Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets

I saw an interview on television last night with George Monbiot. He is a columnist in the British newspaper, The Guardian, and the author of a climate change book, Heat: How to stop the planet burning. The title pretty much tells you which side of the climate debate he is on, although he would object to that statement, since he firmly believes there is no real debate, as all the so-called deniers are just poseurs arguing bad science or non science.

I read through some of his archived columns and the Wikipedia description of him this morning and he has quite the curriculum vitae. He seems to me to be an anti-establishment activist. Monbiot is an advocate of the “consume less” society. Naturally, supporting the conventional wisdom on climate change fits that political agenda to a tee.

I was interested to see him because the news of the leaked e-mails from the British Climate Research Unit shook him up. He called for the head of that institute, Phil Jones, to step down.

But he seems to have recovered his cool, if last night’s interview was an indication. He was smooth, poised, polished and definitely in command. He was here to accomplish two things: to participate in a climate change debate and to beat up on Canada for foot -dragging on climate change and interfering with the rest of the world that is rushing to get on with the program at Copenhagen.

Of course, he was asked about the leaked e-mails and he was in full defense mode, characterizing it as maybe evidence of some bad behaviour by 3 or 4 people, but in no way derailing the accepted science of climate change. According to him there are “hundreds” of “lines” of evidence in the scientific community, from across many disciplines, which support the IPCC view of the world’s coming climate.

I found that statement interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, the usual accusation against the climate deniers is that they are not “climatologists”, even if they have other scientific credentials. This ignores the fact that there are climatologists who dispute the AGW theory, some of whom used to be “go to” people for the IPCC, who have since dissociated themselves from it. Leaving that point aside, here we have a pro-IPCC supporter flogging the fact that non climatologists support AGW as proof of the theory.


A little hypocrisy at play there.

Secondly, it is more than 3 or 4 scientists at the heart of this initial scandal. As well, similar accusations have cropped up in Australia and New Zealand regarding the accuracy of the temperature records around the globe.

What Monbiot didn’t say is as important as what he did say. These so-called “3 or 4” that he went to lengths to dismiss as irrelevant are not your backroom, white-coated lab geeks, with plastic pocket protectors and Scotch Tape holding their outsized eyeglasses together. These scientists are the rock stars of the IPCC and the face of the public shilling for AGW. It would be like collusion amongst Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, or any other high scoring hockey players who might have played at the same time, to limit their goal output to influence the outcome of the games their teams play.

Monbiot failed to address the most distressing point of all (which the interviewer should have asked him). The CRU lost all the original temperature data records, so nobody can be sure what the base measurements were. It is also clear from the e-mails that the data base they do have, which was manipulated and massaged from the original data, is seriously corrupted to the point that the complier gave up in frustration trying to make sense of it.

Now you can say what you like, as Monbiot did, that biology, chemistry, physics, etc., all support the AGW theory, but in the end, it is the temperature that matters. If you can’t rely on a verifiable base of accurate temperature, how can you predict how that has changed? You have built a theory on sand, not concrete.

Monbiot dismissed the idea of a world-wide conspiracy to fabricate global warming, indicating that not only would thousands of competitive scientists have to stop being competitive to make it happen, but also politicians and media.

Yes, but only if you think of conspiracy as a planning exercise, like a bunch of crooks getting together to plan a break into a bank vault after hours.

There is another sense of conspiracy in the form of the Zeitgeist (spirit of the time). It is not planned, it is simply embraced. It is a mass movement, not unlike a religious movement. In one of his columns on his blog, Monbiot dismisses climate deniers as belonging to a religious movement.

But the same could be said for AGW supporters.

Climate “science” is based on computer algorithms, which depend for their reliability on a good base of information (which we have just discovered through these e-mails that we do not have) and the ability to compute huge swaths of measureable data accurately. The climate models all fail in one fashion or another to take account of all the chaotic nature of the relevant climate inputs. In short, their reliability as accurate predictors is suspect.

In the normal course, one would have to say this is a stupid basis on which to reorganize our global societies.

So what accounts for Copenhagen, if it is not reason?

The answer is simply that it is a mass movement, not really any different from the South Sea Bubble or the Tulip Bubble or any of the other historical parallels where multitudes of people bought into the theory of the rising tide and jumped on board before the ship sailed and stranded them on shore. People want to believe that they can change the planet to something better. It is utopia in all its glory at play.

Here is a paragraph from Eric Hoffer’s excellent little book on mass movements, The True Believer:

For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change, they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute, and they must have the feeling that by the possession of some potent doctrine, infallible leader or some new technique they have access to a source of irresistible power. They must also have an extravagant conception of the prospects and the potentialities of the future. Finally, they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking.

George Monbiot’s personal history reveals a person who is a malcontent and wants to change the world. His pathology is shared by millions in the developed world who feel guilty about the consumerism and waste they have embraced, the unsustainable globe. The AGW theory is just the wedge they need to bring about the utopian world of which they dream.

And here is what Hoffer had to say about that:

When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them.

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