I thank LeftOutside for introducing me to this topic.

I think the following is clearly true:

  • For a great proportion of our scientific beliefs, we have to rely on a long-established consensus.  For example, I ‘believe’ that a hydrogen atom has a proton and an electron because I have been told by a huge consensus, it sort of makes sense, and I trust the consensus.   I have perceived and reasoned in no way that is connected to the proposition being true. For views on evolution, the Holocaust, whether transfats cause cancer, or carbon dioxide causes global warming, no single person can themselves compile enough evidence.  You need to rely on scientists who themselves rely on more scientists.
  • Conspiracy theorists seldom or never have enough data for their views, but rely on a profound belief in the bad faith of their opponents.  This is a sort of heroic arrogance – ‘I alone in my living room have worked out how misled thousands of others are’. 99% of the time, they are wrong; 1%, we are talking Galileo
  • However, people often form opinions, or choose which ‘consensus’ to trust, on the basis of feelings.  This works particularly well in a negative way; if you really hate X and X believes something important, then proclaiming it as untrue gives enormous pleasure.  This happens whether X is some braying redfaced foxhunter or sanctimonious good for nothing leftie student.

No-one can have a native ‘feeling’ about climate change.  I can’t feel how hot it is in the atmosphere around the planet, although if I were a spectacular idiot I might make inferences from London’s weather this January.  I can’t have a feel for the heat stored in the oceans, and even if I could tell through my T-shirt that things were warmer, worldwide, I would still lack the ability to determine causes.  I would need a huge apparatus of scientific expertise and equipment even to come close, as well as similarly large body of theory.

So my belief that it is happening is based upon trust. Trust that the vast scientific consensus is not either (a) incompetent in an amazing synchronized way or (b) somehow corrupted so that they have a huge incentive to conspire and lie about something so important.  Trust, too, that politicians with mostly far greater access to the science than I are not totally ****ing mad and determined to crater the economy for 40 years just for the fun of it.

[And when the deniers offer actual reasons, they seem laughably easy to dismiss.   In just one hour this non-expert could dismantle the nonsense that one of Iain Dale’s readers impressed him with].

But some of my opinions come from the last bullet point, above – hatred of the others.  The deniers – individually and in a group – seem obnoxious, selfish and wrong (read any commenter to a Janet Daley blogpost).   At the same time, the deniers are clearly motivated by a similar hatred themselves.  Their antagonists are sometimes eager haters of capitalism, sanctimonious,  and plain irritating.

In the latest outburst of ClimateHate, James Delingpole gives the game away – he loves winding up Guardianistas.  He writes:

And frankly as Islamists love death and Americans love Coca Cola so I thrive on the hatred of Guardian readers.

This is admirably honest.  If temperatures rose 5 degrees, Mont Blanc sprouted palm trees and Simon Heffer joined the Green party, Delingpole would still be doing what he’s doing, because Guardianistas obligingly hate him for it, and that is his motivation.  Moreover, the controversy helps him sell books and remain on the Telegraph payroll.   Come on- it’s not because he has access to superior theory, superior evidence, or insight into the motivations of his antagonists.

So, too, to some degree, does George Monbiot.  If by some freak the scientific consensus was wrong, and the Maldives froze over, Monbiot would no doubt stick to his guns  for an indecent long time, freezing all the way.  Getting under the skins of the angry Range Rover driving trolls must motivate him.  He’s human too.  But he also has far more science and a decent understanding of conspiracy theoriesthan Delingpole.

Once such a division has been created, it turns into something like the Liliputians arguing about which end of the egg to break – insoluble, driven by passion and resentment. This is clearly very bad news, because the amount at stake here is far greater.   Amongst the Conservatives, climate denialism is no doubt becoming a way of solidifying the tribal vote.  The letter-writing campaign organised to squeeze out such views is not going to make them unpopular. Scorning lefties, like riding horses over hunt protesters, is becoming a badge of honour.

The oddest thing  is that those of us who believe in AGW are left hoping it is true, so as to satisfy our need to scorn our enemies.  Don’t some of you hope for a really hot 2010, to stick one up the Delingpoles of this world?  ClimateHate gone mad – because given what a catastrophe global warming (probably) is, no-one should be hoping for it.

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12 thoughts on “ClimateHate

  1. There is something in what you say, but the attitudes of Delingpole and Monbiot are just as much dictated by their basic political principles. As a man of the libertarian right, Delingpole abhors the interference of the state in our daily lives, so it is not surprising that he is disinclined to accept scientific conclusions about looming disaster that appear to give states and super-states the moral right to impinge even further on our daily lives. Monbiot, in contrast, thinks anything that challenges the supremacy of capitalism should be embraced with open arms. The rise of the Green agenda in the past decade has been a Godsend to him. Within reason, it is perfectly justifiable and natural for both sides to fight their corner by seeking out the evidence that supports their basic political principles, and giving less weight or credence to that which does not. I am a bit of a misanthrope, so I tend to see climate change as just a symptom of the underlying disease of overpopulation.

    1. You are clearly right; something must trigger the initial decision to follow one tribe, and the affection for collectivism versus rampant individualism must work. however, I would hope that when an emergency gets sufficiently serious, such preferences are silenced – eg. WWII.

      Overpopulation will be solved by growth – middle class people have fewer kids. Look at Korea.

      1. Giles, the demographic transition will probably solve the problem of population growth, but not population itself. World population is projected to peak at around 9-10 billion in about 2050. Currently it is 6.8 billion. Maybe we’ll be okay, but I don’t think Malthus can be ruled out so easily this century.

        But I do have to disagree with Straus’ point that “climate change [is] just a symptom of the underlying disease of overpopulation.” Overpopulation may be a future problem. Climate change is already a problem. And as it stands it is in no relation to population currently – most of the emissions come from the billion or so in the developed world, not the billions more in the developing world.

  2. The point about disbelieving anything my enemies believe is similar to Straus’ point about political bias – both involve a preference for prejudice over dispassionate fact, for ‘gut instinct’ over empirical determination.

    Trouble is, empirical determination wrt AGW (or MMR, mobile phone radiation, homeopathy etc) leaves most people questioning their gut instincts – and the latter almost always wins out – so those of us who ‘believe’ that MMR and mobile phones are safe, that homeopathy is nowt but sugar pills and that human activity is accelerating global climate change are left campaigning vociferously – thereby entrenching the impression that we’re polemics advocating our beliefs, not concerned observers of fact.

    *Sigh* if only there were a way of communicating the urgency of climate change without resorting to Monbiot-style denier-baiting (fun thought that is)…

    1. The MMR example is an excellent one. Hopefully, the defeat of Andrew Wakefield presages what will eventually happen to other conspiracy theorists

  3. Giles, there was a really good piece in Nature last week that looks into how people’s cultural/political outlooks affect how they respond to scientific evidence, particularly around climate change. I’ve excerpted it here.

  4. What impresses me is the lack of real scientific consensus behind the AGW hypothesis, by proponents of hard science. It is the same group of people who get cited, time after time. The antis seem to outnumber the AGWs. And they weigh in with things about scientific process and mindset rather than just appeals to authority. Question “real climate” and you get a highly technical paper about lower-tropopausal warming as a response and the debate rapidly bogs down into highly techinical issues. As well as that, the issue gets clouded by the emotive appeals to polar bears and Himalayan glaciers…any response to that pavlovian stimulus? Remember the fuss made by Greenpeace over the Brent Spar platform, in defiance of the facts?

    Have you ever looked at the numberwatch blog? There are a lot of physicists who think that the climate scientists are doing science by pictures.

    How wuld you measure the temperature of the planet? Perhaps by using the same geographically dispersed set of thermometers calibrtated in the same way over a number of years? That has not happened. Those measurements do not exist. Any measurement set that extends more than 30 years into the past is suspect.

    And you ask why i should be sceptical?

    1. I think the answer Left Outside gave on the LibCon thread is a better one than I can give here. In brief, as far as I can see, the anti-AGWers seem to have a hodge podge of often contradictory reasons for their belief, that to me seem like they are united only by a desire to think that climate change is not a threat we should be doing anything about. Whereas the pro AGW case is simple: the physics makes sense, the empirical data for what it is worth is fully consistent with the theory, and it is clearly a problem with massive risks. David Cameron’s office’s letter puts it well.

      http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/01/31/cameron-re-affirms-claims-to-go-green/

      We have had thermometers for more than 30 years!

  5. Alternatively, the problem is that climate sceptics aren’t questioning the science, they are questioning the economics and the ethics which lead to radical conclusions over necessary changes.

    I think the “how can you dispute the consensus scientific position on climate change?” argument is a straw man. It is possible to accept the science and still dispute the enormous changes that it is claimed are needed in our lifestyles, a la Nigel Lawson.

    Personally, I fully accept the science, but disagree with the suggested course of action of most activists.

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