Adapt and/or die!

Posted by Graham Thompson — 1 April 2014 at 3:12pm - Comments
Abandoned dinosaur museum
by-nc. Credit: Mike Fitzpatrick
Transferrable skills allow you to adapt to a changing job market

The Telegraph and the Mail have both told MPs that they think climate change is man-made.

If this is an April Fool’s joke, I’m not amused, but assuming it’s real, job done, that’s the end of mainstream media denial.

Well, not quite. Now that science deniers are no longer taken seriously, they have embarked upon something of a shift in their approach of late. Very, very late. Late enough to miss their own funeral, in fact. But are they dying off, or adapting? At the moment they seem to be attempting both. Their war cry has been adapted to ‘adapt!’, but their strategy will still wipe both them and us out. But in the short-term, will the deniers evolve quickly enough to find a place in the changing media climate, or have they put all their eggs in one rather dangerously accessible basket?

Currently, they’re frantically mutating and attempting to cross-pollinate with more successful species in a desperate effort to stay relevant. What’s interesting is that it isn’t the ‘IPCC is a conspiracy’ gene, or the ‘CO2 is not a pollutant’ gene, which they’re trying to preserve. In fact they’re enthusiastically ditching all that and claiming that ‘No-One Ever Said (everything they’ve been saying for the last decade)’, and, furthermore, they are most put out that anyone could be rude or dishonest enough to suggest that anyone ever did say those things. I’m thinking of naming this modern denier variant by their chosen acronym, the ‘NOES’.

What makes the NOES easily identifiable as deniers, despite their claims to have always accepted climate science, and merely been more convinced by the papers indicating a transient climate response closer to the IPCC’s lower bound, or concerned about the impact of wind turbines on raptors, or something, is two things.

One is that they’re EXACTLY THE SAME PEOPLE who spent the last decade telling us that the IPCC was a fraud, the climate wasn’t changing, and the whole ‘warmist’ conspiracy was an attempt to impose a communist world government by stealth.

The other is that whilst the premises of their arguments have fluctuated wildly, as their more extreme claims and conspiracy theories were debunked, their conclusion has always remained unwavering and invariable - keep burning fossil fuels. This is the deniers’ equivalent of the speed of light in a vacuum, their only constant in a relativistic world. Sometimes we should keep burning fossil fuels because climate change isn’t happening, sometimes we should keep burning them because climate change isn’t important, sometimes because it can’t be stopped anyway, sometimes because renewables need more time to develop, sometimes because we need loads of cash and energy to adapt, but we always, always need to keep burning fossil fuels.

Adaptation case study: non-avian dinosaurs

There’s a fairly strong consensus that the dinosaurs were wiped out by climatic changes brought about by a massive meteor impact 66 million years ago. But the physical evidence for that meteor impact was only detected in the 1970s, and if you go back a few decades, some people thought those climatic changes were gradual and terrestrial in origin, with the dinosaurs unable to evolve fast enough, and some people thought the dinosaurs were just out-evolved by mammals who ate their eggs.

It now looks like those guys were wrong, but they were honestly wrong. They accurately observed a distinct lack of non-avian dinosaurs (most paleontologists think the avian dinosaurs didn’t die out – they just grew wings, took off, and are currently residing on your bird table), they hypothesised what seemed fairly plausible explanations, they looked for evidence to support or disprove those hypotheses, and when the evidence arrived, the theories that didn’t fit it were quietly dropped and the consensus emerged.

What you don’t see, is groups of die-hard Maoists insisting that it must have been gradual climate change, and the meteor crater in the Yucatan peninsula is actually a myth created by an evil imperialist conspiracy looking to militarise space. Nor do you get anarcho-syndicalist cells bombarding the meteorists with abuse and nuisance emails accusing them of covering up the mass mammalian egg-icide. Nor, if I might push the metaphor just a little more, do you get networks of libertarian free-marketeers furiously denying that there were ever any dinosaurs in the first place. Well, you might do in America, but not in the real world.

That’s the difference between a scientific debate, where everyone presents their evidence and is trying to find the truth, and a political debate, where everyone presents their truth and is trying to find, or manufacture, the evidence.

Cultural learnings of dinosaurs for make benefit glorious state of denial

If you genuinely accept the science (and No-One Ever Said they didn’t) then you need a very good explanation for why you’re happy to see emissions continue to rise, when the science you accept indicates that the consequences will be significantly worse than anything else that’s ever happened.

If you have an opinion on energy policy, that opinion should come with a carbon budget, a comparison to the carbon budgets of the other opinions out there, and it’s relation to the carbon budget of the relevant sector and country, showing how your opinion is compatible with rapidly reducing emissions. That would be the most important part of your opinion, IF you have accepted the science. Affordability, political acceptability, security of supply, visual impact, timescales and other logistical issues are all extremely important too, but if your opinion isn’t compatible with rapidly reducing emissions, then you don’t need to waste your time looking at those other issues, because your opinion has fallen at the first hurdle.

Ignoring the science is not the same thing as accepting it. Anyone who has accepted the science  could only promote coal with full CCS. Anyone who has accepted the science could only promote gas with, at the very least, a mechanism to guarantee that it would replace coal, and only coal. And anyone who accepted the science could only promote new runways with a better excuse than any I can think of.

“No-One Ever Said that gravity wasn’t real, but I’d like you to put that issue to one side for a moment while you consider my proposal purely in terms of how much easier and more convenient it will be for all of us to manoeuvre in our over-crowded airports without those clumsy, expensive and ultimately rather ugly wings.”

It didn’t work 66 million years ago, and it won’t work now.

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