Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Delingpole is as hidebound as the "Climate Bullies" he so eloquently rails against

There was an interesting change in media-land this week that may well have been missed by many people. Arch anthropogenic climate change sceptic James Delingpole announced that he would no longer be blogging for the Telegraph. He didn't mention so in his swansong piece but he is actually moving to, a muck-raking right wing site that is imminently launching in the UK.

I stopped regularly reading Delingpole about a year ago. There is no doubt he is an excellent writer but the tone of his pieces and the ad hominem attacks on any and all who think there might just be something to this man-made climate change mallarkey was ultimately a turn off for me. I don't mind a bit of baiting (and indeed have done it myself on occasion) but his pieces became about 80% bile and 20% (often poorly backed) substance.

I have been reflecting on the position of people like Delingpole in the last couple of weeks. We have seen horrendous weather here in the UK and flooding on a scale unprecedented in modern times. The sort of extreme weather we are experiencing both here and globally in the last few years certainly seems to my untrained eye remarkable. And indeed plenty in the scientific community think it is no coincidence weather is becoming more extreme.

But of course with a system as complex as global weather patterns it is very, very difficult to be sure about anything. Just because 97% of scientists working in the field think that anthropogenic climate change is real and happening doesn't mean it is definitely true. For my part I think it highly unlikely they are wrong to any significant degree and am willing to go with the vast majority of the best science there is out there. But through the gaps in scientific knowledge and understanding there is space for the climate sceptics such as the erstwhile Telegraph blogger.

Delingpole essentially considers there to be a conspiracy of people who have a vested interest in pushing the agenda of climate change. Some of the conspirators are in it for the money, some are in it for political power and some simply want to impose socialist solutions on the rest of us by scaring the bejeesus out of us. And the rest of us are the "sheeple" who lap this stuff up despite freedom fighters like Mr D and others trying to show us the One True Way. If you think I am being hyperbolic just read a few of his pieces on this subject.

The curious thing is that James Delingpole is as hidebound as any of the supposed conspirators he so eloquently rails against. He has made his name as an arch climate sceptic, indeed he won a prestigious award for his pieces on the "Climategate Scandal*" in 2009. He has also written a book entitled "How Environmentalists are Killing the Planet, Destroying the Economy and Stealing your Children's Future". I am sure that a big part of his move to this new site is because of his work and reputation in this area. In other words his career depends on him continuing to write sceptically and vociferously about this supposed climate change conspiracy.

So it is highly unlikely that what has happened in the last 2 weeks will have moved him. He literally cannot allow it to and that would apply no matter how strong the evidence was. In other words James Delingpole is the very definition of an unreliable witness regarding this subject. He has too much riding on it. He will pick and choose "evidence" to suit his cause and will continue to attack those in the scientific and wider community who think the (increasingly strong) evidence points in the opposite direction to his cause.

For regular readers of my blog it would be like the equivalent of there suddenly being very strong evidence that the war on drugs is actually working. How would I react to such evidence? After all a fair bit of my (much smaller) reputation has been built up as a strong advocate of reform. I'd like to think that I'd go with the evidence but I'd find it very difficult to reconcile myself after all the time and effort I have put into the campaigning for reform. I expect what I would be tempted to do is cherry pick my evidence to highlight what backed up my case. It's only human nature. I'd have painted myself into a corner.

This is exactly what Delingpole has done. He has painted himself into an intellectual corner on this issue and simply cannot brook any change no matter what the evidence says. He would now look ridiculous if he started to repudiate what he had previously written in such strong terms.

I fear his move to Breibart underlines this point. Until now he has written for the Telegraph which although right-leaning has been a broad church on this issue. Delingpole was an important writer for them but they equally have writers such as Geoffrey Lean and Tom Chivers who will strongly argue the opposite case on climate change. At his new home it is unlikely that his platform will be usurped by others in this way. He will be amongst like-minded souls. In other words he has gone down a cul-de-sac and will largely be preaching to the converted.

Maybe that's how he wants it now. Nobody likes to be told they're wrong and a lot of commenters on his Telegraph blog would take him to task. In his farewell post he referred to them as "Trolls" but for some mainstream commentators this word has mutated into "people who disagree with me". At least there will be fewer of them where he is going.

I don't wish Mr Delingpole any ill and I hope he is happy in his new role. I can't help but feel though that he has now crossed the rubicon into a right-wing climate sceptic echo chamber which will only serve to bolster his conviction that he is right and the vast majority of the rest of the world is wrong.

*The "Climategate Scandal" has been debunked many times and the smoking "hide the decline" quote has also been explained many times. For a synopsis of what was going on this is a good article.


Jim said...

I'm afraid you are falling for the 'watch the pea' routine that has been pulled by by the Global Warming crew. Remember Global Warming? That was what we were threatened with just 10 years or less ago. And strangely as the global temperatures have ceased to rise, Global Warming seemed to disappear, and be replaced by Climate Change. A nice little sidestep, because now EVERYTHING is evidence of Climate Change. Hot US summer? Climate Change. Super cold US winter? Climate change. Really wet UK summer? Climate Change. Really wet UK winter? Climate Change. Bear in mind just a few years ago the scientific consensus was that we could expect hotter and drier UK summers. That rather got pushed aside in 2012 though.

We now have a political movement pushing a pseudo-scientific theory that cannot be invalidated. There is nothing that can happen weather-wise now that will not be used as 'evidence' of Climate Change. Hot, cold, wet, dry, its all grist to the mill. And all this goes on while global temperatures have not risen for 15 years.

Thats not science, thats religion.

Mark Thompson said...

Hi Jim.

Thanks for your comment.

I'm not really "falling" for anything. As I said the climate is an incredibly complex system. If AGW is correct then we will probably see warming happening in some areas and other effects like more rain and perhaps even colder periods in places like the UK. What little understanding I have on this is related to how it could interfere with the gulf stream. In extremis if the gulf stream was switched off (as could happen if there were large increases in global temperatures) then we could see significant temperature reductions in the UK. It is not inconsistent for scientists to update their thinking on the effects of AGW as the evidence evolves.

I appreciate your point about it not being able to be validated and I alluded to this in my post. But equally it is very hard to invalidate.

I'm not religious and if the evidence in the coming years starts to suggest that the AGW theory is wrong then I'd be delighted. I have no vested interest in this one way or the other. I fear it's going in the other direction though.

But on your general point, can you explain to me why you think 97% of scientists would pretend they believe something in order to push a political agenda? Because that's the part of this I really do not understand and it's the part of it that make climate sceptics seem like conspiracy theorists.



Jim said...

"I appreciate your point about it not being able to be validated and I alluded to this in my post. But equally it is very hard to invalidate."

Its not a question of events validating AGW, its a matter of what events are considered to invalidate it. Remember AGW is a theory, not a fact. And the scientific method states it only needs one thing to go against the theory to prove that it is not correct. 100 things that agree with the theory and one that doesn't invalidates the theory. Thats how science works. So if the AGW proponents cannot (or will not) give any scenarios that invalidate their theory, and take everything that occurs as evidence of their theory, we are no longer dealing with science, but a belief system. And I'm afraid thats where we have reached - too many people have belief in AGW and cannot accept anything that looks like it could prove it wrong.

And as for the 'scientific consensus' I think you have to follow the money. For all the mud thrown about 'Big Oil' funding the sceptics, the reality is that billions and billions are flowing into universities and NGOs for 'climate research'. And all that money comes with the effective caveat that AGW is real and we want evidence of it. Ask yourself, if you were a scientist, and your results were contrary to AGW, do you think you'd get another grant to investigate further? And if the science is so settled why are the scientists so afraid of producing their data and methodology? Why do they fight FOIA requests tooth and nail? What did the UEA commit criminal acts (destroying emails and data) to hide what they were doing for FOI requests? These are not the acts of people who have controvertible evidence to back up their case. It smacks of something to hide.

And the 97% of scientists agree meme is rubbish. Its been cooked up by people with political axes to grind. There are plenty of serious climate scientists who question much if not all of the AGW theory.

I will ask you a simple question - the rise in global temperatures from 1980 to roughly 2000, upon which the whole AGW concept is primarily based, took 20 years. We have now had 15 years and counting of flat global temperatures, while CO2 has continued to be pumped into the atmosphere, at increasingly large rates (I think something like 40% of CO2 ever emitted by man has occurred since 2000). How long will temperatures have to flatline (or indeed fall) before the AGW theory is invalidated? Will 20 years do? Does it have to be longer than the rise? If so why?

Mark Thompson said...

Hi Jim

"if just one thing goes against the theory that proves it is not correct"

Scientific research adapts all the time and that is what we are seeing. If something happens that goes against the model, that is an argument for adapting the model, not totally abandoning it unless the evidence is so overwhelming that it is clear the model is completely wrong.

Also, I am afraid that you are doing what I accused James on in my piece, you are cherry-picking the evidence. On one, very narrow measure, the temperature on the surface of the earth there has been little warming in the last 10 or so years. But that is to completely ignore the fact that the oceans have been warming during that period (between 100m and 300m below the surface) with all sorts of measurable effects. That cannot be ignored. I found this out after 2 minutes of googling so someone as well informed as yourself must be aware of it too. Why are you ignoring this?

I'm not going to get bogged down in an argument about whether it's 97% or a slightly smaller amount, it is still an overwhelming majority of scientists working in this field.

Your "follow the money" comment is classic conspiracy theorism. In order for it to be true there would have to be a conspiracy between scientists and politicians on a scale never before seen in our history. And the sort of questions you raise about the UEA and their actions are addressed in countless pieces available online. Even I am aware of their responses to these and I don't follow this debate as closely as it would appear you do. So the fact you are still raising them makes them feel like what Ben Goldacre describes as "zombie arguments", i.e. points in a debate that have already been addressed many times before.

Im my experience scientists are trying to find the truth. They are not generally ideologically driven. Imagine if a scientist could come up with proof positive that AGW was not happening. He/She would be world famous immediately. The fact this has not happened also tells me something important.

You probably think I am siding with the climate change camp for ulterior motives or something but I am not. Simply on the basis of the evidence I have seen and read about, coupled with the fact that most scientists working in this field think there is a real and growing problem Occam's Razor tells me that is probably the side that is most correct.

Jim said...

Ah, the 'heat is hiding in the oceans' concept. When did we start hearing about that? Was it years ago, when temperatures were rising and all was dandy in Global Warming camp? No of course not. No one was saying 10 years ago that global temperatures would stop rising because the heat was disappearing into the oceans (which incidentally it isn't, on the actual measurements available from the Argo temperature buoy system - again, its a theory, not fact). Its only since the official global temperature figures, produced by the Warmists themselves, stopped rising that were suddenly been bombarded with all these reason why the heat must be somewhere else.

Don't you see that if you predict X, and X fails to happen, the scientific method says that your theory on which you based your prediction is wrong. Go back to the beginning, re-evaluate the data and formulate a better theory, and make a new prediction. Then test that against reality.

Global Warming models predicted runaway heating. Thats all in the official literature. That heating hasn't happened. Ergo the models are junk. They don't work. So instead of saying 'the science is settled' perhaps the scientists should admit they were wrong, they don't actually know why the temperatures have moved as they have, their previous theories cannot account for it. That is the truth. And its not a truth that one can or should base a complete overhaul of the global economic system, which is what we are being told to accept.

And you haven't answered my question. How long would global temperatures have to stay level before you personally would start to question whether the 'science' is real or polemic?

Mark Thompson said...

I don't think we're really getting anywhere now. Like I said it's a very complex system, probably the most complex anyone has ever tried to model in all of human history so I am not surprised when things change. I don't think that means you throw everything out and start again from scratch and it is perfectly legitimate to adapt models to accommodate the new data. Just because exactly what was predicted 10 or 20 or 30 years ago has not come to pass in precisely the way predicated does not mean AGW is demonstrably junk science.

I still don't understand how people can sincerely believe that almost all scientists working in this field are either deluded or venal. That attitude simply does not fit with the approach of pretty much every scientist I have ever met. It would be incredible if what you are saying on this is true and would be the biggest scandal in history given what is at stake.

Jim said...

"it's a very complex system, probably the most complex anyone has ever tried to model in all of human history"

Precisely, and anyone who tells you that 'the science is settled' on how the climate of the Earth works is an idiot who has an ideological axe to grind. The bald fact is that we just don't know. And we are being asked to make massive changes to our lives on the back of not knowing.

And yes, it will be one of the biggest scandals ever when this thing falls apart, though I think so many people are implicated (not through malice but acceptance of what they've been told) that there will never be a big mea culpa and righting of wrongs. It will all be swept under the carpet. New technologies will solve the fossil fuel energy supply problem, and everything will go back to normal. The powers that be will pretend the whole thing never happened.

Simon Fawthrop said...

I'm prepared to accept that man is having an affect on the climate, to paraphrase Bill Shankly- if we aren't what are we doing here.

My problem is that nobody defines "consensus" and greenies just love to say "scientific consensus yah boo sucks you're climate denier" whenever you raise questions about what we are being asked to put up with in the name of Climate Change. Take the woman who said recently that all MPs who oppose the "consusus" should be removed fro Government. How fascist is that?

And the issue has been hijacked by people with their own agendas. Just listen to the first 5 minutes of this BBC Analysis programme to realise by how much.

Finally, if we are to listen to the UN IPCC who are effectively the consensus that says we do have man made climate change shouldn't we also listen to what they say we should do about it as well? As far as I'm aware there's only one person beating that drum:

probably because it doesn't chime with what a lot of greenies really want, to use Climate Change to their own ends.