A singeing from Scorcher

Clive Hamilton is back on the new releases shelves with another book, Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change. I’ve dipped into it today, and while there is much criticism of the ‘right-wing’ groups that with the ‘greenhouse mafia’ of fossil fuel industry groups Hamilton believes persuaded the government to go slow on climate change, the initial chapters also have a distinct resemblance to public choice theories favoured by many on the right about how special interest groups capture the political process.

Of course there were other reasons why the government was always likely to lean to the sceptical side of the climate change debate. Industries that produce high levels of greenhouse gas are an important part of the Australian economy, and have contributed significantly to our current prosperity – no government is likely to jeopardise this lightly. As I argued last year when examing polls on the issue, while the public seems to have accepted the alarmist view of climate change, it still seems well short of accepting the measures needed to deal with it. The political commotion that goes with every oil price spike shows how hard it’s going to be to take this issue from abstract principle to practical policies.

Also, there were tribal political reasons for doubting the views of some climate change proponents. As I noted in my review of Hamilton’s Affluenza, he is part of a political tradition that has never much liked modern industrial society. Climate change is a godsend for such people, because it gives them a scientifically respectable way – a way consistent with modern thinking – to oppose material consumption. The instinct of those who like modern industrial soceity would always be to doubt what people like Hamilton say.

As the CIS has had little to say on climate change – expensive scientific research being well beyond its budget – it gets off fairly lightly in Scorcher‘s high UV day treatment of right-of-centre political forces. But there are some passing mentions that seem designed to haul it into the critique anyway. For example, on p.123 Hamilton describes a petition organised by ‘right-wing economist’ Alex Robson which was posted on

an anti-greenhouse libertarian website with links to the Centre for Independent Studies.

A check of the endnotes reveals this website to be that of the Australian Libertarian Society. It’s fair to say that the ALS and the CIS have things in common, but the links are loose – no formal association, no CIS control over the ALS website, but some overlapping writers. As I am, I think most people at the CIS would be happier with the description ‘classical liberal’ than ‘libertarian’, and the CIS has taken some libertarian flak over the years for its pro-family research programme and its concessions to political pragmatism in suggesting ideas that are feasible rather than ideal.

I suspect I would find much more in Scorcher that I did not like if I read it all (but I have a pile of more interesting looking and unread books, so I am not going to). But from what I have read, it is at least based on research of what actual right-wingers have said and done. That’s a considerable improvement on many other such critiques.

23 thoughts on “A singeing from Scorcher

  1. That’s quite an amuzing link that Hamilton draws. If an organisation (ALS) links to another organisation (CIS) then the linked organisation must support everything written by the linking organisation. Absurd to the point of funny.

    And how was the petition just organised by Alex? What about poor ol’ me? 😦

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  2. “… part of a political tradition that has never much liked modern industrial society”

    I don’t think that even the Greens would say that they dislike modern industrial society – that would be quite a caricature. I think a more accurate suggestion would be that there’s something wrong with how modern society values resources almost entirely in terms of the labor it costs getting them out of the ground. They aren’t a party of anarcho-primitivists.

    “… it gives them a scientifically respectable way – a way consistent with modern thinking – to oppose material consumption. The instinct of those who like modern industrial soceity would always be to doubt what people like Hamilton say.”

    Just as constructing a caricature of the psychology of another side of politics gives one the ability to explain their opinions entirely in terms of “instincts” …?

    Sorry, I have nothing against the rest of the post, but am personally trying to reconcile green and liberal perspectives – and this kind of thing on either side doesn’t help!

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  3. Leon – I wasn’t referring to the Greens, though people who feel this way would probably feel most comfortable with the Greens if they had to choose between contemporary political parties. However there are Greens with quite liberal views on most issues.

    To understand what I am talking about, take a look at Hamilton’s 1994 book The Mystical Economist (the title tells you a fair bit to start with, there is more of the flavour of it in my Affluenza review). This worldview probably has its origins in religious asceticism. For centuries, people have been criticising us for producing and buying things we don’t really need, often on spiritual grounds, but also environmental.

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  4. Andrew – Okie dokie. In which case, I think I’m in favour of essentially unlimited consumption of labour, and free markets, but not unlimited consumption of resources. Surely they’re two different things?
    I agree with the religious ascetic origin theory, although I would imagine that, at least originally, those ideas were fairly independent of political philosophy. And they still can be.

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  5. conrad… it’s not rude to point out the truth that the ALS is a very small player in Australia’s political debates. The only reason to use it as Hamilton does is to be intentionally misleading.

    Leon, nobody believes in “unlimited consumption”. It’s not possible. If it was — then we wouldn’t have the study of economics which is, by definition, the study of how to best satisfy unlimited wants with limited resources.

    As for “resources” being different to other inputs, that leads to numerous problems of definition. 1000 years ago oil wasn’t a resource, but a curse. Now it’s a resource. In 200 years time it will probably be annoying goey black gunk again with little value.

    Ultimately, the main resource that matters is not tractors or rocks… but knowledge. This is good news because knowledge is non-rival (we can both use it at the same time without making the knowledge “worse”) and generally grows over time.

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  6. Of course knowledge isn’t wisdom …(first the poetry, now the Proverbs – 1:20):
    Wisdom calls aloud in the street. She utters her voice in the public squares.
    ————————————————————————
    She calls at the head of noisy places. At the entrance of the city gates, she utters her words:
    ————————————————————————
    “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? How long will mockers delight themselves in mockery, and fools hate knowledge?
    ———————————————————————–
    Turn at my reproof. Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you. I will make known my words to you.
    ————————————————————————
    Because I have called, and you have refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no one has paid attention;
    ————————————————————————but you have ignored all my counsel, and wanted none of my reproof;
    ———————————————————————–
    I also will laugh at your disaster. I will mock when calamity overtakes you;
    ————————————————————————
    when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when your disaster comes on like a whirlwind; when distress and anguish come on you.
    ————————————————————————
    Then will they call on me, but I will not answer. They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me

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  7. As the CIS has had little to say on climate change – expensive scientific research being well beyond its budget – it gets off fairly lightly in Scorcher’s high UV day treatment of right-of-centre political forces.

    What the CIS has published on global warming is pretty much pure pseudoscience. Fortunately, it hasn’t published much on the topic recently.

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  8. So far as I can tell from the CIS search engine, it has only published 4 articles or reviews mainly on global warming, the last in 2003.

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  9. Pseudoscience goes together with a lot of words… HIV, evolution, oil etc.

    CIS hasn’t published much and nothing recently, but when I read Barry Maley write:

    The upshot is that the climatic model predictions which formed the basis of the Kyoto recommendations have been invalidated. This is the conclusion reached in January this year by an expert panel of scientific specialists in temperature measurements commissioned by the United States Academy of Sciences. The best data and eminent scientific opinion find no real evidence of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

    I’ve read the report and it claims nothing of the kind. It drags CIS reputation down in the same way as if they published an article on how the second law of thermodynamics disproves evolution.

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  10. It drags CIS reputation down in the same way as if they published an article on how the second law of thermodynamics disproves evolution.

    That’s a rather extreme and simplistic analogy. Until the CIS do publish such an article, I can’t see the relevance to this discussion.

    I’ve read the report and it claims nothing of the kind.

    Are we talking about the same report?
    I note the first paper reports, “In the first Perspective, Alley … reviews evidence from the record of the past 110,000 years indicating that climate shifts as large as those between glacial maxima and times like the present have occurred naturally within fractions of decades.” So climate conditions such as those current have occured before in the past 110,000 years?

    Lets quote another paper from that era (1997) “This consistency, however, does not prove that there has been a large anthropogenic influence. Given uncertainties in the forcing (both anthropogenic and natural), it is still possible that part of the trend has been internally generated.”

    Now there is nothing wrong with investigating whether humans are having an adverse impact on the planet, but until convincing evidence is in, public policy should remain cautious.

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  11. Sinclair, we aren’t talking about the same report. I presume Maley is referring to “Reconciling Observations of Global Temperature Change” (2000) by the National Academy of Sciences (Maley incorrected refers to it as the United States Academy of Sciences).

    However, your papers don’t even come close to providing support for Maley’s statement [t]he best data and eminent scientific opinion find no real evidence of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Both papers are fully consistent with the scientific consensus, then and now.

    The first paper concludes with Abrupt changes have been especially large when atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration,
    insolation, and other important climatic variables were changing rapidly, with possible implications for general behavior of the climate system.
    – which if anything, is more supportative for an alarmist view on the effects of CO2 on climate.

    The first paper, also should not be read without reading the authors other paper on the implications which blames these large temperature swings on orbital variations which are then amplified by ice-albedo, sea-level, and greenhouse-gas feedbacks and wind changes.

    The second paper which you cite, simple tries to estimate the climate sensitivity (a measure of the effect of CO2 on global temperatures) and gets a result consistent with other efforts.

    So none of these papers provide any support for the claim [t]he best data and eminent scientific opinion find no real evidence of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

    I don’t think that my analogy was unfair to CIS. They published unsupported garbage – not at all dissimilar to creationists who also publish unsupported garbage. Their current lack of articles on global warming puts them in a much better position intellectually than when they were publishing this rot.

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  12. I agree they don’t support Barry’s argument – they do suggest natural variation plays a large role in all of this.

    On the creationist bit, I think you’re being over the top. Why automatically assume that any and every centre-right argument is off the same song-sheet. The last time I met a creationist was in high school, and I’m certain they didn’t support free markets.

    I’ll try to track down the paper Barry is refering to.

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  13. It was interesting to note that Ken didn’t seem to object to the way Hamilton confuses the ALS with the CIS. As far as I can tell, the only “overlap” between the two is me… and despite my best efforts, I’m simply not THAT important. 🙂

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  14. Curiously, in my mail today – a copy of Scorcher from the publisher, complete with media release. Who suggested that I be put on the review copy list?

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  15. I looked at the book in the airport today. Some of the links are very tenuous. Person x met with person y who once knew person z who was associated with a think tank (okay, that’s an exageration, but you get the idea). I also heard Hamilton on the radio – carrying on how the greenhouse mafia and the government are so ‘undemocratic’.

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  16. Sinclair, I don’t think that global warming skeptics and other pseudoscientists sing from the same song sheet. But I do think that they play the same instruments. There are very very few articles by global warming skeptics which both same something substantial and aren’t a total abuse of science. The same applies for other pseudosciences. Maley’s article is a good example of this. The sources which he badly cites simply don’t support his argument. He also conflates internet nutters with Australian scientists.

    John, if you want to know my opinion on linking ALS with CIS, then just ask – rather than assume. I think that Scorcher piece was simply an attempt at guilt by association (and a pretty poor association at that). My view is that the CIS past stuff was poor (but mitigating against that it was always a very minor part of their work) and the current work (ie. nothing) is much better.

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  17. From Barry Maley:

    Ken Miles has a peculiar view of scientific method, the difference between correlation and causation, validation by prediction, and the civilities of discourse between adults. He impugns me for saying in the 1990s that the anthropogenic hypothesis of global warming had not been validated. That was true then and it is still true now. No predictions have been made on the basis of the various anthropogenic models that have been validated by subsequent observations. In other words (and to repeat), ‘there is no real evidence’ of anthropogenic causation. That was true then and is true today. That there is some ambiguous evidence of correlation between carbon dioxide emissions and temperature trends nobody denies. It is conceivable to some that CO2 emissions might make an addition to global temperature, but this has not been demonstrated. The IPCC ‘consensus’ can do no better than confront us with 90 per cent probability, to which no explanation as to its meaning is attached, about the anthropogenic hypothesis. This is a very long way indeed from anything approaching validation.

    At this moment, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests other causes of the temperature fluctuations that have been occurring for thousands of years. We have a long way to go before understanding what is happening. Either Miles should agree that the anthropogenic hypothesis has not been proved or show us the proof. If he cannot show the proof, then he must agree that we are dealing, at the very least, with serious scientific lacunae and major uncertainty. In the face of such uncertainty, I would avoid irretrievable and damaging decisions and search for more information, of which there is no shortage.

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  18. Barry, thanks for your reply. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even become close to answering my concerns about your early writings on global warming.

    In no particularly here are some points:

    * Science isn’t in the business of proving anything. Anytime a scientist says that they have proved something (and there aren’t talking about a mathematical proof) give them a rap on the knuckles and tell them that science is all about finding a hypothesis to explain something then testing that hypothesis.

    * I didn’t impugn you “saying in the 1990s that the anthropogenic hypothesis of global warming had not been validated”, rather I impugn you for saying “[t]he best data and eminent scientific opinion find no real evidence of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions”. While it’s good to see that you appear to be backing down from your original articles with much more luke warm statements, your original statement was false. When you wrote the article, the eminent scientific opinion was widely available, and wasn’t anything close to how you described it. If you want to demonstrate me wrong, then find a conclusion from eminent scientific opinion which demonstrates it. If you want some help, here is the press release for the Reconciling Observations of Global Temperature Change report. Sinclair has already linked to a series of PNAS papers – not that they support your early statement.

    * It is ironic that you state “No predictions have been made on the basis of the various anthropogenic models that have been validated by subsequent observations”. Your article which I brought up dealt with the discrepancies between the modeled atmospheric temperatures and the measured temperatures. Subsequently, the observations were found to be wrong, and that the models gave the correct answer. This is pretty much a textbook example of a successful prediction.

    * On a meta point – global warming is pretty much an example of a successful prediction. When the chemistry legend Svante Arrhenius developed his theory on climate change (approx. one hundred years ago) he predicted that the earth would warm. Rather than use a graph of global temperatures (there were none available at the time) he had a good understanding of how light and matter interact. Subsequently, the world has warmed significantly.

    * You have misread the IPCC. They don’t say that there is a 90% chance that CO2 contributes to global temperatures, but rather that there is a greater than 90% chance that humans have a net positive forcing. To argue that CO2 doesn’t contribute to global temperatures is move into serious pseudoscience land (to do this you will have to argue either that the earth doesn’t emit infrared radiation or that CO2 doesn’t absorb it.).

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  19. Ken

    Do you consider Richard Lindzen to be a pseudoscientist? He has numerous papers and missives discribing the dishonesty of the warmers. He’s a fully fledged climate scientist too by the way with excellent credentials seeing he’s a professor of climate science at MIT.

    Compare that with the credentials on the side of the warmers and the most hysterical screamers. Tim (self) Flatttery started off his “science” career with a degree in English Lit at one of our most famous places of higher learning- Latrobe uni. Later on Ken went on and became some sort of bone collector.

    Do you know what Clive’s credentials are?

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  20. JC, I don’t think much of Lindzen. He isn’t too bad if you stick to his scientific publications, but his message changes completely when he starts talking to audiences who are eager to have their prejudices confirmed. He early contributions have been worthwhile, but now he just gets weaker and weaker and shriller and shriller. Kind of sad.

    I don’t get my science from either Tim or Clive, so I’m not too concerned about their credentials.

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