Since we’ve now been living with the global warming story for 30 years, it might seem hard to believe that science could now come up with anything that would enable us to see that story in a wholly new light. But that is what I am suggesting in a new paper, just published in the UK by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, thanks to a book called Groupthink, written more than 40 years ago by a professor of psychology at Yale, Irving Janis.
What Janis did was to define scientifically just how what he called groupthink operates, according to three basic rules. And what my paper tries to show is the astonishing degree to which they explain so much that many have long found puzzling about the global warming story.
Janis’s first rule is that a group of people come to share a particular way of looking at the world which may seem hugely important to them but which turns out not to have been based on looking properly at all the evidence. It is therefore just a shared, untested belief.
Rule two is that, because they have shut their minds to any evidence which might contradict their belief, they like to insist that it is supported by a “consensus”. The one thing those caught up in groupthink cannot tolerate is that anyone should question it.
This leads on to the third rule, which is that they cannot properly debate the matter with those who disagree with their belief. Anyone holding a contrary view must simply be ignored, ridiculed and dismissed as not worth listening to.
What my paper does is look again at the entire global warming story in the light of Janis’s rules, and to show how consistently they explain so much of the way it has unfolded all the way through.
The alarm over man-made climate change was first exploded on the world in 1988 by a tiny group of scientists who had become convinced that, because both CO2 levels and global temperatures were rising, one must be the cause of the other. Unless something very drastic was done, they urged, the planet was heading for catastrophe.
In November that year two of these fervent believers in what they called “human-induced climate change” were authorised to set up the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. This would report to the world’s politicians on the basis of computer models programmed, according to their theory, to predict just how fast the world was likely to heat up over the next 100 years.
With startling speed, their theory was soon proclaimed as being supported by a scientific “consensus”, backed by governments, all the main scientific journals and institutions, environmental pressure groups and the media.
In fact right from the start, many scientists, like the eminent physicist Richard Lindzen of MIT, were highly sceptical, both of the theory itself and of those computer models. These, as Lindzen wrote, were so narrowly focused on CO2 that they were far too simplistic to allow for all the other natural factors which shape the earth’s climate.
But such dissenters were ignored. And for nearly 20 years the “consensus” rolled on, ever more extreme in its apocalyptic claims, with each new IPCC report scarier than the last. By 2006 Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was outdoing them all.
Anyone daring to question the “consensus” was now being vilified as just an “anti-science denier”, no better than those crazies who deny the reality of the Nazi Holocaust.
Just then, however, the story was beginning to change. It was noted that, since the abnormally hot year of 1998, caused by a record El Nino, global temperatures had not risen at all. Those computer models had not predicted this.
Even more significant, thanks to the internet, expert science blogs were now appearing, able to show that not a single one of the claims from the “consensus” – vanishing Arctic ice, disappearing polar bears, unprecedented hurricanes, floods, droughts etc – was supported by the factual evidence.
By 2009, the “consensus” was facing considerable embarrassment, with the highly damaging Climategate emails between the little group of scientists at the heart of the IPCC, followed by the collapse in disarray of the great Copenhagen climate conference.
Then there was the spate of scandals surrounding the IPCC itself, when it was revealed some of the scariest predictions of its latest report had not been based on proper science at all, but only on more hysterical claims by climate activists.
Finally, in Paris in 2015, came what I describe as the crux of the whole story. This was yet another great global conference to decide what the world must do to avert catastrophe.
Every nation had been asked in advance to submit its energy plans for the years up to 2030. The West, led by President Obama and the EU, dutifully pledged that it would be cutting its “carbon emissions” by up to 40 per cent.
But from the rest of the world a totally different story emerged. China, by now the world’s largest CO2 emitter, was planning to build so many new coal-fired power stations that by 2030 its emissions would have doubled. India, the third largest emitter, was planning to triple them. Altogether global emissions by 2030 were set to rise by a staggering 46 per cent.
The rest of the world was just giving two fingers to the “consensus”, and planning to carry on regardless, But not one Western leader mentioned this until 2017, when President Trump gave it as his reason for pulling the US out of that meaningless “Paris Accord”.