Untidy Minds #6 : Mike Hulme ?

Professor Mike Hulme has been the science chap the BBC nearly always call, of late, when they want to inject an alternate view into a piece on Climate Change.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6115644.stm
“Chaotic world of climate truth” Viewpoint by Mike Hulme, 4 November 2006

The author of the book “Why We Disagree About Climate Change” has been bravely trying to reframe Climate Change, not as a problem of science, but a problem of society. To some extent, I regard his work as useful. On the other hand, I find some of his work a mind trap.

Yes, there has to be some analysis of the dumbing-down of Climate Change, and the “climate porn” that the Media resorts to to try to expound the narrative of the research. Social science investigations of the way the Media are handling Science are vital in order to try to improve mass communications :-

http://www.ippr.org.uk/pressreleases/?id=2240
“‘Climate porn’ turning off public from action : 03 August 2006”

The problem, for me, is that Mike Hulme is putting forward this in a way that can easily be co-opted by the Climate Change sceptics, who have no finesse, or wish to analyse anything in any great depth. Sceptics focus on black and white issues, simple facts and denials.

Even a junior Public Relations consultant could tell him this. Either he does not realise that this is happening, or he pays no attention to the way popular “culture” mauls his work. To me, this indicates that he may have an untidy mind.

It has been essential to focus international policy on the Fossil Fuel emissions question, but look at what Mike Hulme said in 2006 :-

http://articles.latimes.com/2008/mar/26/science/sci-adapt26″

“Consider a United Nations estimate that global warming would increase the number of people at risk of hunger […] a 14% rise, if current development patterns continue. That increase could be counteracted by spending on better irrigation systems, drought-resistant crops and more-efficient food transport systems, said Mike Hulme, founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in England. “If you’re really concerned about drought, those are much more effective strategies than trying to bring down greenhouse gas concentrations,” he said.” ”

Maybe he did not realise that he was offering a weapon to Climate Change deniers to hit Science with. Maybe he did not realise he was potentially creating an obstruction to the essential outcome of a global Low Carbon Transition.

When challenged by others about the way he was trying to build a narrative that offered the Enemies of Reason a big stick, he wrote a defence :-

http://www.mikehulme.org/wp-content/uploads/the-five-lessons-of-climate-change.pdf

His position soon became more known, and more abused. Here’s sceptic Dominic Lawson, using Mike Hulme’s words :-

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/dominic-lawson/dominic-lawson-as-they-tackle-climate-change-governments-are-starving-the-people-they-set-out-to-help-807764.html

“As they tackle climate change, governments are starving the people they set out to help : 11 April 2008…Listen, for example, to Professor Mike Hulme, the immensely respected founder of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and a linchpin of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In a debate on BBC radio earlier this week he said: “There are many people – including some scientists – who present climate change as an existential threat to the planet and to human civilisation. That is not what the science itself is telling us.” ”

Mike Hulme’s personal disquiet about the Copenhagen process became a very public utterance earlier this year, a good portion of which I agreed with :-

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7946476.stm
“What message, and whose, from Copenhagen?” Viewpoint from Mike Hulme, 16 March 2009

But this public commentary at that time was not very wise, in my opinion.

It should be clear from reading the following opinion article that Mike Hulme’s words could easily be used to reject the legitimacy of the United Nations Climate Change process,

http://blogs.mirror.co.uk/science/2009/04/we-cant-solve-global-warming-s.html

“We can’t solve global warming says climate change professor : By Mike Swain on Apr 27, 2009 : Can we solve climate change? No we can’t, according to a leading climate change professor. Mike Hulme professor of Climate Change at East Anglia University reckons we are heading up a “dead end” by putting climate change science at the top of the political agenda. In fact he thinks we are pretty arrogant to think we can control the climate…”

What finally decided me that Mike Hulme might not understand the full-spectrum negative impact of his words, was when he was quoted by Richard Black of the BBC, supporting the radio documentary “Climate Hijack” :-

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8223611.stm

“27 August 2009 : Hijacked by climate change? As the UN climate summit in Copenhagen approaches, exhortations that “we must get a deal” and warnings that climate change is “the greatest challenge we face as a species” are to be heard in virtually every political forum. But if you look back to the latest definitive check on the planet’s environmental health – the Global Environment Outlook (Geo-4), published by the UN two years ago – what emerges is a picture of decline that goes way, way beyond climate change […] So why, you might ask, are the world’s political leaders not lamenting this big picture as loudly and as often as the climate component of it? Has climate change hijacked the wider environmental agenda? If so, why? And does it matter? Mike Hulme, who led the influential UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research until recently, believes the climate issue is rather enticing for the modern leader. “The characteristics of climate change are quite convenient for politicians to use and to deploy both at a popular level but also at a political level,” he says. He argues that climate change is seductive to politicians because it is a long-term issue – so decisive action is always posited for some time in the future, at a time that can always be made yet more distant – and someone else can always be blamed […] According to this analysis – and in contradiction to Al Gore’s famous phrase – climate change has acquired its huge profile largely because it is a far more convenient truth than poor air quality or biodiversity loss or fisheries decline, where the actions needed are more likely to be national or local – and certainly more convenient than tackling the issues that underpin everything else, the size of the human population and our unsustainable consumption of the Earth’s resources…”

To summarise the actual situation : unless we stop further Climate Change, degradation to the Biosphere will escalate. Climate Change is intimately connected to, and affects all parts of the Environment. So it is a false proposition that concentrating on Climate Change detracts from the general protection of the Environment. It has to be “both” rather than “one”. We have to work on poverty, development, agricultural decline, freshwater stress, desertification, biodiversity and Climate Change all at the same time.

In my view it is to be regretted that Mike Hulme has not realised how his words can be used against science, and that he has continued to express complex positions during the “Climategate” scandal, when all the world really wants is a simple summary.

Were scientists lying ? Were they manipulating data ? Is the world warming ? Can scientists be trusted ? Can the data be trusted ? Is the world cooling ? These are the questions that most people want to know firm answers to. If the only firm answers are coming from the Climate Change sceptics, then we are in trouble.

This is not a time for complex, esoterical musings on the nature of science and society. They can easily be misinterpreted.

For example, the two press articles below have been used by Climate Change deniers to claim that Mike Hulme says the IPCC process is no good and should be ditched (see Marc Marano making that very claim in the video below) :-

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB30001424052748704107104574571613215771336.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8388485.stm

The reason that Climate Change gets so much emphasis from the scientific community is because of the denial from the “sceptical” community.

The reason that Climate Change needs to continue to have the top focus for every science institution is because it is such a big deal it cannot be drowned out by the clamouring of the deniers.

We cannot get this wrong. If we do not get Climate Change under control, then everything else is at risk.

The Copenhagen process has some bad genetic material inserted into it : Carbon Trading physically cannot produce the cuts in Carbon emissions needed to control the problem of rising global temperatures. Carbon Taxation would only depress the Economies without putting the funds together for the de-Carbonisation of the Energy Supply. Reduced Deforestation is an oxymoron.

What we need is for Energy to stop being produced from Fossil Fuels, and start to be produced from Renewable sources.

That means the end of the Big Oil companies, Big Coal, OPEC, Russian Natural Gas companies…it means the reconfiguration of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia will no longer have revenues from selling crude petroleum oil. That’s a big change.

It’s time we said it : to solve Climate Change we need to see the end of the internal combustion engine, the end of coal-fired power generation, the end of the Middle East petroleum Energy rule (the “oiligarchy”), the end of the Russian Natural Gas Energy rule (the “gasiarchy”), the end of Canadian Tar Sands production (the “tar czars”).

Climate Change is of overriding importance.

Professor Mike Hulme is a true intellectual. He is erudite and witty, and thinks widely, and it would be great if he worked with a professional Media Officer to get his ideas out there.

If you can spare the time to listen to Professor Mike Hulme giving a summary of the reasoning behind his book, listen to one of these links :-

http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/podcasts/details/08_12_hulme.php

http://www.peopleandplace.net/media_library/audio/2009/6/10/mike_hulme_why_we_disagree_about_climate_change

http://mikehulme.org/2008/11/university-of-nottingham-podcast/

Oh, and do read this and see if you think he’s communicating science in a way that’s way over the heads of the ordinary thinker, or not. Are people ready for this style of debate ? :-

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1233624/Copenhagen-climate-summit-Yes-climate-change-real-conference-wrong-way-tackling-argues-professor-Mike-Hulme-University-East-Anglia.html

2 thoughts on “Untidy Minds #6 : Mike Hulme ?”

  1. I couldn’t disagree more with the thrust of this argument. We should reduce discourse on CC to a shouting match between ‘deniers’ and ‘belivers’?

    This is exactly the “time for complex, esoterical musings on the nature of science and society”

  2. I have, over the course of a number of years, detected the same pattern in Mike Hulme’s outputs. He’s a moderate who’s on the side of the scientists on the outside, but always manages to make statements that get jumped on by contrarians and used to shaft the science.

    You’d have thought that, since this article (2009) that Mike Hulme would have learned not to fall into the same trap but he’s still at it 4 years later: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/climate-scientists-face-crisis-over-global-warming-pause-a-923937.html

    In this case, with the prominent link to his new book, it’s almost as if he encourages the use of his work to play-down the scientific evidence (he tellingly talks very little about this) in favour of media friendly “it’s more complicated than the scientists think” style headlines.

    Many thanks for pointing this out in such a well-written and researched post.

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