Last Wednesday’s “Sceptic Backlash” meeting ended with a lively Question and Answer session. Here it is as I recorded it :-
Q. (from Christian Hunt, a plant in the audience from Greenpeace)
– You say it’s just the journalists who are the sceptics. What happens if another Government comes in and scepticism gets political footholds ? [ reference to Conservative Party Climate Change sceptics ]
A. (Phil Thornhill, Campaign against Climate Change)
– People shy away from the problem if they can’t find solutions. We propose a million Climate jobs – there are lots of ways of dealing with the crisis. That’s the kind of thing we should be emphasising.
Q. Andrew Neill interviewed Caroline Lucas and asked her about the Phil Jones interview with the BBC where he said there had been no “statistically significant” warming in the last 15 years. Has there been no statistically significant warming or not ? Why wouldn’t Caroline Lucas, head of the Green Party, say “you’re wrong” ?
– I wrote her a rather long e-mail. You can’t really debate Science in the popular Media. Most people don’t understand.
– The tip for answering this kind of question is – in 15 years, it’s hard to spot a trend against the background noise. It’s a difficult thing to explain.
– It’ a clear case of how once you start debating the Science it gets twisted. She should have said “this is a typical case of the misrepresentation of Science”.
A. (Ben Stewart, Greenpeace Media)
– She was fine to say “I’ll take a pass on that”.
Q. [About the United States, politics and the Media there]
– In America it’s become impossible to win as an Republican if you say you have a belief in anthropogenic Global Warming. John McCain used to believe, but he’s had to change his mind…[Sarah Palin used to believe]…you could say it’s to do with religion…
– [about the independence in Media]…If the Tories [Conservative Party get into political power in UK General Election and] take away the TV Licence Fee [which funds the BBC], then we’re in trouble. We’ll be forced to use the American model of Media.
A. (George Marshall, ClimateDenial.org)
– [Not sure about the idea that a tipping point has been reached so that if you’re going to be a Republican and a believer in Climate Change you have to keep quiet about it].
– Belief in Climate Change depends on the people you hang about with – what your peer group is telling you about it. If they say it’s a hoax…[this is true of journalists as well as everybody else].
– Everyone is looking for social cues about what to believe.
– The problem with the Campaign against Climate Change campaign on “climate jobs” is that it doesn’t speak to a wider group of people. It has to go wider than a small group of self-referencing people. In the work that I have been doing with unions, “a million jobs” has opened the door – they take it [the idea] and re-write it.
A. (David Adam, The Guardian newspaper)
– I’m not saying the Climate Change scepticism has evaporated. The high profile Climate Change sceptics don’t even pretend to be scientists any more.
– About the possible election of the Tories – [the Climate Change sceptics] will never have a better chance than now. But I think Cameron gets it [Climate Change].
– [There’s protection.] There’s the Climate Change Act – miles ahead of public opinion – people on the street don’t know about it. Politicians get in – and get the right scientific advice. If the Tories came out sceptic, the scientific establishments are strong…there would be resignations.
Q. Are newspaper editors affected by advertising revenue ?
Q. Are the panel aware how ignorant people are ? I give my students information about things like the Gulf Stream and they say “I still want a car”.
Q. We need a lot of concrete simple facts out there. We haven’t got them really. The Science gives us not certainties but probabilities – people don’t understand risk – if they did the whole gambling industry wouldn’t exist.
– [It’s annoying, I wrote a piece about losing snow in Europe, and there was a big advertisement that appeared beside it for EasyJet.]
– I can say, hand on heart, that there is no influence on what I write because of advertisers. The BBC are not influenced by ads. The Guardian wrote a piece about this – we had a very “Guardian” discussion about it…
– [I think there should be] caution about demonisation of those industries. If you’re going to use electricity to promote good causes, is that OK ? If business wants to do good things [Corporate Environmental and Social Responsibility]…
– Statistics – we need to talk more convincingly in terms of “risks”. If you say to people, 5% it might be fine…I think people are grown up enough to understand it. [Dick] Cheney had the 1% doctrine – it’s outstanding that the Republicans can’t grasp the 90% doctrine.
– It’s 90% likely that humans are causing Global Warming that could have disastrous impacts. Climate Change scepticism is resurgent. It’s dangerous.
– If you look at what we need to do – reach a peak in Fossil Fuels by 2015. This means huge societal change – which needs absolute consensus. We need faith in Climate Science.
– Here’s a story I use. Imagine, we’re all in an aeroplane and the pilot comes on to tell us that there’s been engine failure and there’s a 90% chance we’re going to crash – and we’re declining to put on our parachutes ! Some are even saying that the engines look fine, so we’re going to sit tight. But we can only sit tight for a while. And only a few people are saying the engines are fine.
– There are things that we do need to worry about. Advertising runs counter to the message of risk – it gives the message of “everything’s fine” – a parallel narrative that discounts the Climate Change warning.
– This is dangerous in communications. We are speaking to people with a shared set of values – people who are intelligent – and proud they can hold both points of view in their mind at the same time. Worried about Climate Change but also wanting to go skiing.
– It’s OK to have different conflicting points of view in your mind [as a modern, critical thinker]. It’s a problem, but I need to go on holiday.
– When we were talking about smoking we didn’t need to show graphs and charts. [Why do we need to do that for Climate Change ?]
– In Climate Change we need to talk about the need for adaptation [coping with the change] as well as mitigation [preventing emissions].
– The UK Climate Impacts Programme – this is what you need to take into account – as a given. [It’s going to happen – we need to adapt.] It’s about talking what we are already committed to [in terms of unavoidable warming] – this is a massive shift.
– We need to be following a twin track – challenging Climate Change scepticism head-on – but also building a radical, diverse movement to combat Climate Change. If out stride is strong about a range of issues…
Q. About the use of the term “Climategate”. The original was “Watergate”, when some relative goodies found out something that was bad, using this “-gate” suggests that the goodies have found out something bad. We should be careful not to use that language.
Q. (John Davis) There is a reason why sceptics are powerful. In the 1990s we were saying that we would be noticing the effects of Climate Change within ten years. But here we are and people can’t see any effects. People form their ideas from experience. We are never going to convince anybody by a reasoned argument – they need to feel it. We have created a bogeyman and people want to see it – but you can’t see it yet. But if we wait to act, it will be too late.
– Climate Change won’t really affect anyone in this country for 50 or 60 years [I’d have to disagree strongly with you there, David].
– A [mental] “offset” allows us to be concerned about people dying in Africa and rainforests drying out. Good people concerned about these issues without having to do anything about it.
– Do we report the world it is or the way we want it to be – it’s known as “Climategate”…
– The cold winter – maybe God is possibly a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (right-wing think tank).
– James Delingpole came up with “passive smoking is a myth” – we definitely shouldn’t use his word.
– [Barack] Obama was terrified of [the Climate Change sceptics] at Copenhagen – they’re well-funded.
– Unless we look like them [the Climate Change sceptics] we’ll get nowhere.
– “Climategate” is a resonant metaphor. We’ve been out-manoeuvred.
– They have inserted this into the language.
– [About the word “Climategate”] It probably came from Marc Morano first.
– Look at the word “sceptic”. It’s a very carefully chosen word.
– I rather use “denier” – and I’m delighted to say it works.
– But they’re [Climate Change sceptics] doing a better job than us at the moment [on communications].
Q. What should we do ? Vested interests are perpetrating lies about Climate Change.
– We do need to add different groups with different language – but we have to be clear – there is no point in adding those who have a vested interest in the Climate being wrecked.
– We want to restrict ourselves to those who don’t have a vested interest in money being made by a policy of scepticism and denial.
Q. How about making the public really annoyed about those squashing positive development – like the big car manufacturers sitting on the patents for electric cars ? Get the public to be angry with Oil and Gas companies ? Point out that the Oil and Gas companies have been supporting sceptic myths ?
Q. (from Ruth, another plant from Greenpeace) Tactically, how about taking in the problem of Peak Oil [into discussion and communications] ? Energy Security [“conservative” concern]…
– Depends on what you can achieve. Britain has a target on Renewable Energy. [How about asking] how do you make that happen after getting the policy in place ? Because it’s bally difficult and very expensive !
– It’s very easy to hide behind the “evil pantomime villain” charade [demonising the Oil and Gas companies].
– It’s not ExxonMobil who puts articles on the front page [of the Daily Express].
– I think you’re missing the target if you think that exposing oil money is going to have an impact.
– You will never get a majority of the public on-side in the way the argument is had at the moment.
– Constantly pretending that the problem is “evil people” out there is distorting the debate.
– Need more honesty on all sides.
– You need to be [Climate] realistic – two degrees is unrealistic. 350 parts per million Carbon Dioxide is nuts and unrealistic [David, I’d have to disagree with you there strongly as well].
– Nuclear Power needs to be looked at [David, I’d disagree with you there very strongly yet again].
– Pinning all the excuses on evil capitalists is misguided.
– Energy Security is a topic that is now mandated. [If you go outside to do an interview and you don’t mention energy security, you don’t get back in through the front door].
– Most people don’t see things the way we do.
– Most people in Britain are soft Centre Right.
– Can’t make them believe what we believe.
– We need to start to take in [to our communications] those values from the Centre Right.
– In terms of changing perceptions – [action on Climate Change] is “the greatest act of altruism”.
– It will be the next generation [who suffer]. Your tonne of Carbon is not going to make much difference. [The problem requires wholesale change].
– You need to Be the Change (Gandhi).
– If we had a literal greenhouse over the UK, [things would change pretty quickly as the warming we caused would come to us directly].
– [What to do ?] I don’t think anyone’s worked it out yet.
– The notion of altruism is dangerous.
– [Another dangerous thematic is] we need to go on a “war footing”.
– Despite all the messaging in War Time Britain, they still need to have rationing…
– Do you expect the Global South to “sacrifice” ?
– China and India are going to burn coal whatever [hence the debates about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)].
– 23% of China’s emissions are exported…
– We talk about Energy Security, but don’t think of it as an Energy Problem. But Climate Change is Energy.
– A third of all Energy gets used on Transport.
– It’s naive to think that people are going to use less Energy (even with efficiencies). [I was talking to a Brazilian delegate to a UN Conference who said] “You care more about our trees than our children” [the Climate Change action could deny Energy to the Global South and halt development].
– [We should be addressing] where are we going to get our Energy from, from now ?
– We are in serious trouble clinging to the idea of “our way or no way” [in Climate negotiations] – you know the consequences.
– If you care, you have influence.
– We are world leaders on Climate Change.
– Climate Change scepticism comes out of London, and goes around the world.
– If you can find a way to oppose it – put pressure on journalists getting the story wrong : write to editors, the Press Complaints Commission, the Today programme…
– The other side are mobilised and creating noise. We have to [push back].
– [There has been a] disastrous performance [in the Media]
– Evil Capitalist villains DO exist and we have to deal with them.
– It’s wrong to think they are the whole problem. Exposing this is part of what has to be done.
– It is a whole broad range of somethings to be done.
– George Marshall said we need a broad spectrum of people talking about Climate Change – what if we had Bill Gates talking about Climate Change ?
– We also need to show it’s an extreme issue – people should be visibly
upset about it – speaking in an uncompromising way.
– That’s a part of the spectrum that ought to be there.
– If it comes across as a political view heard before – not helping. We need to talk about solutions in uncompromising terms – solutions to a problem that’s real.