Like some comic bit part player out of Wittgenstein’s Blue and Brown Books, I planted some herbs yesterday, wrote out little plastic labels, and stuck them in the pots. A storm in the night wiped the labels clean, but I thought I could just discern traces of some letters, so I took the labels out of the pots and went indoors to fetch my glasses. Yes, this one seemed to read “coriander”, so the other one must be parsley. I was about to write them out again, when an awkward inner voice suggested that it wouldn’t make much difference whether I wrote “coriander” on the one that had originally been labelled “coriander” or on the other one, because…
Definitions are important, and ascribing meaning to them is not as simple as merely writing your labels in indelible ink. Scientists like to boast that they define their terms, so don’t have to worry when philosophers faff about the meaning of meaning. The problem for scientists arises when they leave the laboratory and try and explain their findings to the masses. They arrive in the media armed with their little plastic labels, but they’ve naturally left their pots or plots back in the greenhouse or on the computer. Their labels undoubtedly say something, and the something makes sense, and, with a bit of luck (for their notoriety and therefore their careers) that something will interest the journalists and the public. But…
Take this article by Damian Carrington in the Guardian. (No, do, really. Articles like these used to be churned out five a day at the Graun in the heyday of globalwarmism. They’re rare as Tasmanian wolves now, which is why this sighting is so intriguing.)
Record-breaking climate change pushes world into ‘uncharted territory’
Earth is a planet in upheaval, say scientists, as the World Meteorological Organisation publishes analysis of recent heat highs and ice lows
The article is guaranteed science-free. All there is is quotes from scientists, such as:
We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said David Carlson, director of the WMO’s world climate research programme.
“Earth is a planet in upheaval due to human-caused changes in the atmosphere,” said Jeffrey Kargel, a glaciologist at the University of Arizona
The WMO report was “startling”, said Prof David Reay, an emissions expert at the University of Edinburgh: “The need for concerted action on climate change has never been so stark nor the stakes so high.”
and this one, from “Prof Sir Robert Watson, a distinguished climate scientist at the UK’s University of East Anglia and a former head of the UN’s climate science panel”:
“Our children and grandchildren will look back on the climate deniers and ask how they could have sacrificed the planet for the sake of cheap fossil fuel energy…”
Hang on, Prof Sir Robert, (or “Bob” as you used to be, back in the days when you worked at the White House, or burbled incoherently in defence of the UEA’s chief email-wiper, was-to-be-but-won’t-be-now ‘Sir‘ Phil Jones, at the Guardian’s Climategate show trial – Robert Watson, Robert Ward – what is it with these climate Bobs? Are they losing their common touch? Or the plot?)
Where was I? Oh yes. Hang on Professor Sir Bob. What’s all this about us climate deniers sacrificing the planet? What, you mean burning it on the altar of our disbeliefs like Homeric heroes with the fat thighbones of an ox? I don’t think so. I’ll plead guilty to sacrificing a concept labelled “planet”. Not only would I sacrifice it, Professor Sir Bob, I’d screw it into a tight wad and stuff it up your GCM. But that’s not a planet with its 7 billion inhabitants I’m sacrificing. It’s a concept, full of unpacked hidden meanings. I don’t like it. It bores me. Wooosh, it’s gone.
I’ve suggested this before, but not spelt it out. When an elderly climate hysteric like Bob Watson, Chris Rapley or James Hansen starts worrying what his children and grandchildren will think – not of him – but of us climate deniers, he’s revealing a whole syndrome of worries bubbling under the surface of his cognitive faculties, (or “mind”, as it used to be called, for a few thousand years, before Professor Lewandowsky came to Bristol to enlighten us.)
There’s not much to be said for mortality, at least for us atheists, but one cheerful thought is that we won’t be around to see our children and grandchildren when they’re mumbling old wrinklies like us. Those who feel the desire to project themselves into that future are exhibiting some unconscious desire to surmount their own mortality, I would suggest. It’s a weird impulse, which may have positive results, for example in the creation of a work of art, such as Edward Bellamy’s 1888 science fiction novel “Looking Backward 2000- 1887” which is a fascinating insight into how past intimations of the future can illuminate the present. But if you’re not going to produce a work of art, best shut up, and stop embarrassing the younger members of your family.
There’s more embarrassment over at the Independent, which announces that “Earth’s worst-ever mass extinction of life holds ‘apocalyptic’ warning about climate change, say scientists.” It’s another dire (though a bit late) warning about the end of the Permian 250 million years ago, base on a new article in Palaeoworld snappily titled: “Methane Hydrate: Killer cause of Earth’s greatest mass extinction.”
The Independent, too, elicited the opinions of experts, and they are – dare I say it – sceptical.
Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, suggested a major methane pulse was possible. However he said this would be “maybe not apocalyptic, but catastrophic” […] However, Professor Wadhams criticised the title of the Palaeoworld paper… “There’s a serious tendency these days to offer a breathless overkill on the importance of a discovery. The title of the paper is over the top,” he said. “Methane may or may not be the cause of the extinctions described. The evidence is equivocal. It doesn’t justify all the razzamatazz.”
“Not apocalyptic, but catastrophic.” “..not drowning, but waving.” Does anyone care what they write on their labels any more? Does it matter? Should we care?
And Professor Tim Palmer, an Oxford University physicist who has worked on the IPCC reports, said it was unclear what future humanity was facing. […] In a recent talk at the Royal Society in London, Professor Palmer suggested “lukewarmists”, who downplay the dangers of climate change, and “catastrophists”, who do the opposite, were both making the same mistake. The science, he said, suggested a range of possible outcomes from one to the other and it was unclear what would happen.
See what happens when you enter the media debate armed with little labels? Professor Palmer, anxious to defend “the science” from opposing criticisms of unwarranted alarmism and unwarranted complacency, firmly places the dangers of climate change somewhere between “exaggerated” and “underestimated”. Somewhere between the opinions of his embarrassingly hysterical green allies and his embarrassingly convincing critics – not the “deniers” of course, nor the “sceptics” who have usurped that title because the true sceptics are the scientists themselves who are (97% of them) true believers – but the “lukewarmers”, who, for true believers like Professor Palmer, are handy opponents, because, like the different coloured fairies in Peter Pan, they don’t know what they are.
We sceptics, or deniers, are somehow excluded from the “debate” (or ceremonial brandishing of labels.) My awkward inner voice suggests this doesn’t matter. We are the true different coloured fairies, because we’re sceptic. We really don’t know what we are.
Never mind. Like Peter Pan, we are immortal. And we shall always have Tink.