Why Sycophants Don’t Help You Grow

I shot the video you see above, of Dame Vivienne Westwood, riding a tank to Prime Minister David Cameron’s house. It’s found its way onto almost every mainstream news outlet, including the Times, Guardian, Telegraph, and Buzzed, to name but a handful.

The purpose of riding in this armoured personnel carrier (to use its proper name) through the quaint streets of Oxfordshire, was to demonstrate against fracking. Westwood is unhappy about the use of fracking because, in part, of the CO2 emissions that are released by burning the gas that’s released. So she’s riding a vehicle that does gallons-per-mile rather than miles-per-gallon, to protest about, well, polluting the atmosphere.

It’s easy to write off Westwood as an anti-science, out-of-touch, slightly batty whack job. And yes, I think, having interviewed her, that’s fair. I’m not going to go into a diatribe about how dramatically low-carbon fracking is (though it’s really, really low carbon compared to most energy extraction sources we have currently), and the myriad of other benefits. You know how to use Google, you can find the reports from the EPA and other geologists, who, despite trying over and over, can’t find any major indictment on hydraulic fracturing. And I’m certainly no expert.

But I am a journalist, and despite the sensationalism of movies like Gasland, it seems that, when looking at the figures, this isn’t really as big and dangerous a thing as it’s been made out to be. But I could be wrong. And when serious overwhelming evidence presents itself that fracking will basically kill us all, etc. I’ll be the first to spin on a dime.

The thing is, spending a morning with Dame Vivienne Westwood actually convinced me beyond any EPA report that we’ve got nothing to worry about. She’s surrounded by sycophants, who worship her every word. I started by interview with her ‘softly’, asking why she’s there, what message she wanted to get out to wider world, etc. That way, I definitely have something in the can. As soon as I asked a tougher question about the EPA’s reports and the general conclusion from the geological community that for the most part fracking is safe and an ideal low-carbon way that could help us hit or exceed our Kyoto targets and move us towards a greener future, the interview was ended. We ran out of time, and as her handlers explained, the Dame had to get on a tank. Just a coincidence it was as I asked a slightly more challenging question. Bad luck for me.

The look on her face when I asked a question that was in no way confrontational, but just looked at things from an alternative perspective was quite fascinating. I wasn’t trying to push her into an angry response or anything, just illicit a more developed answer. That didn’t happen. She looked, well, surprised. I don’t want to say this is how she felt, but it was a bit like “How could anyone ask me such a thing?”

And this is the point. I’m not smart enough to know much about fracking. I’ll bow to her better knowledge if I must. I definitely bow to the generally opinion held by most geologists in this field. The point is, she appeared like she had not had an alternative position on the issue ever placed in front of her before, to counter her opinion. I know this is naive of me, but I expected her to be used to the cut-and-thrust found in battling alternative points of view. I expected a bit of intellectual discourse.

Then I looked around. Her ‘people’ (for want of a better word) surround her, nodding intently with every batty thing she says. She was accusing the Prime Minister of deliberately poisoning people who were going to see fracking in their area. “So we’re going to poison the poisoner” she told me, alluding to the fake colourful gas she wanted to pump out towards Cameron’s house as part of a protest.

Now it’s obvious that she has a different opinion than David Cameron on the merits or disadvantages of this gas extraction technique, but how has she convinced herself that he’s sitting in a lair somewhere laughing evilly about all the lives he’s going to destroy through fracking? Seriously, how does a grown-up think like that? The answer appears to be, your views – no matter how nuts – can grow when you’ve got a bunch of people surrounding you, encouraging every word you say.

Dissent is important. It allows you to think. It helps you redefine your views, sharpen them, improve them, and yes, change them.

I learnt a valuable lesson from Dame Vivienne Westwood: don’t surround yourself with sycophants. It might feel good to be told how wonderful and smart you are all the time, but having seen that extreme sycophancy up-close and personal, I think it weakens you as a person.

Cooling the Language of “Climate Change”.

Ice ShelfCame across a smart and engaging article from The Spectator’s website this morning, about the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) toning down the alarmism in their fifth report.

It’s been a while (2007) since their fourth report, and even that dampened some of the alarmist rhetoric on the concept of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change. The rumours are that report five will go even further:

The summary of the fifth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be published, showing that global temperatures are refusing to follow the path which was predicted for them by almost all climatic models. Since its first report in 1990, the IPCC has been predicting that global temperatures would be rising at an average of 0.2° Celsius per decade. Now, the IPCC acknowledges that there has been no statistically significant rise at all over the past 16 years.

Let’s take the 16-year figure with a pinch of salt. Both alarmists and skeptics have been seen to use 1998 as a significant date, but in both cases it’s unfair. When the alarmists like Al Gore used it in the late 90s/early 00s, the huge spike in temperature in ’98 seemed to seal the deal. At the time skeptics were keen to point out that 1998 was the year of the El Nino and so showed disproportionally high global temperatures.

Turns out the skeptics are right, and so the recorded temperatures after 1998 were lower, but what skeptics need to remember, is that the trend of warming continues, and so should exercise caution when using it as a data point now.

However, even factoring 1998 out of the equation, the most interesting thing about our data for a decade and more is that despite the exponential rise in manmade CO2 emissions around the world, the temperature has only slithered up. Rather in-line with the lack of sunspot activity we’ve had, in fact. And much, much less than the 0.2 C rise per decade that we were warned about.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that even though the CO2 we emit contributes to the global temperature, the belief that anthropogenic CO2 is either directly or indirectly the primary driver of our climate is on increasingly shaky ground. As Michael Crichton once put it: “I’m certain there’s too much certainty in the world.” The cost of adaption – even by the IPCCs figures – is a fraction of the cost of mitigation. When will we be able to have that debate in the political sphere without people calling overs “deniers”, etc?

Just on a side bar: I wonder how many mainstream sources will report this in any depth – or at least quickly dismiss the lack of significant warming? For example, it was widely reported by the BBC et al in 2007 that by the middle of September 2013 (you know – right now) there would be no sea ice around the Arctic due to our continuing obsession with pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. This year though, the sea ice is more substantial than any time in the last 12 years and in line with what we’d expect over the last 35 years. But we’ve forgotten the alarmist story now, so we don’t notice. We’re far too busy looking at the next scary story.

Matt Ridley: Fossil Fuels are ‘Greening’ the Planet

In a special talk for the guys at Reason, an encouraging and fascinating talk from Matt Ridley:

Common Sense From Professor Lindzen


Here’s some wise words from Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT. If you don’t know who he is, in summary he’s basically the world’s foremost atmospheric physicist.

In the global warming debate, there’s an awful lot of shrillness on both sides. It’s so good to hear from one very intelligent (and quietly-spoken) chap, with tremendous comprehension of this issue, give a reasoned and understated opinion on what’s happening right now. Here’s his opening lines from a talk given recently in the UK:

Stated briefly, I will simply try to clarify what the debate over climate change is really about. It most certainly is not about whether climate is changing: it always is. It is not about whether CO2 is increasing: it clearly is. It is not about whether the increase in CO2, by itself, will lead to some warming: it should. The debate is simply over the matter of how much warming the increase in CO2 can lead to, and the connection of such warming to the innumerable claimed catastrophes. The evidence is that the increase in CO2 will lead to very little warming, and that the connection of this minimal warming (or even significant warming) to the purported catastrophes is also minimal. The arguments on which the catastrophic claims are made are extremely weak – and commonly acknowledged as such. They are sometimes overtly dishonest.

There you are. A smart summary we can understand from someone who is neither a “global warming denier” nor an alarmist who thinks we’re all going to die by next Tuesday. You know, I really do enjoy the ranting of James Delingpole and George Monbiot, (who are on opposing sides of the issue), but man, I wish there were more out there by Prof Dick Lindzen.

And it seems I’m not the only one who’s impressed. Check out Simon Carr’s well-written piece on this talk in the Independent here.


What is Evidence of AGW?

It’s the big question at the moment…what really constitutes (or would constitute) evidence that anthropogenic (or man-made) CO2 is the primary driver of the earths climate?

Thankfully, the brilliant statistician William M. Briggs gives us the low-down here.

It’s worth remembering his points when you next watch an alarmist news report on man-made global warming.