Thursday, 13 February 2014

Why do they do it?

Would you buy a used weather system
from this man?
I was listening to Lord Lawson on the radio this morning, doing his usual climate change denial thing (though he was being very careful to always refer to it as 'global warming', as the kind of weather we have at the moment is not one many would associate with warming). And in his voice was all the fervour of an old-time religionist. He knows that global warming doesn't exist, and he wants us all to share in his beliefs.

It made me wonder, why he believes something so fervently in the face of the evidence. By evidence, by the way, I don't mean the current flooding in the UK, though of course it may be indeed influenced by climate change. We can't deduce anything from a single data point. I mean the big picture. And when you think about it, his response is very similar to the way that creationists cling onto their beliefs that, say dinosaurs co-existed with humans and were on the ark in a great flood where the waters covered the earth, despite all the evidence the contrary.

It's also why people like Lord Lawson are the last kind of person who should be given a public platform on a subject like this - which wasn't helped by the Today interviewer who several times referred to 'the controversy.' There is no controversy among people who know what they are talking about - and it's interesting again that the interviewer was employing exactly the same term as the creationists: 'teach the controversy.'

As far as I can see, Lawson, who studied PPE, has no training to interpret scientific data, nor to pronounce on science, but away he goes with those typical denialist tropes, some of which I list here to help you spot them in action:
  • Use language that is misleading, like 'global warming' but never 'climate change'.
  • Cherry pick data to show what you want it to show. So, for instance, point out that global temperatures haven't risen much in the last 15 years, but don't include why this would be expected with the current picture of climate change.
  • Make statements that simply aren't true with such conviction that it sounds as if you know what you are talking about. Say, for instance, when an expert says 'During that time the excess energy is still being absorbed by the climate system,' respond with 'That is pure speculation.' No need to base your comment on any scientific data, even though the argument your are countering is based on measurement, not just theory. Just say 'That's not true,' or 'That's speculation,' loud enough and you will carry the day.
  • Point out that the UK only contributes a small percentage, and say that therefore it doesn't matter what we do. Would he do this about anything else that was wrong, like hanging ex-politicians from lampposts? 'It doesn't really matter, as the UK only has 2 per cent of the world's ex-politicians.' That's okay, then.
  • Say that scientists can't agree, or can't be definitive. This just describes the nature of science. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't go along with the best match science can give us to reality until better results come along. Why go with something that bears no resemblance to reality instead?
  • Find some tiny example that seems to contradict the theory, while ignoring huge swathes of evidence that support it. I know this is cherry picking again, but this time it's extreme cherry picking.
All I can say to anyone who is listening to Lord Lawson and thinking 'It must be true, he used to be Chancellor' is to consider whether you would take the same attitude in this situation. You are ill and you go to the doctor. A whole host of medical experts tell you that you need a particular treatment. Then Lord Lawson comes along (who knows as much about medicine as he does climate change) and says 'No, that's rubbish. There is no evidence you need this treatment. You just need to pull yourself together.' Would you really give him the time of day, or would you consider him to be irrelevant to the discussion? 

Enough said. I'm off for a ride on Walter, my pet dinosaur.

This has been a green heretic production.

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