Clive Hamilton on climate denialism and social-ecological systems and

Clive Hamilton is an author and Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Stuart University and Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics in Australia.  He has been writing about the ethics of climate change, and climate denial.

In his interesting talk, Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change, one of the points he makes is the importance and difference of a social-ecological perspective:

Developments in climate science have revealed a natural world so influenced by human activity that the epistemological division between nature and society can no longer be maintained. When global warming triggers feedback effects, such as melting permafrost and declining albedo from ice-melt, will we be seeing nature at work or human intervention? The mingling of the natural and the human has philosophical as well as practical significance, because the “object” has been contaminated by the “subject”.

Climate denial can be understood as a last-ditch attempt to re-impose the Enlightenment’s allocation of humans and Nature to two distinct realms, as if the purification of climate science could render Nature once again natural, as if taking politics out of science can take humans out of Nature. The irony is that it was Enlightenment science itself, in the rules laid down by the Royal Society, that objectified the natural world, putting it on the rack, in Bacon’s grisly metaphor, in order to extract its secrets. We came to believe we could keep Nature at arms-length, but have now discovered, through the exertions of climate science, something pre- moderns took for granted, that Nature is always too close for comfort.

For more see his book, Requeim for a Species, or his related talk at the UK’s RSAFacing up to Climate Change.

14 thoughts on “Clive Hamilton on climate denialism and social-ecological systems and”

  1. This article begins with the assumption that anthropogenic global warming is “truth,” then brands refusal to accept the revealed truth as “climate denial.”

    In addition to the complete inaccuracy of the appellation (one cannot, after all, deny climate), the essay ignores the body of literature calling to question the simplistic assertion of anthropogenic global warming. A simple literature review reveals quite eloquently the broad questioning of predictions of future climate changes based on global circulation climate models that attribute modern climate change to human influence.

    What is happening is not denial, but a rational refusal to accept conclusions based on obviously biased interpretations of climate science. Rather than seeing Nature (if there is such a thing) as “too close for comfort,” we view the world as a complex whole, operating on its own natural cycles, not on simplistic data entry into climate models produced to serve very human purposes.

  2. Dr. Lewis thanks for providing an example of climate denial.

    Despite your unsupported statements, the support for human’s influence on climate is broad, deep and robust. Science has known about the basic physics of it for over a century (for a history see Spencer Weart’s book + website Discovery of Global Warming.

  3. Actually, no. I do not deny climate. This is an absurd statement. Words have meaning.

    Science is not a function of consensus. The basic physics of the so-called “Greenhouse effect” does not confirm the claim that the slight observed increase in average surface temperature since 1880 is caused by increases in man-made atmospheric carbon dioxide. There is no linear causal relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and global average surface temperature. One could argue with equal authority that increases in global average surface temperature result in an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

    In point of fact, global average surface temperature has declined in the latest decade while global average carbon dioxide levels continue to increase, therefore refuting the basic premise.

    What does happen, quite naturally, is that the global average surface temperature of the Earth fluctuates in response to changes in solar irradiance created by the complex cosmic interrelationships known as the Milankovitch Cycles. Steadily increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are the result of 20,000 years of increasing solar irradiance, releasing carbon dioxide from deep ocean sinks and terrestrial sources, including a slight contribution by humans.

    The entire natural cycle is far beyond the abilities of human societies to influence positively or negatively. Neither free market populism nor advanced green capitalism can change the swing of natural planetary cycles.

  4. Dr. Lewis, you are denying and deluded about anthropogenic climate change, which was what Clive Hamilton’s article and talk were about, despite the lack of evidence supporting your statements (i.e. opinion of all major academies of science – the overwhelming majority of the scientific literature). And as many posts on this website have documented humanity has altered many planetary cycles (N,P,C, water, etc) – which is why we now live in the Anthropocene.

    The scientific discussion is over whether human domination of the planet started thousands of years ago or about a 150 years ago – no whether human’s can have an impact on the planet.

    If you actually are interested in climate change take a look at the book or for an outline of how we have entered the Anthropocene – Something new under the sun by the J.R. McNeil.

  5. I’m not concerned with the “opinion of all major academies of science.” An opinion and $2.00 will buy you a cup of bad coffee.

    Please quantify “the overwhelming majority of the scientific literature.” All scientific literature? Scientific literature in some unnamed discipline?

    I’m not aware that science is conducted by voting. That last I practiced science, this morning, it was all about data and verification. Nothing about voting here.

    The scientific discussion taking place in this forum is bout the claim that the observed increase in global average surface temperature, which started some 20,000 years ago, is caused by anthropogenic carbon dioxide. I know of no evidence to support this claim.

  6. Dr. Lewis, you don’t know what you are talking about.

    Naomi Oreskes used a 2004 essay in Science to document in a simple way the overwhelming majority of the scientific literature demonstrates anthropogenic climate change.

    Her simple test can be repeated by you by looking at the explanation of climatic change in most introductory textbooks on earth system science. A good introductory textbook is Our Changing Planet: An Introduction to Earth System Science and Global Environmental Change by McKenzie). Looking at these introductory textbooks also demonstrates a shared understanding of climatic change within the earth system science community,

    Alternatively, you could look at reviews of climate science by top scientists, by looking at books on earth system/climate science published by the US Nat’l Academy, or you could sample the primary literature by scanning the last decades worth of papers in top science journals such as Nature, Science, PNAS – or more disciplinary journals such as J of Climate, GRL, Climate Change, Ecosystems, etc.

    Your comments continue to provide a good example of climate denial – confused misstatements about climate science combined with no evidence of being willing to engage with or understand the massive body of research on the earth system.

    If you actually want to learn about climate science – the “greenhouse effect”, Milankovitch cycles and the history and scientific debates over climate change – Spencer Weart’s book + website Discovery of Global Warming is a good place to start.

  7. Mr. Peterson:

    Since you do not know me, you have no way of knowing my involvement in climate science. As an archaeologist, I have collected tree ring data for dendroclimatological interpretation of Alaska/Siberia coastal communities over the past 2,500 years. I have published articles in peer reviewed journals on the interrelationships among human population movements and climate variation across the Arctic. I am fully aware of the body of literature on climate change and anthropogenic carbon dioxide, and I have participated in climate research over many years.

    My awareness of climate science does not translate, ipso facto, into thoughtless acceptance of the anthropogenic global warming proposition. The connection between anthropogenic CO2 and climate change has yet to be established and verified. Recent research calls to question the proposition that human produced CO2 can even be distinguished from that produced by natural sources. The effects of increasing atmospheric CO2 on global average surface temperature are poorly understand, and the interactions among positive and negative atmospheric feedbacks are not understood at all, let alone accounted for in global climate models used by the IPCC to predict future climate variation.

    In short, I deny nothing, keep an open mind at all times, and continue to research the effects of past climate variation on human relationships to the land.

    Thank you for your concern for my education. I would encourage you to follow your own advice with regards to research that does not meet your previously determined expectations.

  8. Dr. Lewis you are still wrong and remain uninformed, despite your claims of expertise. While I have provided you and other readers with a variety of sources to check my claims you have provided nothing. And you continue to deny that the connection between climate change and anthropogenic CO2 emissions has been established. It has.

    Here is a link to the IPCC Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis which explains how the connection between anthropogenic CO2 and climate change has been established and verified.

    And here is a link to the summary of the chapter from their FAQ: How do Human Activities Contribute to Climate Change and How do They Compare with Natural Influences?.

  9. Hi Gary:

    It’s interesting that you point to the IPCC o7 Working Group I report, [editted out denialist blah blah blah ] … a politically charged summary authored by biased IPCC propagandists.

    [Garry Peterson: Dr. Lewis, again no citations or support for your denial of anthropogenic climate change. There are lots places on the web where you can rant against the hard work done by IPCC scientists, but you won’t be allowed to do that here.]

  10. Gary, if you can’t be honest enough to print my full comment with editorializing, I will no longer have anything to do with this exchange. It’s sad that you have to resort to such juvenile behavior to get your way.

  11. Dr. Lewis,

    The “skeptic” community is filled with highly educated people, some actually in climatology.

    I read several of your posts, and you really are more a master of logical fallacies than understanding climate science. Because there was a regionally observed warming aka MWP, does not cast doubt on the correlation on warming today with CO2.

    Knowledge of the past is informative, but that does not make it relative to today.

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