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Ask Not If Global Warming is True By: Joseph Bast
The Heartland Institute | Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Why We Disagree About Climate Change
By Mike Hulme
Cambridge University Press, 2009
432 pages.


More than a few people will be tempted to buy this book based on the promise, implicit in its title, that it examines the ideas and motives of both sides in the global warming debate. But that is not what this book is about. It is the musings of a British socialist about how to use global warming claims as a means of persuading “the masses” to give up their economic liberties.

That the author, Mike Hulme, is a scientist who helped write the influential reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and many other government agencies makes this book even more disturbing.


Narrow-Minded Outlook

Hulme frankly admits his perspective is colored by his politics—“democratic socialist”—and it soon becomes apparent that the only disagreements about climate change he’s aware of are those occurring between the left (people who think like him) and the far left, people he describes as “eco-anarchists,” “eco-socialists,” and “eco-authoritarians.”

Opposition from centrists, conservatives, libertarians, and nonideological scientists who dispute his alarmist spin on the complicated data of global warming merit hardly any mention.


Warming Gospel in Doubt

The notion that science can be determined by government agencies proclaiming to speak on behalf of entire scientific communities might be passively accepted in Old Europe, but it is jarring for an American reader. Opinion polls show two-thirds of us do not believe global warming is manmade, and more than 30,000 American scientists (including more than 9,000 with Ph.D.s) have signed a petition saying there is no convincing scientific evidence that human activity will cause catastrophic global warming.

A group of scientists called the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) has produced an 880-page rebuttal of the latest IPCC report containing more than 4,000 references to peer-reviewed science. I edited that work.

There is a debate taking place about global warming in America, and it is not the one described by Hulme as being between those who favor “cap and trade” and those who favor even more radical changes in political, social, and economic behavior. Rather, it is about how much of the warming of the late twentieth century was natural and how much was manmade, whether the consequences of that warming were on balance positive or negative, and whether anything should be or could be done to prevent or delay future warming.

This debate—the real public policy debate—is entirely missing from Hulme’s book.


Ideological Agenda

Convinced that the scientific debate is over and he won, Hulme devotes most of his attention to finding ways to overcome “barriers other than lack of scientific knowledge to changing the status of climate change in the minds of citizens—psychological, emotional, and behavioural barriers.” He attempts to explain the public’s failure to respond to his calls for action in terms of popular theories of irrational group behavior, such as anchoring, fear of change, and so on. He lacks the power of introspection that would have led him to understand the fountains of his own irrational beliefs.

The real purpose of this book isn’t revealed until far into it. “The idea of climate change,” Hulme writes at page 326, “should be seen as an intellectual resource around which our collective and personal identities and projects can form and take shape. We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but to ask what climate change can do for us.”

According to Hulme, climate change can do a lot: “Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs.”

In other words, socialists like Hulme can frame the global warming issue to achieve unrelated goals such as sustainable development, income redistribution, population control, social justice, and many other items on the liberal/socialist wishlist.


Knowingly Telling Lies

Like the notorious Stephen Schneider, who once said, “We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts one might have. ... Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest,” Hulme writes, “We will continue to create and tell new stories about climate change and mobilise them in support of our projects.”

These “myths,” he writes, “transcend the scientific categories of ‘true’ and ‘false’.” He suggests that his fellow global warming alarmists promote four myths, which he labels Lamenting Eden, Presaging Apocalypse, Constructing Babel, and Celebrating Jubilee.


It is troubling to read a prominent scientist who has so clearly lost sight of his cardinal duty—to be skeptical of all theories and always open to new data. It is particularly troubling when this scientist endorses lying to advance his personal political agenda.

Read this book if you want insight into the mind of a scientist who has surrendered all moral authority to speak truthfully about global warming. Avoid it if you are looking for a book that explains why we disagree about climate change.


Joseph Bast (jbast@heartland.org) is president of The Heartland Institute.


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