If John Gibbons had any intention of trying to allay my fears that there is a strong ideological basis to much climate change activism when he accepted my recent post on climate skeptics, this was quickly forgotten. John’s appraisal of the post in the comments is that it is “a poorly argued crypto-denialist piece.”
I’m not quite sure what a “crypto-denialist” is but I think it means someone who claims to accept the science of AGW but actually does not- in other words, a fraud. John’s supporters also joined in with plenty of personal attacks and ad hominems:
Mr Strouts, in not knowing even what peer-review is puts himself on the same plane as James Delingpole – bombastic argument, sweeping assertions riddled with howling factual errors (like thinking TSE to be a peer-reviewed publication, for goodness sake, how stupid can you get?).
Now I do understand what “stupid” means; but for this charge to stick it needs to be backed up by evidence. The evidence I have for believing The Skeptical Environmentalist was indeed peer-reviewed comes from the publisher at Cambridge university Press:
As a University Press, we insist on a peer review process for every book we publish. It has become part of the anti-Lomborg folklore that his book bypassed the usual Cambridge peer review process and was cynically spirited through the system by an ignorant social science editor.5 This is a charge that has been repeated in many of the public and private attacks on the press, and it is unfounded. Indeed, The Skeptical Environmentalist would never have been published by Cambridge had it not been for peer review
It is true that I found that link via the Wikipedia entry which I am informed “has been clearly generously edited either by Lomborg or members of his fan club (sorry, Wikipedia isn’t actually peer-reviewed, at least not in the academic or scientific sense of the phrase)”- but no supporting evidence of this is provided.
There was clearly a lot of dispute at the time over this controversial publication, and plenty of literature available looking at the attacks on the book and the defences
Lomborg’s book basically makes the case, with plenty of evidence, that the world may not be quite so doomed as many of us have believed, or as some environmentalist would have us think, but rather than demonstrate actual errors, John and his friends prefer to insist that the whole thing is a con, a fraud, with each sentence and statistic carefully concocted to mislead the unwary reader and lead them into damnation as they will surely then continue to pollute the environment and destroy the planet
Equally, Gore’s film was also clearly controversial, and there are many reasonable (ie not “denialist”) critiques of it, such as this one by William Connelly which closely examines the court case that was taken against the film being promoted as science in schools, who concludes on the issue of exaggerating sea-level rise:
“Pupils might get the impression that sea-level rises of up to 7m (caused by the complete melting of Greenland or half of Greenland and half of the West Antarctic shelf) could happen in the next decades. The IPCC predicts that it would take millennia for rises of that magnitude to occur. However, pupils should be aware that even smaller rises in sea level are predicted to have very serious effects. or Burton: “This is distinctly alarmist, and part of Mr Gore’s ‘wake-up call’… not in line with the scientific consensus.” Yeah, I think Gore was misleading on this, and said so before.
In the discussion below Connelly concludes “its misleading on a number of important points, so I don’t think you can call it a great intro, and I’m definitely advising against championing it”.
Compare this to John’s defense of the film:
That film was a thoroughly researched, balanced and objective guide for the lay-person on climate change. Just ask the actual climate specialists over at RealClimate.org and they’ll confirm as much.
But if one were to take the stance of the supporters of ThinkorSwim (ToS) Connelly would also be dismissed as a stupid crypto-denialist troll. What good does that do anyone?
According to John and his followers, Lomborg has been proved to be a fraud; John states that Lomborg “ignores the entire canon of actual climate science”- an extraordinary statement to make since TSE in fact explicitly accepts the science of AGW, and discusses in depth the scientific consensus that human influence is warming the planet; the book is actually a discussion of how bad this is likely to be (there may be some benefits, eg. declining cold-weather deaths) and what we should do about it.
Lomborg takes issue with the mainstream policy recommendations of dramatic cuts in CO2 emissions, arguing that this would be too expensive, and that in any case we cannot really do that to the degree indicated because the technology for low-carbon fuels to replace fossil energy to any degree simply does not yet exist.
John’s errors however extend beyond simply misrepresenting his bete noir Lomborg, he also misrepresents the science in each of the cases that he refers to:
Graham also recycles denialist guff about exaggerated threats of sea level rise. These are anything but. Quoting a solitary “recent study” is a pretty thin basis for his premise that concerns about accelerating ice melt are “doom-mongering pure and simple”. A little knowledge here is indeed dangerous. “Doom-mongering” is a serious charge. Graham may not be aware that according to GRACE gravity satellite readings, Greenland is currently losing 104-138gt per annum. That’s 104–138 BILLION TONS of ice lost per annum. Some doom-mongering (this figure is somewhat ahead of the 2007 IPCC estimate of 100gt/annum).
One commentator responded:
100 billion tons is indeed a large figure. But let’s see what that means in terms of sea level rise. The earth’s radius is about 6400 km. Earth’s surface area, use 4 pi times the radius squared; and 70% of that area is water — it comes to about 3.6 x 10^14 sq. meters. Ocean isn’t all of that, though, and I cheated a bit and looked online to get a figure of 3.35 x 10^14 sq. meters of ocean area. Let’s get back to those 100 Gtonne, or 10^17 g, of melting ice per year. As water has a density of (approx.) 1 g/cc, that comes to 10^17 cc of water, or 10^11 cubic meters. Spread that evenly over the above ocean area, and it comes to a depth of 0.3 mm. A rate of 0.3 mm per year is about 1 inch per century. Doesn’t seem to merit capital letters to me.
Now, whether or not these calculations are correct, it is clear from John’s hand-waving response that he had not done any calculations himself at all; he had merely seen the figure of “a lot of ice” and quoted it in a doomish kind of way, with not a clue as to what it may or may not mean for sea-level rise.
More astonishing still, he becomes probably the first person ever to represent temperature change in terms of percentages:
Just in case you’re not familiar with the basic science (and I really am now beginning to wonder), the current global average surface temp. is c.14.5C. Add 4C to that in half a century and you have increased the average surface temp by over 25%. That means, briefly: zero Arctic ice, Greenland committed to collapse (the idea of this taking thousands of years in a 1000ppm+ CO2 world is fanciful in the extreme)
Another commentator responded:
Using Fahrenheit, the same temperature change (58.1F to 65.3F) is a 12% increase, using Kelvin it’s about 287.6K to 291.6K, or a 1.4% increase. It really does matter where the zero is, if you are talking about percentage changes. That’s why one uses simple temperature differences when talking about climate, and not percentages.
To his credit, John did, after two more promptings, finally admit this error; but that he could make such an off-the-wall statement is very worrying for a non-scientist commentator who states about himself:
Guilty as charged. I’m not a scientist, and am occasionally likely to make a technical gaffe, like the one pointed out by DR. I regret the lack of precision in my language… My stab at translating this into percentages that most people could understand was clumsy and unscientific. …[my]25 years working as a journalist and publisher has taught me a healthy respect for facts, and an equally healthy suspicion of ideology, in all its subtle forms.
John essentially sees himself, like Delingpole, as an “interpreter of interpretations”- someone who tries to interpret science in layman’s terms most people can understand. He has been doing this for many years, yet appears to be misrepresenting the science at every turn.
This should be of concern to any of his readers who do rely on his interpretations: what other mistakes might he be making? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a go at John personally, he is a very nice man; I am merely discussing his stance in the public role he has created for himself.
He is clearly a doom-monger, interpreting a recent report from the Royal Society, which looks as an exercise at a scenario they themselves consider unlikely, as leading to an increase in temperature of 4 degrees by 2060, if there are stronger feedbacks and higher emissions than currently expected. John misrepresents this “what if” scenario- and all the IPCC scenarios are also essentially “what if” exercises- claiming that “I’ll be guided by what the experts say, and they are increasingly trending towards sea level rises of upwards of one meter this century”. No supporting link is given for this; he dismisses the less scary prognosis for Greenland I linked to in the original post as “thin evidence”.
One fascinating issue is that of future growth scenarios. John is in accord with many moderate environmentalists, as well of course peak-oilers and general catastrophic doomers as well, that future growth is impossible because of resource constraints:
Lomborg is a libertarian propagandist, the Dr Strangelove of climate science (read ‘The Lomborg Deception’ by Howard Friel of Yale for a thorough debunking). He commissions and recycles “data” from fellow right-wingers like the economists Tol and Nordhaus, ignores the entire canon of actual climate science and then concocts bizarre happy-clappy “We’ll all be millionaires in 2100, so why worry” scenarios that anyone whose nose is not completely blocked will know reeks to the heavens of bullshit.
But as with the rest of Lomborg’s book, the projections for future growth of incomes is taken from the IPCC and other official statistics- the same figures that everyone uses. It seems that the mainstream scientists- the “consensus view” on economic growth is severely at odds with John’s doomer viewpoint, although he then contradicts himself by saying “Current emissions trajectory is worse than the IPCC’s “worst case” A1F1 scenario. It will continue to worsen, barring disasters, as China, India, etc. continue to grow at breakneck speed ”.
So he believes both a richer world (that should be much more capable of adapting to climate change and other problems) is both “bullshit” and also inevitable “at breakneck speed”.
If the IPCC scenarios are wrong about growth in all their scenarios; if most if not all climate scientists reject the doomer peak oil position of imminent collapse (as I guess they would, although I really dont know for sure); then why should we believe anything else they say?
John implies it is a no-brainer to do whatever we have to do to stop runaway climate change, using the analogy of house insurance. Yes, in a sense this is what the whole of Lomborg’s book is about: carefully considering the costs of mitigation with the costs of insurance: a cost-benefit analysis.
John and his followers appear to have no concept of what Lomborg is on about at all. For them, he is a fraud pure and simple and anyone who disagrees is stupid and also a fraud. Although it is to his credit that he did allow the post on his site, this was apparently only to allow it (and me) to be attacked and ridiculed, and bizarrly he felt the need to apologize to readers some of whom were “shocked” at what I had to say.
There is a not-so subtle cross-over from the actual science- what is happening in the climate- into policy- what, if anything , we should do about it; but try to even raise these issues on ToS and you will be screamed at. Those guys already know all the answers and for them, the debate is closed.
I tried to press John to address some of these issues, but he did indeed prefer to close the debate threatening to remove any more comments I might place there.
What is most troubling about all this is that there is really no need to defend Gore, or attack Lomborg in such a way. The response I received from John and some of his supporters seems closed-minded, and even cultish, and provides plenty of ammunition to those who claim the AGW movement is essentially a religion.
It is a perfectly respectable position to hold, to accept the “consensus” view on AGW- that it is happening, that it is a problem- while being careful to question the more zealous predictions of doom that assume a policy response that is in fact far outside the remit of the science itself.
Once this line has been crossed, we are in the territory of ideology and religion. And this is another reason why we should in fact be very skeptical of Al Gore and his followers: Gore is motivated by religious beliefs in the sanctity of nature and New Age ideas of Gaia worship. In his earlier book Life in the balance he writes:
The need for personal equilibrium can be described in a simpler way. The more deeply I search for the roots of the global environmental crisis, the more I am convinced that it is an outer manifestation of an inner crisis…spiritual…the search for truths about this ungodly crisis is the search for truths about myself… (pp. 10-11)
He believes in Ancient Wisdom and Goddess worship:
“The spiritual sense of our place in nature…can be traced to the origins of human civilization…in prehistoric Europe and much of the world was based on the worship of a single earth goddess, who was assumed to be the fount of all life and who radiated harmony among all living things…the notion that a goddess religion was ubiquitous throughout much of the world until the antecedents of today’s religions (meaning Christianity, Judaism which he attempts to link to Hinduism), most of which still have a distinctly masculine orientation–swept out of India and the Near East, almost obliterating belief in the goddess. The last vestige of organized goddess worship was eliminated by Christianity…it seems obvious that a better understanding of a religious heritage preceding our own by so many thousands of years could offer us new insights…” (pp 260)
More quotes from Gore here.
Just how much of this kind of thinking permeates and informs the environmental movement as a whole- think organic food, chemophobia, the anti-GM movement- and perhaps climate change as well?
Even if we accept climate science at face value- that it has not been corrupted by politics and money- fears of climate change do seem to provide a perfect platform for religious zealotry.
Update: Interesting interview with Lomborg here. Apparently Pachauri, head of the IPCC, who had previously compared Lomborg to Hitler, wrote a “great blurb” for Lomborg’s new book. Maybe John Gibbons should contact Pachauri to tell him how he has been “had” by this fraudster.