Reasons we are in Denial

From a 2006 spoof newspaper I did.

12 reasons why we are still in denial
MANCHESTER- A special investigation by this newspaper has revealed that Climate Change has been systematically under-estimated and under-reported. While no single villain is to blame, our reporters have identified several important factors.

Science is ‘small c’ conservative. Scientists are trained not to speculate beyond what the current empirical evidence will support. To do so, to go ‘out on a limb’, is to risk a career shelf-stacking at Asda.

Our ignorance is outstanding. The planet is fantastically complex, with all sorts of unknown influences, feedback loops etc. Assumptions that filled yesterday’s text books are regularly over-turned. The new scientific and conceptual tools (Complex Systems etc.) at our disposal are absurdly new (40 years and less).

Prediction is difficult, especially about the future
.

Some scientists still talking about how things will pan out in other fields 40 to 50 years hence, making it seem as if Climate Change is just one problem among many.

Our brains are limited. In most of our lives we encounter gradual change. We age one year at a time. Our wages (if we’re lucky) creep up slowly. We are not regularly exposed to exponential changes, ‘phase shifts’ and the like. Without getting all evolutionary psychologist on your ass, we never needed to develop the mental tools for our current dilemma of positive feedback loops.

Our cultural selection pressures have always favoured optimists. Most folk flee from bad news. Never underestimate our amazing capacity to distract ourselves the latest baubles and trinkets, an upcoming holiday, coming and going in the Big Brother house.

We have a creeping expectation that God will rescue us, since we are obviously the most important thing in the Universe.

Profit-driven media systems exist to make money, not to inform. They need to establish a happy mood for people to read the adverts. The Pending Ecological Debacle doesn’t really put the reader/viewer in the chucklezone.

Decisions on what and how to present science stories are largely made by arts graduates. They have been taught to get ‘balance’, meaning that until about two years ago, any old oil-company stooge could get equal airtime with a proper climatologist. Funnily, when doing stories on the Holocaust or the link between smoking and cancer, they don’t ask David Irving or the Tobacco Growers’ Association for a comment…

TV news stories have to be short, simple and have some good pictures. (Basically, what Herman and Chomsky refer to as “concision”)

We are coping with the legacy of ferocious and largely-successful ‘denial’ campaigns by capitalist interests in the 1990s (Global Climate Coalition is the prime example). This has left otherwise educated and bright people thinking that there is still doubt about climate change.

The general public is largely innumerate and woefully scientifically illiterate.

However, not all the scare stories are true: newspapers need to sell copies, so are attracted to the alarmist “we are all going to die next year” story, instead of the less controversial “we and most of the species on this rather pretty rock, are all going to die within the next 50 years”

People need to educate themselves about the basic science. Two really good places to start are Kate Evans “Funny Weather” and then http://www.realclimate.org. on which real climatologists speak to each other in something approaching English.

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Scientists Wrong About Climate Change- It’s Actually Far Far Worse


Back in the day (i.e. 2006), when it looked like we folks around Climate Camp would be smart enough to actually make the network of NVDA really happen, there was a post-Drax meeting in Manchester. Where it all went wrong. But enough of that…

I produced a spoof newspaper, called “Socialist Lurker” and the lead story was, with a picture of a polar bear and a thought bubble that said “great, I can forget about the swimming lessons”, “SCIENTISTS ADMIT CLIMATE CHANGE REPORTS WRONG:
It’s actually far far worse.”

For reasons to do with me posting a youtube video about Apocalyptic Language, I am now posting it…

This newspaper, after an investigation spanning two years, can today announce a startling pattern hidden in reports and research about climate change and carbon dioxide emissions. This pattern, invisible to the naked eye, has far-reaching implications, shaking the belief system of our civilisation to its core. Those who know the pattern can be identified by their tight-lipped semi-smile that might also be a stoical grimace. For this reason, the pattern is known as ‘Da Carbon Code’.

The pattern has the following elements:

Journalists report that a group of scientists have reported their surprising/unusual/worrying/bowel-loosening information. This roughly corresponds to coverage of the same report in the Telegraph, the Times, the Guardian and the Independent respectively.

This information is in the form of direct evidence/findings/report/a computer model.

The journalist has found the report in a reputable journal, such as Science, Nature or, occasionally, something more specialist. Alternatively, the story comes from a press release from a body such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(1), the Royal Society, Hadley Centre or the like.

The report states that glacier melt(2)/ocean acidity(3)/ocean warming(4)/rainforest die-off(5)/methane hydrate release(6) etc(7). is happening quicker than expected.

At very least,it is happening twice as fast as had expected, but may even be happening faster than had previously been thought possible.(8)

The problem is caused by carbon dioxide emissions, and is likely to accelerate and also contribute to other environmental and social problems.

The pattern then continues with the journalist contacting a ‘relevant authority’ (either governmental or corporate) for a statement. The minister/PR flunky(9) looks shiftily at his- or more rarely her- feet and then out the window, before giving a ritual incantation of awareness and concern. He/she finally whines something like “Yes we are building more airports, but we’re going to put low-energy light bulbs in all the departure lounges. And kittens are nice.”

By way of summing up the journalist will make the observation that ‘tough choices’ lie ahead, and that the ‘political will’ may not be present to meet them. In the deluxe version, they may mention that Kyoto, due to expire in 2012, was never much cop(10) anyhow.

Though this ‘Da Carbon Code’ has had little noticeable impact on the desires, assumptions and actions of the general public in the West, some among our Lords and Masters, the scientific community and the more alert environmentalists are starting to shit bricks. One campaigner was quoted as saying “It is probably too late to do anything actually worth the effort, but we should at least have a pop at the problem, for our own self-respect, if not for our kids. If we don’t get Contraction and Convergence(12) adopted and implemented very soon indeed, it’s definitely all over bar the shouting, wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Footnotes to “Climate Reports Wrong”
1. The IPCC’s next report is due out in February 2007. It is likely to make for light, enjoyable bed-time reading. Not.
2. Check out the British Antarctic Survey http://www.antarctica.ac.uk See also footnote 8
3. The Natural Environment Research Council has a brilliant quarterly magazine called Planet Earth. The summer 2006 issue has a terrifying story on “Ocean Acidification: The Other Carbon Dioxide Problem” It’s available on-line, via http://www.nerc.ac.uk/publications/planetearth/
4. Jim Hansen, from NASA, is not a muppet. That was Jim Henson. Hanson’s the guy with a cameo in Al Bore’s Inconvenient Truth, fighting the good fight on Capitol Hill. 18 months ago NASA confirmed the oceans are heating up. http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/environment/earth_energy.html
5. The Indie jealously guards its archive, but those criminals at climate ark have posted a story from 23 July http://www.climateark.org/shared/reader/welcome.aspx?linkid=58635. Realclimate.org has a pretty good rebuttal, that you should read before you start disasturbating too much…
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/08/amazonian-drought/
6. The amusing thing about Siberia and Alaska melting will be that the quantities of methane will make any carbon dioxide reduction schemes that the simian bipeds come up with utterly utterly irrelevant. At that point, will they all just shrug their shoulders and say ‘burn baby burn’?
There was an article and letters in Nature in September 2006 about this, but the following article is also good. It’s from ‘Seed’, an American magazine aimed at arty scientists and arty types who seek scientifically literacy. A bit technophiliac, but you can’t have everything… http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/09/post_3.php
7. Et cetera indeed! Royal Society report “Impact of climate change on crops worse than previously thought (Liebig’s law stands, it seems)
http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/news.asp?id=3084
The Gulf Stream switching off, from those cheerful chaps at NERC again
http://www.nerc.ac.uk/research/issues/climatechange/rapid.asp
(One is reminded of William Broecker- “We’re poking the climate system by adding greenhouse gases” like carbon dioxide, the Columbia University scientist said in a July 22 Summer Sessions lecture. “Will poking this angry beast cause it to lash out?” )
Soil becoming a carbon source rather than a carbon sink.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,12374,1324379,00.html
I could go on all night…
8. Elizabeth Kolbert wrote a three part piece on Climate Change for The New Yorker, now a book “Field Notes from a Catastrophe”
Almost wherever you looked, temperatures in the Arctic were rising, and at a rate that surprised even those who had expected to find clear signs of climate change. Robert Corell, an American oceanographer and a former assistant director at the National Science Foundation, co-ordinated the study. In his opening remarks, he ran through its findings — shrinking sea ice, receding glaciers, thawing permafrost — and summed them up as follows: “The Arctic climate is warming rapidly now, with an emphasis on now.” Particularly alarming, Corell said, were the most recent data from Greenland, which showed the ice sheet melting much faster “than we thought possible even a decade ago.”
9. For public relations and greenwash, check out http://www.prwatch.org and the book Global Spin by Sharon Beder.
And read this quote from the wonderful Donald Westlake’s wonderful ‘Humans’;
The fact was, Anglo Dutch had learned from Exxon’s experience with the Valdez. Never keep your information officer around long enough to establish any kind of personal rapport with the media; that way indiscretions and uncomfortable leakage lie. Every two weeks, whip into the slot another trim slim thirty-four-year-old, bland and smooth and bright, male or female (makes no difference), who will give the company line a nearly human face; but before that face becomes completely human get it out of there, and start with a new one….
10. Jokes that have to be explained are bad enough, but footnoted ones?! COP= Conference of the Parties is the name of the 6 monthly meetings of the UNFCCC. At COP-3, in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was signed.
11. The idea that the mass media in the west is systematically skewed to support capitalist interests is unthinkable to those who benefit from it with fat jobs and fat heads.
http://www.medialens.org does an excellent job in tracking and challenging this invisible power. Specifically on climate change, see http://www.medialens.org/alerts/06/060131_welcome_to_mars.php
12.We must contract our carbon dioxide emissions and also gap in per capita emissions between rich and poor. C and C offers science-based targets, which we have ignored and will ignore until it is Too Late. If it isn’t already. http://www.gci.org.uk or else news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4994296.stm

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Some cartoons to leaven the mood

Haven’t done this for a while…



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We will jam our fingers in our ears till they touch…

“The more serious the problem of climate change becomes, the more revolutionary the change needed to address it—the more we can expect powerful economic and social interests to deny the seriousness of the problem: playing up scientific uncertainties that always exist, and casting doubt on climate science itself. The object of such a response is to manipulate public opinion so as to sow confusion and arrest any attempt to alter business as usual.”

Monthly Review May 2010

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Overwhelmed by overwhelming overwhelmingness


Another banality that occurred to me this morning: Few of us like to feel overwhelmed and at the mercy of forces we don’t understand/can’t control. And as children, that’s mostly what we endure- we are told when to go to bed, what to where, what to eat. [See Stephen Jay Gould on why kids are fascinated by big lumbering brainless dinosaurs] Becoming an adult, you get to “choose” these things yourself (though often the choices you make are within the narrow bounds set by advertisers, but the crucial thing- for my rhetorical purpose- is that you feel free.)

And you get to stay an adult, with luck, until advanced old age crumbles that independence away from you and you get patronised by some NHS stooge a third of your age.

But look, here comes climate change. A huge force, arbitrary and beyond control and bargaining with that will take away so many of the ‘free choices’ – air travel, bling – that we deploy to tell ourselves and each other that we are now adults. [It’s bad enough if for those willing to concede that some social problems need collective solutions. For staunch ‘individualists’ who hates the messiness of mass society, then it must be doubly hell.]
And so, like a teenager with a parent lecturing us, we turn up the volume on our iPod and say (to ourselves) “yeah, whatever.”

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19th out of 19

So, this little gem from the FT of Jan 18

The new generation of Tory MPs due to take power after the election does not share David Cameron’s professed commitment to tackling climate change, a survey being published this week suggests.

“Reducing Britain’s carbon footprint” was rated as the lowest priority, out of 19 policies, by 144 Conservative candidates responding to the survey of the 240 most winnable Tory target seats. Rating each policy on a scale of one to five, where five was the most important to them personally, the candidates gave the climate change issue an average rating of 2.8, significantly below “more help for marriage” (3.6 rating) and “protecting the English countryside” (3.57 rating).

They rated “cutting red tape” as second only to tackling the budget deficit in terms of priorities, suggesting resistance to environmental regulation.

Where to begin? How stupid do we have to get, before it all goes tits up? Can we nominate the entire fracking species for an Arrhenius Award (like a Darwin Award, only for climate stupidity).

Oh, and those wonderful tables at the back of the rigorous Copenhagen Accord? The ones with the January 31st deadline. Yeah, well, screw that!

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The Boiler Scrappage Scheme: a tale of bureaucratic hell

In my bimbling innocence, I have been sucked into a bizarre parallel world of quangoese cockups that could drive a woman to… oooh believe that the state is incompetent and corrupt…
Gordon B announced with much fanfare a couple of weeks ago a boiler scrappage scheme, like the car scheme, which would replace G rated boilers with A rated ones, allegedly reducing CO2 emissions by the same amount as taking 45,000 cars off the road, and – the buzzword of the moment, create British jobs! Woohoo! What can go wrong, one asks.
The answer, of course, is that one can give the job of administering this scheme to the Energy Savings Trust, a clunking bureaucracy which isn’t apparently up to anything more complex than sending out a few leaflets about changing your lightbulbs. It certainly managed to screw up the solar incentive scheme a few years back. Trying to make contact with this organisation is like dealing with some little organisation with three staff and a doggie on a string – you’d never guess its budget runs into tens of millions and it gets to second dozens of staff from government departments.
The sorry saga so far is that on the 6th January, my very on-the-ball boiler installer rang my at about nine o’clock at night to tell me to apply for the scheme. I went to the EST site next morning and, as per the instructions, emailed boilerscrappage@est.org.uk with a ‘registration of interest’ which included the make of boiler being replaced, the new one etc. I heard nothing back. So on about the 12th or 13th I rang up to chase this. The very nice, if somewhat woolly and confused-sounding woman on the phone told me they’d been ‘snowed under’ with interest (although I managed to get through straight away on the phone – obviously a good thing but not necessarily a sign of stretched capacity). She informed me that ‘Steve’ (not the name she said) would get back to my email – which rather (and worryingly) implied that a single bloke was actually dealing with this landslide of email interest.
Needless to say, by Saturday 16th I’ve heard nothing back. I tried ringing the national number, only to find that it’s only staffed Monday-Friday 9-5. So how are people in work supposed to access a) the boiler scheme and b) the wealth of energy efficiency information the EST claims to be able to bestow? Not through the online forms on the site, that’s for certain. I clicked through the same series of links I’d followed on the 7th, only to find that the instructions page has changed, and there is now a link to an application form for the scrappage scheme. Wahey! I thought. Yes, there is a question as to why everyone who sent in an expression of interest couldn’t have been auto-emailed to tell them that this form was now up, but never mind. Now I can just apply…
Can I buggery. I fill in the form, not one but three times. Each time it all seems to go fine, I fill in the requisite fields – some of them dropdown menus, some typed fields. I tick the necessary disclaimer boxes. I press ‘submit.’ And then every single field on the form sprouts a kind of burgundy-purple message saying ‘Please provide some information for the above field it is a required field,’ or similar. It’s not my browser – I fill in online forms all the bloody time.
So, I think, I’ll at least let them know their form isn’t working, and maybe I’ll get something back telling me when it is. Or some such vain hope. So I go to the EST’s standard contact form and write a little message to this effect. I also have to fill in a bunch of fields with my name, address, phone number etc, including one of those ones where you fill in your postcode and it finds your address for you. This works successfully. But when I press ‘submit’ – it all goes tits up again. Despite the form identifying my postcode enough to find my address, it’s refusing to admit it is actually a postcode for the purposes of submitting the form. Great.
My last salvo is to try and email my message to the generic email addresses, which appear on various EST leaflets, ads etc, mail@ and info@. Neither of these are working either. There are completely unfunded organisations campaigning for the preservation of species no-one’s ever heard of with more efficient communications than this over-funded shower. Withholding tax because irresponsible governments will just spend it on nasty nuclear weapons is a fab idea. But withholding it because their quangos are completely unable to perform basic tasks feels like an even better notion at this time…

This article was originally posted here.

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