I’ve been putting off the Golden Horseshoe liar of the year award for so long people will start wondering if this site is winding down. Or the award.
We’re not. It isn’t.
Meanwhile, it seems that Media Matters has entered into the Annual BS sweepstakes. (Last year, Planet3.0 awarded the Golden Horseshoe to David Rose of the Daily Mail for misrepresenting the warming hiatus issue. This year, in a much more thorough evaluation, Media Matters handed their version to, well, David Rose for misrepresenting the warming hiatus issue. I guess he gets extra credit for consistency!)
Although one might wish they’d give us some credit, in some ways they did a far better job of it than P3 could hope to. After all, being in the trenches with the deniers has never really been our core mission here. Our mission, rather, is to get people thinking about and talking about how our current behavior is affecting the world’s future, and about how we should change it if we want to bring back a sense of progress.
Focusing on the endless lies and delusions and misdirections, willful or innocent, that pervade the public discussion of climate is not our interest. We want to move beyond it.
Furthermore thinking about BS, its origin, and its propagation is depressing. We’re trying really hard to keep an eye on the rays of hope and the beacons of sanity. To make a readable article in the Climate War-of-Words, snark is necessary. But this sort of snark just exacerbates our divisions, encourages people to take sides, removes us from a place where we are all pulling together.
Another trouble is, the more I think about how badly we’ve been set back, the more I realize that democracy isn’t really competent to weigh complex issues and come up with workable strategies, the more I realize how vulnerable all of us are to BS, the less I am amused and the more I am horrified.
But, all that notwithstanding, the fact is that we really do have to face up to BS. And I said I’d do it.
The Leading Candidate: Bjorn Lomborg
The nominee that got the most votes in our circles, though, was Bjorn Lomborg. Lomborg certainly is an interesting candidate.
On Facebook, I saw this sourced to Lomborg:
All the wind turbines and solar panels in the EU reduce global emissions less than 91Mt CO₂.
US shale gas reduce more than 3 times as much. Cheap US shale gas has replaced more than 10 percent coal in US electricity production, cutting at least 300Mt of CO₂.
This is the same sort of thinking that the person who spends a thousand dollars on a half-price shopping spree uses when they claim “I saved a thousand dollars!” In a way, yes, but more sensibly, that amounts to gratuitously spending an extra thousand.
Shale gas “reduces” emissions compared to coal, but not as much as wind does. Wind effectively reduces emissions 100% compared to coal. Estimating the savings of shale at 50%, the claim above is simply equivalent to saying “six times as much shale energy was produced in the US as coal energy in Europe”, a presumably true but perfectly useless statistic.
Why does Lomborg speak in this way? And why does he get the sea level story completely wrong?
So there is a question as to whether Lomborg’s errors are made in good faith or whether he is being deliberately deceptive. If he is in fact being deceptive, he us a candidate for the Horseshoe. And it’s hard to believe that his systematic underestimates of our quandary are really well-intentioned.
But I’ve been stuck, stymied on writing this article. How sure can we be that he isn’t making honest mistakes? If he is, would it not do more harm than good to hand him a BS award? (Perhaps even David Rose believes his own press. The number of people actively lying, I think, is likely very small.) And I definitely have the sense that Lomborg is trying to infuse the conversation with a sense of hope and determination, which is what I think is sorely needed. Is he really an enemy of the revival of progress?
The Dark Horse Candidate: Guy McPherson
I’ve been mentally contrasting Lomborg with a fellow by the name of Guy McPherson. McPherson’s footprint on the conversation is small outside of Facebook, but on Facebook he manages quite an impressive presence. Along with a few other regulars, he not only fully accepts the Shakhova fantasy, he runs with it. He has convinced himself and his followers that the end of the world is nigh, literally. He believes that the probability of the end of human life within the next 16 years (he usually quotes 2030 as the Date of Doom) is so high that acting as if it is uncertain is delusional. Of course, this is crazy talk. In fact, I’d say it is more delusional than even the most strident Sky Dragon “no such thing as the greenhouse effect” denialism. But the fact is, he has some sort of following. It’s not clear to what extent his followers go along with the total extinction line, but they believe that the collapse of civilization is so inevitable that we shouldn’t bother to try to oppose it. Many of them hold our current system in such low esteem that they see a rough justice in this – they somehow discount all the human suffering that would be associated with such a collapse.
Now, to some extent when a new source of misinformation comes on the scene it is best to ignore it rather than draw attention to it. So whether to draw further attention to McPherson depends on whether he is getting anywhere. Outside of Facebook, he remains utterly obscure as far as I can tell. On the other hand, climate conversations on Facebook show remarkable vigor, and McPherson and his crowd are quick to run interference whenever anyone starts to discuss potentially productive ideas.
It was just after I discovered the vigorous conversation on the Global Warming Fact of the Day Facebook group that McPherson and his acolytes showed up, accusing anyone having any constructive ideas of peddling “hopium”. And I see him actually offering a guilt-free path toward political apathy to the people most profoundly affected by the ecological and environmental disruption around us.
For various reasons, debunking McPherson appears to be a task that falls to me. And it’s in the middle of working on this project that the horseshoe season suddenly came upon me.
What is the Golden Horseshoe Award For?
The tradition of Climate BS (Bad Science) of the Year was handed to me by Peter Gleick, and I had some fun with it last year. The purpose, of course, was to collate and promote ammunition against the organized denial of climate science. So one is expected to take on the Usual Gang of Idiots. The Idsos, Singer, Lindzen, Monckton. I think at this point that is too easy. They refute themselves. Monckton’s latest is such a masterpiece of self-parody, so self-righteous and florid and over the top, that I found myself enjoying it. Whether was despite its frank lunacy or in part because of it, is hard to say.
Taking on the press can be more fun, and the press is eminently deserving of mockery on this and many other topics. But the underlying problem with the press, that they have failed in their role of preventing utter BS from pervading the common discourse, that they are incapable of squelching organized lunacy, is terrifying and tragic. Of course Rupert Murdoch gets the Rupert Murdoch Award again this year, for doing the most cumulative damage to our world of any man living. And of course there is a grim amusement in handing this award out. But in the end it’s utterly frustrating and tragic – the damage he does tears so deeply at the fabric of our civilization that it is hard to even talk about. I’m not in a mood to make light of it.
More worthy opponents are the quasi-reasonable. The Lomborg – Pielke – Curry types. Of these, Lomborg strikes me as the worthiest, because though he sloppily gets many of the facts wrong, his core arguments are harder to refute than you might think. But this makes the whole effort at snark more difficult.
Nobody, though, imagined the BS could be alarmist BS. Shakhova and Wadhams. Fukushima terror – people afraid to dip their toes into the Pacific and worried about a literal global cataclysm from a fumble with a fuel rod. And now, McPherson with his contempt-ridden accusation that anyone proposing any way of keeping civilization going is peddling “hopium” and distracting everyone from their true mission of dying with dignity.
So What Will It Be?
Clearly the Rupert Murdoch Award for most overall damage to the world goes to Rupert Murdoch again.
But the BS of the year?
For various reasons, then, I owe the world a sober analysis of Lomborg and of McPherson. Better late than never. So I propose to study both of these gentlemen in detail, with an eye to determining whether it is the prophet of doom or the prophet of profit that is most dangerous. I’ll be keeping you posted.
We’re into extra innings. I apologize for the delay. Lomborg and McPherson will be thematic for the next few weeks and I’ll revisit the award at the end. Your opinion on which candidate has done the most damage in the last year is welcome.