Posts Tagged ‘Martin Lack’
Our weather systems are entirely driven by the laws of science.
“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.“
So wrote William Wordsworth.
The last twelve months has been a period of untypical weather in many parts of the world. It’s easy to scratch one’s head with puzzlement and blame it on the most convenient and fashionable theory of the moment. Unusual jet stream pattern; polar vortex; aliens! You get the idea! However, the principle behind what is happening to the weather systems across our planet is very straightforward. Our weather systems are described by the laws of science.
Thus it is a great pleasure to offer the following guest post from a scientist: Martin Lack. Martin should be no stranger to readers of Learning from Dogs; his most recent contribution was the major three-part essay From Environmentalism to Ecologism.
Conserving mass, water, and energy
I must admit that I am rather fond of quoting Sir Arthur Eddington as having once said, “…if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.” Without quibbling over the detail, the Law of Conservation of Mass is pretty darn close; but what, you may ask, has this got to do with climate change denial?
Conservation of mass of water
Well, consider for a moment that scientists seem to agree that there has been a 4% increase in the average moisture content of the Earth’s atmosphere since 1970. That being the case, I am bound to say that this extra 4% is making its presence felt in the UK at the moment! This year we have had the wettest 3 months (April – June) in over 100 years; the wettest June on record; the rain is still falling (sometimes as much as 80mm in a day); and – we are now being told – there is no change anticipated in coming weeks. So, if you’re coming over for the Olympics, expect to get wet!
However, whilst the UK suffers from near Biblical levels of flooding, if the Law of Conservation of Mass is to be upheld and – all other things like terrestrial ice volume remaining equal(!) – the volume of water in the oceans is to remain constant, then it must be failing to rain somewhere else. If so, is there any evidence to support this
theory Law? Well, funnily enough, there is: Whilst the UK continues to receive more rain than it wants or needs (all hose pipe bans and drought restrictions have now been lifted), many parts of the World continue to suffer from persistent drought (in sub-Saharan West Africa) and/or record-breaking temperatures (in most of North America).
Sadly, none of this seems to stop self-confessed scientifically-illiterate English graduates such as James Delingpole from ridiculing the entire notion of global warming simply because it is raining a lot here at the moment. It may seem that he has just got a nasty case of tunnel vision and/or short-term memory loss but this is what the fake sceptics always do; they never look at the big picture: Rather than look at daily, monthly, or even annual average temperatures over multi-decadal periods to determine significant long-term trends; they just cherry pick data to reach fallacious conclusions such as “global warming stopped in 1998″.
I am therefore left hoping that the 57% of the British adult population that seem to fall for this kind of nonsense will soon decide that it is time to stop running down the up escalator and, by embracing the reality of what is happening, decide to become part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. If not, climate change denial may well lead to a failure to conserve mass; with the mass in question being the sustainable number of humans this planet can support in the long-term.
Conservation of mass of carbon
If the Law of Conservation of Mass explains why anthropogenic
global warming climate disruption is not invalidated by any amount of cold weather or torrential rainfall in one place; can it be used to validate concern regarding a 40% increase CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere? Funnily enough, it can: Since the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th Century, a vast amount of fossilised carbon has been burnt; with the carbon it contained combining with oxygen in the air to form CO2. Note here that the oxygen was in the air anyway; whereas the carbon had been out of circulation for hundreds of millions of years. All this new carbon has to go somewhere and, given that it will be many more millions of years before any of it gets taken back out of circulation by nature, it is either making the atmosphere warm-up or it is reducing the pH of seawater (just enough to make life very difficult for corals and shellfish).
So then, what is the human response to all this? Shall we stop burning the fossil fuels now we know we’re causing a problem? It doesn’t look like it! It seems far more likely that we shall gamble the future habitability of all the planets diverse ecosystems on finding a way to defeat the Law of Conservation of Mass by artificially removing this carbon from the biosphere: Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). And do you know what I find most astonishing about CCS? It is the fact that our governments are spending huge sums of money on long-term tests to simulate the effects of CO2 leaking from a submarine CCS repository – to see if it has any noticeable effects on marine life?
Errr, hello-oh? If any CO2 ever escapes from any CCS repository, the entire exercise will have been a complete waste of time and money! The CO2 will be back in circulation and the Law of Conservation of Mass will have won (again). If the genie will not stay in the bottle we will all be in big trouble: Rather than being likely to“collapse in deepest humiliation”; such a failure to defeat the Law of Conservation of Mass will probably result in the collapse of the entire planetary ecosystem; because of our other big problem – the Law of Conservation of Energy: The reason the atmosphere is warming up in the first place; more energy is coming in from the Sun than is getting out into Space!
So, this year’s weather should be a wake-up call to all of us: Irrespective of the actual kind of extreme weather being experienced in any one place, the impacts on agriculture seem to be equally destructive and spiralling food costs the inevitable end result: All just as was predicted by people dismissed for decades as doomsayers: People like Garrett Hardin, Paul Ehrlich, Dennis Meadows, E.F. Schumacher, William Ophuls, Mathis Wackernagel, Ernest Callenbach, and Lester Brown… It looks like that darn ‘wolf’ finally showed up!
Funnily enough, it turns out that a doubling in the size of the global human economy every 50 years is not sustainable after all; and worshipping at the Temple of the God of Growth has got us in some serious trouble; otherwise known as a global debt crisis (see the short video embedded below). We thought we could just lend imaginary money to each other indefinitely but someone blinked and the spell was broken. Sadly, it turns out the Emperor was naked after all; it’s just a shame that by the time we realised this we were all completely sold on the latest fashion ourselves: The New Clothes are everywhere; and we have all been left looking for fig leaves to cover our genitals.
Just as The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al) predicted all those years ago, the Earth is running out of the ability to cope with the effects of our chronically dysfunctional mis-management of it. This was why, as I pointed out six months ago, the failure of food harvests in 2010 led to the Arab Spring of 2011… Are you, like me, wondering what is going to happen this time around? My prediction is that some economist such as Tim Worstall will get himself on TV and tell everyone that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a load of old rubbish; and that technology will save us from the consequences of our selfish pursuit of profit at any cost; and from our failure to recognise that we humans are not superior to nature – we are part of it – and we cannot survive without it. Or, to put it another way, as a Native American tribal leader once did:
When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
I can add nothing to the above other than to thank Martin for giving me the opportunity to republish his post.
The most important thing, without a doubt, to learn from dogs.
Last Tuesday, Learning from Dogs published the first of the three parts of Martin Lack’s essay From Environmentalism to Ecologism. It generated a fascinating discussion. One of the commentators was Chris Snuggs who writes his own blog under the name of Nemo Insula Est. Here is the essence of a discussion with Martin Lack and Patrice Ayme. (Without reading the following comments, my closing opinion will make little sense; assuming they do at the best of times!)
Chris: The problem with politics at the moment is that the choices come down to A) being socialist, moral and bankrupt or B) capitalist and immoral but at least with a chance of avoiding poverty and chaos.
Martin: I think I am very much in agreement with you, Chris. It says a l lot when a practicing Catholic can admit that his Church needs to ditch its anthropocentric bias and stop treating the Earth as if we are the only species that matters…
Chris: One of the big questions for me is this. Is the world of our perceptions ONLY what we see, hear, smell and touch or is there another dimension which we cannot sense? Personally, I believe the former, which is why I cannot believe in: God, aliens, ghosts, an afterlife, fairies or indeed a sensible socialist economic policy.
I sometimes feel this makes me boring (or if you like, it just another feature of my boringness), but on the other hand I feel more or less in tune with what I understand “The Enlightenment” to have meant. It would be much more reassuring to know that there is a God (caring if possible, though it is hard to see how he would be) and indeed aliens, as long as they were friendly. But until there is some sound evidence, I cannot. And there IS no evidence that would stand up in court, is there?
So, we are alone; the universe is as it is; how it came into being we do not know and it is perhaps unknowable; the planet Earth cares not a jot about us or our feelings; we have no particular right to exist: we just do, by natural accident (until proven otherwise). I am not a fan of the “There are billions of stars in the universe, so there must be other forms of life elsewhere.” argument. “must be” is not “is”.
So if WE do not ensure our survival by looking after the planet then nobody or nothing will. As for “ecology”, good people are trying to do a lot of things, but as far as I can see:
A) It is too late and too little. Even if we were doing all the right things NOW (which we obviously are not), the time lag before our actions start to correct othe damage done will be too great; we may well have died out by then.
B) Despite all that is being done, CO2 emissions are going up, countries have STILL found no economic model that does not insist on growth and you cannot have growth without increased energy use, which for the moment and foreseeable future means fossil fuel extraction. And THIS of course continues apace with many countries now desperately trying to frack their way to growth, in the case of the USA rather successfully.
Martin: All very interesting, Chris, although I am not sure why your atheism necessitates rejection of socialism. For many people the two are inextricably linked. However, this is all off-topic… All I wanted to point out was that anthropocentrism is a mistake that can be made by both theists and atheists alike; and that it is good to see the former admitting they have made this mistake.
Paul: Chris/Martin, To my way of thinking, there is a more fundamental issue at work. That is the corrupting effect of power. I’m certain you know the famous saying. Thus whatever fine motives propel a person to enter politics, that person seems unable to avoid the call of power and its corrupting effect. The only hope is that key countries, and none so key as the USA, evolve a better, more representative, political process. Otherwise, I fear for the coming years.
Patrice: I agree with Paul 100%. I saw the call of power. Unimaginable. People just get insane. There are also filtering systems to insure they get that way (it starts right away with one week retreats in extremely posh resorts; does not matter if you are capitalist, socialist, blueist, reddist, ecologist, independentist, etc.).
Chris: Agreed. It has been clear time and time again throughout history. Well, so much is obvious, but WHAT TO DO about it?
A) We must end the practice of having career politicians: you serve a maximum of TEN years, at the end of which you go.
B) Inherited wealth allowing the building up of immensely powerful family dynasties over generations must be ended. It is simply untenable. The rich-poor gap is getting obscene everywhere, and money is of course power. My “Abolish inheritance” idea will be wildly unpopular because we are naturally acquisitive and “greedy” and of course would hit those with most to lose who also therefore have the most power.
Patrice: With all due respect, Chris and Martin sound rather naïve… Huge wealth and power is where it’s at. And it attracts to politics first, foremost, and soon uniquely, those it attracts most, namely the basest sort.
A) All a question of balance: SOME ambition is essential; it is when there is too much that it is dangerous.
B) I would have maximum terms for political service. plus:
C) Nobody should be allowed to be a public representative until they have fulfilled certain conditions, for example (but to be debated): worked in the private sector; some experience of life in a factory; nobody under 30; high achievement in some industrial, commercial, academic or social field, and so on
Ed Milliband grew up in a Marxist family, went to a posh school and then straight to university from where he went straight into politics as an “advisor”, thence to become a Minister and now leader of the opposition and possible OM.
THAT is not the proper background for a national leader, but the House of Commons is full of such people. The % of MPs from “working-class” backgrounds is going down and down and down. In the USA, Congress is over-represented by the rich, famous and/or connected. Where are the mailmen, bus drivers and burger-servers? “You need more intelligent Congresspeople than that.”
Sorry, I can’t take that argument from a country that elected Dan Quayle, George Bush and Sara Palin!!!!!
Patrice: Right. Glad to see every body agrees. It’s even worse than that. “Representative” politics is intrinsically demonic, as it vests great power in some individuals. That, per se is not just a crime, but absolutely corrupting.
Representative politics has got to be eliminated. Switzerland has eliminated it at the legislative level. Why can’t all other countries of the West do the same? Because the present plutocracy rules through the representatives, esp. in the USA? After we have done the legislative, the executive could be handled along Roman Republican lines and Athenian lines. Roman Consuls, for example, had full power only for one month at a time. In Athens enormous quora (say, 8% of the potential electorate) had to be found, before any decision.
Martin:Excellent synopsis, Patrice. All of the things you mention would be made possible by a return to localism and/or bioregionalism, which may well come to pass by default (i.e. as a result of those in power now being in denial about what is happening to our planet).
Now the reason that I offered up this lengthy transcript of the conversation was that it clearly showed to me that bright, well-educated people agree that there is much wrong with many, if not most, countries that offer a representative democratic form of Government. Bright, well-educated people are also not afraid to offer answers. Patrice went on to write a most engaging post over at his place under the title of Representative Politics Is Dictatorship. It opens:
Representative Dictatorship Is Not Democracy
I know a young lady who was elected for the first time in California. She is sent to a posh resort for a week to learn the basics of her new job, being a “Democratic” politician. Everything is wrong with this picture (not just the mansion she lives in and her million dollar family income, while claiming to be a leftie). Everything is wrong, but it’s typical: all elected representatives in the USA are treated very well, and get to meet who, it dawns on them after a while, can insure for them, and their families, much nicer lives. (The New York Times, to its discredit, just discovered this PACS trick in 2014.)
A gigantic manipulation industry has developed, with its own strategists. Barack Obama seemed to have come out of nowhere, but, even before he started to score big, he was viewed as the anointed one, by the highest powers in “Democratic” circles: Axelrod, a professional manipulator who had just led Kerry’s campaign, was sent to Obama, just a modest Senator. Obama then gave a keynote speech at the Kerry convention, etc. When he campaigned, Wall Street money started to flow, more than towards any other candidate, by orders of magnitude, etc. No wonder Obama has found so hard to bite the hand that fed him.
Let me draw this all together. Possibly in a manner that will cause readers to sigh and say the old fella is losing the plot!
Because what I am about to say strikes me as so obvious, so massively demonstrated day-in, day-out by the planet’s sentient, warm-blooded creatures (even man can do it!).
It is this.
We have lost sight of the fact that animals offer an endless set of examples of living in the present and offering unconditional love to those creatures, humans included, that do not threaten them. These are very difficult times for us and all the creatures on this planet. Unconditional love for the planet we live on and for all those that do not threaten us is the only way forward!
Let me close with three photographs that provide all the evidence that we need to embrace love and tenderness for everything in our lives.
My case rests!
The concluding Part Three of Martin Lack’s guest essay.
Can ecologism be regarded as an ideology in its own right? (Part 3)
Therefore, having now surveyed all the relevant “territory”, we shall now consider the third and final part of the answer to the question as proposed in the Introduction.
Ecologism – Neither left nor right, but out in front?
According to Philip Shabecoff, it was members of the European Green parties that were the first to assert that they are “neither left nor right but out in front” (2000: 109).
For this to be true, ecologism would have to represent a new paradigm that rejects (or at least challenges) beliefs central to conventional politics (of any orientation). This, it is here argued, is indeed the case: In a discussion of the libertarian ideas of John Locke and Adam Smith, William Ophuls observed that they “…have not gone unchallenged, but with very few exceptions, liberals, conservatives, socialists, communists, and other modern ideologies have taken abundance for granted and assumed the necessity of further growth” (Ophuls 1977: 145).
What is the problem with modernity?
As suggested by Anthony Giddens, modernity encompasses “…modes of social life or organisation which emerged in Europe from about the seventeenth century onwards and which subsequently became more or less worldwide in their influence” (Giddens 1991: 1).
The problem is that the accumulation of personal wealth has become the sole objective of many people in modern society; and perpetual growth is posited as a means whereby even the poorest might achieve it.
Karl Marx (as cited by Jon Elster) coined the term “money fetishism” to describe the belief that money (and/or precious metals) have intrinsic (use) value rather than just instrumental (exchange) value, which Marx felt was as misguided as the religious practice of endowing inanimate objects with supernatural powers (Elster 1986: 56-7).
However, whereas Karl Marx saw capitalism as the problem, the ideology that he gave his name to is just as guilty of Daly’s “growthmania”. For example, whereas Jack Goody accepts that capitalism has been “…connected with the growth of rationality and of secularisation; more recently with urbanisation and industrialisation”, he also notes that for Marxist regimes “…modern meant industrialisation without capitalism” (Goody 2004: 6).
The terms “use value” and “exchange value” were first put forward by Aristotle (384-322 BC) who, according to Daly, also recognised the danger of focusing on the latter (i.e. whereby the accumulation of wealth becomes an end in itself) and, alluding to Marx’s criticism, Daly suggested that the paperless economy (where no useable commodities actually change hands) is the logical end-point for money fetishism (Daly 1992: 186).
Finally, on the subject of the consequences of “the problem”, although the centrally-planned economies of the former USSR and China would appear to have had their day, the flaws of the capitalist system they seem so keen to embrace have also revealed themselves in recent time. For example, when John Gray came to write the introduction to the second edition of his book “False Dawn: The Delusions of Modern Capitalism”, he included the following comment:
In the first edition of this book, published in March 1998, I wrote: ‘Today’s regime of global laissez-faire will be briefer than even the belle époque of 1870 to 1914, which ended in the trenches of the first world war’… Not much more than a decade ago this seemed outlandish, but there have since been many signs that global capitalism was heading for a fall (Gray 2009: xii).
Does ecologism provide the answers?
The starting point for ecologism is the concept of carrying capacity (the maximum population of a species) that an ecosystem can support in perpetuity (Dryzek 2005: 27). In this instance, the species is Homo sapiens and the ecosystem is the planet Earth. Therefore, in 1968, Hardin suggested that these limits exist and must be faced. In 1993, frustrated by the absence of discussion on population growth in international politics, he pointed out that:
Two centuries of intermittent wrestling with population problems have produced useful insights about the reality and nature of limits… Four centuries of sedation by the delusion of limitlessness have left humanity floundering in a wilderness of rhetoric… From this it must be inferred that someday political conservatism will once again be defined as contented living within limits. The limitless world view will have to be abandoned (Hardin 1993: 5-6).
In 1968, his solution had been “...mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected” (Hardin 1968: 1247). However, in an apparent reference to the work of an array of scholars including Malthus, Hardin, Meadows, Ehrlich and others, Daly lamented that:
Anyone who asserts the existence of limits is soon presented with a whole litany of things that someone once said could never be done but subsequently were done… Continuing to study economies only in terms of the [exchange value of money] is like studying organisms only in terms of the circulatory system, without ever mentioning the digestive tract. (Daly 1992: 185-186).
Much more recently, Daly has reminded us that, “Ecological limits are rapidly converting ‘economic growth’ into ‘uneconomic growth’-that is throughput growth that increases costs by more than it increases benefits, thus making us poorer not richer” (Daly 2007: 39).
So, it would seem that the challenge of living “within our planet’s means” remains significant; one that few politicians are willing to discuss (because there are no votes to be gained in doing so). It is this fact that the environment cannot speak for itself (i.e. it is disenfranchised) that led Goodin to the conclusion that “nature has interests… as deserving of protection as anyone else’s, which must be ‘encapsulated’ as part of a discursive participatory democracy” (Goodin 1996: 835).
Similarly, whereas Goodin used the term “encapsulated interests” (to describe how one party’s interests are incorporated in those of another), Dobson suggested that non-human animals and future generations of humans (and maybe even other species) are “new environmental constituencies” requiring human representatives to look after their interests (Dobson 1996: 125).
All that needs to be decided is who we shall admit into the “community of justice” (i.e. how radical you want to be).
Citing Low and Gleeson (1998) and Baxter (1999), Derek Bell therefore distinguishes environmental and ecological justice as follows: Environmental justice concerns the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens among human beings. Whereas ecological justice is concerned with justice between human beings and the rest of the natural world (Bell 2006: 208). Furthermore, Bell also spells out the importance of this distinction (just in case any reader has not appreciated it yet) as follows:
Advocates of environmental justice merely insist that the instrumental value of the environment to humans should be recognised in a theory of social justice or justice among humans. Ecological justice makes the much more radical claim that justice extends beyond relations among humans so that we can talk about ‘justice to nature’ (Bell 2006: 208).
The question that has been addressed herein is whether or not ecologism can or should be regarded as a political ideology in its own right given that both socialists and conservatives can lay claim to some aspects of ecological politics.
In order to provide a defensible answer to this question, it was necessary to define what is meant by ecological politics (i.e. the pursuit of policies that are concerned with the environment; but which are not merely or predominantly anthropocentric) and ecologism (i.e. the pursuit of environmental policies that are biocentric or ecocentric). This therefore highlighted the fact that the two are not the same thing; and that ecological politics also includes anthropocentric environmentalism.
However, it has been demonstrated that, rather than being a simple dividing line within the field of ecological politics, anthropocentrism and ecocentrism represent opposite ends of a spectrum along which it is possible to adopt a variety of philosophical positions. Furthermore, although it has also been demonstrated that it is very difficult to be entirely one thing or the other, when faced with difficult policy decisions, almost everyone (both socialists and conservatives included), tends to favour self-preservation. Therefore, the default position of all humans tends to be towards the anthropocentric end of the spectrum.
Nevertheless, to avoid the tautological response to the question (“ecologism must be regarded as a distinctive political ideology in its own right because it is!”), it was deemed necessary to demonstrate how and why both socialists and conservatives can lay claim to ecological politics (although the majority of both socialists and conservatives do not do so) and, therefore, how and why the ecologism that both find so challenging must be regarded as a political ideology in its own right.
In so doing, it has been shown that some socialists find common cause with those that seek equal rights for the environment; whereas some conservatives may do so in pursuit of maintaining the status quo. However, both generally assume the necessity of further growth (Ophuls); what Daly called ‘growthmania’. Furthermore, capitalism is fixated upon the inherent value of things we may consume; whereas Marxism (an extreme form of socialism) is fixated upon the inherent value of things we may produce. However, ecologism insists that nature has inherent – if not intrinsic – value in and of itself; independent of our finding a use for it.
Ecologically-minded scientists and economists have pointed out that the Earth is finite and its capacity to accommodate humans is finite; whereas the evidence of at least the last 40 years is that many prefer to refuse to accept this reality and, as Schumacher pointed out, are spending environmental capital as if it were income. Therefore, because ecologism demands justice that is ecological (ecocentric) – not just environmental (anthropocentric), it represents a fundamental challenge to conventional politics and, as such, must be regarded as a distinctive political ideology in its own right.
Baxter, B. (1999), Ecologism: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Bell, D. (2006), ‘Political Liberalism and Ecological Justice’ [online], Analyse & Kritik 28, pp.206-22. [Paper originally presented at ECPR General Conference, Marburg, 18–21 September 2003]. Available at <http://analyse-und-kritik.net/2006-2/AK_Bell_2006.pdf> [accessed 18 April 2011].
Daly, H. (1992), Steady State Economics (2nd edition). London: Earthscan.
Daly, H. (2007), Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development, Selected Essays of Herman Daly. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Dobson, A. (1996), ‘Representative democracy and the environment’, in Lafferty, W. and Meadowcroft, J (eds), Democracy and the Environment: Problems and Prospects. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp.124-39.
Dryzek, J. (2005), The Politics of the Environment (2nd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ehrlich, P & Ehrlich, A. (1996), Betrayal of Science and Reason. New York: Island Press.
Elster, J. (1986), An Introduction to Karl Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Giddens, A. (1991), The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Goodin, R. (1996), ‘Enfranchising the earth, and its alternatives’, Political Studies, 44, pp.835-49.
Goody, J. (2004), Capitalism and Modernity: The Great Debate. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Gray, J. (2009), False Dawn: The Delusions of Modern Capitalism, 2nd edition. London: Granta.
Hardin, G. (1993), Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Low, N. and Gleeson, B. (1998), Justice, Society and Nature: An Exploration of Political Ecology. London: Routledge.
Malthus, T. (1798), An Essay on the Principle of Population. London: J Johnson.
Ophuls, W. (1977), Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity. San Francisco: Freeman & Co..
Shabecoff, P., (2000), Earth Rising: American Environmentalism in the 21st Century, Washington DC: Island Press.
I know a good number of readers have followed Martin’s essay since Tuesday and I would like to thank Martin, on my own account and on behalf of all LfD readers, for giving me the opportunity to republish the essay.
Part Two of the three-part guest essay by Martin Lack.
The background to this major essay was covered yesterday, in the introduction to Part One.
Can ecologism be regarded as an ideology in its own right? (Part 2)
A question of values
According to Carter (2007: 14-15), there is no consistent use of terminology regarding the value ascribed to different entities, so it would seem sensible to use that which he outlines:
Instrumental value: The value which something has for someone as a means to an end (also known as utility value).
Inherent value: The value which something has because it is considered desirable (e.g. precious metals such as silver, gold and platinum).
Intrinsic value: The value which something has because of what it is – typically essential for the existence of life (e.g. sunlight, clean air, and clean water).
As Carter points out (2007: 15), as well as being inconsistently applied to individual entities by those doing the valuing, these terms are not mutually exclusive (i.e. “being valuable in one way does not preclude being valuable in another way”). However, what is clear is that the value judgements that any individual makes will determine their attitude towards consumption and/or pollution of the Earth’s natural resources.
In setting out his “Green Theory of Value”, Robert Goodin boldly acknowledged that, ideally, it should “tell us both what is to be valued and why” (Goodin 1992:19). However, before explaining his own theory of value, Goodin identifies the two main alternatives as capitalist (consumer-based) value; and Marxist (producer-based) value (Goodin 1992: 23-4). Goodin’s green theory of value is thus distinct from both of these because the value-imparting properties are neither those of the consumer nor producer; they are (or at least should be) “natural resource based”; although he specifically does not claim that his theory “is correct utterly to the exclusion of all others” (Goodin 1992: 25-6).
Applying Carter’s typology of value (above) to Goodin’s argument, capitalists would appear to be focussed upon the inherent value of things they consume; and Marxists upon the instrumental value of the things they produce. In contrast to both of these, Goodin seeks to justify the assertion that nature itself should always be considered, independent of the presence or activity of humans, to have inherent – if not intrinsic – value. However, he seems to shy away from the logical conclusion of his argument; that all nature has intrinsic value that does not require the presence of valuers (Goodin 1992: 42-45). This is presumably part of an appeal to reason, which such an extreme view would probably not have.
A question of perspective
If anthropocentrism is a way of thinking “…that regards humans as the source of all value and is predominantly concerned with human interests”, then, in simplistic terms, ecocentrism is one “…that regards humans as subject to… ethical, political and social prescriptions… equally concerned with both humans and non-humans” (Carter 2007: 14). However, as with most things in life, it is not as simple as these definitions imply. For example, from an anthropocentric perspective, it is possible to be concerned about the welfare of individual domesticated animals; and yet not be concerned about the survival of entire endangered species.
Equally, one of the biggest debates in ecological politics may revolve around how one defines “moral persons” (Rawls, 1972: 504-5); or legitimate “recipients of justice” (Garner 2003: 11), although many would probably agree with what Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) said: “The question is not, can they reason? Not, can they talk? But, can they suffer?” (cited in Dobson 2006: 220-1). However, the contentious and unresolved nature of this debate has led to the appearance of terms such as “shallow” and “deep”; which may be applied to anthropocentrism and ecocentrism alike (with “deep” denoting a more extreme position in either case). Therefore:
Rather than define different perspectives according to which side of the ecocentric/anthropocentric divide they lie, they can be located along a continuum, which moves from ecocentrism through various gradations of anthropocentrism to ‘strong anthropocentrism’ (Carter 2007: 36).
Once it is recognised that there is a range of possible positions that may be adopted (rather than a choice that has to be made), it is possible – as Eckersley has done – to characterise at least five different positions, which are as follows:
Resource conservation – the wise use of natural resources for human benefit: Eckersley suggests that the conservation movement was founded upon the Judeao-Christian notion of humans having “dominion” over the Earth; rather than any duty of “stewardship”, as exemplified by Gifford Pinchot (the first chief of the US Forest Service) (Eckersley 1992: 35).
Human welfare ecology – an appeal to enlightened self-interest: Eckersley cites Barry Commoner’s “four laws of ecology”as (1) everything is connected to everything else; (2) everything must go somewhere; (3) nature knows best; and (4) there’s no such thing as a free lunch (Eckersley 1992: 37-8).
Preservationism – seeking the aesthetic preservation of wilderness areas: Whereas Gifford Pinchot wanted to preserve nature for development (i.e. maximise the utility of natural resources for human benefit), John Muir (of the Sierra Club) wanted to preserve nature from development (i.e. minimise the human impact on the natural environment) (Eckersley 1992: 39).
Animal liberationism – the prevention of cruelty to certain animals: A comparatively modern, radical, development; which can trace its heritage back to “humane” societies formed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as the RSPCA (Eckersley 1992: 42).
Ecocentrism – seeking the preservation of nature for its own sake (Eckersley, 1992: 46).
With regard to the latter, given that Eckersley recognised the fact that these positions lie upon a “wide spectrum of differing orientations towards nature”, whose end-points are anthropocentrism and ecocentrism (1992: 33), this could be better defined as deep ecocentrism. However, even using these five labels, it is not hard to see why it is difficult to categorise people: For example, the human welfare ecologists could be regarded as quite ecocentric (if they recognise the validity and/or importance of each and every one of Barry Commoner’s “four laws of ecology”); whereas animal liberationists could be regarded as quite anthropocentric (if they are only concerned about domesticated pets and/or individual animals).
The ecocentric end of the spectrum has also been described as that of “deep ecology” (Devall and Sessions 1985: 70), and “biospherical egalitarianism” (Naess 1989: 170). However, whilst preferring the term “biocentric egalitarianism” for the latter, Carter points out that – as indeed was conceded by Naess (1989: 28) – food is an essential requirement for life and, therefore, an entirely egalitarian position is untenable:
Certainly, any principle along the lines of biocentric egalitarianism would be impossible to implement. Taking it to the extreme, how could a human justify killing any animal or fish, or consuming a vegetable, bean or berry? All involve some restraint on another entity’s capacity to live and flourish (Carter 2007: 36).
So, it would seem that an entirely ecocentric position is hard to maintain, but can the same be said for an entirely anthropocentric position? This, as we shall now see, has been the subject of much debate.
A question of justice
When someone says, “I want justice!” it is normally because they feel they have been wronged in some way; and want what they feel they deserve (i.e. fairness). Hence, Paul Sterba opens his chapter in “Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge” on this subject by saying, “Justice requires giving what is deserved” (Sterba 2006: 148). However, within the sphere of environmental politics, when faced with difficult choices, human beings tend to ‘circle the wagons’ and protect their own kind.
In the introduction to his book “Theory of Ecological Justice”, Brian Baxter uses the example of Sir David Attenborough’s response to the prospect of humans causing species extinctions (i.e. “Surely, it is sad indeed that our descendants should inherit a natural world that is more impoverished than the one we inherited?”) to suggest that all humans are almost incapable of being anything other than anthropocentric (Baxter 2005: 1). However, Attenborough was probably deliberately making the question rhetorical; just as Baxter was probably being provocative in order to retain the interest of readers. Nevertheless, in a wide-ranging consideration of the subject, Baxter discusses the work of numerous authors, to advocate the case for “moral consideration” to be given to sentient non-humans (Baxter 2005: 45).
This would appear to be in accordance with Bentham’s conclusion that it is the ability to suffer that should confer the right to fair treatment. Indeed, one such author Baxter considered, David DeGrazia, proposed the principle of “equal consideration” for all sentient non-humans but pointed out that this could not guarantee justice; merely a fair hearing. He also pointed out that granting equal consideration would not automatically confer upon them the right to moral consideration, but it would be revolutionary; because much animal experimentation (he uses the term “exploitation”) would then seem to be unjustifiable (DeGrazia 1996: 37-38).
Dobson has written a great deal on the subject of justice. In a characteristically thought-provoking contribution to a recent collection of essays on the subject (regarding the difficulties of combining social justice and environmental sustainability; in effect asking “What is to be sustained and for whose benefit?”), he discusses who should be the legitimate “recipients of justice”; and what should be the consequential scope of the “community of justice” thus determined (Dobson 2003: 87-94).
Baxter sees the three main principled objections to the notion of ecological justice as being that justice need only be distributed to (1) those able to voluntarily co-operate to produce and/or preserve environmental benefits; (2) those with property rights; and (3) those capable of reciprocity (Baxter 2005: 77). Baxter deals with the first and last of these reasonably easily, as follows: (1) bacteria are beneficial and slaves were not volunteers (2005: 78-9); and (3) mentally-incapacitated people do not cease to be human because they cannot interact with their surroundings or respond to stimuli (2005: 77-8). However, objection (2) seems a little more intractable (2005: 86). Finally, Baxter concludes that if these objections can indeed be rejected, ecological justice represents a fundamental challenge to the laissez-faire attitude of liberalism (2005: 94).
However, for now, the final word on the question of justice will be given to Dobson, who almost seemed to be responding to Baxter, by saying: “Just who is throwing down the gauntlet here? Is political ecology a challenge for citizenship, or is citizenship a challenge for political ecology?” (Dobson 2006: 216). Whilst acknowledging the historical existence of at least two types of citizenship; namely liberal and civic republican (stressing right-claiming and responsibility-taking respectively), Dobson highlights at least two fundamental challenges to any notion of citizenship (i.e. feminism and cosmopolitanism) (2006: 217-8). However, much more space is given to the ways in which the notion of citizenship is a challenge to ecological politics. Again, this is indicative of the fact that ecologism should be regarded as a distinctive political ideology in its own right.
Baxter, B. (2005), A Theory of Ecological Justice. London: Routledge.
DeGrazia, D. (1996), Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Devall, B. and Sessions, G. (1985), Living as if Nature Mattered. Layton UT: Peregrine and Smith.
Dobson, A. (2003), ‘Social justice and environmental sustainability: ne’er the twain shall meet?’, in Agyeman, J., Bullard, R., and Evans, B. (eds.), Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World. London: Earthscan, pp.83-95.
Dobson, A. (2006), ‘Citizenship’, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R., Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.216-231.
Garner, R. (2003) ‘Animals, politics and justice: Rawlsian liberalism and the plight of non-humans’, Environmental Politics, 12 (2), pp.3-22.
Goodin, R. (1992), Green Political Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Naess, A. (1989), Ecology, Community and Lifestyle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Rawls, J. (1972), A Theory of Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sterba, P. (2006), ‘Justice’, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R., Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.148-64.
The final part, Part Three, will be published tomorrow.
A guest essay for today and the next two days.
A few days ago, I remarked that for the time being posts on Learning from Dogs were frequently going to be based on the material of others. It was the only way that I could keep this blog going yet at the same time edit (code for re-write!) a 60,000-word novel that was completed, as a first pass, last November.
Martin Lack is one major step ahead of yours truly. Not because he, too, writes a blog but because, unlike yours truly, he is a published author! His book is called The Denial of Science; he blogs under the name of Lack of Environment.
Thus I was extremely grateful when a short while ago, Martin offered a major essay of his as a guest post for Learning from Dogs. Better than that, Martin happily accepted my recommendation to send me his essay in three parts.
It may not be the easiest read out in the ‘blogosphere’ but, trust me, Martin’s essay is profoundly important.
Can ecologism be regarded as an ideology in its own right? (Part 1)
Although it might well be assumed that one does not have to define what is meant by ‘socialists’ or – in UK terms at least – ‘conservatives’, it is certainly necessary to define ‘ecologism’: For the purposes of answering the above question, therefore, the latter should be understood as including thinking, behaviour, and the pursuit of policies that are concerned with the environment; but which are not merely or predominantly anthropocentric (i.e. those concerned with human needs and interests).
In a way, the question is nonsensical because use of the term ‘ecologism’, as coined by Andrew Dobson, appears to pre-suppose that ecological politics is indeed a “new political ideology” (2000: 163). If so, to respond to the above question by saying, in effect, ‘just because both socialists and conservatives (can) lay claim to ecological politics does not change the fact that ecologism is a distinctive political ideology in its own right’, would clearly be tautological. Therefore, to provide a defensible answer “Yes” to the above question – as is the intent herein – it is necessary to explain how and why:
- both socialists and conservatives can lay claim to ecological politics;
- the majority of both socialists and conservatives do not do so; and
- the ‘ecologism’ that both find so challenging must therefore be considered as a distinctive political ideology in its own right.
The Socialist claim
One does not have to be an eco-socialist in order to believe or appreciate that there is a great deal of common ground shared by socialist and environmental politics. Socialism is a broad left-of-centre church that, it could be argued, includes everything from social democrats to communists. However, if socialism can be summed-up in the tripartite “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” motto of France (with its origins in the French Revolution of 1789-99), whose English translation would be “Freedom, equality, and brotherhood”, then it is not hard to see why socialists would find common cause with those whose goal is, in effect, to seek equal rights for the environment.
The “four pillars” of ecological politics are – as cited by Neil Carter – those devised by the German Green Party in 1983: ecological responsibility, grassroots democracy, social justice, and non-violence (Carter 2007: 48). Clearly, grassroots democracy and social justice are part of the socialist agenda. Therefore, despite the global dominance of free-market economics, Mary Mellor has asserted that far from being a challenge to socialism, “ecology greatly enhances the case for a redefined and refocused socialism” (Mellor 2006: 35).
The Conservative claim
Although by no means a monolithic entity, environmental politics is usually seen as being a predominantly left-of-centre entity (e.g. Carter 2007: 78); and it is often seen as being easier to define what it opposes than to define what it seeks. If so, ecological politics is essentially a reaction against anthropocentric thinking and the selfish pursuit of individual gain without regard for others or the environment. However, some philosophers such as Roger Scruton have therefore tried to distinguish between such selfish, libertarian, goals and those of traditional conservatives who, as their name suggests, seek the preservation of the status quo for the benefit of both the current generation and those that will follow (Scruton 2006: 7-8). Indeed, as early as 1993, in the wake of the Rio Earth Summit, Scruton was advocating the need for a radical re-think of right-wing politics:
Conservatives need to explore, with greens and others, as yet unthought-of dilemmas of life in societies which are no longer buoyed up by the prospect of incessant economic growth or by modernist pseudo-religions of endless world improvement” (Scruton 1993: 173).
However, in 1993, the idea that there might be limits to growth was hardly new; being based on Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons article (1968); the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Limits to Growth report for the Club of Rome (Meadows et al., 1972); E. F. Schumacher’s highly influential book Small is Beautiful (1973). For example:
The illusion of [mankind’s] unlimited powers, nourished by astonishing scientific and technological achievements, has produced the concurrent illusion of having solved the problem of production… based on the failure to distinguish between income and capital where this distinction matters most… A businessman would not consider a firm to have solved its problems of production and to have achieved viability if he saw that it was rapidly consuming its capital… (Schumacher 1974: 11).
Therefore, although the dilemmas were not “as yet unthought-of”, Scruton had, nevertheless, identified the source of the challenge that does indeed, it is here argued, begin to transform ecological politics into the distinctive political ideology that is ecologism.
Limits to Growth – a political and economic challenge
Although much disputed (by those that point to the fact that commodity prices have generally fallen over time, or that dire predictions have not yet come true), the Limits to Growth argument is based on the reality of the physical constraints of the planet on which we live.
For example: “Infinite growth is impossible in a closed system. With continued growth in production, the economic subsystem must eventually overwhelm the capacity of the global ecosystem to sustain it” (Daly & Farley 2004: 64). However, this is merely a comparatively recent re-statement of (former World Bank economist) Herman E Daly’s longstanding belief in the need for steady-state growth.
Furthermore, Daly and Farley cite Rudolf Clausius has having “coined the term ‘entropy’ for the Second Law [of Thermodynamics], derived from the Greek word for transformation, in recognition of the fact that entropy was a one-way street of irreversible change; a continual increase in the disorder of the universe” (Daly & Farley 2004: 65).
This is a fundamental tenet of modern physics; one that Daly has been repeating (like a “voice in the wilderness” proclaiming a message that nobody wants to hear) for a long time: It was over 35 years ago that he began an article entitled ‘The Economics of the Steady State’ with a quote from the famous scientist Sir Arthur Eddington, who once said, “But if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation” (as cited in Daly 1974: 15).
With this in mind, perhaps, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” on 18 November 1992, from which the following excerpt is taken:
The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of the earth’s limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair (UCS 1992).
Today, we are now well beyond these limits. According to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), humanity is now using the resources of at least 1.5 Earth’s (GFN, 2010). The most recent update to the Limits to Growth report was produced in 2005 and, in a section entitled “why technology and markets alone can’t avoid overshoot”, the authors suggested that:
…the more successfully society puts off its limits through economic and technical adaptations, the more likely it is in the future to run into several of them at the same time… the [model] does not run out of land or food or resources or pollution absorption capacity, it runs out of the “ability to cope” [i.e. too much industrial output has to be diverted to solving problems]… Given enough time, we believe humanity possesses nearly limitless problem solving abilities. [However] exponential growth… shortens the time for effective action. It loads stress on a system faster and faster, until coping mechanisms that have been adequate with slower rates of change finally begin to fail (Meadows et al 2005: 223).
Arguably, it could be said that the evidence for this is already becoming clear in the form of widespread social unrest around the globe, as a result of the increasing cost of – or difficulty in gaining access to – food, water, and energy.
For Robyn Eckersley, the reality of limits to growth and the magnitude of the ecological challenge is something from which we need to be emancipated; and it is also the raison d’être for environmentalism:
The environmental crisis and popular environmental concern have prompted a transformation of Western politics… Whatever the outcome of this realignment… the intractable nature of the environmental problems will ensure that environmental politics… is here to stay (Eckersley 1992: 7).
The latest UN projections for global population (published on 3 May 2011) suggests that stabilisation at about 10 billion by 2100AD is still most likely; but use probabilistic methods to account for the uncertainty in future fertility trends. Therefore, depending on changes in fertility rates in differing countries, the press release also indicates that global population could also peak at 8 billion in 2050 and then fall to 6 billion in 2100, or reach 10 billion by 2050 and continue to rise to 15 billion by 2100 (UN 2011: 1).
The key question the UN press release does not address is, “How many humans is too many?” Furthermore, although it depends on average rates of resource consumption, it is quite probable that there are already too many. However, this raises philosophical and/or ethical issues that form the other main aspect of ecological politics, which ensures that ecologism is a distinct political ideology in its own right.
From Environmentalism to Ecologism – the philosophical and ethical challenge
What’s in a name?
In the introduction above, ‘ecological politics’ was, in effect, defined as being environmentally-friendly and ecocentric (i.e. ecologism). For the avoidance of any doubt, therefore, it should be noted that this implies that it is possible to be concerned for the environment but be anthropocentric (i.e. environmentalism). It is precisely because the two things are not the same that Dobson has asserted that “…environmentalism and liberalism are compatible, but ecologism and liberalism are not” (2000: 165). The reason for this is examined below. (Ed. As in tomorrow!)
Carter, N. (2007), The Politics of the Environment (2nd edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Daly, H. & Farley, J. (2004), Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications. Washington DC: Island Press.
Daly, H. (1974), ‘The Economics of the Steady State’, The American Economic Review, 64(2), pp.15-21.
Dobson, A. (2000), Green Political Thought, (3rd edition). London, Routledge.
Eckersley, R. (1992), Environmentalism and Political Theory. London: UCL Press.
GFN (2010), Living Planet Report 2010: Biodiversity, Biocapacity, and Development. [Online] GFN. Available at http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/2010_living_planet_report/> [accessed 18 April 201].
Hardin, G. (1968), ‘The tragedy of the commons’, Science, 168, pp.1243-8.
Meadows D, et al (1972), The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books.
Meadows D, et al (2005), Limits to Growth: the 30-Year Update, London: Earthscan.
Mellor, M. (2006), ‘Socialism’, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R., Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.35-50.
Schumacher, E.F. (1974), Small is Beautiful: A study of Economics as if Small People Mattered, London: Abacus.
Scruton, R. (1993), Beyond the New Right. London: Routledge.
Scruton, R. (2006), ‘Conservatism’, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R., Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.7-19.
UCS, (1992), World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. [Online] UCS. Available at <http://www.ucsusa.org/about/1992-world-scientists.html> [accessed 14/04/2011].
UN (2011), World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision – Press Release. [Online] UN. Available at <http://esa.un.org/wpp/index.htm> [accessed 11/05/2011].
Patterns in the ether.
Patrice Ayme left the following comment to the Legitimate Hope post:
It’s hard to live with elephants, especially in poor, crowded conditions. I remember bathing in Africa as a child with a bull elephant 200 meters away, on the other side of a stream, and being extremely worried, with all in attendance.
Europe used to have elephants, and North America, two species. Time to reintroduce them, and live according to our discourse.
Rewilding Euramerica can be done, and should be done, for the deepest philosophical and emotional reasons, and will create new, very productive jobs.
Then on Friday came an email from reader and blogger Martin Lack:
I saw this on The Conversation website - ‘Restore large carnivores to save struggling ecosystems’ (by Oregon State University’s Prof. William Ripple ) – and thought of you.
Author of Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK; and of the Lack of Environment blog. Follow me on Twitter @LackMartin
It was but a moment to go across to The Conversation website (rather liked what I saw, by the way) and find the article that Martin linked to. It is republished here within the terms of The Conversation site.
Restore large carnivores to save struggling ecosystems
By William Ripple, Oregon State University
We are losing our large carnivores. In ecosystems around the world, the decline of large predators such as lions, bears, dingoes, wolves, and otters is changing landscapes, from the tropics to the Arctic. Habitat loss, persecution by humans and loss of prey have combined to inflict great losses on these populations.
In fact more than 75% of the 31 largest carnivore species are declining, and 17 species now occupy less than half their former ranges. Southeast Asia, southern and East Africa, and the Amazon are among areas in which multiple large carnivore species are declining. And with only a few exceptions, large carnivores have already been exterminated from much of the developed world, including areas of Western Europe, and the eastern United States.
Top dogs keep ecosystems in order
Many of these large carnivore species are endangered and some are at risk of extinction, either in specific regions or entirely. Ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects, which is what led us to write a new paper in the journal Science to document their role.
From a review of published reports, we singled out seven species that have been studied for their important ecological role and widespread effects, known as trophic cascades. These are the African lion, leopard, Eurasian lynx, cougar, gray wolf, sea otter and dingo.
Based on field research, my Oregon State University co-author Robert Beschta and I documented the impact of cougars and wolves on the regeneration of forest tree stands and riverside vegetation in Yellowstone and other national parks in western North America. Fewer predators, we found, lead to an increase in browsing animals such as deer and elk. More browsing disrupts vegetation, reduces birds and some mammals and changes other parts of the ecosystem. From the actions of the top predator, widespread impacts cascade down the food chain.
Similar effects were found in studies of Eurasian lynx, dingoes, lions and sea otters. For example in Europe, absence of lynx has been closely tied to the abundance of roe deer, red fox and hare. In Australia, the construction of a 3,400-mile dingo-proof fence has enabled scientists to study ecosystems with and without dingoes which are closely related to gray wolves. They found that dingoes control populations of herbivores and exotic red foxes. The suppression of these species by dingoes reduces predation pressure, benefiting plants and smaller native prey.
In some parts of Africa, the decrease of lions and leopards has coincided with a dramatic increase in olive baboons, which threaten crops and livestock. In the waters off southeast Alaska, a decline in sea otters through killer whale predation has led to a rise in sea urchins and loss of kelp beds.
Predators are integral, not expendable
We are now obtaining a deeper appreciation of the impact of large carnivores on ecosystems, a view that can be traced back to the work of landmark ecologist Aldo Leopold. The perception that predators are harmful and deplete fish and wildlife is outdated. Many scientists and wildlife managers now recognise the growing evidence of carnivores’ complex role in ecosystems, and their social and economic benefits. Leopold recognised these relationships, but his observations were ignored for decades after his death in 1948.
Human tolerance of these species is the major issue. Most would agree these animals have an intrinsic right to exist, but additionally they provide economic and ecological services that people value. Among the services documented in other studies are carbon sequestration, restoration of riverside ecosystems, biodiversity and disease control. For example, wolves may limit large herbivore populations, thus decreasing browsing on young trees that sequester carbon when they escape browsing and grow taller. Where large carnivore populations have been restored – such as wolves in Yellowstone or Eurasian lynx in Finland – ecosystems appear to be bouncing back.
I am impressed with how resilient the Yellowstone ecosystem is, and while ecosystem restoration isn’t happening quickly everywhere in this park, it has started. In some cases where vegetation loss has led to soil erosion, for example, full restoration may not be possible in the near term. What is certain is that ecosystems and the elements of them are highly interconnected. The work at Yellowstone and other places shows how species affect each another through different pathways. It’s humbling as a scientist to witness this interconnectedness of nature.
My co-authors and I have called for an international initiative to conserve large carnivores in co-existence with people. This effort could be modelled after a couple of other successful efforts including the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, a non-profit scientific group affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the Global Tiger Initiative which involves all 13 of the tiger-range countries. With more tolerance by humans, we might be able to avoid extinctions. The world would be a scary place without these predators.
William Ripple does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
Footnote – Please help the elephants
Tuesday’s Legitimate Hope included this:
Also what needs to be highlighted are the organisations that are actively working on behalf of the elephants.
The Independent Newspaper have their own elephant campaign.
In 2011, more African elephants were killed than any other year in history. The figures for 2012 and 2013 are not yet known, but are likely to be even higher. At current rates, in twelve years, there will be none left.
It is a familiar cause, but it has never been more urgent. Poaching has turned industrial. Armed militia fly in helicopters over jungle clearings, machine gunning down entire herds. Their tusks are then sold to fund war and terrorism throughout the continent and the wider world. Ivory is still illegal, but as China booms, it is more popular than ever.
This campaign will raise money to support rangers on the ground to protect Kenya’s elephants from armed poachers, together with Space for Giants’ longer term work to create new wildlife sanctuaries where elephants will be safe, forever. More can be found about the charity at Space for Giants
The article above includes two videos. A shorter one that can be viewed on the paper’s campaign website. Then there is a longer, five-minute, video also on YouTube and included below.
Offering a donation to help is only a click away.
Jean and I wanted to make a donation but found that without a UK bank account/UK Visa card it wasn’t possible. We contacted Space for Giants and received the following email from Amy.
Hi PaulSorry for the difficulties and thank you for your perseverance!You can donate in USD through our CrowdRise page at www.crowdrise.com/spaceforgiants1. These funds are sent to TUSK USA who will then allocate them to us.Alternatively, you can make out a cheque to ‘TUSK USA’ and send to TUSK USA, 40 East 94th Street, Apt 3A, New York, NY 10128 – please attach a covering note confirming that you would like your donation to be used to support the work of Space for Giants.Many thanks,Amy.
Continuing the examination of two views on AGW.
Readers will recall that this post opened yesterday. That Part One closed with Martin writing this:
Much of what Oakwood writes is an attack upon the Hockey Stick graph of palaeoclimatic temperature reconstructions first produced in 1998 (MBH98).
However, the fatal flaws in Oakwood’s scepticism regarding MBH98 are as follows:
- MBH98 has been validated by at least 14 other reconstructions (as cited in IPCC AR4 in 2007) using a wide variety of other proxy data(see Wikipedia for relevant links)
- Hockey Stick-shaped graphs turn up in reconstructions of CO2 levels and temperature – now going back over thousands of years – because they are not ‘statistical noise’ -
- Arguments about splicing instrumental data onto proxy data only serve to challenge the extent to which the speed of late 20th Century warming is unprecedented.
- Such arguments do not invalidate the conclusion that it is now almost certainly warmer than it has been at any time since the last Ice Age (i.e. a period of relative climate and sea level stability that has made agriculture, urbanisation and civilisation possible).
However, this is no reason for us to be complacent because, as Oakwood must know, the 50 to 100 metres of sea level rise that will be caused by the melting of terrestrial ice sheets will necessitate the mass migration of millions of people. This makes his concerns about current poverty and starvation (i.e. the main reason he eventually cites for not believing action is yet necessary) look very trivial indeed.
So continuing ….
The argument that the ‘divergence problem’ does not bring into question proxy studies is just one example of supposed ‘settled’ evidence in the case for AGW. There are others which collectively bring down the case to one of opinion.
After a lengthy attempt to assert that the “hide the decline” controversy was or is significant, Oakwood eventually moves onto attack the significance of MBH98; and to claim that ACD is no more than a matter of opinion. It is only possible to reach this conclusion by dismissing the majority of climate scientists as being stupid, sloppy, or sinister.
Here are a few others:
- Mann et al’s original hockey stick (1998) (as well as a number of other studies) shows an unprecedented temperature rise in the first half of the 20th century, a temperature change that most climate scientists believe can be explained by natural phenomena, such as the Sun (while failing to reproduce the man-made rise in the 2nd half of the century, due to the divergence problem explained above).
However, Climategate and, more especially Climategate 2.0 merely served to demonstrate how deliberate and organised are the attempts to discredit climate science and derail international attempts to tackle the ACD problem.
Thus, we are expected to believe there was both an unprecedented NATURAL temperature rise and unprecedented MAN-MADE rise in the same century. Not impossible, but statistically highly unlikely.
Oakwood suggests that assertions about early 20th Century warming are statistically highly unlikely (i.e. that climate scientists are stupid to make them). However, the real statistically highly unlikely suggestion is that 30 years of monthly average temperatures exceeding their long-term average values could be a consequence of natural variation. Unlike early 20th Century warming, this is definitely not capable of being explained by natural causes (such as cyclical solar activity or random volcanic eruptions).
- The ‘record’ (in just 35 years) of minimum summer ice in the Arctic is repeatedly presented as evidence for impending doom. However, the record MAXIMUM ice cover in the ANTarctic, at the same time, is dismissed with ‘we have another explanation for that’.
Trying to shift the focus away from the accelerating rate of ice loss in the Arctic is very lame indeed. The Arctic is surrounded by land and (now) increasing amounts of warming water. The reasons for the ice loss are well understood and it is happening faster than was predicted even 5 years ago. The Antarctic is surrounded by a huge expanse of cold ocean and is also being kept cold by the human caused hole in the ozone layer. The reasons why its ice is not melting so fast are therefore also well understood. In addition, it should be noted that the Antarctic Peninsula is the fastest warming place in the southern hemisphere.
- Whatever the weather, blame global warming. A few years ago, milder winters and earlier springs in the UK were hailed as evidence of AGW. But now we get lots of snow, and appalling spring, cooler summers, etc, and guess what, its due to global warming.
- Hot/dry weather and floods around the world are routinely highlighted as ‘more evidence’ whereas as cold weather extremes and records are dismissed as ‘just natural variation’ – again, and again and again.
Oakwood‘s remarks about extreme events are also very misleading. The number of records being broken for hot and/or dry events is many times greater than the number of records being broken for cold and/or wet events. As Hansen et al explained last year, in their review of historical data for the last five decades, natural variability does not explain the steady shift in average temperatures and the broadening of the range of conditions experienced in any one place.
I really can’t believe that Oakwood is so parochial in his outlook that he dares to mention the cold weather the UK has experienced recently. We may have had the coldest Spring for 50 years, but, that does not change the fact that global average temperatures are still the highest ever in recorded history. Furthermore, it does not change the fact that the analysis of Hansen et al (2012) continues to be validated by events such as those in Central Europe at the moment – where 1 in 100 year flood events have recurred after only 10 years. Not impossible – just statistically highly unlikely.
Those who highlight the lack of rising temperature for the past 10-15 years are routinely dismissed as deniers and liars. We’re told, ‘but the last decade is the warmest in a 100 years’. No-one disputes that. Given the world warmed by 0.8 degC in 100 years, that’s perfectly reasonable, and is not a defence against the fact that warming has at least paused.
- We’re told: ‘but the heat is going into the ice caps and the deep oceans and atmospheric heat is just a small percentage of the total’, How convenient. In the 1980s and 1990s, atmospheric temperature was enough for ‘proof’ of serious AGW. We didn’t hear anything about ocean heat then. No-one suggested that perhaps the warming was due to a release of previously ‘hidden’ ocean heat. Or that we shouldn’t read too much into a small atmospheric temperature rise.
- We see again and again, whatever happens, whatever the data show, the theory is revised to ‘show’ that nothing has changed. This is simply not plausible science.
- We’re told, the physics of CO2-induced global warming is just that, ‘physics’, and we can’t change that however much we dispute it. No-one disputes the physics. But, the atmosphere (believe it or not) is very complicated. We have the physics that says aerosols reflect the Sun’s heat, that clouds may increase and also reflect more heat. We now hear the relationships with the oceans is very important (which we didn’t hear before). Thus the debate is not about the reality of the CO2-global warming physics. Its about the sensitivity of the system and which physical phenomena will dominate.
Given the massive inertia in the climate system (which guarantees decades of future temperature rise even if CO2 emissions were completely halted today), there is no reason for us to be complacent about the fact that we have only seen a rise of 0.8C since the Industrial Revolution. The scientific consensus remains that equilibrium climate sensitivity is somewhere in excess of 2C and that such a rise in temperature will not be good for the vast majority of life on Earth. On the evidence of the ACD that we are already experiencing, I think there is very good reason to agree with that conclusion.
Again, I am astonished that Oakwood even dares to mention the ‘global warming has stopped’ canard. This misconception has been debunked so many times; there are even debates about who has written written the best rebuttals. Here is a summary: Whilst surface warming may have paused, the warming of the ocean (which is driving the increased frequency of extreme weather events of all kinds) has continued. Given that oceans cover two thirds of the Earth’s surface, is this something really worth arguing about?
Climate scientists are therefore not changing their story to accommodate inconvenient new data. Only climate change sceptics do that. The only implausible science on offer today is that which seeks to explain all the data without acknowledging that CO2 is the main driver. Sure, CO2 does not explain everything but, you cannot explain all the data unless the primacy of CO2 is accepted.
Some will respond: ‘but all of these arguments have been debunked many times’. All they really mean is another opinion or speculation has been given by an AGW believer. Nothing wrong with these, but don’t claim they represent settled science.
However, I should like to re-iterate the importance of the recently-published results of investigations at a lake in the NE of Arctic Russia. What this new 3.6 million year continuous palaeoclimatic record tells us is that current warmth is not unprecedented (if you go back to an era in which humans did not exist – 400 or 1,100 thousand years ago). This demonstrates that good scientists do not change their story when they get unexpected results.
I have no problem with scientists believing in AGW and believing it a serious threat. But when so much of their case is based on weak arguments, I do have a problem with claiming the case is ‘settled’ and that anyone who questions or challenges it is a liar, denier, conspiracy theorist, etc.
Both sides of the debate have their extremists and nutters. My interest is in the rational middle ground. To suggest an ‘eccentric’ like Christopher Monckton is ‘typical’ of all AGW-sceptics is just like claiming all Conservative voters are fascist and all Labour voters communist. It has no place in informed and educated debate.
Oakwood claims arguments for concern over ACD are “weak” but, in making this assertion, the only information he has referred to is very much out-of-date (such as IPCC AR4 in 2007). Oakwood moves on to discuss unhelpful labels such as “liar” and “denier”.
I do not think I have ever suggested that anyone who professes to be ‘sceptical’ is lying. However, I do think that, just like the tobacco executives whose ‘modus operandi’ they are copying, the executives of fossil fuel companies know more than they care to admit. There is also a great deal of evidence to indicate that climate change ‘scepticism’ is in fact being driven by unscientific economists aided in their anti-science cause by a handful of friendly scientists who tell them what they want to hear. This is not scepticism, it is ideological prejudice.
The term “denier” was introduced with the intention of associating AGW-sceptics with Holocaust Deniers. That is to say, AGW-sceptics are putting millions of lives at risk through their lies and ignorance. Given the weakness of the AGW case, the use of the labels ‘denier’, ‘deny’, denial’ seems to represent an insult to every victim of the Holocaust.
I agree that use of the term ‘denier’ is generally not helpful, but, given all the evidence that conflicts with their position, I do think that those who remain ‘sceptical’ about the primary cause of ongoing climate change are being irrational. If your beliefs require you to dismiss any and all evidence that conflicts with them, that is not scepticism, it is wilful blindness; it is what Young Earth Creationists have to do in order to protect themselves from wicked and ungodly scientific ideas.
Therefore, even if Oakwood does not do it, many who are ‘sceptical’ do rely upon conspiracy theories to dismiss all the evidence that conflicts with their beliefs. This includes dismissing most scientists as stupid, sloppy or sinister.
And why is it not time to act now? I am an environmentalist and see many environmental and social problems that need addressing. In particular, the need for ‘sustainability’ in all we do. There remain millions dying each year from such things as malnutrition, lack of safe drinking water, malaria, etc.
These are hard facts with zero room for any doubt. Given the weakness in the AGW-case, it is not a priority. I see some benefits in acting. For example, in many cases a reduction in CO2 emissions leads to much improved energy-efficiency, and less pollution. However, the case is not made for diverting money and effort from the more immediate priorities, covering pristine countryside in wind farms to satisfy urban energy demands, or using more biofuels at the expense of more hunger.
Having wasted so much time trying to falsify MBH98, Oakwood finally gets round to the important bit of my question: Why does he think the time to act has not yet arrived?
Failing to address the point that a wide range of industrial, political and economic organisations now agree that it is time to act, Oakwood opts instead to simply re-state his belief that attempts to mitigate the ACD problem will do more harm than good. All the evidence I have seen suggests that he is mistaken. To-date, I think the most compelling evidence is that contained in the IIED’s 2009 report , ‘Assessing the costs of Adaptation to Climate Change: A review of UNFCCC and other recent estimates’ (PDF available here), which begins with the following very sobering executive summary:
Several recent studies have reported adaptation costs for climate change, including for developing countries. They have similar-sized estimates and have been influential in discussions on this issue.
However, the studies have a number of deficiencies which need to be transparent and addressed more systematically in the future. A re-assessment of the UNFCCC estimates for 2030 suggests that they are likely to be substantial under-estimates. The purpose of this report is to illustrate the uncertainties in these estimates rather than to develop new cost estimates, which is a much larger task than can be accomplished here.
The main reasons for under-estimation are that: (i) some sectors have not been included in an assessment of cost (e.g. ecosystems, energy, manufacturing, retailing, and tourism); (ii) some of those sectors which have been included have been only partially covered; and (iii) the additional costs of adaptation have sometimes been calculated as ‘climate mark-ups’ against low levels of assumed investment. In some parts of the world low levels of investment have led to a current adaptation deficit, and this deficit will need to be made good by full funding of development, without which the funding for adaptation will be insufficient. Residual damages also need to be evaluated and reported because not all damages can be avoided due to technical and economic constraints.
There is an urgent need for more detailed assessments of these costs, including case studies of costs of adaptation in specific places and sectors.
Thus, belief in AGW is not a simple moral argument which some would want to believe – good vs evil, or capitalist vs environmentalist, etc.
Oakwood says he does not think this is a good-vs- evil or a capitalist-vs- environmentalist issue. I would agree. However:
- I am not the one who is allowing my political beliefs to prejudice my approach to the science;
- I am not the one who is accusing most scientists of being stupid, sloppy or sinister in order to dismiss what they are telling me; and
- I am not the one changing my story or my preferred argument whenever something I have formerly relied upon is shown to be unreasonable.
Although it is a shame that he is part of a minority within the UK’s current Coalition Government, I will conclude by quoting from a recent speech by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Edward Davey:
Of course there will always be uncertainties within climate science and the need for research to continue… We make progress by building on what we know, and questioning what we don’t. But some sections of the press are giving an uncritical campaigning platform to individuals and lobby groups who reject outright the fact that climate change is a result of human activity. Some who even deny the reality of climate change itself… By selectively misreading the evidence, they seek to suggest that climate change has stopped so we can all relax and burn all the dirty fuel we want without a care…
Oakwood says he opposes action to curb ACD because there are bigger problems we need to solve. If this were likely to be true, it would be an admirable position to take. Unfortunately, the bulk of the evidence suggests that ACD is a problem unlike any other and, unless we make serious attempts to minimise it, its consequences will dwarf all other problems we face.
This is because basic physics tells us that allowing the Earth to warm up will cause terrestrial ice to melt and sea levels to rise. It was predicted and it is now happening. The time to act to stop it is now. Millions of people cannot and will not adapt to having their land and their cities submerged under water.
Well I think that the agreement of Oakwood and Martin to set out their positions is fabulous and very worthy.
If readers will forgive me, tomorrow I will offer my own personal reflections on what has been offered by Martin and Oakwood today and yesterday.
How libertarian ideology is holding back our liberty to change.
Martin Lack, he of the popular blog Lack of Environment is taking a small break from his writings. In his own words,
I am afraid this may be the last post on this blog for a while because – what with the all the willful blindness and ideological prejudice that seems to stop people from recognising what an Eff-ing mess humanity is in – and my as yet unresolved employment situation – I am feeling somewhat emotionally drained. However, please don’t cancel your subscription (as who knows how quickly I may recover).
So what a pleasant surprise when less than a day after those words in came an email that read, “Since I have told readers of my blog that I am taking a rest, I offer you the text appended below to post on your blog instead (or not – as you see fit).“
On reading the text I most certainly ‘saw fit‘ to publish it!
It is a very interesting approach to climate science denialism resulting from an analysis of conspiracy theories.
So over to Martin.
Libertarian ideology is the real road block
I have recently been catching up on a bit of reading – focusing on the recent work of Professor Stephan Lewandowsky (and others). Following in the wake of James Hansen, Ben Santer and Michael Mann, Lewandowsky has recently been the target of hate-mail campaigns by climate change sceptics. Unlike all the others, however, Lewandowsky (formerly at the University of Western Australia but now at Bristol University in the UK) is not a climate scientist. This is how Bristol University announced his recent appointment.
Steve is an internationally renowned cognitive scientist who has joined us from the University of Western Australia. His research has already revolutionised our understanding of human memory and cognition, and he now stands poised to build upon his impressive body of work with a project as ambitious as it is timely. In particular, Steve’s intention to improve our understanding of how people choose to acquire information, and to use this understanding to help create a more informed populace, is a unique and much needed undertaking. Thus, this research offers enormous benefits in the fields of experimental psychology, climate research and the wider public engagement with and understanding of scientific research.
I must admit that, until recently, I had not sat down to read either of the papers by Lewandowsky et al ( ‘Motivated Rejection of Science’ [PDF] or ‘Recursive Fury: Conspiracy Ideation in the Blogosphere’ [PDF] ) – I had only read about them.
However, now that I have read them, the thing that strikes me most forcefully is not the stupidity of conspiracy “ideation”, the invocation of conspiracy theories, it is the fact that, as Lewandowsky et al acknowledge, their work confirms the findings of many previous studies; that climate change scepticism is associated with prejudicial adherence to libertarian ideology. Also key is that climate change scepticism can be predicted by that prejudicial adherence to libertarian ideology.
Amongst many other things, this explains why EU sceptics are climate sceptics and why the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) do not like Wind Farms. I had understood this for some time. However, I had not fully realised its importance; it was just one theme among others. Anyone who has read my blog recently will probably have noticed my post about New World Order (NWO) conspiracy theory, in which I acknowledged that I had not realised just how significant such thinking is, and how subliminal and subconscious it may be.
Although adherence to free-market economics and libertarian ideology were themes I highlighted in my MA dissertation and in my subsequent book, and mentioned on my blog numerous times, everything I have read in the last few days points to one conclusion: We will not succeed in communicating the urgency of the need for radical changes in energy policy until we can convince people that climate scientists are not trying to perpetuate their research funding or halt human progress.
Professor Lewandowsky’s research shows that little can be achieved by simply telling people they are wrong. Far better is pointing out to people that Limits to Growth and Peak Oil have already halted the progress of globalised Capitalism, as recent times prove dramatically. In other words conveying facts to people rather than ideology.
I must admit that this has been a tough pill to swallow. I am not naturally progressive and certainly not naturally “liberal”. On the contrary, I am socially and politically conservative. However, the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption is a game-changer. Therefore, unlike members of the Flat Earth Society or Young Earth Creationists (YECs), I do not refuse to accept what scientists tell me simply because I don’t like the message.
We cannot defeat such obscurantism by telling people they are irrational; we can only defeat it by focusing on the evidence that suggests strongly that they are mistaken. To this end, I think the words of St Augustine of Hippo are an important consideration; words going back over 1,400 years before anyone started to question the Age of the Earth or the Origin of Species! Words echoed by Thomas Aquinas, (often quoted to those YECs):
“… since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing.”
– Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (1273).
In the last 150 years or so, most Christians have now come to reject conspiracy theory explanations for fossils, for example, and have realised that it is inappropriate to treat the Bible as a scientific text book. Regretably, the main source of ideological blindness today is not conventional religion; it is adherence to free-market economics.
Therefore, it is important that we acknowledge the ideological nature of the communication problem we face. That is that the research by Prof Lewandowsky and others has discovered a tendency for libertarians to prefer conspiracy theories to reality. Perhaps, therefore, not surprising that he has been attacked; no-one likes to be told they are deluded.
Roadblocks to policy change will not be cleared by social and political scientists telling libertarians that they are deluded. All that will do is confirm their suspicions and reinforce their prejudices! No, what is needed is for climate scientists to be bolder in stating the facts.
The majority of climate scientists seem content to continue to soft-soap the issue; afraid of “telling it to people straight” because it may induce despair.
No, it is not too late to prevent an ecological catastrophe but I am certain that we are now very short of time and, as everyone from the International Energy Agency, the Pentagon and the IMF agree, further delay will not be cost-effective.
At the same time, I think social and political scientists need to focus on debunking the ‘New World Order’ conspiracy myth and pointing out the logical fallacy in the idea that all Greens are Communists in disguise (the so-called ‘Watermelons’).
The environment has become a political football when it is nothing of the kind. It is our life support system and we have pushed it near to the point of collapse, as E.F. Schumacher once said, by mistaking Nature’s capital for a form of income. Therefore, if we do not change course, bankruptcy would seem inevitable.
Having read and reflected on Martin’s essay, a couple of recollections surface. The first is Guy McPherson’s book Walking Away from Empire that I reviewed earlier this year then referred to in a recent republication of a George Monbiot essay:
So very difficult to pick out the sentence that carried the most power, for the essay is powerful from start to end. But this one did hit me in the face, “The impossibility of sustaining this system of endless, pointless consumption without the continued erosion of the living planet and the future prospects of humankind, is the conversation we will not have.“
Finally, I can’t resist reminding you, dear reader, of the point made by Prof. Guy McPherson in his book Walking Away from Empire, which I reviewed on March 6th. particularly in the first paragraph of the first chapter; Reason:
At this late juncture in the era of industry, it seems safe to assume we face one of two futures. If we continue to burn fossil fuels, we face imminent environmental collapse. If we cease burning fossil fuels, the industrial economy will collapse. Industrial humans express these futures as a choice between your money or your life, and tell you that, without money, life isn’t worth living. As should be clear by now, industrial humans — or at least our “leaders” — have chosen not door number one (environmental collapse) and not door number two (economic collapse), but both of the above.
The second recollection comes most recently; from yesterday’s The story of carbon. A story that showed the power of academic, peer-reviewed, properly conducted, rational science!
I will close with a repeat of the closing words from yesterday:
“By my calculation, we have a 5–10 year window to avoid the catastrophe. It won’t be easy — we’re past the point where any transition will be smooth — but we can make the transition and survive as a civilized species, humans in a recognizable world.”
Nothing counter-intuitive about that!
A review of the recently published book by Martin Lack.
In many ways it would be terribly easy to find fault with this book. If it had been written as a book, been through the edits that a new book requires, then published, those faults would be a significant criticism.
But it was not written as a book! It was originally written as an academic text. As Martin explains in the Preface:
This book is based on research originally undertaken – and a dissertation written – as part of my MA in Environmental Politics from Keele University in Staffordshire (in 2010-2011).
Then in the following paragraph goes on to say:
Academics generally disapprove of the publication of academic research via non-academic, non-peer-reviewed routes. However, I am trying to reach more than just an academic audience.
Three sentences later:
However, this book retains many of the features of a piece of academic research, …. (All quotes from page viii of the preface)
To a person unaccustomed to reading academic research, as is this reader, the structural and presentational differences between a ‘normal’ non-fiction book and a dissertation are significant. That needs to be borne in mind as you turn to page one.
OK, now that I have got that off my chest, on to the substance of the review.
Turning to the outside back cover, one sees Martin clearly explaining that the book is not about climate science, rather an analysis of why some people dispute “the reality, reliability and reasonableness of this science.”
That alone justifies the work that Martin put into his research and dissertation and his subsequent decision to adapt his findings into a book.
The pace and scale of the changes that are being visited on Planet Earth is truly frightening. The number of feedback loops that we are locked into now don’t even bear thinking about. Just take the continuing and accelerating loss of the Arctic ice-cap and extrapolate that for a couple of decades (touched on in my recent post More new tomorrows and see footnote.)
We are not talking of subtle changes over many generations. We are talking about irreversible and irrevocably massive changes to our environment within the lifetimes of just about every living person on this planet. (I’m 70 next year and while I have no idea how many years I have left, I rate it as at least 50:50 that before I take my last breath, the coming destruction of biosphere will be blindingly obvious to me, Jean and 99.9% of the world’s population.)
Makes me want to shout out ……
There is not much time left to leave a sustainable world for future generations. Come on politicians and power-brokers; start acting as though you truly understand the urgency of the situation!
Ah, that feels much better!
Back to the book!
Martin examines 5 categories that display denial behaviours, to a greater or lesser extent. These categories are: Organisations; Scientists, Economists, Journalists and Politicians. Oh, and a 6th catch-all category: Others.
Each section dealing with a category is structured in the same way: Preliminary Research; Key Findings and Summary. Tables are used extensively to allow easy review of the findings.
Again, what needs to be hammered out is that this format is very unlike a typical non-fiction book. Because it’s fundamentally an academic dissertation! But, so what!
What is important is for the widest possible audience to understand the breadth and extent of the denial going on. Denial that is, literally, playing with the future of humanity on this planet; the only home we have.
Let me reinforce that last sentence by picking up on what Martin writes on his closing page (p.76):
Furthermore, there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that this scepticism is being fuelled by those with a vested interest in the continuance of “business as usual” by seeking to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of ACD.
Martin Lack’s book may be unconventional in many ways. But as a tool to show how those who deny the science of climate change deny the right of future millions to live in a sustainable manner, it is most powerful. It is a valuable reference book that should be in every library and every secondary school across the globe!
The Denial of Science is published by AuthorHouse 02/23/2013
- To add weight to the points made in this review, do look in on tomorrow’s post.
- I have no commercial links to Martin Lack; indeed, I purchased the copy of the book that I used for this review.
Sometimes one wonders what happened to common sense!
Today’s Post is motivated by a number of items that have crossed my screen over the last few days which when looked at collectively might remind one of the old saw, “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it does help!“
Sit with me, metaphorically, and allow me to muse.
First was a recent Post on 350 or bust that included the March 2012 TED Conference in Long Beach, California where NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen explains why he must speak out about climate change. (See the video later on.) That Post refers to an item on Martin Lack’s Blog, Lack of Environment, where Martin as well as including the video below also lists the challenges that we on this single, finite planet face. Here is that list,
- The Earth’s current energy imbalance is 0.6 Watts per sq.m.; a rate of energy input 20 times greater than the energy output of all human activity; and equivalent to the detonation of 400,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs every day.
- Since measurements began in 2003, there has been a noticeable acceleration in the annual rate of mass loss from both the Greenland and Antarctica ice caps.
- The last time atmospheric CO2 was 390 ppm, sea levels were 15 m higher than they are today, which implies even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow, this is where they would end up several centuries from now because the warming “is already in the pipeline” (i.e. because the Earth must warm-up in order to restore its energy balance).
- Unless we stop burning fossil fuels soon, sea level rise will continue to accelerate, which is likely to cause between 1 and 5 metre rise by 2100AD (depending on how quickly we now decide to stop burning them).
- Palaeoclimatology tells us that 350 ppm is the safe limit for avoiding significant disruption to the planet’s ecological carrying capacity (i.e. in terms of both populations of individual species and overall biodivesity); and it now seems likely that between 20%-50% of all species will be “ticketed for extinction” by the end of the century.
- If we push the Earth beyond it’s “tipping point” (i.e. allow all the emerging positive feedback mechanisms to take hold); ACD will become unstoppable; and the ensuing socio-economic damage will be almost unimaginable. The total global cost of mitigation is already put at somewhere between 35 and 70 Trillion US Dollars depending on how soon we choose to act.
- If we had started to get off fossil fuels in 2005, it would have required 3% reduction per year in order to restore energy imbalance by 2100AD. If we start next year, it will require 6% p.a. If we wait 10 years it will require 15% p.a.
- Recent droughts in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico were 3 Standard Deviations outside the norm. Events such as these cannot therefore be ascribed to natural variability; anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is happening just as Hansen said it would 24 years ago (if we did not change course – which we haven’t).
- Pursuing emissions limits (i.e. Cap and Trade) will not work because there is no actual incentive to reduce emissions without any self-imposed restraint being to the advantage of others who do not do the same (i.e. the Tragedy of the Commons problem).
- Hansen uses the analogy of an approaching asteroid – the longer we wait to prevent it hitting us the harder it becomes to do so.
Do watch that Hansen video,
Second is that yesterday Martin Lack published an item that really does seem to endorse the view that there is no sign of intelligent life living on Planet Earth (not counting dogs!).
Think about it. The planet is warming up. The use of carbon-based fuels is a strong suspect, putting it mildly, of the rising levels of CO2 in our atmosphere, 394.45 on April 5th, so rather than change the incentives for using such fuels, we are taking advantage of this warming planet causing the melt of the Arctic ice cap by allowing Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic. But even crazier than that, Shell have contracted for a Finnish icebreaker to assist them in breaking up the ice! (I really do feel a headache coming on!)
Greenpeace in the UK are running a campaign to stop this.
Sign up to save the Arctic
The pristine and beautiful Arctic: Shell wants to exploit it for oil. We want it protected.
Dozens of Greenpeace Nordic activists have boarded and occupied a Shell-contracted icebreaker in Helsinki harbour as it prepares to leave for the Alaskan Arctic.
Drilling in this fragile ecosystem – home to the polar bear, narwhal, Arctic fox and other iconic species – is unacceptable. A spill or accident in these waters would be disastrous and the harsh conditions would make responding to such a disaster almost impossible.
Demand Shell stop their plans to put the fragile Arctic and its biodiversity at risk. We’ll keep you updated on our campaigns.
Write to Mr. Peter Voser.
Mr Peter Voser, Shell
The Arctic isn’t a place you can exploit, it’s a place we have to protect. Time and time again, experts have expressed serious doubts about the possibility of cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic. The technical challenges posed by drilling there are obvious and no matter how much you try to convince people that your company can operate safely in such a harsh environment, we know the truth.
Because of this, I demand that you scrap your Arctic plans immediately.
By the end of this week we want 500,000 people shouting at Shell that it must end its campaign of Arctic destruction. Click here now. [N.B. This is a time-sensitive campaign response - please visit Greenpeace website and enter your name and email address and they will email Shell on your behalf.]
We can change things! Together we can stop Shell and other oil companies from destroying the Arctic. Not everyone can board a ship to demand that change. But today, you can email Shell and ask them to stop drilling for oil and ask 10 of your friends to do the same. Together, we can save the Arctic!
Greenpeace Nordic activist from Finland.
It’s not just an isolated instance of madness! Just a little over 10 days ago, I reported on President Obama’s support for the oil companies that threatens the polar bears, see “President Obama’s proposal for these magnificent and imperiled animals is a gift to Big Oil”
In closing, luckily there are many voices being raised about putting an end to this madness; see the recent item from Patrice Ayme. Hopefully, all these voices will bring about the changes to the way so many of us are governed. As Patrice commented recently on Learning from Dogs, “Hope is the breathing of the planet“. Maybe, just maybe, hope will win through. No better put than by James Hansen,
Most impressive is the work of the Citizens Climate Lobby, a relatively new, fastgrowing, nonpartisan, nonprofit group with 46 chapters across the United States and Canada. If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren, there is no more effective step you could take than becoming an active member of this group.”
- Dr. James Hansen, head of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA
Oh, and before I forget, a tornado touched down in Southern France! Not common and not making sense!