Making up the facts about climate change?

Climate Change Factors

Upton Sinclair said

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Let’s just try to understand a fairly straightforward question. I don’t mean straightforward as in ‘easy to determine’ , but as in ‘you’d think it might have a definite, clear answer’. Here it is:

How much carbon dioxide do volcanoes emit?

This seems exactly the kind of question we should be able to answer if we want to be able to say anything serious about climate change (see the top left box of the diagram). It also seems to be the kind of thing that scientific observation and measurement ought to be able to help us with.

Furthermore, it would in principle be perfectly reasonable to conclude that we don’t actually have an answer yet because it’s just too hard to measure volcanoes with existing methods and technology. A little humility never hurt anyone.

So here goes with the answer. Continue reading “Making up the facts about climate change?”

Where have all the climate change jokes gone?

Why can’t anyone tell a good joke about climate change? I don’t mean “Climate Change? That’s a joke in itself”. And I don’t mean jokes in the Leno/O’Brien/Letterman-style: ‘Scientists are warning that if climate change gets any worse even Hilary Clinton will thaw out’. I mean funny ones. Where are they?
The Times wrote about this and the online comments were as miserable, mean-spirited and loopy as usual with this subject. Humour hardly began to get a look-in. The same happened a year or so ago when the Guardian ran a very similar piece.

If anyone has a good joke about climate change I’d love to hear it.

How to deviate from climate change destruction – the case of the Great Barrier Reef

A confession: I visited the Great Barrier Reef a couple of years ago and it was the most stunning experience of my life. The beauty, intricacy, diversity, were amazing. The experience of immersion in this underwater world was and is vivid – literally alive. But I felt profoundly uneasy participating iin the industrial system that got me there – plane flight, chain hotel, large, fast motor boat. In order to appreciate the beauty of what we’re destroying we need to destroy it a little bit more, it seems.
Environmental writer Chris Turner addresses this dilemma head on in a marvellous piece for Canada’s Walrus Magazine, The Age of Breathing Underwater.

Justice cannot be done to the piece here – you need to read it for yourself. He focuses on the work of Australian coral expert Dr Charlie Veron, author of A Reef in Time, who, as Turner tells it, fights to save the Reef, even as he affirms it cannot now be saved. Ocean acidification has gone too far already. What lies in the human heart on the far side of hope is the subject, then, of Turner’s article.
If you’ve read more than one post on this website you’ll be expecting an anaylsis of the social structures that condition such thinking in terms of a model of society called Grid-Group Cultural theory. It’s true there is ample scope for this. For example, when Veron likens ocean acidification to a loaded gun with ‘a hair trigger and devastating firepower’, he’s indulging in classic Egalitarian-speak which ought to call into question his construction of the facts (by etymology if not by modern definition facts are always constructions: facere = to make). This is not at all to deny that acidification is taking place, but to scrutinise the human meanings we assign to it. But this time I want to do something a little different. This time I want to write in terms of deviance Continue reading “How to deviate from climate change destruction – the case of the Great Barrier Reef”

Why do we disagree about Climate Change?

In his foreword to a recent collection on the social construction of climate change, Nicholas Onuf writes:

‘As a social constructon, climate change is no one thing. Instead it is an ensemble of constitutive processes, yielding an ever changing panoply of agents and insitutions, fixed in place only for the moment.’ Mary E Pettenger (ed) 2007:xv

Yet in the arguments about climate change, the subject of the arguments is often taken as a given. We forget that just as the carbon dioxide emissions are of human origin, so is the very concept.

Now Prof Mike Hulme, founder of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, has written a book about climate change as a social, cultural, political, religious and ethical phenomenon,rather than a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’. In doing so he has drawn deeply from the well of Cultural Theory. The book refers repeatedly to the writings of Mary Douglas (especially Douglas and Wildavsky 1984), Michael Thompson (particularly Verweij and Thompson 2006) and numerous other cultural theorists, and has a Foreword by Steve Rayner. The book is much too stimulating and multi-faceted to summarise here, but in terms of policy implications the auther promotes Rayner’s idea of the need for ‘silver buckshot’ rather than ‘silver bullets’, and Verweij and Thompson’s idea of ‘clumsy solutions’ rather than elegant failures.

I’ve written from a similar perspective about climate change, and specifically on what we argue about when we argue about global warming.

Why we Disagree about Climate Change is a timely, wide ranging thoughtful and challenging contribution to the climate change debate. I think it will also stand as a highly accessible landmark text of ‘applied Cultural Theory’, much as Christopher Hood’s 1998 book on public management did a decade ago.  A review will follow.

Still arguing about the facts on climate change?

Geologist Ian Plimer, who has written a book opposing the idea of human-made climate change, has backed out of a debate on the science with journalist George Monbiot.

But wait a minute. Actually, journalist George Monbiot, who has written a book supporting the idea of human-made climate change, has backed out of a debate on the science with geologist Ian Plimer.

Does this mean they’ve both backed down? Or does it mean they’ve both courageously stood their ground?

What’s going on?

From one perspective, Plimer is peddling ‘24 carat bafflegab’. From another, Monbiot is preaching a ‘secular religion’ and is the high priest of global warming.

Who’s right? Surely, when it comes to scientific facts, ‘Truth is truth to the end of reckoning’  (Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act 5 scene i). Why can’t these people just agree? And why can’t we get to the bottom of why they can’t agree? It’s as though they can’t even agree on what the facts are they’re supposed to be disagreeing about. Each seems to operate as though no matter what is said, the other will twist it to their own advantage because they are acting in bad faith.

If these people would take a look at the claims of Grid-group cultural theory, Continue reading “Still arguing about the facts on climate change?”

Climate Change and the ‘Bad Faith’ delusion

human-beingsLet’s get this straight. Climate change ‘deniers’ are (mostly) not being malicious. They genuinely believe what they are saying, just like climate change ‘believers’ do. The assumption of bad faith is entirely unhelpful.

“But how can it possibly be that in the face of all the evidence people still won’t face the truth of climate change?” That’s one way of looking at it, but it depends on a mono-rational view of the world which is contested by grid-group cultural theory. A more nuanced analysis suggests that there are four, not one or two ways of organising institutions, from families to global treaties, and what counts as evidence for one cultural bias will never count as evidence for another.

So,  Egalitarian environmentalists who want to promote their own view would do well to take seriously the contesting claims of Individualism, Hierarchy and Fatalism. These are not merely arguments about the evidence but deeper arguments about rationality itself.

Further reading:

What we argue about when we argue about global warming, then

Climate change: is it a new religion?, then

Four Ways to make Social Change Work Better.

Image source: http://artsandecology.rsablogs.org.uk/2009/04/28/emotional-appeal/

Models, reality and the limits to growth

Fourcultures recently pointed out the contentious relationship between computer-driven models and the reality they claim to be modelling.

More analysis of The Limits to Growth modelling  is now published in American Scientist journal.

Charles A.S. Hall and John W. Day, Jr. 2009 Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil American Scientist Vol 97 (May-June): 230-237.

Hall and Day claim ‘We are not aware of any model made by economists that is as accurate over such a long time span’ (p.235).

You can download the full article and a good summary and discussion is at the Oil Drum.

This complements a recent report from Australian government (CSIRO) scientist Dr Graham Turner, who revisited the business as usual projections of The Limits to Growth from 1972 and found that actual observation matched the projections pretty well. Continue reading “Models, reality and the limits to growth”

She’s a model and she’s looking good, or how to spot a model that actually works

Tom Quirk has an article in right of centre magazine Quadrant pouring cold water on climate change modelling by arguing that, after all, it’s just a model.

I think there’s some sense in this, if only it wasn’t being said by people who are just looking for another reason to tell us climate change mitigation is costly for rich people everyone. Junk in, junk out, right? But let’s take the argument a bit further than that. Indeed, what else could usefully be described as ‘just a model’? Continue reading “She’s a model and she’s looking good, or how to spot a model that actually works”

Four Ways to Make Social Change Work Better: The Transition Movement and the Four Cultures

Transition actually looked like a good tool for the job. They were picking it up by whatever handle they grasped. They were swinging it as earnestly as they could.’ – Jon Mooallem, NY Times

The Transition Movement, a grassroots coalition pioneered in the UK by Rob Hopkins, is a great case study for understanding and improving the process of social change. In this article I aim to clarify the microdynamics of social change by using Grid-Group Cultural Theory (the four cultures) as an analytic tool. The theory, first developed by anthropologist Mary Douglas, suggests there are four competing ways of organising and disorganising society, at every level, and that a balance between these makes for a better outcome than an exclusive over-emphasis on one or another of them. Most social activists recognise a basic conflict in social-political visions between, broadly, left and right, conservative and liberal. The four cultures shows that there are actually four basic positions, not two, and that social interaction is much more intelligible when we take all four into account.

It’s my conviction that the Four Cultures approach can help social change agents ‘to bring in the people that conventional activists have failed to reach’, by showing how to be more inclusive while also becoming more focussed on what kinds of inclusion really matter. Continue reading “Four Ways to Make Social Change Work Better: The Transition Movement and the Four Cultures”

A Month of Resilience

This month Four Cultures is going to be considering Resilience and its connection with Grid-group Cultural Theory.

By Resilience I mean the cross-disciplinary scientific approach inspired by the work of Canadian ecologist Buzz Holling, and promoted in a number of places, especially through the Resilience Alliance and through the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

There’s a video of him from his award of the Volvo Environment Prize in November 2008.