SCIENCE - IN PRAISE OF SCEPTICISM
praise of scepticism
doubt.” That tactic was how the spin doctors advised the fossil fuel
industry to deal with accusations about global warming. After all, that
line had kept the tobacco industry profitable for decades.
Hamilton highlights that scam in his latest offering, Scorcher, the Dirty Politics of Climate Change.
sub-title demonstrates how successful the dirty energy lobby has been.
Where they sowed doubt, Hamilton has harvested confusion.
phrase “climate change” is the prime instance of the want of
precision in controversies about the future of our planet.
against “climate change” makes as much sense as opposing the
earth’s going around the sun. Both are facts of life, and have been so
for millions of years. What is worth worrying about is whether human
activities are increasing the greenhouse effect, and to what effect.
folding of global warming into climate change violates a root of logic.
Junior school children can understand that while all dogs are animals,
not all animals are dogs. Why did Hamilton not maintain the distinction
between warming in particular and change in general?
seems that fashion has displaced rigour. Four weeks ago, the Australian
Conservation Foundation’s Monica Richter told an industry forum
“there is no doubting that climate change is the new black.”
my “doubts” about “climate change” arise from a style of arguing
that turns “sceptic” into a dirty word, akin to denier.
made hyperbolic doubt the basis for inquiry. Do not rely on authorities
or on common sense. Authorities such as the Bible claim that the sun
goes around the earth. That text is supported by our experience of
looking eastwards every morning. Both are wrong.
“climate change” acolytes do worse than rely on authorities. Doubt
anything they claim, and they intone back: “The vast majority of the
world’s scientists agree with … whatever’. The realities of nature
are not decided by majority opinion. Moreover, the majority of experts
have been wrongedy-wrongedy-wrong.
instance, Stephen Jay Gould recounted that, around 1960, his professors
told him to attend a lecture to laugh at a Geologist visiting from
Tasmania who proposed that continents drifted. Similarly, fifteen years
ago, papers showing that infections caused ulcers would not have won you
a Nobel Prize.
flip-side of appeals to authority has been a resort to ad
in 2004, the environmentalist David Bellamy flew in to oppose wind farms
and to doubt global warming. His critics dismissed their erstwhile hero
as a “one-man wind farm himself”. The ACF’s Don Henry suggested
that the visit “had more to do with theatre than with substance.”
needed lessons in humility from such masters of hyperbolic self-doubt as
David Suzuki, Tim Flannery, Jared Diamond and Clive Hamilton.
second line of defence against mumbo-jumbo is to recall that the
philosopher Karl Popper promoted falsifiability as essential to the
logic of scientific inquiry. He reasoned that any hypothesis which is so
structured as to be incapable of refutation is pseudo-science.
“Climate-Change” band trumpets all data about rising temperatures as
evidence to buttress their hypothesis. However, not so long ago they
were perplexed by inconvenient truths such as the occasional severe
winter. On the face of it, such cold snaps surely count against global
warming? This is where the “Extreme Event” comes in handy.
“Climate-Change” faithful now have the power to levitate above the
embarrassment of awkward evidence. To deal with exceptions, they have
conceived the metaphysical category of the “Extreme Event”. This
phrase does not refer to weather which has extreme consequences, such as
the past 48 hours in Victoria. The significance is altogether different.
The “Extreme Event” is a device for ruling out the very possibility
of contrary evidence and, thus, for denying the prospect of Popperian
“Climate Change” sophists proceed thus: the anthropogenically-enhanced
greenhouse effect does more than push up average temperatures. It also
increases instability. So, while a denser greenhouse mostly makes the
planet hotter/drier, it will also make it colder/wetter in some places
at certain times.
Janus outcome is indeed possible. Hence, to decide whether each event is
evidence for or against one or other of the current explanations for the
latest changes in climate, we need to specify causes. The devastation
from Hurricane Katrina was so extreme because of policies of US
governments. It is pseudo-science to attribute every hurricane or
blizzard to an amorphous “Climate Change”.
all swings in the weather are worshipped as manifestations of “Climate
Change”, that hypothesis is elevated above the realm of rational
enquiry. Its advocates have entered the domain of theology where all
outcomes - even the cruelest - are accepted as God’s working in his
mysterious ways to reveal his omnipotent Goodness.
seedbed seems passing strange. After all, the contemporary wave of
environmentalists arrived 40 years ago denouncing the view that
humankind had the right or the power to control the natural world. The
theologically-blighted put the blame on the injunction in Genesis
to subdue the earth. The philosophically ill-trained blamed Rene
Descartes for presenting animals as unfeeling machines. Cultural critics
trotted out industrialisation and even capitalism as highways down which
hubris had danced our species towards destruction.
ecologists pointed out that the notion of Progress had all gone
horrendously wrong. The advance of technology had led to the Holocaust
and to the prospect of thermo-nuclear annihilation. The poor had gotten
poorer while the wealth of nature had been plundered to the point where
resources such as water and air, not just oil, were running out.
picture had turned 19th-century anthropocentrism on its head.
Humankind still had the power to control nature for the worse but not
enough wisdom (of the Elders?) to protect the survival of its own
species. The fable of inevitable progress had been replaced by one of
outlook laid the basis for the welcome given to the “Climate Change”
hypothesis which is a particular version of how our species controls the
planet for the bad. The slender consolation was that humankind is still
the ecologists’s message was not all gloom. Humans were stuffing up
Gaia, but the redemptive power remained in our grasp. We had the chance
to turn away from doomsday. Thus did the third bout of anthropocentrism
sum, humans still have the power over nature that was assumed in the 19th
century. We have the power to redirect the patterns in nature –
climate. Our sins reveal the persistence of our power over nature. Now,
we have the chance to reassert that power for the good by changing our
mock faith in the conventional wisdom about “Climate Change” is thus
more offensive to its true believers than Creationism is Richard
Dawkins. The unstated assumption in the current catastrophic mentality
is that our species remains central to what happens on this planet. So,
cheer up. Our decisions still decide what happens to nature.
by the next Ice Age, will heirs to the devotees of “Climate Change”
want to nuke the encroaching glaciers?
Darwinian truth that we are the subjects of nature, as individuals and
as a species, is too demeaning to contemplate. The hardest truth is that
nature is indifferent to our dreams and our nightmares.