International Journal of Inactivism (now supplanted by Decoding SwiftHack)

2008/05/14

Towards a genealogy of climate conspiracy theories

cite as: F. Bi. 2008. Towards a genealogy of climate conspiracy theories. Intl. J. Inact., 1:37–42.

Note: The climate conspiracy theory genealogy is updated from time to time.
Check the end of this blog post to find the latest version!

In my previous blog post, I talked about Pielke Jr.‘s conspiracy theory on climatologists. Here‘s what Pielke is saying about the falsifiability of his theory:

Thanks for the link, where you call me a crank and a conspiracy theorist. You’ve got me there πŸ˜‰

Well duh.

Anyway, I’ve been curious about how the global warming theory `became’ a conspiracy in the first place. “How, and when, did people start getting the idea that global warming was a `leftist plot’?” I wondered. To cut the long story short, I dug around a bit, and found that the so-called “global warming conspiracy” isn’t just a single conspiracy theory, but an entire family of conspiracy theories, all pretty incompatible — and incomprehensible1.

So I decided to try drawing a quick family tree of the climate conspiracy theories I found. See that big spiffy diagram on the right? Yeah, that’s it2. Now for some explanation…

Once upon a time

In the good old days, men were men, women were women, and the US was in a Cold War against the USSR. Somehow, the idea that environmentalists were Communist sympathizers was born — I still don’t know when exactly that was, but in any case in 1962, some wag decided to label Rachel Carson, who fought against abuse of the insecticide DDT, as a Communist sympathizer [Smy97].

From there, it’s not that far of a stretch to postulate that some environmentalists may actually be Soviet agents, and that environmentalism is in fact a means to spread Soviet dominion. Which was exactly what another wag did in 1990:

[…] French intelligence discovered in 1985 that Greenpeace was making plans to agitate the natives in Polynesia against French control of the area, a strategic region of the Pacific in which the Soviets were already sponsoring revolutionary movements. Could the Greenpeace campaign against North Atlantic nations have similar goals?

Coincidentally, Bob Jastrow — generally recognized as one of the Founding Fathers of climate inactivism — was meanwhile having trouble getting support from scientists for Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defence initiative; indeed, the scientists were launching a boycott against it. Jastrow responded by accusing the unsupportive scientists of being Soviet stooges [OC08].

Lindzen’s conspiracy factory

Things started getting interesting in the 1990s, when scientists started to really really worry about global warming [OC08]. Our hero during this time is Richard Lindzen, who in 1992 proposed an early climate conspiracy theory — that the US Senate was being packed with environmentalists, and this Senate, under the nefarious leadership of Al Gore, started to control the purse strings of climate scientists to coerce them into getting the `right’ conclusions:

[…] in the summer of 1988 Lester Lave, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote to me about being dismissed from a Senate hearing for suggesting that the issue of global warming was scientifically controversial. I assured him that the issue was not only controversial but also unlikely. In the winter of 1989 Reginald Newell, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, lost National Science Foundation funding for data analyses that were failing to show net warming over the past century. Reviewers suggested that his results were dangerous to humanity.

In 1996, Lindzen decided that climatologists weren’t really coerced, but instead they were incentivized to produce the `right’ scientific results [Lin96]. For bonus points, Lindzen also tried to make his point by comparing climate science to… eugenics:

[…] the interaction of science, advocacy and politics in both the global warming and eugenics cases share a number of characterisics: […]

Scientists flattered by public attention and deferent to β€˜political will’ and popular assessment of virtue.

Significant numbers of scientists eager to produce the science demanded by the β€˜public.’

By 2006, Lindzen had changed his ideas on the nature of the conspiracy again. This time, rather than being incentivized or coerced by bad guys, the climatologists are the bad guys — they purposely spread alarmism in order to scare politicians and the public:

After all, who puts money into science — whether for AIDS, or space, or climate — where there is nothing really alarming? Indeed, the success of climate alarmism can be counted in the increased federal spending on climate research from a few hundred million dollars pre-1990 to $1.7 billion today.

And in the meantime (2003), we have Pielke’s theory which argues that climatologists on both sides of the debate have a stake in prolonging the debate in order to get more funding.

And more…

So, that’s already quite a good number of conspiracy theories… but that’s not all. On 5 Apr this year, Nigel Lawson wrote,

With the collapse of Marxism and, to all intents and purposes, of other forms of socialism too, those who dislike capitalism and its foremost exemplar, the United States, with equal passion, have been obliged to find a new creed.

For many of them, green is the new red.

Hmm. So environmentalism, instead of being a means towards achieving a worldwide Marxist dictatorship, is now a new doctrine to replace Marxism.

And on 5 May, we get Heartland Institute’s defence of its β€œHeartland 500” list, which combines Ellison’s theory, Lindzen’s 2006 theory, and possibly Jastrow’s theory, into a powerful mixed breed of bogus:

DeSmogBlog, a Web site created to attack conservative and free-market nonprofit organizations, targeted The Heartland Institute in late April 2008, […]

Many of the complaining scientists have crossed the line between scientific research and policy advocacy. They lend their credibility to politicians and advocacy groups who call for higher taxes and more government regulations to “save the world” from catastrophic warming … and not coincidentally, to fund more climate research.

Conclusion

And no, that’s still not all. We’ve not even touched on the theories that go “Al Gore invented global warming”, the now-forgotten “Chapter 8 conspiracy” [Lah99], and more. Truly, climate conspiracy theories are a fruitful field of study…

Footnotes

  1. I guess I’d sort of known that all along, though at the conscious level, I’d always spoken of it as if it’s one single conspiracy theory. Anyway, it was also at this time I came across Pielke’s theory.
  2. A note of caution: The relationships (arrows) shown in the diagram are based mainly on my subjective judgement of the similarity between theories. Don’t read too much into them.

References

  • [Lah99] M. Lahsen. 1999. The detection and attribution of conspiracies: The controversy over Chapter 8. In G. E. Marcus ed., Paranoia Within Reason: A Casebook on Conspiracy as Explanation, Chapter 5, pp. 111–136.
  • [Lin96] R. S. Lindzen. 1996. Science and politics: Global warming and eugenics. In R. Hahn ed., Risks, Costs, and Lives Saved, Chapter 5, pp. 85–103.
  • [OC08] N. Oreskes and E. Conway. 2008. Challenging knowledge: How climate science became a victim of the Cold War. Technical Report 01/08, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science Contingency and Dissent in Science.
  • [Smy97] R. B. Smythe. 1997. The historical roots of NEPA. In R. Clark and L. W. Canter ed., Environmental Policy and NEPA: Past, Present, and Future, Chapter 1, pp. 3–14.

Updates

There are now quite a lot of updates cluttering up this blog post (uh-oh…), so I thought I’d classify them. Here goes:

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24 Comments »

  1. Maybe I’ll unsilicon some of my research I did as Dano at Tech Central Station (I used to compose in Wurd way back when before preview functions existed) and pass on some tidbits. The important thing is the network after initial dissemination: the Drudges, WorldNutDailys, Glen Reynolds and Limbaughs of the world.

    It may take a few weeks to get to it, but there are some around that know how to get a hold of me.

    Best,

    D

    Comment by Dano — 2008/05/14 @ 20:07 | Reply

  2. Thanks, let’s see the stuff! πŸ™‚

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/05/15 @ 04:34 | Reply

  3. […] Towards a genealogy of climate conspiracy theories […]

    Pingback by Green is the new Red Under the Bed | All Embracing But Underwhelming... — 2008/05/15 @ 04:58 | Reply

  4. I’ve said this somewhere else, but what is the problem with “…more climate research.”? ‘Empirical research bad!’?

    Comment by Stephen — 2008/05/15 @ 19:31 | Reply

  5. Stephen:

    Well, empirical research is good only if it helps some other bunch of people make more money, and that other bunch of people had better not include Al Gore. πŸ™‚

    No, this conspiracy theory simply doesn’t make any sense. But conspiracy theories aren’t supposed to make sense anyway. They’re meant to be used as talismans to ward off inconvenient facts.

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/05/15 @ 19:49 | Reply

  6. Hi Frank
    Interesting analysis..and a good place to collate this sort of stuff.

    Didn’t Oreskes throw in a theory from ‘right field’ too? (maybe it was Monbiot)

    ie the Hadley Centre (British Government – Thatcher era) was supposed to have ‘created’ global warming as a justification for shutting down the coal mines and breaking the power of the unions…..

    Comment by AndrewH — 2008/05/15 @ 20:03 | Reply

  7. AndrewH:

    Thanks! Well, I can’t find any mention of Hadley Centre, coal mines, and Thatcher by either Oreskes or Monbiot. Jennifer Marohasy does bring up this theory though. (Thatcher actually believed in global warming, which makes her the Enemy of Freedom or something, even though most of her policies were right-wing…)

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/05/15 @ 20:23 | Reply

  8. The Thatcher/coal miners thing is from TGGW Swindle. Just another figment from Durkin’s imagination.

    Comment by The Tuatara — 2008/05/15 @ 20:47 | Reply

  9. The Tuatara:

    Wow… so, another conspiracy theory comes into the big family… πŸ™‚

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/05/16 @ 04:16 | Reply

  10. The Tuatara, eh? I’m sure I resemble that remark somehow.

    Comment by horansome — 2008/05/17 @ 04:49 | Reply

  11. Thatcher/Coal Mines/GW.

    As a Thatcherite sympathiser (who “converted” after her era, but was a teenager through it). The idea that you needed anything but economic arguments to oppose the power of the Unions, notably in the Mining industry, is utter and complete “carp”.

    Given the subsequent “dash for gas” and near death of nuclear power (let alone the lack of such a publicly expressed reason), the argument that AGW was an excuse to attack the miners is revealed as preposterous. Indeed the same applies to the US Biofuels drive being to counter AGW; in light of the US central gov’t remaining unwilling to reduce emissions, it’s obviously a strategic energy security decision.

    Here’s Thatcher’s speech on the opening of The Hadley Centre 25/3/90:
    http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=108102
    QUOTE:
    As the [IPCC 1990] Panel’s Report itself makes clear, we should have a better understanding of many of these things in ten or fifteen years time, say, by about the year 2005. By then, we shall have benefitted from new measurements from satellites, from new and more powerful computers and the results of work now being done on ocean circulation,
    EOQ
    It’s now 2008, the science has become more coherent, and the Arctic ice cap is going some 4+ decades ahead of schedule….

    The paucity and incoherence of the denier’s arguments reveals their desperation in the face of a near complete destruction of their position. Your Genealogy will, I suspect turn into something resembling a plate of spaghetti. Which would be an interesting contrast to the more ordered (tree-like) structure of the real science on this matter.

    That said, RayPierre’s current trouncing of the latest rubbish from Roy Spencer (at RealClimate) is a case in point. There are many who cannot understand the issue, so they will continue to use it to bolster their imaginary position: Thumbing Spencer’s graph like Rosary Beads whilst muttering the mantra: “It must be anything but human activity”.

    Comment by CobblyWorlds — 2008/05/22 @ 11:54 | Reply

  12. The Thatcher connection was at the end of the GWWS. However, it might have been somebody else but Durkin who presented it.

    Comment by Lars Karlsson — 2008/05/22 @ 12:18 | Reply

  13. CobblyWorlds, Lars Karlsson:

    Hah. πŸ™‚ Well, at this point the question that interests me is, how did people get the idea in the first place that Thatcher ‘invented’ AGW? Does it have anything to do with the LaRouchies’ “AGW is a hoax by British royalty and commies” theory? So much crud to investigate, so little time…

    CobblyWorlds:

    “Your Genealogy will, I suspect turn into something resembling a plate of spaghetti. Which would be an interesting contrast to the more ordered (tree-like) structure of the real science on this matter.”

    Interesting thought. Well, my suspicion is that the genealogy of other more facty inactivist talking points, like the “climate models are unreliable” family, will also look somewhat like a tree (albeit with a larger branching factor), since they’re forced to discard talking points which can be rebutted quickly enough, and it’s also a bit hard to, say, mix Spencer and Douglass et al. and Miskolczi into a new talking point.

    (Then again, at some point the “tree” will probably merge with the great spaghetti of conspiracy theories anyway. When “Miskolczi resigned from the NASA in disgust” morphed into “Miskolczi was fired by the NASA”, it’s obvious where that’ll be headed…)

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/05/22 @ 17:38 | Reply

  14. Dang, I decided to try tracing the history of the Thatcher conspiracy theory, and look what I found.

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/05/24 @ 05:01 | Reply

  15. […] to spread the love, so to speak, and talk about the International Journal of Inactivism’s Genealogy of Climate Conspiracy Theories. It’s fascinating material and I hope to do it a bit of […]

    Pingback by The Dentith Files - 95bFM | All Embracing But Underwhelming... — 2008/06/15 @ 06:08 | Reply

  16. The Green as the New Red is amusing given how viciously the Warsaw Pact states treated their environmentalists and the fact that environmentalist and green issues were used a praxis of resistance against Marxism in places like Slovenia.

    Comment by I am so wise — 2008/07/31 @ 21:47 | Reply

  17. […] A must read from the International Journal of Inactivism […]

    Pingback by Towards a genealogy of climate conspiracy theories » scruffydan.com/blog -Kill bill C-61 — 2008/09/15 @ 07:46 | Reply

  18. […] They claim to be skeptical of the mountains of evidence while embracing the most absurd conspiracy theories without any evidence whatsoever .Β  They reject the plethora of climate models out of hand as […]

    Pingback by Skeptics, Contrarians, or Deniers? « Greenfyre’s — 2008/09/16 @ 00:41 | Reply

  19. Re Nigel Lawson:

    Man, it’s sure a good thing bankers and former chancellors of the exchequer warned us JUST IN TIME to prevent the collapse of the international economic and banking system, eh?

    I really think the deluded masses and socialist media were on the brink of convincing them that environmentalists weren’t the biggest economic threat on the horizon, and it’s chilling to imagine what could have happened had the few wise men failed.

    I had no idea he was cutting it that fine, though, April of this year? I have to wish Baron Lawson had warned us of the watermelon menace much, much earlier.

    Comment by Marion Delgado — 2009/02/03 @ 18:02 | Reply

  20. Marion Delgado:

    The laissez-faire goons are still chanting the ‘climate action will make the bad economy even worse’ mantra. And of course, the bad economy is all the librulz’ fault, and even if it’s not, the librul-watermelonz will obviously only make things worse, and even if they don’t, it’s obvious (after the fact!) that the Free Market Fairy will work even better than the Big Evil Socialist Machine. Om… Om… Om…

    Comment by frankbi — 2009/02/04 @ 07:30 | Reply

  21. (waawaaskesh: Eh, when you cut-and-paste ‘quotes’ sourced from, um, conspiracy theorists, the ‘quotes’ don’t serve as proof of a conspiracy. Don’t do that again.)

    Comment by frankbi — 2009/07/14 @ 16:20 | Reply

  22. This is great stuff Frank, I want to use it as a source for an essay I’m doing for a conspiracy theory paper. Could you please email me to confirm your name and reference details at β–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆ β–ˆβ–ˆ β–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆ β–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆ β–ˆβ–ˆβ–ˆ…. Thanks πŸ™‚

    Comment by A.J.Chesswas — 2009/09/08 @ 23:25 | Reply

  23. Here’s the final product FYI: http://matthew5-9.blogspot.com/2009/09/bursting-climate-change-bubble.html

    Comment by A.J.Chesswas — 2009/09/16 @ 12:48 | Reply

  24. […] study, much less the Three Stooges misunderstanding their own work, a Potty Peer ranting about delusional conspiracies, or Anthony Watts doodling on a climate plot, simply defies […]

    Pingback by The science behind a climate change headline « Greenfyre’s — 2009/11/10 @ 22:13 | Reply


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