Thursday, June 06, 2019

Mike Hulme Goes Hippie Punching

There is a fair amount of discussion about a blog post by Prof. Mike Hulme in which he starts by poisoning the well, asking

A denier is a person who denies something, “… who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence.” If I do not believe that climate change will drive the human species to extinction, does that make me an extinction denier? For I do not believe that there is good scientific or historical evidence that climate change will lead to human extinction.
Walking along Twitter Street Eli stops to look at the cardboard box that Prof. Hulme has set before him, is shown the Queen of Hearts:
A denier is a person who denies something, “… who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence.” 
A reasonable proposition, think anti-Vaxxers, climate change deniers, moon landing was faked types, but now the shuffle, hey, Eli can win that game, so quick shuffle and what happens?
If I do not believe that climate change will drive the human species to extinction, does that make me an extinction denier? For I do not believe that there is good scientific or historical evidence that climate change will lead to human extinction.
which confuses concerns increasingly raised, with scientific, need Eli say this, consensus.  So Eli would say, here is not good grounds for thinking the good Prof. Hulme an extinction denier, but rather a three argument monte operator of long practice with an array of confederates salting the audience.

A fair amount of paragraphs now ensues, an odd combination of nutpicking, confusion of concerns about extinctions, climate change and the future (if any) of the human race,
Across the Atlantic the American commentator Tom Englehardt has placed humanity on a suicide watch for itself. “Even for an old man like me”, he says, “it’s a terrifying thing to watch humanity make a decision, however inchoate, to essentially commit suicide.” And in David Wallace-Wells’ best-selling book, An Uninhabitable Earth, he claims that climate change is “much, much worse than you think”
Whatever you think of these two statements, they are not the same.  Either one or the other can be true or false.  There are multiple threats to our civilization and to people collectively and individually.  Hulme mashes everything together to avoid dealing with each separately and then looking for connections.  The issues are climate change, rapid extinction of multiple species upon which the Earth system and humanity depend for ecological services and more and the effect that these challenges will and are having on human civilizations and humans.

It's like Hulme only reads the Daily Mirror to get information about what the problems are, the old Newsweek said back in 1975 that the world was going to freeze in spades.  Now, were Eli as young as he used to be, he would romp through the rest of Prof. Hulme's ruminations with glee pointing out the ear spinning speed at which he jumps from one set of issues to another, confusing them to buttress his arguments.  Yes, there is much to make light of, but there are, Eli thinks two important points that illustrate best the what is afoot.

The first is the claim
And finally the rhetoric of climate and extinction does not help us morally. Even if we take these claims literally, the mere fact of human extinction by no means impels us to conclude that the correct moral response must be to prevent that extinction. There may well be other moral demands upon us which take precedence, and yet which we ignore. Why the human species above other species? Why are the future unborn more morally demanding of us than the dispossessed victims of today? Why is suicide the worst sin of all?
identified as moral corruption by Stephen Gardiner, as reported on this blog many years ago in relation to delaying action on climate change
the presence of the problem of moral corruption reveals another sense in which climate change may be a perfect moral storm. This is that its complexity may turn out to be perfectly convenient for us, the current generation, and indeed for each successor generation as it comes to occupy our position. . . By avoiding overtly selfish behavior, earlier generations can take advantage of the future without the unpleasantness of admitting it – either to others, or, perhaps more importantly, to itself.
Many false dichotomies ensue.  It boils down to we can't.  But yet, there is another point which illustrates how Hulme really does not understand the nature of the challenges we face
What climate change means is not ‘revealed truth’ emerging from some scientific script. The political meanings and individual and collective responses to climate change have to be worked out iteratively. They have to be negotiated within the political structures and processes we inhabit, negotiations that can’t be circumvented by an appeal to the authority of science being ‘on our side’. (Of course this must also include the possibility of renegotiating some of those same political structures).
That ship sailed in the 1990s.  It dangerously misses the point that climate change and extinctions are cumulative.  The extinction of a species that is important to the web of life is final.  Others species might arise to fill the niche, but not quickly, and if enough species go extinct perhaps the niche itself will vanish.  That is extremely dangerous. 

Climate change driven by increasing greenhouse gases is cumulative.  We need to get net emissions to zero as quickly as possible to avoid dangerous changes.  The best information is that staying even under 2 C or even going above it for a short time will require unproven carbon storage technologies.

In short iterative is an old man's moral corruption.

19 comments:

David B. Benson said...

As I frequently post, planting trillions of trees will surely help. For example, "Irrigated Afforestation of the Sahara desert and the Australian outback to ..." by Ornstein et al. The full paper is freely available via the abstract. Doing this would only require a fraction of DoD budget. Let your congesscritters know.

Old_salt said...

The longer that we delay, the higher will be the cost. Furthermore, getting off fossil fuels will redirect the $1T of economic activity directly tied to finding and processing fossil fuels to something more useful.

Planting trillions of trees in the Sahara is swimming against the tide. They last only so long as you can irrigate them.

Canman said...

"The longer that we delay, the higher will be the cost."

That's far from clear. Future breakthroughs in nextgen fission, fusion, carbon nanotube flywheels, ... might lower costs, while current ineffectual piddly methods may mostly consume wealth and leave us poorer.

EliRabett said...


Dear Canman, If wishes were horses, bunnies would ride

David B. Benson said...

Which is as long as is necessary.

Its clear that you didn't bother to read the Ornstein et al. paper or learn about the prehistory of the Sahara or even consider the Siwa Oasis, with palm trees as far as the eye can see.

Jan Galkowski said...

And we've just gotten smacked by another surprise ... Not only that CH4 emissions from human sources are unprecedented, or that Arctic and associated regions are warming faster than anywhere, putting both permafrost and temperate weather at risk, but warming has apparently activated a hitherto unknown or minimized biogenic CH4 source, as chronicled by Nisbet, et al (Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 2019) and Turner, et al (PNAS, 2019). Paraphrasing Wallace-Wells, not only do we not have time for a revolution, we don't have time for H.G.Wells-like technological miracles to spring forth from the brown of Zeus. And trees don't help CH4, and they may indeed add.

Jan Galkowski said...

"brown --> "brow", sorry.

Old_salt said...

On desertification of Africa--see DeMenocal and Tierney (2012)
https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/green-sahara-african-humid-periods-paced-by-82884405

The Saharan wet period was driven by orbitally driven changes in insolation. Next one is expected in about 13,000 years. In the absence of a climate driver for water, you have to bring the water to your trees.

David B. Benson said...

Yes, that's why the paper, which you should tead, has a title beginning "Irrigated Afforestation..."

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

"In the absence of a climate driver for water, you have to bring the water to your trees."

Plant them all, and let the cottonwoods sort it out.

David B. Benson said...

Being serious, one begins with acacias and eventually diversifies.

steven said...

wow all that fur flying and you didn't even land a shot

EliRabett said...

An old man's moral corruption pretty much describes Hulme's piece. If that ain't a good shot, Eli is going to retire

citizenschallenge said...

"old man's moral corruption" works pretty good.
It's nice see some else found Hulme's essay repulsive, thank you.

I do think Hulme makes for a case study in the distinction between our Mental Mindscapes v. Physical Reality.

For what it's worth;
"Mike Hulme gets lost in his Mindscape. An examination."
https://confrontingsciencecontrarians.blogspot.com/2019/06/mike-hulme-lost-in-mindscape.html

BBD said...

The human extinction meme hands the nightstick to the contrarians (again). Humanity will survive, however miserably, but if you mean "the collapse of industrial civilisation" then say so. Mouthful or not, it's better than muddling it up with extinction. That's what happens to shitloads of other species because of us.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

I'm inclined to think that it's fairly likely that humans will go extinct by 2100, but I doubt that climate change will be the main culprit - there seem certain to be habitable refugia.

The most likely cause for human extinction is thermonuclear holocaust, probably triggered by the outbreak of war between the world's 101st and 87th nuclear powers spreading to everybody else.

Also likely that "our" robots decide we are superfluous or else and intolerable menace and general nuisance.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

CIP has a point- trajectories that get the world to 101 indigenous nuclear powers entail enough nuclear reactors to level the renewable power load, and ove a century, 100 competing thermonuclear teams might even get a fusion reactor to work

velvet nous said...

Let's hope MIT gets there first.

http://news.mit.edu/2019/progress-practical-fusion-energy-0124

velvet nous said...

"The most likely cause for human extinction is thermonuclear holocaust, probably triggered by the outbreak of war between the world's 101st and 87th nuclear powers spreading to everybody else."

I assume your ass has references at hand, since that appears to be where you're pulling this claim from.