Mike Hulme speaks out

One way in which the climate debate has changed in the last year or so is the emergence of a kind of “climate death cult”. This was always there in the background (see this comment from Andy West on my previous post) but recently has come into the mainstream media, with widespread talk of “extinction” and bogus claims of an “emergency“.

The latest example is a “paper” by two Australian members of the death cult, saying that there’s a good chance of human civilisation coming to end. Needless to say, these two con-men, David Spratt and Ian Dunlop, are both cashing on the cult with books to sell, and of course the UK media is giving them huge publicity and raising no questions.

But what is perhaps even worse is the response – or lack of – from the climate science community. As far as I am aware, not a single UK climate scientist has explicitly called out this bullshit, even though David Rose has specifically asked them about it. One of those Rose asked is promoting his vacuous graphics, while another seems to be too busy attacking Donald Trump.

I have found one climate scientist, Ryan Maue, who seems to care about disinformation being fed to the public and is prepared to call it out. What a pity that we don’t have any climate scientists with courage and integrity here in the UK.

So let’s hear it for Mike Hulme, formerly a climate scientist at UEA, but now working on the sociology and politics side of things in the Geography Department at Cambridge. He’s a man of conscience, honesty and integrity, who wrote a very good book called Why we disagree about climate change, where, for example, he acknowledges that his own political views influenced his views on climate change.

Hulme has written an article on his blog, Am I a denier, a human extinction denier? As well as challenging the extinction/emergency narrative, he plays with the ‘denier’ label. Below are a couple of excerpts, but please go to his site and read his whole article.

There has been a lot of talk recently about climate change and extinction.

It is undoubtedly the case that species go extinct.  And sometimes large numbers of species disappear together in mass events caused by the same physical stresses.  It is also true that at some point in the future the human species will go extinct, or at the least evolve into a new species partly of our own making.

Yet I resist the current mood of ‘extinctionism’ which pervades the new public discourse around climate change.  Talking about the future in this way is counter-productive.  And it does a disservice to development, justice, peace-making and humanitarian projects being undertaken around the world today.

A denier is a person who denies something, “… who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence.”  If I do not believe that climate change will drive the human species to extinction, does that make me an extinction denier?  For I do not believe that there is good scientific or historical evidence that climate change will lead to human extinction…


This rise in extinction rhetoric in (largely) English-speaking societies over the past 12 months is in part linked to the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5C Warming published last October.  The slogan “we have only 12 years left” has somehow been extracted from this Report and feeds the rise of climate clocks such as this one from the Human Impact Lab in Montreal.  But the IPCC Report offers neither scientific nor historical evidence for human extinction.

From this extinction fear arises the “panic” that Greta Thunberg has called for.  Panic demands a response and one response is to declare an emergency.  ‘Climate emergencies’ are now being declared in jurisdictions ranging from universities, the British Parliament and several local authorities in the UK.

But the rhetoric of extinction and emergency does not adequately describe the situation we find ourselves in.  Declaring a climate emergency implies the possibility of time-limited radical and decisive action that can end the emergency.  But climate change is not like this.  The historical trajectory of human expansion, western imperialism and technological development has created climate change as a new condition of human existence rather than as a path to extinction.

20 thoughts on “Mike Hulme speaks out

  1. Some folks characterize Hulme as the ultimate shape-shifter. Considering very early on he explicitly recognised the cultural nature of the beast, yet still supported it to the hilt, essentially saying this was the vehicle via which we could now re-imagine ‘everything’, made me very unimpressed. You can’t control cultures in that way, they always slip the reigns and then their processes dominate proceedings for better or worse; in this case very much worse so far. But that he has evolved continuously, and in the right direction, is positive not negative. I.e. gaining a (albeit belated) sense that indeed this isn’t going to be a brave new world after all, and a few years back (per BBC interview) decrying the pressure on science to always claim the catatsrophic when this simply wasn’t so. So indeed props for being able to resist (a once very admired) cultural pressure, and indeed to stand up against it on behalf of climate science. If all the mainstream climate scientists did this together, the thing would likely be dead within a year. The culture has lived mostly outside science for many years, yet still needs the underwriting of science.

    On a side note, Judith Curry has spoken out against the certainty of catastrophe and Pielke Jr regularly speaks out against the extreme weather claims, both of which are necessary narratives in order to claim an emergency in the first place. Though I guess by virtue of these activities neither have been in the mainstream for many years. But Myles Allen is a full consensus type, yet has given a caution on the ’emergency’ (albeit a bit weasel worded imho) and has warned about ‘alarmism’ in the past too. Given the narrative of certainty of imminent global catastrophe (absent dramatic action) has had huge and growing influence for the 21st century at least, it’s scion ’emergency’ was near inevitable at some point, unless the culture was rumbled and collapsed first (no sign of that). How else would you combat an imminent global catastrophe but by pushing the ’emergency’ button?

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  2. Thanks for this Paul. I called Hulme a climate scientist (implying he is a current one) on Twitter as I pointed to his article, in support of you, contra Alice Roberts, before learning about the guy’s more recent career. But, given the low barrier to entry these days, I’m happy with my wording.

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  3. I am pleased to read a more sensible approach from Hulme these days, sinner repenting and all that, but in starting Tyndall and promoting the scares in that institution’s early days, he established it as the premier scare body that it remains to today. He was involved with the CRU UK Climate Impacts modelling even before Tyndall:

    WWF e-mail exchange
    “Our UKCIP98 report has had a huge impact in the UK in mobilising opinion (in fact even as I write, I’ve had a call from the Dept. of Health which, having seen our scenarios, now want a brainstorming workshop to advise the Minister!) and it could have similar impacts in other countries.The scenarios would all be IPCC-compatible so link in with IPCC statements. Of course the reason for raising this is too see where we might get funds from. WWF come to mind (WWF could have prominent billing re.
    publicity), but you may have other thoughts on options.”

    Press Release 7 November 2000 “What can we do about climate change?”

    “As Britain battles through floods and major transport disruption, and the nations gear up for the UN climate conference at the Hague, how can responsible businesses and organisations prepare for climate change?

    Dr Mike Hulme, the Centre’s Executive Director, said: “Society is at last waking up to climate change. What might once have been considered unusual weather conditions for the UK – the recent storms and flooding, for example – are likely to be much more frequent occurrences. ”

    Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett today warned of a sharper and sooner-than-many-might-have-been-expected impact across the UK from climate change in coming decades. This follows publication today of a new report on climate scenarios.

    Mrs Beckett was commenting on the findings of a new set of scenarios prepared by the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Tyndell Centre for Climate Change Research and University of East Anglia and published by DEFRA.

    “It is clear from today’s report that the British climate as we know it will change significantly. Almost a century of past global greenhouse gas emissions will take their toll in the UK. Individuals and all parts of the UK economy, should start planning ahead now to ensure they can meet the challenges of decades to come or face serious damage to trade. The government has already started work on adaptation, which we will need to further review in the light of this research.”

    He left Tyndall in 2007, after starting to criticise the Catastrophism which he helped to create.

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  4. “Some folks characterize Hulme as the ultimate shape-shifter.” My recollection of him at UEA was someone who listened and discussed with anyone on matters climatique. Hence my view of him was that he was someone who would entertain very different views and whose mind was not firmly set. I consider UEA lost a great asset when Mike left.

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  5. The following quote is from Hulme’s book first published I think at the start of 2009 (the widespread Cambridge Press issue of April 2009 claims to be a reprint), so probably written mostly in 2008, and consolidating ideas that can be seen in various essays from 2007 and before. Yet also at a time when, per Dennis above, Hulme’s views appeared to be shifting due to the rise in catastrophism (and the soon to follow climategate seemed to cause yet more shift). Notwithstanding this context of personal change, Hulme is the extremely rare beast (possibly in a category of 1) who understood the sheer scope and scale that the CC phenomenon could become and was already well on the way to becoming, indeed the ‘mother of all issues’ as he terms it, AND that this was largely because of it’s social applicability NOT the physical climate angle, yet STILL fully embraced it. I haven’t read the book, but other essays and extracts specifically characterize the phenomenon as cultural, and even mention some of the long list of emotive memes that live under the umbrella cultural narrative, such as ‘lamenting Eden’ (his terminology – this meme turns up more generically in many cultures as ‘the past is always better’).

    “The function of climate change I suggest, is not as a lower-case environmental phenomenon to be solved…It really is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change – the matrix of ecological functions, power relationships, cultural discourses and materials flows that climate change reveals – to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come.
    Climate change also teaches us to rethink what we really want for ourselves…mythical ways of thinking about climate change reflect back to us truths about the human condition. . . .
    The idea of climate change should be seen as an intellectual resource around which our collective and personal identifies and projects can form and take shape. We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but to ask what climate change can do for us…Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs.
    …climate change has become an idea that now travels well beyond its origins in the natural sciences…climate change takes on new meanings and serves new purposes…climate change has become “the mother of all issues”, the key narrative within which all environmental politics – from global to local – is now framed…Rather than asking “how do we solve climate change?” we need to turn the question around and ask: “how does the idea of climate change alter the way we arrive at and achieve our personal aspirations…?”

    Some of this text is almost exactly the same as a 2007 essay, which also states “Is Climate Change, rather than being an inconvenient truth, in fact being used as a very convenient category because it offers us a psychological focus for our loss of the past, our fear of the future and our instinct for hubris?” Yet for years more, he appears to conclude nevertheless that getting on-board this cultural juggernaut and attempting to steer it into bulldozing a path a to brave new world, was the way to go. He seemed utterly oblivious to the fact that no way no how can folks steer these things towards ideal outcomes (the radically contested ideas of ‘ideal’ being only one issue) even in principle, and all actual attempts to do so in the past have ended up very badly indeed. This approach is equivalent say, to an early twentieth century emotively convinced communist, who is nevertheless aware enough to acknowledge that instinctive cultural factors are driving the spread of their ideology; yet their conviction is so strong, that they *still* believe harnessing these is possible, and that a conscious and logical re-engineering and betterment of society can be achieved via this means; dangerous.

    [I edited this and removed your follow-up comments Andy. PM]

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  6. Alan: “Hence my view of him was that he was someone who would entertain very different views and whose mind was not firmly set. I consider UEA lost a great asset when Mike left.”

    Indeed had he stayed, the personal evolution noted above might have very usefully taken UEA with it. Notwithstanding this, one cannot discount (per Dennis and my own snippets above), a strong early contribution to the direction that the climate domain took. But it’s also the case of course, that where bad intent was never intended, one should not hold events against folks. Particularly in light of more recent realisations and courage, and too because all of us are vulnerable to cultural influence.


  7. Andy. I cannot substantiate this, but I had the distinct impression that Mike Hulme was not exactly happy to assume directorship of the newly formed Tyndall Centre, even though he must have been a major figure in getting it financed and installed. I believe he did not approve of the direction of travel taken by the entity, and I suspect (again no evidence) Tyndall was a major reason for his leaving UEA. Certainly things happened in the UEA part of Tyndall that would have not been countenanced by its first director.


  8. Alan: thanks, that’s useful info. Notwithstanding which, enthusiasm for a renaissance of some kind coalesced around the concept of climate change entering into practically every aspect of society, is expressed as independent writings that thus aren’t reliant on any position held or any interpretation of private thoughts or actions. No doubt in those earlier times he hoped for the best of possible outcomes. But scientists of all people should do everything possible to avoid, reduce, dissolve, and combat major culture wherever it and science become entangled; bad outcomes are practically inevitable, but steering isn’t possible anyhow even in principle. No doubt he didn’t know that.

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  10. Mike Hulme seems to be a fairly sensible individual. Two of the reasons why he is an ‘extinction/emergency denier’:

    “The rhetoric of climate change and extinction does not do justice to what we know scientifically. Climate prediction science is fundamentally based on probabilistic forecasts which underpin the quantification of risk. There is a range of possible values for future global warming. It is as false scientifically to say that the climate future will be catastrophic as it is to say with certainty that it will be merely lukewarm.

    And finally the rhetoric of climate and extinction does not help us morally. Even if we take these claims literally, the mere fact of human extinction by no means impels us to conclude that the correct moral response must be to prevent that extinction. There may well be other moral demands upon us which take precedence, and yet which we ignore. Why the human species above other species? Why are the future unborn more morally demanding of us than the dispossessed victims of today? Why is suicide the worst sin of all?”

    He goes on to say, taking a swipe at the absurd Cambridge Centre for Climate Repair:

    “Campaigning on the grounds that the human species faces extinction because of climate change—and declaring a climate emergency—is a superficial response to complex realities. And it is talk that opens the door to one-eyed techno-solutions–such as envisaged by the putative Cambridge Centre for Climate Repair—and fuels the possible legitimation [legitimization] of dangerous solar climate engineering schemes.”

    I would include solar power and wind power as ‘one-eyed techno-solutions’ and biofuels and biomass combustion as ‘one eye half-closed techno-solutions’. Mike Hulme’s rational comments would not be controversial, nor would they be a much needed injection of common sense if we lived in a sane world. Alas, we do not.


  11. A lot to agree with, with Mike Hulme here, and previously when he described the nonsense that was Cook et all – (97% paper..) and lots of other things over the last several years

    Mike has clearly evolved.. Me writing at Watts Up With That nearly 8 years ago..

    Mike Hulme:

    “Did anyone hear Stott vs. Houghton on Today, radio 4 this morning? Woeful stuff really. This is one reason why Tyndall is sponsoring the Cambridge Media/Environment Programme to starve this type of reporting at source.” (email 2496)

    (CMEP being BBC’s Roger Harrabin and Joe Smith)

    When Mike Hulme criticised Cook et al, it was really funny to see the anti-septic bloggers call him some sort of ‘climate denier (Sou/Hot Whopper (me vs Sou in the comments, trying to point out how utterly ignorant she was, for thinking Mike Hulme, a ‘climate denier’.


    Sou (Miriam)
    “There are a few climate folk in the UK who cosy up to deniers and give them a free pass, even though they understand the science. It seems unique to the UK, hence my speculation about it being for social reasons not scientific reasons. Mike Hulme might be of that type or he could be an ideological denier who can’t quite bring himself to reject the science outright (going by a couple of comments and references by others in this thread). ”

    [Sorry Barry, this got stuck in the spam. PM]


  12. ” The historical trajectory of human expansion, western imperialism and technological development has created climate change as a new condition of human existence rather than as a path to extinction.”
    Humans have always existed in a world of changing climate. If Mr. Hulme is stating that we have created the climate change that is our new condition but it doesn’t necessarily lead to extinction he is accepting the premise of the group he is criticizing but challenging their conclusion. In my opinion, neither is correct. We have a vanishingly small affect on the climates of this planet and , by our advancing technology and ingenuity, we improve and protect the environment in which we live as well as defend against the potential of extinction.


  13. Here is another academic speaking out. Prof Gautam Kalghatgi – never heard of him before:

    “All objective/empirical measures of human development (e.g., absolute poverty levels, life expectancy, share of the population that is undernourished, education…. ) have been improving consistently, particularly in poorer countries, over the past few decades…

    According to the IPCC AR5, Ch4, the UN body which assesses the evidence for and about climate change, there is little or no empirical evidence to suggest that the incidence of tropical and extra-tropical storms, floods and droughts have increased in recent decades…

    So in summary, there is no empirical evidence that there is an “existential threat”. The world is a far better place in almost all countries not affected by war, compared to the past…”


  14. What do you expect? Prof Gautam Kalghatgi, ex Shell Oil and Saudi Aramco. An big oil soaked denier if ever there was one!


  15. Paul, some academics, or indeed a few other authority types speaking out, will probably not be counted as much in the scheme of things. He’s a mechanical and aeronautical engineer also with, gasp, career history in Shell and Aramco, so easy for biased adherents of catastrophe culture to ignore. If he was a climate scientist, or at least had devoted some recent efforts in climate science (maybe he has but can’t see any), then this would be harder to ignore. Mainstream climate scientists pointing out en-masse that the IPCC / mainstream does not support imminent global catastrophe, would be impossible to ignore. And even each individual one who has spoken out thus far (e.g. Curry), albeit all together a tiny minority, are still highly awkward for the consensus, and consequently denigrated.


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