Tuesday, 15 January 2013


THE HOCKEY STICK AND THE CLIMATE WARS: Dispatches from the Front Line
Columbia University Press, 2012, 395 pages, $42.95 (hb)

Columbia University Press, 2012, 232 pages, $32.95 (pb)

Review by Phil Shannon

The “six stages of denial” for the climate change non-believer, says Professor Michael Mann in The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, are (1) climate change isn’t happening, (2) even if it is, it isn’t caused by humans, (3) even if humans are involved, their impact is minor, (4) even if it is major, the results will be good, making crops grow, (5) even if the results are bad, humanity can adapt or rig up a technical fix, and (6) besides, it’s too late to do anything about it, even if it is happening, which happily brings the climate change denier back to (1).

No amount of scientific evidence or logic can breach the fortress of denialism, as Mann has personally found out.  For over two decades, he and his “hockey stick” graph of historical temperatures have been under siege from the “denialist machine”.

First developed in the late 1990s, the hockey stick (by now a hockey team, with Mann’s graph confirmed by a dozen independent studies) shows that, for two millennia, there has never been a global temperature spike anywhere near that which has occurred since coal, oil and gas powered the Industrial Revolution, resulting in the dramatic and historically anomalous upwards curve of the hockey stick end of the temperature graph).

The hockey stick sent to the knacker’s yard the denialists’ sacred cow of an earlier warming (the Mediaeval Warm Period [MWP], 950-1250 AD) which they had used to argue that if warming from natural factors (volcanic activity, solar output, etc.) happened before, it could happen again, thus absolving fossil fuels from any blame.  The MWP, however, was a molehill compared to the current temperature mountain which can not be explained by natural factors alone and which, indeed, should have, on their own, resulted in a cooling.  Only human factors, specifically fossil fuel burning, can explain the abrupt current warming.

The hockey stick thus became for the deniers a powerful icon that needed to be attacked as part of “the best funded, most carefully orchestrated assault on science the world has known” by those, says Mann, who were “profiting handily from civilisation’s addiction to fossil fuels”.  James Powell, a geology professor, in The Inquisition of Climate Science, agrees that the deniers’ campaign  is “the most vicious … attack on science in history”.

The “contrarian barrage” that has ensued has had much success.  As Powell notes, whilst the scientific evidence for anthropogenic global warming has risen, public acceptance has fallen.  In 2009, two thirds of Americans believed scientists still disagreed about global warming, thanks to the “willing accomplices” of the media which cloaks its denialism behind the spurious notion of ‘journalistic balance’.  Between 1980 and 2002, for example, the four major US newspapers gave all, equal or some positive attention to the deniers in 94% of their global warming coverage, with only 6% of coverage reflecting the scientific consensus.

Global warming deniers are given a free media ride, say Mann and Powell, because Big Oil and Big Auto have a lot at stake and Big Media protects its own.  If the deniers’ case “has misinformed or confused” people, adds Mann, “it has served its purpose in manufacturing doubt and confusion”, with the goal of thwarting government efforts to regulate carbon emissions.  Meanwhile, “carbon dioxide concentrations and temperatures rise and precious time is lost”.

Who are the deniers, so trumpeted by the shouting hacks of the establishment media?  A handful have scientific credentials (and conservative politics), masquerading their denialism as healthy scientific scepticism and are tamely in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry.

Their non-scientist sidekicks provide the light humour.  The deceased science fiction writer, Michael Crichton (author of Jurassic Park), was motivated by animosity to environmentalism which he scorned as ‘the religion of choice for urban atheists’.  Legions of credentialed climate scientists were apparently trumped by Bjorn Lomborg (author of the error-riddled The Skeptical Environmentalist) a young unknown who disproved global warming after just a year or two of reading, whilst the loopy Viscount Monckton of Benchley, a Cambridge classics graduate, dispenses denialist lies (from doodled calculations on the back of an envelope) in between dispensing a farrago of dishonest self-promotion.

The deniers all portray themselves as latter-day Galileos repressed by the scientific establishment in a giant conspiracy in which data is fabricated or hidden to keep research dollars flowing and advance the “liberal political agenda of the United Nations”.

This would have to be, as Powell patiently dissects it, the mother of all conspiracies, involving all 2,500 scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, all the world’s governments who appoint the bureaucrats to oversee the scientists’ work, and all the 70 international science organisations and the peak national science academies in dozens of countries which have formally accepted the reality of anthropogenic global warming, not to mention the 97-98% of the world’s most active climate researchers whose publication and citation data showed, in a 2010 analysis, support for the tenets of human-caused global warming.

Or, perhaps, it is the most feeble conspiracy ever.  The so-called ‘Climategate’ affair of 2009 (when a thousand private emails between Mann and his colleagues in the Climatic Research Unit at the UK’s East Anglia university were criminally hacked) was, says Powell summarising the six enquiries by distinguished panels which cleared all accused scientists of any impropriety, “much ado about nothing”. The investigations found possibly half a dozen incautious words amongst the million in the emails but found, says Powell of the allegations of conspiracy, not “a single faked data point, not a single deleted email, not a single [denialist] article prevented from publication”.

All climate change deniers operate outside the normal, robust scientific process, with peer-review of research by anonymous scientific experts at its core, which involves good faith and respectful challenges and responses between colleagues with the aim of better scientific understanding.

Bereft of real science, the deniers resort to their weapon of choice, says Mann – personal attacks on individual scientists.  This has included vexatious demands under Freedom of Information for decades of research materials and computer codes, vitriolic cyber-bullying (including placing climate scientists’ photographs on neo-Nazi websites), campaigns against their government funding and academic tenure, plus stalking, death threats, abusive phone calls and shock jocks calling for their capital punishment, flogging and suicide.

Conservative politicians have rushed to join in.  The Bush administration attempted to purge Mann’s hockey stick from a 2003 government report (replacing it with a study financed by the American Petroleum Institute), forced Mann to front hostile Senate and House committees, denounced him on the floor of the US Senate, and named him as one of 17 scientists who should be investigated for criminal prosecution.  The overtones of an ugly past (‘are you now or have you ever been a climate scientist?’) were not lost on other climate scientists, as intended.

Mann and other climate scientists have, however, fought back (see their denialist-busting website Realclimate.org).  Mann says that whilst he can “live with the attacks of the corporate-funded denial machine”, he can no longer stand by whilst their lies endanger the world.  As with the scientific apologists for Big Tobacco, who condemned millions to death through their lies about smoking and cancer, Mann asks “will we hold those who have funded or otherwise participated in the fraudulent denial of climate change accountable?”.

As long as Big Capitalism rules the roost, there will be no such accounting.  That will take a world where science, morality and planetary survival count for more than the corporate dollar.  These two marvellous books by Mann and Powell will help to get us there.

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