‘Balancing’ the Climate Consensus


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An interview with John Gibbons, formerly of the Irish Times

John Gibbons has covered the issue of climate change for the Irish Times for the past two years. Several weeks ago his weekly column abruptly came to an end. In his final piece Gibbons took the mainstream media to task over their climate coverage:

“Ireland’s most senior climate expert, Prof John Sweeney of NUI Maynooth, acknowledged last week that climate-change deniers were “winning the propaganda war”. Chief among them, he added, were deniers from the ranks of journalism and lobbying.

“A media and telecommunications industry fuelled by advertising and profit maximisation is part of the problem,” Lewis and Boyce point out.

In Ireland, this even extends to the State broadcaster. The boom years swelled its coffers with an advertising bonanza, and much of this found its way into the pockets, not of lowly researchers, but of elite broadcasters. Millionaire “journalists” have a profound yet undeclared personal vested interest in the consumption-driven economic status quo upon which their wealth is predicated. As, of course, do billionaire media proprietors. They in turn seek out affirmation of their own biases, and ridicule dissenters. These value systems are internalised just as thoroughly as those of the editor 56 years ago and his papal hiccups “scoop”.

The next time you hear someone in the media drone on about having a “balanced debate” on climate change, sustainability or resource depletion, keep in mind the wag’s definition of a well-balanced Irishman: he’s the one with a chip on both shoulders.” [Media’s misplaced ‘impartiality’ on Climate, John Gibbons, Irish Times, 4/2/10]

Along with Tony Kinsella, a colleague of Gibbons’, the Irish Times has found itself two journalists down. Two journalists who had, coincidentally, frequently challenged some of the dominant myths of modern journalism such as the persistent threat of ‘Islamic terrorism‘ and the sacredness of financial markets.

So on the occasion that Ireland’s respected ‘liberal’ newspaper becomes that much less diverse, we’d like to thank John Gibbons for offering us the opportunity to discuss the issue of media bias in relation to the issue of Climate Change.

(JG – John Gibbons, MB – MediaBite, David Manning)

MB: How did you find yourself writing for the Irish Times?

JG: I trained as a journalist 25 years ago, worked in mainstream newspapers back in the late 80’s and ended up in specialist journalism, as in medical journalism, leading me to set up my own business in ’91. About 5 or 6 years ago I became aware of environmental issues, specifically climate change and began reading obsessively into the subject. I was astonished by the lack of media interest.

I should say that I don’t consider myself a ‘greeny’ in any classic sense of the word, but once the penny drops about environmental science, it really drops. I approached it like ‘John Citizen’, someone who had stumbled upon some disturbing facts and assumed they must be wrong since they called into question everything I thought I knew.

MB: Was there a turning point?

JG: A book called ‘Something New Under the Sun’ by a geography professor from Georgetown University called John McNeill. It is a history of the biosphere from 1900 to 1999. His conclusion was very simple, it wasn’t a polemic and it wasn’t about climate change, he was writing from the point of view of earth systems, extraction and depletion of resources.

We’ve never had a century like the 20th century. We used more energy in the 20th century than in the 19 preceding centuries. It was an astonishing pinnacle of human achievement, but never to be repeated. Whatever happens, the 21st century won’t be a repeat as there aren’t enough resources.

No matter how deep you dig, no matter how far you cast your net, we are running against a wall in terms of resources. Once you understand that, civilisation, capitalism, development, human progress takes a completely different frame, because I was brought up in a paradigm that things were tough in the past, they are better now and I can offer my kids something better in the future.

My related turning point was that this occurred about the time of the birth of my first child. So suddenly I got very interested in the state of the planet in 2040 and 2050, which might seem very abstract, but my eldest daughter will be younger than I am now in 2050.

So the question I asked was what are we leaving that generation? That generation includes anyone under 40, not forgetting that most over 40s have a connection, a blood connection, with the younger generation, so nobody can just wash their hands of it.

Taking that starting point I set up www.climatechange.ie and www.thinkorswim.ie. The purpose of which was to educate myself and also to write myself into the subject. I wrote 100-150,000 words, I read, interviewed, blitzing myself with information. I also wanted to create a resource that didn’t exist in Ireland in 2006 / 2007. Various government websites existed but they tended to focus on changing light bulbs etc and this notion that every little helps which I don’t subscribe to. It won’t, it goes far deeper than that.

So I partially sinecured myself from my business for a couple of years.  I then approached the Irish Times with the idea, which I felt was the natural newspaper for this sort thing, the closest to a liberal newspaper in the tradition of the Guardian in the UK. They ran a few articles and it turned into a weekly column quite fast. This went on for 2 years, about 90,000 words, and then came to a halt in the last four weeks.

MB: Did you have any goals set out when you found it was going to become a running thing? Did you want to provide readers with that turning point?

JG: I wanted people to have the epiphany that I had. That moment when you realise nothing will ever be the same again. It’s a pretty profound moment  When you have it you go from seeing the world as you thought it was, to the world as it is. It’s really a ‘Matrix’ moment, it’s certainly the most profound experience I’ve had. And as I said before I come to this as a professional journalist, a hard chaw, an employer, definitely not a ‘greeny’ or a ‘tree hugger’.

But then you’re presented with these facts in an unmissable way. This is the key point, the mountain of scientific evidence in this; you do not need to believe in climate science, it doesn’t depend on what happened in the University of East Anglia. Just pull out a geography book, it will tell you the same thing. The entire spectrum of physical sciences are telling us exactly the same thing and that is we are running out of planet.

MB: Did you feel at any point that when you were positioning your articles, because I presume you were working detached from the Irish Times office…

JG: Very much so, in the hundred articles I would say I had editorial input only on half a dozen, that’s the nature of a column, you do your own thing…

MB: Did you ever feel that your articles were in any way detracted from by the setting? For instance, I don’t normally buy the Irish Times or Independent but I bought them today and had a flick through on the way here. The Irish Times is running a half page ad on a new competition they are running which offers readers dream weddings abroad…

JG: I guess the worst experience I’ve had is that one day the same page that I was on had a book review right beside my article of a shabby book by a journalist called Christopher Booker, a hack for the Sunday Telegraph who is a climate change denier and the Irish Times in its wisdom decided to make that the book of the day and got Henry Kelly, an ex-Irish Times journalist from the 70’s to review the book and how it “skillfully debunks the myths of global warming”. That for me was a real low point.

MB: How long ago was this?

JG: Only 3 months ago. I debated it with Henry in a full and frank exchange on RTE radio subsequently. Myles Dungan was in the chair…

MB: With Ruth Dudley Edwards?

JG: The media in Ireland is infested with ten-a-penny climate sceptics…

MB: John Waters, Kevin Myers, Pat Kenny…

JG: Derek Davis, Tom McGurk…

MB: Ryle Dwyer in the Irish Examiner…

JG: You throw a stick and you will hit a journalistic climate sceptic.  You will also find that most of them are over 60, they think they have seen it all and that these environmental types are extremists, apostles, believers. Ironically they try and ascribe religious overtones to people who are by and large not very religious.

MB: The new religion…

JG: The new cult of climate. The fact is that people who ‘believe’ in climate science have nothing to go on other than peer reviewed science but for most of us that’s enough, considering that’s how we got out of the caves in the first place.

MB: Why do you think 20 years after first IPCC report we are still debating climate science? I know you have mentioned some of the older ‘sceptics’ but even the likes of Mark Little and Miriam O’Callaghan, RTE in general, take numerous opportunities to portray environmentalism in a negative light.

JG: It’s a good point. I’m pretty sure that part of the problem is journalism itself. The structure of journalism – and remember I did come up through conventional journalism training so I do understand it. We are trained to get the two sides of a story. So our job isn’t really about getting the facts, it’s about getting everyone’s opinion. We are like the conveners of debate.

The Pat Kennys of the world will behave like they are organising a cock fight.  His job is simply to facilitate a scrap, which is considered good radio. Broadcast journalism is essentially looking for good air and good air means a lively debate. Now there’s a world of difference between a lively debate and an informed discussion.

Informed discussions can tend to be largely dull because when you have a group of scientists, geographers, physicists, climatologists etc round a table and you ask them whether we have a problem, the answer is ‘yes’. “Do any of you disagree?” “No.” “Well then, how do we go forward?” “We have a range of options…”

And guess what? Those options are pretty mundane. So a lot of journalists choke in that kind of situation, they consider it dead air. What they want instead is the guy over here saying “no it’s all rubbish, this is a conspiracy” and journalists love conspiracies. Most of us were brought up on the Watergate papers and we are absolute suckers for conspiracies.

Therefore the 2% or maybe 3% of the scientific community that are crying foul are getting 50% of the coverage.  At the moment they are probably getting 60-70% of the coverage. They represent in scientific terms ‘outliers’. In scientific surveys you always get outliers. However, you never go on the outliers, you always go along the probability curve but what we are getting here is outliers driving the agenda.

Some of them are outliers because they are retired scientists that nobody phoned for ten years, but suddenly their opinion is wanted again and they will pretty much say anything to be relevant again.

You’ll find that climate deniers are people like David Bellamy, scientists from the wrong discipline, who are retired with a chip on their shoulder, who find they are being invited back onto shows again, having been out of the public airwaves for 10 years. They’ve missed it, and they know if they take the contrarian line they will be invited onto the Late Late Show and presented as an anti-establishment heroic figure. The media again is a sucker for anti-establishment figures. Even though the media itself represents an establishment, a very powerful establishment, it sees itself or attempts to caricature itself as being anti-establishment.

MB: However, it tends only to work in one direction. They will accept an ideological turncoat if they take a leap in the direction of corporate power, whereas in the opposite direction it doesn’t seem to be as effective.

JG: I agree. There is an equilibrium point in each individual; this is the point in which they themselves find balance. What I mean by that is that if you have a ‘middle-aged, white, male, middle-class’ view of the world you’ve probably got a fair bit of money in the bank, you’ve got property, you’ve got strong ties to society – as far you’re concerned the world is a pretty good place. That is very pervasive baggage and you’ll find that description would fit maybe 75-80% of media owners, senior editors and senior broadcasters.

Their ontological security, their notion of the way the world is, the way it’s always been, feels deeply threatened by someone coming along and saying “everything you know is wrong”. And they recoil violently against it. I’ve sat as close to Pat Kenny as I am with you and I was practically getting hit with spit he was so furious at someone like me daring to challenge the consensus view of the world that Pat Kenny broadcasts 5 days a week. And what disturbs him even more is that I don’t even look like a tree hugger so I must be some kind of crazy and his job is to expose me and he will go to great lengths to find somebody somewhere to prove that anyone who says this must not be playing with the full deck. The resistance to this information is extraordinary.

I’m not a scientist, but I have spoken to scientists quite a lot who have been mugged by journalists.  They are often getting toasted in media interviews – some are now refusing to do interviews because they don’t know how to deal with hostile broadcasters and reporters who don’t want this message to be right. And now they have found a few crumbs of mistakes in the IPCC report and they are grasping at these crumbs saying: “There! I knew you lot were up to something!”

But the notion that the world’s scientific community is collectively engaged in some kind of giant con is worse than a joke to anybody who knows anything about how science progresses.

MB: While I agree there is to some extent a public love of conspiracy, there are only certain types of conspiracy that are acceptable to indulge in. The likes of the 9/11 conspiracy, that’s not up for public debate.

JG: The holocaust conspiracy for instance.

MB: Who sets the professional and ethical standards for media debate? For instance, who or what influences Pat Kenny’s journalism?

JG: In his case, he is an editorial free zone. What I mean by that is that because of his position in the organisation he is not subject to editorial oversight. He would be quite an exceptional case – one of the big fish who are allowed to sail through the net. The net is only designed to catch smaller journalists. So they operate in they very own frame of how they see the world.

Somebody who springs to my mind is Morris Neligan, a very distinguished surgeon, a life time of service to scientific method in medicine and yet he is a climate sceptic who believes it’s all a big conspiracy. Specifically it’s considered a lefty conspiracy to take away our freedom, our prosperity – that somehow or other you lost the cold war, this is communism redux, a new version of socialism, you are trying to control the cars we drive, the flights we take.

This is often because greenies are poor and young, and so relatively powerless, therefore jealous of us affluent middle class people. Or if they are not, they are zealots, ideological zealots.

What we are getting is a redux of the Cold War which finished up in around 1990. I think the people who won the Cold War – the bare knuckle capitalists let’s say – think the greatest threat to their hegemony now is climate science. So climate science must be destroyed.

As you know there are between 2 and 3,000 full time lobbyists working in Washington with the specific purpose to undermine the US’s ability to ever produce solid climate legislation and they’ll be effective in their work.

I do believe that mindset is shared by retired consultant surgeons who are worth a lot of money, who are ideologically on the other end of the spectrum of young people who are left wing. Many of the media owners and controllers fall into that category. They believe they are threatened by this. And you know what? They are right. But not in the way they think they are. They believe if they resist this, shoot it down and rubbish it, it will go away.

There is also a belief in journalism that climate science is ‘one of those things’: “Didn’t you tell us that the ozone layer was going to fall down a while ago?”

I debated with Henry Kelly on air about the ozone layer and I explained to him that because of the intervention of climate science we identified the problem, removed CFCs, and removed the problem.

His response was: “Yeah, well what does that prove?” But he was prepared to write a piece about something in a national newspaper and then debate it on national radio without even knowing the rudiments, the most basic rudiments.

It would be like having a political reporter not knowing the names of our political parties. That’s an extraordinary thing that I’ve found here, ignorance is no obstacle to people engaging as climate sceptics.

MB: Is that not a dereliction of duty on the part of the editor of that newspaper and the producer of that radio show? To create a debate with fundamentally lopsided panellists.

JG: I agree. I could have argued that on the case of the Myles Dungan show. But at least Myles is open to discussion, yet he still falls back into the trap of wanting to produce ‘good air’.

MB: One of the comments he made on that show, a show billed as a discussion on climate change was a response to a point you made.  He said: “I don’t want to get bogged down in the science.” And that’s a common theme, for instance Miriam O’Callaghan…

JG: Yes, I remember her interrupting a scientist trying to explain a technical point on Prime Time saying: “we’re losing our audience.” The sceptics know that, they know they can throw in a hand grenade and by the time you have defused it the damage is already done. To be honest, if I wanted an easy ride I’d just switch sides and become a climate sceptic because any monkey can become a climate sceptic.

It’s like the difference between making something and destroying something. The effort required to make something is extraordinary, the effort required to drop it on the ground is minimal. Clearly what we have with climate sceptics is that they are taking years of scientific work and just dropping it on the ground, saying “Look, it’s broken.”

MB: In your last piece [for the Irish Times] you referenced the University of Cardiff School of Journalism’s study on climate change reporting. The last study they conducted that gained a certain amount of attention was on the Iraq War, where they found that the media – particularly the BBC – had toed the government line. You also criticised the entirety of Irish media, have you had a reaction?

JG: Very little, I think they are just glad he’s gone away. A newspaper like the Irish Times prides itself, and rightly so, as being liberal, but in this sense liberal means letting the people in the fringes have a go and the difficulty was that I was mainstreaming, non-mainstream thought. And this ultimately was the undoing of the column. I was like a movie without a happy ending. I wasn’t saying ‘we have faced these challenges and now everything will be fine’. I was refusing to engage in the ‘final act’ – four acts for a tragedy, five for comedy. I didn’t finish by saying: “If we all put our rubbish in the right coloured bins we are going to be fine.” I was simply calling it as I saw it, we are approaching a cliff and to deal with that we have to first accept it, something I repeated week in and week out.

Every Cassandra suffers the same fate, you are cursed because no one will believe you and by the time they do, it won’t matter. That’s my chief learning after this, nobody is listening, nobody wants to listen and nothing will change.

MB: What you were writing in the Times was always going to be presented in a way that made it appear slightly strange, as the paper generally provides an economic analysis that promotes ‘progress’ and ‘growth’ above all else. There’s little doubt for instance, that if the banks suddenly started lending tomorrow we wouldn’t all be building property portfolios again. I’m not sure whether this goes beyond the obvious commercial restraints, whether it is an inability of the media to look forward, restricted in the sense that it can only comment on what has already happened. Are there voices in the media that have this forward looking perspective?

JG: I think there are people that understand these issues; it would be hard to believe there wouldn’t be. But I was in the unusual position in that I am financially independent. Many journalists don’t have that luxury. So I was only prepared to write it one way, I wasn’t amenable to write it some other way. I wasn’t that interested in how it would go down because the purpose of the column wasn’t to perpetuate itself.

If that was your objective you could play it a lot smarter. You could write a lot more feel-good, branch away from the unpleasant stuff and write about the 30 kph bike zone in Dublin city centre, which is a good news story, something most of us can agree on.

Environmentalism can after-all be reduced to cleaning up things, but who wants to have the cleanest berth on the Titanic? If you are not looking at this issue system wide, it doesn’t matter. I’ve really lost interest in the minutiae of environmental gestures because I’ve realised it simply doesn’t matter. I wanted to share the information with people that would spur them to act.

MB: Going back the problem of scientific succinctness, is there an argument that scientists that are not able to play the media game shouldn’t go on television at all? An encounter I remember is between the maker of industry funded anti-environmentalism documentaries ‘Mine Your Own Business’ and ‘Not Evil, Just Wrong’, Phelim MacAleer, who was put up against Dr. Kieran Hickey, a geographer and climate change expert, where MacAleer nearly ‘won’ the debate using a mixture of theatrics and false assertions. How is it that scientists go on air without a proper understanding of the way the media works, the time restraints, the type of language needed etc?

JG: It’s because they are scientists not media people. MacAleer on the other hand is a hack going back many years with the Sunday Times and so on and he is clever with sound bites. I heard him on the radio recently and he claimed to have read several times the IPCC’s fourth report, which runs to nearly 3,000 pages.

Now, the reality is that the Chief authors of the report would tell you they haven’t read the whole thing, because they couldn’t. They read their sections. Yet he went on the radio repeating this fabrication several times over and then proceeded to attack an actual scientist who admitted he had only read sections of it, which he then held up as some sort of vindication of his position.

It was a brilliant move, completely untrue, but un-provable, because the arbitrator in this debate, our friend Pat Kenny, was never going to do what I would have done which would have been to challenge MacAleer to discuss the specifics of the report he had claimed to have read several times over.

But I don’t believe that if you put scientists on media training courses it would be beneficial.  They might do a bit better but that’s not their field of expertise. They are involved in the language of equivocation and the business of uncertainty.

MB: They can’t separate the two mindsets?

JG: They can’t suddenly go from dealing with scientific uncertainty in the laboratory to going on the radio acting like a soap salesman. That’s not how science works, they don’t make absolute statements. Ben Goldacre’s book ‘Bad Science’ is a brilliant expose of this gulf between how science works and the caricature of science that is in the media.

What the likes of the Daily Mail does is play with the caricature of the nutty professor, the notion that science is somehow capricious, arbitrary and constantly changing its mind. Science works in exactly the opposite direction.

Consensus building is layering of knowledge, gradual, painful elimination of error and moving ever closer to a better version of reality – a less false version. Human reasoning often works in exactly the opposite direction; we depend on anecdotal reasoning, heuristics etc.

Pat Kenny for instance, starts with a conclusion and then marshals information supportive of that conclusion, before arguing it. Science argues in exactly the opposite direction. The purpose of science is to dismantle favourite pet theories and not to work towards conclusion, but to see where facts take us.

I don’t think science is compatible with the media, media doesn’t work that way, it always has an agenda, always has a conclusion. The attention span of the media has also been lost.  In October 2007 the IPCC published it’s fourth assessment report and there was a huge spike in serious media coverage and even newspapers like the Sunday Times fell into line but what happened? Nothing, the sky hasn’t fallen in. And the people who stayed with that story, tried to explain it, we are becoming the Chicken Lickens. We are now being parodied: “Oh that lot, they promised us the sun was going to crash into the earth and look, we’ve just had the coldest winter ever.”

I think there is strong feeling in the media that they’ve been had about climate change. The Climategate errors and smear campaign over the stolen emails has fed into a predisposition that is sceptical in the genuine sense of the word and they are thinking ‘we’ve been had’. This weather has unhinged a lot of otherwise sensible people – it’s freezing, and it’s been freezing for 6 weeks. Yet I read only recently that globally we’ve just had the hottest January that has ever been recorded. The Daily Express this morning has a front page joke headline which says ‘Don’t laugh but hottest January ever!’ with an accompanying picture of someone in two feet of snow. So there’s the difference between what we can see with our eyes, which the media are good at reporting and slow moving threats, which they are extremely bad at.

MB: How do those papers, which consider themselves the intelligent, thoughtful media, explain the fact that over the last 20 years they haven’t provided their readers with the knowledge and insight to understand that this Climategate scandal is just a blip on an otherwise consensus issue?

JG: I’m not sure they would see it that way. They’ll tell you their job is to report the news and that it is not their job to campaign.

MB: Is it necessarily ‘campaigning’? It’s a reality, a scientific certainty. There is no campaign about gravity after all. It seems to me anyway that the fact we are still forced to debate this issue is evidence of a complete failure on the part of the media.

JG: I would even say we are going backwards, we are regressing. I’ve been very close to it for quite some time and the level of scepticism and cynicism among colleagues in the media and even friends has heightened enormously. But I genuinely think there was a fatigue.  You’ve heard of charity fatigue, well we have a climate fatigue here where we have been warned about something apocalyptic. It hasn’t happened, then something comes along, a.k.a. this weather, which triggers that anecdotal part of your brain which says ‘this isn’t right’, combined with some wishful thinking and mushed together by a media that is loving this. Suddenly you have instant scepticism everywhere. It’s an extraordinary inversion.

MB: I agree, but there are some elements that don’t fit. For instance, when hurricane Katrina happened and other recent catastrophes, those people who rightly or wrongly tied those events to instability or unpredictability due to climate change were rubbished as well. So what appears as anecdotal evidence is entertained in one instance and disregarded in another.

JG: So you’re going back to your paradigm, where it depends on which end of the telescope you are looking through. I entirely concur that there is a structural problem here, if you look at media ownership in Ireland for instance. On that score the Irish Times is far and away the closest thing we have to an independent, with a lower case ‘i’, newspaper in the country.

Yet it falls within a paradigm, which has worked well for a lot of people, for a good many years. But it’s a jelly mould that has become redundant in a situation like this. With this issue you are taking them to places they don’t want to go.

Most broadcasters and newspapers are businesses, they are profit driven, advertiser centric. In my own case, while it was never explicitly put to me this way, clearly I was scaring the horses. Because I’m suggesting, for example that consumption and increased levels of consumption are counter productive and dangerous, that’s a red hot poker to your advertisers.

MB: Even if you take out the motoring, holiday and property supplements, the paper is there to sell a certain lifestyle that is often defined by consumption.

JG: I recently wrote an article about the Tobin Tax. What spurred it on was that they had an entire supplement in the newspaper devoted to spread-betting. They wouldn’t have a supplement in the newspaper about how to let your house out to drug dealers but as a moral equivalent it is there and thereabouts.

Barely 2 years after the crash of 2008 and we are back running supplements on spread-betting, a practice which is essentially derivatives on speed. This is being presented in the same font as the main newspaper; it is therefore presented as news. There is no doubt that advertisers have driven this need.

MB: There’s plenty of contradictions, for instance there is one in the Irish Times today – a whole supplement on ‘outsourcing’. So in the main paper they have reports on further job losses and in the supplements they are advising on how to make use of cheap labour abroad.

One thing we haven’t spoken about is lobbying in Ireland, does it exist and how effective is it?

JG: In terms of environmental lobbying?

MB: Corporate lobbying in America seems to be quite straightforward. The lobbyist arrives on MSNBC, they don’t declare their interests and then they proceed to declare the need to increase the military budget or whatever policy that might benefit the interests they represent. Does anything similar to that exist in Ireland?

JG: It’s much more subtle. I don’t see that type of lobbying playing a major part, most of the censorship is internal, it’s rarely externalised like that. In a lot of cases you are pushing against open doors anyway. You are dealing with people of a similar mindset, who are concerned only with getting ‘growth’ going again. If you were to remove that term from the English language you would render most politicians and media personalities dumb, it is like a mantra.

MB: Is that an indictment of Irish journalism?

JG: Absolutely, Irish journalism is like a chicken without a head sometimes. They are running around gathering things without actually sitting down and asking: “What are we building here?” For intelligent people to unquestioningly buy into a system that will kill us – not may or could, but will – in the lifetime of our own children.

We are getting closer to the truth here I feel, it’s a form of nihilism – where people know the game is up, they then trash the place. It’s something akin to prisoners burning down their own prison wing.

I do believe that way down in our primordial brain people have a sense that their goose is nearly cooked and I think it is accelerating some of the negative behaviour. Like the blue finned tuna, as it moves towards extinction the market responds. How does it respond? The price of blue finned tuna goes up, thus hastening its extinction.

MB: One of the first questions I had after reading your last column and what spurred me to ask you to do this interview was that while you were openly very critical of the media you don’t make any challenge. Do you think that there is no one out there ready to really tackle this issue?

JG: I certainly wanted to give a parting a shot, a kick in the arse to the media. To say we are doing a terrible job, this is the biggest story in the world and we are missing it, getting it wrong. I thought I got that across. To me it sounds corny to say ladies and gents pick up your cudgels and fight. I thought it was self evident that anyone reading this would realise we could and should do better, so I didn’t go any further, that wouldn’t be my style.

MB: Well the Irish Times has one less defence against their reporting of climate issues, they can no longer point towards your column. That makes our job easier at any rate.


52 Responses

  1. hugh curran

    March 10, 2010 5:59 am

    This was an excellent interview concerning media and environmental issues. Climate skeptics are an amazing lot. I even have very bright students who are pulled into the argument as if climate change is somehow related to public relations. There is a coterie of people who have been raised to believe that all truth is relative and that every person’s opinion is of equal value. Ergo a scientist’s investigations involves “opinions”. It seems to be a modern kind of insanity to believe that facts are merely opinions.

  2. Robert McCann

    March 10, 2010 10:23 am

    Mainstream Irish Journalisim exposed…at least those who write for the Irish Star or the Sunday World (including that prat in the big long black coat who thinks he’s the Johnny Cash of the crime expse world…)don’t pretend that they have anything positive to say…but Pat Kenny is brilliantly exposed in the above peice…as for Gerry Ryan and the rest, well to be honest I cant be bothered…funny my Mother used to always say ‘never trust a fella with well combed hair’…with regards Kenny I think she was right on the button…

  3. Angela

    March 10, 2010 11:19 am

    Brilliant interview. Even aside from being so well informed on the issue, Gibbons is an excellent writer with a really elegant turn of phrase. It makes me despair to think what glorified wind will take his place in the Irish Times. A tasteless as well as spineless move.

  4. Conor McCabe

    March 10, 2010 12:13 pm

    So did assistant editor and liberal darling Fintan O’Toole have any say on this sacking?

    Either he agreed with it, which belies his public persona, or he opposed it, which shows the real extent of his influence in that paper.

  5. Clare Conry

    March 10, 2010 5:40 pm

    Excellent interview. Which underscores the sorry state of our mainstream media’s engagement with climate change & unsustainable consumption.

  6. EWI

    March 11, 2010 12:44 am

    @ Miriam Cotton

    “We’ve had some interesting criticism of the article from both left (Harry Browne) and right (John McGuirk)on the MediaBite Blog.”

    Where “interesting” really means WTF? McGuirk lives down to my expectations of him (a long history there), but that Harry Browne was taken in by this is rather disappointing.

  7. Antoine Burke

    March 11, 2010 1:17 am

    John makes a lot of sense. I’ve been working in the Climate Change field in State Government,Victoria, Australia for the past 6 months and the more I learn about this subject, the more I’m shocked by how the media consistently attempts to distort and confuse the issue. Investing time in trying to understand the mindset of people who aggressively reject overwhelming scientific evidence seems almost futile, however needs to be done. Without being too cynical or simplistic on the subject, I suspect it must be vested commercial interests and/ or the relatively carefree establishment who simply can not see beyond there limited life perspective.

    Either way, the Media has a huge ethical responsibility, which often times they clearly appear to ignore for commercial interests. Integrity of media should be forepost, particularly when it comes to reporting facts rather that blurring the subject with opinion.

    I’m sure I’m hitting on a time honoured debate with this comment, however there are some subjects that simply should not be demeaned through populist/ provokative/ entertainment or commercial diven opinion in the name of selling papers.

    Honest, factual reporting of severe environmental damage should be reported in an honest, factual way.

  8. Pope Epopt

    March 11, 2010 9:28 am

    A really good intervention by JG – it’s great to see someone hit the nail on the head in terms of the class issues embedded in the climate change ‘debate’.

    It’s vital we keep stressing the point that the deniers – when they are not paid directly by the fossil fuel industry – come from a class that will (barring social revolution) be able to buy their way out of the effects of the collapse of eco-systems (=food and living space) that will result from climate change.

    Equally no movement concerned with social justice and equality can afford the ignore the fact that the poor and voice-less will be hit first ( or are being hit first ) by fuel poverty and change in climate.

  9. Pope Epopt

    March 11, 2010 11:25 am


    I’d like to put Harry Browne’s response down to general scientific illiteracy among journalists. Very few have even a general scientific education.

    However, it’s disappointing, could do better. Read some books, Harry.

    Actually re-reading Browne’s response, it’s more than disappointing. It displays an utter ignorance of science and scientific culture. The physics and chemistry of the atmosphere really doesn’t give a damn for cults – if energy in exceeds energy out, a system get, as a whole, more energetic (i.e. hotter).

    The ‘remarkably small band of scientists’ include nearly all climate scientists not bought by the fossil fuel industry. I’d hazard a guess that most of those educated in the physical sciences to degree level or beyond are convinced by the broad outline of the science of man-made climate change, even though they are not familiar with the details.

    Bad science happens, but much less in climate science than in, say, pharmacology, where studies are routinely cherry picked or suppressed. If Mr. Browne was convinced by the campaign whipped up around the University of East Anglia bad practice it says much about his journalistic laziness in not going to the original sources and relying on the excruciatingly inaccurate reportage of science in the media. I suppose Mr. Browne is similarly unconvinced of he finitude of fossil fuel reserves.

    The question with AGW now is not whether it exists but how fast it will affect us. Those of us who can’t afford to buy ourselves out of the consequences, that is.

  10. Harry Browne

    March 11, 2010 11:28 am

    Now that I’ve read the full interview here — I responded to the first half after it arrived from MediaBite by email — I want to partly revise my comments: a lot of what John Gibbons says about the media is more than ‘fair’; it’s brave, brilliant and essential.
    I’ve written more about the science and the politics over on the MediaBite blog, where my comment is ‘awaiting moderation’ (some chance of that!).

  11. Harry Browne

    March 11, 2010 11:53 am

    Pope Epopt, whose comment popped up here at the same time as mine, seems to be conflating my comment on MediaBite and John McGuirk’s, a lifetime first for me and I dread to see it happen again.
    So the required reading and re-reading might start there, and move on to Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions for a sense of how scientific consensus and paradigm-making have worked historically. I’m glad to see a mention of the disaster area that is medical research, which should at least encourage us to the take the capital S off science.
    “The question with AGW now is not whether it exists but how fast it will affect us.” I agree entirely: that is the question, and the range of answers is pretty wide, depending both on the science (i.e. how much feedback is in the system, because CO2 is a weak forcer in itself) and, crucially, the politics of who is ‘us’ and how ready we are for whatever change emerges. I would rather see us concentrate on building a world of social justice and solidarity that is equipped for rapid change if it happens, and that probably in the process leaves more carbon in the ground, rather than make a fetish of CO2 per se.

  12. Pope Epopt

    March 11, 2010 12:29 pm

    Quid pro quo – I re-re-read Harry Browne’s comments and my comment above does not accurately represent Mr. Browne’s position, by any means. I retract any imputation that he can be slotted in to the denialist camp or is naive about the scientific process.

    However I still don’t understand statements like:

    I just worry that climate-alarmism may turn out to have been a distracting crusade that ultimately discredits those of us who want to bring about change that goes beyond CO2.

    Why? Surely the damage done by climate change is the supreme exemplar of why capitalism (or any system without an intrinsic brake on material growth on a finite planet) needs replacing. Sure, the market is making money with often ineffective responses to climate change, but that’s what it does – profit comes before social goods. That doesn’t mean, as you rightly say that we should Do Nothing.

    I read the article in the THES by Martin Cohen and seems to be a re-hashing of denialist canards. So what that it’s published by Pluto Press. Is he related to Nick Cohen, by any chance?

  13. Pope Epopt

    March 11, 2010 1:08 pm

    I use the words ‘supreme exemplar’ in this sense: The previous injuries of capitalism including mass impoverishment, starvation, imperialist wars etc. have killed far more people than climate change has. Yet.

    Climate change and related ecological damage is qualitatively different, however, from run of the mill capitalist destruction. We, as a species, can recover from most of the latter, given the necessary social change.

    The eco-systems that are being destroyed and unraveled, represent an irrecoverable impoverishment of whatever social organisation comes after us. It will take tens of thousands of years of evolution to regain the biological complexity and resilience that we had recently during this interglacial. The catastrophic loss of species also makes the world a much lonelier place. That’s why the charge of ‘climate change alarmism’ sticks in my throat.

  14. Harry Browne

    March 11, 2010 1:45 pm

    Thanks, Pope Epopt, for the correction and clarification — I’m glad I was here to prompt it!
    I have no idea about Cohen connections. I do think it’s interesting that Pluto is prepared to ‘go there’.
    As is often the case, I’m not comfortable with any ‘camp’ on this one. The fact that so many sceptics are from the troglodyte tendency politically is intellectually suggestive, but it surely shouldn’t close our minds completely. And the fact that the Right feels it has the wind in its sails on this issue shouldn’t automatically mean that we rally round — what? Al Freakin’ Gore?
    The Left is obviously going through a bad time, and most of us think we’ve got a winner here, with Science by our side, and nothing less than the planet itself as the prize. But the enemy for us isn’t, or shouldn’t be, American web-trolling wingnuts. It’s capitalism, which has done a pretty deft pivot on this question over the last decade and a half.
    The reason I think the science and its uncertainties are important to the politics is pretty simple: in our impotence, we’ve been increasingly using climate change as a hook where we hang some of best intentions. Why transfer wealth to the developing world? Climate change! Why stop deforestation? Climate change! Why not ‘drill baby drill’? Climate change!
    What happens to those intentions if, say, capitalist innovation markedly shifts our fuel use and reduces carbon release, without changing fundamental power structures? And/or if the climate’s sensitivity turns out to be on the low end of best estimates? (Maybe we even get a mini ice age courtesy of our old friend natural variability.) No more hook, and we look like Chicken Licken instead of Cassandra.
    Check out anarchist physicist Denis Rancourt, http://activistteacher.blogspot.com/2007/02/global-warming-truth-or-dare.html. Again, your-mileage-may-vary, but all this says to me, and all I’m saying, is let’s keep our antennae tuned to the vibrations of power, and let’s keep our eyes on the prize, which is not, to my mind, 350ppm of CO2.

  15. Robert McCann

    March 11, 2010 8:29 pm

    …check out Brian Baxter, (1999) et al…you’ll find him and others like Robert Goodin, were ‘thinking aloud’, philosophically as it were…’ around notions of ‘green political theory’, before it became fashionable, never mind really, really urgent.
    The relationship between the capatilist ‘idea’ on the one hand, the needs of the human race on the other, and the notion that maybe socialist ideology might be the answer on the other hand (I know thats three hands)…Well any-way it seems that ‘light-bulbs’ are starting to pop up over peoples heads now, with regards the urgency around saving this little planet… but there is definitly something in Browne’s observation above

    …[that] the enemy for us isn’t, or shouldn’t be, American web-trolling wingnuts. It’s capitalism, which has done a pretty deft pivot on this question over the last decade and a half…

    Escobar (2004) argued that from the 1990’s capitalism started to change, and entered into its ‘ecolgical phase’…arguing that the muilti-nationals (and of course, lets face it, most Western European Governments) came to see the ‘capital’ benefits that would result from ‘conservationist tendencies…’ not for the greater good of the planet mind you, but because they could make more money!!!

    Maybe thats what’s so clever (or sinister depending on your point of view?) about captilism, it’s ‘organic’, (no pun intended) it’s a ‘shape shifter’ it takes the form of ‘that’ which allows the few who ‘know’ to accumulate wealth on the back of the ‘many’…

    Ah well… if those light bulbs above, over the clever commentators heads, ever do light up…hopefully they’ll be running on some form of suistainable energy, if not, the last last one out wont need to switch them off…

  16. EWI

    March 12, 2010 1:48 am

    And the fact that the Right feels it has the wind in its sails on this issue shouldn’t automatically mean that we rally round — what? Al Freakin’ Gore?

    I am astonished at Harry Browne’s opinions here, which seem as prejudiced by pre-existing political biases as the troglodytes (as he rightly terms them) of the Anglosphere right – who are primarily responsible for the continuing smear job on the work of reputable, independent scientists.

    What in God’s name has what Bill Clinton’s old VPe endorses got to do with defining whether or not you believe the science that Global Warming is occurring? And for that matter, do you really find an equivalence between a mild-mannered centrist Democrat and a nutter who falsely claims that (i) he’s a member of the House of Lords and (ii) can cure AIDS?

  17. Harry Browne

    March 12, 2010 12:54 pm

    Funny, I was sure someone around here mentioned David Harvey, and now I can’t find it. Anyway, because he is so brilliant and readable and pertinent to this discussion, I’ll mention him now: http://www.monthlyreview.org/498harve.htm.
    Thanks to EWI for dialling back on the abuse: now I’m merely ‘astonishing’. Let me see if I can improve on that by explaining myself better. Re the science: you only need look at the news stories over the last couple of days, since the UN announced its investigation, and read some of the scientists’ mea culpas — we should have emphasised our uncertainties, we should have resisted our worst-case scenarios being used to scare people, someone should have kept a closer eye on the IPCC material, etc. That’s all I’m saying. I have no reason to doubt their continuing consensus, shared by most so-called deniers, that the world has warmed, that CO2 has something to do with it, and thus it could warm further. But to get from there to global human cataclysm, not only do you have to assume the worst about the climate (and there the scientists obviously have some differences), you have to assume the worst about the future of social organisation and inequality. The first assumption may be justified on the precautionary principle. But politically I’d rather not make the second assumption in particular.
    That’s where the equivalence comes in between Gore and Monckton (and I was wondering when he’d get the inevitable mention). They have different views about global warming, but they are representatives of the same class (you wouldn’t know that was possible from the Gibbons/MediaBite analysis) and we can assume the political lessons they draw/teach from the climate issue, however they differ, will be aimed at advancing the interests of that class. So, it’s simple: we reject that Gore-Monckton alleged polarity (dare I say dialectic?) in favour of one that puts class first and does not subordinate goals of economic justice. The history of the Left is full of crises that made many progressives defer the fight for socialism (‘Labour must wait’). I do have sympathy for leftists who see in the climate crisis not only an urgent call to action, but one whose lessons are in keeping with our ethos and whose positive outcome could lead us, by a happy shortcut, to a more just society. I just fear they’re probably misguided.

  18. EWI

    March 12, 2010 10:26 pm

    They have different views about global warming, but they are representatives of the same class (you wouldn’t know that was possible from the Gibbons/MediaBite analysis) and we can assume the political lessons they draw/teach from the climate issue, however they differ, will be aimed at advancing the interests of that class.

    To dwell on Monckton for a moment further; both he and Michael Foot RIP were both members of the British upper class; I hope that you’re not going to seriously claim that they had much in common, apart from breathing in oxygen.

    The history of the Left is full of crises that made many progressives defer the fight for socialism

    (i) I’m not, and never have been, a member of any Socialist political party (my background is FF of the more traditional type).

    (ii) With this in mind, I may be missing just what you think trying to ameliorate the coming crisis for a substantial majority of the world’s poorest unfortunates is doing to harm the cause of Socialism (or progressivism maybe, which is a term I find myself more personally comfortable with embracing).

    (iii) “Thanks to EWI for dialling back on the abuse: now I’m merely ‘astonishing’.” I presume that you realise that I haven’t been having a go at you. Don’t worry, I’m storing it up to lay into McGuirk if he should dare to show his nose here.

  19. EWI

    March 12, 2010 10:30 pm

    Re the science: you only need look at the news stories over the last couple of days, since the UN announced its investigation, and read some of the scientists’ mea culpas — we should have emphasised our uncertainties, we should have resisted our worst-case scenarios being used to scare people, someone should have kept a closer eye on the IPCC material, etc. That’s all I’m saying.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t accept wave-of-a-handism as a currency (if I did, I’d take ESRI ‘reports’ more seriously).

  20. Harry Browne

    March 13, 2010 10:29 am

    I assumed you were the same EWI who called me an ignoramus on the MediaBite blog! I also assumed, this being Irish Left Review, that we were among ‘comrades’. No problem in any case. Michael Foot was a member of an upper class family but a ‘representative’ (the word I used above) of the labour movement, however imperfectly transubstantiated into the Labour party. Gore and the Democrats are a different genus and species.

  21. EWI

    March 13, 2010 7:30 pm

    I assumed you were the same EWI who called me an ignoramus on the MediaBite blog!

    Late night when I wrote that, more than cheesed off with this idiocy by now, and the comment itself hadn’t appeared on Mediabite by the next morning, when I checked(and I don’t recall exactly what I wrote in the now-[censored] part).

    But yes, I’ll bloody defend “ignoramus” as a description for the muppetry which surrounds this issue. I’d strongly recommend that as a media lecturer and a US citizen that you may find it illuminating to follow some of the past writings by people like PZ Myers, who are more than familiar with the tactics of the “Intelligent Design” creationist Christianists (who themselves inherited a lot of this style of FUD and media manipulation from the Tobacco lobby’s activities).

    “Teach the Controversy”, indeed.

    I also assumed, this being Irish Left Review, that we were among ‘comrades’.

    Bah. Should you wish to spend a boring evening to judge whether or not I’m a ‘comrade’ (in spite of my FF pedigree), you can go check out whatever I’ve written here:


    (You may enjoy the Waghorne articles, I suspect)

  22. EWI

    March 13, 2010 8:06 pm

    Gore and the Democrats are a different genus and species.

    Oh, I have some appreciation for the degree to which the Democrats (at least the congressional and professional party machine bits) have little to do with their base (and I’m someone, as mentioned above, with a family background in a party which cut its final ties to its origin in the Nineties and became just a more banal and populist version of Fine Gael).

    The fact remains, however, that the Republicans are somewhere to the right of Italian fascists, and if you want to avoid their rule there’s only one place that you can give your support (and vote) to do so, no matter how often-disappointing they are.

  23. Pope Epopt

    March 14, 2010 12:06 am

    @Harry Browne

    The history of the Left is full of crises that made many progressives defer the fight for socialism.

    Preventing and/or ameliorating the effects of human-caused climate change and related mass extinctions and impoverishment of the ecosystems which feed us is not one of the ‘optional extras’ implied in this claim. To put it bluntly, we could have a fully realised democratic communist society, and if it continued to intensify the current major extinction of species and ecological networks and their surpluses, I maintain it would not prevent starvation and barbarism, with the geographically most vulnerable going first.

    The claims of Prof. Rancourt (the man who thinks 9-11 and global warming are both ‘inside jobs’) and others than climate change is a middle-class obsession or a new marketing opportunity are are of cultural myopia. Sure it may seem like a just claim from the point of view of radical in the developed world but it’s certainly not one that holds up if you take a global view. To give just one example – the rains in East Africa have for a statistically significant time (since the early 1990s) become irregular leading to a long term drought. Our models are still to crude for us to conclusively implicate our AGW in this. However if it is the cause, it’s the poor farmers of this region that are paying for a lack of a precautionary principle. They don’t garden for relaxation, they do it to avoid starving.

    I find your anti-scientism facile as well. Call me an enlightenment throwback, but I do think that falsifiable theories based on challengable data have a higher value in guiding our actions than other ‘orders of knowledge’. It’s an unfashionable prejudice I know, and not at all post-modern. The fact that where science is at the service of profit it becomes doubtful and debased is a product of the way the market works, not something innate in the scientific method.

    I don’t think that climate scientists are in it for the fame, money or the shags. They have atrocious PR skills on a par with those of the Catholic Church, and they have been subject to getting on for a nearly a decade to a continuous war of attrition by the very powerful fossil fuel lobby, and so have made a few mistakes. I’m suspect they, like the rest of us, wish that AGW wasn’t happening, but they have pressed on regardless, because they think the issue is vital. For me the figure of scientists turned activists such as James Hansen are far more significant the Al Gore’s of this world, and they are intellectual heroes of our time. There’s another unfashionable concept for you.

    I also suggest you have misread David Harvey. To quote the article you reference:

    the imaginary of socialist transformation must focus as much upon its relational embeddedness in the natural world and upon its metabolic conditions as upon social relations and power structures.

    Perhaps I misunderstand you, but I don’t sense this equality of focus in your position.

    @EWI – I can’t resist asking – what Godwin score does one get for referring to Italian fascists? I’m not up to date with the rules.

  24. Tom O Donovan

    March 14, 2010 3:14 am

    John Gibbons is the best defender of our planet that I can think of.All governments worldwide have been compromised by global moneymakers and can never admit the truth.The dumbing down of the people of the world is now almost complete,helped largely by the corporate media who make paper and propaganda from the trees that might save us in the first place.I’m trying to do my bit also in my websites: saveplanet1,com and peoples-parliament.com and I have included an extract from Flamarion’s The Atmosphere with a song I wrote for our distressed Mother Earth.regards, Tom.

  25. Harry Browne

    March 14, 2010 8:43 am

    Thanks for the links. I certainly didn’t mean to sound prolier-than-thou, but you did say you prefer not to call yourself a socialist.
    @Pope Epopt
    I wasn’t trying to recruit David Harvey to the ranks of climate scepticism or ecocide, especially since I don’t dwell in those ranks myself. But he did write:
    “The idea of crisis, imminent collapse, or even ‘the end of nature’ plays an overwhelmingly powerful role in shaping most varieties of environmental discourse. The appeal of this rhetoric to the left is partly based on displacing the crisis and collapse rhetoric about capitalism from class conflict to the environmental issue. … I re-emphasize here my view that a socialist politics that rests on the view that environmental catastrophe is imminent is a sign of weakness. … This does not mean there are no environmental problems. But we should resist the idea that the very existence of a ‘vulnerable planet’ (Foster’s term) is threatened…. If the collapse does not materialize in the near term or the grounds for such expectations are seriously disputed, with strong appeals to both scientific theory and evidence, then environmentalism in general (including its socialist variant) gets discredited for crying ‘wolf’ too often.”

    Throughout my politically conscious life, on every ‘environmental’ issue I can recall other than population control, I have taken what would be regarded as deep-green views. My position on climate change has shifted somewhat over the last year or two only after intense reading and thinking on the subject: I would not have dreamed of going public with these views otherwise.

    Anti-science? Trendily postmodern? You’ve got the wrong guy. I love science. I did several science courses in college, starting with a fantastic one taught by Stephen Jay Gould that mixed geology, paleontology and history-of-science. Both his teaching and the fact that he was caught up in controversies himself — on IQ testing, sociobioology, the pace and rhythm of evolution — gave me what I think is healthy perspective on change and uncertainty and ‘sociology’ in science, and I’ve rarely stopped reading since.

    I think what Dr Marcia Angell identifies as the total corruption of medical research is of course a special case. Nonetheless, things like the grant process and publication bias do have their effect elsewhere, and it’s not a stretch to imagine that in the short history of climate-change science they have played some part. There’s certainly no way we can claim that research has not been politicised; only hope that perhaps competing agendas have cancelled each other out.

    Falsifiability is of course an issue with climate science and with modelling in particular, at least on a time-scale that is useful to this impatient debate. This is difficult stuff, and while I find them interesting I don’t endorse Rancourt-Noble conspiracism. Honest, informed people may actually differ on this issue; Hansen himself has been described as an ‘outlier’ on both (some of) the science and the politics of this issue. That doesn’t make him wrong, of course, at least not yet; it makes him part of an important but still-developing process. Embarrassing statements from laypeople about the science being settled are the real emanations of ignorance.

  26. R McC.

    March 14, 2010 10:43 pm

    Its a tenuous link I know, but if we return to the JG article and the journalists who inhabit Irish media that guy, in the long black ‘Johnny Cash’ coat, Paul Williams, is staring at me from the front page of the Irish News of The World with the headline “NO CRIMINAL IN IRELAND IS SAFE NOW THAT I’VE JOINED FORCES WITH THE Irish NEWS of The WORLD”…and sure did’nt he expose, interestingly (or sinisterly depending on your point of vierw) on an RTE programme, the shenanigans over there in Mayo at the Shell To Sea campaign…yep maybe he’s on the former corrupt (as judged by Flood) Minister Ray Burke’s (and his associates) and other corrupt politicians trails…so watch and wait as Paul ‘the man in long black coat’ Williams, ‘brings in’ the ‘criminals’…and maybe even brings us an indepth expose on the depletion of the planets natural resources in the form of Ireland’s natural gas that was ‘gifted’ (in the sense as I understand it that Shell do not have to pay the Irish people any royalties for our natural resources…)to Shell.

  27. Miriam Cotton

    March 15, 2010 12:01 pm

    This comment also posted on MeidaBite blog discussion. (Here: http://mediabite.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/one-thing-we-can-all-agree-on/ )

    Posting as someone who cannot for the life of her comprehend how there can be any doubt now about the existence of AGW, I’m at a loss to know how to engage with those who either think it is all made up or that it is still scientifically in doubt. I realise this statement will send some people dulally but I don’t think that to say AGW is real is any more controversial than saying, as David put it when speaking to JG, that there is no argument about the fact of gravity.

    Maybe this information will help:
    Consensus on anthropogenic global warming

    And why it matters – this is just a comment on politics.ie (okay! okay!)but the poster(who I know has some expertise in this field) nevertheless puts it very well:


    David’s interview with JG is based on the assumption that AGW is a given and the ensuing discussion of the media’s failure to reflect this fact cannot easily be discussed with people who don’t share that conviction!

    Over the last couple of years I’ve been posting high up and low down on blogs and sites a stunningly effective and apposite presentation by Albert Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder entitled ‘The single greatest failing of the human race is its inability to understand the exponential function’.

    It’s about 55mins long in total, in 8 eight segments and is well worth watching for the entertainment value of it alone.


    I’m offering it here as an alternative angle on the science of the discussion because it highlights just how parlous is the state of our collective thinking and attitude to this issue.

    We interviewed Albert Bartlett but never published it because we had concerns about his Malthusian-leaning views on the solutions to the problems he identified, though his stated position is very much that of the mathematician and scientist that he is. Essentially, he doesn’t think we have much discretion over what must be done, we’ll either do what’s needed or the maths and science will do it for us, regardless of what we think. Anyway, strongly recommend watching the presentation.

  28. Harry Browne

    March 15, 2010 8:40 pm

    I have great respect and admiration for MediaBite and for Miriam Cotton, and it is with both of those that I comment as follows.
    1) A Malthusian with no particular climate expertise? — I hope you don’t mind if it skip the video.
    2) Acceleration due to gravity on earth is 9.8m/s/s. Not somewhere between, say, 5m/s/s and 15m/s/s, with a minority of scientists who disagree even with that range. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientists_opposing_the_mainstream_scientific_assessment_of_global_warming) The comparison… oh, I give up.
    I came on to this blog, and wrote to MediaBite, largely to argue about the politics, the media analysis and (not least) the analytically vulgar and personalised tone of some of the MB interview with John Gibbons. None of these points rely on AGW scepticism, though you wouldn’t know that from the response I’ve had. It’s not that I want to avoid ‘the science’, and science itself as a practice — far from it. These things fascinate me, and readers can gauge for themselves how I addressed them in comparison with those posters who opposed (and caricatured) my views. Maybe we can re-open discussion over a pint….

  29. Miriam Cotton

    March 16, 2010 9:58 am

    Jayzus Harry! That’s an astonishing reply, holed like swiss cheese from where I’m sitting. Sher, if you won’t even hear what the guy has to say (which is not about climate change at all – I said I was trying to bring in a different perspective) how do…oh I can’t be bothered either 🙂

    We’re going to have to agree to differ.

  30. Harry Browne

    March 22, 2010 12:22 pm

    None other than James Lovelock “predicted a temperature rise in the middle range of current projections — about 1C-2C — which we could live with…. [His] message was that we should have more respect for uncertainties and learn to live with possibilities…. We don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t know if we can avert disaster — although we should try. His sage advice: enjoy life while you can.”
    Worth reading, especially as an antidote to ‘science is settled’ myths:

  31. David Manning

    March 22, 2010 2:03 pm

    If GW really was a poison, Lovelock’s comments would be as effective as a placebo.

    It seems to me that Lovelock is defending scientific ‘scepticism’, which is more often than not clearly differentiated from climate ‘scepticism’ as it is portrayed in the media – where a set of convenient polar opposites are set against each other (the apostle versus the denier) and the journalist cast as the impartial arbitrator.

    This is something I tried to address already: “The first of these arguments is one for scientific debate, but it’s not one that should happen in some sort of public show trial. There appears to be some sort of belief among sceptics that if a perceived inconsistency arises or if a paper is published that contradicts some specific assumption, then it should be headline news, that it immediately calls into question decades of corroborative research. But science can’t and shouldn’t happen in the media, for the obvious reasons Gibbons outlines.”

    Journalists, in this case environment correspondents, can quite understandably, become so embedded in their respective areas of expertise that they become blinded to the quality of what they are writing. Clover, in his hyperbole – “Just occasionally you find yourself at an event where there is a sense of history in the air”, automatically emphases the controversial at the expense of, what the ‘scientific community’ considers, the uncontroversial.

    Perhaps Lovelock’s comments are actually ‘historic’ in that on the surface at least they appear to be the authoritative confirmation of the media’s assumed role. He hedges his bets, acknowledging the science, entertaining the controversy, but most importantly, declaring business as usual – ‘enjoy life while you can’.

  32. Harry Browne

    March 22, 2010 2:37 pm

    If I’m reading David correctly (and I admit maybe I’m not, because after three readings I’m still a little confused, especially about the idea that public discussion of science constitutes a ‘show trial’) even Lovelock himself must now be banished to the sin-bin.

    So I guess there’s no hope for Judith Curry, head of the school of earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech: “The probability of something bad happening is at least as high as the probability that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” She’s saying that, btw, as an argument FOR acting on global warming. But she’s also saying, as I keep doing, stop pretending we’re sure exactly where ‘the science’ points. Really interesting interview:

  33. David Manning

    March 22, 2010 4:14 pm

    Curry makes a very poor analogy. It seems as though she actually thought the official fabricated line on WMD’s had some grounding in reality, despite the fact those on the ground were reporting Iraq had fully disarmed. Confusingly then, she is advocating both ignoring the science (intelligence) and acting on it.

  34. Harry Browne

    March 22, 2010 5:04 pm

    It’s a hilariously awful analogy, if you’re a political activist who watches these things carefully, distrusts official stories, reads between the mainstream-media lines and knows that the WMD ‘intelligence’ was fabricated. If you an average American climate scientist (or average American anything else) you’re likely to believe that there was competing but honest intelligence on Iraqi WMDs and the pols chose to hype the alarmist side for their own reasons. In any case, another scientist fails the Manning science test! 😉

  35. Miriam Cotton

    April 8, 2010 1:00 pm

    Has John G had a reprieve? Either way, he is in today’s Irish Times marrying together some of the discussion here about climate change and the realities of peak oil consistent with the mathematics explained so well by Albert Bartlett (Harry – mathematical proofs/truths hold good whether they are explained by a Malthusian or a Marxist, no? At least separate his personal conclusions from the maths? That’d be the scientific thing to do ;-))


  36. Donagh

    April 8, 2010 2:24 pm

    Has John G had a reprieve?
    Nope. He’s a conservative commentator through and through. So he believes in the science behind climate change. Beyond that he seems to understand little. Have you read his articles on overpopulation? Jesus wept. I’d like to write more on this but don’t seem to have the time.

    He ignores the politics and has little understanding of the economics of climate change, or peak oil for that matter.

    On peak oil Chekov Feeney and Andrew Flood have provided a thorough discussion from an anarchist perspective. And you don’t have to be an anarchist to agree with it.


    David Harvey’s new book The Engima of Capital has an excellent section on Peak Oil and the limits of capital. Highly recommended.

  37. Miriam Cotton

    April 8, 2010 4:37 pm


    You don’t have to be an anything to agree with anything that anyone says. John Gibbons is a businessman. That may mean he is automatically written off by some/many here before they even get to read a word. I read Chekov’s article on peak oil a good while ago now. Good as it is, it too fails to adequately confront the stark realities that will face us, which ‘conservative’ John Gibbons – who gains nothing by doing so – actually faces up to with more honesty than many socialists ever do. Environmentalism is the epitomy of true socialism.

  38. Conor McCabe

    April 8, 2010 5:43 pm

    Miriam, I think you’ll find that far from dismissing John Gibbons out of hand before reading anything he has to say, the job of actually reading what he has to say does the job of dismissal for us.

    The best part of the interview for me was the bitchy comments about the Irish Times. Delightfully petty and very entertaining!

    As for overpopulation-mongering. Well….

  39. Miriam Cotton

    April 14, 2010 10:53 am

    Hi Conor! Not exactly a scientifically argued riposte, or even an engagement with the substance really, so I won’t consider my arguments crushed just yet :-).

    Here’s an interesting blog post about how Obama is seemingly planning to bypass the traditional media because of its typically hopelessly sceptical/denier stance. I don’t agree with the strategy – it’s manipulative as described here. The link is to a well known UK environmentalist’s blog, Jo Abbess, and discusses how some US gov official left info on a computer that was then passed to the Guardian.