Tuesday 19 November 2013

Worse Than It Looked

Bringing Out The Worst: For reading the words of Yeb Sano, a Philippines' delegate to the Warsaw conference on Climate Change, into the parliamentary record, the Greens' co-leader, Russel Norman, elicited howls of outrage from the National Government's MPs. Their response is emblematic of the Right's growing contempt for science and the evidence-based reasoning that underpins it.
LAST WEEK’S UNCOUTH DISPLAY by National Party MPs revealed as much about its authors as its target – Dr Russel Norman. It spoke of a political mindset quite unable to distinguish occasions when rowdy interjection is appropriate, from those when it most emphatically is not. More than that, however, it exposed an unwillingness – now alarmingly widespread among conservative politicians – to accept the findings of empirical science.
The Green Party’s co-leader had risen to add his party’s response to a parliamentary statement expressing New Zealanders’ sympathy and support for the Filipino victims of Super-Typhoon Haiyan. In doing so he drew heavily on the comments of Yeb Sano, a member of the Philippines delegation to the international conference on climate change in Warsaw.
Speaking to his fellow delegates just hours before, Mr Sano had declared:
Passionate Advocacy: Climate Change Conference Delegate, Yeb Sano, spoke for the people of the super-typhoon-ravaged Philippines, demanding international action to curb anthropogenic global warming: "If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”
“I speak for my delegation. But more than that, I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm … We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons are a way of life.
“Because we refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life. We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead, become a way of life. We simply refuse to.”
Dr Norman’s intention in quoting extensively from Mr Sano’s speech was to draw his parliamentary colleagues attention to the fact that Super-Typhoon Haiyan wasn’t simply an Act of God but a terrifying example of what climate scientists call “anthropogenic global warming”. In other words, that it was a man-made disaster. And if the New Zealand Parliament was not to find itself expressing sorrow and support for the victims of climate change with ever-increasing frequency, then its members would have to respond to Mr Sano’s urgent plea for action.
Quoting a student hero of the Philippines’ long and bloody struggle for democracy, Mr Sano had challenged the Warsaw delegates:
“If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”
A more mature National Party would have listened to the quoted words of this Filipino scientist in  respectful silence. Startled, perhaps, that a member of the House had moved beyond the platitudes that traditionally accompany such ritual expressions of sympathy, but willing, nevertheless, to at least try to understand why he was stepping beyond the norm.
But, because the words of scientists no longer command the respect of conservatives, the National Party members of the House (including at least one Cabinet Minister) began braying like tethered asses for Dr Norman to resume his seat. Such incivility has, sadly, become reflexive on the right of politics – especially when anyone attempts to engage its representatives in serious discussion about the consequences of anthropogenic global warming.
The contrast between these Tory “know-nothings” and “climate-change deniers” and the leading conservatives of fifty years ago is stark. The Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik in October 1957 had so shocked the United States that the Eisenhower Administration felt it had no option but to defy the ingrained religious obscurantism of huge swathes of the American Right and embark on a campaign to place science and its myriad applications (not least its military spin-offs) at the centre of American life. If science reigned to such obviously good effect in Red Russia, argued the President’s advisers, then it must also rule in the Land of the Free.
The debt we owe the extraordinary era of scientific competition between the USSR and the USA is huge. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine what the world of 2013 would look like had it never happened.
The vast expansion of scientific research and development did, however, bring with it an extremely worrying political problem. How to ensure that the revelations of science – the outcome of rational thought and disciplined experimentation – would be received by equally rational and disciplined politicians? If the findings of science contradicted the deeply-held prejudices of politicians, then which of the two – the scientist or the politician – would be required to step back?
In a 2012 article for The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza quoted Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, from their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks:
“One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
Following last week’s uncouth display, it is clear that, when it comes to rational right-wing responses to anthropogenic global warming, it’s looking pretty bad here too.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 19 November 2013.


Dave Kennedy said...

Well said, Chris. I was pleased to see that the MSM grabbed the opportunity that Russel had provided to test National MPs on their understanding of the science around climate change. Tim Groser was the only one intelligent enough to realize the ramifications of not pretending to believe it. It has now become clearer that ideology, not science, determines what will happen under this denier Government.

Max Ritchie said...

A Labour MP was asking Russell Norman to observe the customs of the House too ie to keep it short. It had less to do with climate change and much more to do with Norman speaking for three times as long as the convention.

Brendan McNeill said...


I appreciate that human induced climate change is an article of faith for the left. We have heard many pronouncements that the 'science is settled'. The Editor of the Herald has made a decision not to give airtime to more skeptical views regardless of the credentials of those who express them.

You have recently expressed your own concerns at the tactics taken by some on the left of the political spectrum to close down debates on sexual abuse unless it can be framed in a proscribed way. This is really no different.

There has been no appreciable climate change for the last decade or more, even though the man made emissions of CO2 gasses have considerably increased over that time

Yes, there is healthy skepticism on the conservative side of the fence, and not without good reason. The human contribution to the overall production of greenhouse gases is in the rounding numbers. Approximately 3.5% of CO2 is generated by humans, but by CO2 is itself only a minority contributor to greenhouse gases.

Most of it is water vapor.

Even if we were to accept that humans are influencing the climate, despite all of the conferences, the delegates, the air miles, no one has come up with a practical solution that is politically acceptable, and willing to be adopted by the major emitters. For all the emotional energy, debate, funding and research hours that have gone into this topic, very little of practical substance has emerged that politicians are willing to embrace, on either side of the fence.

Robert Miles said...

I think little can be assumed to be scientifically proven, today. What is science says is true, is now very much contested ground. Think of some of the big issues. Global warming, true or false ? Nuclear Power. Desirable ? Safe ? Economical ? Psychiatry, T/F ?. Big Pharma and its new drugs, T/F.
Public Transport, desirable, T/F.
Light rail, expensive or low cost transport, T/F.
Scientific truth is very much contested ground today, with people chosing on the basis of their interests, ideology and class and nations interest.
Even the debate about evolution is not clear cut, in the sense that what most professors and academics mean by evolution, is that it means social engineering so everybody gets a chance and the current less economically endowed and succesful get a chance thru slacked education std, artificial jobs and preferential choice. Hardly what Darwin was about, or what was thought by the right or middle classes in the 1930's.
When social scientists and the medical profession talk about scientific and statistic truth, I am sceptical. Usually it means a desire to proomte their own interest, create jobs,increase social control and a lot of things.
Similarly in the promotion by 'political scientists of MMP and STV. More democratic ? More likely to make people happier and produce economic growth. Questionable. More likely to get the left and people who will listen to professors and simplicato. Yes. Yes.

Davo Stevens said...

If I want to watch adults behaving like children I'll watch Sesame Street.

The Gnats are becoming more and more like their counterparts the Republicants in the US. Not surprising when our illustrious PM is a US citizen.

Russell Norman is entitled to his opinion just like anyone else.

Dave Kennedy said...

Max, the speaker criticized Russel for making a political statement, not because he spoke too long.

Anonymous said...

Of course the climate science is "contested". You only have to follow the money back to the oil companies and the coal companies. It's just the same as when the science surrounding smoking was "contested", and in fact they employed some of the same people to contest it. And just now the science of American footballers being hit in the head a lot and getting concussion is being "contested". That's the way capitalists react when it looks like someone is going to take some of their money. Actual scientists, particularly climate scientists know that there is nothing much to contest.

Patricia said...

Surely it is a little stupid to deny climate change is occurring and that it is anthropogenic. We do not have the option of believing or not believing. The consequences are too great for us not to do something to control man's actions. It will not be the end of our world if we actively embrace activities that reduce our emissions but it is possible that our world could end if we don't.

Jigsaw said...

A shame that you have done so little reading on the topic Chris or you would know as an example that the area in question gets countless typhoons every year, that in fact the last few hurricane seasons in the Carribean have been the least active for many years and that in fact the science is not settled. Using the smoking analogy is a very deceptive thing to do and simply doesn't stand up to scutiny. However Brendan is correct in that it is an item of faith for the left that human induced climate change is a major problem and of course what follows is yet more controls from the state-always a great thing for the socialists.

Richard Christie said...


You really haven't the faintest clue as to what you are talking about.

Nothing you wrote is supported by NASA, The Royal Society (inc NZ),NOAA, American Association for the Advancement of Science,American Chemical Society,American Geophysical Union,American Meteorological Society,American Physical Society, The Geological Society of America, U.S. National Academy of Sciences,U.S. Global Change Research Program, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,IPCC, and and a host of other international scientific bodies. (source http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus)

In fact every single scientific body in the world, in ALL the physical and earth sciences, are saying the same thing about AGW, that it is happening and man made greenhouse gases are the cause.

Not a single exception to the above from any scientific organisation. - All - of - them -.

Wake up Brendan, get smarter and improve your methodology, don't swallow P.R.A.T.T.s from politically motivated denier websites and similar sources.

Go to the people and organisations, such as NASA, who have the expertise, and resources to have done the hard work, in fact billions of dollars worth of sophisticated atmospheric research, and get informed as to what they understand - and even summarise it in plain English for you to read at www.climate.nasa.gov

And no, the entire world's scientific community is not engaged in some sort of conspiracy in order to lie to you.

Dave Kennedy said...

@Richard, I think Brendan has been sucked in by the Merchants of Doubt: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merchants_of_Doubt

These merchants managed to delay action to save the ozone layer, stop acid rain and allowed tobacco companies to avoid responsibility for longer. It is much the same organisations and scientists who are protecting the fossil fuel industry from climate change action.

If 98% of medical specialists advised certain treatment to save me from an invasive cancer, I would probably not go with the 2% who say otherwise.

Anonymous said...

As Richard said - the SCIENTISTS almost all think it's settled. So it's actually an article of FAITH only on the right :-).

Davo Stevens said...

@ Anon 6.31; Well put and it's my summation too. Why would the Koch Bros. et al pour millions into the deniers unless there is something in it for them.

As for AGW, I'm a fence sitter but like others here have said; whatever the cause we need to be preparing ourselves for the changes that are starting to happen. The climate is a very complex system and small changes mean little but large changes mean a lot.

Oh Dear Brendan, I am not sure if you really believe what you say or you are just being facetious. I will assume the former.

Anyone who even knows the basics of the hydraulic circulation of water in our environment understands that the amount is constant according to the temperature. The higher the atmospheric temp. the more water vapour it can hold. When it goes out of balance we get rain mate!! The rain empties the water vapour out of the atmosphere and it starts all over again. Storms are the climate trying to balance itself again. The hotter the air the more violent the storms.

I suggest that you study the processes and take less notice of some idjit in a newspaper that means damned little to most of the population of NZ outside of Jaffatown.

Richard Christie said...


Using the smoking analogy is a very deceptive thing to do and simply doesn't stand up to scutiny

Is this assertion just another P.R.A.T.T.?

Learn something:

Naomi Oreskes
Merchants of Doubt


TM said...

Anyone who uses the term "the science is settled" doesn't understand science. Science encourages alternative opinions and arguments, which are then presented to reputable publications. This means you will find a dissenting or alternative view for almost any topic.

What matters is that good ideas and research get picked up by others and carried forward, and this will form the bulk of the research and thinking. This progression of particular threads of good ideas and research is known as a consensus of scientific opinion. Anthropological climate change has about 98% of all papers published in support of this theory, which is more than most scientific theories, including the the Theory of Evolution.

And right wingers continue to believe there is some global conspiracy or gravy train of climate scientists, most of whom have super high IQs and yet have to survive on paltry research grants when they could earn several multiples of their salary if they became accountants or hedge fund analysts.

Being a climate skeptic puts you in the same category as the anti-vaccination and creationist nutters. All believe they know better than the collective work of the best minds on this planet.

Nic the NZer said...

Unfortunately Brendan your comment shows a complete lack of respect for scientific facts and method.

Where you said "I appreciate that human induced climate change is an article of faith for the left.", there is exactly one article of faith in all of scientific research. This article is that all scientific facts are falsifiable if they can be shown not to comport with experiment. So if you have respect for the scientific process you would establish that the theory of climate change doesn't comport to the balance of evidence. This would be extremely convenient in fact, just that it doesn't comport to the balance of the evidence as a lot of research has shown.

You say later that, "There has been no appreciable climate change for the last decade or more, even though the man made emissions of CO2 gasses have considerably increased over that time". Well you must not have been aware of this, but in fact this is not true. In fact most of the energy due to the greenhouse effect accumulates in the oceans, and this has been measured and has been increasing.


So on the balance of the scientific evidence CO2 emissions still produce a greenhouse effect, even measured over the last decade. Of course this fact is more than open to challenge to anybody who can produce experimental results which contradict this.

Anonymous said...

I use the phrase the science is settled, and I understand very well how science works thank you very much. Scientists sometimes use the words "the science is settled." They mean – as settled as science ever is.

CarbonGuilty said...

Laughable a Green insisting on scientific evidence when on most issues they deny even more settled science. GE, nuclear power and fracking come to mind. All equally 'settled' as far as the people who know what they are talking about are concerned. But the raving Greens and most of the left have oppossed these technologies for purely political reasons, and so harm the environment as a consequence. That consequence is the massive burning of coal instead, which is 80% of the AGW problem and has many other environmental negatives, and kills thousands too. Yet for at least two generations the greens and their equally ignorant fellow travellers have hysterically opposed nuclear power everywhere. So they are partly responsible for AGW. And on food, starvation in future can partly be blamed on greens opposing GE, supported by the rest of the left. Fracking? Finds gas which replaces coal use! Again greens and the left oppoose it. Result? More coal burned. So today the Greens are doing envirnoment damage of the most serious kind and their Labour friends (joke) are aiding and abetting their destruction of the planet and the likely starvation of billions. Of course they don't like people so will only regard mass deaths of the poor as an 'unfortunate but necessary' blip on the screen of 'saving the planet'. No different from Nazis in that regard.

Davo Stevens said...

An addendum to what I posted earlier.

Storms get their energy from the sea, the hotter the sea the more violent the storm. Cyclones and their counterparts all start over a warm ocean and move into the sub tropics or even the temperate areas. Even NZ has had some rather bad storms in later years that have originated in the tropics north of here. We will get worse ones too.

Remember that 'Sandy' started in the ocean just north of Bermuda and travelled northwards to strike NY and the New England states. 'Katrina' started over the ocean east of the Carribean and crossed Florida first, then gained strength again over the Gulf to travel north across the south states finally dying out over Arizona far inland.

We can expect more like these or worse.

Jigsaw said...

Science isn't decided by vote-the majority of scientists are not necessaryily correct in what they say and there are plenty of past cases to use as examples.
Even if the climate is changing (and when has it ever been static?) doing many of things that people like the Greens advocate is not necessarily going to do anything anyway. The Greens have a record of proposing things which have a huge element of unforseen results-they seem to enjoy being like chicken little.
Its also impossible to say that one storm is stronger than another was historically-the population changes etc make such a comparision difficult at best.
Science is based on scepticism. Comments here from people like bspout attach intelligence only to people he agrees with-what a strange way of looking at the world!

Victor said...

I'm obviously an excessively cynical old soul.

Never, for a moment, did it occur to me that genuine scientific doubt lay behind the rowdy response to Dr Norman's comments.

All along I assumed that it was simply a means of rubbishing the Greens in the run up to next year's election.

I'll obviously have to increase my daily dosage of gullibility potion.

Richard Christie said...

How is science decided jigsaw?

Davo Stevens said...

AGW is a contentious issue with both sides of the debate often getting heated.

The first public denier was Fred Singer who claimed that the changes we just a natural occurance. He claimed to be an expert until some-one found out that he was only a rocket engine engineer. Designed the engines of the early Apollo rockets.

300 million years ago the Earth almost became a second Venus! A volcanic rift opened up in what is now Siberia. It was 500 miles long and erupted for over 100yrs. Pumped so much dust and gas into the air that the world went into a Volcanic winter. The huge amount of CO2 from it, the air temps rose by 8C and as the volcanoes stopped that CO2 raised the temps and stopped that winter from developing.

In the dying phase of the Siberian Traps another opened up in India (Decan Traps) which pumped more CO2 into the atmosphere and caused a run-away global warming episode that raised the temps even further, up to 15C above the ambient.

That in turn raised the temp of the sea which released tonnes of methane (a worse GG) and the climate became inhospitable for life and 90% of all life disappeared. All that stopped the Earth from becoming another Venus was the Decan volcanoes stopped erupting and things quietened down. It took another million years for life to re-establish itself again.

Carbon my friend, Nuke power stations have one purpose -- to make weapons grade Plutonium, perhaps the most deadly element known to man with a halflife of 240,000yrs. Also they cannot run themselves. All they do is take power in and add some to it. They are not the be-all of power generation and never will be.

Remember Fukushima and what caused the meltdown there? The 'quake and tsunami knocked out the power lines into the station and also killed the back-up generators. The reactors went into run-away and there was no power to stop them from doing so. Another point; Why are nuke stations always put away out in the boonies? Why not put them in a city where the power is needed? Work that one out for yourself.

No, Nuke Stations are not the answer, using less power is!

Anonymous said...

"Science isn't decided by vote" Well actually it is, it's called the scientific consensus. Next thing you'll be saying they laughed at Galileo.

Nic the NZer said...

@Brendan, the linked discussion implies that even the supposed pause in atmospheric temperature trends is factually incorrect,


Of course would be an example of why relying on short term trends can be miss leading.

Note that the result here fits within the earlier confidence bounds of earlier trends (which implied your pause), and that is why nobody had high confidence in the pause to begin with (except you).