[Editor note: A new paper by Christopher Booker, GLOBAL WARMING: A Case Study of Groupthink (subtitled How science can shed new light on the most important ‘non-debate’ of our time) was released yesterday by the Global Warming Policy Foundation. The full paper is highly recommended, but a useful summary of major climate-debate events is provided below in Mr. Booker’s Introduction.]
“… the rest of the world had no intention of going along with the declared aim of Paris, to agree on the wholesale ‘decarbonisation’ of the world’s economy. Yet astonishingly, so lost were developed countries in the groupthink that the Western media failed to recognize what was happening. One person who did was President Trump who, to the fury of all those still blinded by the groupthink, gave the refusal of the rest of the world to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions as his reason for pulling the US out of the Paris Accord (although even now this was not picked up by those reporting on his decision in the West).”
By any measure, the belief that the earth faces an unprecedented threat from‘human induced climate change’ has been one of the most extraordinary episodes in the history of either science or politics. It has led scientists and politicians to contemplate nothing less than a complete revolution in the way mankind sources the energy required to keep modern industrial civilisation functioning, by phasing out the fossil fuels on which that civilization has been built.
But for 30 years the way this has all come about has given expert observers cause for increasing puzzlement. In particular they have questioned:
• the speed with which the belief that human carbon dioxide emissions were causing the world dangerously to warm came to be proclaimed as being shared by a ‘consensus’ of the world’s climate scientists;
• the nature and reliability of much of the evidence being cited to support that belief;
• the failure of global temperatures to rise in accordance with the predictions of the computer models on which the ‘consensus’ ultimately rested.
But there was also the peculiarly hostile and dismissive nature of the response by supporters of the ‘consensus’ to those who questioned all this, a group that included many eminent scientists and other experts.
The purpose of this paper is to use the scientific insights of a professor of psychology at Yale back in the 1970s to show the entire story of the alarmover global warming in a remarkable new light. The late Professor Irving Janis analysed what happens when people get caught up in what he termed ‘groupthink’, a pattern of collective psychological behaviour with three distinctive features, that we can characterise as rules.
• A group of people come to share a particular view or belief without a proper appraisal of the evidence.
• This leads them to insist that their belief is shared by a ‘consensus’ of all rightminded opinion.
• Because their belief is ultimately only subjective, resting on shaky foundations, they then defend it only by displaying an irrational, dismissive hostility towards anyone daring to question it.
This paper begins by showing how strongly all these three symptoms were in evidence, right from the start, when, in the late 1980s, the belief that a rise in carbon dioxide levels was causing the earth dangerously to warm was first brought to the world’s attention.
It shows how the rules of groupthink continued to be in evidence when, during the period around the first report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990 and the Rio ‘Earth Summit’ of 1992, global warming became adopted as an international scientific and political ‘consensus’.
The presence of groupthink was confirmed at Kyoto in 1997, when practical steps were first agreed to slow down the rise in world temperatures, by means that would require the richer, developed nations of the West to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, while allowing the still ‘developing’ nations, such as China and India, to continue increasing them until their economies had caught up with the West. Eventually, as the paper will show, this division between the West and the rest of the world would turn out to be the crux of the whole story.
For some years, the ‘consensus’ theory continued to seem plausible, as carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures continued to rise together, just as the computer models on which the ‘consensus’ relied had predicted. In 1998 temperatures were the highest on record, coinciding with an unusually strong El Niño event in the Pacific.
But then came the ‘hockey stick’ controversy, which first drew charges that, to make their case seem more plausible, supporters of the ‘consensus’ – strongly endorsed by the IPCC – were having to manipulate crucial scientific evidence. Their response to these allegationswas further evidence of Janis’s third rule, that any attempt to challenge the ‘consensus’ must be ignored, rejected, and suppressed.
Between 2004 and 2007, the ‘consensus’ still seemed to carry all before it, as its claims for the threat posed to the planet by global warming became ever more exaggerated and extreme, as exemplified in Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth and the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report in 2007.
But it was at this time that more serious cracks began to appear in the ‘consensus’ case. There had been the continuing failure, since the El Niño year of 1998, of global temperatures to rise as the computer models had predicted: this was what became known as ‘the hiatus’ or ‘the pause’. There were telling examples of how irrationally supporters of the ‘consensus’ had reacted when they were, for the first time, confronted by world-ranking scientists who were outside the groupthink.
Even more important, there was the emergence through the Internet of a new ‘counter-consensus’, led by technical experts qualified to challenge every scientific claim on which the ‘consensus’ relied. It was this which, in accordance with Janis’s third rule, prompted supporters of the ‘consensus’ to vilify anyone daring to disagree with them as just ‘climate deniers’ who were ‘anti-science’.
Three ‘Consensus’ Blows
In 2009/2010, the ‘consensus’ suffered its three most damaging blows yet:
• the release of the Climategate emails between the little group of scientists at the heart of the IPCC establishment;
• the collapse in Copenhagen of the long-planned bid to agree a new global climate treaty, again essentially because of a division between developing nations and the West;
• a series of scandals that revealed that the most widely-quoted and alarming claims in the 2007 IPCC report had not been based on science at all, but on claims made in press releases and false reports put out by climate activists.
On both the Climategate emails and the IPCC scandals the ‘climate establishment’ did all it could to hold the line, with a series of supposedly ‘independent’ inquiries staged by its supporters. But the damage had been done. Between 2010 and 2014, despite efforts by supporters of the ‘consensus’, such as the BBC and the UK Met Office, to keep the alarm going, it became clear that it was no longer possible to sustain the hysteria that had reached its climax in the years before Copenhagen.
But then, as this paper shows, came what amounted to a last throw by the ‘consensus’, with the approach of yet another major global climate conference in Paris in 2015. The prelude to this, coinciding with another record El Niño event in 2015/2016, was such a rise in global temperatures as to prompt claims that ‘the pause’ had ended. But expert analysts across the world found that wholesale ‘adjustments’ had been made to the figures in the main surface temperature records, giving an impression that the global temperature trend had been rising much more than was justified by the original recorded data.
Then came an event as significant as any since the alarm over global warming had first arisen. Documents supplied by every country before the Paris conference, known as INDCs, or ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’, set out their intended future energy policies.
Buried in technical details, these made clear that, however much the countries of the West might be planning to reduce their ‘carbon’ emissions, the rest of the world, led by China and India, was planning by 2030 to build enough fossil-fuel power stations to increase global emissions by almost 50 percent. China was intending to double its emissions, India to triple theirs.
In other words, the rest of the world had no intention of going along with the declared aim of Paris, to agree on the wholesale ‘decarbonisation’ of the world’s economy. Yet astonishingly, so lost were developed countries in the groupthink that the Western media failed to recognize what was happening. One person who did was President Trump who, to the fury of all those still blinded by the groupthink, gave the refusal of the rest of the world to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions as his reason for pulling the US out of the Paris Accord (although even now this was not picked up by those reporting on his decision in the West).
Before coming to its conclusions, this paper will briefly summarize some of the immense political consequences of the alarm over global warming: the costs and futility of the steps being taken, chiefly in the West, to switch from fossil fuels to ‘low carbon’ sources of energy.
The conclusions then follow, under three headings. The first summarizes the nature of the groupthink that has for 30 years come to dominate virtually all public discussion of global warming in the West. The second considers the factors that will make it so difficult for the West to escape from this intellectual straitjacket.
But the final section highlights how the events of the past two years, culminating in Trump’s rejection of Paris, have in fact been the crux of the whole story. The rest of the world, led by the fast-growing economies of China and India, has made clear that, whatever the West may continue to believe or do, it is carrying on regardless.
This was what Trump recognized when, in July 2017, he finally called the bluff of one of the most damaging examples of groupthink the world has ever known. From now on, the story can never be the same again.