Saturday, October 27, 2007

Al Gore's Wacky Facts
Facts don't matter. Only spin matters.

That's the main conclusion to be drawn from the fact that Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week.

My complaint has nothing to do with the science of global warming or whether or not the current warming of the planet is due solely to manmade causes. Rather, it's this: Gore won the prize even though his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, concludes with one of the most blatantly absurd statements ever committed to film.

Just before the final credits, in a segment that advises viewers as to what they might do to help slow global warming, the following line appears onscreen: "In fact, you can even reduce your carbon emissions to zero."

Again, the point is not whether or not I agree with Gore's view on warming. Instead the objection stems from this obvious point: We humans breathe. And in doing so, we emit carbon dioxide. The idea that we can somehow negate the gas that results from our respiration--through the legerdemain of carbon credits, or compact fluorescent light bulbs, or fleets of Toyota Priuses ­is simply not possible. And the fact that none of the dozens of smart people involved in the production of the movie--including, particularly, Gore himself--paused to consider the veracity of their declaration leaves me agog.

Imagine any other documentary--on virtually any subject--that concluded with a line that declared something like, "By the way, the world is flat." The producers and everyone associated with the movie would be the laughing stock of the modern world. And yet, when it comes to the claim that you can "reduce your carbon emissions to zero," Gore has been given a free pass. The obvious conclusion: facts and science don't really matter. What matters, it appears, is how dedicated you are to the cause of publicizing what Gore calls the "climate crisis." And thus, Gore's evangelism, not his facts, earned him the Nobel. ...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Today’s forecast: yet another blast of hot air
Am I worried about man-made global warming? The answer is “no” and “yes”.

No, because the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction has come up against an “inconvenient truth”. Its research shows that since 1998 the average temperature of the planet has not risen, even though the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has continued to increase.

Yes, because the self-proclaimed consensus among scientists has detached itself from the questioning rigours of hard science and become a political cause. Those of us who dare to question the dogma of the global-warming doomsters who claim that C not only stands for carbon but also for climate catastrophe are vilified as heretics or worse as deniers....

...Name-calling may be acceptable in politics but it should have no place in science; indeed, what is happening smacks of McCarthyism, witch-hunts and all. Scientific understanding, however, is advanced by robust, reasoned argument based on well-researched data. So I turn to simple sets of data that are already in the public domain.

The last peak global temperatures were in 1998 and 1934 and the troughs of low temperature were around 1910 and 1970. The second dip caused pop science and the media to cry wolf about an impending, devastating Ice Age. Our end was nigh!

Then, when temperatures took an upward swing in the 1980s, the scaremongers changed their tune. Global warming was the new imminent catastrophe.

But the computer model – called “hockey stick” – that predicted the catastrophe of a frying planet proved to be so bent that it “disappeared” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s armoury of argument in 2007. It was bent because the historical data it used to predict the future dated from only the 1850s, when the world was emerging from the Little Ice Age. Little wonder that temperatures showed an upward trend.

In the Sixties I used to discuss climate change with my undergraduates at Durham University. I would point to the plethora of published scientific evidence that showed the cyclical nature of change – and how, for instance, the latest of a string of ice ages had affected the climate, sea levels and tree lines around the world. Thank goodness the latest crop of glaciers and ice sheets began to wane in earnest about 12,000 years ago; this gave Britain a window of opportunity to lead the industrial revolution.

The Romans grew grapes in York and during the worldwide medieval warm period – when civilizations blossomed across the world – Nordic settlers farmed lowland Greenland (hence its name) and then got wiped out by the Little Ice Age that lasted roughly from the 16th century until about 1850.

There is no escaping the fact that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been rising for 150 years – and very uniformly since the 1950s. Yet the temperature has not increased in step with CO2. Not only have there been long periods of little change in temperature, but also the year-to-year oscillations are totally unrelated to CO2 change. What is more, the trend lines of glacial shortening and rise in sea level have shown no marked change since the big increase in the use of fossil fuels since 1950.

How can this be explained unless there are other factors at work overriding the greenhouse effect of CO2? There are, of course, many to be found in the peer-reviewed literature: solar cycles, cosmic rays, cloud control and those little rascals, such as El Niño and La Niña, all of which are played down or even ignored by the global-warming brigade.

Let’s turn to Al Gore’s doom-laden Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. First, what is the point of scaring the families of the world with tales that polar bears are heading for extinction? Last year Mitchell Taylor, of the US National Biological Service, stated that “of the 13 populations of polar bears in Canada, 11 are stable or increasing in number. They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at present.” ...

Building God's (Christian) Army
At Speicher base in Iraq, U.S. Army Spec. Jeremy Hall got permission from a chaplain in August to post fliers announcing a meeting for atheists and other nonbelievers. When the group gathered, Specialist Hall alleges, his Army major supervisor disrupted the meeting and threatened to retaliate against him, including blocking his reenlistment in the Army.

Months earlier, Hall charges, he had been publicly berated by a staff sergeant for not agreeing to join in a Thanksgiving Day prayer.

On Sept. 17, the soldier and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) filed suit against Army Maj. Freddy Welborn and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, charging violations of Hall's constitutional rights, including being forced to submit to a religious test to qualify as a soldier.

The MRFF plans more lawsuits in coming weeks, says Michael "Mikey" Weinstein, who founded the military watchdog group in 2005. The aim is "to show there is a pattern and practice of constitutionally impermissible promotions of religious beliefs within the Department of Defense."

For Mr. Weinstein -- a former Air Force judge advocate and assistant counsel in the Reagan White House -- more is involved than isolated cases of discrimination. He charges that several incidents in recent years -- and more than 5,000 complaints his group has received from active-duty and retired military personnel -- point to a growing willingness inside the military to support a particular brand of Christianity and to permit improper evangelizing in the ranks. More than 95 percent of those complaints come from other Christians, he says....

Kurds From Iraq Kill 17 Soldiers in Turkey
BAGHDAD, Oct. 21 -- An audacious cross-border ambush by Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq killed at least 17 Turkish soldiers Sunday, ratcheting up pressure on the Turkish government to launch a military offensive into Iraq.

The pre-dawn attack took place as the U.S. military said its troops killed 49 fighters in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, one of the highest death tolls for a military operation since President Bush declared an end to active combat in 2003. ...

Turkey sends more troops to Iraq border
SIRNAK, Turkey - Dozens of Turkish military vehicles streamed toward the Iraqi border with heavy artillery and ammunition Monday after Kurdish guerrillas killed a dozen soldiers and claimed to have captured eight in an intensifying crisis threatening to spill into Iraq....

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Vision of a Nation No Longer in the U.S.
If any New Yorker were to become the theoretician for a new secessionist movement, it figured to be Kirkpatrick Sale.

Mr. Sale, 70, was a campus rabble-rouser at Cornell in the 1950s long before Berkeley made being one fashionable, a model for a character in Richard Fariña’s classic ’60s novel, “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me,” a writer who worked briefly with his college pal Thomas Pynchon on a musical called “Minstral Island.”

For half a century, he’s written more or less from the left on issues of decentralization, the environment and technology — in praise of Luddites, envisioning with dread the rise of the Sun Belt, lambasting Christopher Columbus as a despoiler of the American Eden and predicting environmental doom in a way that is making him at the moment look more prescient than cranky....

...There, a group called the Second Vermont Republic has become a small-bore local phenomenon, with its call for a “genteel revolution,” opposed to “the tyranny of Corporate America and the U.S. government,” and committed to “the peaceful return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic and more broadly the dissolution of the Union.” Hence those “U.S. Out of Vt!” T-shirts.

Similarly, the language of the convention’s Chattanooga Declaration decries excess corporate and governmental power, says that the deepest issues of the time go beyond left and right and declares that liberty can survive only if political power is returned to local communities and states.

“The American Empire is no longer a nation or a republic,” it says, “but has become a tyrant aggressive abroad and despotic at home.”

Even those ill-disposed toward the idea of an independent Vermont, Hawaii or Alaska or to the new Confederacy envisioned by the League of the South might see some logic here. Back in 1981, the journalist Joel Garreau published “The Nine Nations of North America,” mapping out how economics, geography and culture really made it more logical for the United States, Canada and Mexico to be nine nations than three.

Mr. Sale argues that the big theme of contemporary history, from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the evolution of the United Nations from 51 nations in 1945 to 192 now, is the breakup of great empires. And some on both left and right agree that the only cure for a federal government that’s too big and too powerful is to make it less big and less powerful.

His relentlessly bleak vision is that catastrophic events, long term (collapsing dollar, out-of-control oil prices, climate change) and short term (Iraq, Katrina, government-sanctioned torture), will produce the downsizing of America, secession movement or no.

“The virtue of small government is that the mistakes are small as well,” he said....

Saturday, October 20, 2007

AP: Sexual misconduct plagues US schools
...Students in America's schools are groped. They're raped. They're pursued, seduced and think they're in love.

An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic.

There are 3 million public school teachers nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators — nearly three for every school day — speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims.

Most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can't be proven, and many abusers have several victims.

And no one — not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments — has found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms.

Those are the findings of an AP investigation in which reporters sought disciplinary records in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The result is an unprecedented national look at the scope of sex offenses by educators — the very definition of breach of trust.

The seven-month investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Young people were the victims in at least 1,801 of the cases, and more than 80 percent of those were students. At least half the educators who were punished by their states also were convicted of crimes related to their misconduct.

The findings draw obvious comparisons to sex abuse scandals in other institutions, among them the Roman Catholic Church. A review by America's Catholic bishops found that about 4,400 of 110,000 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 through 2002.

Clergy abuse is part of the national consciousness after a string of highly publicized cases. But until now, there's been little sense of the extent of educator abuse.

Beyond the horror of individual crimes, the larger shame is that the institutions that govern education have only sporadically addressed a problem that's been apparent for years.

"From my own experience — this could get me in trouble — I think every single school district in the nation has at least one perpetrator. At least one," says Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer who has spent 30 years investigating abuse and misconduct in schools. "It doesn't matter if it's urban or rural or suburban."

One report mandated by Congress estimated that as many as 4.5 million students, out of roughly 50 million in American schools, are subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade. That figure includes verbal harassment that's sexual in nature....

The Song That Is Irresistible: How the State Leads People to Their Own Destruction
...Our rulers know how to sing that song, and they sing it day and night. The beached skulls are those of our fathers and our sons, our friends and our neighbors, for whom the song proved not only irresistible, but fatal.

The state is the most destructive institution human beings have ever devised — a fire that, at best, can be controlled for only a short time before it o'erleaps its improvised confinements and spreads its flames far and wide.

Whatever promotes the growth of the state also weakens the capacity of individuals in civil society to fend off the state's depredations and therefore augments the public's multifaceted victimization at the hands of state functionaries. Nothing promotes the growth of the state as much as national emergency — war and other crises comparable to war in the seriousness of the threats they pose.

States, by their very nature, are perpetually at war — not always against foreign foes, of course, but always against their own subjects. The state's most fundamental purpose, the activity without which it cannot even exist, is robbery. The state gains its very sustenance from robbery, which it pretties up ideologically by giving it a different name (taxation) and by striving to sanctify its intrinsic crime as permissible and socially necessary. State propaganda, statist ideologies, and long-established routine combine to convince many people that they have a legitimate obligation, even a moral duty to pay taxes to the state that rules their society.

They fall into such erroneous moral reasoning because they are told incessantly that the tribute they fork over is actually a kind of price paid for essential services received, and that in the case of certain services, such as protection from foreign and domestic aggressors against their rights to life, liberty, and property, only the government can provide the service effectively. They are not permitted to test this claim by resorting to competing suppliers of law, order, and security, however, because the government enforces a monopoly over the production and distribution of its alleged "services" and brings violence to bear against would-be competitors. In so doing, it reveals the fraud at the heart of its impudent claims and gives sufficient proof that it is not a genuine protector, but a mere protection racket.

All governments are, as they must be, oligarchies: only a relatively small number of people have substantial effective discretion to make critical decisions about how the state's power will be brought to bear. Beyond the oligarchy itself and the police and military forces that compose its Praetorian Guard, somewhat larger groups constitute a supporting coalition. These groups provide important financial and other support to the oligarchs and look to them for compensating rewards — legal privileges, subsidies, jobs, exclusive franchises and licenses, transfers of financial income and wealth, goods and services in kind, and other booty — channeled to them at the expense of the mass of the people. Thus, the political class in general — that is, the oligarchs, the Praetorian Guards, and the supporting coalition — uses government power (which means ultimately the police and the armed forces) to exploit everyone outside this class by wielding or threatening to wield violence against all who fail to pay the tribute the oligarchs demand or to obey the rules they dictate.

Democratic political forms and rituals, such as elections and formal administrative proceedings, disguise this class exploitation and trick the masses into the false belief that the government's operation yields them net benefits. In the most extreme form of misapprehension, the people at large become convinced that, owing to democracy, they themselves "are the government." ...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Al Gore’s ‘good lies’
Earlier this year, when Channel 4 showed Martin Durkin’s film The Great Global Warming Swindle, greens had a collective hissy fit. They argued that Durkin’s greens-slating, made-for-TV movie contained scientific errors, and thus it was ‘shockingly irresponsible’ of Channel 4 to show it. There were demands for the film to be cut and censored, and its makers censured; one website started a campaign to have Durkin expelled from TV-land forever (1).

Yet today, some of the very same green-leaning columnists and activists are loudly defending Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, despite revelations that it, too, contains scientific errors. Gore’s mistakes are nothing to worry about, they argue, because his film tells the ‘greater truth’ about climate change – that is, mankind is causing the planet to heat up, and if we don’t keep our greed and avarice in check we’re doomed.

The message of this shrieking double standard is that it’s okay to get your facts wrong so long as it is in service of a Bigger Truth. If you make mistakes while telling the modern morality tale of humanity’s perilous impact on the planet, as Gore did, you are forgiven; but if you make mistakes while criticising the green lobby, as Durkin did, you are ridiculed and threatened with censorship. In short? There are ‘good lies’ and ‘bad lies’. And because Gore is telling ‘good lies’, designed to raise awareness about climate change and encourage people to change their bad behaviour, he deserves our support. ...

...How have environmentalists, who leap upon every error or expression of doubt made by climate change sceptics as evidence that they’ve had their palms greased by evil oil corporations, responded to revelations of Gore’s ‘alarmist’ errors? By effectively saying, so what?

Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, was soothingly understanding about Gore’s little mistakes. The important thing, said Lynas, is that Gore’s film tells a bigger truth about climate change, and thus we shouldn’t worry too much about its ‘trivial’ errors: ‘[T]hese points…are trivial details in the context of the main argument of the film, which is unambiguously correct in its portrayal of mainstream scientific understanding of climate change.’ We should lay off Gore, says Lynas, since ‘nothing in science is ever certain’ (5). This is a far cry from Lynas’s denunciation of The Great Global Warming Swindle - Martin Durkin’s ‘campaign of disinformation and misrepresentation…to support his extremist ideological position’. After Durkin’s film was aired, greens treated ‘The Science’ on climate change very much as a certainty, rather than as a process of experimentation, debate and falsification – a certainty which they accused Durkin of sinning against (6).

One climatologist goes so far as to argue that Gore’s errors aren’t really errors. It’s just Gore being, you know, overly keen. ‘It would be fair to say that Al Gore presents the more extreme (concerned) end of the range of scientific opinion on several issues, and implies stronger evidence than is fair on several others. However, the film still achieves an exceptionally high standard of scientific accuracy, and it is regrettable that the judge has triggered a media storm by the injudicious use of the term “errors”.’ (7)

So, when is an error not an error? When it’s committed in the name of raising awareness about climate change, apparently. Gore’s argument that Greenland’s ice will melt and cause a 20-feet sea rise ‘in the near future’ isn’t an error – it is simply an ‘implication of stronger evidence than exists’ and a sign that Gore is at the ‘concerned end of scientific opinion’. Gore’s supporters are using all sorts of Orwellian Newspeak to disguise the fact that he got some things wrong, and made some pretty wild exaggerations about the fate of mankind. ...

Some Canadian mothers forced to give birth in U.S.
SEATTLE -- A problem in Canada's hospitals is sending scores of pregnant women south of the border to have their babies.

Carri Ash of Chilliwack, B.C. was sent to the U.S. to have her baby after her water broke on Sunday, ten weeks ahead of schedule.

"And they came in and said 'you're going to Seattle,'" she said.

Ash's hospital couldn't handle the high-risk pregnancy. Doctors searched for another hospital bed, but even hospitals in Vancouver, B.C. didn't have a neo-natal bed....

Brits resort to pulling own teeth
Some English people have resorted to pulling out their own teeth because they cannot find -- or cannot afford -- a dentist, a major study has revealed.

Six percent of those surveyed in an English study said they had resorted to dental "self-treatment."

Six percent of those questioned in a survey of 5,000 patients admitted they had resorted to self-treatment using pliers and glue, the UK's Press Association reported.

England has a two-tier dental care system with some dentists offering publicly subsidized treatment through the National Health Service and others performing more expensive private work.

But more than three-quarters of those polled said they had been forced to pay for private treatment because they had been unable to find an NHS dentist. Almost a fifth said they had refused dental treatment because of the cost....

Gore gets a cold shoulder
ONE of the world's foremost meteorologists has called the theory that helped Al Gore share the Nobel Peace Prize "ridiculous" and the product of "people who don't understand how the atmosphere works".

Dr William Gray, a pioneer in the science of seasonal hurricane forecasts, told a packed lecture hall at the University of North Carolina that humans were not responsible for the warming of the earth.

His comments came on the same day that the Nobel committee honoured Mr Gore for his work in support of the link between humans and global warming.

"We're brainwashing our children," said Dr Gray, 78, a long-time professor at Colorado State University. "They're going to the Gore movie [An Inconvenient Truth] and being fed all this. It's ridiculous."

At his first appearance since the award was announced in Oslo, Mr Gore said: "We have to quickly find a way to change the world's consciousness about exactly what we're facing."

Mr Gore shared the Nobel prize with the United Nations climate panel for their work in helping to galvanise international action against global warming.

But Dr Gray, whose annual forecasts of the number of tropical storms and hurricanes are widely publicised, said a natural cycle of ocean water temperatures - related to the amount of salt in ocean water - was responsible for the global warming that he acknowledges has taken place.

However, he said, that same cycle meant a period of cooling would begin soon and last for several years....

Friday, October 12, 2007

An inconvenient peace prize
This year's Nobel peace prize justly rewards the thousands of scientists of the United Nations climate change panel (the IPCC). These scientists are engaged in excellent, painstaking work that establishes exactly what the world should expect from climate change.

The other award winner, former US vice-president Al Gore, has spent much more time telling us what to fear. While the IPCC's estimates and conclusions are grounded in careful study, Gore doesn't seem to be similarly restrained.

Gore told the world in his Academy Award-winning movie (recently labelled "one-sided" and containing "scientific errors" by a British judge) to expect 20-foot sea-level rises over this century. But his Nobel co-winners, the IPCC, conclude that sea levels will rise between only a half-foot and two feet over this century, with their best expectation being about one foot - similar to what the world experienced over the past 150 years.

Likewise, Gore agonises over the accelerated melting of ice in Greenland, but overlooks the IPCC's conclusion that, if sustained, the current rate of melting would add just three inches to the sea level rise by the end of the century. Gore also takes no notice of research showing that Greenland's temperatures were higher in 1941 than they are today. ...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gore climate film's 'nine errors'
...The nine errors alleged by the judge included:

# Mr Gore's assertion that a sea-level rise of up to 20 feet would be caused by melting of ice in either West Antarctica or Greenland "in the near future". The judge said this was "distinctly alarmist" and it was common ground that if Greenland's ice melted it would release this amount of water - "but only after, and over, millennia".

# Mr Gore's assertion that the disappearance of snow on Mount Kilimanjaro in East Africa was expressly attributable to global warming - the court heard the scientific consensus was that it cannot be established the snow recession is mainly attributable to human-induced climate change.

# Mr Gore's reference to a new scientific study showing that, for the first time, polar bears had actually drowned "swimming long distances - up to 60 miles - to find the ice". The judge said: "The only scientific study that either side before me can find is one which indicates that four polar bears have recently been found drowned because of a storm."

...Notes to teachers on the guidance, on the government's Teachernet website, say: "An Inconvenient Truth is a film that has had a big impact. Its aim is to make the science and the arguments about global warming and climate change and its effects accessible to all audiences. It also presents a powerful case in favour of one particular type of political response to climate change.

"However, in parts of the film, Gore presents evidence and arguments which do not accord with mainstream scientific opinion. This guidance points out, on a scene by scene basis, the areas where further input will be required from teaching staff. This guidance is designed to help teaching staff encourage their pupils to assess the validity and credibility of different information sources and explore different points of view so as to form their own opinions." ...

Why greens don’t want to ‘solve’ climate change
Environmental activists and commentators frequently argue that climate change is the most pressing problem facing humanity, and that if we don’t do something about it the planet will burn up. Yet when planet-sized technological solutions to global warming – also known as ‘geo-engineering solutions’ – are put forward, environmentalists are the first to balk. ‘It will never work’, they say. Why are those who are most concerned about climate change also the most hostile to doing something serious to tackle it?

It isn’t just because such solutions would be ambitious, costly and distant in time; nor is it only because these solutions would carry risks. Rather, environmentalists tend to dismiss geo-engineering because, at root, they are not interested in halting climate change. For many today, both green activists and leading politicians, climate change is a moral and political issue rather than simply a practical problem. They see the ‘issue of climate change’ as a means to changing people’s behaviour and expectations, rather than simply as a byproduct of industrialisation that ought to be tackled by technological know-how. They are resistant to geo-engineering solutions because putting an end to climate change would rob them of their raison d’être. ...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Stop your sobbing
... Environmentalist cautionary tales have had the opposite of their intended effect, provoking fatalism, conservatism, and survivalism among readers and the lay public, not the rational embrace of environmental policies. Constantly surprised and angered when people fail to behave as environmentalists would like them to, environment writers complain that the public is irrational, in denial, or just plain foolish. They presume that the failure of the public to heed their warnings says something meaningful about human nature itself, attributing humanity's disregard for Nature to desires like the lust for power and concluding that, in the end, we are all little more than reactive apes, insufficiently evolved to take the long view and understand the complexity and interconnectedness of the natural systems on which we depend....

...Environmental tales of tragedy begin with Nature in harmony and almost always end in a quasi-authoritarian politics. Eco-tragic narratives diagnose human desire, aspiration, and striving to overcome the constraints of our world as illnesses to be cured or sins to be punished. They aim to short-circuit democratic values by establishing Nature as it is understood and interpreted by scientists as the ultimate authority that human societies must obey. And they insist that humanity's future is a zero-sum proposition -- that there is only so much prosperity, material comfort, and modernity to go around. The story told by these eco-tragedies is not that humankind cannot stand too much reality but rather that Nature cannot stand too much humanity. ...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bryan Appleyard meets Bjorn Lomborg
...He says that polar bears – the poster beasts for the greens – are not dying off as the ice pack melts; in fact, they are increasing in numbers. He accepts that rising temperatures will result in more heat deaths, but there will be far fewer deaths from cold. And Al Gore’s vision of a flooded Florida as sea levels rise by 20ft within the next century is treated with derision. The Kyoto accord on limiting emissions, meanwhile, will achieve almost nothing and cost billions.

But Lomborg is neither saint nor apostate. He believes global warming is happening and humans are causing it. He just doesn’t think it’s that serious. Moreover, he thinks – as does the US government – technology is the answer. Attempting to cut emissions is as futile as expecting the Tories to charge for supermarket parking.

“There’s a huge difference between what people say and what they do,” observes Lomborg. “Look at all the websites where you can take a flight and offset your carbon. Only about 1% do it. Likewise this goes for most politicians who say they will cut emissions dramatically. Blair said in 1997 that he’d reduce carbon emissions by 15%; we’ve seen an increase of 3% since then.”

This all began in February 1997. Lomborg was in Los Angeles and he read an article in Wired magazine by the late Julian Simon, an American right-wing thinker, trashing the eco-catastrophists. He went back to Denmark and with his statistics students set about the task of proving Simon wrong. Except for a few details, they failed. By the end of the year, he had concluded that Simon was right and the green case was a wild exaggeration. In right-on, PC, left-wing, green Denmark this was heresy. But Lomborg had been trained in heresy. ...

...In 1998 he went into print in Denmark with his view on greenery, and in 2001 The Skeptical Environmentalist appeared in English. Next came Global Crises, Global Solutions. This was a collection of ideas from distinguished economists on the best ways to spend $50 billion on improving the human condition. Fighting global warming came low on all the lists.

The environmentalists were incandescent. His findings were assaulted on all sides. Scientific American magazine ran a feature in which scientists queued up to list ways in which he was wrong. The big accusation was that he was not an earth scientist. His defence was that he wasn’t doing earth science, he was simply analysing the figures on which the greens built their case.

A Danish government committee found him guilty of scientific dishonesty, a charge that was later withdrawn. “You were supposed to have good reasons for saying that, and they didn’t even provide a reason.”

Lomborg was further accused of being a shill for the Bush administration. After all, Bush and latterly Con-doleezza Rice insist that technology, not emissions controls, are the solution. Lomborg could have been writing the script. He acknowledges this but insists he retains his fundamental left-wing beliefs. He may tell the American government it is right about green technology, but he also tells it to divert resources to Aids and malaria in Africa. Does this really make him left wing?

“The way I see it, to be left wing is to care about people and making sure there are fewer inequalities and saying that what the market comes out with is not necessarily the right outcome. I actually thought I have always been historically left wing. This comes from the French revolution. These were the guys who believed in progress but also believed in facts against old-fashioned thinking. That’s what we are supposed to be about.”

His first two books put global warming in the context of other big problems, Cool It focuses solely on the environmental issue. His conclusion is that the best way to deal with warming is to set up an international research fund of $25 billion annually to seek solutions. This is, he calculates, about what the problem is worth. If the signs get worse, the sum could be increased. But the vast sums involved in cutting emissions are wasted because they are disproportionate to the problem, they will not work and they are politically futile. ...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A tyranny of experts
In outsourcing their authority to international institutions, governments bypass the democratic process and treat their publics as simpletons.

...It is not the external impact of international forces, but rather a loss of confidence in the authority and legitimacy of the contemporary state that explains the rise and rise of the globalisation thesis. For some time, the state and public institutions have been suffering a crisis of legitimacy. As far back as the 1970s and into the 1980s, it was clear there was a widespread loss of trust in authoritative institutions in the Western world. Back then, one British observer noted that there was ‘disturbing evidence’ of a decline of ‘public confidence in the police’, which he considered to be a symptom of a ‘crisis of authority’ that affected the ‘most elemental relations of state power and the citizen’ (1)....

...Lacking confidence in their authority, political elites have started looking for other ways to authorise their actions. For example, they have embraced the authority of science and expertise. With the rise of ‘evidence-based policymaking’, a buzzphrase in Western political life today, traditional electoral authority has been replaced by the authority of the dispassionate expert. Increasingly, national government policies are authorised by external institutions and conventions. Such outsourcing of authority is especially striking in the European Union. Governments that have joined the EU no longer have to take direct responsibility for certain policy initiatives and measures; instead they point out that these policies emanate from a technocratic, supra-national body: the EU. In earlier times, national governments jealously guarded their policymaking processes and prerogatives. Today, they are eager to subordinate themselves to international protocols, and to ‘share’ authority with others. Often, the globalisation thesis provides a political rationale for this outsourcing of authority....

...Although it is frequently justified in terms of powerful states becoming more humble and open to new ideas, the ‘sharing of authority’ is fundamentally anti-democratic. Outsourcing authority is a top-down procedural project, which breaks policymaking from democratic accountability. By coming together with other elites in international institutions, governments become more accountable to one another than to their own citizens. In recent years, it’s become commonplace for governments to avoid responsibility for certain policies by claiming that the policies were imposed on them by their ‘institutional obligations’. Laїdi describes this process as follows: ‘The sharing of sovereignty is akin, then, to a kind of joint ownership, from which it is always more difficult to extricate oneself from co-tenancy.’ This metaphor of ‘co-ownership’ is, of course, a caricature of true sovereignty. It represents a new form of sovereignty that is divested of any popular pressure or accountability.

Both the critics and supporters of the EU frequently raise concerns about its formal and bureaucratic nature. However, it is no accident that the EU governs in such a slow, clunking fashion. The EU, like other international institutions, was specifically created with a view to bypassing democratic and popular pressure. As Laїdi concedes, ‘Europe is thus, fundamentally, a normative construction that draws, depending on the particular case, on standardisation, harmonisation, voluntary convergence of incentives’. Voluntary for technocrats and policymakers, perhaps, but not for the European masses. As Laїdi notes, in the EU the ‘high degree of normativity leads, at times, to a certain formalism of procedures, which generates a democratic deficit’. Yet for Laїdi, this erosion of democratic accountability is a small price to pay for a form of governance that is based on ‘globally responsible’ rules, and which is reflective of ‘global civil society’.

Today’s celebration of global civil society is motivated by a loss of faith in the public, and by a search for new forms of authority that are insulated from popular pressure. Ultimately, the shift of authority from the national sphere to the global sphere represents the outsourcing of authority to the expert. According to Laїdi, the main source of legitimacy of international civil society – that is, non-governmental organisations and formal international institutions – is its expertise. But there is a big problem with governance through expertise: it renders political choice redundant.

Laїdi fails to note the anti-democratic implications of expert authority. He even hints that such authority is not ‘prejudicial to the sovereignty of the state’. However, international civil society invariably prefers the view of the expert to the view of the democratically elected representative. ‘Expertise is an element of power wielded by the knowledgeable against decision-makers’, says Laїdi. A political drama in which the tension is between the expert and the decision-maker has little room for ordinary people. Instead, the public is expected simply to accept and live with the wisdom of decisions taken by experts and government regulators. Expert consensus, rather than public consensus, is the driving force of new forms of governance. ...

...There is another way of making sense of the trends discussed by Laїdi. The voluntary relinquishing of sovereignty by European elites does not show that they are high-minded, forward-looking, enlightened internationalists. Rather, it is an attempt by an insecure oligarchy, which senses that its authority is feeble and falling apart, to disavow full responsibility for its actions. That is why governments today feel so much more at home hanging out in international civil society than they do engaging with their own ‘populist’ public.

Owe Big for Pedophile Priests? Boot Some Nuns
Ever since the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay sex abuse victims $660 million in July, I've been waiting with bated breath to learn what the Church would liquidate first. Mind you, the L.A. archdiocese is one of the wealthiest in the country, and one of the largest landowners in Southern California. So what would it be? Wheelchairs used by homeless people? Headgear worn by mentally handicapped children?

Turns out, I wasn't far off. Yesterday's Washington Post reported the Church is evicting three elderly nuns living in a small building in a largely Hispanic, relatively poor section of Santa Barbara. One of the nuns, 69-year-old Sister Angela Escalera, has diabetes and can't get around without a walker, which the Church, hopefully, is not making her leave behind when she has to hit the streets by Dec. 31. That's the date specified on the eviction notice signed by the archdiocese's Monsignor Royale Vadakin. An earlier departure, the letter added, "would be acceptable as well."

"We're just so hurt by this," Sister Angela told the Los Angeles Times previously. "We're not even worth a phone call." But in yesterday's Post piece, Sister Angela's younger sister, Rosemary Gutierrez, had to do all the talking for her because church officials have now banned the nuns from speaking to the press....

A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity
...The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people. For instance, a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a "good impression" of Christianity.

One of the groups hit hardest by the criticism is evangelicals. Such believers have always been viewed with skepticism in the broader culture. However, those negative views are crystallizing and intensifying among young non-Christians. The new study shows that only 3% of 16 - to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals. This means that today’s young non-Christians are eight times less likely to experience positive associations toward evangelicals than were non-Christians of the Boomer generation (25%).

The research shows that many Christians are innately aware of this shift in people’s perceptions of Christianity: 91% of the nation’s evangelicals believe that "Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity." Among senior pastors, half contend that "ministry is more difficult than ever before because people are increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity."

The Set of Perceptions

While Christianity has typically generated an uneven reputation, the research shows that many of the most common critiques are becoming more concentrated. The study explored twenty specific images related to Christianity, including ten favorable and ten unfavorable perceptions. Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) - representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%).

Even among young Christians, many of the negative images generated significant traction. Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians. ...

...One reason that Christianity’s image is changing is due to the shifting faith allegiances of Americans. Simply put, each new generation has a larger share of people who are not Christians (that is, atheists, agnostics, people associated with another faith, or those who have essentially no faith orientation). The new book refers to this group as "outsiders" because they are describing what Christianity looks like from an outsider’s perspective. Among adults over the age of 40, only about one-quarter qualify as outsiders, while among the 16 to 29 segment, two-fifths are outsiders. This represents a significant migration away from the dominant role that Christianity has had in America....

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The dangers of lazy science reporting
...A good example is a much cited essay by science historian Naomi Oreskes, seeking to assess the scientific consensus on climate change (1). Oreskes defined the consensus by quoting the Intergovernmenal Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2001 assessment: ‘Human activities ... are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents… that absorb or scatter radiant energy. ... [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.’

To assess the strength of this consensus she typed key words into a database and retrieved 928 abstracts that she categorised in relation to the consensus. She found none that disagreed with the consensus.

It is hard to imagine a more superficial approach. To assess the contribution of a paper requires more than simply reading an abstract. Each paper needs to be read and appropriately weighed with expert judgement. It is possible that, when viewed in light of all the evidence taken as a whole, a single study should be taken as key. In other cases, even when many studies point in a particular direction there will be unresolved problems that prevent a decisive conclusion. For an expert, the background knowledge will be much wider than that retrieved by a general search for keywords on ‘climate change’. (The IPCC, for all its problems, at least approximates the process of expert review more closely.)

Perhaps Oreskes never intended her study to be definitive, and she makes the point that ‘details about climate interactions are not well understood… The question of what to do about climate change is also still open.’ But the fact that it is reached for so readily in discussions over climate shows how trivialised discussion of science has become.

Oreskes attracted a flock of critics from amongst the climate skeptics who challenged details such as her choice of keywords or the classification of particular abstracts. They carried out their own, rival versions of the study with the same methodology but claiming to reach different results (2). The fact that few, if any, of Oreskes’ critics seem to have pointed out the absurd superficiality of the study confirms that for all sides in public debate, scientific studies have become little more than symbolic tokens that can be used to bludgeon opponents.

As it happens, anyone who spends substantial time reading the scientific literature will see that today it is now possible to have even more confidence than the IPCC had in 2001 that there is a detectable human influence on the climate. But to reach that conclusion, and to sustain the argument, you would have to read way beyond the abstracts. If you do so you will also come away with a rich sense of the debates and uncertainties over the pace, consequences and mechanisms of both natural and anthropogenic change. These do not fit easily into a ‘consensus’ v ‘skepticism’ framework and do not come with pre-attached policy proposals. ...

Monday, October 01, 2007

I hate all Iranians, US aide tells MPs
Britsh MPs visiting the Pentagon to discuss America's stance on Iran and Iraq were shocked to be told by one of President Bush's senior women officials: "I hate all Iranians."...