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End of the year: one door closes, another door…closes!

December 28, 2010

What was my year like? It started with the fallout from a betrayal of monumental proportions, when our dear leaders failed to achieve anything at COP15. This was compounded by the unauthorised release of emails from the CRU, which became the deniers’ focus for the entire year, due to having nothing else – science in particular – on which to found their anxious conspiracy theories.

My main impression is that nothing at all has really changed, except the science – which has simply got stronger, in part – curiously – as a result of the way it has been attacked. Phil Jones’ experience hammered home the nature of the political environment in which climate science must operate, making it clear that climate change is not an issue that can be separated from politics, the implications being so far reaching.

The other way the science improved was in the quality of data generated by better instruments, employed in more novel ways. For example, the combined use of gravimetric data from the pair of Grace satellites, and GPS readings taken from units placed in Antarctic and Greenland bedrock, gave us a much clearer understanding of how fast the ice sheets are losing mass, and that this process is accelerating. Results from the recently launched Cryrosat II – which completed commissioning at the end of November – will help a great deal in determining the effects of climate change on the world’s ice.

As the science moves forward, so the social debate seems to regress. I suspect this is a process we have to survive, because as the case for ACC becomes ever clearer and stronger, so the clamour of denial will increase in volume. Of more concern are the threats to the basic freedoms that science should enjoy – freedom to research without fear of reprisal depending on result, and freedom from legal threats that require the perverse use of legislation to make science ideologically sound. What the incumbent Republican congress are threatening to do sounds eerily like McCarthy all over again, an excess motivated, oddly enough, by the same fear of communism…apparently. For a country with such extravagant military power, the US seems strangely fearful.

As the year closes, it ends with a whimper reminiscent of the one with which the new year was ushered in. Cancun served to demonstrate only the futility of mitigation, which cannot find political support. There is no convincing leadership on the issue of climate change, not at least within the industrialised nations. It is clear that until the true, disastrous scope of climate change is demonstrated unequivocally – and that means people are going to have to die – only then will politicians realise that the public are best served by leaders with vision and courage. Until we get some, we’re screwed, and if it takes too long to find leaders with such qualities, our options will be severely limited and the costs of our complacency beyond comprehension.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2010 11:11 pm

    “As the science moves forward, so the social debate seems to regress. I suspect this is a process we have to survive, because as the case for ACC becomes ever clearer and stronger, so the clamour of denial will increase in volume.”

    Oh, “mos def” as the young people say. If there were a linear relationship between scientific evidence and public opinion, we’d all be hard-core climate activists by now. As it gets more obvious that we’re screwed, the efforts to deny will have to get “firmer” and more shrill. Denialists have seriously painted themselves into a corner too, so this is now also about a massive threat to their egos and ‘status’, not just their world views.

    Of course, the media will do its work by ignoring the story for a while (we’ve just had unprecedented flooding in Queensland, and the reporter managed not to talk to a climatologist when doing a lengthy report), so the denialists will not have to ramp up their idiocy outside of the tiny corner of the blogosphere where these things are discussed….

    PS Did you see the hilarious “shark denialist” movie review of Jaws over at DenialDepot?

  2. December 29, 2010 12:53 am

    Dwight, although the severity of the recent flooding here in Aust, on the back of the horrible and prolonged drought probably owe their strength to our changing climate, the flooding will be written off by most deniers as the result of a strong La Niña (these same people try to blame the record making heat this year on the El Niño, which was only mild) and the drought on bad-luck.
    I suspect the local media avoided anything climate related because they worried these people would flip channels or jump to another newspaper. News in Aust is as much pop-entertainment as any boy or girl band.
    But Graham and yourself are correct; the more certain the science, the louder and more irrational the denial. Before the stolen emails, I remember much more academic discussions, both reasonable and somewhat light-hearted. With the emails came a new wave of “my side” / “your side” anger and irrationality that really didn’t understand what it was “fighting” but was all too eager to hate science and scientists.
    What seems to be left, a year on is a ever smaller group very deeply entrenched. These are the few who have actually read of few of those denial books and in discussions simply jump from debunked statement to debunked statement – the same people who scream that climate change is dead whenever they see snow or rain, who blame it all on the El Niño or solar cycle and insist that Monckton still holds some sort of credibility. It’s a dance for this small group and they’re become quite skilled at skirting around logic.

  3. adelady permalink
    December 29, 2010 6:17 am

    Speaking as an old fart – but of the feminist specific rather than the generalist grump – I see the same public hysteria about losing life, family, marriage, society “as we know it”. As well as the insults about not being “real” women.

    It’s all the same. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to faff about. And remember, you’ll never convince everyone – there are still people who fulminate about women not being properly feminine or womanly (or submissive or obedient or other nastier stuff).

    But our wages and employment and financial and medical and rental and other general laws do now allow for women controlling their own lives. Even if a few people are still hissing or spitting on the sidelines.

    Be prepared for the hissing and spitting to continue about climate, even as the seas swallow the seaside suburbs, but we will get sensible action. The only issue is whether it’s enough, soon enough.

  4. Graham Wayne permalink*
    December 29, 2010 10:00 am

    Dwight: “Denialists have seriously painted themselves into a corner too, so this is now also about a massive threat to their egos and ‘status’, not just their world views”.

    I’ve long regarded this as a huge problem. For myself, I back whatever the science says. If tomorrow, it says ‘hey, we’ve found what’s causing the Earth to heat up, and it isn’t us’, then that’s also my position. I lose nothing, suffer no humiliating climb down, because it was never my opinion at stake in the first place. For deniers the exact opposite is true: they put all their faith in their own opinions, and when it becomes clear they were wrong, they will also be the last people to admit this.

    (The shark movie review was excellent, wasn’t it? Too bad about the rest of the site.)

    Moth: you can tell how invested that group are by the way they appear at the top of every climate change thread in the Guardian. How sad do you have to be to sit pressing the refresh button all day long just so you can get in first? It is as foolish a tactic as it is dishonest, since it clearly reveals the agenda of such people and their commitment to ‘defeat’ climate change, quite irrespective of any of that crappy ‘evidence’ stuff we warmists keep dredging up, spoilsports that we are.

    Adelady: you’re right – denialism (or being a reactionary, as we used to say) – applies to virtually every aspect of the human condition. Gender discrimination is as deeply entrenched as racism and other ‘closed minded’ systems that seek ‘the other’ to rationalise that we are unhappy about. I regret very much that the most persecuted, most discriminated against group on Earth are, in fact, women.

    As for doing enough, soon enough – I have little hope I’m afraid. I have an article in mind that I’m really reluctant to write, but that I believe is wholly realistic. Suffice to say, it solves the population crisis in a most brutal, but Gaian fashion. More on this if I can bring myself to be quite that pragmatic.

    But meanwhile – I would like to wish you all a happy new year, because we can still find happiness in the present while expressing our concerns for the future. A smile is still the shortest distance between two people 🙂

  5. December 29, 2010 1:12 pm

    One point you over looked about the science becoming stronger on the back of the email release is that the data is now more accessible. Almost all of it is now available and so far the skeptics have done little with it except to find it supports the conclusions made by real climatologists.

    I am also concerned about the growing political pressure against scientists particularly in the US with threats that they will be investigated under law. If this happens to Mann et al, it will be like another Scopes Monkey Trial.

    The outcome of this will be that every time scientists publish research that is politically unacceptable they will be hauled before the judiciary and bullied into recanting. If it is applied to climatology it can just as easily be applied to other areas of science like evolution, physics and medicine.

    This happened in medieval times between science and religion and since this only applies to scientists working in the US it threatens to turn the US in to a laughing stock world wide.

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