Monday, May 28, 2007

More Monbiot Madness

Monbiot's latest brain rot avoids any of the interesting questions in the global warming debate: to what extent is the human contribution or natural cycles the dominant cause? This determines the extent to which emission curbs policy can be effective. What will be the scale of global warming and its economic impacts? This is important to the question of the costs we should be prepared to pay to avert global warming.

Instead he continues his campaign to smear those who disagree with him.

You can tell them that almost all climate scientists believe it is taking place. But climate scientists are part of the conspiracy. You can explain that almost all peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject accept it. But how does that help if they believe the Daily Mail is the font of all wisdom? You can point out that the effort to dissuade people that climate change is real has been sponsored by fossil fuel companies. In response - and in marvellous contradiction of their professed suspicion of scientists - they then point to the handful of climatologists who have not been sponsored by the oil industry who say that it isn't happening. You can argue that they are cherry-picking their experts and their data, but unless they have an understanding of the scientific process, they don't see what's wrong with that.

You know what he hasn't done there? Made a single non-spurious argument.

He's argued from authority and majority. I.e. we've got more professors than you. That's a recipe for writing off all minority opinions and killing science.

He's made a clumsy ad hominem. Being funded by oil companies doesn't make a person wrong. It is just as easy to attack the motives of people of Monbiot-like opinions whose careers are dependent upon the fear of global warming to justify research grants and newspaper columns.

Only one actual argument gets cited in the entire piece:

"At my talk last night, a man in the audience informed me that a belief in climate change is a religion, and that I am its Billy Graham. He pointed out that temperatures on Mars have risen: could that be because of all the people driving their SUVs there? Well full marks for originality: I haven't heard that one more than 100 times since the Martian data was published. But instead of trying to argue with him, this time I asked a question: what would it take to convince you that manmade climate change is taking place?

"Nothing", he said. "The climate has always changed. This is just another natural cycle."

"So even if every scientist of every kind and every persuasion agreed that manmade climate change is happening, you would still place your own opinion above theirs?"


This, I suspect, must now be the position of most of those who still deny that man-made climate change is happening: that there is nothing - no evidence, however compelling, no scientific consensus, however robust - that could persuade them of the opposite case. Could there be a better definition of religion?"

Monbiot doesn't offer any evidence as to why it isn't another natural cycle or the Martian data isn't important. He asks his questioner whether "if every scientist of every kind and every persuasion agreed that manmade climate change is happening" that would change his mind but doesn't mention whether there has been any change in the quality of the evidence for global warming. Again instead of deploying evidence Monbiot returns to telling his global warning denier he is in a minority and posing the counterfactual of his being in a smaller minority.

Monbiot doesn't seem to understand the term religion, at best he's talking about faith. However, his argumentative style, relying upon majority support and personal authority instead of evidence is reminiscent of religion at its least rational.


Bishop Hill said...

There must be a suspicion that the "consensus" is less firm than is alleged anyway, since the IPCC is making it so difficult to see the review comments on the draft report.

Tony said...

"So even if every scientist of every kind and every persuasion agreed that manmade climate change is happening, you would still place your own opinion above theirs?"

Therein lies the rub. You will never get every scientist of every kind agreeing that manmade climate change is happening. As it is there is unethical pressure on scientists to allow their names to be put to 'findings' they disagree with.

I find your analysis to be spot on Matt. Monbiot is one of those people for whom it is all about being 'in' with the latest gang and their fads. If he is aboard a popular bandwagon then and gets love from his fellow travellers then he feels validated.