no supporting evidence, to reconcile many of these observations with the AGW hypothesis, but those are examples of scientists defending a hypothesis in spite of the facts. No such spin is required to show that the other two hypotheses are more robust!

No spin is required to show that the other two hypotheses are more robust: do you think that could be why the mainstream media also is framing the issue of climate change quite differently today than it was when Gore-mania was at its peak?

People expect politicians to lie to them. They don't necessarily like it, but they have come to expect it. They don't like to be lied to about science, nor the environment. And they will not accept it.

V for Vendetta anyone?