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Stewart Brand: Fearless Follower of Lovelock, not science

David Lewis's picture
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  • Nov 15, 2010

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Stewart Brand has written an online Afterword intended to update his 2009 book Whole Earth Discipline.  In it, Brand tells us that the scientist he trusts most about climate, James Lovelock, has “softened his sense of alarm about the pace of climate change”. Lovelock is now touting the gibberish of the climate denier Garth Paltridge, calling him a “sensible skeptic”.

During the period when Brand wrote Whole Earth Discipline, Lovelock’s view was that catastrophic lovelockclimate change is irreversible and as such, it is too late to do anything about it.  Lovelock was telling all and sundry they might as well enjoy life as best they can while waiting for Armageddon.  (Lovelock still has an article from The Guardian saying he is doing this posted as the latest entry on his personal website). 

 Brand’s Afterword was posted online a year and a half after he finalized the book.  In it, Brand tells us other things Lovelock is now saying, e.g.:  “climate scientists have become overly politicized”.  Brand quotes Lovelock telling him it is “amazing how tribal scientists are”, because his climate scientist friends are appalled now that has dared “to consort with skeptics”. 

Brand says Lovelock changed his views because of two things:  an article that was published in Science [1] by Dr. Kevin Trenberth which convinced him that “something unknown is slowing the rate of global warming” and because of the book by Garth Paltridge, i.e. The Climate Caper

Brand’s views seem to have “softened” as well. E.g.: in a recent speech in Vancouver BC, Brand received a question from an audience member who was concerned because it was his understanding that Brand believed that “climate is going to get worse than we think faster than we think” who asked “can you expand on that?” Brand said: “um yeah I can expand on it by saying it might not be true[2].  Brand qualified that by saying to do nothing about climate in the face of what is now known would be like playing Russian Roulette, but it seems he is very influenced by Lovelock’s changed perspective. 

 However, it happens that the author of the Science article Lovelock is referring to, trenberthDr. Kevin Trenberth, has published an online statement intended to clear up any misunderstanding anyone has about what his views on global warming are.

 He sees “no evidence [3]  that global warming has slowed.  I asked Trenberth, as I was writing this, if his views had changed.  They haven’t  [4].  It also happens that Hansen’s group at GISS, who produce what many call the best assessment of the average planetary surface temperature trend, have their latest paper [5],  in press, which is published online, which confirms Trenberth. 

Apparently, Lovelock did not understand what Trenberth’s article was about.  

[ Update:  Trenberth is quoted in this article, on Lovelock:  “The fact is he knows little or nothing about climate change.” ]

 As for the Paltridge book, it is typical denier claptrap:  e.g.:  the introduction saysbook jacket the scientists involved with the IPCC are the worst thing that has happened to science in the last several hundred years, because they are on a “religious crusade”, “manipulating” the climate issue “into the ultimate example of the politically correct” acting as if “the science behind the issue” is “irrelevant“, etc., ad naseum.

Brand’s book, before the Afterword was written, was touted by The Energy Collective’s own Marc Gunther on his personal blog  as “brilliant, controversial, unconventional, and lively”.  Marc said it was the best book he had read in 2009.  An interview with Stewart Brand by Gunther was posted and reposted earlier this year at The Energy Collective”.  Here and here.

 I think its time more people became aware of this Afterword.  How can Brand champion the views of a climate science denier who denounces climate scientists and expect to be taken seriously by environmentalists? 

I.e. its time to ask him:  what’s with all this gibberish

 Here’s a quote from Brand:  “I would like to see the environment movement – and indeed everybody – become fearless about following science.  Part of that process lies in learning which scientists and which research to track most closely”    – page 217 Whole Earth Discipline. 

 I wonder why he doesn’t actually fearlessly follow the science in the way he advises the environment movement  – and indeed everybody – to do.  What’s Brand doing telling people to pay attention to a second rate climate science denier like Paltridge?  And that aging old friend of his who has so influenced him, Lovelock, he doesn’t seem to understand what recent debate among leading climate scientists means.  

         – Here is a detailed discussion of the paper in Science by Kevin Trenberth that Lovelock says “softened” his views

         – Here is some discussion of the Paltridge book.  Its not as detailed as my look at Trenberth.  I couldn’t finish reading the book it is that bad. 

          – And here is some discussion of the author of the Foreword to the Paltridge book, Lord Monckton. 

[1] Trenberth, K. Tracking Earth’s Energy, a “Perspectives” article, Science 16 April 2010

[2] Stewart Brand in conversation at an event in Vancouver BC, “Gaining Ground”, recorded on podcast by Alex Smith

[3] Trenberth, K. Statement:  Kevin Trenberth on Hacking of Climate Files, paragraph 4,  NCAR website

[4] Trenberth, K. personal communication, (email) to David Lewis, November 2010.  Quotes from that email appear in the post  “JamesLovelock points to Trenberth as he jumps off into the blue

[5] Hansen, Ruedy, Sato, Lo, Global Surface Temperature Change, in press, available at Dr. Hansen’s website

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Paul O's picture
Paul O on Nov 16, 2010

I’d just like to ask one question: Do real scientists use the term “Denier”, or is that strictly reserved for enthusiasts?

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Nov 16, 2010


I concur on the false equivalency, though I have some sympathy with its roots in this case.  The biggest disappointment in the various investigations into the Climategate emails wasn’t their failure to turn up a grand conspiracy to defraud the public over climate change–I never thought there was one to find–but that none of the obvious ethical shortcomings (journals apparently closed off to contributors who didn’t share the consensus view, respected scientists circulating emails that treated colleagues like outcasts from a middle-school clique) was held up for rebuke.  The investigators seemed so concerned with not undermining the consensus that they may have undermined it more subtly by giving such trust-eroding behavior a clean bill of health.  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Noel Flantier's picture
Noel Flantier on Nov 16, 2010

Yes that’s right Geant.  The nuclear bombs wouldn’t blow up.  You see, appearance in today’s reality is everything.  Reality doesn’t matter any more.  Kennedy figured this out in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  He made up some emails the nuclear physicists were supposed to have written, the made up emails made it look like the physicists had faked the entire Manhattan Project, so because it never existed, the bombs wouldn’t be able to blow up.  Kennedy told Krushchev, and the crisis was over.  Everybody agreed not to tell us common people.  Its a giant conspiracy.  Its really big.  Honest. 

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Nov 16, 2010


Nice rant, but it completely misses the point of my comment.   If you read those emails–and I read page after page of them–and didn’t come away with your confidence in the scientific processes involved in those folks’ work diminished, then you are either a better person than I am or your faith in the system might be a bit too much of the blind variety. 

Appearances do count, especially for non-scientists.  I spent years in oil trading, and I vividly recall the company’s lawyers lecturing us every year not only to avoid breaking the rules, but to “avoid the appearance of evil”–always to think about how we would explain our words or actions on a witness stand or in the press.  Whether anything “happened” or not in Climategate, as you put it, the scientists involved failed miserably to avoid the appearance of evil.  To quote Dr. Cicerone in the statement that you linked to, “…it has raised concern about the standards of science and has damaged public trust in what scientists do.”   Hmm, sounds suspiciously like what I said that you took such exception to.

Stephen Gloor's picture
Stephen Gloor on Nov 17, 2010

Geoffrey Styles – “(journals apparently closed off to contributors who didn’t share the consensus view, respected scientists circulating emails that treated colleagues like outcasts from a middle-school clique”

I do not think that this is true at all.  The only contributors that were closed off, as you term it, were the ones that could not write a paper that could pass peer review.  The refused papers had elementary mistakes that made the conclusions invalid.  Are you suggesting in the interests of science that sub-standard work should not be reviewed to preserve the illusion of balance?

When the journal in question, with much more lax review, agreed to publish the paper this then gives it the stamp of authority.  What the scientists were attempting to do was make sure a rebuttal appeared at the same time pointing out the elementary mistakes before sub-standard, misleading work made it into the peer reviewed literature.  A mistake surely, however the stolen emails only show normal people working under pressure.

Having been on the sidelines of the climate debate for many years the deniers only purpose in exposing the emails was to sow yet more doubt and delay further action on global warming and climate change. If you have not already done so I can thoroughly recommend the “Merchants of Doubt”.  It is thoroughly researched and referenced to documents in the US public record that show how these people work and the ideology behind it.

Again if the climate science community was so against papers that go against the consensus why would they allow a paper like this to be published:

“Much of the longer term variance in solar output has been hypothesised to follow what happens over the solar cycle and so if verified, this result would imply that all current attributions to solar variability of temperature changes in the lower atmosphere and surface ocean would be of the wrong sign. Mechanisms elucidated in multiple models from multiple groups would no longer have any validity. It would be shocking stuff indeed.”

Scientists have no problems with consensus busting work – it just has to be consistent and explain observations better that what we have.  It also has to be submitted and pass review which for most of the denier ‘papers’ is an insurmountable barrier forcing them to use the media is not reviewed.

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Nov 17, 2010

When the science is confirmed but the process behind it is found to have “raised questions about the standards of science and damaged public trust”, and then no one is held accountable for that, it falls short of the standards that most people are held to in their normal work lives, let alone the standards that science wants to be seen as upholding.  As a result, it impedes the ability of politicians to form the consensus necessary to take the kinds of actions I presume you would support.  If the IPCC is indeed right that the science is settled, then all that remains is convincing politicians and the publics they represent to do something about it.  You tell me whether the manner in which Climategate was resolved was conducive to that end or not, not from the perspective of someone who is already deeply convinced of the danger of climate change, but for the vast numbers of people who aren’t so sure.

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Nov 17, 2010

Are you now or have you ever been a member of the National Academy?  There’s a question for you.  Anyone who answers “yes”, we’ll blacklist and make sure they never work again. 

I wonder if all private correspondence between oil industry CEOs was stolen how great the CEOs would all look. 

Hey!  Lets see your private correspondence for the last twenty years!  You have always conducted yourself, even when corresponding with friends in private when you were sure no one would ever hear of it, as if the entire world was interested in proving that you are a criminal, and there isn’t one sentence in there that if taken out of context could mean anything that would raise the slightest question about you.  Its obvious.  Bring it all out and convince us how evil these scientists really are who did have their private correspondence stolen and examined for any fragment that if taken out of context might raise a question.  Show us how a real man writes in private.  

Oh oh.  I just realized some prominent deniers are members of the Academy.  We can’t blacklist them.  You know what Stephen Chu  said, “what standard are they being held to?” .  None. 

I’ve got it!  Have you ever been published in a peer reviewed climate journal?  If anyone says “yes” to that, we know we’ve got who we want.   No one we hang out with or respect has ever been published in a peer reviewed journal, those things are all controlled by insiders holding that “consensus view”.  They never let us publish our work there even though it is better than theirs. 

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Nov 17, 2010

Interesting how the tribe piles on when someone who has demonstrated in years of public writing on the subject that he is much closer to your view of it than that of the deniers strays from the Revealed Truth that the climate establishment is simply beyond criticism, no matter how churlishly some of its members were revealed to have behaved–when they were on the job, by the way, rather than engaging in what most people would regard as genuinely “private correspondence” about their families, relationships, or finances.  I didn’t ask you to agree with me, but I do expect you to treat my opinion with the same respect that you expect to receive here.  I’m tired of the sarcastic, gross distortions of my original comment. 

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