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Am I taking crazy pills or do Australian’s in general remember Abbott’s relentless campaign against the giant tax on every Australian? Who could honestly forget images like below, with Tony enraging an sea of grey hairs at the current government for taking a  stance again carbon emissions (albeit, a fairly weak one)?

By definition, was his actions anything but alarmist?

Of course, the end of Australia never happened and, as discussed in the repost I added yesterday, Abbott has slowly retreated from his usual banter over the carbon tax. I guess it sounds even sillier in retrospect when he can no longer play the scaremonger. It doesn’t change what happened or the fact that the bloke is a hypocrite on the subject.

What interests me is what will happen next. Will he, like any prophet, simply shrug off his erroneous conclusions on the basis of some technicality and move faithfully onto his next dire prediction of the state of things (which, obviously, would all be undone if he were to lead) with his devotees in tow or have enough Australians finally woken up to this annoying sideshow claiming to be using our tax money wisely and efficiently in public acts of such stupidity (the same must also be said for the Labour party whom have resorted to a soap-opera affair with the Gillard-Rudd drama)?

I’ve made the point before, in my reply to Sophie Mirabella’s hissy fit, however, how can anyone expect the youth and in all honesty the general public as a whole to care much about politics when this is the best we have to choose from?

Light in the absence of eyes, illuminates nothing. Visible forms are not inherent in the world, but are granted by the act of seeing. Events contain no meaning in themselves, only the meaning the mind imposes on them. Yet, the world endures…

As a teenager, I was obsessed with the animated series Æon Flux. The above is part of a quote that opened episode 5 of season 3, where Trevor Goodchild was having a ‘Hamlet moment’. It has been changed in a more recent release of the series.

It has stuck with me for close to twenty years now. Memorised. Hardwired.

Musing over it today, I see it differently than I did as a teenager. Perhaps less moved, but still as thought provoking.

While meaningful to the state of mind of the character, it is at once an illustration of the human ego and also desperately fatalistic.

Visible light is but a small region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some species, take for instance certain bee species, can see wavelengths outside this range. Perhaps on a much grander scale, infrared plays more influence over the universe…

More importantly, in reflecting the meaning of events, we hit the fatalistic note. It’s the mind that imposes meaning. Well, of course it is.

Meaning is, after all, the way a self-aware entity makes sense of the information it receives about the known universe surrounding it. Meaning is as important to the self-aware entity as is itself. It has to be. One cannot be self-aware without assigning meaning to the information that bombards for it is that information which leads to the persistence of the self-awareness (ie. staying alive).

This is an important note to my recent posts on values and science. The separation of personal values and scientific certainty is clearly an illusion, based on an impersonal (and functionally impractical) philosophy. All information that reaches each one of us must contain both objective and subjective meaning or else it would be rejected as meaningless. This seems a no-brainer, but in practice, we do separate meaning into pigeon holes as though there were functionally different categories, which in practice, there clearly are not.

I’d like to thank the author of Climate and Stuff for the post, Good God! This is realy scary stuff. In the post, the author highlights some of the points of the declaration on global warming from the Cornwall Alliance. While no surprises are to be found, they deserve reflection by anyone interested in the communication of increasing scientific certainty.

Here are a couple worth pointing out;

What we believe

1) We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.  Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.

What we deny

1) We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.

Points 2 – 5 are also worthy of reflection and debate, however as they are hinged on these two points of belief and denial (I thank them for using that word) and are points rebutted elsewhere, at great length, I won’t bother here.

The first thing to note here is that the points quoted are clearly wrong. A casual look into species abundance over the industrial era demonstrates ecosystems are not robust, suited for human flourishing, they are self-evidently fragile to outside impacts, such as human induced degradation. So much so that Rockström et al (2009) places biodiversity loss as significantly more impacted by human activity than climate change, ocean acidity and a host of other variables. Left to their own devices, with ample range and resources, it has been demonstrated that ecosystems can be resilient (Fischer et al 2006), but this remains contradictory to the rest of the statements being made.

The core value being address in this declaration is that the earth and ecosystems are “created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence”. This is the meaning that many minds have imposed on the information they received.

Directly, it has nothing to do with climate change or biodiversity loss, but simply that the world is our divine playground in which we can do no wrong. Thus, errors such as those I’ve pointed out above miss the point of the declaration entirely. To say as much or to point out that “minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry” relates to more than 10 gigatonnes additional CO2 per year and can only be considered “miniscule” if unfairly balanced against Nitrogen and Oxygen (both of which play no role in the greenhouse effect) is translated to, “you are wrong about your core value; that is, your god”.

I am not certain about my reader, but I’m not here to challenge the religious faiths of other people. They can choose to believe any ancient mythology of their choosing. However, I don’t want their beliefs to be shoved onto me. Here is a clear example of faith based values doing just that; through the continuing paralysis on both biodiversity loss and climate change I am party to ideologies that amount to, “she’ll be right – God’s looking after us.”

I find such apparent dependency (assuming there is a god looking after us) infantile and degrading, especially when it is obvious the Raphus cucullatus (Dodo), the Thylacinus cynocephalus (Thylacine) and Rheobatrachus silus (Gastric-brooding frog) among others as well as the difference in ambient conditions between the earth and her satellite all stand as evidence to the contrary.

Hence such musings have not only exposed the core values of people such as those of the Cornwell Alliance, but also my own. At the root, I cannot help but feel I am being asked to relinquish a sense of control – thus meaning – to my life. I’m being asked to take a leap of faith that common-sense tells me is a bad move.

It’s easy to see how quickly such discussions can go astray.

While we may be addressing the science, in reality, we’ve walked into a debate over ideologies; in the meaning the mind imposes on events. How we avoid this, when such groups as the Cornwell Alliance explicitly thread their theology to certain views of the world (such as climate change and biodiversity loss), remains to be seen.

Personally, I won’t hold my breath on a superpower saving us from ourselves. I just can’t do it. History is too full of plague, famine, extinction and hardship that I can’t take solace in a higher force whom, we are told, sides with the victors. Likewise, in weaving their core values to a certain way of seeing the world,* it seems clear that such people are equally unlikely to budge.

So what remains? My suggestion would be to question. “What real world evidence do you have that ecosystems are robust and self-correcting?” or “How does extinction fit into this?” or “Climate has indeed changed over the millennia – but it has been too cold and too hot to support human life in a way that “flourishes” today, what if this occurs again?” for instance.

You would be unlikely to change their minds, true, but maybe, just maybe, the cracks might start forming between the evidence available and the contradictory meaning already imposed. Hopefully, at the very least, the poor marriage between the evidence and certain ideologies may lead groups such as the Cornwell Alliance to unpick the threads they’ve sowed between the two.  Maybe they will find a better match with governance – good stewardship of a wonderful world – as a divine practice over unquestioning dependence.

Who knows? It couldn’t hurt to try.


*The Cornwell Alliance lists a number of signers with a scientific background. I have to admit, I feel the science teachers of these signers failed them. The most important lesson one should be taught in science is to be plastic with the evidence. We all have pet hypotheses, but all too often they eventually crash and burn. Even Newtonian physics can only go so far – falling to pieces on the very small or very fast scales. For a scientist to sign a declaration stating that the universe is set in one way, perfectly definable today, represents a lapse of understanding, that will look as silly in retrospect as a similar historical document would regarding the flatness of the earth or pivotal (and unchanging) position of the earth in space.

There’s no doubt that I am my own worst enemy. I only have myself to blame for being up so early after fuming over something so trivial. On the other hand perhaps that’s what I’ve been missing; maybe it’s more that I’ve felt far more content in my current need to focus on my personal and professional life and leaving the pseudoscience arena on the sideline. Maybe it’s the frustration itself which motivates my writing.

Whatever the case, I find myself at the keyboard, when I could have had an additional hour of sleep before work.

Mike, at Watching the Deniers, has recently written two articles relating to Gina Rinehart’s latest attempt to control media in Australia. Mike did what I had been thinking to do in one of the articles,(Oh Lordy: Monckton rejected by his own political party, but “Uncle” Monckton’s effect on Australia’s media landscape is still playing out) in linking it to a relevant video in which Monckton suggests such an action by Australia’s rich and self-interested. Honestly, if anyone truly believes Gina has the interests of anyone else in mind, except for herself, in such a move, that is very telling of such a person. She’s no Princess Di. But why waste time bashing at a keyboard on something blatantly obvious?

No, in the other post, (Rinehart on climate: deeply concerned about our “lack of understanding” on issue), Mike included a quote from Rinehart which annoyed me;

“It is a fact that there have been ice ages, then periods of global warming to end the ice ages, and these have occurred naturally, including due to the earth’s orbit, and not due to mankind at all.”

When I entered this arena back in 2009, this absurd statement by “committed sceptics”* was already dated and yet, to this day, it just won’t die.

In reply to Mike’s post, I made the point that it’s like saying that Mike clearly doesn’t drive simply because in my time, I’ve seen many thousands of cars on the road and not one of them was driven by him. Of course he drives. He has written posts in the past about driving and had video footage of local flooding filmed from inside his car up on his site. That he is not always the reason behind why one car moves doesn’t refute the claim of his driving.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s good enough and still, this isn’t what bugged me enough to motivate this post.

What annoyed me the most – and is perhaps the core reason why I write online at all – is that such a statement goes just as far along the path of reason as is comfortable before taking one hell of a leap of faith. I detest when people attempt use favourable scientific evidence to disprove compelling evidence they are not in favour of.

Of instance; for Rinehart’s argument (well, not only hers, of course) to exist, she needs to accept the following results from climate studies to be accurate;

  • Proxy data accurately outlines many millions of years of climatic conditions on Earth,
  • We can accurately model the shape of the Earth’s orbit and the shifts in degree of the Earth’s axis over time,
  • We can accurately measure and equate the effects of other greenhouse gases over the millennia through ice cores etc (*potentially* as I’m not sure which greenhouse gases, if any, are acceptable in Rinehart’s logic)

All of which, I personally feel are compelling results, at least in long term trends, from amazingly talented researchers tackling difficult fields. Yet, at the same time, she needs to refute other results from climate studies and physical chemistry, such as;

  • The observable absorption of infrared radiation by certain greenhouse gases (most notably, CO2),
  • As much as a couple centuries of direct observations in solar activity, ambient temperature, ecological shifts (ie. timing in blooms, migration, location shifts etc), changes in atmospheric chemistry, sea level height and glacial retreat,
  • A scientific community consisting of many hundreds of thousands of research hours yet unable to find compelling alternative conclusions (of course, the previous two points make it clear enough that CO2 atmospheric concentration changes must make a change to the energy stored in the atmosphere – that is a well known and essential component to the habitability on the surface of this planet). Even though the endless rhetoric is provided by committed sceptics, it fails to shift the expert community from this position (what do these committed sceptics know that experts continually overlook?).

On Christine’s blog, 360orBust, I ran into a similar argument by someone attempting to use the scrap of data we have from Venus to overturn the wealth of data all around us (in this case, the individual had a paper or two in peer-reviewed science literature, so it’s telling that instead of attempted to do the same with this gem of his intellect, he shared it in comment threads, linking back to a New Age book he had written at his mother’s expense).

I must admit, I can see the appeal – it’s far easier to accept valid evidence that supports an idea one already holds onto – but science would get nowhere if we allowed our bias to pick and choose what findings we will accept. Attempting to map out the deep history of climatic conditions of Earth is immensely difficult and by no means as precise as directly measuring climate or firing different spectrum of radiation through known quantities of materials as we are doing today. We should be wearier of former investigation rather than the latter – but for people like Gina Rinehart, it seems the latter is too uncomfortable to acknowledge.

It’s funny with this in mind that Rinehart calls for greater “understanding” of climate science in the public via the media (which she is in the process of gaining influence of), especially when genuine understanding places pressure on the source of her immense wealth.

Climate changes. It has always changed – except for the relative stability of the Holocene, which allowed our species to develop beyond hunters and gatherers to the point we developed “gross domestic product”. Ultimately it would have changed again, whether by our geo-engineering skills (as is currently the reality) or by natural means (as the committed sceptics would have us believe is the situation at hand). We need to come to terms with that. What we don’t need are people who pick and choose from equally valid evidence, based on their personal ideologies, influencing our media.

That will lead to an intellectual black hole.


* In retrospect, I’m more than happy to call those I once considered “deniers” instead “committed sceptics”. Personally, I feel it is the most accurate title that gives such a crowd due respect for what they stand for. The reason for this change of heart comes from recently reading (finally) Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World:

“I’ve tried to stress, at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes – an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthlessly sceptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense. The collective enterprise of creative thinking and sceptical thinking, working together, keeps the field on track. Those two seemingly contradictory attitudes are, though, in some tension…

“If you’re only sceptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything. You become a crochety misanthrope convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) Since major discoveries in the borderlines of science are rare, experience will tend to confirm your grumpiness. But every now and then a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you’re too resolutely and uncompromisingly sceptical, you’re going to miss (or resent) the transforming discoveries in science, and either way you will be obstructing understanding and progress. Mere scepticism is not enough.”

Yes, they are “committed sceptics” and thus immune largely to the scientific debate. This is probably why a reasoned rebuttal will not see the death of such silly arguments.

Work of the Moth