Saturday, July 18, 2009

Scaring the Demos with Computer Models

I found this via the blogroll on Junkfood Science. It is from John Brignell's blog, Number Watch.

Since 1982: a series of scares, beginning with something that can truly be deadly, but affects very few people, somehow turned into a global scare. Scientific-sounding projections are employed: "There were mysterious multipliers, in which one case became millions, as with the early scare of salmonella in eggs (in fact, subsequent extensive surveys failed to produce any cases at all)."

Many of us who were involved in the early days of environmentalism, because of the disgusting and dangerous state of our post-war air and rivers, and had good reason to be satisfied with the progress that had been made, became distressed when the movement was suddenly hijacked by a new force. It seemed to be motivated by a hatred of industry and economic progress. Instead of relying on actual measurements of pollution, it began to extrapolate by means of theories and models. It developed the threat of the New Ice Age. Industrial pollution would block out the sun and plunge the world into an appalling frozen future. In Britain it was irrelevantly defeated by the searing summer of 1976, an isolate statistic that could have no bearing on climate and, though it caused ridicule, was nevertheless a portent of things to come. We innocently assumed that they would withdraw, but they simply did an about turn. Almost without pausing for breath, they converted the threat of an ice age to one of catastrophic global warming. Digging up old papers by the likes of Arrhenius and Callendar, and without a trace of embarrassment, they switched from accusing industry from freezing us to death to claiming that it would roast us. At the time most of us in science treated it all as a joke that no one could possibly take seriously. How wrong we were! We simply could not see that profound changes were taking place in society, that even science and its methods would come under a devastating threat.

Examples highlighted in the book under review: AIDS, asbestos, various disease and food scares, and "the Mother of all Scares," global warming. One interesting note is that Brignell insists on highlighting the role of Margaret Thatcher in this last big scare:

If there is one area in which your reviewer takes a view that is divergent from that of these authors, it is in the role that Britain played in the Mother of all Scares. Sir Crispin Tickell and Margaret Thatcher just get a passing mention. Tickell, a history graduate and diplomat, closely involved with the European Commission and later permanent representative to the United Nations, author of Climatic Change and World Affairs, 1977, was a close advisor to Thatcher, who, with the unique authority of being a political leader and a science graduate, under the influence of Tickell launched Global Warming into the world political domain. If there is a “Typhoid Mary” that spread the contagion of global warming around the world it can only be Tickell; he was closely involved with the very international institutions that promoted it. Thatcher was at war with the Miners’ union and the oil sheiks and was determined to press the case for nuclear power. As so often happened, her tactical manoeuvres defeated her strategic aims. She fostered the creation of a movement that opposed everything she stood for. Revisionists deny that she was all that enthusiastic in the promotion of global warming. Take it from one who sat it the front row at a major speech she made, this is not so; or, failing that, take it from her then loyal lieutenant, Nigel Lawson. She established the Hadley Centre, designed to manufacture evidence for global warming, at the expense of funds diverted with great damage from real science, and subverted the Royal Society by putting money on the table for the same purpose. The Hadley Centre became a main engine for the UN IPCC, which imposed the global warming religion on the world.

Thatcher is of course known as, er, a conservative. I guess the global warmers can say if they want to "even the conservative Margaret Thatcher."

In about 1988 I was teaching at a Lutheran college in Minnesota. We had a guest lecture by the state epidemiologist for Minnesota. There was some joshing about the fact that his bachelor's degree was from a different Lutheran college, to some extent a rival. His presentation was about how AIDS was certain to make major inroads into the heterosexual population, and then the whole population of the U.S. would be effected: exponential growth rates, the model shows, etc. His slides included maps of the U.S. such as you see in the White House Situation Room in movies: next year a few states, in five years half the states, in ten years all the states, or something like that. What Brignell is getting at is that nothing like that ever happened. There was never much real-world data to indicate that it would. AIDS in Canada and the U.S. has remained largely confined to the original high-risk groups: gays who are promiscuous, including those who partook of the old bathhouse scene; drug users who share needles; and some Haitians who suffer from a kind of Third World variant of the disease. One dentist somehow gave AIDS to his patients. One person who moved from Africa to Ontario seems to have given AIDS to virtually all of his sex partners; since he continued to do so after he was diagnosed, he has been convicted of first-degree murder.

For the record, I don't necessarily agree that the new environmentalism is motivated by a hatred of industry and economic progress. As I've said before, there is a kind of baby Marx that says capitalism will kill us somehow unless governments and/or the UN intervene--all we have to do is identify the specific way this will happen; and baby Rousseau that says non-human nature is good, human nature is evil. (Rousseau sometimes says human beings were happier in a more "primitive" time when they lived in accord with nature, and this would include having some trees and salamanders that had not been destroyed for "progress"; but it was human happiness he cared about, not trees and salamanders in themselves).

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