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.

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.

Is Capitalism Amoral Or Immoral?

It was fashionable (and desirable) until the mid-80s to question how well capitalism worked as a basis for running society. Then the social “greed is good” changes brought about by the Reagan/Thatcher revolution began to take hold of the Western (or at least the Anglo-Saxon) psyche, and it became a form of sacrilege to question the magic power of the free market to fix any problem, anywhere. That superstition gradually became established fact – until, of course, the system began to show its deep flaws in 2008.

Saturday’s Guardian carries a comment article from Tim Montgomerie (editor at the ConservativeHome web site) titled Capitalism is amoral – we’re our own worst enemy. The piece tries to make the case that the ills of recent years have been caused by “extraordinary government activism”, not by out-of-control markets. However, the examples supplied are weak – the author seems to accept, for example, that the main problem with Obama’s $787bn stimulus is that it was too small, given the scale of the crash. Another example given is the Iraq War, seeming to forget the huge profit motive of the oil, arms and reconstruction industries to make that senseless war happen.

But let’s challenge the core assertion, one that is so often repeated without challenge: Montgomerie repeats the popular idea that “Capitalism is not immoral but amoral. It does what its users demand of it”. Is that true? Does the profit motive always work for consumers? Montgomerie gives food and transport as examples, so let’s examine these industries: amoral or immoral?

Food Industry

It’s true that competition has given us more food choices that ever before. That applies to the wealthier parts of society, at least. In young markets, competition creates an explosion of choice, which is certainly a good thing. But once corporations became established in the food industry, strategies changed. Choice is just one way to attract a customer base, but there’s an easier way: make your customer dependent on your product. This is where the needs of the market and the needs of the consumer diverge. Humans are designed to seek out rare ingredients that we need. Meat fat was such a rarity in pre-history (before hunting tools were developed) that we find it highly attractive and addictive. Refined sugar is an addictive drug, only discovered in recent centuries. Salt is a generally rare and necessary substance that, again, we have a natural addiction to. So in the amoral world of the market, it makes sense to add increasing amounts of these ingredients to food, not because users are demanding them, but because profitability naturally rises as a result.

So far, as suggested by Tim Montgomerie, this is amoral behaviour, not immoral. No harm is intended. The next stage is this: scientific researchers (state-funded usually) begin to notice that people are getting fatter; that tooth decay is increasing; that diabetes and other diseases are rocketing. This information starts to spread to the consumer. It’s at this stage that markets lose their claim for amorality. The food industry now has three options:

Moral: listen to researchers and make food healthier, even if that hurts profits.

Amoral: continue to address the evolving desires of the market as consumer demand dictates. Of course, this does happen, but as the history of the food industry suggests, it’s far cheaper (and thus more profitable) to use healthy-sounding language than it is to take addictive substances out of your products.

Immoral: begin propaganda operations to counteract scientific research that might hurt profits. Most markets end up here. Once you have a consumer base hooked on your product, the logic of profit is remorseless: attack anyone or anything that threatens your bottom line.

In a young market, amorality (following consumer needs) is the way to go; but in mature market, the immoral choice is often the most profitable. Rather than simply track consumer demands, it’s more profitable to control them. Many examples can be found of immoral behaviour by the food industry in pursuit of profits: in the US, private corporations have often won contracts to supply schools with food and drink. The result is a fall in the quality of food eaten by children. Now they can get consumers addicted to junk ever younger, and resist the pressure to educate children about food and health, thus crushing future consumer demands for better food. In a perfect example of market immorality, in 1998 Oprah Winfrey ran a show exposing the appalling way the American beef industry was rearing cattle. The amoral response would have been to track any change in consumer attitudes, and change production techniques; but that would be hugely expensive. Far cheaper to shoot the messenger, as Oprah found to her cost. She immediately lost advertising and faced action, both legal and propaganda to discredit her. She backtracked quickly, providing a non-critical “interview” with a beef industry rep. to “set the record straight” (i.e. lie without interference). Examples like this are legion: the food industry will viciously attack anyone that questions the health of its products (remember McLibel?)

Transport Industry

We can apply the same approach to transport. Mass transit (when not starved of investment), offers the fastest, cheapest and most fuel-efficient way to carry large numbers of people and goods. From the 1940s, the car provided an alternative that was more glamorous but slow, expensive and fuel-hungry. Sure, people desired cars, but they wouldn’t trash superior transport systems for an inferior one. Given that cities only had the space for a fraction of their population to use cars, would people destroy their environments just to own cars?

Enter the car mafia, comprising several industries: car manufacturers, tyre manufacturers, road builders, and of course, oil producers. Car transport requires far more resources than rail, trams and buses: huge, multi-lane highways which require vast amounts of space. More space still needed for parking (most private cars spend most of their lives wastefully parked). And most important of all, cars burn far more fuel than mass transit to move the same numbers of people. Would consumers abandon cheap, fast transport for slow, expensive transport? Of course not; but they were never given the choice.

The car mafia set about destroying mass transit, which they could never have competed against in a free market. Across the US, between 1936 and 1950, mass transit systems vanished as the car mafia went into action, destroying electric transport infrastructure. History tells us how happy post-war consumers jumped at the chance to own cars, and that’s undoubtedly true; less is said about the abolition of transport choice. Free market fundamentalists claim markets create choice, but the opposite is often true.

In the UK, the world’s greatest rail system was cut to pieces; between 1950 and 1975, the railways were slashed from 21,000 miles to 12,000. The most significant steps were taken in the 1960s by Dr Richard Beeching, Chairman of British Railways. Beaching was encouraged to cut the railways by Ernest Marples, the Conservative Transport Minister. Marples also happened to be a major shareholder in a construction company that made huge amounts of money from motorway construction. This story is an important part of modern British history, and the name Ernest Marples should be remembered as one of Britain’s best known crooks. But the car mafia, and their tame media, have ensured the British people have forgotten what happened to our transport system

The transport market has failed; we make ever slower journeys for ever higher cost, and most people use the car not by choice, but because choice was taken away to increase profits.

And The Rest

Given the choice of being amoral and following consumer needs, or immoral and crushing competition, the car mafia did what any market does: follow profit at any cost to society. The consumer doesn’t lead; he takes what corporations offer, which is often the most inefficient and expensive (and hence profitable) option. Markets do work, when they’re young and genuinely competitive, but that is a temporary phase. Endless examples can be found of market immorality: the Iraq War was fought so that the US taxpayer could be fleeced of $trillions by US corporations; the millions spent on climate change denial have shored up billions in oil industry profits; the tobacco industry likewise denied the cancer link for decades after the evidence was available.

Markets are good at creating and incubating fresh ideas and new technology. They liberate individuals and societies from bureaucracy and make societies more creative. But this is always a temporary effect. Established markets will support literally anything – murder, slavery, war – to hold on to their privileged positions. So Tim Montgomerie and other “markets are amoral” fundamentalists are disingenuous, only telling half the story. Markets are immoral; only a strong, well-funded democratic state can hope to keep them in check.

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.