Thou shalt not ask awkward questions

A new book shows that some of those labelled ‘the deniers’ of global warming, and depicted as oil-funded crooks, are in fact sensible, respectable scientists. Why have they been made into heretics?

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Books

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‘Do you think I’m a raving idiot?
Just got off the boat
Step in line, sign this form – you ain’t got a hope
Baby ain’t got a hope’
‘Deny’, The Clash

I might not know that much about climatology, but I know what I don’t like. And the things that I don’t like include the undermining of free speech, the railroading of opinion, the exploitation of science for political purposes, doom-mongering and misanthropic prejudice. All of these are, to one degree or another, fixtures of the strident crusade around man-made global warming. That is why I have always been instinctively, non-scientifically but seriously sceptical about many of the claims and demands made by the climate change crusaders. It is good to know that others who definitely do know a lot of climatology share some of that scepticism.

The Deniers grew out of Lawrence Solomon’s newspaper columns of the same name in Canada’s National Post. Solomon identifies authoritative but often little-known dissenters from various aspects of the climate change orthodoxy, and concisely summarises their research, arguments and qualifications. I will not attempt to summarise all of his summaries, but a couple of things stand out.

One is that, contrary to the caricature often drawn of scientific dissenters, these experts are quite prestigious and nobody’s idea of cranks. For example, the first ‘denier’ with whom Solomon deals, Dr Edward Wegman, is one of America’s leading statisticians, commissioned by Congress itself to assess the famous ‘hockey stick’ climate model that persuaded world opinion that a sharp and unprecedented increase in temperatures had made the twentieth century the hottest in a millennium. Wegman’s committee rubbished the hockey stick as statistically unsound, and concluded that the problem in the peer-review process had been too much consensus, with ‘cliques’ (their word) of closely-connected scientists uncritically endorsing one another’s work.

Another striking feature is that Solomon’s scientists do not see themselves as ‘deniers’ – indeed they disagree with one another on many issues – and are generally very wary of being seen to challenge the climate change consensus. Most are, as he puts it, ‘Affirmers in general. Deniers in particular.’ They accept the general mainstream line on man-made global warming, but simply say that no evidence of it exists in their specific field. Some of them, Solomon notes, were angry with him for ‘outing’ them: ‘How powerful must an orthodoxy be if men who are praised for questioning it try furiously to deny they have done any such thing?’

This short book shows how the mainstream view of man-made global warming has become an orthodoxy that cannot be questioned, its much-publicised ‘scientific consensus’ sustained in part by pressure, the sidelining of even authoritative dissent, and the politically-motivated machinations of the government-led Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Some of the shriller critics of environmentalism claim that it has become a religion. I think that goes too far – for a start, the green view of humanity is too toxic to offer anything like transcendence. But it is clear that those who question the orthodoxy on man-made global warming are now treated automatically as heretics. To be branded a ‘denier’ is to be accused of the modern secular equivalent of blasphemy.

We need not be scientists, or endorse any of the ‘alternative’ theories of climate change, to appreciate the importance of the ‘deniers’ debate. (Nor do we need to endorse Solomon’s own green notions, such as his view of the dangers of developing nuclear power to cut carbon emissions.) The expertise he presents demonstrates that climatology is a complex and multi-faceted science in which there is no genuine consensus, and indeed no real over-arching theory at all. But then, as one of the deniers, Dr Robert Carter, says, ‘science is not, nor ever has been, about consensus, but about experimental and observational data and testable hypotheses’.

One consequence of that is surely that scepticism and the questioning – denial? – of orthodoxies must be an integral part of the scientific process. It must certainly be part of the debate about how we respond to problems in a democratic society.

Speaking of which, there has been much talk in Britain lately of how the ‘environmental moment’ has passed, as the government retreats from some green taxes in the face of public unpopularity. But, as The Deniers illustrates, the eco-orthodoxy on these matters is more powerfully entrenched than that. The crusade around man-made global warming has never been about little green taxes. It is about far bigger issues – such as the imposition of a moral orthodoxy and a politics of personal behaviour, based on a misanthropic view of the human condition. It will require the development of some serious scepticism in those fields if we are to start to turn things around. There seems no denying the fact that dissenting scientific experts alone will not be enough.

Mick Hume is editor-at-large of spiked.

The Deniers, by Lawrence Solomon is published by Richard Vigilante Books. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Books


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