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Investigating the Mentality of Climate Change Sceptics

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Climate change scepticism seems to be enjoying more time in the sun recently. First the recession rather got in the way of the generosity of many that was wonderfully fashionable during the good times; secondly came the hopelessly named ‘Climategate’ scandal over leaked emails from the University of East Anglia, showing that, astonishingly, not all scientists might have thoroughly neutral opinions on this subject.

The message behind this recent surge in scepticism tediously predictable: it’s easy to think of others when the going is easy, and it’s useful to have a scapegoat when the going is tough. None of this has actually led to anything remotely resembling logical thinking among ‘sceptics’, however.

The idea among Climate change sceptics appears to be that of obfuscation rather than actual refutation. Increasing emissions, let alone existing levels, do not matter, we are told, for other things cause climate change. Sunspots. Volcanoes. Population increase. Whatever the new, trendy thing to emerge as a possible influential factor in climate change, it is far more responsible than we could ever be, we are told. Or, alternately, ‘Global Warming is good for us’.  I even saw one who went so far as to claim that the more carbon we emitted, the better off the environment would be; the only response I could think of being “that’s convenient”.

I have to wonder whether anyone has considered that it is unlikely that environmental science was ever so narrow as to only accommodate study of a single factor. I have to admit that my area of study is not in Climateology, Geophysics or indeed any science that might cover this topic, but I’m willing to guess (I never bet) that students of these do not spend day one till the end of their courses plotting graphs of human emissions against temperature rises and sending partisan emails off to one another. I do imagine that a large degree of consideration of all influential factors is involved — and I think it’s rather insulting to imagine otherwise.

But rather than dwell on this, I’d like to focus on the three assumptions that lie at the heart of Sceptic obfuscation, if I may, and demonstrate why it is utterly inadequate as refutation.

Firstly: That because of natural trends, an increased human carbon footprint does not matter.

I think that this is trendy (ha, ha) at the moment largely because of a slight recent so-called “period of cooling” (starting, helpfully, from one of the hottest years on record). If the planet is cooling, we are told, it is a good thing that we emit more carbon, not a bad thing.

I think what this shows climate sceptics (of this variety) to be is actually geo-engineering advocates. Since this is normally associated with tackling climate change, and one arm of the Green party, I find this rather amusing. Doubtless, if there was irrefutable evidence that the last ten years had shown consistent temperature growth, Climate sceptics would be just as happy to advocate cutting carbon emissions.

But this hypocrisy aside, I think it unlikely to be a sound assumption. Climate sceptics (of a slightly different variety) always hark on about natural trends, but for some reason never seem to consider the dangerous implications of tampering with them. It is ironic that climate scepticism often goes hand in hand with the political side of the spectrum that always argues tampering with the free market to a Very Dangerous Thing. Simply because the planet goes through cycles of cooling and warming does not mean that our contribution has no net effect. Even if the projected model of Global Warming is incorrect, it does not automatically follow that our impact on the planet is a good one.

This leads me on to the second assumption at the heard of climate scepticism. This is, believe it or not, even more absurd, and far simpler to state, that “waste that results in growth never has consequences we’re unable to deal with”.

I would ask whether history is on the side of climate sceptics:

Even the most advanced student of climate scepticism can hardly deny the damaging effects of waste throughout history. When we burnt coal on an industrial scale, it caused smogs. When we dump toxic waste, a la Trafigura, it causes illness, and yes, death too. When we dump ordinary, household rubbish, it often poisons the landscape and any who are unfortunate to live in it. Yet for some reason, carbon emissions are magic, able to evade the normal consequences that come with the emission of excessive waste, and having no bad consequences whatsoever.

Imagine for a moment that this is not the case. Do we really want to take the risk? Do we really want to happily wait for another disaster, on a far greater level than the smogs, or the consequences of localised waste, to hit us? Yet it seems that to CCSs (Climate Change Sceptics, not Carbon Capture and Storage) until disaster is actually present in the full, then it is not waste, but rather a necessary by-product of economic growth. This leads me on to the third, and most dangerous, assumption at the heart of climate scepticism ,that consumption is only ever a good thing.

This is rather damaged by the arguments against the preceding assumption, but this is the more dangerous, because it appears more logical to our economy, and holds greater weight with people, particularly in a time of recession. However, it does not make the slightest bit of sense on an ecological level. If you over-consume a natural resource, it will have, and always has had, a hugely damaging impact later down the line. If we hunt an animal too much, it will lead to shortages further down the line, as there are insufficient numbers to reproduce to the same level as before. When we over-farm the soil, it becomes unusable. If we use a fuel faster than it is naturally produced, then we set up a future crisis. It is amazing that we still have not learnt this lesson, given that it is one of the oldest ones around.

But at the end of the day, it is not surprising that these assumptions are still present. They all share one common motivating factor: greed. It is not just denial that is addictive, but greed. Denial is simply a phenomenon which is fueled by greed, and cast aside once it is of no more use. Bremner, Bird and Fortune pointed out that the tipping point for the recent economic crash was “when there was more fear than greed, as opposed to more greed than fear”. A similar tipping point will approach for climate change — the trouble is that by this stage, it is often too late to reverse much of the damage caused.

  1. With reference to global warming which unfortunately so long as governments are considering Cap and Trade and CO2 taxes is still with us.

    Incidently it is a serious error and tantemount to being a porky to say that the proposed solutions to global warming have little cost.

    CO2 emission reductions as proposed, I believe, will precipitate the biggest economic meltdown in history. This means in real terms, more world poverty, high prices, world unemployment and definitely starvation where we havent seen it before.

    There might be global warming or cooling but the important issue is whether we, as a human race, can do anything about it.

    There are a host of porkies and not very much truth barraging us everyday so its difficult to know what to believe.

    So why not check out my mentality? Unfortunately it is based on some very serious facts.

    I think I have simplified the issue in an entertaining way on my blog which includes some issues connected with climategate and “embarrassing” evidence.

    In the pipeline is an analysis of the economic effects of the proposed emission reductions. Watch this space or should I say Blog

    Please feel welcome to visit and leave a comment.



    PS The term “porky” is listed in the Australian Dictionary of Slang.( So I’m told.)

  2. “CO2 emission reductions as proposed, I believe, will precipitate the biggest economic meltdown in history.”


    Whenever previously required to innovate and reduce waste, industries have managed. Cap and trade has proven an effective policy in the past in the United States for reducint emmissions of Sulfur dioxide. The problem is, at the moment, that there is no market mechanism for them to do so, as the incentives lie very much in averting long-term future effects rather than present ones.

    It is not unfeasible to seek economic gain through environmental reform. Waste comes, ultimately, at a cost, and if ways have to be found of reducing it it is entirely possible for industries to turn this into a productive practice.

    You don’t appear to have linked to your blog, so I can’t address your arguments on there.

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