This episode of the podcast is a lecture given on a panel at York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies on January 28, 2016. The panel was on Environment, War, and Refugees, and the lecture was on Western policy and the war in Syria.
A friend asked me for my take on the hacked climate change emails. Before formulating my thoughts I went to realclimate.org to see if they had anything. They do… and it’s indispensable as usual.
I just published this answer to Cockburn, Rancourt, and Noble on ZNet. I hope it helps some people think about these things and sift the useful contributions from these writers from the very poor things they are doing in their writing on climate.
Two blogs ago I was expressing incredulity that the Dominion would provide a forum for climate denial in the form of Denis Rancourt, who has a good reputation as an activist but whose essays on the climate are preposterous. According to Rancourt’s blog, Rancourt has recently inspired sociologist and activist David Noble to tackle the climate issue in an essay that basically calls George Monbiot a dupe for his deference to politicized science. I find this all rather depressing. Rancourt and Noble’s anti-science arguments seem to me to leave people without any standard for evaluating arguments. I like science because the idea of science is that there is much about the world that can be understood, and that anyone can figure out how something works, it is a matter of time and effort. If it’s all politicized, then perhaps we can just cherry pick those scientific (or pseudoscientific) arguments that suit us and leave the rest. Certainly that is what Rancourt’s essay does, and that is also what Alexander Cockburn’s recent piece on the topic does – indeed, it relies on the same claims. Cockburn’s piece, like Rancourt’s, didn’t pass peer review at any (politicized) scientific journal, but it did get past the editors of ZNet, where I work. I did not think it should have, but I only saw it after the fact. In any case we asked George Monbiot to reply, which he did very effectively. So did some climate scientists, at the excellent site realclimate.org . It’s a bit of an embarrassment that long-discredited arguments are being trotted out by really respected leftists. I suppose it’s because it was Gore, rather than someone with a more decent record, who raised the profile of the issue. But this is one aspect of left behaviour I don’t agree with. It’s as if because the dems or the establishment say something, it’s automatically false. But I guess that’s a corollary of there being no factual matters and everything being political – no need to evaluate claims, if they’re coming from people with bad politics…
I just read (briefly) an interview with Denis Rancourt, a professor at the University of Ottawa who claims climate change is not happening and that talk of climate change serves oil companies. My quick reaction is that this is like Michael Deibert on Haiti or Irshad Manji on Israel/Palestine and terror – reactionary politics wrapped up in some thin progressive language to either dupe or confuse leftists who would otherwise be the most solid advocates of progress (or decent survival). It will take more looking into his work to know the details, but I find his explanation for lay people unconvincing:
“I argue that there is no reliable evidence that the global average Earth surface temperature has increased in recent decades. I argue this by making a critique of how such trends are extracted, inferred and extrapolated from incomplete and artifact-laden data. I explain melting glaciers and receding permafrost as more probably arising from radiative mechanisms, linked to particulate pollution, land use/cover changes, and solar variations, rather than global warming. And I argue that atmospheric CO2 does not control climate, but is at best a witness of global changes. These arguments are technical but I have tried to present them as simply and clearly as possible in the article.
Radiative mechanisms, land/use cover changes, and solar variations – rather than global warming? And that the ice isn’t melting because of increases in temperature? Science advances through counterintuitive results, but that doesn’t make counterintuitive results true.
“More importantly, I argue that the real threat (the most destructive force on the planet) is power-driven financiers and profit-driven corporations and their cartels backed by military might and that you cannot control a monster by asking it not to shit as much. I argue that non-democratic control of the economy and institutionalized exploitation of the Third World (and all workers) must be confronted directly if we are to install sanity.”
This is a nonsequitur. It gets into political strategy, and what he says here is partly obvious and partly dubious (since no one serious is really saying what he is arguing against), but in any case has nothing to do with climate change or his claims about why the ice sheets are melting or that the average temperature has not increased.
Monbiot’s book, Heat, opens with four questions:
1. Does the atmosphere contain carbon dioxide?
2. Does atmospheric carbon dioxide raise the average global temperature?
3. Will this influence be enhanced by the addition of more carbon dioxide?
4. Have human activities led to a net emission of carbon dioxide?
To get the answers they have liked to these questions, the denial industry has had to pay PR people to falsify scientific claims to set progress back a decade. Now someone like Rancourt comes along and answers them negatively, dismissing climate scientists as “political” and “consensus-driven” but from the left, instead of from the right. I suppose the timing was ripe for something like this, but I truly hope that people do not get fooled.