The Brick – a fable for our times

I wrote this parable in 2009 as a contribution to an online debate and then forgot about it for years. I recently came across it again, however, and thought it still deserved readers, so here it is. Feel free to share it.

The Brick

“G’day Tom,” said Jamie, “How’s things?”

“Not too bad, mate.”

“You’re limping, though. What happened?”

“Oh, I dropped a brick on my big toe when I was clearing up a couple of days ago. Continue reading “The Brick – a fable for our times”

Greedy, lying …

Just briefly, here’s an addition to my list of activist greenie documentaries: Greedy Lying Bastards.

It’s so new I haven’t seen it yet, but it has collected all sorts of awards. It tackles climate change denialists, especially the fossil fuel industry and, given its title, it is probably safe to call it forthright and uncompromising.

Its targets include the Koch brothers, oil tycoons whose names pop up repeatedly amongst those funding climate change disinformation. They also popped up on Forbes magazine’s latest ‘rich list’, as reported on the ABC on March 5: “Tied at sixth were brothers Charles and David Koch, with $US34 billion each, fortunes built on their US oil refining, pulp and paper and chemicals empire Koch Industries.” If you add their separate fortunes together, which for this purpose I think is reasonable, they are third on the list, not equal sixth.

Just by way of a bonus item: Forbes found Gina Rinehart was the richest Australian. I will say no more.

Merchants of Doubt

cover of Merchants of DoubtMerchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway (Bloomsbury, 2010)

Merchants of Doubt tells the story of ‘How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming,’ as its subtitle says. It is a very strange and disturbing story of collusion between scientists, science administrators, right-wing politicians and big business in pursuit of an agenda which was ostensibly libertarian but in fact unscrupulously pro-business. One of its strangest, saddest aspects is that their programme gradually became a broadside attack on all science.

Anyone with any interest in the politics and sociology of climate change soon becomes aware that there is a very vocal but very small group which denies the overwhelming expert evidence that climate change is real, that is happening now and that it is man-made. They are today’s merchants of doubt: Bolt, Carter and Plimer in Australia, and Monckton, Lindzen, the Pielkes (father and son), Curry, Spencer, Lomborg, Watts and a few others overseas, mostly in the US. Most of the scientists on that list are not climate scientists, and some of the most vocal deniers are not scientists at all.

Oreskes and Conway show how this situation developed from the US politics of the Cold War era. First, the hard-science establishment was identified with the war effort; second, its already-hawkish leaders were promoted into science policy-making; third, some of them convinced themselves that any regulation of the free market was equivalent to creeping communism; and fourth, industry tacticians began recruiting scientists willing to cast doubt on any science which led to government policies which would cost them money.

The industries concerned were tobacco, agricultural and industrial chemicals (opposing bans on DDT and CFCs) and most recently fossil fuels – fighting, of course, the idea that global warming is a problem. In each case they funnelled money to scientists and opinion-makers through lobby groups, ‘philanthropic’ foundations and so on – bodies with names like ‘Heartland Institute,’ ‘Freedom of Expression Foundation’ and ‘Hudson Institute.’ Names are named and evidence is methodically documented.

The original merchants of doubt, Frederick Seitz, S. Fred Singer, William Nierenberg and Robert Jastrow, were all scientists but (to quote from the book’s introduction) ‘for more than twenty years, these men did almost no original scientific research on any of the issues on which they weighed in. … In fact, on every issue, they were on the wrong side of the scientific consensus. … [They] fought the scientific evidence and spread confusion on many of the most important issues of our time.’

Merchants of Doubt is peculiar in my life in that I commended it to others long before I read it myself. It emerged to great acclaim from people and publications I trusted, reviews showed that it told a very important story and Oreskes’ interviews convinced me it would be well told. It is pleasing to know now that I was right to recommend it and it has been satisfying to read the whole morbidly fascinating story at last.

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