On denialism: climate change and peak oil varieties.

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Thumbnail image for alternativeroute.jpgWe face two serious oil-related threats, both related to burning too damn much of the stuff. First, we're warming the planet, causing climatic instability and a variety of other symptoms. Second, we're at or near the peak of global oil production, currently burning four barrels for every one we discover.

Some believe the end of cheap oil will provide a natural limit on climate change emissions. Superficially tempting, but simply wrong. More likely we'll see increasing efforts to extract dirtier fuels, like oil from tar shale and coal, ready or not for the fantasy of carbon capture.

Then there are the denialists. Some of them, like wingnut Tory MP and Dan Hannan acolyte Douglas Carswell, don't accept the science either on anthropogenic climate change or on oil output. Apparently it's all a cover for radical and anti-democratic Marxists determined to reconfigure the West.

I'd love it if they were right on the science. Imagine the climate experts and geologists were both wrong: there's actually unlimited oil, and we can burn it without consequences. I'd do a lot more flying, for a start. I'd rather not be spending much of my life trying to push Governments to do the right thing. 

The trouble for Carswell and Plimer, etc, is that the evidence for both climate change and peak oil has never faced any serious challenge, and they can't do much more than point to polls. Proper polls are good tests of public opinion and political preference (we've been getting good mileage recently from some YouGov numbers on the deeply unpopular Forth Bridge amongst other things), but they aren't a good test of factual premises. Medieval pollsters no doubt would have found plenty of support for flat-earthism: so what?

The reality is that these threats are properly scary once understood, and many people prefer reassurance to troublesome realities. The ceaseless tide of unsubstantiated bullshit from Carswell, Plimer and others gives just enough cover for many to doubt the need to change. "Opinion is divided", they can say. 

It reminds me of a cartoon I saw but now can't find. A billboard on the left of the frame says "Rigorous Scientific Research" and one to the right says "Rumour, Myth and Fiction". Two rabbits sit in the middle. One says to the other: "Surely the truth has to be somewhere in between?"

If we do enough to avert the worst consequences of climate change it will have been despite the best efforts of the wingnuts, some of whom are about to enter Government at a UK level. If we fail, they will have an almost unimaginable amount to answer for.


Having read the articles in the Times and read the vast body of rabid comments from the hard of understanding it is evident that politicians are not clever enough to understand the science let alone translate for ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’. They will in the end take the lazy if lucrative route of pandering to the oil companies and the focus groups. Scotland should spend our energies in coping with the coming change rather than pissing into the political wind.

I agree the end of cheap oil not will not resolve the climate chaos from the C02 element of greenhouse gas emissions. A more imminent problem from the end of cheap oil is all the associated ramifications for food production and distribution.

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This page was published on November 14, 2009 2:42 PM.

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