From Our Aussie Correspondent

More from our intrepid Aussie reporter Georgia Lewis as she chronicles Australia’s recent attempts to win the World’s Dumbest Nation award.

I’ve just come back from three weeks in my home country of Australia – and it was a time of friends, family, beer, beaches, more rain than you might expect, a road trip, a lot of seafood and, in between the merriment, there were plenty of morons to watch. Here is a handpicked selection from Federal politics.

The obvious moron to watch is Tony Abbott, the newly elected Prime Minister and leader of the conservative Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is in power in coalition with the National Party, a right-leaning party that focuses on rural interests. At least this coalition makes ideological sense, unlike the shambolic Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition but a car crash has ensued since the election.

In the space of three months, he has presided over Australia-Indonesia relations reaching a new low over spying allegations, a Burmese asylum seeker from the seriously persecutedRohingya minority getting sent back to a detention centre four days after giving birth to a sick baby by c-section (Abbott is meant to be the pro-family, pro-motherhood, prolife Prime Minister…), a policy to buy boats of people smugglers resulting in no boats being bought from people smugglers, a revolt by state governments of all political stripes over a broken promise on school education funding, an Australian government no-show at COP19, the United Nation’s annual climate change summit, and the giving of gun boats to the human rights-abusing Sri Lankan government at CHOGM.

But obviously Abbott isn’t doing all this by himself. He is being ably assisted in these endeavours by the likes of foreign minister, Julie Bishop (the only woman in his cabinet), his Gove-like education minister Christopher Pyne, and Bronwyn Bishop, the new Speaker of the House of Representatives (the Aussie equivalent of the House of Commons) who has busied herself setting new standards in bias. It’s brilliant!

Now, about these spying allegations… The Australian government has probably been snooping on Indonesia well before Abbott was the PM. But the problem is that now Australia has been busted, the diplomacy by Abbott and Julie Bishop has been pitiful. In this instance, a humble apology by Abbott probably wouldn’t have led to Australia cutting back on its surveillance (please let us not be naive here…), but here’s the thing about diplomacy – it stops countries bombing the crap out of each other and it is important for maintaining trade relations, which any you’d think a capitalism-loving government would be keen to do.

Instead, we have an embarrassing regional spat. As a result, Indonesia is not really keen to help Abbott with his “STOP THE BOATS!” policy on asylum seekers arriving by sea. FYI it’s a policy that is basically a load of shouty, vote-grabbing rhetoric. And none of this nonsense does a damn thing to stop people smugglers, or to improve the lives of people who do take desperate measures to get away from awful situations (such as the Burmese woman who had a c-section and is now back in detention…), or to solve the problem of people who arrive in Australia illegally by plane, or the thousands of British and American people who are in Australia illegally and far outnumber asylum seekers from Afghanistan.

The Australian no-show at this year’s COP19 climate change conference in Warsaw was also pretty special. Admittedly, it was probably a tad excessive of Kevin Rudd, the former PM, to send 114 people to last year’s COP18 in Qatar in taxpayer expense. But to send nobody was pretty moronic on Abbott’s part.

Having been to COP17 and COP18 in the line of duty, I can indeed confirm that there is much hot air generated in terms of endless discussions on climate change and emissions targets. But if you want your country to have a say in agreements that have far-reaching implications for business, the economy and industry, it’s wise to send someone along. Hell, if Abbott stands by his climate change-denying views, what better place for him to try and convince the world to come around to his way of thinking than at an international forum?

But Abbott’s idea is being part of the international community is to attend CHOGM without questioning the human rights record of the host country, Sri Lanka, and giving them a couple of boats at a cost to the Australian taxpayer of $2 million to help them prevent people from leaving a frequently terrible regime.

But moronic behaviour is not reserved for the government. Kevin Rudd, as the losing PM in the last election, has decided to quit politics. He won his seat in the election so he could always try representing his constituents with dedication and dignity for this current parliamentary term. But he has thrown his toys out of the pram and now the people in his seat will have to go back to the polls for a by-election at further taxpayer expense.

Sigh… I’ve barely scratched the surface of Australian political morons. I am reserving judgement on whether billionaire Clive Palmer will be a moron MP until he actually says a bit more in the House. Then there is Gina Rinehart, the mining billionairess, who may as well be in Parliament for the influence she is currently wielding. And billionaire James Packer who has plans to build a high rollers’ casino in exchange for a $60 million “arts gift” for Sydney and the promise that it will not degenerate into yet another low-rent gambling venue full of poker machines…

Meanwhile, in overgoverned Australia, there are always morons to watch at state and local government level, there is all the fun of successive governments having no idea how to sort out public transport in Sydney, corrupt councils and nanny state road signs. Then again, I have come back to Britain and it’s moronic business as usual in the House of Commons here too.

10 Questions For Climate Change Deniers

Lord Monckton, leading climate change denier
Lord Monckton, leading climate change denier

Debating climate change deniers is generally about as useful as debating young-Earth creationists. They have no evidence on their side, but that doesn’t seem to worry them in the slightest. Given that these people managed to go through school without picking up even a modicum of scientific theory, it seems pointless trying to lecture them.

So instead, this is an invitation to climate change deniers to make their case right here. Here are 10 questions for deniers to answer in the comments section of this blog. Feel free to answer any or all of the questions below. The best answers (assuming there are any) will be published in a follow-up post, fully credited and fairly presented.

Please note that comments should not be added in crayon.

  1. Picture question: Look at the picture of Lord Monckton above. Would you buy a used car from this man?
  2. If there is a “scientific debate” why do only 24 out of 13,950 peer-reviewed papers (that’s 0.17%) dispute man-made climate change?
  3. If there is “science on both sides”, why do billionaires secretly have to throw hundreds of millions of dollars into denialist propaganda?
  4. Why are there no climate scientists as spokesmen for the denial side? (Name one to prove this assertion wrong).
  5. Why does leading “denialist” spokesman Lord Monckton have to tell lies if the facts are on his side?
  6. Why do you not believe climate scientists about present warming, but believe them when they say the climate changed in the past?
  7. Who knows most about the climate? a) Climate scientists, b) Economists, c) Oil companies, d) Michele Bachmann?
  8. The greenhouse effect, caused by carbon dioxide, is explained by basic Physics and can be easily demonstrated in the lab. Do you still deny this even after watching the short, simple video? a) No, I admit defeat b) What’s a lab?
  9. Carbon dioxide has increased by 40% since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Is this a) A lot, b) Not a lot?
  10. Look at yourself in a mirror. Does that look like a person who can grasp scientific concepts? a) Yes, b) No, c) I can’t read – I’ve no idea how I got this far through the post.

“But The Climate Has Always Been Changing”

2000 Year Temperatures (courtesy Wikipedia)
2000 Year Temperatures (courtesy Wikipedia)

One of my “fans” on Twitter is a fairly deluded Republican known as @gopthinking (I do try to maintain a level of objectivity here – if you feel that “fairly deluded” doesn’t sound objective, I invite you to read his timeline). If I admire @gopthinking at all, it is for a) his tenacity, and refusal to back down from insane positions in the face of mere facts, and b) the fact that he does engage, and has never blocked me. This second point is a serious one – I do respect those who allow themselves to hear alternative viewpoints, even if (as in this case) they seem incapable of comprehending them.

So, this week, we returned to discussion of a favourite MoronWatch topic: climate change. Mr (I’m assuming he’s a he) @gopthinking produced the following “facts”:

  1. The temperature on Mars is changing in line with that on Earth.
  2. The global climate has “only” warmed by one degree Celsius.
  3. A Nordic farm has been found buried under a glacier in Greenland.

Point 1) ranks high among the moronic “facts” that I encounter daily. The main question it raises for me (other than WTF?!) is “How do you know?”; given that many climate change skeptics claim it’s impossible to accurately measure the average global temperature on Earth, despite us living here n all, it’s a surprise to find they can accurately measure Mars’s average global temperature. Moving on…

Point 2) is an acceptance that we have recently seen a global rise in temperature. While running your bath one degree warmer than usual is unlikely to significantly change your life, one degree on average, globally, is a pretty big deal. Add to that, that the people who predicted this rise are predicting a rise of four degrees or more by the end of this century, and that models show this will make it difficult or impossible to sustain the current human population, and one degree looks significant. But it’s the next point that’s of most interest.

Point 3) is about a farm, built by Norse settlers in Greenland and subsequently abandoned and covered with glacial ice. By chance, I recently read the book Collapse by Jared Diamond, looking at why some societies “choose to” collapse while other don’t, and whether our societies today are heading for collapse (if you haven’t encountered Diamond before, I’d recommend all his books, starting with Guns, Germs and Steel). Among the collapsed societies he examines is the Norse colony on Greenland, which lasted from around 1000AD for five centuries before vanishing. The Norse colony died off for a number of reasons; its existence had always been marginal, and was supported by trade with mainland Scandinavia. But perhaps the killer blow was that the climate cooled, as the Medieval Warm Period gave way to the Little Ice Age.

It’s at this point in the discussion that climate morons get excited and declare victory. “You see!” they yell, “The climate has ALWAYS been changing!!” This argument is impossible to deal with on Twitter, because it contains misunderstandings at so many levels. At its core, this idea lacks any logical basis at all; it’s one of the most moronic examples of thinking in modern political discourse. It’s equivalent to a murderer denying that he shot someone by saying: “But look – people die every day! Someone was run over by a bus only this morning! So how can you blame ME for that corpse in my living room with its face missing?”

Yes, the climate has always been changing; that doesn’t constitute proof that we’re not changing it now. All it demonstrates is that the climate is a delicate and complicated thing, and probably shouldn’t be fucked with.

Regarding the buried farms: the Norse had the luck (good or bad) to settle Greenland when temperatures in the North Atlantic (not globally) had pushed slightly upwards, making survival there a little less marginal. Three centuries later, and temperatures started to fall again; at the same time, other factors also turned against the Norse settlers – in particular, their valuable exports of walrus ivory had found new competition from African elephant ivory. Their settlements became unviable, and they died or left.

And, by the way, the Medieval Warm Period wasn’t that warm; it was cooler than temperatures are today, and far cooler than they will be in a few decades. Yes, the climate has always been changing; but it has never changed so drastically during the short time (10,000 years or so) that human civilisation has existed. We rely for our delicate existence on a whole series of factors, primarily that we can produce enough carbohydrates and protein to feed a population of seven billion (and that’s projected to reach ten billion soon). Climate change factors that we are seeing today already challenge our ability to maintain existing food production levels. We saw, when Bush began his moronic experiment with turning food into biofuel, that even a small impact on food production causes big impacts on human societies. The idea that we can rest easy, because 800 years ago it got a little colder in Greenland, is a masterpiece of wishful thinking.

Top Morons Of 2012

Print2012… what a moronic year it’s been! This blog is now over two years old, and despite warnings from some that my base may be eroded by improving education and the global spread of information, worldwide moronic activity shows no sign of peaking. So attempting a comprehensive round-up of moronic events has proven to be way beyond my capabilities. Instead, here’s a selection of my favourite moments from the year. Feel free to add yours in the comments section.

A big Thank You to those of you who read this blog, follow me on Twitter or listen to my podcasts. There’s plenty more to come in 2013, including – watch this space – MoronWatch: The Book! Please subscribe to my mailing list to make sure you catch all the news.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present my moron selections for 2012! Spoiler for lazy people: my moron of the year is nominated at the end of this article.

GOP Madness: I’ve tried my best to maintain a global view, but as ever, the US has managed to punch above its weight, thanks in large part to the Republican Party. The Republicans have become MoronWatch favourites by adopting an unusual electoral strategy: represent only the interests of billionaires. This isn’t a sure-fire way to win elections, as billionaires represent somewhat less than 0.01% of the US population. To make up the difference, the Republicans have embraced a diverse selection of moronic policies to attract the votes of nut-jobs ranging from creationists to lovers of hi-tech weaponry to good old-fashioned racists, and pretty much anyone with an IQ below 70. This is a fairly unruly group to control, which meant that no electable person could be selected to run for President in this year’s elections. The result of that was that Mitt Romney was chosen, because he was the candidate that fewest Republicans hated (though few of them actually seemed to like him). And the result of that was that Barack Obama was cleanly elected to serve a second term. Special mentions must go to the crazies who failed to become Republican candidates, but provided me endless entertainment, including: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and perhaps the greatest moron of them all, Rick Santorum. Only the absence of Sarah Palin, who in her endless search for media attention endlessly hinted that she might run, detracted from an otherwise top-rank moron line-up.

Slutgate: Right-wing moron-jock Rush Limbaugh was outraged in March that contraception advocate Sandra Fluke, could dare call for public funding to be put into making contraception more easily available. So outraged, that he labelled her a slut; and then since that clearly wasn’t extreme enough, he also called her a prostitute (reasoning that, if the public were paying for her pills, she was basically being paid to have sex).

Invisible Children: Kind-but-gullible people were convinced by Kony 2012, a viral video campaign, to donate to a non-profit organisation, Invisible Children, that was “raising awareness” about the horrendous Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. The video, however, was deeply inaccurate, was pushing for US military involvement, and didn’t make clear that the campaign’s devil-figure, Joseph Kony, had already been chased out of Uganda. Furthermore, the video presented a complex situation as a simple good-vs-evil one, failing to point out the rapes and other human rights abuses of the “good guys”, Uganda’s moron President Museveni and his army. But it worked, and raised millions for a dubious cause. Some of these millions were apparently put to good use by the group’s leader Jason Russell, who, just after the campaign peaked, was found naked in the street, masturbating and pounding his fists on the pavement. He later said his mind had “betrayed him”. I guess a few million dollars buys a lot of… “mind betrayal”.

Panicky in the UK: British fuel tanker drivers made a strike threat in Spring. Government ministers tried to win the propaganda battle against them… by warning of coming fuel shortages, and telling people to fill up their tanks, just in case. Francis Maude went even further, telling people to fill up jerrycans and keep them at home in their garages (presumably forgetting that widespread amateur storage of flammable substances may be considered a fire risk). British morons like nothing better than a good panic-buying spree, and quickly long queues developed at petrol stations around the country, with some suppliers running dry.

Tennessee Gateway Sex: It seems that runaway rates of Christian belief in Tennessee have failed to prevent runaway rates of teenage pregnancy (strange – how can you get pregnant while you’re praying?) – so the state legislature passed a bill banning the “promotion of gateway sexual activity” by teachers. The bill was strangely lacking in detail, raising the concern that teachers may be sued for allowing kids to hug or hold hands.

Carolina Warming Denial: With global CO2 emissions reaching new records, it’s looking increasingly likely that the targets set 15 years ago in Kyoto will be missed by a mile. Scientists are despondent about staying within the “safe” warming target of two degrees centigrade by 2100. It’s even increasingly likely that the unthinkable “human civilisation might collapse” target of four degrees may be breached. Brave Republican lawmakers in North Carolina, a coastal US state that may see huge costs from sea level rise, seem to have found a solution: they outlawed the use of scientific projections that predict sea-level rising due to climate change. Now, let’s just hope that the global climate respects North Carolina law.

Lock Up The Gays: Staying in North Carolina, Pastor Charles Worley thinks he’s found a sensible way to deal with the “lesbians and queers”: lock them up behind an electric fence and wait for them to die. That would work.

South Carolina Rape Victims Don’t Matter: While the Republicans fight tooth and nail to maintain tax cuts for the wealthy, Nikki Haley, the Governor of South Carolina, vetoed $450,000 of spending to help rape and sexual assault victims, explaining that this money went only to help a small minority of people in the state. Apparently rape is only an issue when above 50% of the population have fallen victim.

Israel’s “Infiltrators”: Israel’s drift to racist nationalism gained global attention when mobs turned on African immigrants and their businesses. The politicians, including Israel’s moron leader, Netanyahu, just stoked the anger, and said that African “infiltrators” would be sent home. The irony of Nazi-style language and tactics being used in Israel was apparently lost on many Israelis.

Boy Band Jihadis: top British boy band One Direction ruffled the feathers of right-wing moron blogger Debbie Schlussel when Muslim band member Zayn Malik tweeted about Ramadan. One Direction, she decided, are an insidious plot to “pimp Islam” to gullible teenage American girls.

Economics For Morons: George W Bush, the President who inherited a budget surplus and left office leaving a huge debt and a burst housing bubble that stalled the global economy (but richer billionaires), launched a book on Economics. No, really.

World’s Most Moronic Sheriff: In 2011, Barack Obama neatly handed Donald Trump his ass by publishing his long-form birth certificate just as Trump was getting into full-blown birther mode. Realising that birther morons are still looking for a hero, Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio took up the baton this year, announcing that his investigators had proven Obama’s birth certificate to be a forgery. Such conspiracies are largely met with a yawn these days, but apparently not to Arpaio’s devoted supporters.

Homophobic Fried Chicken: Dan Cathy, CEO of US “Christian fast food chain” Chick-Fil-A (yes, apparently even junk food is religious in America) decided to speak out against gay marriage. It would be nice to be able to say this hurt Chick-Fil-A’s profits, but Republicans such as Mike Huckabee stepped in to support the deep-fried morons, declaring a “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day”, which saw morons lining up to eat gay-hating poultry.

Jobbik Jew: Nationalism is Europe’s nasty little secret, and it’s back with a vengeance – no more so than in Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik party is rising in popularity. So it was with great amusement that we watched outspoken anti-Semite Jobbik MP Csanad Szegedi get unmasked as a Jew, whose grandmother had been in Auschwitz. Reportedly, this hasn’t done wonders for his political career.

Legitimate Rape: Tea Party-backed Senate Candidate Todd Akin made global headlines when, during an interview about abortion, he claimed that pregnancy from rape was rare, because women’s bodies have the magical ability to prevent conception in the case of rape. This even upset some in the Republican Party – presumably because it implied that God carries out abortions on behalf of rape victims. Thankfully, the people of Missouri decided that Akin wasn’t for them, and he lost his election bid on November 6, along with a number of other Tea Party morons.

The Joy Of Slavery: Yet more crazy Republicans… Jon Hubbard of Arkansas published a book in which he claimed that “slavery was a blessing” because it gave Africans the chance to live in “the greatest nation ever established”. He apparently didn’t notice that Europeans and Asians were given the same chance – but without being raped, forced to work, beaten, killed and separated from their loved ones.

BNP Fail: Conscious that his far-right British National Party (BNP) is losing support, Nick Griffin decided to play the homophobia card, apparently not realising that British attitudes had changed. When a gay couple won their court case against a hotel owner who refused to let them stay, Griffin tweeted their address, with the threat that a “British justice team” would be visiting them. The BNP then followed up with a poll on their web site, asking: “Would you leave a gay couple to babysit your child? Vote now!” – the result? 98% voted yes, which probably wasn’t the answer the fascists were expecting.

Moronissimi! Europe’s most conservative country showed its disdain for science when seven Italian scientists were convicted of manslaughter for saying that an earthquake was unlikely in Aquila, shortly before the quake in 2009 that killed 300 people. The undoubted effect will be to push scientists out of Italy, and frighten many of the remainder into silence. Meanwhile, a Rome-based fraudster who claims to be God’s representative on Earth, but also failed to predict the quake, was not charged with any offence.

Kentucky Lends God a Hand: God, apparently, isn’t powerful enough to speak for himself – luckily, he has the Kentucky state legislature on his side, which passed a law mandating the state Homeland Security building to post a plaque outside recognising the “power of almighty God”. Never mind that this law blatantly breaches the first amendment to the US Constitution – anyone breaching it faces 12 months in jail.

O Canada… WTF!? Remember when Canada were the good guys? The sensible ones who had the misfortune of having all those nut-jobs located south of their border? Not any more: all that tar-sands oil seems to have gone to their heads. Flush with all the new cash, Canadians elected a hideously right-wing government in 2011. This year, the UN General Assembly held a historic vote to finally recognise the battered and bruised state of Palestine, which was passed resoundingly. Only nine states of 193 voted against, including (predictably) Israel and the US. The other seven included world giants like Palau and Micronesia. And Canada. Not only did the Canadians feel comfortable belonging to such a bizarre little club, but their moron Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird then threatened to retaliate – presumably by cutting off Palestinian aid.

Israel’s Moronic Expansion: Israel then decided to “retaliate” against the vote for Palestinian statehood by announcing a huge expansion of illegal home building in East Jerusalem (which doesn’t actually belong to Israel) – this new development is hugely significant because it cuts Palestinian East Jerusalem off from the Palestinian West Bank, effectively annexing all of Jerusalem for a future invasion and occupation by Israel. Middle East watchers will have noticed a pattern here: Israel “retaliates” against almost anything, from Palestinian rocket fire to the sun rising, by building new homes in Palestinian territory. Palestinians know that new home building is an inevitability, regardless of what does or doesn’t happen. The only thing that could stop this endless theft of land is for the international community to show some guts in backing international law – but the US (and its poodles) won’t allow that to happen.

Guns Don’t Kill People, X-Boxes Do: The year ended with yet another school shooting in the United States: 20 children were gunned down by yet another crazy with easy access to automatic weaponry. The US then went into its carefully prepared response to such events: a debate – incomprehensible to international observers – on whether the problem in America is caused by too many weapons or too few. I’m one of those who agrees that these kinds of events aren’t driven by gun availability alone – there are deeper problems. But a recent event in China proved the point: a madman attacked 22 schoolchildren with a weapon; none died. His weapon? A knife; the parents of those children can at least be thankful that a gun wasn’t available. Moronic gun lobby group the NRA were silent for a few days after the massacre, and then broke their silence with a press conference hosted by Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. A low-key, compromising stance had been expected; but LaPierre failed to deliver this, instead delivering a speech described by the New York Times as a “mendacious, delusional, almost deranged rant“. He blamed pretty much everything and everyone – except the guns. He called for armed police in every school (funded by the taxpayer, not the gun industry, of course). In a fair world, LaPierre would have been gunned down by a crazy during his speech – but alas, he lives to spew bile another day. Wayne LaPierre, well done: you are our Moron of the Year, 2012!

Climate Change Morons Dissected

Hot Earth
It’s Gettin’ Hot In Here

My policy with regard to climate-denying morons on Twitter is usually to steer clear. Trying to discuss science with adults whose level of science understanding wouldn’t even win them a GCSE (UK 16-year-old qualification), and within 140 characters, seems a little pointless. But for some reason I did engage today… well, it’s warm and sunny (for a change) in London, and I felt generous. The conversation went very much as you’d expect, and rather than waste the rest of my day in Twitter shouting, I decided it would be easier to deal with the issues in a blog post, and help educate these poor folks at the same time.

Here’s a wonderful starter from @DixieSportsman: if you believe in climate-change, you’re guilty of  “child-like naïveté” (look, he’s got all the accents in it n everything)!

To be honest, I’m happy to share in the “naïveté” of climate scientists, rather than join the “hard-headed reality” of those who believe propaganda pumped out by the fossil-fuels industry. To join the party, check out the wonderful New Scientist guide for the perplexed, which pretty much answers every nonsensical climate change-denial myth. In fact, if you’re going to engage with climate morons on Twitter, at least insist they read this before wasting time repeating myths that were discredited years ago.

Next, we find one of the many common climate myths, repeated by @ndgc12dx. This is one of the most frustrating things about dealing with science-illiterate morons who think they understand science. All they need to do is go and read a book. Or even Google! But they’d rather repeat their favourite myth – in this case, claiming that the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than today:

First of all, note the use of “Historians”. What he actually means is “climate scientists”, which is weird, because he doesn’t seem to believe anything climate scientists say. He’s wrong anyway: the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the previous and subsequent centuries, but cooler than today. Here’s a page with a nice graph showing that current temperatures are warmer than they’ve been for at least 2000 years (including, of course, the Medieval Warm Period).

Next, @ndgc12dx entertains us with the fascinating information that there’s “very little CO2” in the atmosphere:

Now, “very little” is a relative thing. I could offer to anally fist @ndgc12dx “very little”. Like, for only five minutes. Now, if @ndgc12dx lives for 80 years, the time I spend anally fisting him is less than one eight-millionth of his entire life, or to put it another way, around one hundred-thousandth of one percent! Which is very little indeed, so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind the fisting at all, or perhaps even notice.

For a more scientific comparison, consider this: a typical dose of the hallucinogen LSD (around 100 micrograms) is around one-hundred-billionth the weight of a typical man (a far smaller proportion than CO2 in the atmosphere). By @ndgc12dx’s logic, taking a regular dose of LSD will have no effect on him whatsoever. I suggest he goes and tries it out.

Back to CO2: this increased from around 280 parts-per-million (ppm) in pre-industrial times to around 392ppm in 2011, representing a 40% increase just in the past couple of centuries. 40% is a large increase, but in @ndgc12dx’s terms, it’s an increase from one very small number to a different very small number. The issue @ndgc12dx is failing to understand is that small things can, and often do, have big effects. Almost all climate models show that around 450ppm is a level beyond which life on the planet will change drastically for humans and many other species (and the increase from 392ppm to 450ppm is very small indeed).

On the same subject, he displays an appalling grasp of mathematics in the next tweet:

The CO2 proportion in the atmosphere is rising around 2ppm at the moment, which equates to an increase of around 1.5% over three years, not .005% – he seems to be calculating the increase as a proportion of the total atmosphere rather than the proportion of CO2. As we saw above, he thinks (wrongly) that small changes are insignificant. And he repeats the ignorance here:

Because 0.03% is a small number to a moron. You can’t buy 0.03% of an egg can you? Well then.

Then we come to a moronic old favourite, again from @ndgc12dx:

Firstly, he’s getting “proof” confused with “evidence” – a sure sign that his science education was strangled at birth. This claim is one of the most moronic climate-denial statements possible, as the “greenhouse effect” link between warming and atmospheric CO2 has been well-known for a long time. To quote from New Scientist:

We know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas because it absorbs and emits certain frequencies of infrared radiation. Basic physics tells us that gases with this property trap heat radiating from the Earth, that the planet would be a lot colder if this effect was not real and that adding more CO2 to the atmosphere will trap even more heat.

As they say, the Greenhouse Effect is just basic physics – denying it is akin to denying gravity.

Finally we return to an old climate myth, repeated by one of our favourite tweeters:

This is a straw man argument: it claims (falsely) that people who believe in man-made climate change don’t believe in other climate change. This is hugely moronic, largely because it’s not true. Anyone who has studied the climate to any level at all will know that it has been changing forever. The climate changes continuously for many reasons, one of which is the presence/absence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We know that when CO2 levels were much higher, tens of millions of years ago, the climate was warmer. Land was covered by immense forests, and as they died, they grew on top of old dead forests, one layer after another. Bit by bit, carbon was trapped in the ground as “dead forest”, and the climate cooled. Then along came humans, who started extracting “dead forest” from the ground and burning it, thus restoring more CO2 to the atmosphere. The correct name for “dead forest” of course is “fossil fuel”.

The funniest part of this argument (that the climate has always been changing) is that it relies on the work and expertise of climate scientists; the same people who climate morons love to ignore when they warn us to stop burning fossil fuels.

Rewind: My Predictions for 2011 Reviewed

Moron 2011
2011: A Moronic Year

Anyone who says they can reliably predict anything complex is either deluded or a liar. Nevertheless, “pundits” are well paid by media outlets to do exactly that, and the start and end of the year is a particularly busy time for this type of quackery. These modern-day soothsayers will of course focus heavily on their successes and ignore their failings, thus “demonstrating” that they’re qualified for the job of telling us what the coming year will hold, or where we should invest our money.

Not to be left out, I made my own predictions at the start of the year, and it’s only fair, given my strict adherence to scientific principles, that I review my success. I made seven predictions. Let’s see how I did.

Prediction 1: Winter will be colder than summer

OK, this was a pretty easy one. This was actually a prediction that morons would greet the cold weather with cries of “What happened to global warming?” I was right on that count too. And you watch, the moment a cold snap hits anywhere, especially in the US, they’ll say it again this year. I think this is what morons think of as humour.

Score: 10/10

Prediction 2: The Tea Party Will Become Increasingly Confused

Given how confused the average Teapartier already was this was a brave prediction. Did it come true? Well, the “grass-roots” phase of the Tea Party seems to have fizzled out. Though designed to look like a movement of the people, it was a well-funded campaign by far-right interests to win seats in Congress, and it succeeded. The initial phase involving marches of angry, misinformed morons has ended, and the morons have gone home, perhaps wondering how they were so easily fooled into marching for billionaires’ interests (but probably not).

The rise of Occupy, a genuinely spontaneous (and unlike the Tea Party, global) movement eclipsed the Tea Party from September onwards. Teapartiers were left to gloat on Twitter that police didn’t assault and arrest Tea Party marchers like they did Occupiers. Well yeah, that’s because the Tea Party was fighting for the right of the powerful to remain powerful – Occupy on the other hand was a genuine challenge to authority.

Was I right? Kind-of – I don’t really know how to measure this accurately. The Teapartiers were confused, are confused and will continue to be confused.

Score: 5/10

Prediction 3: Islamophobia to Rise in Europe/Israel, peak in UK/US

This is a big prediction, and hard to measure over such a short time-frame.The Islamophobes march onward. Breaking it down:

  • Mainland Europe: the drumbeat of fascism pounds ever louder, and Muslims are bearing the brunt. As the hate becomes established “fact” in the mind of morons, inevitably crazies take action – most noticeably in Norway in July, when Anders Breivik attacked and killed 77 people associated with the Labour Party. He was partly driven by hate for Muslims, and inspired by the English Defence League (EDL) and the Muslim-hating American Pamela Geller. For sure, things haven’t improved in Europe during 2011.
  • Israel: fascism is rising, and is taking an increased stranglehold over government. Israel, once a largely secular country, is increasingly religious, and the religious right is establishing itself in government and the military. Islamophobia isn’t at the heart of Israeli fascism, but it plays an increasing role. Israel continues to head rightwards into fascist territory.
  • UK: the main far-right party, the British National Party (BNP), seems to have undergone a partial collapse through the year. The EDL, a fascist street movement, also doesn’t seem to have made gains in support, though it recently announced an electoral pact with a tiny far-right group, the British Freedom Party. Overall, the far-right looks weaker than it did a year ago – whether that involves wishful thinking on my part though, I’m unsure.
  • US: I’ve detected less Islamophobic screaming on Twitter, as the right turns more to immigration as its primary cause. But recently, a non-controversial TV show called All American Muslim showed that Muslim-hate is not only strong among ordinary morons, but that corporations could be swung as well.

Score: 6/10… probably

Prediction 4: US Economy Will Gain Strength as UK Weakens

The US was pushing ahead with a government-funded stimulus; a fairly weak one, but a stimulus nonetheless. Meanwhile, the British government began heavy spending cuts in 2010. This provided the perfect comparison: stimulus or austerity? Which would win?

Stimulus won convincingly. The US economy is showing increasing (but still weak) growth and unemployment is starting to fall. Meanwhile, growth has completely stalled in the UK, and we may have already entered another recession. UK unemployment is rising fast. The bad news is that moronic Western governments are now all determined to use austerity before the economy is strong enough to take it, despite the lessons of the US/UK experiment (which proved yet again that Keynes was right).

Score: 10/10

Prediction 5: Oil price rises, morons draw wrong conclusions

As demand for oil rises globally, the price can only go up. As I predicted, the price rose strongly until April. At that point, new fears emerged over the US and European economies, and the price started to slide. It then rose again, and finished the year higher than it had begun. This prediction wasn’t difficult – energy prices are going to keep rising fast until huge investment is made in non-fossil fuels. And (as I pointed out), the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives won’t let that happen; neither will the oil-industry-loving Conservatives in the UK. We continue to wait for Germany and China to deliver mass, low-cost alternatives.

As for morons drawing the wrong conclusions: that was an even easier prediction. US morons blamed President Obama and demanded more domestic drilling (which is happening anyway). UK car-driving morons screamed that the government takes too much tax (missing the point that it’s only high taxes on fuel that have stopped us becoming even more addicted to oil than we already are).

Score: 10/10

Predictions 6 and 7: Jesus won’t return and the world won’t end

A fair number of morons believed the crazy predictions of preacher Harold Camping that Jesus would return on May 21st, and Judgement Day would come on Oct 21st. I bravely predicted this wouldn’t happen. And it didn’t. Yay!

Score 10/10

So I think I did pretty well. OK, I didn’t mention the Arab uprisings, the ongoing meltdown of Europe, the Japanese quake and tsunami, the rise of Occupy, or the laughable mess of the Republican Party’s race to find an opponent for Obama (I should at least have predicted the last one).

What do you think will happen in 2012? I reserve the right to “borrow” the best predictions and make them my own.

Three Types Of Global Warming Moron

This article isn’t here to convince people that man made global warming is a reality. The evidence for that is abundant and overwhelming, but… well, you can lead a moron to knowledge, but you can’t make him read. If you are still unsure about the strength of evidence available, you should have a look at New Scientist’s Guide For The Perplexed.

Arguing with climate change deniers is exhausting and generally a waste of time. Having somehow managed to avoid absorbing any independent information on the subject for the past two to three decades, they’re hardly likely to change their minds now. However, I’ve noticed there are different types of denialist morons, and here I try to classify them into various groups.

Denialist Morons Type One: “There Is No Warming”

This is proper, old-school denial of the simplest kind. After losing some ground in the 80s and early-90s, the fossil fuel industries created a powerful lie machine, and simple denial was the first tool to appear out of their box of tricks. Step one was to simply deny that there were any data to demonstrate warming. Once that was exposed as nonsense, step two was to discredit the data as mistaken in some way. One of the tools for this was the “heat island effect” – claiming that temperature readings had increased over several decades because cities had grown to encompass the stations where temperature readings were made. However, satellite readings then came on-stream, also showing global warming, and negating the “heat island” myth.

But the morons in this category can happily dismiss graphs and melting glaciers and persist that it’s all made up. Ignorance indeed is bliss.

Denialist Morons Type Two: “There Is Warming, But It’s Not Man-Made”

Having seen type-one denial defeated with overwhelming evidence, the more sophisticated moron then moves to stage two: admit warming, but say it’s not man-made. This class of moron will generally use the argument that “the climate has always been changing”, somehow believing that this proves their case. Of course it’s true that the climate has always been changing. Climate scientists have told us that. So type two morons are prepared to believe scientists about past reasons for climate change but not present reasons. It’s a strange thought process, but don’t forget, these are morons we’re dealing with here. Bizarrely, if you follow this reasoning process through carefully enough, morons may accept that the fossilisation of carbon led to global cooling in past geological eras, but that the freeing of that same carbon into the atmosphere (by burning petrol in your car for example) won’t result in warming. Go figure.

It’s pretty easy to demonstrate that CO2 levels have increased since the industrial revolution, so the link between these and the rise in temperature becomes harder to deny, though of course morons do try. Eventually, this argument collapses under its own weight, and the less-moronic type-two morons then evolve to the next stage.

Denialist Morons Type Three: “There Is Man-Made Warming, But There’s No Point Reducing CO2 Emissions”

So having belatedly accepted what’s been generally known for almost 30 years, morons fall back on claiming that there’s no point doing anything. Note that the power of the denial movement comes from generous funding by the fossil fuels industry. The oil business doesn’t particularly care whether people believe in climate change or not – just so long as governments are prevented from taking action (which would result in large drops in revenue for their industry, and which industry wouldn’t fight against that?).

These arguments are far more subtle, and tend to come from economists. They come in two flavours: optimistic and pessimistic.

The Optimists say, “mankind will find a fix to this problem as we’ve fixed problems in the past”. The flaw in this argument is that we often haven’t fixed problems in the past. Many a civilisation has collapsed under problems of its own making or as a result of natural disasters (including natural climate change); the only difference this time is that we’re looking at the first truly global collapse. I’m sad to say that the Freakonomics guys fall into this category, making the “something will turn up” case in their book, Superfreakonomics. I have huge admiration for Levitt and Dubner, and strongly recommend their fascinating podcasts, but sometimes economists need to look at history and science as well as economic theory. The reality is, perhaps something will turn up; that “something” will need enormous funding by someone; it needs to happen in a very short time-space; and if we’re lucky, it may even work and not produce unexpected side-effects. But the history of engineering says that every right answer comes after many wrong answers have been tried, and we don’t have too much room for manoeuvre here.

The Pessimists say, “OK, things are going to get nasty, but it’s probably cheaper and smarter to just let mankind adapt as the change happens – after all, we’ve adapted before”. I looked at a specific case of this type of argument by economist David Friedman in a recent article. There are many problems with this argument; from a simple economics point of view, arguing that a huge unknown cost may be smaller than a known cost is moronic. Factoring in risk means that action must be taken, unless the cost of not doing so can be proven to be lower than the cost of acting. It’s also completely false to say that mankind has comfortably adapted to huge change in the past. In previous ages, the population of the planet has been so much lower that there has always been space for migrations to take place. This time, the change will affect everyone, everywhere. This argument is basically a call to allow people to die in huge numbers – given the existing squeamishness about migration at its current low levels, can anyone envisage that hundreds of millions (or billions) of people will be allowed to successfully migrate and begin life elsewhere?

We’re watching a slow-motion train crash unfold, and yet morons still persist in their endless denial. The tipping point will only come when the US accepts the need for change, and that needs the Republican Party to accept it. But with their moronic, science-denying ways, and endless millions of dollars being sent their way by the oil business, that doesn’t seem likely any time soon.

Moron Economists and Global Warming

There are many different takes on global warming, many of them moronic. At the high end of the moronitude scale come the straightforward denialists. Never mind that all warming predictions so far have come true, or that glaciers and ice caps are visibly receding, or that extreme weather conditions have increased (as predicted) or that computer models based on different methods all predict warming; the true denialist doesn’t need facts, because there’s always an oil-funded pundit to reassure him that it’s still OK to drive a Hummer.But denialists still have a problem: despite large amounts of funding for their cause, there’s a distinct shortage of experts they can call on. Climate scientists themselves have reached a near-unanimous consensus on the issue, as have scientific bodies around the world. Favourite spokespeople of the denial movement such as Christopher Monckton have been caught lying so many times that they have no remaining credibility beyond their hardcore base of believers.

Enter the Economists. Now don’t get me wrong – I think Economics is a wonderful field with some of the world’s brightest people finding elegant explanations and proposed solutions for a plethora of issues. On the other hand, while blue-sky thinking is valuable, it tends to create far more dead-ends than real answers. Then bring in the denialists, and the combined result is a recipe for inaction: “No need to cut carbon usage because Doctor Fred Smith of Hastings University says we’ll find a solution”.

Today’s example of nicely-argued economical moronitude comes from David Friedman, and is provocatively-titled What is Wrong With Global Warming Anyway? In a nutshell, he argues that while warming has obvious downsides, it also has obvious upsides (primarily the ability to grow crops and live further away from the equator). He then states (erroneously) that it’s not possible to estimate the costs or the benefits, and so decides (erroneously again) that we can’t say whether the net effect of global warming is good or bad for humans. He is therefore led to the conclusion that there’s no point investing in CO2 reduction, as we can’t provide a cost/benefit analysis to justify the spending.

You may have already spotted that this argument is moronic, pretty much from start to end. His base assumption (that we can’t try to cost the pros and cons) is clearly wrong, and would have many of his fellow economists up in arms – after all, costing such things is how they earn their living – and we’re approaching the fifth anniversary of the review by the economist Nicholas Stern which did exactly this.

Friedman points out that warming will lead to more habitable areas in places such as Siberia and Canada, which could lead to economic gains – as could the opening of new sea routes previously blocked by ice. This is of course true. Let’s assume for a moment that as much new fertile and habitable land appears as vanishes elsewhere (this assumption is highly unlikely to be true anyway, but bear with me). So we end up with large parts of Africa, Asia, the Southern US and other places less fertile and habitable, while equivalent areas of northern Canada, Greenland and Siberia open up to human habitation.

That’s great, problem solved! The only minor problem is how to relocate several billion people several thousand miles from the world’s poorest regions, replace cities, electricity and water infrastructure, road and rail, deal with the huge social upheavals and wars that would inevitably result, and hey presto! A brand new, stable and happy (not to mention warmer) world.

Now, given that our societies have taken around 13,000 years to reach their current states, forgive me for being a little cynical that this may all be achievable in a few decades. Oh, and let’s not forget that warming can only help the spread of disease, with associated costs – there’s no loss/gain trade-off when it comes to more malaria. And let’s also remember that with rising sea levels, there is a net loss of land; and low-lying coastal land just happens to accommodate a large part of the global population, along with the greatest cities.

Friedman’s “don’t worry, we’ll find a solution” attitude is hilarious when contrasted with recent events. If you consider the pain caused by sub-prime mortgage disaster, does anyone believe a global evacuation and resettlement could be achieved? Friedman’s solution only works if a genocidal approach is taken (assumed but unmentioned by Friedman) – allow people in the Horn of Africa (for example) to die from famine, while allowing the Europeans and North Americans to expand and relocate northwards.

I have little doubt homo sapiens will survive this century of warming, and the centuries of disruption that will follow. But can we survive in our current numbers, and maintain the complex societies we live in today? That seems unlikely. We’re inevitably entering the greatest period of instability our civilisation has been through in its 13,000-year history. The next few decades (or more likely centuries) will be tough – and the last thing we need is more complacency brought on by moronic arguments like Friedman’s.

The Twitter Moronic Statements FAQ

Some phrases reappear so often from morons on Twitter that you’d think they’re all being fed the same ideas by the same media outlets… I often find myself responding to near-identical moronic tweets.

Here are ten of the stock concepts that reappear regularly in tweets and bios.

  1. Gays want to recruit our children: Of course they do… they belong to a secret organisation that plans to take over the world. Only the truly brave dare to even reveal its existence.
  2. Obama is a Socialist: or Marxist, Communist… an accusation always thrown by people who don’t know what any of these words mean (but it was on Fox, so it’s true).
  3. Muslims are taking over: Never mind that the Muslim population of Europe and North America is sub-3%; or that the majority of these aren’t devout; or that the majority of the devout ones have no interest in “taking over” anyway. Basically twenty attention-seeking nuts hold a rally in London waving placards that say “Islam for Europe”. The photos appear on Facebook. And rightwing racists copy these photos onto 1,000 blogs; and suddenly there’s a “Muslim problem”.
  4. Global warming is a myth: No matter that every scientific body in the world accepts man-made global warming, or that the evidence is so compelling that every serious political force in the world accepts the need for action. Or that the skeptic cause is funded by the fossil fuels business, which stands to lose billions of dollars if emissions are to be cut. What’s important is that the Republican Party has long ceased to be an independent political force, and instead is addicted to the oil dollar – and if morons like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann deny global warming, then it can’t be real, can it?
  5. Socialist-Fascist: Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic once enthusiastically supported the rise of European fascism, and the Socialists, Communists and Anarchists were the only mass movements that actively opposed the fascists. But given the messy outcome of the fascist experiment, the right attempts to rewrite history and associate fascism with the left. Of course, nobody who’s studied the history of that era would believe such nonsense, but who needs to spend years reading when it’s all available in minutes on TV, blogs and Twitter? Fascism is on the rise once more, but because the scapegoats this time are Muslims instead of Jews, morons think it’s something altogether new.
  6. I want my country back: A black man was elected President of the USA.
  7. We can’t afford it: The Thatcher/Reagan experiment with free-market purity collapsed in 2008, leaving a tiny minority immeasurably richer and everyone else worse off. But morons haven’t noticed this carefully managed redistribution of wealth. If the super-rich say “we” can no longer afford public services, then who are we poor suckers to disagree?
  8. Life begins at conception: The so-called “pro-life” brigade (who perversely don’t seem to value anybody’s life except for that of “pre-born children”) are insistent that “science says” life begins from the moment of conception. While this may or may not be true, depending on your definition, it’s also completely irrelevant to the abortion debate. Although given the pathetic nature of the arguments, debate is too strong a word.
  9. Anti-semite: Someone who dares to criticise anything Israel might do, however illegal and barbaric. I’ve been called this many times, which given that I’m Jewish and the insult often thrown by non-Jews, I find hilarious.
  10. They want to destroy our freedoms: A Neocon special. “They” have an issue with your freedom to invade and bomb them for their oil. Try bringing the troops home – “they” might not hate you so much after all.

UK Government Sabotages Green Investment

This week, with almost no comment in the British press, an industry was killed off. This wasn’t just any industry, but one that has recently created 17,000 jobs, and is tipped to be one of the world’s fastest-growing: Solar Photovoltaic (PV) power generation.

In April 2010, the UK belatedly adopted the idea of FITs (Feed-In Tariffs), a form of subsidy that was already widespread in Germany and other countries. FITs are a cost-effective subsidy that guarantee a fixed amount for energy generated from renewable sources. The introduction of FITs allowed entrepreneurs to create business plans for the creation of Solar PV businesses; they then approached green energy investors to raise the capital required to build solar farms (typically in Cornwall and elsewhere in South-West England). Initial investments were injected by angel investors – typically individuals investing relatively small amounts of their own cash.

Yet suddenly, the UK Government has announced a review of FITs for Solar PV. The effect on the industry has been instant; investment in Solar PV has been frozen, companies have laid off staff, and investments made to date are rendered potentially worthless. Land already allocated for solar farms now sits idle. Not only solar is affected: the result of the announcement is to create uncertainty for all green energy investment: why take the risk of following the Solar industry into the same hole?

The action is moronic at many levels:

  • There is no risk for government in FITs – all risk is taken by private entrepreneurs and investors.
  • Germany and China have already stolen a march in the green energy sector. This may be the UK’s last chance to lead in a sector that’s growing at a huge rate.
  • Without investment in green energy now, we expose ourselves to ever higher oil prices, and make ourselves more reliant on Russia as a gas provider.
  • The loss of 17,000 private-sector jobs comes at the worst possible time, when unemployment is already rising due to government cuts.

Whether the review announcement was simply done through incompetence, or whether the power of the fossil fuel industry was involved remains to be seen. Regardless, I name government ministers Chris Huhne and Greg Barker as Morons Of The Week.

British readers may want to write to Huhne or their own MPs using this open letter.