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And a little child shall lead them

19 May 2021 | OP ED Watch

No, we’re not criticizing Greta Thunberg again. Rather, we’re heckling the spate of comic books and other simplistic propaganda efforts hyping global warming, almost as though alarmists didn’t really trust the intelligence of their audience. And it’s far from innocent; sometimes people go out of their way to say creepy stuff to kids, like that video (no longer available in its entirety on YouTube, apparently) about what if Batman disappeared, what if Bill Gates did, and ultimately how splendid it would be for the enviyermint if those yucky humans went away and global warming stopped yaaayyyy!!!. There was a time when dragging children into public policy disputes was regarded as disreputable. Now apparently there’s nothing quite like a comic book about how the IPCC saved the Earthv.

CBC Kids News ran a big feature last month “World leaders make big climate promises on Earth Day. What are they?” It bore the subhed “Greta Thunberg critical of ‘hypothetical’ targets” so she’s critical of everybody even if we’re trying to lay off her. But she’s not the only child out there. Indeed, she’s not really a child any more.

By the way the Chinese apparently had quite enough of Ms. Thunberg after she Tweeted a few obvious truths about their GHG emissions, whining in their puppet publication Global Times that Ms. Thunberg is an ignorant puppet: “Thunberg, who at age 15 started skipping school on Fridays for her climate protests, is merely 18 years old this year. She is short of sufficient academic knowledge study, and lack of sound self-judgment capability. Girl like her is prone to be affected or even manipulated by some political forces. Li said, in a bid to achieve their political intents, some Western political forces manipulate teenagers, treating Thunberg as a political puppet. This practice is unethical and despicable.” Imagine the outrage if we’d said that.

It’s different when it’s China. Indeed, the formerly libertarian The Economist, which boasts of being engaged since 1843 in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress” that it seems not to be winning, declared recently that “China emits more greenhouse gases than the entire OECD, a club of 30 mostly rich countries, according to the Rhodium Group, a research company. Chinese emissions now account for 27% of the global total. But the country’s overall contribution to climate change is much smaller, as richer countries have been belching out climate-changing gases for far longer.” (That quotation was sent by a reader from the Economist’s “Espresso” app to which we are not able to link, but you can also find it on E&T Engineering and Technology here.) But let us return to our children, wolves, lambs and goats etc.

The CBC Kid News feature linked to a piece written in even simpler declarative sentences in case anybody out there found reasoning too much of a chore. And the main piece went blah blah blah as usual: “At the [Earth Day Biden virtual] meeting, a number of world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pledged to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, are released into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. They are a root cause of climate change. The new commitments comes [sic – apparently the three Rs have been displaced in modern pedagogy] as scientists say fossil fuel use is already increasing the number of droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters on the planet. They say humans are running out of time to make a difference.” They say. Experts say. Children say.

As we have documented many times, scientists don’t say those things. And what nobody said, in that piece at least, was that there was any complexity either to the science or the policy response. Just political will. Ah, you say, that’s Canada’s government media/propaganda arm talking down to the youth of today. But here’s NASA keeping it simplistic: “Yes, the vast majority of actively publishing climate scientists – 97 percent – agree that humans are causing global warming and climate change. Most of the leading science organizations around the world have issued public statements expressing this, including international and U.S. science academies, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a whole host of reputable scientific bodies around the world.” And when one of our readers asked them for the data to substantiate the 97% claim, they wrote back: “To begin, when it comes to discussing the consensus of science on climate change, many lose sight of the fact that it is a consensus of Evidence. As a result, some falsely draw the conclusion that what is being discussed is a consensus of Opinion. Nothing could be further from the truth.” (Source: that email forwarded to us.)

After offering up the old “My opinion is a fact, your fact is an opinion” trope NASA went on to say “There has long been a consensus among climate scientists, based on multiple types of scientific evidence, that greenhouse gas emissions are altering the Earth’s climate” and cite the usual studies we debunked in our 97% video along with a few others (“Carlton et al., 2015” and “Rosenberg et al., 2010; Stenhouse et al., 2014; Verheggen et al., 2014”) and said “These peer-reviewed studies demonstrate a consensus among climate science experts that humans are causing global warming.”

In Damon Runyon’s immortal phrase, if this statement is not a lie it will do until a lie comes along. And not only because what many scientists do believe is that humans are contributing to global warming; mighty few would make the bald statement NASA inserts into their mouths. And also because the question was about a 97% consensus and after insisting that it was a question of evidence, NASA proceeded to talk about people’s opinions. Informed opinions, perhaps. But opinions. And note also the patronizing and simplistic tone, that deliberately erases any subtleties about how much humans have contributed, the range of views among scientists, the uncertainties in modeling and in data.

Either they think we are fools, or they are. Judith Curry has written at some length about the positive and negative ways in which a scientific consensus can arise. And back in 2014 even the Guardian was willing to run a piece by Richard Tol critiquing not just the methodology of a key study (Cook et al., 2014) but also the whole notion of consensus as the hammer that shatters scientific debate: “Consensus is irrelevant in science. There are plenty of examples in history where everyone agreed and everyone was wrong. Cook’s consensus is also irrelevant in policy. They try to show that climate change is real and human-made. It is does not follow whether and by how much greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced.” How much would you bet that such a piece, if submitted to the Guardian today, would be indignantly rejected? And NASA too has moved on… to childlike simplicity. With or without colourful panels and speech balloons.

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