Unqualified Opinion (1) : Dan Gardner

There are several journalists out there who simply can’t cope with the real risks posed by dangerous Climate Change.

Following a rather reasonable, rational article by Louise Grey, Tom Chivers gave the “loaded dice” metaphor to straighten her up on language :-

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/7937269/Pakistan-floods-Climate-change-experts-say-global-warming-could-be-the-cause.html

“Pakistan floods: Climate change experts say global warming could be the cause : The world weather crisis that is causing floods in Pakistan, wildfires in Russia and landslides in China is evidence that global warming predictions are correct, according to climate change experts. : By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent : Published: 10 Aug 2010 : Almost 14 million people have been affected by the torrential rains in Pakistan, making it a more serious humanitarian disaster than the South Asian tsunami and recent earthquakes in Kashmir and Haiti combined. The disaster was driven by a ‘supercharged jet stream’ that has also caused floods in China and a prolonged heatwave in Russia. It comes after flash floods in France and Eastern Europe killed more than 30 people over the summer. Experts from the United Nations (UN) and universities around the world said the recent “extreme weather events” prove global warming is already happening. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice-president of the body set up by the UN to monitor global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said the ‘dramatic’ weather patterns are consistent with changes in the climate caused by mankind. “These are events which reproduce and intensify in a climate disturbed by greenhouse gas pollution,” he said. “Extreme events are one of the ways in which climatic changes become dramatically visible.”…”

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tomchivers/100045912/climate-change-pakistani-floods-and-causality/

“Climate change, Pakistani floods, and causality : By Tom Chivers Last updated: August 11th, 2010 : We report in today’s newspaper that the floods in Pakistan, wildfires in Russia and landslides in China are “proof” of global warming, according to the IPCC. The story, with a less dramatic headline, is online…The angle there is the more modest “global warming could be the cause” of the various disasters. The first, paper, headline is, I would say, not technically accurate. Firstly, it’s not the case because the IPCC actually says no such thing: in the story itself, the words “proof” or “prove” are never used. Secondly, very few scientists would be comfortable using the words anyway, and as you might expect the quotes from IPCC climate scientists are much more circumspect. There is “clear evidence” of a link between climate change and extreme weather events, says Peter Stott, the head of climate monitoring at the Met Office; “Extreme events are one of the ways in which climatic changes become dramatically visible,” says Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the vice-president of the IPCC. So, it’s not proof, then, although I can entirely see how in a headline that is clearer and punchier (and, vitally for the print edition, shorter) than a more technically accurate alternative. How about the web headline – that global warming is the “cause”? Here it is much more interesting, and more difficult to answer. The climate is an amazingly complex, chaotic system. It’s very hard, if not categorically impossible, to say what “caused” a specific event, because so many things combine to create the circumstances in which the event occurred. Again, none of the scientists quoted quite say that these events are “caused” by global warming, merely that global warming has made them more likely. Dr Stott makes the point best “If we have these type of extreme weather patterns, then climate change has loaded the dice so there is more risk of bad things happening.” Loaded dice is a perfect metaphor…”

All fairly reasonable, but at the end of his piece decided to refer us to the work of Dan Gardner of the Ottawa Citizen, who seems to be a member of the School of Unfounded Optimism :-

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/world+again/3054274/story.html

“It’s the end of the world, again : BY DAN GARDNER, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN MAY 30, 2010 : Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Rapid environmental degradation, in combination with a rising population, declining agricultural output, and the depletion of oil and other resources, is straining human civilization. Soon, things will get much worse. Economies will decline and people will get poorer. Starvation will grow. So will war, famine, disease, and terror. Basically, to use a familiar phrase, it’s the end of the world as we know it. That’s a capsule summary of the latest best-selling book from author and environmental activist Bill McKibben, the oddly titled Eaarth. Or rather, it’s a summary of the first half of McKibben’s book…Basically, we should all live like Bill McKibben lives now. But it’s the stuff about the end of the world that is truly unoriginal. As luck would have it, I spent the better part of the past year researching a book about expert predictions and so I have several shelves full of books written by environmentalists who said the population is too big to feed, economic growth is unsustainable, natural processes are overwhelmed, oil and other resources are running out, and that we have passed the point of no return. Collapse is inevitable, they said. And coming soon. Some of these books are of recent vintage. But most date from the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Golden Age of the jeremiad…To be clear, I am not claiming, as conservatives often do, that the failure of dire predictions in the past proves dire predictions today will also come to naught. That’s illogical. But the consistent failure of such predictions does demonstrate that we should be skeptical when the next one comes along, no matter how impressive the person making it may be or how plausible the prediction may feel…McKibben aims to do more than preach to the faithful. He wants converts. And so he cannot entirely ignore the famous jeremiads of the 1970s. He must deal with them. And he does. He declares that they were all exactly right…”

I don’t know what planet Dan Gardner’s been living on, because it doesn’t feel like the one I know. We have well documented problems with soils, forests, species, pollution, raw resources, whole ecosystems, Climate, freshwater, sea level rise, oh you name it, there’s an environmental problem associated with it.

And if there’s not an environmental problem, there’s an exhaustion problem : most of the major energy agencies admit that conventional fossil fuels are stretched and depletion may have already started. And there are big fights taking place over unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands, gas shale and deepwater drilling. So Peak Oil may have indeed arrived, and you’d be careless not to know about it.

A number of these environmental and exhaustion problems appear to be converging right about now, and so it seems surprising that Dan Gardner has his theoretical hands over his eyes as if to say, “I don’t want to look !”

Some problems that the Ecological and Social Worlds have faced have been dire and catastrophic and we have dealt with them – preventing the associated “Apocalypse”. Just think about the work to eradicate various serious diseases; the millions of software “monkeys” that solved the Millenium Bug by correcting zillions of lines of computer programs; Oxfam and other organisations build wells; the World Food Programme feeds people.

Some problems are real. And some warnings are pitched at the appropriate level of concern.

Surely it’s better to be forewarned and forearmed ahead of time, when the possibilities for action are many and broad in scope ?

To be honest, if I were crossing a busy London street and I didn’t see a bus bearing down on me, I’d rather have somebody yell “Look out !” to warn me, rather than get the shock of my life at the very, very last microsecond as I jumped clear.

Look, Dan. There’s a large object with high momentum bearing down on human civilisation, calling out “Armageddon closer all the time !” The Limits to Growth was right, Matt Simmons found so, and so did Graham Turner at the CSIRO :-

http://ideas.repec.org/p/cse/wpaper/2008-09.html

http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf

http://www.mnforsustain.org/pop_limits_to_growth_30_year_review_meadows.htm

Pouring scorn on people who are attempting to communicate this makes you an irresponsible commentator, in my view. I don’t know why you show such disdain towards the author, speaker and activist Bill McKibben…oh yes I do…you’ve got a book you’re trying to promote. That makes your dismissal cynical, surely ?

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