Still singing the same sad old song

Denial is a powerful thing. Climate change deniers these days are, like the polar bears, an endangered species, as wave after wave of science fact gradually washes away the last stubborn traces of our excuses for inaction.

Of course, there are some folk for whom this whole climate denial lark is very good indeed for business. Bjorn Lomborg has spun not one but two complete works of science fiction out of the subject, and along the way, made himself a tidy sum, and secured his place on the happy-clappy lecture circuit for the foreseeable future.

Closer to home, columnist Kevin Myers employs his considerable skills as a writer to weave a dense cloud of utter lunacy on climate change. It might be considered amusing as the script for some undergraduate debating society, but this bile is regularly published in a major national newspaper and presumably taken on board by some as having some basis in fact.

Myers has concocted the notion that environmentalism and concern about global warming is some form of new orthodoxy replacing austere Catholicism. He calls it Warmism. Boom boom. A recent article entitled “Rejoice, it’s Spring and climate doom merchants got it wrong” is a tedious case in point. He rattles out the standard humbug that a cold April ‘proves’ that global warming can’t be happening, backed up with the supporting ‘evidence’ of a harsh winter in China, not to mention the record snowfalls on Snowdon. So there.

‘Greenists’ is Myers’ term of collective abuse for anyone who is even slightly worried by the state of the planet. He lumps Warmism in with Catholicism and communism and somehow manages to equate them with the Third Reich.

Mmmm, Mr Myers, if these symptoms persist, take the pink pills, if not, just keep taking the blue, red, yellow and orangey ones. Thank goodness for doctors, eh? Their years of medical and scientific training mean they are much less likely than your average newspaper columnist to peddle total bull. In theory, anyhow.

That’s why it was so disappointing to see the eminent surgeon, Maurice Neligan lend his not inconsiderable moral authority to the lunatic fringe in his newspaper column this week. Sample the following:

“Aren’t these green ministers amazing – reduce the national herd, sailing luggers for the fishing fleet… whatever will they think of next? Wake up folks. This is all daft and in your hearts you know it. Nobody can give you an honest assessment of the problems we might (advisedly) encounter through global warming and when these might occur.

They are all based on computer modelling and an undoubted rise in temperatures. They appear to discount that this has happened before and that folk are pretty adaptable and can live happily in climes as disparate as Greenland and Singapore. They allow nothing for ingenuity and developing science. It’s rather like a medieval savant saying “put out that bloody candle, think of Elf Gormley in 2008″.

Maurice Neligan is rightly admired as a surgeon. This piece does him no credit whatever, and if as a medical professional he were to take the time to acquaint himself with the mountain of hard, peer-reviewed science underpinning anthropogenic global warming and its very real risks to all of humanity, I suspect he would not have put his name to such a poorly thought out piece.

The role of politicians, Neligan suggests, is to gratify our narrow, short term demands, and to hell with tomorrow. Or as he puts it: “I don’t want my car taxed out of existence. I want the lights to stay on and to be warm and have enough to eat. This is my basic selfish agenda – I suspect it is shared by nearly everybody. These are the basics, along with decent healthcare and education that you folk were elected to provide”.

I can understand the fun a professional mischief-maker like Kevin Myers is having with his mendacious meanderings prodding fun at sustainability, species extinction and our hilariously collapsing biosphere. But Maurice Neligan?

Rather than engage in Ecology 101, let me instead offer the wisdom of then US president, Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote in 1907 :“The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others”. And that was before the 20th Century heavily degraded most of the Earth’s natural systems.

We have a food crisis, a water crisis, a fisheries collapse and an oil crisis – and guess what the common denominator might be? Psychologists and medics use the acronym DABA as a means of memorising the four classic steps people coming to terms with bad news must traverse.

D is Denial, moving into A for Anger, followed by B for Bargaining, and finally, A for Acceptance, as the patient finally comes to terms with their newly altered reality. Messrs Myers and Neligan really need to move beyond ‘D’. If either needs a reading list, we’d be delighed to provide one.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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  • ciaran

    My tupence worth, the green ministers, in fact all well off people, need to worry about global warming, the rest of us poor depend on them using their oil gusling central heating systems and 2lt cars, it is the only place we will get any warmth this winter. I will be touring my neighbourhood to get warmed up as i will have no oil or solid fuel at the prices and restrictions the EU impose. How come the EU can control who produces home (household) produced goods on health and safety grounds and is seeming powerless to curtail rip off capitalism even within it’s own borders, e.g. supermarkets in Ireland, motor trade in Ireland, and they tell us we wont be forced to accept other unacceptable practices

  • http://none coilin maclochlainn

    John, – That’s terrific stuff! What a laugh. Difficult to be funny and get it right as well. I have often been disappointed by Dr Neligan’s failure to take the climate issue seriously. Perhaps he is doing a Jeremy Clarkson, just stirring it up while knowing well he is wrong. A cardiac surgeon could hardly be that ignorant, or could he? The problem with columnists writing nonsense, either by mistake or by design, is exactly what you said: some people will always believe them, and this makes it all the harder to get consensus on the need for action.

  • Wexford gal

    Absolutely bang on!! My late father used to say: ‘paper never refused ink’. When I saw Mr Nelligan’s piece in the Irish Times I was really shocked at a man I admire saying the things he said. You’re right, John, the fact that he has a training in sciencs is what makes it much harder to take from him. The other fellow Myers no longer writes for the newspaper I read, so no comment on that front. Guess like Eamon Dunphy he suffers from an attention deficit disorder and desperately needs people to be talking about him – even if they’re just giving out that he’s a total eejit. It just underlines that anyone who can type can be controversial and the more idiotic your ideas, the more attention they get.

  • Harry

    Hi John- long been an admirer of your Irish Times articles. The folowing may interest you. I have just completed reading a book called The Sun Kings by Stuart Clark- a history of the observation of sun spots. Very good read and Stuart highlights a little known fact (to me at least) that sun spots can contribut significantly to global warming. Briefly the theory is this- the earth is bombarded by cosmic rays from space. These are similar to particles released by the sun but carry more energy. The more rays that hit the earth, the cloudier the weather becomes. Seemingly the rays help develop electrically charged particles which attract water droplets forming clouds. However in periods of increased sun spot activity, the energy coming from the sun deflects or reduces the effect of the rays thus leading to a warmer earth. The consequence of sun spots is an increase in magnetic storms from the sun hitting the earth. Seemingly the Suns magnetic activity has doubled since 1901! The conclusion is that the sun contributes to global warming.
    I wonder if you have any evidence of this fact?

  • http://cuffestreet.blogspot.com/ Ciarán Cuffe

    Harry,

    Have a look at Professor Joanna Haigh’s work:
    http://www.sp.ph.ic.ac.uk/~joanna/

    Her work is complex, but when I heard her speak at the Royal Irish Academy last year, she emphasised that they are an issue, but dismissed the crackpot theories about them that are doing the rounds.

    Ciarán

  • http://www.tallrite.com/blog.htm Tony Allwright

    I would question your disparagement of the two writers.

    Bjorn Lomborg is a scientist of considerable weight. The way you write of him, I have to conclude you haven’t read his books, certainly not the Skeptical Environmentalist. It is built on the most solid of scientific foundations, with every statement backed up with references to the research on which it is based. There are wonderful illustrations, and deductions which are hard to argue against. That’s why Denmark’s Global Warm-mongers tried to get him silenced for his apostasy. But when he challenged them to find anything scientifically incorrect in his book they were rendered silent.

    You are suffering from the same ailment. You slag off Prof Lomborg but provide not a single piece of evidence to show he is an author of, in your words, “science fiction“.

    And you do something similar with Kevin Myers, who is not a scientist, just a lowly newspaper columnist – like you (and me, for that matter). He provides easily verifiable facts that challenge the orthodoxies of global warm-mongering. But you make no effort to either disprove them or draw different conclusions from them. You also lie about what he actually wrote: he never said “a cold April ‘proves’ that global warming can’t be happening“, just pointed out the inconsistency. Your idea of refutation is to tell Mr Myers to keep taking the pills. Is that the best you can do?

    Your opening paragraph starts with “wave after wave of science fact gradually washes away the last stubborn traces of our excuses for inaction“. Unless you and those who agree with you are prepared to deal scientifically with the “wave after wave of science fact” that denies man-made climate change, you’re going to continue to lose the argument. Ad hominen attacks just don’t cut the mustard.

    Good luck!

  • http://www.climatechange.ie John Gibbons

    Tony

    Thanks for dropping by. I have to admit, I read as much of ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’ as I needed to get the gist. I even tried reading his latest volume, ‘Cool It’ while preparing to write a newspaper column on Lomborg, but the gag reflex kept me from swallowing too much of that volume either.

    “Built on the most solid of scientific foundations”? I take it you’re being serious when you say this. Lomborg has gained international notoriety for cherry-picking crumbs of data that suit him while gingerly stepping around the mountains of climate data that don’t chime with his Pollyanna position.

    You tell me that “ad hominem attacks just don’t cut the mustard” yet you refer to ‘Global Warm-mongers’ as some collective conspiracy of loons, of which I have to assume I am one? Regarding Kevin Myers, if you read Kevin regularly, you’ll know he uses language colourfully and will gleefully denigrate those with whom he disagrees, so I wouldn’t worry too much on his behalf about my little ‘keep taking the pills’ jape.

    I’d be the first to admit that my grasp of florid language, especially of pejoratives, is in the ha’penny place compared with Kevin Myers! Kevin’s “easily verifiable facts that challenge the orthodoxies of global warming”, ah come on, now you are winding me up. Kevin Myers is having fun, unfortunately it’s at the expense of a subject that many people (this writer included) don’t find a damn bit funny.

    Tony, let’s cut to the chase here. You don’t “buy” peak oil either, as per your closing statement in your newspaper article: “The limitless human mind will always ensure there is sufficient oil to meet humankind’s needs until well after our grandchildren have died of old age”.

    You perhaps think anthropogenic climate change is some conspiracy by wicked scientists trying to secure funding grants (though I don’t wish to put words in your mouth, maybe you simply think 99% of professional climate scientists are wrong about their field of expertise, versus the collective wisdom of Kevin Myers and Bjorn Lomborg, whose published work I believe only extends as far as something called ‘Game Theory’, ie. nothing, nada to do with climate change).

    We will have to agree to disagree on both counts. I go along with the majority view that Peak Oil is either right upon us, or no more than a short number of years away. With oil demand still rising sharply, one day soon, production will simply not be able to keep up. Will this be at 90mbd, or 95 or 100mbd? That remains to be seen, but oil, notwithstanding some technological wheezes that may give limited improvements in output, is a finite resource.

    To quote M. King Hubbert, a man who knew more than most about oil extraction: “we can assume with complete assurance that the industrial exploitation of fossil fuels will consist of progressive exhaustion of an initially fixed supply.” Any other analysis is strictly in the realm of wishful thinking.

    Jared Diamond published ‘The Rise & Fall of the Third Chimpanzee’ back in 1991, ie. years before what you call the Global Warm-mongers had even got started. Prof Diamond identified all those years ago the seeds of catastrophic environmental collapse.

    Let me quote him briefly: “Our species is now at the pinnacle of its numbers, its geographic spread, its power, and the fraction of the Earth’s productivity that it commands. That is the good news. The bad news is that we are also involved in the process of reversing all that progress much more rapidly than we created it. Our power threatens our own existence”.

    That is as clear and prescient a warning as you could get as to the collision course humanity as it has currently organised itself has set with the environment that sustains us all. Prof Diamond is a Pulitzer Prize winning academic and author. Bjorn Lomborg’s talents, I would respectfully suggest, lie mainly in the field of PR and presenting slide shows to eager and grateful business and corporate folk who are just dying to be told that Business As Usual is A-OK.

    Just keep on flattening the forests, emptying the seas, poisoning the water, heating up the atmosphere, none of this will EVER affect us! No way, humanity has evolved! We’re so darn smart, if things get too rough here, we’ll probably be able to invent some new technical gizzmo that will cause extinct species to reappear, weather to stabilise, pollution to abate, fish to reappear in the seas, desertification to be thrown into reverse, etc.

    Tony, if that’s what you Kevin and Bjorn really believe, then the very best of Good Luck to you all!

  • http://www.okgetreal.com Jonathan Dickson

    As threatened as the polar bear? You have been sold a pup. Do a little research – there are more polar bears than ever! JD, http://www.okgetreal.com