This weekend was a busy one for me, but I had time early in the mornings (thanks to our new puppy) to spend a little time catching up on what is happening in the environmental world. In the process I caught the attention (and ire) of some of my least-favourite environmental activists: angry anonymous academics, grumpy retirees and numerous anonymous trolls. This blog post started as a light lark about the internecine battles between climate activists but has ended up as a state-of-the-union sort of piece that refutes a lot of malicious slander being directed my way by the likes of Miriam (SouBundanga) O’Brien and her acolytes who have filled my twitter feed with their rubbish, lies and insults. It puts some thoughts together in one place and describes where my mind is on the topic of Lukewarmism, climate change “denial” and the current state of the environmental movement.
As regular readers of this blog know, I am a Lukewarmer. What does that mean? It means I agree with the fundamental science of climate change. I acknowledge that the anthropogenic addition of Tyndall gases into the atmosphere will have an effect on global climate. As such, I agree with consensus (as presented by the IPCC) on the topic of climate change. As a Lukewarmer my primary difference with the alarmists is that I believe that the climate’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide is on the lower end of the consensus scale presented by the IPCC. The basis for this belief is a combination of my graduate-level education in global biogeochemical cycles and my personal knowledge of the early global climate models used to generate the original sensitivity numbers.
I’ve been a Lukewarmer for over two decades (even before Lukewarmers had a name) and in that time my Lukewarmer viewpoint has been consistently demonstrated to be a better representation of climate sensitivity than the alarmists’ views. More specifically, in the last two decades the consensus climate sensitivity estimate has gradually decreased to approximately the point I guessed it would be when I last looked closely at the topic over a decade ago. Conversely, the current consensus climate sensitivity estimate is now much lower than the one the alarmists were using in their discussions of the same era.
In my blog I have repeatedly discussed the policy means by which we can reduce our emissions of Tyndall gases while mitigating the effects of the climate change that is already locked into the system. I have promoted renewable and alternative energy technologies and have highlighted the policy needed to enhance our available renewable energy portfolio. Moreover, as a private citizen I worked to help get a carbon tax enacted in my home province of British Columbia. So I am exactly what I say I am: a pragmatic environmentalist who has worked to achieve evidence–based policy goals.
My pragmatism represents one of my major “sins” in the climate change debate where the two choices are: true believer or heretic. Another is that while I am a progressive on social issues I am conservative on financial issues. I believe in the power of a free market that is overseen by, but not controlled by, a functioning regulatory regime. I believe in the motto “polluter pays” and have worked in a contaminated sites industry for the last 15 years where “polluter pays” is more than a motto, it is how we do business. Most of the alarmist crew are far more left-leaning in the political spectrum. They are mostly comprised of people with the politics of Naomi Klein (and the authors of the Leap Manifesto) who seek to throw out our capitalist system to be replaced by a socialist paradise. They have a stronger belief in the ability of government to manage change than I do and believe that government action is the only way to beat climate change.
As a free-market type, I appreciate the existence of our regulators but have come to recognize their flaws and limitations. I have come to acknowledge that the government is extremely bad at picking winners and losers and that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I do not believe that the government can just magically make money appear. I know that the government gets its money by taxing or borrowing and money spent by government in one area restricts the amount it can spend in another. I recognize that infrastructure takes time to build and that history has taught us that environmental issues are thrown to the back-burner when the economy is bad. This means that maintaining a strong economy is a necessity if we are going to fight climate change. Finally I have crunched the numbers on what is needed to achieve a fossil fuel-free future and recognize that the infrastructure needs are staggering and thus the transition is not going to happen in 5-15 years but will take 30-50+ years and in the intervening time we will need to safely transport fossil fuels across our continent.
Now let’s consider the nature of the climate change debate. Well, the alarmists are not doing too well these days. Certainly the Paris Agreement was passed, but that was more a testament to the pragmatists and the middle-of-the-roaders than the alarmists. The alarmists keep screaming from the tops of hills but the rest of the world has taken to tuning them out? Why you might ask? Well in my opinion, it is because they are too quick to make enemies and so unserious that it is hard to take them seriously.
Consider their use of the term “denier”. Before I go further, a bit of background; I was a young boy when Ernst Zündel published the pamphlet “Did Six Million Really Die” (in 1974). I grew up in a time of the quiet growth of the Holocaust denial movement in western Canada. I was a young activist while the Keegstra case worked its way up to the Supreme Court of Canada and did my small part to support groups who fought anti-Semitism and the rise of Holocaust Denial. I watched as a tremendous effort was made to link a relatively benign word “denier” with the concept of Holocaust Denial. This was not a local phenomena but one that happened world-wide. This linking worked and for many of my generation the term “denier” has a power like few others. Happily, my kids are growing up in an era where (at least where I live) Holocaust denial is restricted to those with recognizably bad intentions. As a consequence many from younger generations do not have the same associations with that word that people of my age do.
Given this background, you can imagine my disappointment when the term “denier” was misappropriated by a core of activists who recognizing its power (a power soaked in the blood, sweat and tears of people I knew and respected) who decided to use it to label their opponents in the climate change debate. I have even less time for the apologists who say, “well look it up in the dictionary” and thus excuse themselves of the implied slander associated with using the term. When I was a young man the “joke” used to be that calling a homosexual a “faggot” was not an insult because if you looked the word up in the dictionaries of the time the definition simply read “a bundle of sticks”. Everyone knew that the word had an incredibly evil use intended to degrade the person being addressed but for some the fact that the dictionaries had not caught up with the common usage meant it was okay to use this vile term.
Nowadays I have mostly given up fighting the historically illiterate activists who insist on using the word but still pay attention to how it is being used. A decade ago, it was used to label a small minority of individuals who actually argued that climate change was not happening, but that, too, has changed. You would think that having misappropriated a term that has so much inherited power you would be careful how you used it….and in this you would be wrong. Instead of being treated with reverence it is bandied about these days like a minor insult just below “racist” but above “sexist”.
So how is the word “denier” used these days? Well a “freelance consultant” with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Honours) by the name of Miriam O’Brien (known better as SouBundanga who has a huge online following) called me a “science denier” for no other reason than because I got into a disagreement on the semantics of the term. Locally a transportation planner and campaigner with no education in climate science has taken to calling people “soft climate deniers” in the newspapers and on social media because they disagree with him on transportation options in our community. When he does so what do we hear from the serious people in the activist community? Nothing. A political science grad whose research topics include welfare policy, poverty, inequality and economic security with no apparently no formal training in climate science calls anyone who disagrees with his progressive policy choices climate deniers and what do we hear from the activists? Nothing. Heck, Dr. Naomi Oreskes a specialist in the history of science calls the father of climate alarmism, Dr. James Hansen a climate denier because of differences in how nuclear energy can be used in fighting climate change and once again the great majority of activists in the alarmist camp say nothing.
It is no wonder people have stopped taking the alarmists seriously, since they can’t be bothered to take what each other says seriously. Moreover their infighting is like something out of a Monty Python movie or 1920’s Russia. When Dr. Oreskes condemns Dr. Hansen I keep trying to remember which one represents the People’s Front of Judea and which is the Judean People’s Front? Frankly if the Romans (ooops I mean climate skeptics) had planned it I don’t think they could have done a better job turning the activist fringes of the climate alarmist brigades against each other or making them look more ridiculous. Perhaps it is time that the intellectual leaders of the movement speak out because right now they have become more of a punch-line than anything else. How else to explain how Donald Trump can run a presidential campaign rejecting climate change while Hillary Clinton runs hers without any useful discussion of one of the seminal issues of our generation.
As a pragmatic environmentalist I am deeply saddened. I see the effort of individuals like myself being overwhelmed as progressives have gradually wrest the environmental movement from the hands of environmentalists and scientists and put it in the hands of philosophers, sociologists and political scientists. People who understand little about the complexity of the problems facing us but instead see this as their latest hobby-horse that they can ride to potential political power. In the end it is likely that the fading world economy will take the wind out of the environmental sails and we will once again have failed to make hay while the sun shone; because as history teaches us, when the economy goes down environmental awareness goes out the window. It is not too late to achieve some goals, but given the tenor and the quality of the people leading that debate, I am quite certain that we will have missed this window of opportunity. It reminds me of the old Alberta (Texas?) expression: Dear Lord, please give me another boom and I promise not to blow it only it looks like we took this opportunity and blew it again.
Since I wrote this piece I was made aware of a blog post by the wildly popular climate mouthpiece Miriam O’Brian. I had to be told about the piece because she was very careful (cowardly) not to inform me of its existence or provide any links that might have made me aware of its existence. Here is a link to the blog post which I welcome you to visit. Be warned calling the piece mudslinging would be to give it too much credit. The strangest part of the piece is that she brags about not ever having read anything I have written while asserting strongly and repeatedly that I am a “denier” and making secondary accusations that are simply base and untrue. She quite effectively demonstrates the mindset of the climate activist and her blog post is a learning experience for me.
While she hasn’t read me work, Miriam does take a number of my Twitter comments out of context. Amusingly, since she included links to the comments you can actually follow the threads which show her falsehoods and makes reading her blog even more entertaining. If I were James Inhofe trying to create a parody of an intolerant climate alarmist I would reject her as being too extreme. Few would believe that a person like her really exist, but like Ann Coulter she is wildly popular among her set. I presume this is mostly because she is willing to say such bizarre things and reinforce their biases.
Be sure to read the comments as they include a take from a gent by the name of Ken Rice who blogs under the name “and Then There’s Physics“. Ken works at the University of Edinburgh as an Astrophysicist (don’t worry his training is not in climate science) and he got his knickers in a knot over the fact that I did not show anger at a comment below that used the term “science denier“. As people who have followed this brouhaha know Miriam called me a “science denier” and chrism56 used a literary device where he turned the insult around for emphasis to demonstrate why it was an inappropriate thing to say. Now Ken being a literal man seems unable to comprehend literary devices and claims I am being two-faced on the topic. I would simply point out that anyone with a classical education would recognize the literary device and will leave it at that.