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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

From the noggin of the greybeard

That James Lovelock is a strange case, as discussed by Natalie here on Monday. After hearing him on the Today programme the other day, I had to interrupt my bath and rush off to make notes, yelling to my wife as I went that he’s an old charlatan. The immediate provocation was the claim that’s bothered me in the past and had me quarrelling with fellow members of a science journalists’ mailing-list – the claim that global warming could cut the world’s population to a billion. I don’t know where he got this from, but it’s fixed in his head now – he keeps saying it. He talks of the scientific sin against the Holy Ghost being to fudge the data, but there’s another mortal sin too – lending the weight of your authority to pronouncements made in a field in which you’re not actually expert. Calculating the demographic effects of such a geophysical change, if it’s possible at all, would be the province of a team of – what? – geoscientists, economists, geographers, sociologists (sociologists – right, yeah, duh, like they’re really going to be any use – as the young people say). It’s not something that can just be dreamed up in the noggin of an old greybeard who did some useful geophysics decades ago and then got deified for the barmy green non-hypothesis of Gaia.

When I read the notes of his Guardian interview published by Leo Hickman on the paper’s environment blog, I found the charlatanism mixed with all sort of stuff that sounds superficially congenial to libertarians. But it’s clear that he’s got no clear ideological compass to make sense of it all. He seems to think that climate science is in a mess because all these terrible oiks were churned out by state-funded education instead of the right sort of chap, like himself, that we had in the good old days. And the journalists are to blame too, presumably for demanding sensationalist answers from those naturally bashful creatures, the climatologists.

Whereas the journalists, when they do their job right, are part of the solution – part of the scrutiny that all specialists need.

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22 comments to From the noggin of the greybeard

  • Wait, I thought that the Greens do want the Earth’s population to shrink? This is all so confusing.

  • Eric

    …those naturally bashful creatures, the climatologists.

    Hahaha.

  • Kevin B

    I think you’re right Alisa, this is an aspiration, not an expectation for Lovelock and the Gaiaists. Whilst for many of them it’s more some sort of wistful desire to live their lives in some sort of 17th century romantic novel, far too many of them they truly believe in the ‘humans as virus’ meme and they would happily sacrifice their fellows in order to satisfy their goddess.

  • You know, I always subscribed to the notion of ‘know thy enemy’, but I am now in the process of rethinking it. If by ‘knowing’ that Chinese guy meant knowing who they are and being able to identify them correctly, then I think I’m all set. If, though, by ‘knowing’ he also meant ‘understanding’, then I think that as good as that idea is, there is a limit, and I think I am very close to approaching it. Green, red, brown – they all have their ideological nuances, but there should also be room for some good old color blindness, I think. A sort of equal-opportunity collectivists bashing.

  • Alisa,

    Call it variations on a theme.

  • pete

    ‘but there’s another mortal sin too – lending the weight of your authority to pronouncements made in a field in which you’re not actually expert’

    Prince Charles and Al Gore do and the eco-alarmists just love them, even though both of them make the average American seem like a stone age man when it comes to energy frugality – or any kind of frugality.

    Lovelock is simply following the rules of the eco-faith. If you believe you are then you are right.

  • Yes Cats, down with them all, the bastards.

  • Funny how those demanding we must all die are the ones with guns who say “after you…”.

  • What I found interesting about the Lovelock piece is that he admits this:

    “The great climate science centres around the world are more than well aware how weak their science is… It’s almost naive, scientifically speaking, to think we can give relatively accurate predictions for future climate. There are so many unknowns that it’s wrong to do it.”

    And yet he still says this:

    “We need a more authoritative world. We’ve become a sort of cheeky, egalitarian world where everyone can have their say… You’ve got to have a few people with authority who you trust who are running it… It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”

    And this being the Guardian, the tension between the first statement and the second passes entirely unremarked.

  • I, for one, truly appreciate his honesty.

  • manuel II paleologos

    There seems to be a tendency to hold back from criticising him simply because he’s old. Well, no such ageism for me. He’s an evil nut job.

    His attempt to fly above the battlefield by pointing to the weakness of the AGW argument but suggesting that this somehow bolsters his own idiotic theories is despicable.

    And his “gaia” theory is what future generations will point to when they want to laugh at how superstitious and ignorant people were in olden times.

  • “He seems to think that climate science is in a mess because all these terrible oiks were churned out by state-funded education instead of the right sort of chap, like himself, that we had in the good old days. And the journalists are to blame too, presumably for demanding sensationalist answers from those naturally bashful creatures, the climatologists”

    Those both seem like sound observations to me. They don’t immediately lead anywhere in policy terms, but as far as they go, they’re pretty plausible.

  • Stephen Fox

    What strikes me as odd about Lovelock is that one minute he’s proposing a Gaia organism earth that regulates itself in such a way as to sustain life, and the next he goes along with a theory that says that minuscule increases in a trace gas will throw the climate into hysterics.
    Doesn’t seem to hang together, but I expect the money makes up for that.

  • It’s a curious article. Both sides seem to hate it.

    It has a peculiar inconsistency, like his head is on the side of the sceptics, but somehow his heart is still with the Green alarmists. He’s saying how the science is iffy and the scientists stupid and corrupt, but at the same time believing the catastrophic scenarios will turn out to be true. The Greenies think he’s gone senile, while the sceptics think he’s still nutty-Green.

    How do you face post-Climategate reality while maintaining your world view intact?

    While I obviously don’t agree with his bit about suspending democracy, it’s a common enough custom outside tight libertarian circles that the rules may be suspended in genuine emergencies to have passed without comment. We don’t first ask permission to enter somebody else’s building if it is on fire and people need rescuing. People notice it more in this case, because it isn’t clear that it even is an emergency, or that their proposal is the best response to it. We find him stood in our living rooms uninvited, unplugging the TV, and telling us of a raging fire we cannot see.

    But there is a distinction between declaring an emergency to justify your breaking the rules, and breaking the rules in a genuine emergency. He’s clearly not a libertarian to propose either – but then, many (most?) people aren’t.

    Incidentally, that bit about the Gaia organism sustaining life; that misses the point. The Gaia metaphor is that Gaia looks after Gaia, not its individual components. Gaia cares no more for humanity than you do for your skin bacteria. Life will continue and adapt, but Lovelock’s belief is that it might well adapt by killing off humanity. We are no more immune to extinction than the trilobites. And we can do nothing to stop it.

  • Chris Cooper

    @ AMcguinn:

    “He seems to think that climate science is in a mess because all these terrible oiks were churned out by state-funded education instead of the right sort of chap, like himself, that we had in the good old days. And the journalists are to blame too, presumably for demanding sensationalist answers from those naturally bashful creatures, the climatologists”

    Those both seem like sound observations to me. They don’t immediately lead anywhere in policy terms, but as far as they go, they’re pretty plausible.

    I wouldn’t blame the woes of climate science on state education, much as I disapprove of the latter. I’d blame a mix of environmentalist enthusiasm, corruption by new-found power, prestige and funding, and insulation from outside scrutiny.

    And while some of the journalists are egging on the climate scientists to provide tales of catastrophe, there are others who are only too pleased to flay them for doing just that. They’ll write any story that sells.

    The role of the politicians interests me. Could there be a clearer demonstration that in democratic politics the politicians are not driven by the will of the people? Climate alarmism is deeply unpopular and mistrusted among the mass of the population, but passionately loved among various elites, and it’s the latter that the politicians are scared of.

  • I must say I feel more warmly towards him after reading this :

    “it’s clear that he’s got no clear ideological compass to make sense of it all”

    And thank God for that. He may be a crazy mixed-up old Lovelock (from cogent reminders of the pressures of tenure, publication, giving the funders what they want etc to ‘we may have to suspend democracy’) but at least he tells it how he sees it.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Like Al McGuinn, I somewhat agree with Lovelock that the press corrupted (and the politicians) the scientists. Climatology has been deformed by decades of incentives from the press and politicians to talk up AGW. There are climatologists who were all too willing to jump on the bandwagon, but the bandwagon was not created by them.

    Chris Cooper: There is lots of other evidence for a current disconnect between the people and the elites. On the death penalty, same-sex marriage, abortion, and immigration, the views of the general public are are regularly overruled by the views of the elites. In the U.S., it seems that no amount of popular sentiment can get enforcement of border security, or any restriction whatever on abortion. In Europe, the death penalty abolished despite popular sentiment, and of course the imposition of the EU “Constitution”.

    Charles Murray noted that per the General Social Survey, all segments of U.S. society moved slightly rightward, while the “intellectual elite” segment moved sharply left. So today: Left opinions are now a mark of “intellectual elite” status. The Right is deficient in intellectual leadership and becoming acutely hostile to “eggheads”. The “intellectual community” is a Left monoculture, in political control (many Right leaders are intimidated by the monoculture.) and dismissive of popular dissent.

  • @Pa Annoyed “We are no more immune to extinction than the trilobites. And we can do nothing to stop it.”

    Reminds me of that Hitchens statement about the Sun going postal in 6m years and that the human race is almost certainly not going to be around to witness it. Evolution would have dealt with us long before. Unless they don’t ban zoos.

  • Kevin B

    Richard North today documents the interesting transition of Mark Sereze of the NSIDC from cautious scientist, warning that Arctic sea ice varied naturally, to rabid warmist, predicting doom for the Arctic within decades and calling those who disagreed “profoundly ignorant “, and back to measured scientist warning that we musn’t read too much into one event.

    His conversions seem to follow, rather than lead, the extent of Arctic sea ice, though we must be careful to note that correlation does not equal causation and that confounding factors, (grant money, fame or notoriety, bandwagon jumping, etc.), may play a part.

  • Tim,

    Yeah. The clock is ticking.

    But Lovelock has suggested 80% of us will be gone by the end of the century.

    (PS. The sun goes pop in about 4-5 billion years. I nevertheless plan to be there to see it.)

  • Whitehall

    The nuclear power industry lobby in the US (Nuclear Energy Institute) was all a flutter about Lovelock’s endorsement of nuclear power as a remedy for AGW.

    I warned our guys that laying down with dogs would mean you get up with flies. NEI has endorsed AGW as a way to get government support for new nuclear. This is a BIG mistake – as Climategate propagates and Lovelock and the like spout off such idiocies, the public will associate the AGW scam with nuclear.

    Better to sit back, keep your nose clean, don’t make sketchy associations, and await the return of reason.

  • Laird

    “. . . and await the return of reason.”

    I hope I live that long, but I’m not optimistic.