James Dellingpole. This fellow is really not helpful. He has a long record of reporting nonsense in climate science as though it were supported by evidence. In this blog posting, under the banner of The Telegraph he writes that society should execute climate scientists and journalists supporting science and evidence. He continues that he doesn't actually mean it, that writing about executing people is a rhetorical device. However, his own record of belligerent, ideologically and politically motivated writing on the subject of climate change seems not to be supported by any evidence whatsoever. I believe this precludes him from being taken seriously at all in any discussion about climate chance.
After calling for executions and then calling his plea a trick, well, he calls it a metaphor, he continues with, "The last thing I would want is for Monbiot, Mann, Flannery, Jones, Hansen and the rest of the Climate rogues' gallery to be granted the mercy of quick release. Publicly humiliated? Yes please. Having all their crappy books remaindered? Definitely. Dragged away from their taxpayer funded troughs and their cushy sinecures, to be replaced by people who actually know what they're talking about? For sure. But hanging? Hell no. Hanging is far too good for such ineffable toerags."
It’s difficult to find much of merit in those statements. Clearly journalists like Dellingpole get heard, write blog postings and whole books, make speeches. It’s not like the existence of Monbiot and Flannery prevent him from making noise, from speaking out. Perhaps it’s the difficulty he has saying things that are supported by evidence that stop people from paying attention to him. Monbiot and Flannery are journalists and perhaps by belonging to that important subculture with Dellingpole (sort of anyway) they are fair game in some sense—they make no contributions to scientific understanding, to explications of nature but rather, simply report on the state of the science and politics, sometimes coloured by their personal experiences and opinions. Dellingpole must feel he can counter their words with words of his own.
The scientists are a different problem though. I do wonder who he believes should replace them? Other scientists? Other scientists doing the research or talking about it won’t make a meaningful difference to the science being illuminated and discussed because science doesn’t ultimately depend on the individuals doing the research. That illustrates a serious problem with Dellingpole’s understanding of how science works and what it ultimately is. Evidence isn’t opinion and his opinon, though evidence of his character, isn’t evidence of his value to climate change research.
Mann, Jones, and Hansen are scientists with good reputations as scientists who have also begun to speak out against the professionally organised and funded anti-science and anti-climate change campaigns we see undermining our ability to talk about the real problems we collectively, globally collectively, face.
It was useful here to show how easily Dellingpole’s beliefs can be easily undermined, they can only be weakly defended, but that’s not the main point I’m trying to make. You’ll see, if you can stomach continuing to read the piece that he concludes his rant with, “Our culture deserves better than to have the terms of debate dictated by malign, politically motivated, professional offence-takers. Let’s stop surrendering and start fighting back.” It’s interesting to consider that perhaps we also deserve better than to have the terms of debate dictated by malign, politically motivated, professional offence-makers.
I disagree fundamentally with Dellingpole. He’s right to say that merely having an arts degree shouldn’t prevent him from participating in the discussion. Though as I’ve shown above perhaps by having only (I mean singly) an arts degree he’s just not properly equipped to understand the science. He’s right that the discussion we need to have is a cultural and rhetorical one. He’s wrong to believe that means that his training better qualifies him to understand the scope of the problem or necessary society wide changes. He’s wrong to believe that his “intellectual training” makes his opinion more valid than evidence.
When it comes to political extremism Dellingpole seems to be quite knowledgeable. His arts degree training has presumably served him well here. I imagine he’s read a lot of extreme views and he has practised a degree of extremism in his own writing. He's right to say that extreme views unsupported by evidence don't help us have a discussion though he himself takes such a position. He's right that there are extremists on the left and the right who exaggerate and say stupid things. He himself is an example of that. What he's wrong about is that it's the extremists who are preventing the rest of us from having the important political discussions and taking the responsible actions needed to resolve the difficult political and large-scale cultural problems we face. Every problem that becomes large enough has these incendiary idiots on both sides of the debate. That's nothing new.
No, the problem that we really have is that our political leaders are refusing to accept that they need to take leadership positions based on evidence. That’s not true in every country; some have made progress. It’s changing slowly in the USA for example, where President Obama has begun to at least speak more openly about the importance of action. However, it’s certainly a fact in Canada where the federal government is actively seeking to undermine the discussion. You see, if the political leadership were to take responsibility for something even so simple as guiding or hosting a real discussion about climate change then the voices of unhelpful people like James Dellingpole, the left wing extremists he reviles, and the those of the same ilk on the right, could and would be ignored as they should be.
The good news is that though we have no effective, sincere political leadership on climate change in Canada some of the necessary discussions are already taking place. Responsible scientists, at least those who don’t fear for their positions in federal research departments, responsible journalists, responsible economists, responsible non-governmental organisations, responsible research groups and think-tanks, and responsible citizens are indeed having the discussion, presenting ideas, suggestions, solutions. They are being ignored officially which is the real shame. History, though always coloured by opinion, will have plenty of evidence to analyse with regard to climate change. That evidence just doesn’t now support the point of view of extremists like Dellingpole. Future arts students will find much to read and write about.
The reward for reading to the end is the same reward I got when I finished writing this. An incredibly serendipitous comic strip from SMBC: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2939
I'll likely reread this tomorrow and find some mistakes and make some changes. I'll note that below if it happens.
[Edit 2014-07-22 This commentary on James Dellingpole
really sums him up well.
"I felt sad for Delingpole. Why was he even at this conference? He could be at home with his family, playing Scrabble. It seems he is driven by ambition, but had made it no further than the basement conference hall of a faded hotel in Vegas."