Scaring the Children- an AGW LOL

Guardian eco-journalist Graham Readfearn celebrates his 50th Planet Oz post with a “selection of great comedy moments in climate change” including clips from Ali G, John Oliver and The Onion.

Hilariously Readfearn seems unaware that some of the jokes are on him: check out the first Onion clip in which Christian groups argue that Biblical Armageddon should be taught alongside Global Warming in classrooms as an “alternative” theory as to how we are doomed and are all going to die horribly:

This is a brilliant bit of satire, apparently lost on Readfearn (and I’m not sure about some of the other clips either….), because part of what passes as climate change education really does involve scaring little children as a public policy.

Don’t believe me? Consider that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth– a political propaganda fim made by a VP on the campaign trail- was distributed to every high school in the UK to form part of the geography syllabus, a decision that resulted in legal action against the British government by a concerned parent whose complaints were partly held up in court.

The effects of exposing school children to tales of apocalyptic doom in science classes are explored in the opening scenes of Lomborg’s response to AIT, Cool It!:

School children are interviewed and show their drawings of sea levels rising, countries getting swamped, animals dying, people drowning. “And when do you think all this might happen?” Lomborg asks one of the children
“You never know- it could even happen tomorrow.”

Is this scare-mongering for political purposes really OK? I don’t think so, and comparing climate apocalypse with Biblical teachings of apocalypse brings to mind Dawkins’ famous “religion is child abuse” claims. It is really really not cool to scare children with adult End of Days fantasies, be they Biblical- or Climate- induced.

I showed Lomborg’s film to my students last year and one of them came to complain to me how manipulative it was. Apparently the irony of this was as lost on this student as the Onion’s irony was lost on Readfearn in the Guardian.

Climate alarmism seems to have produced a warped and bizarre sense of humour in its subscribers. I’m surprised Readfearn didn’t include the infamous 10:10 No Pressure video in his list, surly the most non-funny climate comedy sketches ever:


8 thoughts on “Scaring the Children- an AGW LOL

  1. I absolutely love the “No Pressure” skit. It’s one of those clips that makes you wonder if it’s not just a brilliant Poe!

    Can you really blame them? Scaring kids has worked for so long and so well, why would they change their MO? Do you think the current generation are scared of all sorts of evil “chemicals” for no reason at all? No, they were taught to be scared of them.

  2. Yokohama Michael


    I admire your work and often check in to see what you are thinking about. I find your viewpoint challenging and I welcome that, and I more or less have come to agree with you, especially on nuclear and GMO.

    But I do wonder if your views about climate change reflect the scientific consensus. I have to admit I am far from knowledgeable about this, which is why I haven’t commented before now, but a Wikipedia search led me to the IPCC Summary of last year, where, amongst other things, a global temperature rise of 1.5-2 degrees (or more) is predicted.

    Is your position that this is not happening, or that it doesn’t really matter much? To me, you seem open to the charge of being pro-science when it comes to GMO and nuclear, but denialist when it comes to global warming, possibly because you have decided to be anti-alarmist about …everything. This allows you to argue that there is basically nothing to worry about when it comes to environmental issues. What am I missing here?

    • Hi Michael
      thanks for your comment-and for following the blog.
      Re the consensus- a great deal has been written on this, and I have covered it it on other posts and will return to it soon. Remember that a scientific consensus is a consensus because of the weight of evidence, not the weight of scientific opinion, no matter how authoritative; and the consensus on climate is based on predictions of the future, not on replicable observations. This is sometimes referred to as “post-normal” science.
      So unlike GMOs and nuclear power which have verifiable evidence, this is not actually true in the same way as climate. I have written about this before eg see here.
      We currently seem to be in the midst of a 16-17year plateau/hiatus/pause in the warming, which was not predicted by models. In a few years if the warming does not pick up again quite rapidly the models will be effectively falsified. The “consensus” in climate really could be wrong.
      I do find your questions somewhat leading and projected. You mention the consensus and then turn this into “you have decided to be anti-alarmist about ‚Ķeverything. This allows you to argue that there is basically nothing to worry about when it comes to environmental issues”
      -but what has any of these projections about me have to do with the scientific consensus on climate?
      Note in the linked post I take exception to the term “denier” so please dont use it here. It is a politically loaded term which in the US frequently means nothing more (quite literally) than “Republican”. What is it I am supposed to be “denying” ?
      You conflate the IPCC “1.5-2 degrees warming” with “something to worry about” “denialism” and “alarmism”. I think you may be starting with the science and then quickly leaving it behind for more emotive projections. With science you have to be very specific about what you mean. This frequently cited quote by IPCC lead author Richard Betts may help.

      So I have to throw it back to you: is there anything specific in my post you disagree with? Have you decided we should be “alarmist” about climate? what does “alarmist” mean to you in this context, or in the context say of the 10:10 video in my post? Even if we accept the IPCC consensus of 1.5-2 degrees warming as most likely correct, do you think this justifies “alarmism” ? Is this even a scientific question?

      What I would say is, rightly or wrongly, there is no question that fear sells, and it can also be used very effectively to manipulate people; but do people really make good decisions when in a state of fear?

  3. Yokohama Michael

    Thank you for your reply. There’s a fair bit to chew on there, but I’ll start by saying I agree that you are a skeptic and not a denialist.

    The Richard Betts’ link clarifies your position a lot, and I understand and accept that there are massive uncertainties involved when predicting the future of climate. However, I wasn’t left with the impression that it was not a serious issue, only that we shouldn’t panic when thinking how to address it. I’m also guessing that other IPCC authors may view climate change a little more urgently than Betts does.

    I don’t have the expertise to evaluate the 16-17 year hiatus theory, though I have heard that it has been debunked. By the way, I have no desire to debate the details; in fact I am actually hoping you will write a post specifically on the science of global warming!

    You are right (if I understand your comments on projection correctly) that I suspect you of being a climate change skeptic because you disagree with the Greens on principle. That was why I wrote the comment.

    Of course that has nothing to do with the actual scientific consensus on climate change. Which is why I am willing to be convinced otherwise.

    To try to answer your other questions, I don’t know if we should be ‘alarmist’ about climate change as my views are still evolving; personally I support a steady move towards nuclear power, for many reasons. I also don’t know if a 1.5 to 2 degree global temperature rise justifies alarmism, if by alarmism we mean the acceptance of a need for radical and immediate moves worldwide to reduce emissions, but I wouldn’t rule it out, and yes I do think it is a scientific question. If the science can predict a temperature rise, and can tell us what the likely results will be, and can tell us how we can reduce our emissions, then yes it’s a scientific questions. The answers may be unclear or uncertain or even useless for policy purposes, but it seems indubitable (to me at least) that it’s a question worth asking.

    If I object to anything in your post, it’s the suggestion that climate change is as little to be feared as Biblical Armageddon, or that attempts to mitigate it through reducing carbon emissions are deserving of mockery.

    • Thanks Michael. I often write in connection with climate change, but mainly in response to those who deliberately exaggerate- which is the same as “denying”- the rate and impacts of climate change in order to promote a specific policy agenda. There is only one science- I use the same data as everyone else, and simply refer back to it when I see it being “denied”. I have never suggested that issues about climate change, impacts and policies are not worthy of serious consideration or that they are not scientific questions. Of course they are, but note, atmospheric physics, climate modelling, and policy responses are wildly different disciplines. One does not neatly follow from the other and policy is certainly not a scientific issue only.
      You havn’t answered my question about the 10:10 video- is this an appropriate way to communicate about climate change?
      You seem to have switched the point about Armageddon around- the point is, climate change is routinely talked about in exactly the same kind of language as Biblical Armageddon- do you think this is appropriate and supported by “the science”?

  4. Yokohama Michael

    Graham, at first I thought the video was deliberate mockery, but now I understand 10:10 was a real thing and this was a real video; I completely missed that the first time round. In which case it was obviously inappropriate. That of course does not mean that climate change is not happening, or that we should not be doing anything about it.

    I completely agree with you that the kind of behavioral changes talked about in the video are more or less useless; in my opinion we should be looking at the big picture and trying to shift our energy sources away from fossil fuels to nuclear. Trying to get people to change their behavior to consume less or use less electricity seems both futile and unlikely to succeed. And yes you are right when you say there is a kind of anti-progress ideology in operation here, even a misanthropy.

    I’m not sure I can make an informed comment on the climate change as Armageddon class lesson. However, in the 50s telling children their lives were in danger from nuclear attack may seem extreme to us to now, yet the danger was genuine at the time. If I was a teacher in a classroom today I would hope to present global warming with some recognition of the uncertainties involved, but catastrophic change seems to be one of the possibilities.

    How would you present the issue? Would you try to show that catastrophe is NOT possible?

    • I try to show the uncertainties involved and the context of environmental doom of which climate is just one aspect, but often the most apocalyptic; I show Lomborg’s film Cool It! to try to show how Gore manipulated people with his film- the threat of apocalypse and then “change your lightbulbs”. Whatever the intention, the effect it surely to numb people and have them switch off. You are right to mention dive-under-the-desks nuclear war training, but of course that threat WAS far more visceral and immediate; the thing about climate is, it is unknown and vague, Something Bad Sometime in the Future. In addition, there are far more compelling reasons to come off fossil fuels than climate- particle pollution being the number one- while there are far more priorities in the world than climate also- so I very much favour Lomborg’s approach of prioritization. This surely is the pragmatic approach to climate, as everything else. It is not so much climate change per se that is the issue, but the notion of climate exceptionalism– the idea constantly pushed that AGW is the “greatest threat” and uniquely existential. This is pure hyperbole and does noone any good. Climate catastrophe is an outlier risk that could happen from any number of natural causes as well, inlcuding natural CC or a meteor strike, as well as other man-made environmental problems. Fortunately, the IPCC is now rolling back on the climate exceptionalism and some sanity is I hope returning to the debate.

  5. Of course our ducking under the desk had nothing to do with *stopping* nuclear war whereas changing to energy efficient light bulb and organic growing techniques get touted as ways to lower our CO2-equivalent discharges.

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