A Bird in the Ear of the Episcopal Rhinoceros

Like all other British bloggers, I am parasitically dependent on Bishop Hill, eternally grateful to His Grace for a diet of numerous tasty tidbits, and for being the source of a steady trickle of new readers. Sometimes I try to return the favour, if it’s only by pointing out one or two interesting ticks in his outer orifices.

While the main Bishop Hill blog is mostly solid news, the Discussion page allows readers to release the bees in their bonnets (to vary the biological metaphor). It’s a rich source of information, often from specialists, but also a sounding board for all sorts of hunches, opinions and speculations.

One idea I launched there a while ago was the desirability of forming a proper society of climate sceptics. My thinking was strategic – cynical even. Organs like the BBC will only deal with spokesmen who represent something – either a body of experts, in the case climate scientists, or representatives of established institutions. (For us, that means Lord Lawson, as a member of the House of Lords and head of the GWPF, and the odd foreign scientist like Plimer or Curry, and -very rarely – an outsider like the blogger Andrew Montford.

(I remember Mary Whitehouse and her 50,000-strong National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, who campaigned vociferously against the stream of satire, cynicism, and filth that the BBC was emitting in the 60s and 70s, and the fact that, despite her evident popularity, the BBC refused to treat with her because she hadn’t been elected by her Association, which was therefore, in the eyes of the Beeb, nothing more than a glorified fan club).

I argued that a properly constituted association of climate sceptics, with a few thousand members and a modest membership fee to cover travel expenses for its spokesman from Scotland or wherever to the BBC studios, would necessarily be considered a valid interlocutor on climate subjects. When AR5 WGII came out for instance, the editor of the Today programme would phone them up and say “What do you sceptics think?” and our spokesmen would reply. Of course, Bob Ward would complain: “What about me? I’m a qualified PR man with a salary paid by a very rich and important hedge fund manager!” and the Today editor would say: “Get stuffed.”

My suggestion was roundly rejected by the majority of commenters. It’s time has not come. Lots of people don’t like my style, which is a fact which I consider to be an argument in favour of my proposal. The whole point of associations is to link together people who wouldn’t naturally bond. I think of the International Working Men’s Association formed by a dozen British trade unionists and an eccentric foreign journalist called Karl Marx. You may prefer to consider the members of your local Rotary Club.

Anyway, there are lots of other ideas on offer at

http://bishophill.squarespace.com/discussion/

and I’ll just mention three which have caught my attention recently, and note that what they have in common is that they illustrate the fact that we sceptics are beginning to think strategically. People are giving a lot of thought to how to win the argument, or at least how to advance it, in a climate which is becoming less tolerant of alternative ideas, not more, despite the evident flaws in the consensus position.

Robin Guenier, at

http://bishophill.squarespace.com/discussion/post/2313902

argues that “current climate policy is pointless – we need a new approach”. None of us would disagree with that, I imagine. What Robin proposes is that we should drop the discussion about the science (which we can’t win) and concentrate on the Realpolitik. Robin and I frequently cross paths on threads at sites varying from New Left Project and New Statesman to some weird site (Robin will no doubt provide the address) financed by Middle Eastern airlines and hotel chains, evidently out to attract the profitable Green Jetsetting International Conference market. The fact that we don’t always agree doesn’t stop us from both being labelled as part of a conspiracy, but that’s consensus for you.

Stewgreen at

http://bishophill.squarespace.com/discussion/post/2318787

is discussing the Psychology of Climate Belief/Dis-belief, and, perhaps as a spinoff, Jiminy Cricket at

http://bishophill.squarespace.com/discussion/post/2320846

proposes a discussion of “Warmism, a new form of global cult?” Both threads allow for a discussion of the analysis of the nature of envoironmentalism / climate catastrophism which goes far beyond the usual political namecalling. This is the project which Ben Pile has been pushing at Climate Resistance for years, and which I hope to begin to tackle.

There are many other interesting discussions, but if I mention these three, it’s because what they have in common is a desire to think strategically about how to win a long and arduous battle. This is not about saying “Ha, ha, we’re right and you’re wrong! Look at Hadcrut / AR5 SPM / the latest nonsense from Lewandowsky / Bob Ward / Lord Deben”. It’s about thinking seriously about the nature of the environmentalist / catastrophist argument, and about how to combat it.

I’ve had enough interactions with people here, at BishopHill, at Climate Resistance and elsewhere to know what a bright and motivated lot we are. We can win if we interact and unite our forces. Exactly how this will happen is a mystery to me, and I suspect to everyone else, but the force is there. May it be with you.

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24 Responses to A Bird in the Ear of the Episcopal Rhinoceros

  1. johanna says:

    I have previously agreed with Robin that arguments about the minutiae of science, while fascinating to the tiny number of participants, are completely irrelevant to the shaping of community opinion. My line is that people’s power bills are a far more effective change agent than any of the scientific debates, or all of them put together for that matter. Similarly, the anti-windfarm activists are starting to kick some goals based on the public disquiet about the uglification of the countryside, damage to adjacent property values, and (to a lesser extent) possible health effects.

    Remember, the CAGW bandwagon was rolling long before there was any real scientific body of work supporting it. It was and is a political movement, with compliant governments and NGOs with their own agendas driving it.

    The turnaround in opinion reflected in the Australian elections was not based on the public becoming aware of new breakthroughs in science. It was the hated carbon tax, relentlessly hammered by the Coalition when in Opposition, that did it.

  2. johanna says:

    A couple of further thoughts – I forgot to mention the shredding of birds and bats as potent weapons in the anti-windmill campaigners’ amoury.

    Also, without presuming to be an expert on British politics, it seems to me that the UK conservatives have gifted UKIP many of their supporters with their spinelessness about climate and energy policy. The examples of conservative parties in Australia and Canada who took a more principled stance seems to have passed them by, unfortunately for both them and their traditional supporters.

  3. Johanna
    Agreed, that’s how decision-making is supposed to work, and does most of the time, in a democratic society. People’s individual decisions are rarely perfectly logical or well-informed, but the overall effect is more or less rational, most of the time.
    Then sometimes the system goes off the rails and the results are disastrous. Demanding impossible reparations from Germany after WW1 and then not rearming to face the monster we’d created were stupidities supported by 97% of informed opinion. We remember Keynes who opposed the former, and Churchill who opposed the latter, because the mistakes were eventually corrected – but at what cost!
    “Don’t do it! It’s not worth the bother!” is such a weak argument to use against a juggernaut in motion, as Cassandra found.
    Still, every little helps. Robin Guenier’s campaign to make our leaders realise that nothing we do is going to change China’s mind is admirable in its logic and lucidity. But some old pensioner complaining that the drone of a windmill is ruining his nerves and slicing up his homing pigeons would probably make better television. We need both approaches.
    (Does anyone here keep homing pigeons?)
    What I do best I think is being rude about Lord Deben. It’s not much, but if it keeps me out of mischief….

  4. nofixedaddress says:

    I think your idea of an Association is good.
    Where do I pay a membership fee or at least donate?

  5. I agree with nofixedaddress. I’d like to think it’s inevitable that more co-ordination and organisation will happen…

  6. Nofixedaddress, Ian Woolley
    Thanks for your interest. I’m away and offline for the next four days, but when I come back I’ll start thinking about it. The first public thing to do I think would be to start another discussion at BH, but first I’d have to find the original one to see how it went, arguments for and against etc; I think it was before the existence of this blog, therefore pre-oct 2012, but I’m not even sure of that.
    If you have any ideas about how it should be constructed, what its aims should be, etc., please feel free to discuss here. My one fixed idea is that it should be the organisation the Today programme phones at 7am for a comment to counter Bob Ward (so I’m thinking of a British-based group) .
    Back on Monday.

  7. Shame you’re offline Geoff. We’ll just have to wait for your reaction to Frontiers’s statement today…

  8. Dodgy Geezer says:

    we should drop the discussion about the science (which we can’t win) and concentrate on the Realpolitik…

    I can’t see that this is accurate. The science is fundamentally wrong, and this is becoming more apparent as time passes. Researchers are under social and political pressure to comply with the establishment viewpoint, but this will become harder and harder to do as that viewpoint diverges further and further from the data.

    We need to support those researchers who are thinking of taking the jump, and maintain a valid intellectual position for them to jump to. Without this, jumping ship is a very daunting exercise.

  9. One of the ironies of the foundation of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in November 2009 is that within days Climategate broke and the own goals of climate scientists were on the front covers of publications where we’d previously never have expected them. So Peiser, Lawson and co had a wonderful start but inevitably their focus on policy only was affected.

    The policy arguments are so strong that I continue to feel that Robin is largely right. But I don’t think we know how people – including those with powerful vested interests – are unpersuaded of something as big as CAGW and all its adjunct thoughtforms. So we should try pretty much everything.

    Welcome back, Geoff, sorry you missed a few important days of the action.

  10. Geoff, Ian, nfa, I think there have been several attempts to get some kind of organisation off the ground. One of the BH discussion threads is here.

    By all means start another one, but the danger is all the same issues will come around again. Here are some of the problems:
    1. We don’t agree with each other about very much at all, as nicely illustrated by the comment above from Dodgy, disagreeing with the Lilico/Guenier that we should focus on policy. There is also the strong political divide, from the “hard lefties” like Geoff and (I think) Ian, through the muddled middle (me) to those more on the right (Bish, Dodgy and Richard?).
    2. Related to this, we are natural nonconformists, dissentients. Thus we do not naturally form groups. As Karl Marx said, “I dont want to belong to any club that’ll accept me as a member”. On that thread, Geoff pointed out that we were sounding like the Judean people’s front. The danger would be the possibility of internal bickering, which would end up doing more harm than good.
    3. The GWPF came up, and was divisive. Does it already provide what we want? Or is it tainted by political associations and funding questions?
    4. On a more +ve note, Geoff came up with the statement
    “The case for CAGW has been overstated. The economic policies to counter it are unnecessary and ineffective. The XXX association exists to counter global warming hysteria with sound scientific arguments.”
    which I think is good and something we could all agree to.

  11. Follow-up BH discussion was here.

  12. Thanks for all your thoughts, and thanks Paul for finding the BH threads. I’m up to my ears in Lew at the moment, so won’t have time to look at it for a while.
    On the bickering; I didn’t see it as a discussion forum. We already have excellent ones on each continent. It’s more a front so that we could appoint/elect a spokesman (Andrew Montford being the ideal candidate) who could get invited on to the BBC without Bob Ward objecting that he’s not qualified. Once he’d been elected by a properly constituted body with a few hundred PhDs between them, there’d be no argument.
    That’s why I mentioned the Rotary club. I’ve never belonged to any of those kinds of organisations, but they do make a point of bringing in members from all walks of life, and across the political spectrum, I believe. (Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong were Freemasons, which says something about that peculiar body).
    Richard Drake has it right when he says “I don’t think we know how people … are unpersuaded of something as big as CAGW and all its adjunct thoughtforms.” We don’t know how we got to where we are, and we don’t know how to get out of the spot we’re in. People talk about fads and the madness of crowds and seem to imagine it will all blow over like the Tulip craze. Maybe it will, but in the seven years I’ve been following the story, I haven’t seen much movement. Scepticism has expanded, but still remains enclosed in the blogosphere, while the UN EU IPCC and academia carry on as before.
    By the way, I don’t think I’m hard left, but I’ve done a lot of reading on the history of socialism. The history of ideas is a sobering subject, particularly when you realise that many of its greatest names (Popper, Isaiah Berlin) wrote in exile in a foreign language.
    See you all circa 2050 in the Centre for Research into the Decline of Western Civilisation, Beijing.

  13. Paul, you’re right about the direction of travel for me (I still have a soft spot for the drunkard situationists) but I think the growth of climate change is in direct proportion to the withering of previously clear ideological divides. And there’s no easy way back to those divides. So while in one way I find it curious that I’m agreeing with people like Delingpole and Peter Lilley and even finding Godfrey Bloom amusing, in another way I think we’re all fooling ourselves if we try to hold on too rigidly to old descriptions. What I’m say is I’m confused. The alarmists though are pretending they’re not confused, and making it very easy for themselves to pretend – do it my way or the world ends.

  14. “What Am say is, is I’ma confoose” What was that Harry Enfield character? Stavros. Such a long time ago.

  15. Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong were Freemasons, which says something about that peculiar body

    It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that rolled-up trouserleg? As with Mozart and Beethoven, I think the real inspiration must have come from elsewhere. but the co-option skill of the brotherhood at least cannot be doubted.

    We don’t know how we got to where we are, and we don’t know how to get out of the spot we’re in. People talk about fads and the madness of crowds and seem to imagine it will all blow over like the Tulip craze. Maybe it will, but in the seven years I’ve been following the story, I haven’t seen much movement. Scepticism has expanded, but still remains enclosed in the blogosphere, while the UN EU IPCC and academia carry on as before.

    I agree about the likely falseness of the Tulip craze analogy. You will have been following the story more closely in seven years than I have been since 1988. (I often date my scepticism from meeting a Rio Tinto explorationist in Bristol around 1993 who was incandescent about the claims of the early CAGW crowd. But I was already sceptical, without knowing much, when Thatcher gave her famous talk to the UN in 1988, in that I saw the whole thing as another push for world government, which Thatcher genuinely wanted to know more about scientifically but would also have headed off from more freedom-snuffing directions. Dr Lew should take that sentence down really carefully. I’d love to explain more to him any time.)

    It was the introduction of the ‘denier’ smear and its rapid spread that convinced me that we had a real battle on our hands – with what Holocaust scholars call radicalisation, in their attempts to explain why ordinary Germans became willing accomplices in mass murder. That’s the big issue for me. Avoiding the worst fruits of all that would be good. But we’re very different, as Paul says.

  16. j ferguson says:

    Hi Paul Matthews,

    Could the author of the club remark not be Karl’s cousin Groucho?

    My anarchistic tendencies make me reject joining organizations, unless I cannot avoid it, professional organizations during my years behind the plow and so forth.

    In the case of the one Geoff proposes, my guess is that it would be labeled a “d++ist” agglomeration of resisters and would not gain any credence with the media types except possibly as an object of ridicule – see Heartland in US for example of this sort of thing.

    A better plan might be to infiltrate and gain significant influence in one of the existing political organizations. It looks to me that the provocation by really bad (climate modifying ??) energy policy is far more severe in UK than here in the colonies. If it really is true that pensioners must choose between death by cold or starvation, there ought to be an opportunity to gather these voters into one of the existing lesser parties and campaign vehemently against this evil.

    My limited experience with organizations is that they tend to get tied up in knots with the minutia of minding the store with correspondingly less attention given to the object of their existence. The beauty of infiltrating an existing organization is the it already has folks who revel in this sort of thing leaving the infiltrators to focus on guiding the membership in more effective directions with regard to resisting misguided public policy.

    Yes, I’m advocating a conspiracy, but not someone else’s; ours. The lever is the higher than reasonable cost of energy in the UK. If you can show the connection between the cost and policy, even the meanest understanding should be sufficient to roll out the tumbrels. Surely the descendants of the glorious revolution yet live among you.

    I do not mean any of the above facetiously nor disrespectfully.

  17. jorgekafkazar says:

    Recommented from Bishop Hill:

    “…[A]n organisation is easier to attack than a diffuse set of informed sceptics.” –alan kennedy

    Events are moving beyond the point where that is a relevant argument. An organization can also attack easier and better than a diffuse set of skeptics. Must we always be defending? The best defense is often a good offense.

    “No. Look at the ordure thrown at the Heartland Institute where climate change is only part of their overall policy analysis.” –GrantB

    So if your opponents throw ordure, then you should beg their pardon and just quietly go away? That’s exactly why they throw ordure.

    “[It would be like herding cats.]” –various commenters

    Those opposing Hitler outnumbered the National Socialists. They were very diverse [33 parties, in all] and failed to put aside enough of their differences to throw their combined weight against Naziism. Are we doomed to repeat history?

    The more I see such specious arguments against a unified group, the more I think we have no other option. Our message is not crossing the MSM barrier. We need to organize to reach around it.

  18. jorgekafkazar says:

    The important thing is to identify (y)our objectives clearly and ensure that the organization accomplishes those aims better than alternative means. Then make sure the warmists don’t take the organization over by stealth, as they’ve done elsewhere. The entire concept needs careful thought and not at the level of a blog thread.

  19. Re-commented from Bishop Hill:
    jorgekafkazar: Brilliant.

    Andrew Montford:
    A suggestion: Form a Bishop Hill Society, five quid to join. Articles of association, rules or whatever to be decided later. Your fans are suspicious, but not stingy.
    When you’ve got a few hundred members, announce the rules and articles of association. (Those who don’t like the rules can leave and be reimbursed). Hold elections. Form a charity or a not-for-profit wotsit. Ask for accreditation to COP21 in Paris and whatever else takes your fancy. Do another survey to find out how many of your members have MScs or PhDs. Tell David Rose, the BBC, Times Higher Education and anyone else who will listen.
    The next time Davey or Deben says something foolish the Beeb’ll be on the phone. Politically correct dweebs they may be, but they’re also journalists, and they must have a story.

    (There’s been a deathly silence there since)

  20. andywest2012 says:

    geoffchambers says: April 20, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    I vote yes🙂

  21. Skeptik says:

    geoffchambers: April 20, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    I (also) vote yes.

  22. John Brady says:

    Geoff, I wholeheartedly agree with your approach. It isn’t necessary for sceptics to agree a position on everything. It would be enough to agree some broad parameters and have some reasonable demands (e.g. archiving of research data, right to reply, cost/benefit analysis of mitigation scenarios etc). Having an official organisation would provide a seat at the table.

  23. John Brady
    in reply to your long comment at
    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2014/4/19/order-of-battle.html?currentPage=3#comments
    I agree entirely that we don’t need to agree on everything.. I see it as a British-based organisation aimed at getting our voice heard in the media. Our central message would be simply the right for the sceptical voice to be heard, hence the importance, as you say, of countering the 97% message and other issues aimed at delegitimising us.
    I mentioned the BH name on the assumption that Andrew Montford would be involved, which is by no means certain. I agree that a descriptive name would be more sensible to get our point across.
    Your point about looking at it from the point of view of the reporter is a key one. Tony Newbery at HarmlessSky made the point a while ago about journalists hating being told who they can and can’t talk to. To be considered worth talking to, I imagine we’d need a minimum number of members, and usable press releases ready theat established our credentials as intelligent people who can provide copy. We’d also need someone with knowledge of how to set up an association, organise the election of officers etc, and a British based treasurer to set up a Paypal account, etc.
    I suggest the next thing might be to set up a private internet forum where those who are interested can discuss what to do next. I’m away for two weeks from Saturday. If anyone (preferably in Britain, I think) feels like setting up a forum (it’s beyond my internet capabilities) they can advertise the fact here. I imagine Andrew Montford would send a message to those who expressed an interest at BH.

    Richard Drake
    I apologise for saying in a comment at BH that you and I should keep out of it. I meant simply that we should stay in the background, since we tend to provoke people (I don’t know why). I’ll be happy to work on research and texts, but we do need people with diplomatic skills, and that’s not us.

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