Learn French the Climatosceptique Way.

I’ve got an article in French up at http://www.skyfall.fr/?p=1384

It’s a brief summary of the sceptical blogosphere in Britain. I tried to get the maximum number of names in, and apologise in advance to those I forgot.
It’s been quite a struggle to write a very simple article in French, and it’s chastening to realise that after thirty years living and working in France, I still have great trouble expressing myself in writing.
Most French climatosceptiques read English (though, like me, they may feel shy about expressing themselves in writing in a foreign language) and are well-informed on articles that appear at WattsUpWithThat and Climate Audit, but we know little of what’s happening in France. The language barrier is therefore a bit of a one way street. (It’s different for the rest of Europe; Germany, Sweden and Holland have English-language sceptical sites). In the run up to Paris 2015 it seems to me important that we get to know each other better, which is why my article at Skyfall concentrates on explaining the sceptic scene in Britain.
I’ll get round to doing a survey of French sceptical sites one of these days. In the meantime, I recommend anyone with a basic knowledge of French to explore the Skyfall site at
http://www.skyfall.fr/
The best place to start is at the top of the lefthand column where there is a quote which changes at random. On my last two visits there were quotes from Prince Charles and Phil Jones which had a ring of familiarity.
Still in the left hand column, under “Pages”, “Citations” gives a complete list of 134 quotations, running from St. Matthew to Margaret Beckett, often with a translation or link to the original, so you can compile your own bilingual list.
Then there’s a list of blogs which mixes English and French, Sceptic and Warmist, and live and dormant. I can vouch for Belgotopia and Climat de Terreur as being active and interesting. Others will take some time to explore, given the rather eccentric way links are organised. For example, under “Lectures”, clicking on “Michel Belouve” leads to an article “Climate Change: Politics founded on Pseudo-Science” dating from 2009. But in the right hand column of the linked article (which is on the site of the Institut Turgot) are many interesting-looking articles, including one from last week entitled “The Archaic Cosmogony of the WWF”. It looks as if the philosophical and sociological analysis of environmentalism which I’m always rabbiting on about is alive and well in French academia.
Back to Skyfall: in the righthand column are latest comments, indicating which threads are live.
“Bistrot du coin” and “Fil info de sceptiques” are both open threads, and therefore full of gags and insider references which are often amusing, but probably the most difficult things for a foreigner to understand. It’s difficult to follow the debate if you’re not familiar with the names of scores of politicians, journalists, media experts, and even one or two scientists. Comments run from oldest to newest, and are numbered, making life easier than at BishopHill.
The articles in the middle column are varied and always interesting. There’s a long series going on at the moment in which Benoît Rittaud analyses a report from Météo France on the Climate in France during the 21st Century. He also recounts the difficulties he’s been having getting data from the French Met Office under the equivalent of FOI requests, a procedure which resulted in Météo France offering to provide him with the data (invoiced at a rate of 56 euros per hour of research) provided he promised not to divulge it to a third party, and to destroy it after a year.
Benoît has a book out, “Le Mythe climatique” Seuil (2010), and another one due out next year on the fascinating subject of exponential demographic projections before Malthus. You can see him in debate with Jean Jouzel, vice-president of the IPCC, and Pascal Bruckner, a philosopher critical of environmentalism, and a Green MEP at
http://www.lcp.fr/emissions/ca-vous-regarde-le-debat/vod/153210-philippines-a-qui-la-faute
The biggest hindrance to understanding specialist writing of any kind in a foreign language is probably the jargon, and particularly the acronyms. For example, GES = Greenhouse gases, GIEC = IPCC etc. I’ll provide a short glossary if anyone thinks it worthwhile.
Just dipping my toe in the water of French climatoscepticisme has made me realise how little we know about the intellectual activities of our nearest neighbours, which brings me to a hobbyhorse of mine.
The last time I looked at the figures, books translated from foreign languages accounted for about 10% of books published in France. This sounds a lot until you realise that 90% were novels, leaving a few hundred books of non-fiction to transmit the intellectual life of the rest of the world to the French chattering classes. Of course, there are plenty of French writers and academics capable of filling the gap, but there is naturally a loss of epistemo-diversity in the process. When the French media want to know what’s going on in space exploration or Chinese diplomacy or climate science they naturally turn to the same tiny band of experts.
But in Britain things are worse. About 2% of books published are translated from foreign languages. Because we have access to the writings of the whole of North America, India, Australia, and a large part of Africa, we think we know it all. No wonder we have such difficulty getting along with Europe. Add the fact that the BBC and the serious newspapers no longer have foreign correspondents in place for decades in the major capitals, and you have a recipe for ignorance.
The reason I read a journalist like Ambrose Evan Pritchard, the economics correspondent of the Telegraph, is not because I agree with his economic ideas (I’m not even sure I understand them) but because he reads the German press (and the Portuguese and Italian press) in the original languages and reports what he reads.
If my only purpose in writing this blog was to be useful, I’d probably devote myself to translation and linking to other European blogs. But it isn’t, so I won’t. Still, I hope this article and others to follow will be useful, in particular for the other Brits who live in France (several of whom comment at Bishop Hill).

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20 Responses to Learn French the Climatosceptique Way.

  1. jeanl says:

    “Most French climatosceptiques read English (though, like me, they may feel shy about expressing themselves in writing in a foreign language)” you wrote. In my opinion and experience, French people usually doesn’t read, let alone write English. So, there are two possible meanings : either “climatosceptiques” learned English in order to read publications about the topic, which were usually written in English, or they belonged to upper class, culturally speaking. If the last proposition is the good one, as I believe, so what logically are the warmists, in general?

  2. Nicias says:

    The left column need to be updated !
    For example, I should add http://la.climatologie.free.fr/ from a regular on Skyfall : Williams, qui n’est pas francophone🙂

    @Jean,
    We belonged to upper class. And I think that a part of French, well trained in science, write directly at CA or Lucia’s Blackboard and are not present on French site
    The french warmist are the same as us except they trust the scientist (just for climate science, not for GMO or homeopathy), so they have not learned their subject (for the same education characteristics).

    I just tried google translate from French to English for this comment. It”s awful. Their database must be considerably smaller than from English to French. Which means I will not use it and their database will not improve.

  3. jeanl
    “Most French climatosceptiques read English” is of course a very rough generalisation. People who are informed about the subject are often scientists, and scientists tend to have a reading knowledge of English.
    I agree with Nicias that the Warmists who express themselves on blogs etc. are probably very similar socially and educationally. We need to distinguish between sceptism /warmism as expressed by commenters on blogs and by the general public in opinion polls. Since commenters represent a tiny proportion of the population (even of the educated population) it’s illegitimate to generalise from one to the other.

  4. jeanl says:

    You’re right of course. It was a little joke. Warmists used to take climate change skeptics (or deniers) for ignorants, dumbs and so forth, so there’s a little fun ( to me at least) to show that how easy is to turn things upside down.

  5. TinyCO2 says:

    I wouldn’t expect the French to be particularly sceptical of AGW. They’re a long way towards a low CO2 footprint and might think ‘we don’t need to worry about this until other countries catch up with us’. The American concern is natural given that a) they’re a high user and b) they hate being told what to do. The Brits embrace AGW because it suits our natural pessimism and self flagellation tendencies. There’s a bit of racism and arrogance with the ‘we’re better than them’ attitude too.

    Well done though Geoff. The responses seem positive.

  6. Nicias says:

    Most or a lot of french “climatosceptiques” (CS) don’t read English, that’s why we are buzzy working on translation. I can speculate that’s CS (Skyfall sample, Fr, Be, CH) are older than the mean of the population and ceteris paribus are less fluent in English (but not in French).

    Maybe we should write some article in English during COP21 for an international public, with English Humour™ of course because Paris 2015 will be boring like Lima.

  7. Nicias
    I hadn’t thought of the correlation with age. In Britain it’s the opposite; older people are more likely to know foreign languages, which are no longer compulsory in school.
    TinyCO2
    True, the French have a lower carbon footprint than most developed countries because of their nuclear programme, but EU policy commits all countries to equal percentage cuts on existing emissions, which is obviously more difficult if you’ve got less coal-fired power stations to close in the first place.
    French policy, as outlined in a new renewable energy law, is pure fantasy, envisaging a 50% cut in energy use (not just fossil fuel) by 2040. And agricultural use is exempted. You can force people to switch off their fridges, but not their tractors.
    But, (to indulge in the kind of cultural generalisation which is always wrong) the French seem more sceptical in general of all experts and people in authority.

  8. Rich says:

    As a uk expat in France I have a few comments. I find that EDF for example is massively in on the cagw band wagon partly because it is in their interests to make nuclear energy sound good. The French unions are in as well because they like the idea of big government solutions. Important French scientific contributions have come from people like Marcel Leroux. However he passed away several years ago and seems to has have been actively ignored within the French scientific debate. There are sincere cagw politicians such as Corinne Lepage. She probably fits the category of ‘not evil just wrong’ however she has a certain amount of credibility for standing up against corruption. Usually the French climate debate goes along until someone says ‘aah but Claude Allegre is a sceptic’ at which point the sceptical argument is rendered worthless. It is then necessary to explain that nobody outside France has every heard of Claude Allegre so the comment has absolutely no importance! I hope Nicias will correct me if I am wrong!

  9. j ferguson says:

    Geoff,
    Does skyfall on Chicken Little? A few years back, I had a brief discussion with a then frequent French commenter (almost certainly practicing scientist) at Lucia’s as to whether Uruguay or Argentina might be a better place to retire. He did not like the direction that he thought France was taking, or it could have been taxes.

  10. geoffchambers says:

    jferguson
    It was almost certainly taxes, and the direction France is taking. In fact, France seems incapable of taking any direction at all. This is not just a criticism of the current particularly unimpressive socialist government, but a general comment on France. Facing up to a problem and sorting it out is just not the French way. They prefer to let it explode in their faces and then sort it out. Curiously enough, it seems to work rather well.
    My brother in law who for fifty years would never move outside his corner of the South of France now spends several months a year in Uruguay – a country with a third of the surface area of France and one fifteenth of the population – and loves it. Having a girlfriend with a seaside house there probably helps. But there’s lots of spare seaside, apparently.

  11. Rich
    It would be interesting to compile a dossier of the impressions of Brits living in France. Obviously none of us are impartial observers, and we necessarily have a limited view of a foreign culture. Marcel Leroux got some publicity at WUWT I believe for providing a more sophisticated measure of how the Urban Heat Island Effect might affect badly sited weather stations.
    Corinne Lepage was environment minister in the rightwing government of Jacques Chirac from 1995-97, since when she has followed the career of a thousand other politicians whose star has been definitively extinguished, but who continue to work on government-funded missions of various kinds.
    It’s a great misfortune that Claude Allegre is the only well-known sceptic. He’s a distinguished vulcanologist with a perfectly reasonable “wait and see” approach to global warming. But as Education Minister in Lionel Jospin’s socialist government, he had a million teachers and students out on the streets protesting at his plans to “cut the fat off the mammoth”. Annoying teachers and the press they read and support is very bad politics.
    He has written a book: “L’Imposture Climatique” which suffers from a sloppiness of presentation and some disgraceful graphs apparently drawn by a nine-year-old, and which was demolished by the environment correspondents of le Monde and Libération.
    For a severe criticial review which nonetheless manages to be fair-minded, see:
    http://www.pseudo-sciences.org/spip.php?article1456

  12. j ferguson says:

    Punta del Este?

  13. jferguson
    I think so.

  14. j ferguson says:

    Geoff,
    Letting it explode in their faces and then acting seems eminently sensible. A problem is more readily dealt with when everyone recognizes and agrees that something must be done.

    While I was working my through Macaulay and then Hume, I realized that I knew nothing of French history. I doubt that I had even a week’s exposure. So I read an overview which had been prepared for our troops in WW1 that they might better understand where the folks they had been sent to help were coming from. I read De Toqueville’s Revolution and the Old Regime, and Andrew Young’s excellent Tour of France and Italy in 1789.

    I was astonished at what I read particularly with the distribution of the cost of government to those least able to pay. And the failure of the guys running the place to realize that if many people read Voltaire, they were likely to find the population eventually enraged at their lot.

    But with climate, spending money on what could happen seems a lot less reasonable than fixing what needs to be once it has happened.

    best regards and thanks for your interesting posts.

  15. jferguson
    Is it really true that the American government in 1917 prepared its troops by recommending them to read de Toqueville and Andrew Young? If so, it says more about the level of sophistication of American culture at the time, and the dumbing down since, than a dozen university theses could.

    My favourite story to counter the general impression here in Europe that Americans are a bunch of ignorant rednecks is this: when the mayor of Thetford, a small town in Norfolk, England, opened a public subscription to erect a statue to its most famous son – a certain Tom Paine – the only people to respond were the inhabitants of a nearby American Air Force base. (The French know who Tom Paine was, since he was elected a member of their National Assembly in 1792.)

  16. jferguson
    In my most recent post I complain of the difficulty of communicating across cultural divides, citing a comment I made on a French blog, in which I link to a couple of English singers who in the 60s recorded a very free translation of a French song on the war of 14-18

    which contains the lines (not in the French original)
    “The war of American Independence,
    That was enjoyable by and large
    Watching England’s free descendants
    Busy defeating German Gearge”
    (German Gearge is of course George 3rd, King of England and Duke of Hanover, who never lost his German accent.)
    It’s extraordinary that two middle class British Christians could make such a comment to a middle class British audience in the sixties (and you do understand that the term “middle class” has an entirely different meaning in England, I hope, to that understood in the USA or the other ex-colonies?

  17. j ferguson says:

    I’m sorry Geoff, I wrote badly. The book to inform our troops in 1918 was written by William Stearns Davis. Alas the war was over before it was issued. But it is compact and I thought, knowing next to nothing of French History, informative. I read De Toqueville because I’d read elsewhere that its reading was required of the top politicians in China possibly prompted by apprehensions that a revolution might be brewing there and go undetected until too late. I read Young on De Toqueville’s recommendation and have since read biographies of Colbert and Richelieu.

    More on the English Middle class when I get back from the gym.

  18. Barry Woods says:

    how much skepticism is there in France..

    WUWT views yesterday,
    1,200 from France,
    61,000 from USA,
    15,000 from UK,
    11,000 Canada,
    9,000 Australia
    Germany 1,300

    not the busiest day at WUWT, but proportions similar over time

    we forget, how the public are oblivious to it all.
    If I asked somebody in the street (or amongst friends, acquaintances if they’ve heard of WUWT (and other blogs) dare I say, I suspect 97% would say no

  19. j ferguson says:

    I know, personally, no skeptics who are not engineers or scientists. I’m an architect, so a sort of junior engineer, I suppose.

  20. Barry
    The numbers are interesting but don’t necessarily indicate relative strengths of scepticism, since France (and no doubt other countries) have their own culture which is fed by the small number of visitors to WUWT spreading the word in their own languages. In Holland and Sweden where a whole educated class is bilingual you have sceptical sites in English. This wouldn’t be possible in France.
    Your point about how oblivious most people are is an important one. I’ve never seen a single social science research paper into scepticism which makes the distinction between scepticism among the general population (tens or hundreds of millions) and among informed interested individuals, who are numbered in hundreds of thousands. Since the latter make up maybe 1% or so of the former, it is absurd to draw conclusions about one group from looking at the other. It’s like saying that a survey of a million species has determined that 99% of cats are invertebrates, or that a survey of cats has determined that 99% of species are furry and miaow.

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