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The motivation of climate denial groups

Climate deniers want to protect the status quo that made them rich
Sceptics prefer to reject regulations to combat global warming and remain indifferent to the havoc it will wreak on future generations ,
Guardian,  John Gibbons, 22 Sept 17   From my vantage point outside the glass doors, the sea of grey hair and balding pates had the appearance of a golf society event or an active retirement group. Instead, it was the inaugural meeting of Ireland’s first climate denial group, the self-styled Irish Climate Science Forum (ICSF) in Dublin in May. All media were barred from attending.

Its guest speaker was the retired physicist and noted US climate contrarian, Richard Lindzen. His jeremiad against the “narrative of hysteria” on climate change was lapped up by an audience largely composed of male engineers and meteorologists – mostly retired. This demographic profile of attendees at climate denier meetings has been replicated in London, Washington and elsewhere.

How many people in the room had children or indeed grandchildren, I wondered. Could an audience of experienced, intelligent people really be this blithely indifferent to the devastating impacts that unmitigated climate change will wreak on the world their progeny must inhabit? These same ageing contrarians doubtless insure their homes, put on their seatbelts, check smoke alarms and fret about cholesterol levels.

Why then, when it comes to assessing the greatest threat the world has ever faced and when presented with the most overwhelming scientific consensus on any issue in the modern era, does this caution desert them? Are they prepared quite literally to bet their children’s lives on the faux optimism being peddled by contrarians?

“We have been repeatedly asked: ‘Don’t you want to leave a better Earth for your grandchildren,’” quipped the comedian and talk show host John Oliver. “And we’ve all collectively responded: ‘Ah, fuck ’em!’” This would be a lot funnier were it not so close to the bone.

Climate Change (Abbreviated): Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Short-termism and self-interest is part of the answer. A 2012 study in Nature Climate Change presented evidence of “how remarkably well-equipped ordinary individuals are to discern which stances towards scientific information secure their personal interests”.

This is surely only half the explanation. A 2007 study by Kahan et al on risk perception identified “atypically high levels of technological and environmental risk acceptance among white males”. An earlier paper teased out a similar point: “Perhaps white males see less risk in the world because they create, manage, control and benefit from so much of it.” Others, who have not enjoyed such an armchair ride in life, report far higher levels of risk aversion…….

Facing up to climate change also means confronting the uncomfortable reality that the growth-based economic and political models on which we depend may be built on sand. In some, especially the “winners” in the current economic system, this realisation can trigger an angry backlash.

This at last began to make sense of these elderly engineers crowding into hotel rooms to engage in the pleasant and no doubt emotionally rewarding group delusion of imagining climate change to be some vast liberal hoax.

In truth, the arguments hawked around by elderly white male climate deniers like Fred Singer, William Happer and Nigel Lawson among others are intellectually threadbare, pockmarked with contradictions and offer little more than a cherry-picked parody of how science actually operates. Yet this is catnip for those who choose to be deceived.

It is, however, deeply unfair to tar all elderly white men as reckless and egotistical; notable exceptions include the celebrated naturalist David Attenborough……

A century after elderly military leaders cheerfully sent millions of young men from the trenches to their slaughter in the first world war, the defiant mood of today’s climate deniers is best captured by the stirring words of Blackadder’s General Melchett: “If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through!” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/22/climate-deniers-protect-status-quo-that-made-them-rich

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September 23, 2017 Posted by | climate change, culture and arts, psychology - mental health | Leave a comment

Hanford nuclear site – a rich source of comedy for John Oliver

Hanford becomes comical punching bag for HBO’s John Oliver, The Spokesman REview, Aug. 21, 2017,  Thomas Clouse   tomc@spokesman.com  Just days after Energy Secretary Rick Perry made his first trip to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, HBO’s John Oliver used the polluted nuclear site as a satirical punching bag for the nation’s decades of failure to find a permanent storage solution for the millions of gallons of nuclear waste.In the Sunday episode of “Last week Tonight with John Oliver,” the comic pointed out that the U.S. government has failed to create a permanent repository for nuclear waste since the National Academy of Sciences suggested the idea in 1957.

Instead, Oliver pointed out that most nuclear plants around the country continue to store spent fuel rods even though those facilities were not designed to compile the nuclear waste.

“The most frightening example of this is the Hanford site in Washington state which created two-thirds of the plutonium in the U.S. arsenal and is currently storing 56 million gallons of highly toxic and nuclear waste underground,” Oliver said.

He then ripped a local news broadcast that called Hanford the most contaminated place in the Western Hemisphere.

“Oh it’s right here. We did it guys. Washington state,” Oliver said. “Home to the most contaminated place in the Western Hemisphere. Thousands of acres of apple orchards and several of Ted Bundy’s grisliest murders. We did it right here.”

Between the gibes, Oliver mentioned the continued health risks at Hanford, including a recent plutonium leak, and criticized officials for the design of a tunnel that collapsed on May 9. Some of the wooden timbers gave way in the tunnel, which exposed highly contaminated machinery…..

We’ve been saying that we were going to fix this for decades now and we seem to be no closer to a solution,” Oliver said. “We are dancing with trouble here. So if anyone says the government can just continue to wait, they are much like a house without a toilet, absolutely full of …”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.  http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2017/aug/21/hanford-becomes-comical-punching-bag-for-hbos-oliv/

August 23, 2017 Posted by | culture and arts, USA | Leave a comment

China’s culture, and the fear of speaking out on environmental concerns

Why Environmental Activists Are Afraid to Speak Out,  http://www.sixthtone.com/news/why-environmental-activists-are-afraid-speak-out , Feng YongfengFeb 21, 2017 In 2007, soon after I founded an organization called “Nature University,” I ran a program for those with an interest in conservation — both experts and amateurs alike. I took them walking along Beijing’s waterways every Saturday, and each time, we saw foul water pouring directly into the streams and rivers. “We are environmental activists,” some of our shocked volunteers said. “We shouldn’t just look on and do nothing.”

Nature University is a Beijing-based virtual community school for sharing information about environmental protection. We mainly target volunteers and nongovernmental organizations in our campaigns. Back in 2007, our big idea was to launch a photo event encouraging people to send in pictures of Beijing’s sewage outlets, which we would then forward on to the authorities to create a dialogue with them about water pollution.

Hardly anybody responded to our call for submissions. When the time for action arrived, I was left wondering where all the once-vocal critics had gone. In my opinion, they failed to overcome the deep-seated fear of speaking out — a fear passed down from generation to generation. People were afraid that if they reported severe pollution in the area, their families or friends might become targets for retribution by those responsible, such as factory bosses or owners.

Fear of playing a role in public affairs is rooted in many people’s upbringings. From a young age, Chinese parents constantly warn their children that only grave misfortune will come of stepping into the public domain and challenging the powers that be, citing examples from ancient history in which those who made enemies of such people were executed, their accomplices exiled, and their family and friends mistreated. This mindset leads many environmental activists to gag themselves. Activities like crowdfunding, agenda-sharing, photographing contamination sites, lodging official complaints, and speaking out on social media all suffer under this mentality.

Sometimes, activists treat all stakeholders in a pollution event — from coal mine owners to managers, from local officials to the most menial workers — as enemies to be held in the utmost contempt. As their fear turns to anger, they make themselves more foes than friends, and therefore find more problems than solutions. Everyone involved in the disaster becomes a symbol of the fear they feel, and thus everyone becomes an antagonist in the fight for real change. It is hardly surprising that many of the projects organized by environmental activists are stymied by infighting before they truly get off the ground.

Environmental activists are at war with pollution, but fear of the transgressors keeps us too daunted to act. Ingrained self-denial makes us reluctant to pursue meaningful endeavors and keeps us locked in constant equivocation. Therein lies China’s dilemma: Very few people are happy about pollution, but even fewer are willing to act decisively against it. The only way to publicly escalate the issue is to stay mentally strong and argue based on the facts we have. Blots on China’s environmental landscape cast shadows over a large portion of the population. It is in the public interest to fight pollution, but we are too worried about ramifications for individuals when we should be worried about the collective good.

We must exorcise our collective malaise if we are to save our environment. If you suspect that a factory is acting irresponsibly in limiting pollution, do something about it. Find out about what it produces, the technical details of its product, and the national laws requiring it to protect its surroundings. If you find inconsistencies in any of these areas, report them.

Make your voice heard through social media and crowdfunding. Be encouraged by small but meaningful signs of progress. Day by day, week by week, a concerted public effort can and will reshape the environment around us, provided we can muster a groundswell of support. With these tools, we can overcome fear. The only real thing we should fear is our own apathy and lack of ambition when it comes to social and environmental justice.

A workshop I attended at the prestigious Peking University last December convinced me of this. At the end of the event, a student asked, “What is the greatest challenge facing China’s environmentalist groups today?” I expected the answer to be something rather banal, like a shortage of funding, labor, or knowhow. Instead, the speaker — the secretary general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, Zhou Jinfeng — gave a much more refreshing response: “Now is the best time for environmental groups to make their mark in China, because no other country in the world has more environmental disasters going unchecked. Environmental groups, activists, and volunteers will have an impact in China so long as they put their words into actions. So why are so many of you sitting around watching?”

Ingrained self-denial makes us reluctant to pursue meaningful endeavors and keeps us locked in constant equivocation. Therein lies China’s dilemma: Very few people are happy about pollution, but even fewer are willing to act decisively against it. The only way to publicly escalate the issue is to stay mentally strong and argue based on the facts we have. Blots on China’s environmental landscape cast shadows over a large portion of the population. It is in the public interest to fight pollution, but we are too worried about ramifications for individuals when we should be worried about the collective good.

Perpetrators of ecological disasters are far more vulnerable than most people think. From the moment when a pollution event occurs, those responsible for it live in fear of the judgment — both official and unofficial — against them. Yet to capitalize on this weakness in those who ravage the land, sea, and air, environmental crusaders must be brave. Even just a few soldiers fighting valiantly on the front lines can turn the tide of battle and inspire the public to put aside its fear of jumping into the fray.

February 22, 2017 Posted by | China, culture and arts | Leave a comment

Toxic debates like the hinkley nuclear one need social science input

text-humanitiesby opening up this kind of wider discussion, social science can undertake its trickiest – but arguably most useful – task in any controversy. The stakes in this particular case transcend nuclear debates alone – and raise questions about the overall health of British democracy.

Hinkley C shows the value of social science in the most toxic public debates

Social science can help explain why people disagree over controversial technologies and – most importantly – surface hidden assumptions, Guardian,  and Phil Johnstone, 24 Oct 16,  t’s been another turbulent month in the long-running saga over the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. Having looked as if she might be contemplating a rethink, Theresa May unveiled an apparently decisive approval just before the Conservative Party conference. But with longstanding issues still unaddressed– and new problems emerging even since the PM’s announcement – the debate over Hinkley is far from over…….

Social science can provide a better understanding of why different perspectives disagree – and help (when possible) to identify common ground. Hard-pressed policymakers often find it useful to understand how to foster trust, confidence and “acceptance” of their institutions and procedures.

For powerful interests in any setting, social research can also play a useful role in helping to justify, present or implement favoured policies. Here, social science can be part of the closing down of debate – helpfully enabling political attention to move on.

But what if, on deeper reflection, powerfully-backed policies are a bad idea (perhaps as with the Hinkley decision? History is replete with examples – like asbestos, heavy metals, carcinogenic pesticides, chlorine bleaches, toxic solvents and ozone depleting chemicals – where it only emerged in retrospect that the pictures being given of “sound science” or the “evidence base” at the time were unduly shaped by vested interests or constrained imaginations.

It is here that social science can play a further crucial role: helping to open up policy debates where they are being prematurely “locked-in”. This focuses less on society as a target for policymaking, and more on the processes of policymaking themselves. The production and interpretation of evidence is, after all, as much a social phenomenon as public attitudes or political mobilisation.

It is a striking feature of the Hinkley example that even the government’s own evidence base is strikingly damning. The assessment of value for money itself acknowledges Hinkley C to be more expensive than other low carbon energy strategies. And the picture in other official sources is even more negativeWith nuclear costs rising and renewable costs falling – and a worldwide turn towards wind and solar power – global trends compound the picture.

With the UK enjoying the best renewable energy resource in Europe and holding a competitive advantage in offshore industries, industrial policy arguments are also manifestly stronger for renewables. The same applies to prospective jobsCompared to nuclear safety and security challenges, renewables are less vulnerable. And simplistic “baseload” arguments are shown by numerous official reports to be superseded by technology – and repudiated even by the National Grid. So the officially-stated reasons for nuclear enthusiasm simply don’t stack up………

our research suggests there is a further – seriously neglected – factor that may underlie the intense attachment of successive UK governments to civil nuclear power. This involves parallel UK commitments to maintain nuclear submarine capabilities. Without the cover provided by lower-tier contracts in civil nuclear construction, the diminished UK nuclear manufacturing sector would simply not be able to build these formidable technological artefacts. Nor could they easily be operated without civil infrastructures for nuclear research, design, training, maintenance and regulation.

So a consequence of withdrawing from nuclear power might also be very serious for a particular version of British identity – especially in the coming post-Brexit era. It is nuclear military prowess that supposedly allows the UK to “punch above its weight” on the world stage. Yet, although this rationale for continued UK nuclear commitments is clearly documented on the military side, it is unmentioned anywhere in official civil nuclear policy statements – and in energy debates more widely.

What this might mean for policy is a moot point. But by opening up this kind of wider discussion, social science can undertake its trickiest – but arguably most useful – task in any controversy. The stakes in this particular case transcend nuclear debates alone – and raise questions about the overall health of British democracy.

Phil Johnstone is a research fellow and Andy Stirling is a professor of science and technology policy at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex. https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2016/oct/24/hinkley-c-shows-the-value-of-social-science-in-the-most-toxic-public-debates

October 31, 2016 Posted by | culture and arts, UK | Leave a comment