When I listened to the Climate change Denial 101 lectures on FLICC it seemed a pretty straightforward and reasonable set of criteria. However when I tried some of the examples, I soon found that it wasn’t!
It’s definitely easier to identify aspects of FLICC when it’s a subject that I have some background knowledge of but even then, I’m still finding myself rather baffled as to which part of FLICC is happening. I suspect that there are probably FLICC overlaps in what people say when they deny what’s happening.
I came across an article with a climate change denier in The Guardian the other week so I thought I’d try analysing it for FLICC content. It’s an interview with Lord Nigel Lawson who was Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (ie Finance Minister) and Energy Secretary in the 1980s. I posted about him in the MOOC forums because he heads up a climate change denial setup in UK called the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
I’ve extracted some of what he says about climate change. The full article is here : Second Coming of Nigel Lawson The “I” in the article is the interviewer, Jane Merrick. So here goes…
Making reference to Met Office Statistics gives Lawson apparent credit as at least a well-informed layman. Really though this is cherry picking and/or a strawman argument. I think he’s referring to the hiatus in surface air temperature rise that’s been observed 1998-2012. But he’s not giving the whole picture and doesn’t acknowledge that his argument that therefore no warming is going on just now is weakened by other data. Observations of sea temperatures, ocean acidity observations, sea level rise and other measures, all of which show that global warming is continuing but in a different pattern just now than in preceding decades.
His acknowledgement that ‘global warming could happen but that if it did happen it would be much a slower process than alarmists present’… is clever, I think. He’s already established his apparent credentials by apparently knowing what the Met Office data shows. He is now avoiding being seen as an out-and-out loony climate change denier by acknowledging that it is possible for the climate to change. (UK Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher, who had a degree in chemistry, acknowledged the possible effects of increasing GHG gases concentrations back in the 1980s) Then he makes an assertion that any change would be slower than alarmists declare. So two things there. He doesn’t offer any backup data for that assertion. Would that be an unsubstantiated red herring? And then he uses the derogatory term ‘alarmist’ which comes under an ad hominem fallacy of reasoning where you attack your opponent personally rather than critiquing his data.
Again I think this is clever. It refers to the consensus building discussion we heard about in the week 1. The interviewer made a mistake by saying 97% of scientists. Lawson pounces on that and is correct in saying that it’s not 97% of scientists. It’s actually 97% of climate scientists and their research papers. But he doesn’t acknowledge the greater expertise of the selected scientists. In fact he uses ‘selection’ as a pejorative term implying that something was done to skew the results to what ‘they’ wanted. So although it’s not explicitly stated by Lawson, I think there’s an implied conspiracy theory accusation at the scientific community.
Again an assertion is made by Lawson, this time about typhoon intensity, without any backup reference given. Winter floods in the south of England get ignored despite there being some evidence that the weather that brought them was linked to a blocking pattern due to a changed jet stream pattern over Europe. In his immediate next sentence he correctly states that individual events can’t be linked specifically to warming. This time he’s happy to quote that experts are clear about this. This is cherry picking in that he’s happy to quote these experts when they say something that apparently supports his view. And cleverly again, he links the experts’ open acknowledgement of the limits of what, as yet, can be confirmed about individual events into his assertion that no warming has occurred.
I’ve put this extract in just so you seem how vociferously Lawson complains about a campaign of misinformation by people who can’t judge properly. He is himself a disseminator of climate change misinformation, of course, but in the case of fracking he wants the opposite of what the protesters want so they’re the ones who are misinforming people. I haven’t done any research to find out if what he says about the composition of shale drilling fluid is correct. Even if it is correct, he is keeping quiet about the other problems associated with fracking. I don’t know if the fracking procedure in UK is the same as in US but there are certainly problems arising in US with contaminated water supplies. So I’d bet there’s some cherry picking going on here too. As well as his sheer brash neck complaint about a campaign of misinformation! And of course no mention about the contribution to CO2 emissions that would arise from shale gas usage.
Conclusion: I never liked Lawson when he was an active politician. In the UK, I suppose he still has some standing left in some quarters and some credentials as a reputable and intelligent politician. He clearly trades on that to give his statements weight.
I like him even less now that he’s an active climate change denier. But he is clever. And he obviously knows how to use a range of linked statements to create an overall sense of apparent reasonableness. Some of his statements are true; some are false; some are cherry picking; some are misrepresetnations; some are unsubstantiated red herrings; some are attacks on the honesty of scientists.
This has been a very useful exercise. I usually just shout at Lawson when he’s on TV. I might now be able to explain a bit to other people what exactly he’s up to!!