Earth Hour and dumbass contrarianism

As an Australian I am sort of proud that the Earth Hour event has now taken off all over the world. Practically speaking of course I am not sure the event achieves all that much, but if it continues as an annual event it will serve as a potent global reminder of the importance of tackling climate change issues. I think its interesting that folks like Matthew Warren at The Australian and of course perennial climate change sceptic Tim Blair have quickly jumped back on the contrarian bandwagon. Unfortunately, the event embodies enough symbolistic bonhomie to attract satire and ridicule from anyone with a bone to pick with either the mainstream acceptance of the climate change science or symbolism in politics more generally. There is a target on its back as wide as a barn because of the way it is framed.

I suppose a slightly broader question is whether events like this are really worthwhile, when all things are considered. Regular readers of this blog will probably not be surprised to hear that I think they are, although I think its healthy to temper one’s view of symbolic events like Earth Hour with a dose of scepticism. I think the positives we can take out of Earth Hour mostly relate to increasing public awareness of climate change issues, and the marketing of environmental issues more broadly as being somewhat relevant to us all. Any reduction in overall carbon emissions resulting from Earth Hour is of course likely to be on the inconsequential side of things, as several critics pointed out in relation to last year’s inaugural event. However, critics who focus entirely on the raw carbon emission reduction from the event are missing the point. The event provides an avenue to people who ordinarily would not give two hoots about climate change issues to be part of something bigger themselves and make a small difference. Many people now doubt see that powerful corporations and other Australians they respect and admire are taking the event seriously, and decide to participate, or in the very least, think a little bit more for a moment about what climate change may eventually mean for the planet.

The professionalism and success of the campaign is an interesting contrast to the sheer juvenilia exhibited by some climate change science deniers. But then for some of these people, “denier” is too strong a word; they haven’t bothered to engage with the science, and only seem interested in letting off some steam with some faux-cool contrarianism. These guys are to climate change issues what kids taking mobile phone pictures up women’s skirts are to clothes shopping. Offensive, irrelevant, and just plain pathetic.

UPDATE: Tim Blair’s entirely predictable and brain-free snark in response to this post is here. I feel gratified to be the target of a re-run of the “Al Gore catches a lot of planes” gag. Maybe it is a summer programming thing over there – who knows?

13 thoughts on “Earth Hour and dumbass contrarianism

  1. “Offensive, irrelevant, and just plain pathetic” nails it. The debate has moved on. Blair’s missives on global warming were an enjoyable distraction a few years ago but he’s obsolete now.

  2. I actually find that it’s the Global Warming alarmists that don’t pay much attention to science and are still spouting rubbish that has been disproved long ago. Science has moved on at a vast rate of knots, and most of it has been ignored by the IPCC. Global warming theory has all but been demolished by many reputable scientists, yet the true believers of the AGW faith do not listen to the arguments as they do not support their idealistic beliefs.

    Earth Hour deserves all the stick it has been getting and more. It is the most ill-conceived idea the left ever had, and sends completely the wrong message to people. If these people really do believe that global warming exists and if it exists is caused by man-made CO2 emissions, is it really wise to tell people that they can make a difference by lighting candles and BBQs instead of relatively efficient lightbulbs, to encourage people to drive their cars to vantage point to observe the spectacle. Above all, it is pure hypocrisy to advertise the event by flying hot-air balloons around our major cities. It gives people a nice warm feeling inside, but totally fails to address the issue. If they believe in their cause, then they would be far better to promote green energy as this has had a dismal uptake rate so far.

    My biggest concern is that Fairfax has linked itself firmly to Earth Hour and this encourages a total lack of objectivity in their reporting of environmental affairs.

    I for one am ashamed that Australia has exported this crazy idea to the world…

  3. Jp, do you have any support for your claim that “global warming theory has been demolished by many reputable scientists”? The last I heard was that there was actually pretty much of a complete and utter consensus amongst the scientific world that global warming was a reality.

    As I’ve outlined in my post, I think the whole idea of Earth Hour is not necessarily to make a big difference in terms of carbon emission reduction, but to raise awareness about global warming issues. The argument that you air above that suggests that everyone who uses more electricity than they should is some form of hypocrite misses the point completely. I suppose in a sense it is kind of like the 40 Hour Famine campaign run by World Vision – nobody really thinks that starving a Westerner for fourty hours is going to solve world poverty; its just a device for raising interest and awareness about the issues.

    Given the amount of breath that has been exhausted on the event by supporters and detractors alike, in this endeavour Earth Hour has once again been a remarkable success.

  4. Guy,

    I have plenty of support and plenty of sources to quote… Which particular aspects of global warming theory / alarmism would you like me to provide evidence against? To be quite honest, the claims made by the left in relation to global warming are so varied and outrageous that I wouldn’t know where to start.
    However, contrary to what you claim, there is absolutely no consensus on this matter… The number of “skeptic” papers published in the last year alone exceeded 400 which is slightly more than the number of IPCC (supposed) scientists that concluded that CO2 was to blame for “Global Warming” (53 –

    On your Earth Hour point… Do you really think that awareness needs to be raised on global warming? I think that it’s had a more than fair run in the press & media.

  5. OOPS… I prematurely pressed Enter… That should have said (53 – but the findings were disputed by many more)

  6. P.P.S. As far as I’m aware, at no time did I claim that “everyone who uses more electricity than they should is some form of hypocrite”

    If I did, then I would be a hypocrite myself…

  7. Here are some pretty basic starting points supporting the idea that a consensus exists on global warming issues.

    This AAAS Board Statement [PDF] is fairly unequivocal about the climate change science. This Wikipedia page also provides a useful summary of the position of quite a number of reputable academic organisations that are in line with the broader consensus on climate change. There is apparently not a single dissenting professional scientific organisation at this stage, although I assume that you will be able to inform me of some.

    Closer to home, Professor Ross Garnaut, one of the nation’s leading economists and certainly no raving lefty, has staked his professional reputation as an economist on the fact that climate change is a reality in his response to the Garnaut Review. Like I assume most of us who are not climate scientists, Garnaut does not have the time, resources or expertise to conduct a through review of the science, but he nevertheless had this to say in his Interim Report [PDF]:

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report
    (2007), recognised an improvement in the scientific understanding of anthropogenic
    influences on climate change, and concluded that the warming of the climate system
    is ‘unequivocal’, and that there was a ‘very high confidence’ – a greater than 90 per
    cent chance – that ‘the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has
    been one of warming’.

    The large majority of the relevant scientific opinion, and of the leadership of
    the learned academies of science in the countries of great scientific
    accomplishment, hold the view that human-induced climate change is with us, and
    that it is already affecting natural and human systems and will increasingly create
    risks to current patterns of human settlement and activity. The Review takes as a
    starting point, on the balance of probabilities and not as a matter of belief, the
    majority opinion of the Australian and international scientific communities.

    If you can produce a body of references that is more compelling than the references above, than I would be interested. However, to be honest I doubt that is possible. I admit there are some scientists who disagree with the broader consensus, and that is fine. But there is nevertheless a majority general agreement or acceptance that based on the available evidence, human-caused climate change is a reality.

    In relation to a couple of your other points: you are right that there is a general awareness of the issues. However, I don’t think achieving a relatively high level of public awareness has ever stopped World Vision from doing 40 Hour Famines, or for that matter Coke or McDonalds from advertising their products. Ongoing information and PR campaigns are a fact of life. That we are even discussing this at the moment rather than doing something else is testament to the fact that in certain ways Earth Hour was yet again a success. :)

    As for the hypocrite point, I was referring to your passage above:

    If these people really do believe that global warming exists and if it exists is caused by man-made CO2 emissions, is it really wise to tell people that they can make a difference by lighting candles and BBQs instead of relatively efficient lightbulbs, to encourage people to drive their cars to vantage point to observe the spectacle.

    If you weren’t suggesting that such people were hypocrites, can you clarify what you were suggesting?

  8. “I think the positives we can take out of Earth Hour mostly relate to increasing public awareness of climate change issues, and the marketing of environmental issues more broadly as being somewhat relevant to us all.”

    Is that the reason for your no doubt “carbon-emission extravagant” tour through Europe then? To increase public awareness there?

  9. Guy,

    Sorry for the delay, but I’ve been busy with more urgent matters…

    I must admit, you did manage to come up with a couple of references that I wasn’t expecting…

    I’ve not heard of the AAAS, but they seem to be yet another psuedo-scientific body who are more than prepared to say “me too” to the IPCC’s findings without doing any research themselves… Maybe there’s a government grant at stake… In addition, I’d be very hesitant to quote Wikipedia as an authority on anything…

    Your points about Ross Garnaut and that he “does not have the time, resources or expertise to conduct a through review of the science” is probably very defining of the problem that we face… Everyone seems to be accepting the words of 30-40 scientists who were commissioned by a body whose mission in life was to prove the existence of global warming and who received a lot of political coaching along the way. The same people ignore the facts and hard climate science because they are inconvenient to their cause.

    TA (above) provided you with a link that provides links to many of the scientific papers that disprove the link between CO2 and global warming…

    In addition, I thought that I’d provide you with this potted summary of the skeptical viewpoint… If you can read through this and still maintain your confidence in Al Gore and IPCC’s preachings, I’d be amazed…

    No doubt these sources are not as authoritative as you require, but neither was the little boy that claimed that the emperor had no clothes…

  10. Apologies all for the lapse in response – I have been away over the weekend.

    TA – thanks for the reference – I will have a read through and post my thoughts on the report later here.

    JJM – I’m not sure what your point about my travel has to do with the success or otherwise of Earth Hour. I think it might be more worthwhile for you to use your noggin and engage with the substantive points raised in my post, rather than taking personal pot-shots, I’m fairly aware that my recent travel exploits have meant that my contribution to carbon emissions over the last year have been higher than usual. I am planning to put some money where my mouth is and do some offsetting.

    Matthew, you are correct. Unfortunately in debates like this, rationality too often takes a backseat to ideological cheerleading.

    JP – Understandable!

    I will have a bit of a read through the links you mention. I think you’re probably being a bit unfair on the AAAS though. The point you raise in relation to Garnaut seems to me to be a more general criticism of mainstream society’s relationship with the scientific community. It’s probably fair to say that the vast majority of people simply accept at face value a lot of things that the scientific community tells them. Sometimes, it is true, the majority of the scientific community is wrong, and there are countless examples of this throughout history as our scientific knowledge and understanding improves. If scientists don’t always get it right the first time, then I am not sure how the average person who doesn’t have a professional stake in the science has much of a chance.

    Is “climate change” or global warming another one of these scenarios? On balance, from what I have read so far, I find the arguments supporting the phenomenon’s thesis to be more compelling and convincing than the arguments against. But I will have a look through regardless.

  11. I’ve have had a bit of a look through some of the links that folks have posted now, and there is some interesting stuff there. All in all, however, I can’t really say I am inclined to change my views based on the observations posted.

    The Senate minority report on climate change (headed by Republican Senator and climate change sceptic James Inhofe) seeks to challenge the concept that there is a scientific consensus on global warming issues by presenting a petition of over 400 scientists. It’s probably worth pointing out that Senator Inhofe’s own views on climate change have been quite convincingly criticised by the folks over at RealClimate in the past. RealClimate, incidentally, has quite a good collection of material supporting the climate change “consensus”.

    In any case, the full list of the names on the petition is here together with a short summary of the position held by each scientist. It seems the majority of names on the list hold a PhD or higher qualification in some scientific field, but it is notable that the number of folks on the list who can actually be counted as climatologists is actually quite low. The list also includes the odd economist (e.g. conservative thinktanker and op/ed columnist Alex Robson) and the odd person closely connected with the coal industry (e.g. from what I can gather, Len Walker). It’s probably also worth noting that even if this list was full of climatologists, which it is not, it would likely represent around 2% of all the climatologists in the world.

    There is some further interesting background commentary on this particular report over at Deltoid (e.g. see in particular comments #20-41).

    The second link (provided by JP) is from James Peden, formerly an active scientist and the editor of the “Middlebury Community Network”; ahem. I do actually admire the effort that Peden has put into presenting the case against climate change here, and some of the points he makes do give credence to the idea that certain aspects of the science are debatable (which of course, as our understanding of the issues change, it is). On the other hand, he does seem to a lot of the time be more interested in scoring points against Al Gore (referenced twenty times) and his movie than the science – this suggests to me that his piece is not just motivated by an open and probing scientific mind.

    This passage that seeks to divide the “liberals” from the “conservatives” is a case in point:

    The “debate” now seems to be settled down between two opposing political forces, commonly labeled “liberal” and “conservative”, and two separate scientific “methods” of proving their points. Here they are, in a nutshell:

    All of the empirical evidence now favors the “conservatives”, who apply the laws of physics and chemistry to known data and conclude that anthropogenic global warming can’t be happening. The coup de grace on the conservative side is the fact that CO2 is lagging temperature, and thus, they say, what happens next month can’t possibly be affecting what is happening today. We tend to favor this logic.

    The “liberals”, on the other hand, have turned to computer modeling to “prove” the world is about to come to an end. Models can and in fact are being constructed which can prove anything you want. By tweaking the data, you can even make them come out with the opposite answer. “Modeling” is a perfect tool for perpetuating a scam like this, because they have absolutely no basis in factual science, yet are easy to sell to the unsuspecting public who thinks they are a part of legitimate research process.

    For just a moment, let’s just set aside that blatantly unfair division of the two camps into the “science-loving conservatives” and those “crazy, crazy computer modelling liberals”. If you believe Peden, it seems, all computer modelling is bad and can’t be trusted. He doesn’t even look to draw any distinction between good, accurate modelling and poor modelling, which strikes me as quite frankly, intellectually dishonest. One wonders just how different society would be if Peden’s mantra suggesting that computer modelling is the devil’s work actually became the consensus amongst the business and academic community today. In short, it is an absurd prospect. Of course computer modelling can be inaccurate or made to look inaccurate, but the broad sweep of the arm employed here is quite simply unfair to the innumerable economists, scientists, and businesses all over the world who use (and actually rely on) computer modelling in their lines of work.

    As a further example of the political agenda driving some sceptics, Peden speaks glowingly of the Manhattan Declaration, the recommendations of which are below:

    That world leaders reject the views expressed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well as popular, but misguided works such as “An Inconvenient Truth.”

    That all taxes, regulations, and other interventions intended to reduce emissions of CO2 be abandoned forthwith.

    There really does seem to be something of an obsession shared by much of the climate change community with Al Gore and his picture, and of course that other conservative policy staple du jour, tax and regulation reduction. I’ve seen An Inconvenient Truth and am aware of some of the movie’s inconsistencies and misrepresentations, and the fact that it is of course presenting a one-dimensional view of the issues. But for me at least, whether or not the movie was good or fair bears absolutely no relation to whether or not the science is robust, which should be the issue of real interest to everyone. When a sceptic starts picking on Al Gore in an attempt to make a point (usually political) about climate change issues, that’s usually a sign for more that their critique of the issues is just as much political as it is scientific.

    It is probably worth noting in concluding that Peden does actually admit that he believes “global warming” is real and does exist; his view seems to be predicated on the idea that humanity’s contribution to global warming is insignificant enough to make any intervention to reduce human impact pointless. In this passage he seems to agree that sea-levels are rising (albeit not, he argues, due to the global ice caps melting), but for some reason this does not really seem to concern him at all:

    Our Oceanography friends tell us that the actual measured rise in average ocean levels is on the order of 1.6 millimeters (about the width of a match ) annually. There are 25.4 mm in an inch, so in 25 years, the oceans might be up about 1.5 inches or so if the trend continues. In a thousand years, it will be up a whopping 64 inches, and everyone but the NBA is clearly in serious trouble.

    Strange. The NBA bit seems to be a punchline, but I don’t find the idea of water levels rising 64 inches in the next 1000 years all that funny.

    Furthermore, many of the points (e.g. particularly in relation to water vapour) he makes are quite convincingly rebutted in this summary of pro and counter arguments here.

    Overall, as I mentioned before, Peden has obviously put a lot of effort into putting his piece together, but I think its both politically compromised and not entirely accurate in a number of aspects when it comes to the science.

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