The Politics of Climate Change

In a comment on my Insanity article, Robert Duquette comments on George Monbiot’s critique of the climate change sceptics.

Monbiot should be careful about using an affinity of narrative to explain the global warming skeptics, because the same affinity can be used to explain the gw alarmists. Man-made global warming is the perfect, apolcalyptic morality tale. Monbiot also makes the mistake of questioning the motives of every scientists he disagrees with, while putting those who agree with him under no such scrutiny. Why not question the motives of scientists who work for governmental agencies, agencies that stand to increase in power and influence, and butgetwise, under any anti global warming regulatory scheme? When facts are not with you, question motives.

There has been a huge amount of tosh spouted by the environmental movement, with their own pathologies and a fondness for trying to persuade through fear and emotional manipulation. But these groups are distinct from government and climatologists.

Of course government agencies and climate scientists have an interest in believing that global warming is real, but they have a more powerful reason for believing otherwise, one that we all share. While the individual departments may have an interest in securing a bigger slice of the funding pie, every department adjoining them in academia and government has the opposite interest, and the governments, the ultimate paymasters for all of this, have the most powerful reasons of all to believe it was nonsense, and that is precisely the line many governments have taken. But those governments that have tried to hold this line have had to change their positions, and the governments that accepted what the climate scientists were saying have got themselves into a dreadful political pickle—predictably so—as they are now in a position of having to deliver on past promises, and delivering on those promises is not politically palatable (see, for example, Majesty, We Have Gone Mad).

The monstrous, colossal conspiracy theory doesn’t withstand the most cursory inspection. Meanwhile (and sorry for the repetition) the evidence of global warming that we were being warned about in the 1980s (I have had little reason to doubt it myself since the 1990s) are starting to manifest in front of our eyes. ‘Usage of the Thames Barrier has increased from once every two years in the 1980s to an average six times a year over the past 5 years’ according to a UK government report.

No single weather event and no particularly hot or cold year be chalked down to climate change but the overall trend is difficult to deny.

Global Air Temperatures

The talk of the polar ice melting is now being reinforced by the urgency with which the arctic powers (Canada, USA, Denmark, Norway and Russia) have started contesting the rights to extract oil around the North Pole. Before the changes in climate were observed the oil that was there was regarded as unexploitable and so there was no serious attempts to resolve the situation. Not any more. This Summer it looks as if we will have the an ice-free north pole. The less ice we have the less light gets reflected and so the warmer we get—it is feebback mechanisms like this that are causing the real concern.

I really, really want to believe that this is all alarmist nonsense. Who wouldn’t. But the climate scientists consistently seem to be able to defend their positions and the predictions they have been making seem to be manifesting all around me. Against this the ‘sceptics’ have not said anything to me that lasts the most cursory inspection by a climatologist—you just have to wait for a few months or often weeks for their pet theories collapse. They shift around telling us that its not happening, its not man made, its benign and finally we find that well there is nothing we can do about it anyway so heck we may as well keep on partying and make the best of it.

My problem is that this is a the pathology of addiction, and as we should expect with addictions, the addiction screws up the host, providing a powerful illusion of being necessary and useful. (I explain in Climate-Change Denial exactly why I think the pursuit of materialistic goals as ends in themselves is a mug’s game.) The really awful part of this is the damage that the denial has been causing as it is much easier to make adjustments gradually than violently.

And Duquette argued yesterday in Environmentalism is a Luxury that now that the pain of higher energy prices has become apparent, the smart thing to do would be to abandon policies that make energy even more expensive.

If John McCain were a smart politician, and I’ve yet to be convinced that he is, he would reverse himself on cap and trade just as he has done on offshore oil drilling, leaving Obama and the Democrats to explain to their working class constituents why they have to bear the crushing burden of skyrocketing fuel bills in order to preserve the scenic ocean vistas and ecological values of globetrotting Democratic elites.

But McCain has now admitted that his proposed plans for offshore drilling will have no practical impact, but wants to stick with the policy anyway for its psychological effects—and of course he doesp; he wants to win the election in November. But it was precisely this issue that finished HRC—her gas tax pander backfired with a marginal win in Indiana. And look at how McCain’s credibility stacks up against Obama in the latest Gallup poll:

McCain, as much as dearly might like to, can’t touch the cap-and-trade policy: i) the Democrats would just have to replay some of the adverts that he has already broadcast and ii) it would blow away the only truly credible distance he can put between himself and the Bush administration, which he must establish to have a chance of winning.

Cheap gas has gone for ever. The reason that the adjustment is now so painful is because of the years of denial and the longer it is carried on the more painful it is going to get. Folks are staring to wake up to this reality. If anyone can convince me otherwise I will be delighted to hear.

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10 responses to “The Politics of Climate Change

  1. Chris

    There’s plenty of evidence that contradicts the AGW narrative, if you’re willing to see it.

    Climate science is far from being a precise, mature field. It may never be so. The variables that impact climate are so complex that it is doubtful that we will ever be in a position to predict long term climate trends with any certainty.

    Most of the fear is being generated by model based predictions. It is hubristic to think that climate modelers have captured anything near the level of sophistication and complexity necessary to predict global temperatures 50 or 100 years from now. We can’t even predict the severity of Atlantic hurricanes one year ahead. Yet we are being asked to commit to a rigid, costly and potentially ruinous international regulatory scheme based on this half-baked science. Read the Black Swan. Climate is from Extremistan. Humans cannot predict events in Extremistan.

    I raised skepticism about government scientists, but it isn’t necessarily because they will gain economically. Working for the government tells something about a person’s worldview. It says that person believes in technocratic management. Technocrats believe in the planning fallacy, the idea that large, complex, decentralized systems like economies, societies, and global weather are amenable to rational analysis, prediction and control. There are some very smart people who believe this, indeed I think that the planning fallacy is a symptom of very smart people. But very smart people thought up all of the mortgage and asset based financial derivative instruments, and believed that they had figured out how to tame global financial risk. They were very smart fools.

    This is not to say that I have my head buried in the sand or want to see a continuance of the fossil based economy. Fossil fuels are finished, and we need to transition to a fossil free energy regime. The only question is whether our World economy can survive long enough to make that transition. US carbon emissions are on the decline even without cap and trade regulations. The rising price of oil is seeing to that. We need to drill for new oil not to make oil cheaper than it is now, but to slow its increase long enough to transition without killing the economy outright.

    Of course we are addicted to oil and need to break our addiction, but do you really think we can do so “cold turkey”? Has anyone on your side of the debate made an estimate of how badly the World economy will suffer under cap and trade? Seeing that noone can predict what the economy will do from one year to the next, are you that certain that such a scheme won’t bring about a catastrophic worldwide economic collapse? Have you assessed what such a collapse would mean in terms of world peace? If you think oil dependence is a major cause of strife, wait till you find out what worldwide grinding poverty will do.

  2. I’ll make another point with regard to my contention that environmentalism is a luxury. We have other, less environmentally impactful energy options that are being stalled because of environmental rigidity. Several major solar power stations are being slated for construction in the Mojave desert, but they are on hold for two years in order to do environmental impact statements. New nuclear power plants, which emit no greenhouse gases, are likewise being stalled. Even wind power is being discouraged in many states by environmentalists (more likely aestheticists disguised as environmentalists).

    We don’t have the luxury of preserving every natural habitat in pristine condition. It is time for the environmentalists to accept the demands of reality and common sense.

  3. Robert, weather is not climate.

    “No more than anecdotal evidence, to be sure.”

    Was your hint that it is BS.

    [Edited by the blogtzsar to keep the discussion respectful.]

  4. I have been meaning to reply to this but am in the middle of writing a long post on The Black Swan.

    I agree that there is a critical distinction between weather and climate but we still have to in some way address why we should believe climate can be tractable when weather is not, given that climate is made up of weather.

    I think this is a productive discussion, one I am grateful for.

  5. ok, sorry about that.

    I don’t know that weather is intractable. In fact I suspect it is highly manipulable. There are companies that do cloud seeding and the US has a Dept of Weather Modification. We can certainly affect the local weather, smog is a good example. Forest fires also create their own weather. So it’s certainly doable given the right tools and the physics would be straight forward.

  6. Pingback: The Black Swan: All in the Mind? « Peace & Wisdom

  7. noen:

    I don’t know that weather is intractable. In fact I suspect it is highly manipulable. There are companies that do cloud seeding and the US has a Dept of Weather Modification.

    No, the US does not have a DOWM.

    Weather is driven by sunlight, which, IIRC, comes in at about 1100 watts per square meter.

    Which, in turn, is partly stored, and released, in the latent heats of evaporation and condensation.

    The numbers are enormous. Humans might, just might, be able to provoke the odd rainstorm — and only then if the conditions were nearly right for one in the first place.

    Other than that, weather modification is out of the question.

    Mr. Dornan:

    No single weather event and no particularly hot or cold year be chalked down to climate change but the overall trend is difficult to deny.

    According to the temperature chart, the overall trend started in 1900, and has continued, with two brief interruptions. The first, from 1940 t0 1980, and the second (possibly), starting a few years ago.

    Also, it is worth noting that the annual temperatures are measured as variation in degrees from some historical mean. Current temperatures are a little less above the mean then temperatures in 1900 were below the mean.

    Which raises these questions:

    1. When were the temperatures above the mean, in order to put the mean where it is?

    2. Those periods were not due to AGW. Why is this one?

  8. The public will be far more likely to take this issue seriously if it wasn’t for government trying to constantly wield the big stick, by using it as an excuse to raise taxes, that is what makes everyone a sceptic.

    The answer surely, is to engage with the public, educate, cajole and get their buy in. Anyone that has ever run a business knows only too well, that you should always try the carrot before employing the stick.

  9. I agree wholeheartedly with you premise UK Voter that we have to work realistically with people and focus on the positives. It is the only way.

    On the other hand we also need to start comprehending realistically the challenges that are facing us. If we let reality clobber us it will hurt much, much more–either us or our children, likely both. It is as you say a matter of being effective.

    If we can turn people’s attitudes around then there is no real reason why we can’t meet the challenges and be a lot happier for it. The idea that consumption, for its own sake, makes people happy is a dangerous delusion.

  10. I have completed some research and I understand that some £37bn a year is collected in ‘green taxes’. What I would like to know is how much is reinvested in renewables and energy saving measures. This is precisely my point, it is used as a revenue generator, which makes people resist, rather than embrace.

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