I don’t deny it.
OK, OK, I don’t deny it. I said there wouldn’t be another Sustainable Futures Report until Friday 14th February. That’s still true, although you’ve got this extra one for Friday 24th January. There’s just so much piling into my inbox that I have to do something about it.
I’m Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report.
First of all, let me welcome the newest Gold Patron of the Sustainable Futures Report, Victoria Covington. Victoria’s aim is to cut her carbon footprint by 45% this year and I hope she’ll keep us in touch with her progress.
This episode is about denial.
You’re fully aware that I don’t deny that climate change is an emergency, because I produce this podcast to make you aware of the problems as well as of the efforts being made to challenge them. I monitor newspapers and broadcast media to bring you reports, but could I be a victim of confirmation bias? Do I look only at the media that confirm my view that climate change is an emergency? Perhaps I should seek a balance and present an opposing view from time to time. The danger is that balance should not be confused with spurious balance, a trap that the BBC has fallen into in the past. If the science is settled, producing an opposing view is spurious balance.
No serious media outlet will today present a counter-argument to the scientific opinion that smoking causes serious diseases, nor will they attempt to deny that the UK has reached a dangerously high incidence of measles cases because some people choose to reject the evidence that vaccinations save lives. The BBC was forced to review its notion of balance after it was heavily criticised for presenting Lord Lawson as a climate expert when he misrepresented climate statistics and the position of UN scientists on climate change. He has no qualifications in the field.
There is no doubt that the challenges of climate change are serious and can be quite frightening for many people. There is every incentive for them to believe that the science is wrong and there is nothing they need to do about it. For this reason we see more and more denial on social media and mainstream media as well. A YouTube video popped up in my inbox recently, presumably because some search engine somewhere decided I would find it interesting. I did. I thought it was worth looking at in detail. It’s called
“What I wasn’t told about climate change with Luca Rossi.”
Here’s how it starts:
OK, you get the idea. Let’s look at the claims he makes.
Polar bear numbers up by 400% since 1950s
This may be true. Counting polar bears is incredibly difficult. According to the Royal Canadian Geographical Society there are 19 populations of polar bears spread across Russia, the US and mainly Canada. They migrate, which can make it difficult to avoid double counting. They are easier to spot on land than on the ice, so if melting ice is driving them ashore it may give the impression that numbers are increasing. Respected experts violently disagree: some believe that the polar bear is endangered and needs protection while others believe that rising population justifies increased hunting quotas. Some observers state that many bears look unhealthy and that there are fewer cubs than would normally be expected, leading to fears for the long-term survival of polar bears.
If polar bear numbers are increasing that must be good news, but it tells us very little about the effect of climate change across the world.
Water vapour is the most abundant greenhouse gas
Yes, we know that, we covered it in the Sustainable Futures Report a few episodes ago. It’s probably been the most abundant GHG through human history. And?
CO2 is only 0.04% of the earth’s atmosphere and only a fraction of that is caused by humans
Yes, we know that too. It reached about 415 ppm in 2019. That’s a very small concentration, but still enough to have a significant effect. Small things can have a significant effect. An aspirin tablet is probably a lot less than 0.04% of your body weight, but it can still affect your whole body.
Up until the Industrial Revolution some 250 years ago the concentration of CO2 remained around 280 ppm. It fluctuates with the seasons because when plants grow in the Spring they absorb CO2 and when they die off in the Autumn CO2 is released, but generally atmospheric CO2 was in equilibrium. Although man-made CO2 is a small proportion of the total, it is enough to upset that equilibrium. Nature is unable to absorb all of the extra CO2, even though much has been absorbed by the oceans. This in turn has caused acidification with consequences for all marine organisms, while the total concentration and the warming effect is increasing.
There have been multiple times in the earth’s history when CO2 levels were higher than now but temperatures were lower.
That may be so, but I haven’t been able to verify it. What is certainly true is that with one exception every year since 2000 has been hotter than the one before and CO2 in the atmosphere continues to increase. We surely should concentrate on the here and now rather than on what might have happened in the distant past.
It is said that 97% of scientists agree on climate change and the science is settled, says Rossi, but in fact there is no consensus and science is never settled
It’s an absolute truth that science is never settled, but there comes a point where the balance of probabilities is that a given hypothesis is true and it makes sense to rely on it. Rossi goes on to support his point: “Why wasn’t I told that….
In September 2019 500 scientists wrote to the UN declaring that there was no climate emergency
In September 2019 500 academics wrote to the UN declaring that there was no climate emergency. Many of them were not scientists and few were climate experts. The paper was strongly supported by Mark J Perry, described as a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “How can there be a consensus,” he asks, “when there’s a global network of more than 500 knowledgeable and experienced scientists and professionals in climate and related fields who challenge the “settled science”?”
On the other hand there were many in the scientific community who completely rejected the conclusions of the 500. Writing on skepticalscience.com, John Cook says, “The latest attack on global warming consensus comes from Dennis Avery and Fred Singer who claim to have found 500 peer reviewed papers refuting that the last few decades of global warming are primarily anthropogenic. Previous attempts to find peer reviewed skeptic studies tend to miscategorise as skeptic despite the intent of the author or indeed the content of the paper. Avery and Singer appear to carry on this tradition.”
Fred Singer is a well-known contrarian who has previously worked for the tobacco industry to dispute the science around tobacco-related diseases.
RealClimate.org, describing itself as a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists, says, “Most of the academics who signed the petition have no or little experience within climate research (check Google Scholar). Some of the signatures also have connections with political think tanks.
“The message of the declaration is the same that the contrarians have repeated over and over again – but repeating it doesn’t make it more true.” There follows a detailed deconstruction of the arguments in the paper.
Climate Feedback describes itself as “a worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in climate change media coverage. Our goal is to help readers know which news to trust.”
It reports that six scientists, including Professor Timothy Osborn, Director of Research, Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, analyzed the letter and estimated its overall scientific credibility to be ‘very low’. A majority of reviewers tagged the article as: Biased, Cherry-picking, Inaccurate, Misleading.
Luca Rossi has more, and I find this next question disturbing.
Why wasn’t I told that Global warming has not increased natural disasters and [that] measures to combat global warming will deny the life-giving benefits of electricity to many people?
I cannot begin to understand what he means by “measures to combat global warming will deny the life-giving benefits of electricity to many people”, but let’s look at the other part of his statement.
who is Luca Rossi
who’s asking all these questions? My first assumption was that he was American, but no, he represents Generation Liberty, an Australian organisation. More on that later.
So here is an Australian commentator publishing on 23rd December 2019 when much of eastern Australia was in flames (it still is), and claiming that global warming has not increased natural disasters. Of course the Australian government line is that fires happen every year and these have been caused by arson and poor forest management - much the same as the arguments put forward by President Trump during last year’s wildfires in California.
Even before this the climate debate in Australia has been long and heated. Prime Minister Scott Morrison was forced to cut short a family holiday in Hawaii while the fires burned at home. Fires not caused by climate change, but arguably worsened by climate-induced drought lasting more than a year. Scott Morrison was forced to admit that he had mishandled the crisis and when he visited some of the disaster sites the locals refused to shake his hand and chased him away. He claimed that Australia was well on its way to exceed its climate targets, although the UN strongly denies this.
Former PM writes
Writing in Time Magazine, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says, “Australia’s Bushfires Show the Wicked, Self-Destructive Idiocy of Climate Denialism Must Stop”.
“As Prime Minister,” he says, “I tried to ensure that our climate and energy policies were governed by engineering and economics, not ideology and idiocy. Tragically, the climate-denying political right in Australia has turned what should be a practical question of how to respond to a real physical threat into a matter of values or belief.”
Murdoch Press responds
An article in Murdoch-owned The Australian responded vitriolically. I’ve put a link on the website but unfortunately that article is now behind a paywall.
What is Generation Liberty?
But what is Generation Liberty that Luca Rossi represents? According to its website “Generation Liberty, a project of the Institute of Public Affairs, is dedicated to advancing the ideas of liberty and freedom on Australian university campuses.”
And the Institute of Public Affairs? It’s a pressure group based in Melbourne, Australia. Unlike many such organisations, it does reveal its source of funding. About half its income comes from Gina Rinehart, reputedly the wealthiest woman in Australia. Her money comes from Hancock Prospecting, a mineral exploration and extraction company.
In 2013 the IPA celebrated its 70th anniversary. Guests included Gina Rinehart, Rupert Murdoch, former pm Tony Abbott and Cardinal George Pell (yes, that cardinal.)
Rupert Murdoch is of course a well-known climate change denier, but this week son James Murdoch openly criticised his views. James is not part of the Murdoch Group management team at present, so don’t expect changes to editorial policy any time soon.
It’s about coal
Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal. It exports gas, too. What would restrictions on fossil fuels do to the country’s mining industry or to the economy at large? No wonder the IPA wants to change minds and PM Scott Morrison is keen to deny climate change, or at least to avoid doing anything effective about it.
This “Why wasn’t I told?” campaign is just one tiny example of misinformation spread to raise doubts about climate science. In this case it’s aimed at university campuses, at future voters, and potential opinion-formers, business people and politicians. Let’s hope they teach critical thinking in Australian universities.
Meanwhile, at Home
Closer to home, denialism has taken a sinister turn. The police issued a guide to terrorist organisations as part of the national Prevent campaign, designed to prevent radicalisation. Among organisations listed was XR, alongside ultra-right white supremacy and extreme jihadist groups. Understandably there was outcry, as Extinction Rebellion is fundamentally committed to non-violence. To align such a group with organisations whose stated aims include violence is to suggest that the expression of free speech is terrorism.
Initially the police responded by saying that they included the XR logo so that it could be distinguished from the other groups. I’ll believe that when they include the logos of the Conservative and Labour parties as well! I understand the guide has subsequently been with drawn for revision.
Not a Shock
Writing in The Guardian Mark O’Connell warns that pictures of the world on fire won’t shock us for much longer. It’s true that we get disaster fatigue, politics fatigue, news fatigue and so on until we just switch off. O’Connell goes further: “One thing that is often remarked about climate crisis,” he says, “is that the subject is characterised by a strange form of cognitive dissonance. You read about the melting ice caps, the rising temperatures, the mass extinctions, and you understand intellectually that something truly terrible is happening. It doesn’t feel like that on the nerve endings, though. On the nerve endings, it feels like an unseasonably warm day in January. But what is happening in Australia, and the images that are emerging from the fires, feels like a closing of the gap between the scientific evidence and the field of immediate perception.”
But will we do anything? He says, “…this would be a thing that would happen at the end of the world. People would point their phones at the fire in the sky, and they would send photos to their friends in other places. “This is what the apocalypse looks like here,” they would say. “How is it where you are?” There would be a great storm of content and engagement, and then there would be nothing at all.”
And my view?
The fires in Eastern Australia have turned the skies red, have loaded the air with pollution way in excess of safe levels, have killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of properties. The firefighters have rescued people from all over the danger areas and the Federal Government has set up a fund to support people who have lost their homes, their possessions, their jobs and businesses and in some cases their families.
Many other people who have lost their homes, their possessions, their jobs, businesses and their families in other countries have attempted to rebuild their lives in Australia. The Federal Government incarcerates those people indefinitely in concentration camps on remote islands like Nauru. We don’t like to talk about that sort of thing of course, either in Australia or elsewhere in developed nations. Maybe we too are in denial.
When much of Australia become uninhabitably hot, how many Australians fleeing the fires will we let into the UK?
And that’s it….
…for this unexpected edition of the Sustainable Futures Report. As planned. The next one will appear on Friday 14th February. Issues cramming the inbox include
- Sonos speakers and planned obsolescence
- Microsoft makes 'carbon negative' pledge
- Climate emergency: 2019 was second hottest year on record
- Asda trials refill points and bottle recycling in 'sustainability' store
- See a show and help save the planet as the West End turns green
- Sweden sees rare fall in air passengers, as flight-shaming takes off
- Quorn to be first major brand to introduce carbon labelling
- Why Irish data centre boom is complicating climate efforts
- Russia announces plan to ‘use the advantages’ of climate change
- Climate crisis linked to at least 15 $1bn-plus disasters in 2019
- Average CO2 emissions of cars sold in UK up for third year in row
- Bank of England chief Mark Carney issues climate change warning
…and so it goes on. There will be a lot more stories by the time I get round to writing. Not least of course, about the World Economic Forum currently meeting in Davos. Will they be more decisive than the delegates to COP25 in Madrid last month?
I’d like to thank you for listening and particularly thank my patrons, including new gold patron Victoria Covington, for your support. Apart from you, I get no sponsorship, subsidy or advertising, which gives me the editorial freedom to say what I like. I hope you like it. If you don’t, please tell me. If you do, please tell your friends about the Sustainable Futures Report.
That was an unexpected edition of the Sustainable Futures Report.
I’m Anthony Day.
I’ll be back on 14th February.
Attendees at IPA 70th celebration included:
- Gina Rinehart
- Rupert Murdoch
- Tony Abbott - then Liberal Opposition Leader
- George Pell - Australian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church (now a convicted child abuser)
James Murdoch's climate stance distances him from family empire
Pictures of the world on fire won’t shock us for much longer
(Luca Rossi claims he dismisses climate science as pseudo science. He does)