Interview with John Gibbons

We recently met up with John Gibbons following his departure from the Irish Times to discuss climate change and media bias. To read the interview please follow this link…

“The Pat Kennys of the world will behave like they are organising a cock fight.  His job is simply to facilitate a scrap, which is considered good radio. Broadcast journalism is essentially looking for good air and good air means a lively debate. Now there’s a world of difference between a lively debate and an informed discussion.”

The image above is from the Irish Times sponsored competition ‘The Ultimate Job in Ireland (and probably the world)‘, “To celebrate the launch of Ireland’s most exciting destination wedding and honeymoon website.”

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12 thoughts on “Interview with John Gibbons

  1. “The Pat Kennys of the world will behave like they are organising a cock fight. His job is simply to facilitate a scrap, which is considered good radio”

    Unsaid here, but implied, is that a responsible journalist would shut skeptics off the airwaves. John Gibbons is not a scientist. He’s a journalist who read a few books and has decided that anybody who thinks there are valid reasons to dissent from the view expressed in those books is a “denier” (A word very deliberately laden with the noxious odour of holocaust denial) who is out to wreck the planet.

    He critiques the skeptical movement as funded by big business, but has no problem with the billions pumped into the AGW industry by taxpayers and the United Nations without a second thought. He is a “reporter” who studiously refuses to ask the difficult questions of the people whose claims he faithfully reports.

    He has this entire issue backwards. “Deniers” are not asking people to radically change their economies, personal habits, or whole way of life. The AGW industry is. The burden of proof is not on us, it is on them. The proble is that when very serious issues arise (like the fudging of data by Climatologists which is now subject to a criminal investigation) “journalists” like Gibbons spring into action as the PR wing of the AGW movement. Go read his articles. You will find plenty of excuses for failures and mistakes, but not one critique of the insular, partisan processes which lead to them.

    He speaks of “scientific consensus” as if such a thing exists. Firstly, if it does exist, it has lead to abject laziness, which is why the last IPCC report contained such a large number of verifiably false claims. Secondly, it exists only because (as has been shown in the leaked emails from East Anglia) AGW proponents have actively conspired to keep critical materials out of peer-reviewed journals. It’s an artifically created consensus, propped up by dishonesty, and held by people who see their work in political as well as scientific terms.

    I agree with Gibbons that coverage of AGW here has been dreadful. But only because, Pat Kenny aside, the media have been happy to swallow whole the claims made by what is a remarkably small band of scientists, backed up by a larger band of cultist devotees like Gibbons. There has been no critical analysis of climategate, the fallout from the IPCC report’s glaring errors, or the congressional investigations into Global Warming “science”. The Irish people have been kept in the dark about those issues.

    I say again, these people are advocating transformational economic change, which would reduce living standards for many many people. They have not come close to proving their case. It is right, and healthy, that we force them to do so before we go down the dark path that they have laid before us.

    1. John,

      It’s obviously the case that Gibbons is solidly behind rigorous scientific debate, however the quality of debate made available by climate change sceptics / deniers is pretty abysmal.

      The media has clearly offered them an opportunity to air their opinions. If the likes of Phelim McAleer and Martin Durkin are anything to go by, sceptics aren’t willing to enter into honest debate.

      On a side note, one of the major points made in the interview was that the media is not designed to hold regular in-depth discussions between scientists – if that’s what you want???

      In highlighting the fact governments fund climate research, are you suggesting some sort of conspiracy? The fact that the fossil fuel industry tends to get caught out secretly funding sceptics is a clear case of supporting their own interests.

      Its funny that you claim those that are calling for action on climate change are attempting to reduce the standards of living for people when the action is clearly aimed at global justice.

  2. Reply via email from Harry Browne, Lecturer at DIT School of Journalism, former IT columnist and currently columnist at Village Magazine:

    Hi David (and Miriam),

    I’m writing as a 40-something, unrich (and definitely unpoor) father of daughters about whose future I obsess, with a carbon footprint that is elfen by local standards and with pretty thoroughly left-wing attitudes, and I want to complain about the posture you’ve taken with this John Gibbons interview.

    I lead with my subjective credentials because JG, and you with him, have turned this argument into a highly personalised and moralistic argument about “deniers” and their stake in the status quo. You are not unique in this: both ‘sides’ of the climate debate are prone to disgusting generalisations about the motivations and bona fides of their opponents, and I fear that many people choose their side based on what they want to emerge as the underlying truth about the way the world works: conservatives who believe there is a elite contingent of nanny-staters bent on global domination; people-like-us who believe that the indifference of capitalism (and 20th century state ‘socialism’) to the environmental consequences of development must lead to a catastrophic ending.

    The problem with the first position is obvious. The problem with the second position, morally satisfying though it may be, is that Science (the absurd capital S as seen in the latest Village editorial) really doesn’t get us there. What was JG’s killer statistic in his Jan 7 IT column? A survey showing that 86% of 1,600 climate scientists surveyed said they believed global temperature would rise by 2C or more by the end of the century. Leaving aside the fact that this ‘consensus’ position is some way short of the more imminent climate cataclysm that JG flags with considerable certainty, since when do we do science by opinion poll? Are there really 1,600 climate scientists (a young field) whose own research leads them inexorably to this conclusion, or is it a honest but speculative professional consensus — of the sort of which we should all be suspicious given what the world has been through in the last few years. Since the factors affecting climate are so complex as to make Credit-Default-Swaps look like a game of Snap, we can”t assume all the pieces of the puzzle are in place. The widely accepted range of how much warming we can expect from a doubling of CO2 is so understandably wide (1.5C to 5C) that it makes my point without recourse to conspiracy.

    Furthermore, as the bloggers on Climate Resistance point out so eloquently, and without Exxon funding, the conclusion that a certain temperature change is ‘deadly’ or ‘cataclysmic’ for humans is not a scientific one — it’s political. It assumes that the people whose poverty makes them most vulnerable to change will stay poor. It assumes poor defences against flooding and severe weather, lack of irrigation, desalination, etc etc.

    And all that is leaving aside ‘Climategate’ — honest alarmists such as George Monbiot acknowledge its significance — and the apparent stalling of warming over the last decade.

    You don’t need a conspiracy to understand that some people have staked professional reputations and careers, in and out of science, on a particular version of global warming and its consequences. I think it’s fair to say that JG is one of them. That doesn’t make him dishonest, of course, but it also doesn’t make him a lone font of wisdom on the subject. I think some of his criticism of the media is fair, but it’s also fair to say that most Western media have gone along with the Gore consensus; so portraying climate-alarmism as a beleaguered voice in the wilderness is, however appealing, unjustified on the facts, at least until very recently.

    I think the left-right divide on this is breaking down. I’ve mentioned Climate Resistance. You know, I’m sure, that Alexander Cockburn is a sceptic, though he is almost certainly wrong on some of the science. Martin Cohen (see http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=409454) is apparently bringing out a book with Pluto Press. JG’s ad-hominem attacks on the ‘outliers’ doesn’t change the fact that the science remains hotly discussed. Is he really ready to go up against, e.g., an MIT Professor of Meteorology?

    Just to be clear: just because I think there is more uncertainty in the science than JG lets on, I don’t think we should Do Nothing. I think it’s all the more important to change the way we order the world to reduce human vulnerability to a degree or two (or three or four) of temperature change. And changing our carbon habits has a lot of positive consequences outside of climate change. I just worry that climate-alarmism may turn out to have been a distracting crusade that ultimately discredits those of us who want to bring about change that goes beyond CO2.

    A few small points:
    As a non-scientific academic who is involved with peer review and can see why we use it, I think the fetish for peer-review is absurd, and the statement that it’s “how we got out of the caves” is even more ludicrous.
    The fact that we’d all love to shout ‘Everything you know is wrong” at Pat Kenny doesn’t make it the case.
    What are the Watergate papers?

    All the very best,
    Harry

    1. And all that is leaving aside ‘Climategate’ — honest alarmists such as George Monbiot acknowledge its significance — and the apparent stalling of warming over the last decade.

      Wtf? The so-called Climategate is nothing that you won’t find if you got access to two decades of emails in any workplace (and considerably less so than most). The worst is a highly prejucicial construction put on the meaning of the word ‘trick’, when one scientist is discussing how he made two data sets compiled using different measurement methods reconcile. And the “apparent stalling of warming over the past decade” strongly suggests that Harry Browne, media lecturer, [*Deleted Abuse – sincere apologies to Harry Browne for not deleting this sooner] cannot be bothered to look up the fact that the same ‘past decade’ has been the warmest on record, the ‘stalling’ a statistically insignificant blip.

      As to McGuirk, no bloody surprise from an old hand at the Freedom Institute, who had a history of stealth lobbying for corporate interests (and of cheerleading every American right-wing cause going).

  3. The fact is that as the philosopher Robert Goodin observes

    ‘…no amoumnt of ‘coping’ or ‘negoiating’ with nature, once we have disturbed it will restore its ‘value imparting property’…

    he goes on to say…

    …the more [we] succeed in bringing everything [in nature] under [our control] the less there is of a world that there is outside of and larger than ourselves in which we can set our life’s work…

    So there it is girls and boys…its time to ‘wise-up’ to the fact, that as far as the damage being done to our planet and our way of life…we’re on kinda on the road to nowhere at the moment…

  4. Gee, EWI steps in to confirm what I was saying about abusiveness. But thanks to Joseph Curtin for the links. I should note that I wrote my note to Miriam and David quickly, not meaning it for publication, and after seeing only the first half of the JG interview, but I did give them permission to put it up. It is not as carefully phrased as I would prefer, though I stand over it.
    As an ignoramus, and despite the fact that I did say I was ‘leaving aside’ the issue, I’ll take my view on ‘stalling’ from the infamous Prof Phil Jones (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8511670.stm):
    “B – Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

    “Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

    “C – Do you agree that from January 2002 to the present there has been statistically significant global cooling?

    “No. This period is even shorter than 1995-2009. The trend this time is negative (-0.12C per decade), but this trend is not statistically significant.”

    Okay, me again. At the very least there is no sign of any running away, tipping etc. There are some honest differences among different measurers of global temperature (e.g. was 1998 or 2005 the hottest year?) but widespread agreement that the trend among most years in the last 15 can’t be certainly distinguished from ‘noise’. Arctic sea ice is doing okay in the last three years. Of course these are tiny, tiny time-frames in the geological scale, and the overall mid-term (decades, centuries) temperature trend is up, but not (yet) at a rate of cataclysms. And you can’t go blaming man-made global warming for, e.g., Hurricane Katrina, then insisting that the short-term trend proves nothing.

    As for climate sensitivity — i.e what does doubling CO2 do to temperature? — the AR4 chart (thanks again Joseph Curtin) is based on ‘best estimates’ (see the hedging in note b). My 1.5 to 5C was written from memory but I see it pretty closely conforms to the IPCC: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_sensitivity. We’re already nearly halfway to the that doubling from the pre-industrial level.

    The head of IPCC is in today’s NY Times: “He acknowledged that he and other climate scientists had done a “lousy job” of communicating what is known and not known about the behavior of the earth’s climate and that they had not responded adequately to critics of their work.” Well, exactly.

    As for Climategate: No, my emails don’t look like that. George Monbiot says Jones and his boss should resign. I don’t think it’s a very big deal (I said I was leaving it aside) but it is an interesting insight into some of the social construction of ‘scientific consensus’. Note, by the way, that among the funders of the Climate Research Unit in East Anglia are BP and Shell. (See also http://activistteacher.blogspot.com/2007/05/dgr-in-my-article-entitled-global.html, which is interesting if you don’t read it too conspiratorially.)

    I don’t know what it is I’m supposed to have been taken in by. Of course I’m not a scientist but nor am I scientifically illiterate (college transcript available on request). The political point (which no one has addressed here or on ILR) is more important to me: the left has been sucked into a posture on climate change that can (1) just-possibly make us look silly and gullible and, even if it doesn’t, can (2) distract us from all the things that need changing more than the direction of the thermometer.

  5. Harry Browne in his contributions identifies himself with the left, but fails to ask himself: in whose interest? Why would a scientific consensus emerge that warns of such a dire future, if it were based on bad science? Isn’t it those who now exercise power in society who have most to lose by initiating major changes? So no surprise that there is dissent to anthropogenic global warming.

    The fact that BP and Shell contribute to the Climate Research Unit is not evidence that big business is behind a false idea: it reflects the fact that even some capitalists are capable of looking at the longer picture.

    I will leave others better qualified than I to answer the scientific arguments (I think he misunderstands the statistical significance argument). The problem is that Harry thinks that talking about global warming distracts us from “all the things that need changing more than the direction of the thermometer”. Unless global warming is tackled the movement for social changes will be interrupted by the consequences of global warming. I do not mean that social changes cannot be undertaken, only that to plan them without taking into account an imminent disaster is futile. To imagine that poverty could be ended, flood barriers erected, irrigation and salination corrected before the consequences arrive is unrealistic.

  6. Nowhere do I say it’s ‘bad science’ or that ‘big business is behind a false idea’, but it seems remarkably easy for posters to put those words in my mouth and ignore the wider point. On statistical significance, I don’t comment, I merely quote Jones: the rise in temperature over the last 15 years isn’t sufficient to qualify as significant statistically, nor is the fall in temperature (of the same average magnitude) over the last 8. It’s really not difficult. None of it disproves anything. It is what it is. And it isn’t runaway global warming at this point. That could change of course: I’m not saying otherwise.

  7. Unsaid here, but implied, is that a responsible journalist would shut skeptics off the airwaves.

    There’s “points of view”, and then there’s getting in some nutter off the Internet. Is John McGuirk seriously suggesting that, say, an RTÉ debate on the Budget is “shutting skeptics off the airwaves” by not including the views of the CPI or some libertarian goldbug?

  8. I just worry that climate-alarmism may turn out to have been a distracting crusade that ultimately discredits those of us who want to bring about change that goes beyond CO2.

    Well, clearly there are some (like the economics types over at Irish Economy) for whom “are we looking likely to experience catastrophic climate change” is only relevant in the contact of whether it helps (or not) their own partisan political opinions.

    God knows, as a (very) former member of FF I’ve seen first-hand how easily that viewpoint can appeal to people.

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