Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Clive Hamilton, Ian Plimer, Climate Change, Post Modernism and a dash of ageism

Why am I reminded of Ian Plimer shrieking about Stalinist show trials when I read Clive Hamilton rabbiting on about post-modernism in his discussion of climate change?

What post modernism or even Lacanian analysis has to do with climate change is one of the deeper mysteries of scientific knowledge.

But never no mind, let's look at Clive's analysis of climate change sceptics and their scepticism in Nature will deal with sceptics.

But first a step down memory lane. Remember how climate change sceptics argue that governments are in conspiracy mode, and tame scientists, beaten down by the desire to get grants and keep tenure, have gone along for the ride? 

They're part of a reprehensible power grabbing scientific elite, so the argument runs, a scientific establishment determined not to listen to the howling of the loons. Cheap paranoid thinking, right? Cue Clive about the despair of American physicists confronted by dissent in the shape of books like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring:

The criticism of the hitherto unquestioned place of science and technology destabilised the power and privilege of the scientific elite. Frederick Seitz himself wrote of his depression over the new political environment and its assault on the idea of progress through technological advance.

The determination of the scientific elite to defend their privileged place in society was only one manifestation of a broader conservative resistance to the social and cultural transformations brought by the 1960s.

Who do that leet skills like you do that voodoo? And so it seems privileged scientific elites explains not just American scepticism about climate change, it also explains Australian sceptics.

This reading of conservative resistance applies, mutatis mutandis , to Australian sceptics like Ian Plimer, Bob Carter and William Kininmonth — all scientists in their 60s or older, schooled in the unquestioning pre-1970s faith in the power of science and technology. And it explains why their attack on mainstream climate science has such strong appeal to conservative forces in Australia.

For sceptics like these, the dispute is not really about sun spots, hockey stick graphs or the existence of a consensus. In truth it is not about global warming at all; it is about defending a set of conservative values and privileges that are threatened by environmentalism. It is a plea for a return to an older world order.

You know, that kind of arbitrary, evasive disputation is almost enough to turn me into a climate sceptic. WTF? With a wave of a hand and a flourish we dispense with the need to argue about graphs or causes. Instead it's a zeitgeist thing. It's all about conservative values and privileges threatened by environmentalism and a plea for an older world order? WTF?  It's not really about global warming at all?

Does that mean with people like Clive Hamilton it's not about graphs, or consensus, or sun spots? It's just a plea for a turn to a new world order?

Does Hamilton have any idea just how much he sounds like Andrew Bolt in an echo chamber?

Hamilton does manage to get onto a bit safer ground by having a bash at the loons who've flocked to support Plimer - Christopher Pearson being amongst the most egregious - and tweaking the nose of The Australian's editor Chris Mitchell for his bizarre editorial policies. It's good sport, and we all enjoy bashing the fundie loons as they flock to their own corner of the pond for some congratulatory crowing around Plimer.

But then he hares off into his own brand of delusional thinking, criticising Plimer and others for having "a faith in the ability of man to control his own destiny through the rigorous application of reason."

Would that be anything like the ability of man (bugger off women) to control the temperature of the planet and its destiny through the rigorous application of reason, science, and lifestyle choices, and by making sure the remote control on the planet's air conditioner is working, and it's set to an office friendly 22 degrees during sunlight hours?

It seems it's all the fault of geologists:

It takes on a slightly different shade among older geologists who see their life’s work as contributing to human wealth and prosperity through providing the building blocks for almost everything — pharmaceuticals, transportation, heating, cooling, all of the comforts of modern life.

Those who work with the mining industry tend to absorb the view that human progress depends on mining and its products more than anything else. It was a view common enough among his peers, but Plimer seems to cleave to a belief in the supremacy power of science and technology more dogmatically than most.

Except those of course who argue for the supremacy of science and technology in the matter of global warming, and cleave to the belief that we must embrace science and technology to control the temperature of the planet (unless of course you want to don a used chaff bag and sit in the dark in a cave munching on lettuce). 

And presumably using the powers of mining to turn up minerals we can put to more canny and carbon effective uses so we can keep our mobile lifestyle, and still eat cake as well. (At least if you're a Thomas Friedmanite).

Remember also how climate change folk always complain about the sceptics playing the man, and not the ball (bugger off women, this is a man's game, like rugby league in New Zealand motels)?

Well Clive dishes it out to Plimer for his obsessive attacks on creationists and his irrational attacks on tree hugger greenies, and his association with right wing groups like the Institute for Public Affairs, the Lavoisier Group and Ray Evans.

Well yes, Plimer does go on about conspiracy theorists and Stalinists, but what's playing the man produce as an argument? 

Well it seems that Plimer has turned against mainstream science and mainstream scientists, which is presumably not the same mob as the mainstream scientists mentioned earlier who were committed to maintaining the power and privilege of the scientific elite.

It's almost enough to make me want to step out into the streets of Newtown and kick a greenie tree hugger or two, so vexatious and problematic are Hamilton's debating techniques.

But at least he can recognize the sort of arguments he presents when he attacks Plimer's bizarre conspiratorial conceptions of science:

It’s the sort incoherent bogey-man conception that is impossible to argue with. And that’s the thing about the climate sceptics; for all of their claims to be the defenders of the truth and heroes of dissent, they have made themselves immune to the evidence that the real world throws up. There appears to be only one way to deal with the sceptics: wait patiently for them to die off. It shouldn’t take long.

Oh great, at last we're getting to the meat of it, to the evidence that the real world throws up.

Hah, suckers. That's where Clive ends, right where he should begin, with some real world evidence that would shut the doors on the loons. 

Instead he settles for a cheap jibe, an easy shot, a phantom punch worthy of Sonny Liston, by ending with the pious hope that we just wait patiently for the sceptics to die off. 

Whether from mass catastrophic apocalyptic changes in the world, induced by climate change, or just from peaceful old age in a world unaffected by the chimera of climate change, he doesn't get around to mentioning.

Here's my guess: so long as there's people as wilfully problematic as Clive Hamilton out there supporting climate change and the need for change (and deploying abuse and ridicule as the essence of their argument), there will be climate sceptics who object to to the posturing - because the arguments Clive throws up sound just like the loons to whom he takes a post-modernist tomahawk.

The upside? He doesn't once mention the intertubes.

And before any zealots think that I'm changing my spots, there's some real science out there folks. What a pity it doesn't grace the pages of The Australian more often, and what a pity that Clive Hamilton somehow purports to represent it in Crikey. You don't persuade people to your cause by slack arguments, careless disputation, and idle misrepresentations. 

Sounding like Ian Plimer just doesn't cut it, especially when laced with a dash of ageism and spiced with the odd ad hominem attack. 

Is there any chance at all that mainstream media forum tackle the subject with coherence and without the squawking of the loons, or do we have to resign ourselves to a lifetime spent trapped between two loon camps shouting at each other, as the world changes around us? 

(Enough already, perhaps we can debate the spelling of ageism versus agism another time?)

(And here's a nostalgic cartoon for old time's sake, long may those old farts continue to die out).

1 comment:

journeymanj said...

I don't worry or take seriuosly the show on QANDA; neither should the public .Plimer may be venturing into a subject he doesn't know well ( like why ignormamuses want to tell him why he doesn't know things ) but he is not alone - Every clever country competent is at risk from this silly game ---lots of sound and fury signifying war not winning the war . http://designwithnature.blogspot.com