I’m thinking of course of the word climate:

There are of course many other important issues in geopolitics [in addition to Afghanistan]: Covid-19, climate, the rise of China, poverty, disease and development.

— Tony Blair, Why We Must Not Abandon the People of Afghanistan – For Their Sakes and Ours, 21st August 2021

The word the world’s media picked up though was ‘imbecilic’, aimed squarely at US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and the deadly incompetence of the implementation thereof. Three examples would be AP News, Politico and the BBC.

My first point is that our aim as climate sceptics has to be the removal of climate from this list, or similar lists, of major geopolitical issues. The others are important; climate isn’t.

Note I agree that Covid-19 does deserve to be there, well ahead of climate, which doesn’t. I realise not all climate sceptics would agree on the first part but I think we should be able to cope with such disagreements, if only because of what the people of Afghanistan are likely to be suffering.

What would be great then would be to discuss here not just the old Covid/climate points but the big picture of the ‘premier league’ issues we think should be occupying world leaders and how the ‘imaginary climate crisis,’ as Richard Lindzen calls it, can come to be relegated to the equivalent of England’s venerable but obscure Isthmian League.

Alan Kendall asked Mark Hodgson earlier today “Does it matter? I am divided upon this.” I feel the same way, but in this broader context. How much does it matter that our leaders are busy trying to solve, or at least pay lip service to, an imaginary crisis, given that there are much more genuine challenges afoot? And how does science play into all this? Dominic Cummings had something interesting and sobering to say on that earlier today:

Science, technology and markets bring many gains but also make destructive power greater, faster to deploy and easier to use for smaller groups and individuals. Errors dealing with deterring Germany over Belgium in 1914 and 1939 killed ~100,000,000. Crises now can go about 1,000 times faster with about a million times more destruction than in summer 1914. We had terrifying near-misses with people nearly launching nuclear missiles in the mistaken belief that the other side had launched. If we carry on with normal human history – that is, international relations defined as out-groups competing violently – and combine this with modern technology then we’re playing a sort of collective Russian roulette and it is near-certain that we will have a disaster on the scale of billions.

In fact that was making public something Cummings wrote to his paying subscribers the other day. My only subscription to any such thing at the moment. Past Cliscep contributors as diverse as Jaime Jessop and John Ridgway may well have indicated, if I was reading carefully, that they wouldn’t think it was worth the money.

We are bound to disagree on the details – as Bill Bedford, Stew Green and John Ridgway have been doing on the little matter of the Taliban and the Afghan poppy harvest, from yesterday evening on Open Mic. Call me a romantic fool but I think we should have another go at wider issues in our main posts too.

20 Comments

  1. Richard, I’m always happy to discuss broader issues than simply climate change. I don’t think it would be a bad thing for us to do that, so long as we aren’t de-railed from our climate scepticism in the process, and so long as don’t end up falling out about it. I’m optimistic on the latter point – as you point out, a couple of disagreements have occurred here today, and all in a thoroughly civilised and gentlemanly manner, which is as it should be. 🙂

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  2. I read Cummings’ free article today. Even if he was wrong on covid or anything else he’d still be the most interesting po,itical thinker in the uk. Reading his frontal assault on government rigidity / stupidity / incompetence I thought: how can you muster all those points and not mention climate?

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  3. “Does it matter?”

    My vote is definitely yes. Spending obscene amounts of money on policy dictated by a culture and not by science (i.e. not even by mainstream science let alone the lukewarm or skeptical brands), obsessing about apocalypse and hugely changing the support structures plus way of life of entire nations through policies that, on a good day even supporters admit are negative (but necessary to ‘save the planet’), can only detract enormously from solving / reducing / managing all the reality based issues you refer to, not to mention suppressing development, helping keep the poor as poor, undermining the entire enterprise of science, psychologically damaging children, offering massive opportunity for corruption, and a deal more that isn’t good. (I’ll add probably more harm than good to the environment long-term, the ludicrous suppression of nuclear by much of the green wing despite being emission-free, etc. To be anti-energy is ultimately to be anti-life).

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  4. Richard,

    The problem with talking about other leading issues is that, courtesy of Only Connect, they have all been attributed to climate change. In fact, it seems there isn’t a world problem that hasn’t been caused or exacerbated by climate change. Take the rise of the Taliban, for example:

    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-taliban-strengthen/

    Arguing that drought caused by climate change had driven farmers into the arms of the Taliban, the thesis is outlined thus:

    “The country is the world’s leading supplier of opium poppies. Not only has the Taliban made billions from their illicit drug trade, but poppies require less water than other crops, providing more stable means to struggling farming communities. Poppy cultivation is most abundant in the south of the country, where drought in part fuelled by climate change has been the most severe and the Taliban is most popular.”

    Wow! Thesis proven. Where there is Taliban and drought-stricken farmers, the poppies provide for a marriage in heaven. But take away the climate change and the poppies would lose their traction.

    Everything about this climate change thesis is correct except for the climate change bit. A little bit of southern Afghanistan history will help.

    The southern capital of Kandahar is an oasis city that has historically thrived upon trading the fruits harvested from its orchards. Then in 1980 the Soviet army arrived and took over the city, only to be besieged by Muhajedeen fighters. To undermine the rural economy that had been underpinning their opposition, the Soviet garrison chopped down the trees and smashed the irrigation system. Faced with starvation, the farmers simply transferred to opium, which was still a viable crop.

    So it is true that the genesis of Afghanistan as a world leader in the opium trade is inextricably linked with the rise of the Taliban, but it had nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with the Soviet army.

    It is a sobering thought that, had I not happened to have read a book on the birth of the Taliban, I would have been none the wiser and at the mercy of drivel that has been written by climate-obsessed journalists just to please their editors.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wish that commentators upon my meanderings would take the trouble to put such items into the context within which they were written. Thus “Does it matter? was followed by “In the case of the supposed National provider of news and opinion – the BBC I would be in favour of more critical evaluation and commentary about news: news of all types, not just about climate change. But the BBC is a reporter of the news and

    it cannot be denied that the majority of the news today supports action upon climate change and comes from sources that support such beliefs and/or favour actions that might prevent it.

    News organisations like the BBC report the news that they judge their audience wants to hear and see.”

    Is it disputed that the overwhelming amount of news content that BBC News receives supports anthropogenic climate change and it therefore perceives its role to dutifully report this? Outside of a relative few who comment upon such sites as this (a few hundred perhaps) who would news gatherers go to? Why should they bother? we represent a small minority view – one that the majority consider to be crackpot. What credibility do we have? Be realistic.

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  6. Alan, the majority of reportage by the BBC on CC is opinion, not news, and some of it their own opinion too. Plus, some years ago they made a conscious decision *not* to be dutiful according to their charter, and remove any balance of opinion opposing orthodoxy, which in practice has meant any opinion opposing certain catastrophe (absent crash Net Zero) too. And from then on they have acted as proactive supporters of a cause, not as an objective news organization.

    There are news orgs that do not do this; for instance Sky News Australia regularly has opposing views (regarding policy, the feeling that it’s a cult, or even for basic climate assumptions sometimes). Doesn’t harm their viewing figures; considering that they persist with this it’s probably gaining them more. Nor do news organizations have to reach into tiny skeptical blogland to obtain opinions that are antagonistic towards climate orthodoxy; in Western / irreligious countries neither of your categories of people (those ‘who might worry about climate change in the abstract and… those who would offer more than just token support’) are in the majority. When it comes to strong reality constraints such as paying personal money, giving up a petrol car or a gas boiler, in fact only very small minorities still profess support for climate related policies, as Richard noted.

    Nevertheless some news orgs DO reach into tiny blogland, for instance the GWPF and The Bish have featured in both the Spectator and on GB News, and again Sky news Oz has on occasion put on views from this domain. That the US is much more visibly polarized on the issue because of Lib/Dems committing to support and Rep/Coms committing to rejection, does not mean publics are any more net supportive in the rest-of-world (RoW); they are not. But most political leaders in RoW are, including the UK. And the BBC as it does for so much else these days, is going wholly along with elite / establishment views, rather than as once it would have done, raising legitimate questions that legions of its viewer have, from the cost / advisability of ripping out gas boilers to the dubious nature of all the blame for wildfires being attached in bold headlines to CC.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Andy. I repeat “ Is it disputed that the overwhelming amount of news content that BBC News receives supports anthropogenic climate change and it therefore perceives its role to dutifully report this?”
    News content includes both fact and opinion.

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  8. “Is it disputed…” As noted above, the majority of CC content is *not* news, but opinion.
    “that BBC News receives…” News orgs don’t ‘receive news’, they go out and look for it. And increasingly such orgs (not just the BBC) create their own from opinion vapourware. The BBC consciously chose not to look for anything opposing orthodoxy, and creates a huge range of opinion pieces in support of orthodoxy.
    “its role to dutifully report…” Per BBCgate they chose to abandon duty as written into the charter, by suppressing any opinion that contradicts orthodoxy, and choosing not to serve or report the voice of the majority in this country (and the RoW) who are not aligned (in either of your senses per above) to that orthodoxy, and have many legitimate questions regarding policy being pushed in its name, and indeed the nature of the orthodoxy itself.
    “News content includes both fact and opinion…” They have chosen not to pursue or report the former if inconvenient to the cause, and massively amplify the latter in support of the cause; they perceive their role as to get the public onboard with the agenda; to change mass opinions in order to save the planet.

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  9. Alan,

    I don’t think that it should be any journalist’s objective to dutifully report. I think they should be asking questions that challenge the orthodoxy. Clearly, when it comes to climate change, the BBC is not doing that, and that is why I am critical. That said, you are quite right in pointing out that they are far from on their own. For example, the report I criticised in my earlier comment came from CBS. Dutifully avoiding reports that might be career limiting is widespread now amongst journalism and I think that is a shame.

    General rule of thumb: If I can find in only a few minutes of research a fact that completely undermines a journalist’s article, then I am going to be critical, irrespective of whether they had been dutifully reporting.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I believe I might be in somewhat the same sort of position today here as a sceptical BBC News reporter might have been in during the last few decades. I am isolated, with no support for some of my opinions. It would be so easy for me to recant, to rejoin the majority here. I would have little to lose (except my own standards), and much to gain from returning to the fold.
    I have one advantage over a BBC reporter: I can write more or less what I like and see it “in print” at Cliscep (even if it gets trampled upon). A BBC reporter has an editor to deal with. Their news-story has to conform and to jostle for a place in the broadcast lineup. In the run-up to COP26 any story with even the hint of criticism of the accepted storyline would not see the light of day, in large part because of a plethora of other stories all competing for the light of day.

    Basically there is no big sceptical story around that will force its way into the limelight at the BBC (and other news providers) and almost certainly no great desire to find one either)😵‍💫

    Please note my stance is not really to defend the BBC but to try and understand why it does what it does.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “Basically there is no big sceptical story around that will force its way into the limelight…”

    Criticism of crash Net Zero policies in the name of CC such as replacing gas boilers with heat-pumps in UK housing stock by 2030 or whenever, plus electric car / grid issues have featured significantly in several mainstream outlets such as the Daily Mail and the Telegraph and on GBnews over the last weeks to months. This is a huge CC related story that impacts heavily the lives of all UK citizens. On the BBC, not so much, and their limited output on same is far less critical, where issues are admitted often calling upon government to subsidise the extra costs as it ‘has to be done’ to save the planet. The more critical sources have pointed out on occasion that the entire UK contributions are a small smidgeon compared to China; the BBC never allows such to get any coverage. You essentially said yourself why, the BBC reporters aren’t allowed to print anything with a hint of criticism against the accepted storyline. This bias explains why it does what it does; they believe they are a major instrument in saving the planet.

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  12. Alan,

    I don’t think you should think of yourself as being beleaguered. It is simple a case of one side making a normative argument and the other putting the descriptive argument. Both are valuable. I don’t think the late Alexander Cockburn, was writing approvingly when he said, “The First Law of Journalism: to confirm prejudice, rather than contradict it”. He was just being rueful. I’m sure he’d rather it have been otherwise, as indeed I assume do you.

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  13. So Andy, if the BBC believe they a major instrument in saving the planet how would you wish them to behave? Remember that all around them, their belief is substantiated and strengthened by the powerful and the good. Heatwaves, wildfires and the like are all treated as grist for the mill, not only by favoured BBC personnel, but by accredited experts wherever they turn. With such overwhelming conformity why bother considering the views of “deniers” with their “crackpot” views (probably paid for by big oil). Anyway for any denier, we can put up a hundred with acceptable opinions, and we won’t get stick from the militant eco-loons.

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  14. The issue was ‘why do they do what they do?’ Nevertheless…

    “So Andy, if the BBC believe they a major instrument in saving the planet how would you wish them to behave? ”

    This strong cultural belief that they are saving the planet, is false. Not only is it the case that to be in complete service to such is to serve falsity and abandon objectivity, it’s also the case that the culture will work towards investing as much effort, money, resource and infra-structure to *not* solve the touted problem, as possible. (Probably why renewables get pushed so much. Can’t possibly solve the problem, yet suck up all of those things). And all of which the BBC are seriously aiding. If you are saying essentially, ‘believers gonna believe’, then indeed. But your stance above is that there were real issues of journalistic priority or such that explained their output, *not* that they were (organizationally) true believers.

    Ideally, I would have them return to objectivity, which is the chief ethos of the journalistic trade. And having done so they may actually be able to contribute to reality-based solutions that may help to improve the environment (from a climate and all other perspectives too), via stories which skewer policy / spend in service to false cultural narrative, and for instance also via objective investigation of say wildfires, which investigation conducted properly is highly likely to come to a very different conclusion that the current BBC stance on same.

    There are plenty of mainstream views on wildfires, heat / cold / weather deaths, Net Zero issues, nuclear power and other issues that are not aligned to climate catastrophism, but the BBC treats all with huge bias towards the latter. No crackpots are required for the BBC to report other sides of the coins, and other mainstream outlets do. Instead, the BBC is part of the effort that cancels even the liberal crew when they present inconvenient truths, such as in ‘Planet of the Humans’ for instance; but they should be the ones digging out such truths. If you are saying they’re a lost cause due to the institutionalized nature of their cultural bias, you may well be right. But their modus operandi is not justified by some sense of being a journalistically duty-bound non-agential pipeline of garbage-in, garbage-out. They have agency, and in allowing that agency to fall to cultural bias they have abandoned their duty.

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  15. Alan, I hope you don’t feel beleaguered. I can’t criticise your attempt to understand what is going on at the BBC, for you have probably called it about right.

    However, as for why wouldn’t they challenge the cultural narrative supported by the vast majority of experts? Well, at the risk of going back into dangerous covid territory, in the last 18 months we’ve had the WHO being absolutely adamant that wearing face coverings is useless and then being absolutely adamant that we should all wear them. We’ve had the covid lab escape theory being pilloried as the conspiracy theorising of crackpots, to the situation where it is now generally regarded as being a distinct possibility. “Experts”, even “expert consensus” can be, and often is wrong. That’s why the BBC shouldn’t rely on the assumption that they must simply support the experts and not air contradictory or questioning views.

    There’s also the more sinister aspect of BBC behaviour in doing things like quite deliberately telling only half the story in a report, so that while everything the report contains may be true (and therefore beyond reproach), nevertheless the report as written is misleading. Plus things like the example I gave on another thread – reporting (by way of breathless plug) the Tesla storage batteries in Australia, but then failing to report when they go up in flames. Either Tesla storage batteries are newsworthy or they’re not. It can’t be right that their introduction justifies two articles, but their going up in flames can be ignored. I think (and I hesitate to use the word) that can be called lying by omission.

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  16. Hello everyone – and thanks!

    I’m not going to apologise for lifting Alan’s words from another thread, because I said explicitly “I feel the same way, but in this broader context. How much does it matter that our leaders are busy trying to solve, or at least pay lip service to, an imaginary crisis, given that there are much more genuine challenges afoot? And how does science play into all this?”

    The broader context was what Tony Blair was saying on the weekend *and* what Richard Lindzen had said in April. And I was about to quote Dominic Cummings – quite a triumvirate that – on how, in a broader way than perhaps we normally consider on Cliscep, science plays into this often surprising and sometimes horrifying world.

    Geoff asked a question about Cummings that was top priority for me to first think about and then say something about, once I’d read it last night. But even before getting to that, I’d like to try and explain how I was repurposing Alan’s words:

    “Does it matter? I am divided upon this.”

    What was the ‘it’? Our nitpicking might get close. And not just about the BBC. While the torturers of the Taliban have been allowed to regain control of Afghanistan, by Biden’s incompetence or something worse – and Blair clearly alludes to the possibility of something worse. (There has been widespread torture of opponents reported as they advanced. Has any Taliban soldier or official been prosecuted and publicly shamed for this? That for me gives us the answer on whether to take their recent reassurances seriously.)

    I am divided on this. If I wasn’t bothered at all, I’m not sure I’d be a very decent human being.

    And, strangely related to this, Lindzen suggested that some climate sceptic nitpicking might be counterproductive even in achieving our own more narrow goals.

    I didn’t spell out any of this in the original text, which I wanted to make short, if not sweet.

    And I remain in favour of certain kinds of climate nitpicking. Ross McKitrick’s nitpicking about attribution and Gauss-Markov at the top of the list right now.

    Yes, I am divided. And I had some empathy with Alan therefore, however differently we might see the role of the BBC.

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  17. The hubris of being able to “save the planet” goes hand in hand with the fecklessness of our elites.

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  18. RICHARD
    I don’t know what Lindzen meant by nitpicking but McKitrick’s paper is definitely not that. The fact I don’t understand it doesn’t matter, that oneof the co aothors McK criticises reviewed his paper and recommended publication is huge, since McK claims IPCC’S causal atributions are null and void. Either McK has been teaching 1st year econometrics wrong for years or 20 years of AG1s are for the bin.
    I’d like to hear more on Cummings. He’s for science, lateral thinking, opposing views, and against policy run on mrs johnson’s feelings. When is he coming out as a climate sceptic?

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  19. I appreciate that the article isn’t really about Tony Blair, but I can’t help saying that I think Simon Jenkins (one of the few Guardian columnists for whom I retain respect) has called it right:

    “Tony Blair damns the Afghan withdrawal but he would do better to show remorse
    The former PM has some nerve to say the west should stay on in Afghanistan to protect the ‘gains’ of his 2001 invasion”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/aug/23/tony-blair-afghan-withdrawal-remorse-west-gains-2001-invasion

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  20. Geoff, Richard,

    I cannot pretend to understand McKitrick’s paper either, but thankfully he does a good job of summarising its essential points over at Judith Curry’s place. The only problem is that any attempt at seriously discussing his paper there was thwarted by Willard and Joshua’s insistence on turning it into a typical ATTP slagging match, in which our two heroes ‘expertly’ lay bare the denier’s bad faith in everything they say or don’t say.

    For my part, I will say only that McKitrick was quite right in anticipating accusations of nit-picking. I am reminded of the time when I tried to point out that Lewandowsky’s ‘ordinal argument’ for treating uncertainty as ‘actionable knowledge’ was technically flawed because he was falsely assuming that the uncertainty is always fully captured by the spread of a probability distribution.

    No-one Does Wrong Quite Like Lewandowsky

    Ken Rice was very quick to dismiss my objections as being ‘some kind of pedantic technicality’. On the contrary, assumptions are important and they can quite easily make or break a mathematical argument. It seems to me that the BLUE argument made by the attribution community has just been broken.

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