Now that I have entered the Cranky Uncle years, I find that there are many things in life that vex me. Amongst them are people who say ‘pre-planned’ and ‘pre-prepared’; people who are forever womoaning about mansplaining; people who can give a restaurant a one star review on TripAdvisor just because they turned up on the day it was shut; anybody on the road in a Lycra outfit; people who don’t pick up their dog’s poo; and, most of all, people who are people.
Yes, come to think of it, my Room 101 would have everyone inside it, with me left outside to wonder what to do with the key. But of all my pet hates, I have to say the one that is giving my gallbladder most of its morning exercise nowadays is people who smugly remark that climate change sceptics have sheepishly moved on from challenging the science in order to concentrate more upon trying to delay the implementation of the solution.
The reality, of course, is really rather different. We sceptics are supposed to be well known for not moving on, and so where these people get their ideas from is a mystery. It isn’t, after all, the climate change sceptic that decided that the science was settled and no further debate was needed. At no stage did we admit defeat; it’s just that the other party cleared the line. From the outset we have said that the way the science is being handled is dodgy and that the proposed solutions are unworkable. We are still saying both of these things but it is only the latter assertion that has any traction nowadays. That’s not shifting our ground; that’s not changing one’s tune. That’s just how the endgame was always going to play out. And if we are getting ever more shrill in our protests it is because the gap between what is happening and what is needed to avert transition disaster is getting ever wider. We are just exercising our democratic right to be unhappy.
I’d like to think that legitimate concerns surrounding the proposed transition would lead to a more sensible debate but I’m afraid it hasn’t. It has instead just lead to the development of yet another of those limp-witted taxonomies of thinking, produced this time by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). The document that introduces this taxonomy glorifies in the title: ‘Deny, Deceive, Delay: Documenting and Responding to Climate Disinformation at COP26 and Beyond’, but its main themes are definitely of deception and delay.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue
Before I reveal some of the delights to be had in the ISD’s designed-to-impress tome, we should tarry a wee while to look into just what the ISD is and where it is getting its money from.
According to its website, the ISD is:
“…an independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to safeguarding human rights and reversing the rising tide of polarisation, extremism and disinformation worldwide.”
So you can see why it would have its beady, strategic eyes on that most extreme and dangerous of the many enemies of democracy – the climate sceptic. In fact, so dangerous and anti-democratic is the sceptic, that the ISD has gathered a crack team of disinformation specialists to monitor sceptical activity on the internet. You can see for yourselves that they are armed to the teeth with degrees in Arabic and Spanish, sociology, political science and political psychology, and so there is no one better equipped to adjudicate on heady matters such as the technical challenge posed by renewables intermittency or the uncertainty behind equilibrium climate sensitivity. You’re not going to get away with saying anything remotely anti-scientific in front of these guys, particularly when they boast that their primary sources of information regarding prominent sceptics are DeSmog and Greenpeace UnEarthed. Impartiality must be their middle name. Certainly, that is how the ISD sees itself when it says:
“We do not undertake work, pursue external partnerships or work with funders that could undermine ISD’s credibility, reputation and impartiality, or compromise the integrity or quality of our work.”
As for their financing, one can only gaze in wonder upon their list of partners and funding organisations. No less than 16 foundations and 37 ‘Governments and Multilateral Organisations’ have seen fit to dig into their pockets since 2018. That’s not to mention the likes of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Jigsaw and Spotify. Silicon Valley has some mighty big chequebooks and let it never be said that it is loath to keep the anti-oil industry dollars flowing. But what am I thinking? Safeguarding democracy is an expensive business and one cannot be so churlish as to turn one’s nose up at the beneficence provided by a handful of West Coast IT oligarchs. Isn’t having one’s policies depend critically upon the financial support of such a small and self-interested cabal what democracy is all about?
You can read the ISD effort for yourselves if you want to but I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you fancy ploughing through 116 glossy pages, each detailing what we unspeakably wicked sceptics have been getting up to. The ISD was paid a lot of money to perform their study and it is apparent that they were determined not to disappoint. Nevertheless, the whole thing can be reduced to the following essential points.
Firstly, there is that storyline of how we sceptics have now started a culture war in an effort to delay the implementation of what is necessary. In its opening paragraph the document states:
“In recent years we have witnessed a clear evolution in rhetoric opposing the idea of climate change and related action. While outright denial of climate change is still present and espoused by many pundits, or found in their former outputs, it has largely been confined to the margins of public debate…Denying the reality and impacts of climate change, or the need for corresponding action, is therefore unlikely to hold sway as it might have done in previous decades. In its place, narratives have trended towards discrediting any proposal for mitigation, adaptation and transition – arguments sometimes referred to as ‘discourses of delay’.”
Having set up its strawman, the document introduces the taxonomy by which it may be knocked down. According to the ISD, the ‘discourse of delay’ boils down to the following tactics:
- Redirect responsibility
- Push non-transformative solutions
- Emphasize the downsides of proposals
- Surrender to climate change
The remainder of the document is essentially devoted to providing illustrative examples and proposing what to do about stopping such a discourse. It’s a long and tedious diatribe, to my mind, amounting to no more than a plea to stop any discussion that may thwart the democratic will of the people – by which I mean Google, Microsoft, Facebook and the 16 foundations stumping up the money. In fact, there is some irony that at one point the document sees fit to quote Supran and Oreskes:
“The fossil fuel industry has perpetrated a multi-decade, multibillion dollar disinformation, propaganda and lobbying campaign to delay climate action by confusing the public and policymakers about the climate crisis and its solutions.”
To which the ISD responds:
“Challenging ad tech business models that enable the production and monetisation of mis- and disinformation is among the most powerful tools at our disposal.”
Thus speaks an organisation swimming in Green Blob money laundered through a panoply of politicised institutions and foundations. Besides which, they lie when they say cutting off their opponents’ funding is their most powerful tool. It seems that their most powerful tool is, in fact, our old friend, John Cook’s FLICC taxonomy, which is proudly revealed on page 96, complete with all of its glaring technical errors.
Well I think that’s quite enough mansplaining for one day. However, it would be wrong of me to leave you with the impression that the ISD was set up specifically to annoy climate sceptics – it has a much wider brief than that and few are beyond its power to annoy. Just remember that there is a “rising tide of polarisation, extremism and disinformation worldwide” to be dealt with, and if it were not for organisations with the ISD’s guiding principles (‘Integrity, Collaboration, Agility, Courage’) we might all become engulfed. So wherever there is hate, the ISD fact-checkers will be there. Wherever there is polarisation, more ISD fact-checkers will pile on. And wherever there is extremism, the ISD fact-checkers will be there in their droves. And yet whenever people say ‘pre-planned’ or ‘pre-prepared’ they are nowhere to be seen. For that there is only me, and I don’t get paid a dime.