Thursday, March 01, 2007

Potts' worthless two-pence

Over on Curly's Corner Shop it seems at first reading that local Tory Councillor David Potts has had something of a revelation over climate change. He's telling us that "a recent consensus has been reached that the cause is human activity of various sorts." Welcome to the 21st Century.

This is a big change from 2005, when Coun Potts challenged "anyone to show me just one single solitary shred of concrete proof that humans contributed or are at all responsible for global warming." He also claimed that "reducing emissions is a complete and utter waste of time and money." I'm guessing Stern kicked that Lomborg-esque nonsense into touch.

His climate change denial mode was matched by a similar position over second hand tobacco smoke. In 2006 he wrote that the "notion that smokers are harming non-smokers is a little shaky to say the least."

His argument moves to the hilarious, accusing some unnamed characters as the "same types of smart people predicted that the world would have run out of oil by now many times over". I presume the "smart people" was the oil industry; but they didn't predict oil running out - it was peaking which caused so much consternation (and still does) to the oil industry.

Coun Potts also bemoaned these same "smart people" for predicting "that the world cannot feed the number of people alive today." Guessing by the number of people who die for lack of food each day, the "smart people" were right.

Potts then places his faith in technology as the answer. It may be part of the answer - we have all the technology we need available to us now. But no amount of technology is a substitute for what we really need to do - reduce consumption of fossil fuels.

Possibly Coun Potts is just jumping on Cameron's greenish bandwagon. Or you could argue that Potts has finally seen the light and decided to listen to the scientists. But I doubt it. He's acknowledging that climate change exists, but all he's done is moved with the rest of the denial lobby to an 'it's not that bad - it's all scaremongering' position. Instead of rubbishing the evidence, he's mocking the risks.

By dismissing concerns over climate change as hysteria, Potts is carrying on that good old denial tradition and burying his head in the sand.


David Potts said...

Rossinisbird, in the words of Corporal Jonesie "DON'T PANIC!"

Look I'm not mocking the risks, just pointing out that they are not certainties.
It's hard enough to predict the weather a week ahead, never-mind climate
decades hence. It's like shooting an arrow at a target, if you're off by
one degree, then it won't make a difference if you are standing 1 meter
away from the target. Step back to 10 meters and you'll miss the bulls-eye
but might still hit the target. Step back to 100m and you'll miss the
target by quite a bit because small errors accumulate over time.

Reporters and the general public may be impressed with graphs and numbers
and the scientific authority behind them, but what they don't realise are
all the assumptions and uncertainties that go into generating the models,
as well as the choices (often subjective) about which models to use, what
to include in them, and how the analysis should be conducted.

Quite frankly it seems some people always need some catastrophe to worry about ("the bomb", avian flu, terrorism, etc). Global warming is the latest worry, and
sensible discussion is drowned out when everyone is talking about it. You
known things are getting out of control when religious leaders tell us how
to live, and the mainstream media doesn't really seem to mind. Contrast
this with the liberal Guardian-reading public's negative reaction when a
religious leader tell us how we should live in regards to gay marriage or disciplining children for example and they're branded backward-looking. But when they say we shouldn't take holidays on a plane or tell us what type of vehicle we should drive, then they speak with moral authority!

With regard to my comments on past claims of oil running dry etc. I was referring to academics mainly, but of more importance is how the
media blow things out of proportion. Do a Lexis-Nexis search and look for articles from say 1900-1990 that have
reported scaremongering-type stories about how "at current consumption, the
world will run out of oil in XXX years".

On food shortages, this started with Thomas Malthus in the 1700s. Every now and then someone (an academic usually) calculates population growth and increases in food production and makes a forecast that at some point in the future food
supply will not be sufficient for the projected population.

Finally I discuss technology and future innovation because we simply don't have all the technology we need now. Many types of renewable energy are too inefficient at present, even if they were scaled up. There is still plenty of room for innovation to improve efficiency.

I was genuinely suprised at how derisory your comments were, Rossinisbird, I just wanted to make it clear that not all politicians are proponents of mass hysteria as so clearly seem to be!

comingup4air said...

This confirms what I’ve always thought about the green credentials of the conservative party – they’re bogus!

rossinisbird said...

Thanks for taking the time to reply to my blog post, Councillor Potts. You've made a lot of interesting comments which I'll try to answer (or maybe agree with).

Not meaning to kill your intended humour, but I'm curious about your Corporal Jones analogy. What made his catch phrase funny was the irony that as an 'experienced veteran', he actually uttered the words for his own benefit, not the squad's. So I wonder, what is the real reason for the reference to Corporal Jones? A simple gag perhaps. When I've engaged in debate with American climate change deniers, they use the derisory "the sky's falling in, Chicken Little" against opponents. Slightly different concepts, but the objective is the same - ridicule concern by tarring it with reactionary feathers.

The 'assumptions and uncertainties' are outweighed by the massive volume of legacy data and new research. It's technology in action. The analysis software used are the most advanced probability modeling applications available and they do work, otherwise the weathermen would stick to wet seaweed and lying cows for their forecasts. However, let's not confuse weather with climate.

You're right of course that the media love to hype up the next impending catastrophe. You're also right that there is an amount of uncertainty over climate change. However, that isn't cause to attempt to underestimate the problem - quite the opposite. The volume of knowledge is increasing all the time, which has no doubt contributed to your sea change on the existence of anthropomorphic global warming.

I also agree that sensible discussion can be drowned out when the media goes for attention grabbing headlines or thirty second sound bites. Rather than needing "some catastrophe to worry about", I don't really think that many people lose sleep over climate change; most worry more about the colour of their hair or whether they'll be back home in time for Eastenders. But comments suggesting that the global warming issue is "largely dominated by lily-livered, ill informed liberals" (your words) tend to add more heat than light.

When it comes to the oil issue, I'm sure you're aware that I was referring to Marion Hubbert, although I'm not sure which academics you're referring to. Since the 1950s the media has misinterpreted the geophysical and economic research into oil supply and whined over oil running out. I suppose it sells papers. So I accept your modification of your original position by moving your sights from your "smart people" and shooting the media messenger instead. They're fair game.

I am surprised you've put Thomas Malthus into your "smart people" category. Malthus' work was based on what was, during his time, a society just beginning to emerge from what was essentially still a fuedal social landscape. I presume the point you are trying to make is that static analysis technique and changes in labour organisation and technology dated a lot of Malthus' efforts. True. Nonetheless his work played an important role in the development of modern socioeconomic theory and if you've read Malthus you will note his text is coldly analytical and could hardly be described as alarmist.

This doesn't mean that in terms of climate change we should be waiting around for a technological silver bullet - there are very few on the near horizon. We need to start doing something now, and it means social, economic and political changes that haven't been seen since the Second World War.

In conclusion, if you'd said something like "I can't stand that smug git Al Gore", I would be more sympathetic. However, suggesting that he's a "climate change fanatic" is language that seeks to discredit the messenger and the message.

It is unfortunate that you see my comments as "derisory", but my patience for denial in any of it's forms has grown short, so my responses may come out in a somewhat mocking tone. I'm sure as a budding MP you'll grow a thick enough skin. You must have already if you can handle the chimps tea party of South Tyneside politics.

thanks again


rossinisbird said...

Hi comingup4air, thanks for your comments.

I think it's unfair to charge the Conservatives alone as the 'big three' parties all have fairly inconsistent attitudes to climate change and green issues in general.

A survey carried out last October, which found that 74 per cent of voters thought climate change was an issue that would influence how they would vote at the next election, will have party leaderships trying to capitalise on that vote.

I suppose we should be thankful that at least climate change is now on the agenda. It's up to all of us to drive how we respond in terms of policy and solutions.