The Heat of Battle

Friday, December 11, 2009


For years, George Monbiot has written for the British newspaper The Guardian about the dangers of man-made climate change and how the denial industry sows confusion. But when he wrote recently "we're losing," it seemed a surprising admission. He explains why, despite scientific consensus, much of the public remains unswayed.

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Comments [13]

Mark Richard from Columbus, Ohio

Mainstream journalists apparently cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that one reason global-warming campaigners are 'losing the debate' is that mainstream journalists have been uncritical stenographers for many apocalyptic predictions over the past 40 years which had a vaguely leftist political agenda attached to them. The public is not reality-impaired so much as it is jaded. News consumers have heard it all before - we have a crisis, the cause is those vulgar masses (in America, and, now, in China and India) trying to get rich like the Kennedys or people in Hollywood (what cheek), and so if political power to solve this 'crisis' is not given to a kind of transnational elite of administrators (invariably themselves children of privilege), then Biblical-grade punishments will be visited upon these miserable sinners for their profligacy.

Dec. 17 2009 06:04 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

David, in the midst of recovering from a broken hip last winter and in a lot of pain, so details escape me, I watched a PBS show examining the effects of the air travel stand-down after the 9/11 attacks and it seems that cleaner might well not be better. Air pollution apparently deflects sunlight, so it got measurably warmer.

Dec. 17 2009 08:40 AM
David from Rhode Island

My mistake, it was Revkin in the previous story that couldn't comment about the graphs, but the point holds. If the data is fudged, how does Monbiot know so certainly that the data is so overwhelming that the climate change is man-made? Even some of the most ardent climatologists on the man-made climate change side admit that it is extremely complex and that the models cannot take into account many of the variables at play. History shows us that sometimes when "science" is this certain about something, it is wrong. In this case, with politics having such a big role, it becomes very dicey.

BTW, I am a scientist (chemist) although nothing to do with climate issues. So this is certainly not science bashing.

Dec. 16 2009 07:35 AM
David from Rhode Island

Lots of good comments here, and I would go a step further in why Mr. Monbiot has no credibility. He says paraphrasing a little) "the denial of mortality becomes more extreme as people become older". Really?? That is contrary to almost everyone's experience, I would bet. It is well known that young people feel immortal, invulnerable. Older people grow to accept their mortality and plan for it. I would love to see what study he bases that statement on.

So if that is the level of his "scientific facts", then it becomes just as hard to take seriously as his earlier statement that the evidence for MAN-MADE climate change is so strong that it is as much a fact as smoking causing cancer and HIV causing aids. This is exactly the problem. How would he know that since the data is being manipulated? He admits he cannot comment on the graphs that have been fudged, because that and similar data has not been "dived into". No wonder we cannot get factual reporting.

Now I am not saying that at least part of the climate change is not man-made. I don't know, and I don't think anyone else does either. I rather agree with Ken A and Peter S that it makes sense to look for better alternatives, since cleaner has got to be better. However, don't ignore the economic impact of these changes, it is complex. Yes, it may create jobs and new industries, but it also can put the US at a temporary disadvantage in costs compared to countries that keep burning fossil fuels. Not as easy an issue as it might seem, except to a "true believer".

Dec. 16 2009 07:28 AM
Tom Jones from Dallas, TX

Not to spoil Mr. Monbiot’s fun, but perhaps the reason that people over 60 (I am one) are less cooperative is that they have lived long enough to see the certainty of the ice age in the 70’s morph into the certainty of burning up now, and are pretty skeptical about both. If you are young enough, you have only seen it one way, and think that’s the way it ought to be. Also, if you are young enough, you still believe in authority figures that tell you what to do. People in their 60's are a lot more likely to have gotten past that.

Dec. 14 2009 02:07 PM
Tom Jones from Dallas, TX

Mr. Monbiot repeated the mantra which I have heard a lot lately, that there is still a mountain of evidence saying that man-made climate change is real, which implies that the consensus among scientists is a meaningful issue. I think otherwise. The way that I learned Physics at Berkeley, the only thing that matters is observed or experimental data. The validity of a theory is strictly its ability to predict an experiment or observation. Nothing else matters at all.

I have a suspicion that some scientists announced a theory before they were really sure of it and wanted to make sure that they are seen as right. Oh, well. Science grinds on. Ultimately, the correctness of a theory is all that’s going to matter.

Dec. 14 2009 12:31 PM

Should be:

Sorry to bring you news that the electorate is stupid and easily swayed. Not sure why that *now* lets certain scientists in climate science off the hook for persuading their fellow citizens and gives them moral and ethical authority to act as though we are in a technocracy.

Dec. 13 2009 03:11 PM

Do we live in:

a) technocracy
b) democracy

Sorry to bring you news that the electorate is stupid and easily swayed. Not sure why that *now* lets scientists off the hook for persuading their fellow citizens and gives them moral and ethical authority to act as though we are in a technocracy.

Dec. 13 2009 03:07 PM
Peter S from Fairfield CT

Perhaps Mr Monbiot's assertion would be more nuanced were he to use the term "indifference" for "denial", or at least couple the two ideas. In view of the overwhelming scale and cost of fixing the atmosphere I'm sure there are more than a few 60+ers who assume the next generation (their own children?) will fix the problem and besides, potential problems won't manifest till after they are long gone (opposite of mortality denial). An average citizen of any age is surely going to be frustrated and left feeling helpless when viewing the task of turning around an entire global culture. Perhaps on this one a consensus among the citizenry is an unwinnable goal. One thing I'm fairly sure of though: our supply of fossil fuels is running out and after living and breathing in Manhattan for 35 years the burning of said fuels really fouls the air, there's no denying that!

Dec. 13 2009 12:59 PM
Nancy M from United States

I was completely shocked and frankly disgusted to hear OTM using the term "denier" with reference to Climate Change. AS IF this is no longer an issue of science - one subject to examination and revision on the basis of new information.

To say this issue is settled or to imply that those who question it are either cranks, industry shills or alternatively George Mobiot's breathtakingly patronizing theory that it's just middle aged people feeling their mortality, is completely contrary to the spirit of scientific enquiry.

The point about the revelations in these emails is not that it raises the specter of conspiracy and collusion when it comes to climate change but that it shows about how climate "science" has become so politicized that it has ceased to be about discovering the truth at all.

For these scientists there is only one TRUTH about climate change, an ossified truth not subject to criticism, not appropriate for debate. That's why they were willing to fudge their data. They felt they were expressing a greater TRUTH. This is very bad news for those of us who feel that the data matters and that it is precisely in the process of study, argument and debate that science moves forward.

Shame on you OTM for falling into lock step and failing to use your critical faculties the way you usually do. I expected far better.

Dec. 13 2009 10:51 AM
Ken A from Shrewsbury, MA

I'm a science teacher of 6th graders. I've gotten comments in the past from my students that "my Dad" doesn't believe in Global warming.

This puts the child, the teachers and the schools in a precarious postion. I want my students to learn about global warming for themselves. I belive education is the best way to change opinion; but people who don't want to believe that global warming is fact and in fact caused by humans who are putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the planet can consume, are in total denial.

I simply want people to believe that it is better to do something about it than to deny its existance. They should ask themselves, "what harm can it do to simply try to reduce my consumption of energy to reduce my impact on the amount of pollutants that I put out?"

We only have one planet, and yes you can choose to ignore the evidence; but would we all be better off if we err on the side of energy reduction, than to simpy do nothing and err on the side of self destruction.

Dec. 12 2009 01:59 PM
Emacee1701 from Philadelphia, PA

Notice that OTM (again) covers this issue only from the perspective of the scientific establishment. The spokesman for mainstream science then (mis)represents the views of those who do not buy the "consensus" of scientists so as to marginalize them.
I keep looking for OTM to examine the media's pro-authority bias. Possibly this won't happen because OTM shares this bias.
The point of contention here is not whether the climate is getting warming. The issue is why. This is the classic divide between fact (data) and interpretation.
People over 60 have seen climate change. And heard about it. I grew up in Detroit. My mother told me when she was young, the Detroit River froze over each winter. I've read about and see pictures of cars (including bootleggers) driving across from Canada in the winter. Now the river is ice free all year.
Scientists also say we have recently come out of a "little ice age" which caused colder temperatures over most of the last millennium. Greenland is become green again. Maybe global warming is a natural phenomenon. Scientists also say the Earth was much warmer during climate periods before humans evolved. Climate varies. Where the "Green Establishment" fails to make its case is in the claim that humans and human industry are causing the current global warming.
The media, including OTM, should stop deferring to academics and challenge their presumptions and assertions.
And from my own academic experience, I can say fudging data is very common (either in pursuit of grants or some "greater truth").

Dec. 12 2009 01:12 PM

There's a third group. They say, "Yes carbon traps heat and the climate will change. I just don't care and you can't make me care" Then they go on the argue that the proponets all want to levy a huge tax on them.

Dec. 11 2009 08:09 PM

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