In the United States, right wing politicians who want to gain the approbation of the lunatic rump of the Republican party while preserving their credibility with moderate voters have taken to sidestepping climate questions with the phrase "I'm not a scientist". In New Zealand a similar "that's above my pay grade" strategy has been adopted by Colin Craig, a businessman turned politician, although the questions he dodges with it are a little different.
For instance, faced with a query about chemtrails in the "Ask Colin" of his Conservative Party's website, Craig admits to being "aware of the theory that chemicals are being released at high altitude for some nefarious purpose" but has a bob each way by adding "[I] don't know whether there is any truth in this or not." Likewise, asked about the reality of the moon landings by a journalist, Craig hedged again: he is "inclined to believe" they happened but "know[s] there are very serious people that question these things."
Everyone has their limit, though, and Craig's is the Reptilian hypothesis: he tells an interlocutor that he "can’t subscribe" to the claim that the world is secretly run by blood-drinking, shape-shifting reptilian humanoids from the Alpha Draconis star system. Craig follows this slightly tepid repudiation by saying "I hold a position similar to Carroll Quigley" who, as Craig explains, believed that the wealthy run the world for their own benefit. However, Craig does not mention Quigley's belief that "secret societies" help shape global events, which made him a favourite with conspiracy theorists, nor that he is revered by the far-right John Birch Society. (Even if you haven't heard of the Birchers, you might know them by the way their fluoride obsession was memorably parodied in Peter Sellers' Dr Strangelove.) Now, I am certainly not implying that Craig shares the peculiar beliefs of the John Birch Society, but an enthusiastic endorsement of Quigley is an interesting choice for someone rejecting a conspiracy theory.
But there is one topic on which Craig doesn't hedge at all. He is 100% bet-the-farm-on-it confident in his judgement on the complexities of climate change. Here's an answer on the subject from "Ask Colin":
1. Climate change happens for many reasons. Geological events (volcanoes) and astological [sic] events (Sun flares) to name but 2 have a large influence. Fluctuation of the natural environment and temperature is normal.
2. Man made carbon generation and other human activity does have an influence on temperature locally. Stand on an asphalt pavement in the middle summer and compare this to standing in an open field and you get the point.
3. However globally our influence on temperature is very very small. New Zealand's influence is infinitesimally small.
Let's skip over Craig's mixing of astronomy and astrology, his proofreading, and his tenuous grip on the jargon (what is a "sun flare"?). Here he is, loud and proud, taking a firmer stance on global warming than he did on moon landings or chemtrails or even shape-shifting reptiles, happily embracing a position at odds with mainstream scientific and popular opinion. No wishy-washy "I'm not a scientist" talking points for Craig here; he definitively states that human activity does not and cannot affect the global climate.
Why is he so sure? What has he been reading? Who does he talk to? Did he dig into the literature himself? What due diligence did he perform in order to write off much of modern climate science more confidently than he rejects wacky conspiracy theories?
Craig points to an 8-page pamphlet that outlines the Conservative Party's stance on climate. Disappointingly, it doesn't explain how their heterodox policy was arrived at. However, perhaps we can find other places where the same sentiments are expressed. For instance, the pamphlet includes a story about Canute, under the headline "We could all learn from this...":
On first read, the story feels a little pre-digested, and sure enough a quick Google search reveals that tale is told in almost exactly the same words in William Bennett's Book of Virtues. We could all learn from this that it's important to cite your sources. (By the bye, I'm not sure a story about a king who couldn't stop the sea rising works as a parable about the follies of climate alarmism, but let's press on.)
Exploring further, the pamphlet also contains a helpful climate quiz:
Several of the questions and answers are uncontroversial -- yes, C02 makes up 0.04% of our atmosphere, yes we would miss the greenhouse gases (including water vapour) if they vanished, and yes the pre-industrial climate was far from constant. Others are carefully worded -- whether "nearly all" scientists agree on climate change depends on the definition of "nearly all" -- and on the whole, the overall quiz reads like a pencil and paper push poll.
In this case, googling for key phrases turns up Global Warming: Ten Facts and Ten Myths on Climate Change by Robert M Carter. Ignoring minor editorial changes, Questions 7-10 (and perhaps bits of the others) are amongst Carter's facts and myths. In particular, the phrases "[N]early all scientists agree that it [climate change] is occurring, and at a dangerous rate", "The Kyoto Protocol will cost many trillions of dollars [...] but will deliver no significant cooling", "Prior to the industrial revolution the Earth had a stable climate" and "Carbon dioxide [...] the primary forcing agent for temperature increase" are found in both Craig's quiz and Carter's "facts and myths".
Robert Carter is a New Zealander now resident in Australia, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Carter is also a fairly well-known "climate skeptic", and was a member of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition. Both Carter and the coalition were reportedly funded by the Heartland Institute, which turned to climate skepticism after its previous business model -- denying the links between tobacco smoke and cancer -- became unsustainable. These "myths" have not been peer-reviewed, and paint a picture at odds with the global consensus on climate science.
Carter's "myths" can be found on many websites (and given the New Zealand connection, the Conservatives may have got them directly from Carter himself) but if you search for them on Google the first hit is a 2009 posting on GlobalResearch, which also has a fair bit on chemtrails and a full range of other wacky conspiracy theories.
When asked about his potential coalition partner's apparent flirtation with conspiracy theories, Prime Minister John Key wondered if Craig was "winding up" the media by dropping hints about chemtrails. Possibly Craig's patter is simply a dog-whistle to kooky potential supporters (which is not particularly attractive, but it wouldn't be the first time a politician had done it) but if it is a wind-up, it is certainly a very thorough one.
Given the current state of the New Zealand electorate, Craig's party stands a chance of being part of a coalition government. It is worth asking how did the Conservative Party arrive at its positions? Who did it consult? Where does it stand on evidence-based policy-making? Perhaps we should "Ask Colin"?
Postscript: And if you haven't seen Dr Strangelove, hurry to the video store or the internets.