This is a post by Pharos contributor Hans Holmén (retired Associate Professor in Economic Geography). His paper is put in a Swedish context with references to the Swedish debate but the content have an interest for a broader international audience. Holmén makes a compelling case about a climate science that is based on uncertain data and a scaremongering that creates incentives to “pause democracy”. As he writes: “The real threat is perhaps not the health of the planet or mankind’s survival but rather climate-policy and the attempts to undermine citizens’ freedom.” (Pharos Editor)
It is frequently claimed that the most urgent concern of our time is the climate threat, i.e. anthropogenic global warming and its supposedly devastating consequences. If media are to be believed, the issue is already settled – if we do not stop burning fossil-fuel, disaster is looming. Others find that hard to believe. Widding (2019), for example, wonders whether agitated journalists (and politicians) have actually read the UN-reports they refer to when warning about all the horrors we are soon to encounter. Also I feel an urge to do so.
There are many findings telling a different story. These, however, are seldom reported about in mainstream media. When digging into the issue, one is struck by how polarized opinions are. They range from ‘there is no climate threat’ to ‘it is time to panic’. One is supposed to ‘know’ what is going on. Are temperatures rising or not? Are the polar ices melting? Is the sea-level rising or not? If they do, is mankind to blame? And which will the consequences be – a greener world or the end of the world? It is, as you have probably already noticed, difficult to give definitive answers to such questions. But is strikes me that many who publically address these issues have very definite opinions. What do they base their conviction on? Who can we trust? Do they really have sufficient knowledge to speak up on these issues?
The climate discussion is often agitated and sometimes fierce. Participants are, on the one hand, ‘realists’ and ‘alarmists’ and, on the other hand, ‘skeptics’ and ‘deniers’. The ‘realists’ are convinced not only that a man-made global warming goes on but also that this is scientifically proven beyond any doubt, hence the label. Consensus is said to exist. ‘Alarmists’ share this view and believe that immediate and drastic measures must be taken to mitigate man-made climate change – or else the world will collapse. Both groups claim that those who believe otherwise (so called skeptics and deniers) are not only unscientific but also dangerous. The latter, for their part, claim that this is a lampoon and stress that self-appointed ‘realists’ present ill-founded, exaggerated and unverified claims. They stress that also among ‘deniers’ there is a large number of climate scientists and, hence, knowledge as well as realism.
In many ways this is a strange discussion. ‘Discussion’, by the way, it seldom seems to be – mostly we have to do with two camps which consistently speak past each-other and primarily direct themselves towards like-minded. Positions seem unchangeable. Facts are treated as ‘alternative truths’ and tend to be accepted or rejected depending on positions already taken. On top of that, identity politics has invaded also this ‘discussion’ and it often seems to be more important who says something rather than what is actually being said.
If it were the case that the discussion about climate change was kept within the scientific community, it would be easier for a layman like me to have faith in claims made. This is not to say that climate researchers are unanimous, they are not, but they normally reveal how they reach conclusions. They seldom make claims ‘in thin air’. But the debate about climate change and its supposed consequences is permeated by unfounded claims. To a significant degree it is also pursued by laymen in these matters such as journalists, politicians, ‘activists’ and other engaged. Engaged by whom?
The purpose of this paper is not to act as judge in this infected debate. To determine what causes climate change or to determine whether mankind is about to (or has already) exceed what nature can cope with, deep knowledge in natural science is required. I am a social scientist (human geography) and this is beyond my reach. Admitting this, I set myself aside from many who – without knowing or understanding more than I do – do not hesitate to make cocksure claims about the climate threat, as well as about its consequences. Rather than trying to act a judge, my aim is to put the climate issue in perspective, to try to determine what is actually known and, primarily, extend the discussion to include some thoughts about the possible prize for too rapidly accepting predictions about our future that often accompany climate warnings. Those warnings are not only aired by concerned climate researchers but often – even primarily – by people without necessary knowledge but who see these alarms as means to realize other ambitions, ambitions which may have nothing whatsoever with climate to do.
At this moment, I find it timely to declare that I do not question that global warming is a reality or that mankind, at least partly, may have contributed. According to a study frequently referred to by alarmists (Cook et al 2016), 97 percent of the world’s climate researchers are convinced that mankind is the cause of global warming. Other studies have made similar conclusions. So, I spontaneously react like so many others: “Who am I to question that?” But other studies show something else. Moreover, climate research is fraught with so many uncertainties and methodological delicacies – especially when trying to predict future climate – that caution is warranted. This is particularly the case when scrutinizing what the climate alarms actually mean? How serious are they? The above referred to study has no answer to such questions. I will return to this issue below. As we shall see, there is also – despite frequent claims about consensus – reason to question claims about a continuous increase in world temperatures. Nevertheless, many are convinced that something has to be done immediately. No matter what the cost will be.
But the prize for saving the climate may well turn out to be unacceptably high. Can we save the climate without sacrificing democracy? What if it does not need to be saved?
Is climate change our hour of destiny?
There is no doubt than mankind is facing many serious environmental challenges: air and water pollution, loss of farmland, species extinction, escalating use of chemicals with ever-increasing toxic waste, to mention just a few. Nor is there any doubt that we in many cases have caused them ourselves. At present a provoked anxiety about climate change and its possible consequences – the end of the world? – overshadows all other concerns. Apparently there is a widespread conviction that mankind is facing a crisis. But there is less agreement about the seriousness of the crisis, nor about how it might be solved.
Much has been done to solve the situation: sharpened environmental legislation, development of and increased use of green technologies, green certifications of products and producers, enhanced use of material- and energy-saving products and production processes, among other things. All this is commonly referred to as ‘ecological modernization’. Rather than being hostile to technology and favoring a return to pre-industrial conditions, it regards technology as a means to create a sustainable society. This would hardly have happened if there was no demand for such technologies. Hence, also the market can be compatible with reduced environmental stress.
This is the wrong road, angry critics claim. ‘If technology brought us to this crisis, how could technology be the solution?’ And the market is, as everybody knows, evil. Mitigating measures, which are often voluntary, are considered insufficient, slow and not seriously undertaken. Critics talk about ‘technology-fetishism’ (Hornborg 2013; 2014) and ‘green-washing’ without any serious commitment. Market-’solutions’ are said to merely prevent effective regulation (Carton 2016). Ecologic modernization is said to represent post-politics (visionless administration) and to be a chimera since it does not attack the root of the problem. All that it has to offer is found within the logic of the capitalist system (Swyngedouw 2014). What is needed is something else – something or someone that can make us all close ranks and march in a different direction.
This reasoning overlooks that totalitarian regimes generally have been more environmentally harmful than market economies and that economic growth tends to be positively correlated with environmental improvements (Radetski 2013). Defenders of capitalism use to stress that besides environmental improvement modern development has led to reduced poverty and given people longer life, improved health and a wider range of choices. Sörlin (2017) admits that while this is true, it comes at the cost of enhanced consumption (not least of fossil fuels) with negative impact on climate and environment. Hence, consumer society – or, rather, the democratized ability to consume – is the real culprit. To many critics of capitalism it would be to swear in church to claim that capitalism and democracy go hand-in-hand. But the difference between consumer-power and political influence is not overwhelmingly great. They seem to go hand in hand. Unfortunately, a demand-led development appears not to bring happiness to everyone. Something else seems to be needed.
And it is said to be urgent. Alarmists claim that due to climate change the earth is about to collapse (Gerst et al 2013; Jackson 2012; Raskin et al 2002; Wijkman & Rockström 2011; 2012). After all, we are talking about ‘the worst crisis the earth has ever seen’ (McGlade & Rockström 2009). The ‘socio-economic nightmare’ is already here (Swyngedouw 2014). According to a Swedish minister, we have precious little time left – if we want to save the planet (Lind 2017). The American congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez recently claimed that “the earth will go under in 12 years unless we stop climate change now” (Usatoday 2019). And Rockström et al (2020) give us less than 10 years before it is too late to solve the climate crisis. Perhaps we are witnessing mankind’s end of journey? That is not for me to say. But there is obviously reason to be concerned.
At the same time, it is astonishing that those who claim that the catastrophe is pending simultaneously point out that as far as non-renewable resources and planetary boundaries are concerned, our knowledge does not suffice to allow quantification, prediction or claims of certainty (Biermann 2012; Gerst et al 2014; Wijkman & Rockström 2011; 2012). Hence, the scientific support for catastrophic scenarios is not as strong as some want us to believe.
Consensus about climate change?
The ‘climate threat’ is complex and consist of a multitude of questions that can be answered (or not) in various ways and with varying degrees of certainty. That there should be a widespread agreement about all its components is unlikely. Let us, to begin with, try to answer the simple question: Has the earth become warmer? Yes, most climate scientists seem to be in agreement that global mean temperatures have increased somewhat (within the interval 0.8 to 1.2 degrees Celsius) during the last 150 years. There is no conflict about that. But it all depends on the time perspective applied. During the last 3000 years the earth has experienced a trend of declining temperatures (Widding 2019). What worries many is tales of a recent (some say dramatic) increase in mean global temperatures.
Is this increase in temperature caused by human activity? It is somewhat more difficult to give a precise answer to that question. “Most climate scientists agree that the warming of approximately 1º C is within the natural variation we have had on earth the last 2000 years” (Lundquist & Widding 2019). Human beings, and particularly our use of fossil fuels with ensuing increased CO2 emissions, may have contributed but that has so far not been proven (Mörner 2020). Let us for the time being regard this as a hypothesis.
Then to the somewhat trickier question: Will increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere lead to a warmer climate, so called ‘global warming’? We are frequently told that scientists know that this is the case. This is not only the foundation of the ‘climate issue’. It is also the fundamental legitimating reason for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But the IPCC might be wrong and all scientists do not agree. According to Watts (2010) and Mörner (2020), among others, there are strong indications that it may be the other way around, viz. changed temperatures lead to changed levels of CO2. More specifically, observations indicate that atmospheric CO2-levels change after temperatures change (Inconvenient skeptic 2010, Jonsson 2011). Hence, enhanced temperatures may lead to increased levels of atmospheric CO2 (see also Widding 2019). The matter so far seems unsolved but if this is correct, it turns the whole ‘climate issue’ upside-down!
Now to the hottest of all questions: Do human-induced CO2-emissions to the atmosphere jeopardize our future? According to what I just wrote, the answer would be “we don’t know”. This is partly because the cause-and-effect relation remains unsolved. Partly it is because current atmospheric CO2 content is historically low and man-made CO2-emissions contribute only five percent to total atmospheric CO2-circulation (Widding 2019). Many climatologists question whether such a relatively small contribution could have a crucial impact on climate. Nevertheless, the IPCC, which is widely regarded as the unchallenged authority on these issues, does not hesitate to declare “yes, without doubt”. According to the IPCC, human activities contribute at least 50 percent to rising world temperatures. Agreement is said to be unanimous and scientific consensus to exist. In science however, as in philosophy, consensus has no intrinsic value. In science no truths are absolute, only approximate (not yet disproved). As a layman on these issues I cannot simply declare that the IPCC is wrong. That is also not my intention. But a sound skepticism about such definite statements as the IPCC provides seems warranted. Let us investigate what lies behind this alleged consensus.
To support a standpoint by saying that “the IPCC has shown” or that “97 percent of all climate researchers claim” is to present an ‘authority-argument’. In science such are commonly regarded as without value. If, for example, a majority of geographers claimed that the earth is flat, that would not prove anything, not even if they were all in agreement. The earth would remain a globe anyway. It is not enough to declare that you agree with, for example, Einstein, Karl Popper, Foucault of Rockström, no matter how clever these guys are considered to be. To refer to authority is laziness. Referring to consensus is merely an “excuse for not bothering to investigate the matter” (Widding 2019). But whereas authority-arguments lack scientific value, they can still be useful as means to impress laymen. And this is frequently practiced, not least in mainstream media. So, how strong is the authority of the 97 percent? How strong is the consensus that humanity causes climate change? A few sources that claim to have investigated the matter are commonly referred to (Illinois 2009; Anderegg et al 2010; Cook et al 2013). Tornvall (2016:140) summarizes (my translation):
In 2009, the University of Illinois asked 10.257 scientists about this. Only 3.146 answered = 30.7 percent, too low frequency for conclusions. Of them, 82 percent thought that mankind since the 18th century (!) might have had a climate impact. Of the 77 who had recently published in peer-reviewed journals on human-induced climate change, 75 believed that man affects climate. That is 97 percent of 77 but only 2.3 percent of those who answered and a paltry 0.7 percent of all asked.
In 2010, Anderegg et al asked 1.372 scholars who had published on human-induced climate change. Of the 908 who had published at least 20 such papers, the 50 who had published the most were selected. Of them, 49 percent answered affirmatively. That is 98 percent of 50 but only 5.4 percent of 908 and merely 3.6 percent of all asked.
In 2013, Cook et al studied 11.944 papers, of which 97 regarded CO2 as a greenhouse gas. But only 41 claimed certain human influence. They were merely 0.3 percent of all papers.
Based on this investigation, Tornvall concludes: “the scientific ‘consensus’ that human activities cause climate change appears to vary between a trifling 0.3 and 3.6 percent”. That is quite the opposite of what we are commonly told!
How do such discrepancies occur? To begin with, this kind of studies tends to confuse the number of papers published with the number of scientists writing them. They are not the same. It is not uncommon that scientists publish a number of papers on the same topic in different journals. In that case the number of papers remains the same but the number of scientists writing on the subject is reduced, sometimes drastically so. In (at least) Cook’s case the discrepancy also appears to be due to the circumstance that the authors have not read the texts they refer to. Cook et al claim to have analyzed 11 944 scientific papers on climate change. How do you find time to read, let alone analyze, almost 12 000 papers?
The simple answer is that you don’t. Instead one reads abstracts. This (again) is laziness. The problems with relying on abstracts are several. And it is not a scientific approach. Abstracts miss the important reservations and accounts of insecurities, problems of measurement, contradictory facts and alternative hypotheses that often are accounted for in the comprehensive text that abstract-readers chose to overlook.
Let us for the time being conclude that it remains obscure how strong the agreement among climate researchers is that mankind causes global warming – if there is any unity at all. And how could there be? “It is the rule rather than the exception that climatological observations can be hypothetically explained in more than one way” (Pettersson 2019:8).
What can we know?
- “Global warming came to a halt in 1998” (Tornvall 2016; Mörner 2020).
- “2018 was the fourth warmest year so far. Only three earlier years have had higher mean temperatures: 2015, 2016 and 2017” (Sydsvenskan 2019).
The above statements appear to be ‘facts’. At least they are presented as such. The two quotations illustrate not only the two sides in the climate debate but also how difficult it can be for laymen to know whom to trust. They cannot both be right, can they? Well, maybe they can – if the reports they rely upon were based on different measuring methods.
Such niceties are seldom reported about beyond the media headlines. But in this case there are interesting differences in the information behind the statements. Tornvall refers to data from five institutes measuring temperatures, which seems fairly reliable. Sydsvenskan (a Swedish daily newspaper), on the other hand, mentions only one source of information: the US space agency NASA which has become (in)famous for retroactively adjusting climate data in order to be able to show increasing temperatures in recent years. Alarmists interpret this as proof that global warming now occurs at tremendous speed. Skeptics, on the other hand, wonder why media so uncritically pass on statements from such a dubious source.
If it were true that the earth is becoming warmer, it should show. But it doesn’t! According to a great number of climate researchers, the climate models that the IPCC relies upon do not correspond with what can be measured in reality (e.g. Karlén 2016; Lundquist & Widding 2019; Christie 2019). There is widespread certainty (although no consensus) among climate researchers that global mean temperatures have not increased during the last 20 years. A global temperature increase ought, for example, to be observable at the poles. Not least media use to tell us that the polar ices are melting with harmful consequences for polar bears and penguins. According to Mörner (2020) it is just the other way around:
- Greenland has become colder since the 1980s.
- The extension of arctic marine ice has been unchanged since 2007.
- There are now more polar bears in the Arctic than during the last 60 years.
- Melting ice in western Antarctic is due to volcanoes – in eastern Antarctic ice grows.
So what is the situation? Is there a man-made global warming or not? Is there anyone that can give an exhaustive answer to that question?
The authority which many who air opinions about the climate crisis (if there is one) lean on is the United Nations’ climate panel (IPCC), founded in 1988. It is widely regarded, not least by media, as an impartial expert panel made up of thousands of scientists. But it isn’t. The panel is made up of 194 government representatives who, together with scientists present an annual report clarifying the scientific knowledge about climate change. The IPCC does not conduct research itself but assembles and interprets research about mankind’s alleged climate impact. Its commission is:
“to assess on a comprehensive, objective and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation” (quoted from Ribbing 2011).
Many critics argue that the IPCC does not fulfill its commission. If one wants to (and apparently there are many who want to), one can emphasize different parts of the task. One can either stress “assess the scientific basis of risk” or one can emphasize “human-induced climate change”. It seems that the IPCC has chosen the latter alternative. Despite this meaning the panel is only pursuing half its commission, the IPCC has since its foundation taken for granted that mankind causes climate change. To some extent the IPCC can be excused since its activities were from start based on a (incorrect) statement from UNEP (one of its founders) from the previous year that the hypothesis about man’s guilt had been verified (Ribbing 2011). Nevertheless, it is an astonishingly liberal interpretation the IPCC has arrived at.
Due to this reduction or reinterpretation of its commission, the IPCC has, according to many critics, transformed its task to “document how [not if] human activities increase atmospheric levels of CO2, how [not if] this might cause global warming and [if so] which the consequences might be” (Tornvall 2016:43; see also Widding 2019). This is the very basis of IPCC’s activities. In other words, the IPCC takes for granted that which should be investigated. That is not a scientific approach. And it deliberately overlooks the obligation to assess “comprehensively, objectively and transparently”. This is all the more remarkable since there is no consensus about man’s role. There can be other factors influencing climate such as cosmic radiation or cyclic, natural processes. This, of course, does not exclude that man’s activities are also playing a role, but to the IPCC “every natural change in the climate … becomes a direct threat to the idea of man-made climate change” (Tornvall 2016:43).
According to how the commission has been interpreted, scenarios – actually warnings – about what global warming could result in are produced, for example ever-increasing temperatures, melting polar ice, lost farmland, heightened sea-level and loss of coastland, increased frequency of “extreme weather”. None of this has come true – so far (Mörner 2020; Pettersson 2019). The use of language is deceptive. How extreme will weather have to be to earn the epithet “extreme”? Nobody seems to know and it is open for interpretations. Media loves the concept. “Extreme weather” gets a lot of attention in media, who find it easy to attribute, for example, recent years’ forest fires in Sweden to man-made CO2-emissions. Against this hasty conclusion stands that the IPCC sees no direct linkage between rising temperatures and extreme weather (IPCC 2012; 2013). But they keep warning about it – for the future.
‘Skeptics’ have criticized the IPCC (and the measuring institutes it leans on) for retroactively adjusting their data (Karlsson 2013; Tornvall 2016; Mörner 2020). According to Karlén (2016), NASA, for example, has ‘administratively’ lowered measured temperatures during the first half of the 20th century and raised low recorded temperatures during latter times. This they are believed to do in order to safeguard the cherished idea that it is mankind that causes global warming. This, according to ‘skeptics’, suggests the IPCC has a hidden agenda. That may well be the case but readjustments need not indicate cheating or have a deceptive purpose. They can also reflect the difficulty of estimating and/or interpreting (historical) data. Also the UN’s agricultural bureau FAO sometimes retroactively adjusts data on agricultural production. Nevertheless, this practice gives rise to questions that ought to be answered – especially since such data are used to motivate multi-billion expenditures to avoid the pending climate catastrophe.
On many occasions catastrophe scenarios seem to be based on belief rather than knowledge. They are based on advanced climate models – which are interpreted by others than those who constructed them. Modeling can be a precarious occupation, the more precarious the more complex the model is. Models are often based on systems analysis. To grasp large systems, with a mass of qualitatively and quantitatively varying components that influence each-other (or not) directly and/or indirectly, often in unexpected ways, is a delicate task. To model the earth’s (future) climate is tremendously complex – not to mention complicated. A metaphor, sometimes used by those who teach modeling, reads: “Modeling is like making sausage. The end-product might look appetizing indeed, but one should preferably not know the recipe”. As a matter of fact, there is great uncertainty as to
“whether climate models are correct. To be sure, the probability that model-estimates are statistically secured are indicated, but that only concerns the effect of indicators’ spread on the results of simulations. Hence, they only measure the model’s sensitivity to different in-data parameters. But they do not calculate (and cannot calculate) the probability that the model itself is correct, that it has included all the most important parameters in the correct way (and that those omitted do not exceed a certain level), simply because the mechanisms are not known, established, or described sufficiently well” (Fölster 2008:56, my translation).
And this is where it often falters. The climate models that the IPCC refers to have not been validated (Pettersson 2019) viz. it is uncertain whether they (correctly) measure what they claim to measure. According to Karlén (2016), the IPCC’s calculations are “not reliable” and Pettersson (2017) considers their climate models “deficient, unscientific and useless as foundation for political decisions”.
The virtual reality of climate models differs considerably from the real world in which we live. A majority of climate scientists today share the view that climate models exaggerate rising temperatures compared to what can actually be measured empirically (Lundquist & Widding 2019; Widding 2019). According to Christie (2019), the models’ mean exaggeration is three times as large as the measured rise in temperatures. In October 2019, ‘500 prominent climate scientists and professionals’ sent a letter to the UN Secretary General pointing this out and claiming “there is no climate crisis” (European Declaration 2019). And the European particle research center CERN has requested that IPCC “thoroughly revise” their climate models (Tornvall 2016). This, apparently, has escaped the attention of ‘realists’.
If this is a problem in present times, it would be virtually impossible to accurately estimate global mean temperatures in the distant future, say in 40 or 100 years’ time. Most climate scientists seem to agree on that. Instead we have expostulations. And that is no wonder. The climate system is “among the most complicated [phenomena] that we study” (Holmgren 2015:31). Consequently, there is “very large uncertainty” in the UN’s climate panel’s calculations of future climate (ibid). Even the IPCC itself admitted in its third report (2001) that “[t]he climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible” (quoted from Mörner 2020:194). In later reports this disclaimer has been omitted and alarmists declare that the IPCC’s models are able to “predict future temperature with uncanny precision” (Sörlin 2017:99). This, to be sure, is pure nonsense. Even if models are constantly improved, such declarations are simply fake news. Caution is warranted when it comes to climate statements.
But many of those who refer to climate models (in particular to the IPCC’s interpretation of models) are not cautious. They do not know the recipe and are therefore unable to judge their accuracy or whether they can be used as realistic prognoses or not. That, however, is frequently done. In part, this can be explained by ignorance and wishful thinking. In part it can be explained as an effect of laymen’s widespread trust in the IPCC – as long as it may last. The IPCC claims to have enrolled the absolutely most qualified scientists in the world. In contrast, the Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise, who had studied IPCC for years, could show that several persons with responsible tasks as main authors of IPCC reports lacked competence for the task. They got the assignments while they were still junior, before they had graduated, even, in one case, before the person had published any academic paper at all (Karlsson 2013).
That there is consensus about the climate threat is, as shown above, not really true. Partly this has to do with methodological and measuring problems, with ensuing uncertainties. Partly it has to do with a desire within the IPCC to ‘find’ the right indications. The circumstance that temperature data have been ‘adjusted’ retroactively is believed to be because otherwise no trend would have been ‘observed’ (Karlsson 2013). John Christy (2019) informs that the IPCC’s lead authors are carefully chosen so that the ‘right’ message will be delivered. This is corroborated by several former participants to the IPCC. For example, Richard Lindzen, lead author of IPCC’s third report, reveals that “during the draft sessions IPCC’s coordinators … insisted that critique of the climate models should be minimized. Refusals were met with abuse” (Bern & Tauersköld 2009:227). Despite everything that is being claimed about the scientific rigor of the IPCC, complaints are legion that it is politically appointed officials that decide what shall be written in the final document and especially in ‘summary for policymakers’, often over the head of involved scientists or against their will (Karlén personal information; Karlsson 2013; Mörner 2020; Widding 2019). According, inter alia, to Pettersson (2019) the only consensus there is to be found within the IPCC is political – not scientific – consensus.
Despite this, the climatologist Lennart Bengtsson asserts that “IPCC’s reports, not least the natural science assessment, provides a reliable and balanced summary of scientific knowledge” (Bengtsson 2019:162). This may well be the case. I am not going to argue against him and, after all, there are other climate researchers who agree. But there is a difference between IPPC’s main (scientific) reports and its summary for policymakers (which Bengtsson doesn’t comment on) – both in relation to their contents as well as to how they are presented.
Many ‘skeptics’ have noted that the contents of the scientific reports and their summaries tend to differ, sometimes critically so. Sometimes uncertainties in the main report have been fetched into ‘certainty’ in the summary (Welander 2011; Pettersson 2019). Sometimes the summaries are “saying precisely the opposite of what the scientists said” (Lloyd, quoted from Mörner 2020:211). Christie suggests the scientific findings may have been misinterpreted in the summaries (ibid). This may well be the case since IPCC’s ‘summary for policymakers’ are written before the background documents are finalized! That is a great opportunity to ‘misinterpret’ but I am getting more and more inclined to see this as a deliberate strategy.
This impression is strengthened when one looks at how differently main reports and summaries are presented. Summaries for policymakers are published with great fanfare and get a lot of attention at press releases and because they are handed out to politicians and media. This, apparently, is what journalists (in the best of worlds) find time to read – if they bother at all. Few (except ‘skeptics’?) care, or find time, to read the comprehensive reports. These are made public, as it seems, almost in secrecy. Welander (2011) calls attention to the peculiar circumstance that the ‘main findings’ in the IPCC report 2007 were first leaked to the press, then the ‘summary for policymakers’ was loudly presented and a few months later the main (scientific) report was made accessible – with much less ado.
These observations indicate that the ‘climate issue’ – or at least IPCC’s role in it – has been a political rather than a scientific concern from start (see also Nordangård (2019) for the history of the climate threat).
The IPCC, and many of its followers, claim that IPCC only relies on scientifically scrutinized (peer-reviewed) material. This, however, has been found to be far from the truth. When Donna Laframboise and her team examined the nearly 19 000 references in the 2007 IPCC report, they found that as much as 30 percent were to not-peer-reviewed sources (Karlsson 2013). A not insignificant share was to green lobbyists (Mörner 2020). Contrary to what they claim, the IPCC thus to a considerable degree base its statements on non-scientific sources and procedures with devastating effect on its credibility. Not that it matters to many ‘realists’.
It is tempting to regard this as an ideological bias resulting in the IPCC seeing what it wants to see – that conclusions precede analysis. Consequently, in IPCC’s climate models
“[t]he course of causality is not something one wants to reveal as a result of theory testing, but it is the point of departure. Hence, they are not theories which can be falsified by empirical tests. Rather, they are arithmetic examples with turnouts that are totally dependent on the researcher’s choice of theory and data” (Andersson & Gunnarsson 2011:73).
Instead of allowing data to influence the model, it is sometimes the other way around – models shape data. Hence, we are not dealing with prognoses (even if it sometimes sounds as if we were) but with projections. And projections are awkward in the sense that they tell more about the one projecting than about the ‘reality’ they are assumed to shed light on. Projections are colored by the onlooker’s fears, wishes and other burdens.
This seems to be the case with the (in)famous ‘hockey-stick’ (Figure 1). The hockey-stick is a graph that is said to show the evolution of the earth’s mean temperature during the last 1000 years. It shows a long period of stable mean temperatures (the horizontal shaft) and sharply rising temperatures (the blade) from about the year 1900, i.e. during the period that mankind’s use of fossil fuels can have had in impact on temperature. The model was first constructed by Mann et al in 1998 and was presented in the IPCC report of 2001. Since then it has been widely seen as an undisputed truth and been referred to by thousands of climate writers. The expectation that the blade shall continue to grow is widely spread and is the basis of much climate anxiety.
Intuitively (i.e. without thinking) the ‘hockey-stick’ is appealing. ‘Of course, that is how it must be!’ The model alleges that the earth’s climate has been stable for a thousand, perhaps even thousands, of years only to run amok when industrialization, and thereby use of fossil fuels, gained momentum. But intuition may lead astray and there are other models, which show something else.
To put the problem with rising temperatures (if it is a problem) in perspective, let us first look back somewhat. The earth has, periodically, been both warmer and colder than at present. The latest warming began in the 17th century, well ahead of the industrial revolution. Moreover: “warmer and colder periods have replaced each-other entirely without the help of mankind during the last 2000 years but atmospheric CO2-content remained low during the whole period” (Mörner 2020). Since the last glaciation – holocen, ca 10 600 years – the climate was first warmer than today and the trend has since been slowly declining. The coldest period was the “little ice-age” (ca 1300 – 1900), which led to severe winters and declining harvests with millions dead all over Europe. The period after 1900 thus coincides not only with enhanced use of fossil fuel, but also with the (slow) ending of the ‘little ice-age’. Maybe we should appreciate the warming?
The ‘hockey-stick’ has been questioned. Karlsson (2013) finds it “too ‘good’ to be trustworthy” and points out that it presents a false picture of stable climate before the year 1900: “What happened to the medieval warmth that shows so well on other temperature graphs” (ibid p28). It can be a consequence of methodological difficulties. The statisticians Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitric (2005) argue that Mann’s data-transformation produces a ‘hockey-stick effect’ no matter which data one uses as input. This indicates, not only that the model is misleading but also that it is the model that guides data, not the other way around, which it ought to be.
The Canadian climatologist Tim Ball, who has arrived at a different finding than Mann (figure 1) has demanded that Mann discloses his original data in order to check whether the ‘hockey-stick’ would survive a critical scrutiny. Despite years of legal processes and millions in expenditures on lawyers, Mann has so far refused to make these data accessible. Tim Ball sued Mann but his lawyers for a long time managed to block revealing the data (O’Sullivan 2017). In response, Mann sued Ball for slander. The controversy has now been settled in court and Tim Ball was acquitted (GWPF 2019). To save original data and to enable third part to scrutinize them is considered good behavior in science. Often it is mandatory. Unfortunately, Mann is not the only alarmist climate researcher that has refused to make public the data on which his message was based. Upon request, Phil Jones (professor at Climate Research Unit, University of East Anglia, and central figure in the Climategate scandal) claimed that his requested data were “lost” or had been “destroyed” (Orlowsky 2009).
As mentioned, I cannot determine which of Ball and Mann that is right – if any of them. It is more than likely that you who read this also lack the ability to do so. Two issues, however, demand further attention. First, the ‘hockey-stick’ is not at all as non-controversial as many say. Secondly, the fact that Mann and other alarmists so stubbornly refuse to publicize their original data makes the whole endeavor look suspicious. Are we, after all, not dealing with a methodological error but rather with a deliberate effort to manipulate data in order to arrive at a predetermined conclusion? A certain amount of skepticism is warranted when it comes to claims about climate.
Many think that the ‘hockey-stick’ by now has lost actuality. So why waste time and energy on it today? It is true that, after critique had become too embarrassing, the IPCC stopped using it in 2007. But it still pops up in newspapers and various texts long after its official burying (see e.g. Nilsson 2015; Kellner 2017; Bois 2019). Despite its shortcomings, the ‘hockey-stick’ still lives on in many memories and continues to shape many world-views, not least among journalists.
While positions among ‘realists’ and ‘deniers’ remain unaltered there are still a number of unsolved issues about climate – presently and for the future. The role of CO2 is the first and most fundamental. Despite the alleged consensus, it remains unclear whether increased levels of CO2 to the atmosphere are cause or effect of rising temperatures. It is also not clear whether this is harmful or beneficial to mankind.
This has to do with ‘climate sensitivity’. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that exists naturally in the atmosphere. The atmosphere’s CO2-content is miniscule and mankind’s contribution to total atmospheric CO2-circulation represents (at present) only about 5 percent. Widding (2019b) wonders whether such a minor addition of a substance that is “essential for photosynthesis and all life on earth” can realistically be considered harmful. I have no answer but I believe that, in principle, also an alteration of the amount of a minor substance could have a large effect – if the substance were in some sense critical. Admittedly, this sounds like Rockström’s tales about ‘tipping-points’ but I am not sure such reasoning is relevant here.
Be that as it may. Alarmists claim that there is a positive (in their view negative) feed-back that multiplies the harmful effects (global warming) of enhanced CO2-emissions to the atmosphere. The logic goes like this: Once a variable in a balanced system is altered, disequilibrium sets in and will be progressively aggravated unless the variable is restored to its pre-disturbance value, viz. unless atmospheric CO2-content is restored to its pre-industrialization level, there will be no end to global warming. Widding (2019b) says this is merely an unproven assumption. Instead, in accordance with ‘Le Chantier’s principle’, nature or atmosphere is more likely to strive to restore balance (ibid; Pettersson 2019). That could well be the case. I do not have the answer. The matter of ‘climate sensitivity’ (its possible nature, magnitude and direction), as far as I can see, remains unsolved.
Other, yet unanswered, questions about what influences the earth’s climate – and how and how much – are legion. Being a layman on this subject I can only hint at a few. Uncertainties remain about the effect of clouds and about what causes cloud-formation (type of clouds, elevation, etc.). Cosmic radiation appears to have a crucial importance for cloud-formation – in that it enhances the presence of low, white clouds that have a cooling effect – but is negatively correlated with solar activity. Solar activity, in turn, has more than doubled during the 20th century, parallel to increasing temperatures. Mörner (2020:198f) refers to studies observing that both in a long and a short time-perspective, temperature-change on earth correlates with variations in solar activity” – but less so with changes in atmospheric CO2-content (ibid).
Climate research is still a young science. As its models improve and our knowledge about the climate system – and its complexity – grows, so, it seems, does our relative ignorance. Our understanding is based on “increasingly advanced climate-models but, despite this, uncertainty is just as great as it used to be, or even greater” (Bengtsson 2019:162f).
Maybe we should be content with admitting that, bury our war-hammers and continue the discussion in a less rigid and more inquisitive manner? Unfortunately, many media and climate-‘alarmists’ try to silence those who think differently. Many, ‘deniers’, have been cut-off from media or have seen their research grants diminish. Bullying and ostracism of skeptics have occurred and still do. The ‘green movement’ obviously has its own inquisitors. To a not insignificant degree they appear to aim at safe-guarding a fake consensus.
There are a couple of thousand climate researchers in the world but the ‘climate threat’ – that we are about to face a catastrophe of our own making – is embraced by millions of believers. The majority of those who engage in the climate debate largely lack the knowledge necessary to assess the likelihood of this threat coming true. They express it for other reasons. Sometimes because it may seem reasonable to trust a majority and sometimes because it is politically correct – a climber always does the right thing. Thus, to ‘opt for the climate’ has on many an occasion been beneficial for career, research grants, visibility and newspaper circulation – even (or particularly) among those who are not really climate researchers, for example Anders Wijkman and Johan Rockström.
The former Swedish TV-meteorologist Pär Holmgren, who left TV for a career as itinerant climate-warner, found it tactically correct to disregard science and instead exploit the vision of threat because this gives greater resonance (Karlsson 2013). This, apparently, was a correct judgment since he now represents the ‘green’ coalition in the European Parliament. On other occasions, the climate threat gathers supporters because they are genuinely worried. Part of the story is also that Western culture has, at least since Antiquity, been permeated with doomsday visions (Frängsmyr 1980; Herman 1997). Not surprisingly, Martinez (2015) writes about “a public hungry for disaster”. That may be an exaggeration but there appears, in our society, to be a widespread propensity to embrace dystopic narratives, for skillful demagogues to exploit. This is reflected, for example, in the large amount of apocalyptically inspired films and music that has won popularity among the young (who have been fed with environmental alarms since childhood).
The flagellants of our time do not whip themselves to compensate for sinful lives, but give air to their climate-anxiety by making noise in the streets, shirk from school and change their eating-habits. Historically, we, in the Western world, live in exceptional times. The common wo/man enjoys a life-style that previously was attainable for only a few, if anyone. It simply seems too good to be true. Intuitively, we can suspect that there will be punishment.
In a movie I watched some years ago, a little boy was asked: “So you know how to seduce?” He answered: “Oh that is simple! Just tell them what they want to hear”. That Al Gore received the Nobel Foundation’s Peace Prize in 2006 (together with the IPCC) for his film “An Unconvenient truth” does therefore not surprise. The films’ message – that climate-change is human-induced, acute and disastrous – was precisely what many wanted to hear. How Al Gore contributed to world-peace is, however, not revealed. As an educative tool, the film is bad – it just stacks one claim on top of the other without really explaining anything. No references to support statements, neither in the film nor in the simultaneously published book. It mentions nothing about uncertainties or lack of data and its main purpose seems to have been to boost the image of Al Gore himself. As alarm-clock, the film was a late-comer. “By this time, the ‘climate-threat’ was deeply anchored in the general public” (Nordangård 2013:168).
There is also reason to question the prize-committee’s competence to assess the correctness of the film’s message. After all, they were all laymen in this regard. The film, moreover, contains so many errors that the British High Court prohibited it being shown in schools unless these errors were simultaneously highlighted. That the film also won an Oscar in 2007 as best ‘documentary’ illustrates the same thing. It was, as far as climate matters are concerned, laymen who gave him the prize – because he told them what they wanted to hear. That a frightened teenager mobilizes millions of followers and gains maximum media coverage when she goes globe-trotting to share her climate-anxiety does not surprise. She says what many want to hear. That the notorious climate-warner Johan Rockström has won popularity as radio entertainer should preferably be seen in the same light.
Much of what is forwarded in the climate debate has to do with suppositions and expectations, rather than facts. Obviously, many have exploited the anxiety they themselves have contributed to and see advantages by shouting ‘the wolf is coming’. Perhaps it doesn’t matter much. Many, who are laymen on this subject (artists, journalists, politicians, social scientists, youth), are more than willing to accept the message that disaster is near, that it is self-provoked and that a massive societal turn-over is necessary. How, then, does one launch a massive turn-over of society? First one must foster a shared ‘crisis-awareness’. The climate researcher Stephen Schneider found that “we need some kind of popular support, to catch the attention of the public” (quoted from Lomborg 2007). Also others have stressed the importance of “creating a strong pressure from below” (e.g. Gerst et al 2014; Rockström 2015). A question one must ask one-self is whether this really has to do with enlightenment – or if it doesn’t rather means seeking support for a controversial proposal among the ignorant.
In order to catch the public’s attention, it is essential to get a lot of media coverage. Hence, alarmists and activists do not hesitate to offer scaring scenarios, to present simplified and dramatic messages and to conceal doubts or contradicting evidence. This is a well-examined practice that has long been used in connection with environmental threats. Already in 1947, the journal Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists launched the so called ‘doomsday clock’ (which, of course, was set at a few minutes to twelve), in order to “scare people into rationality”. Later, also climate fear became part of the bulletin’s agenda (Nordangård 2013). In 1989 the IPCC’s co-ordinating author Stephen Schneider wanted to catch people’s attention with ‘horror stories’ and in 1994 Sir John Houghton (chief author of IPCC’s first three summary reports) found that “if we do not predict catastrophes, no-one will listen” (Tornvall 2016:75). That activists use scare-tactics is nothing to be upset about – they have political agendas – but that the IPCC with its alleged scientific identity does the same is outrageous.
This gives a completely new meaning to the concept ‘climate threat’ – viz. not something that threatens but something to threaten with. Apparently, alarmists have been successful. To give rise to ‘crisis awareness’ will, however, not suffice. As Jackson (2012) points out: without offering a plausible alternative, it will not work.
Brave New World
Therefore, many, not least academic, climate and environment activists are busy looking for new visions. “Green utopias” are believed to have the desired effect. Much has in later years been published in that spirit. While earlier utopias – like Thomas More’s Utopia – often presented rigid, totalitarian ideal societies, now one wants to emphasize values, fantasy and normative visions of a different world order (Bradley & Hedrén 2014; Hedrén & Linnér 2009; Hjerpe & Linnér 2015; Rockström 2015). The purpose of ‘green utopias’ is said to be to create hope and inspiration (Isaksson 2014). It is all about “formulating the vision of why a sustainable world is more attractive, funnier, cooler, more advanced and democratic” (Rockström 2015). What primarily is needed is “a new planetary ethics that considers the unknowable” (Anselm 2012:198).
“It basically [is about] using imagination [read: fear] to understand … the necessity of radical societal change and ways of life adapted to the new insights [read: imaginations]” (ibid p200).
To me this represents mumbo-jumbo and ‘academic masturbation’. Of course, anyone is free to dream about another, better world. But utopias are wishful thinking, not science. One therefore wonders whether research-financing institutions should actually pay for wishful thinking or whether the academy should consider the unknowable?
One such utopia is “the great transition”. In this vision of the future, three scenarios are presented: Conventional Worlds (continue as usual), Barbarization (war and anarchy) and Great Transitions (utopia realized). The first two lead to hell, the only difference is speed and degree of brutality. The ‘great transition’, in contrast, solves the problem. It is primarily based upon a thorough change of values and emphasizes quality of life, solidarity and global equality – but not economic growth. In the envisioned utopia, profit is subordinated to social objectives and planetary boundaries. Society and business are small-scale and decentralized and leisure-time has increased (in the whole world). Parallel to decentralization, a world government (Sic!) has been established together with a pluralistic ‘global culture’ based on peace, respect and social harmony (Raskin et al 2002; Raskin 2006; see also Gerst 2014). At the time of writing, self-appointed ‘realists’ keep dreaming about a great transition and the establishing of a new global system that will “not only help us mitigate and adapt to climate change, but will also reduce inequality, lift people out of poverty, and build trust in international cooperation” (Rockström et al 2020).
With all deference to dreaming, how realistic is this vision? Can it even function as a load-star? And how will the vision come into reality, by whom and with what means? How long will it take? Is it at all possible to create a world government that not only unites nations and local communities, religions and cultures, but also peasants, industrialists and urbanites – or, why not, both pre- and post-modern societies? And, even if it were possible, can it be done in a democratic way?
Perhaps it is improper to ask such questions to a utopia. But why not? Raskin, Rockström and others believe it is changed values that govern societal evolution (a questionable postulate). Therefore, ‘civil society’ and engaged citizens, not least the young generation and NGOs, are seen as important founding elements of the new, sustainable society. They are expected to convert the more inert representatives of politics and business. This is not unproblematic. In which way shall they be given (take) influence? ‘Civil society’ is not a homogeneous entity and neither is ‘youth’. NGOs have frequently been criticized for not honoring the democratic ethos they demand of others. Studies have also shown that NGO-involvement can lead to less efficient decision-making. Transparency and participation are often seen as necessary preconditions for democracy and environmental protection, not least by NGOs. Transparency and stakeholder participation sometimes result in representatives of civil society primarily concerning them-selves about protecting their image as unbending and of firm principle. They are seldom willing to compromise. Rather than searching for solutions, they play for the gallery (McGulloch 2006).
But perhaps the foremost function of utopia is not to hint at something worth striving for but instead to hide something less attractive? The alleged severity of the climate threat gives at hand that democracy is too slow and too discreet – it may even be an obstacle. People are said to be fact-resistant (Wijkman & Rockström 2011). Green issues are said not to rank high in political elections (Bradley & Hedrén 2014) and fewer and fewer voters are said to take the climate threat seriously (Wijkman & Rockström 2012). Therefore, changed consumption patterns cannot be left to the individual and “without a strong leadership, change will be impossible” (Jackson 2012:176).
Wijkman and Rockström (2011) find citizens/voters unreliable. Even if they do as they are told, e.g. save energy, they behave wrongly. Savings attained in one area are used to increase consumption in another. Fuel-saving cars, for example, entice people to drive longer distances and the environmental gain is lost. People, obviously, do not understand their own good. A strong leadership seems warranted on all levels. Since fossil fuels are considered the cause of climate change, the world must become fossil-free as soon as possible. Johan Rockström in an interview says that this must be done “whatever the cost” (Stjernstedt 2016). It seems not unlikely that the cost will be citizen’s influence on (climate) policy. Our present political systems is said to be incapable of solving the problem. After all, we are dealing with “one of the greatest challenges ever” (Schellnhuber & Kropp 1998; Rockström 2015). It will be necessary to strengthen global governance (Wijkman & Rockström 2011; Tännsjö 2017) and – on a global scale – to control the relation society-nature, so called ‘earth-system governance’ (Biermann 2012; Wijkman & Rockström 2012). These will be complex undertakings that raise almost insurmountable demands not only about expertise but also broad-sightedness and ability to co-ordinate. At the same time we are warned not to believe that new technology, capitalism and democracy can save us.
“As if we could stay within ‘planetary boundaries’ by handing over to the good human creativity, supplemented with some small remains of politics, to find ‘solutions’” (Sörlin 2017:164).
People – politicians, businessmen, voters – are, as mentioned, regarded as unreliable. The citizen is sometimes ignorant, often egotistic and shortsighted. Therefore, “an equal and democratic solution of climate change may very well … result in increased environmental overload” (Carton 2016:20). We should not overlook that dilemma. But to many climate-lobbyists it is close at hand to draw the conclusion that what is required is not only someone who can ‘point with the whole hand’ but, moreover, can take unpopular decisions. Then what happens with democracy? Not even the in these regards influential Club of Rome (where Anders Wijkman is chairman) believes democracy is worth safeguarding.
“Democracy is not a miracle cure. It … is no longer suitable for the tasks ahead of us. The complexity and technicality of many contemporary problems do not always allow elected representatives to make the correct decision at the right time” (Club of Rome 1991:71).
It is obviously the case that climate issues and environmental efficiency easily collide with other goals, which have to do with human development and social justice. Our understanding of complex processes and planetary boundaries is incomplete. Many are of the opinion that we cannot wait until we know for sure. It is tempting to draw the conclusion that we/someone must act now. With so high ambitions as to ‘save the planet’, one can take liberties – while at the same time reducing those of others. If people (voters) are considered irresponsible and the political system as ineffective, then eco-fascism may be nearer than we like to believe.
Otherwise, a ‘supervised democracy’ might seem like a solution. That is exactly what Joachim Schellnhuber has suggested (Der Spiegel 2010). He would like to see a kind of guardian council, made up of ‘global ombudsmen’, which should be the voice of nature and future generations. If there would be any point with green ombudsmen (we already have green parliamentarians) then they must be given veto-right – just like the guardian council in Iran. Now, similar ‘solutions’ are suggested also in the West. In 2016, an official committee proposed that the Swedish government establish an independent (read superior) ‘climate-policy council’ with the objective to scrutinize the government’s climate policy (Wijkman et al 2016). The idea was recently realized without much public debate (Regeringen 2017). As if it wasn’t enough with an environmental party, green critics and lobbyists. Now our elected representatives have also been given an ‘overcoat’ and must answer to a non-elected political police which is there to safe-guard that they make the correct decisions! Isn’t that to reduce democracy?
Many do not seem to care. An increasing number of individuals and organizations presently demand that the government shall proclaim an “emergency for the climate”. This actually worries me. Deaton (2019:269) sounds equally worried when concluding that “there is no obvious solution [to the climate threat] that is politically reasonable”. Our political institutions’ alleged inability to handle this possible threat and people’s fears have led certain leading lobbyists to claim “[r]easoning in terms of ‘what is politically possible’ completely misses the target and shows that one has not understood the true nature of the problem” (Wijkman & Rockström 2011:269). In a democracy, to go beyond what is politically possible is to dismantle democracy.
Calls for autocratic and drastic solutions to the ‘climate-problem’ are commonplace. But they seldom come from climate-scientists. The Swedish philosopher Torbjörn Tännsjö (2017), for example, has suggested that a global government should take over because democratic states are incapable of implementing the measures needed. For the same reason, the environmental activist James Lovelock finds it necessary to “put democracy on pause” (The Guardian 2010). The climate alarmist Pär Holmberg finds the climate threat so severe that we quickly should cancel all elections (Erixon 2018) and Jörgen Randers suggests a temporary (?) “enlightened dictatorship” in order to solve the climate issue (Weidemo Uvell, undated). In January 2019, 87 self-appointed ‘influencers’ urgently recommended the Swedish prime minister to “let go of voter-support” and to “over-run us and our climate-catastrophic habits” (Expressen 2019). And Anders Wijkman, former chairman of the Club of Rome and former chairman of the Swedish environmental target commission (miljömålsberedningen) does not shy away from declaring: “the advantage with a centralized, top-down system is that once it makes up its mind, things happen quickly. There is no trouble-making opposition” (Stjernstedt 2017).
It appears that this kind of environment- and climate-demagogy finds it surprisingly easy to appeal to a wider audience. Opinion polls show that, in the Western world, the support for democratic institutions decreases and that
“[m]ore and more people … express their support for authoritarian alternatives to democracy. In the EU and the USA it is now less than half of those born after 1960 that answer clearly yes to the question if it is important to live in a democracy” (Rothstein 2016).
It would hardly be rash to claim that climate-fear rhetoric has contributed to this precarious state of minds. Climate-motivated threats to democracy can no longer be brushed aside as paranoid fantasies. They are becoming increasingly real. Seen as scenarios, they appear at least as plausible as the ‘great transition’.
This threat to democracy is reinforced by the almost zealous conviction that characterizes much climate-fear agitation. As in the case of religion, it is more important to believe than to know. Feelings are reckoned higher than facts and it is more important who claims something than what is being claimed. It is true that many climate researchers have a good understanding of the subject and that many of them are honestly worried about what climate change may lead to. But they do not know! Greta Thunberg does not know and 87 influencers do not know. The majority of the climate-fear-mongers lack the necessary knowledge and many, apparently, are driven by less honorable motives (an urge for power or career, for example) or they are just scared. That can explain the malignant tone in which the agitation is often pursued – often by dilettantes who lack deep knowledge of the issue.
Hate-blogs on the web and guilt-by-association accusations of skeptics are commonplace. People who express doubts about the climate-threat – that the doomsday is near and that we have ourselves to blame – and/or criticize how the agitation is pursued are branded as “deniers”. Academics with the wrong idea risk being intimidated by colleagues. The Swedish journal Ny Teknik (2018) warns that there are “ten climate-skeptics among the members of parliament” and reveals that a certain MP has participated in a conference for skeptics. He was immediately admonished by his party’s whip. The accused claimed to have attended the event in order to listen to arguments (something that ought to be every MP’s duty) but that he didn’t share all the views presented. This gives me the creeps. In manners reminiscent of the inquisition’s search for ‘disbelievers’ or Stalin’s hunt for ‘renegades’, the search-light is now upon ‘deviators’ in the climate issue.
What does it mean to be a climate-crisis denier? Skepticism and denial is not the same thing. The concept ‘denial’ is not only pejorative, it lumps together all kinds of skepticism over how the agitation is often done. On many occasions, it is enough to say that climate models are not as precise as the believers claim, or that they produce scenarios rather than prognoses, to be singled out as ‘denier’. Wikipedia (2019) defines “climate-skepticism or –denying as skepticism towards one or several common scientific or political perceptions that climate-change is caused by mankind” (my emphasis).
This is an important distinction. There exist different degrees and types of skepticism, from categorical denial of global warming (not common) to various forms or degrees of skepticism towards parts of the suggested threat. Since many of the threat’s protagonists assiduously deny (!) the importance of other, possible mechanisms influencing the earth’s climate (e.g. cosmic radiation, cyclic processes), their message is that man is the only cause of global climate change. This is a too categorical conclusion that data do not support. Sometimes, people pin-pointed as ‘skeptics’ have “not at all questioned that human-induced emissions affect climate” (ibid). Hence, one can be branded as ‘denier’ without having denied anything at all! For example Lomborg is frequently depicted as ‘denier’ despite writing: “That mankind, during the last centuries, has been the cause of a considerable escalation of atmospheric CO2 content and thereby contributed to global warming, is indisputable” (Lomborg 2007:7). In his case, the critique foremost concerns his claims that we react awkwardly and implement wrong measures. Lomborg does not appear as sufficiently orthodox.
Many times critique of the climate threat – not least of IPCC’s conclusions – has been that too far-reaching conclusions have been drawn based on scanty data and/or precarious methods. A higher level of certainty has been asked for, which sometimes has aroused anger. This obviously has to with politics. So have skepticism over administrative adjustments of data and critique of faked signings of IPCC reports. Politically, the climate debate is, at least partly, a consequence of certain parties’ purposeful and long-term effort to realize global elite-governance beyond democratic and national limitations (see e.g. Nordangård 2019). The IPCC is seen to share the Club of Rome’s “expressed which for a new common enemy after the fall of Nazism and communism. An ideal such enemy is the alleged climate threat” (Tornvall 2016).
Skepticism and denial is not the same thing. It is, for example, quite possible to be skeptic towards the political exploitation of climate without therefore question – or deny – the scientific conclusions drawn (perhaps because of insufficient natural science competence). It is also possible to be skeptic over the apparent exaggerations and falsifications in IPCC’s summaries for policymakers when these are compared with the scientific main reports. Hence, there is a lot in the dominating climate-discourse – and how it is being used – that one can (should) be skeptic about without therefore denying anything at all.
A sound skepticism is, for example, warranted concerning various declarations about effects, which for the most part are speculations rather than prognoses. Such aspects alarmists often tend to overlook. Instead efforts are made to discredit the doubtful. Lindvall (2018:5) proposes “climate-denial is about … defending the Western self-image and culture and interplays with aversion of immigration and pluri-culture”. Lindvall does not disclose how he arrived at such a categorical and generalizing statement. As if there were only one Western self-image! And personally I know quite a few skeptics who are neither against immigration, nor against pluri-culture.
Commonly, it is American republicans and reactionaries in general, and the fossil industry and its paid lackeys that are depicted as ‘deniers’. Surely, they exist. But how representative are they? This is a generalization and a categorization that is built more on belief than knowledge (see below). In Sweden, Martin Hultman sees a linkage between right-wing populism and “climate-denial” (Supermiljöbloggen 2017). A dissertation at Uppsala University equalizes, after some linguistic shuffles, skepticism with denial and wants to make us believe that ‘deniers’ are unpleasant beings. They are said to lack empathy as well as to appreciate inequality (Jylhä 2016). Also in this case the author appears to have drawn too far-reaching conclusions based on a meager material and a shaky method.
Is it possible, in a corresponding way, to portray those who demand firm climate action and a dismantling of democracy, as representing an emphatic personality-type? Of course not! That kind of generalization is more aimed at concealing reality than to shed light on it. That, which is sometimes called the ‘climate lobby’, is made-up of a heterogeneous mix encompassing everything from serious scientists to trend-jockeys and ignorant teenagers. It has among its ranks both the good and the bad, young and old and everything from ‘watermelons’ to liberals, deep-green activists and protagonists of ecological modernization.
On the surface the climate discourse seems to be driven by idealists, independent civil society and neutral scientists together with worried teenagers and green politicians. They are there but it is hardly they that drive the discourse, even if they like to believe they are and they are the ones most visible. And that they pursue their activities in opposition to the oil-industry isn’t really true. Nordangård (2019b) has shown how the oil-industry has financed both climate-skeptics and alarmists. Behind many alarmists stand a large number of research centers, foundations and think-tanks, owned, financed and controlled by big capital and transnational enterprises, including the oil-industry. That well-known green NGOs sometimes campaign together with, and are supported by, big transnationals such as Unilever and oil-companies like Shell and Exxon, is well documented (Nordangård 2012; 2019b). Giovanni Agnelli, former owner and chairman of the automobile industry Fiat, initiated and financed the Club of Rome. Robert Anderson, American oil-tycoon and climate-alarmist, has financially supported IIED, World Watch Institute and Friends of the Earth (Nordangård 2013). The Rockefeller family, which built its fortune on the exploitation of fossil fuel, has supported the climate discourse at least since the 1950s (and at the same time propagated for a world government (Nordangård 2019a)).
There is also reason to doubt the seriousness of many of these actors’ engagement for the climate. Al Gore, for example, lived, when his film spread all over the world
“[i]n a 20-room mansion with eight bath-rooms heated by gas. There is also a heated pool, a pool-house and a guest-house, all heated with natural gas. During a single month this house consumes more energy than an average household during a year. The average bill for electricity and gas is over [2000 dollars] per month. Only the gas, which is a fossil fuel, consumes twenty times more energy than an average American house. The house is not situated in a cold climate but in the warm American south. After Al Gore’s private extravaganza was revealed, he has installed solar-panels on the roof which now cover a small part of the electricity consumption” (Fölster 2008:29).
Fiat is still owned by the Agnelli family and still produces cars. Both Robert Anderson and the Rockefeller family have continued to exploit fossil fuels while continuing their engagement for environment and climate. They do not seem to be worried. Obviously, they have something else in mind.
Reality is not as simple as many want to imagine. What many executives and owners of these big enterprises, foundations and think-tanks have in common is a decades-old ambition to realize global governance (Nordangård 2019b; see also Wood 2015). This ambition is also strongly elitistic and of course they expect to be at the helm when our future world is to be governed. It is these companies, foundations and think-tanks that initiate scare-mongering and question democracy as mode of governance. Here, the climate-issue came in handy. Is there a hidden agenda? No, it is hardly hidden, everything can be found in their own texts (ibid). But apparently there is among concerned grass-roots, lobbyists and ‘realists’ a wide-spread unwillingness to see what is there to be seen.
Listen to science!
One climate-alarmist who during last year has been very successful is the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. Since she initiated her Fridays-school-shirking-for-the-climate, she has received unprecedented attention and millions of followers and copy-cats. Media have caught “Greta-fever” (SvD 2019). 16-years old Greta has met with the Pope, spoken to the World Economic Forum and to the United Nations. She has been awarded a prize from Amnesty International and was suggested for the Nobel peace prize – impressing indeed. Her two main messages are “all grown-ups ought to panic” and that we should all (politicians in particular) “listen to science”.
To panic is – even if well-intentioned – a bad advice. Panicking people seldom act rationally. To listen to science is better. But science is not as unanimous as Greta wants (us) to believe. To claim that there is scientific consensus about the climate threat is either ignorant or fraud. And while Greta is, by many, idolized as a new Jeanne d’Arc she may well be remembered as a reincarnation of Don Quichote. It may seem a paradox but Greta doesn’t listen to science, she listens to the IPCC, which is in large degree a political rather than a scientific entity. From a scientific perspective, IPCC’s calculations and climate models have been characterized as deficient, biased and unreliable. Moreover, the IPCC has – by climate-scientists – been criticized as misleading for, inter alia, the following reasons:
- IPCC takes what should be investigated for granted (i.e. it has the answer before the question is made).
- The climate-models IPCC lean on systematically exaggerate global warming, compared with what can be empirically observed.
- IPCC partly base its conclusions on non-scientific sources.
- IPCC has allowed people without necessary competence to be lead authors of reports.
- It is politically appointed officials, not scientists, who have the final say about what should be written in IPCC’s reports.
- IPCC’s final documents and ‘summary for policymakers’ are written before the main report is finalized.
- The conclusions in the ‘summary for policy-makers’ does not always correspond with the findings in the scientific, main report.
All this reveals an attitude that is all but scientific. But there are other climate scientists outside the IPCC who say different things. So I have the following advice for Greta: “Listen to a broader range of science and do not uncritically swallow only what the IPCC tells you” (this also goes for media).
A further paradox is that all those who idolize Greta, all those children who demonstrate, go on sympathy-strikes and harass their parents, do not even listen to Greta! If they did, they had listened to science and stayed in school. Then they had (hopefully) strived to acquire a more nuanced understanding of that, which is sometimes called ‘mankind’s hour of destiny’ – for they (also) do not know. They idolize Greta for other reasons – because they believe that she says what they want to hear.
A final word
So where does all this lead us? What (or whom) should one believe? For no one seems to know for certain. Some claim that the doomsday is near. That seems to be unfounded. It is also claimed that there is no climate crisis. It is tempting to agree but my (lack of) knowledge does not permit that. Instead I lean towards skepticism as the only realistic attitude when it comes to climate claims. That there is an ongoing global warming is correct. Climatologists have been able to measure that. However, warming did not start with industrialization but already a few hundred years earlier. It is, no doubt, possible that mankind contributes to the warming but scientists still dispute that and, if so, we still do not know how much or what it might lead to. It might be in the earth’s favor. The behavior of the IPCC seems somewhat suspect and the climate issue has, to some degree at least, been driven by agents that harbor ambitions which are not at all concerned with broad-based welfare.
The issue is complex. Marian Radetzki (2013) has suggested that the climate-threat may turn out to be an illusion. It is true that it to a significant degree is articulated by people who do not have the competence to determine if or how there really is a threat. Many unsolved issues still remain. That a majority of climate researchers are said to think mankind is to blame, is in itself no proof. And maybe it isn’t even true. The climate-threat has also been fueled by people with obscure ambitions. Is there anyone that believes that Greta Thunberg was invited to speak to the UN or the World Economic Forum because these institutions felt the need to be enlightened? No, they rather regard her as a useful helper – albeit with aspirations I very much doubt Greta would want to be part of.
There are many good reasons to reduce man-made environmental impact but tales of a near, self-inflicted doomsday seem to have shaky foundations. It has been warmer before (e.g. during Roman and medieval times) and the world didn’t go under. The real threat is perhaps not the health of the planet or mankind’s survival but rather climate-policy and the attempts to undermine citizens’ freedom.
Should we, then, not take warnings and peoples’ fears seriously? It is tempting to answer that question with a “yes”. But the suggested threat is vague and exaggerated caution is not without danger. The many warnings about a collapsing world are further modified by those who air them. It is often stressed that it is “the world as we know it”, rather than the world itself, that is being threatened (Ban Ki-Moon 2015; Hjort 2015; Holmgren 2015). And that, dear reader, is a completely different story. By the way, most of those who express their anxiety in any case want a world different from the one they know.
In no way do I want to suggest that the anxiety many harbor is unjustified. But our knowledge about the problematic is insufficient. Maybe this anxiety is also enhanced because there are no simple solutions? But simple solutions seem to be what worried people want. Many, who engage in the climate-debate, seem willing to accept dictatorship. In most cases they do this with good intentions – to save the planet. But to “pause democracy” is, in all likelihood, a quasi-solution. Authoritarian regimes have, so far, done worse for the environment than have democracies. And it will be much more difficult to get rid of a dictator than to install one.
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 Also Oreskes (2004) makes use of this questionable ’method’ in order to highlight consensus.
 They could also be caused by the observed increasing number of incendiary forest fires in recent years (SVT 2019).
 Environmentalists have often aired the belief in an original ’nature in balance’. They have often suggested that modern society disrupts nature’s balance and that mankind must restore it. Their belief in a serene nature in balance might be just a pipe-dream. The natural state of nature – as far as I can see – rather than balance, is an endless tendency to re-cover from the latest shock – a tendency that, in my mind, seems to confirm Le Chantier’s principle.
 Schellnhuber is professsor in physics and former director to the Potsdam Institute and climate advisor to the Pope.
 Formally, Iran is a democracy, or rather a surveilled democracy. In Iran the ayatollahs have tried to solve the ‘democracy-problem’ by appointing a guardian council, which oversees that the decisions made in the parliament correspond with (a certain interpretation of) Islam. The idea behind this is that man is seen as a fragile vessel that easily allows itself to be corrupted, acts out of self-interest, makes inappropriate discretions and sometimes makes decisions without thinking. Then one cannot allow the individual to shape his/her own life or the citizen to decide the contents of politics.
 ’Watermelons’ designates former Marxists who, after the tumbling of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Sovjet union, found a new banner to wave. They are ‘green on the outside but red within’. They tend to harbor an aversion towards the market and an inclination to accept totalitarian rule. They seem to be most common in academia.