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CLIMATE “AGNOSTICISM”? November 8, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, CLIMATE CHANGE.
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It is evident that  guru, John Howard, and his disciple, Tony Abbott, and the the government he leads,  are in denial concerning climate change.

This state of affairs, as illustrated by John Howard’s recent address to a like-minded audience in London, might be most accurately described as  a form of willful ignorance.  For all of us, individually and collectively, such ignorance can be a precursor to disaster, or a significant failure to manage outcomes, to take the appropriate and timely actions informed with strategic foresight. The “vision thing” is the measure of leadership, and modern societies may be more vulnerable to stupidity than we would normally might suppose. Global problems require coherent informed action.

John Howard  declared “One Religion is Enough“. He asserts that climate”alarmism” is a form of “substitute religion”.  Perhaps this concept can be defined and identified. This critique, I believe, possibility framed an ideological reaction to the “other”. The idea that a sole religion, understood as an organization of systematic belief and story telling, is a view shared by many who find that others have different cultural frameworks and experience. There are two things to be noted. Firstly, who is to claim unilaterally that one story is superior to others, and secondly we live in world created by the violence of imposition of cultural practice, without regard to what was lost and the consequences for those cultures were different. Hence for example, the death of languages and species. That evidence can often be met with indifference.

John Howard has not considered  how the dominant cultural paradigms are framed, and they can be changed, as they must be, by changes in technology and social circumstances. Carl Sagan suggested that religion in its etymological meaning was to bind back into the Cosmos. In that sense environmentalism might be understood as a re-appreciation of the inter-relationships and interactions of the ecosystem and the re-evaluation and discovery of the non-human and human agency in that matrix. Energy flows through the system with its implications for life, growth and perhaps, making a large assumption, consciousness. The eco-system may be understood in spiritual and scientific terms, which define who human beings are and why they are. As Carl Sagan pointed out all the basic material elements are linked to the Cosmos and the energy has its’ origin in the solar fusion of helium and hydrogen and the irradiation of light and heat.

John Howard does not want to go this far. He has his formal religion, whatever that may be. He declares:

I chose the lecture’s title largely in reaction to the sanctimonious tone employed by so many of those who advocate quite substantial, and costly responses to what they see as irrefutable evidence that the world’s climate faces catastrophe, against people who do not share their view. To them the cause has become a substitute religion.

Increasingly, offensive language is used. The most egregious example has the term “denier” We are all aware the particular meaning the word has acquired in contemporary parlance. It has been employed in this debate with some malice aforethought.

This is an interesting inversion. Climate Change is no longer about the evidence and the science but about the language. John Howard is right to point out that linguistically their is a connection of “Holocuast Denier” and “Climate Change Denier”. Their is a parallel in fact.

Of course we are not to forget it is a “debate”, much like, perhaps the argument in a court is a debate between the prosecution and the defence. In such debates we do not know the probability of the false positives and the false negatives, nor the true positives and true negatives winning. Perhaps Science might operate differently, and more transparently.

As could be expected, John Howard quotes the noted Climate Change denier, and one of the few of any stature:

An overriding feature of the debate is the constant attempt to intimidate policy makers, in some cases successfully with the mantras of “follow the science” and the science is truly settled. The purpose is to create the impression that there is really no room for argument; this is not really a public policy issue, it is one on which the experts have spoken,and we would all be quite daft to do other than follow the prescriptions, it is asserted, which flow automatically from the scientific findings.

Writing recently in Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Dr Richard S Lindzen, Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of those with political agendas who found it useful to employ science, “This immediately involves a distortion of science at a very basic level namely science becomes a source of authority rather than a mode of inquiry. The real utility of science stems from the latter, the political utility stems from the former.”

Dr Lindzen is expressing an opinion about physical science and what might be called political science. It is an opinion to be investigated rather than quoted. Case studies might be considered. For example, the science and politics surrounding the development of Hydrogen Bombs and the decisions to unleash two successive bombs against civilian and military targets in Japan, the 1987 Montreal Protocol concerning the release of CFC and atmospheric Ozone depletion, and perhaps even the long running “controversy” concerning tobacco smoking and cancer.

For some time, unknown apparently to John Howard, Dr Lindzen has been having some problem getting his hypothesis published in the relevant scientific journals.

John Howard assumes comedic status. He argues:

Scientists are experts in science. Judges are experts in interpreting the law, and doctors are skilled at keeping us healthy provided we take their advice. But parliaments composed on elected politicians are experts at public policy making, and neither expressly or impliedly should they ever surrender their role to others.

This is an argument rife with conceptual confusion and comedy.  Some doctors might take exception to not been included as scientists and with the exception made for medical science. I know a few such doctors, who are not general practitioners,important as those members of the medical fraternity and sorority are.

Scientists are active practitioners of the scientific method, who are specialized into particular fields of inquiry. Common Law judges are not formally trained, except by their experience in the court system, but are appointed by politicians, often in the case of the highest courts to return the right decisions. It is remarkable how quickly a learned judgment can be overturned, as happened in the NDAA case, Hedges v Obama.

Politicians are elected officials who argue and vote on policy, but only in rare instances create the written legislation, otherwise what do parliamentary draftspeople do?  Often the voting is along party lines John Howard knows the truth of this, and has another purpose.

The essence of the Howard argument.

Global warming is a quintessential public policy issue. Understanding the science is crucial; so is understanding the economics; so is understanding that as public monies are involved rent seekers are thick on the ground.

The McKinsey Global Population Report forecasts that an additional 2.2 billion middle class consumers will be created within 20 years.

In the past five years the dynamic of the debate has moved towards a more balanced and questioning approach.

1. The GFC brought into question the value of spending on costly alternative energy.
2. The failure of Copenhagen. It is unlikely that the US let alone the major players such as China and India will ever agree to a cap on carbon emissions.
3. The University of East Anglia emails, the report on Himilayan glaciers and Quotes Ottmar Edenhoper as the Co-Chairman of the 2007 Working Group 111. Dr Edenhoper is an economist not a climate scientist. He also said recently:

“Denying out-and-out that climate change is a problem to humanity, as some cynics do, is an unethical, unacceptable position.”

Repeating contentions that have been fully refuted, puts Howard in the Contrarian camp.

4. And the most recent IPCC Report has produced a grudging admission that the warming process has been at a standstill for the past 15 years. But we are assured that is only temporary.

5. And yet another statement to illustrate that John Howard simply does not comprehend the science of climate change, even at an elementary level relating to increased carbon emissions and the role that Carbon Dioxide plays as an thermostat in climate in relation to other greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide, ozone, and methane, along with levels  of water vapour and cloud formation, including factoring aerosols, and as evidenced by comparison with the paleoclimate record going back over 800, 000 years. This  does not take into account effect of greenhouse gases trapping energy and the consequent  energy imbalance.  John Howard in effect chooses to believer what he wishes.He does not engage the scientific evidence and asserts:

Importantly, as always, technology has altered the parameters of the debate. The extraction of oil and gas from shale has had a huge impact on the US energy scene. Gas is cheaper than coal, and natural gas emits 45% less carbon dioxide than coal, and costs much less than currently available wind and solar power. In 2012 US emissions of carbon dioxide dropped to their lowest level in 20 years, 14% below their peak in 2007. I am sure I do not need to remind a British audience of the potential benefits of shale exploitation in this country.

6. The Club of Rome Report was wrong. So expert opinion is always wrong, or rather cannot foresee technological innovation.

John Howard sees his position as an agnostic standing in opposition to irrational zealots:

I have always been something of an agnostic on global warming. I have never rejected, totally, the multiple expressions of concern from many eminent scientists, but the history of mankind has told me of his infinite capacity to adapt to the changing circumstances of the environment in which he lives. Most in this room with recall the apocalyptic warnings of the Club of Rome, more than 40 years ago. They were experts; they predicted that the world would run out of resources to sustain itself. They were wrong. Tragically food shortages still occur but sadly many, although not all of them, result from tyrants using starvation as a political weapon.

Australia is a resource rich country. Just as two years ago Canadians gave majority government to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who were pledged to a sensible use of its resources, so Australians have now elected a government with a pragmatic attitude on global warming, and a determination to treat our great mining industry as a prized asset. The high tide of public support for over-zealous action on global warming has passed. My suspicion is that most people in countries like ours have settled into a state of sustained agnosticism on the issue. Of course the climate is changing. It always has. There are mixed views not only about how sustained that warming is – seemingly it has not warmed for the last 15 years, and also the relative contributions of mankind and natural causes. The views are anything but mixed about the soaring cost of electricity bills, with a growing consciousness that large subsidies are being paid for the production of renewable energy, with this having an increasingly heavy burden on low income earners.

As public opinion has turned, the more zealous advocates of action on global warming have sought to establish an automatic link between it and particular weather events. As many of you will know two weeks ago NSW had severe bushfires which destroyed more than 200 homes on the lower Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. Those fires were subdued by the magnificent efforts of our firefighters, including our new PM Tony Abbott who unobtrusively joined his local volunteer fire brigade’s contribution to the effort. He has been a volunteer fire fighter for years.

Led by Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, an attempt was made, by what can only be described as alarmists, to exploit these fires for the purposes of the global warming debate. She said the fires were an example of the “doom and gloom” the world may be facing without vigorous action on climate change”. They proved, she claimed, that the world was “already paying the price of carbon.” Although she did try to have an each way bet by saying that a link between global warming and the NSW bushfires had not been established “yet”.

The PM rejected the link. Then an even bigger gun was brought to bear. The former US Vice-President, Al Gore was interviewed on the ABC’s flagship current affairs programme. He said there was no doubt about the direct link. According to him Abbott was wrong.

With exquisite timing, which I am sure was accidental, the following night the ABC commenced running a three part series on the Art of Australia. One of the paintings featured was William Strutt’s iconic “Black Thursday”. With impressive detail it depicts a huge bushfire in Victoria, which burnt out a quarter of the land mass of that State, destroyed one million sheep, and killed 12 people.

According to the program’s narrator, press reports at the time said that the fire was so intense that burning embers from it fell on a ship some twenty miles out to sea. That fire occurred in 1851, 163 years ago, during a period, so we are told, when the planet was not experiencing any global warming. You might well describe all of this as an inconvenient truth.

And so it goes. There is an economic and political dimension to climate change, but it seems clear that the current Australian Federal Government will ignore the issue. The case can be made that this political myopia and willful ignorance. While the costs globally to reduce carbon emissions they may seem very high, thanks to the reference to McKinsey they are possible. The priorities are backward. Nonetheless, John Howard, their mentor, gives an insight into a worldview that cannot accept reality. In Bill McGibbon’s terms they are “planet wreckers”.

Peter Sinclair (obviously part of the conspiracy) summarizes the case for Climate Change:

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