Monthly Archives: June 2008
Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the famous Stern Report, which underpins many an argument in favour of climate change mitigation, is behind a ‘carbon credit reference agency‘ launched today.
“If we are to attract the levels of finance necessary to make this a mainstream market and have a strong impact on emissions reduction, risks must be clearly understood, articulated and managed. A detailed ratings system is a vital tool to bring greater clarity, transparency and certainty to the market,” he said.
Of course, where there’s muck, there’s brass.
The agency, run by the IdeaCarbon group of which Lord Stern is vice-chairman [he is in fact vice-chairman of IDEAglobal], said it would offer investors a guide to the quality of credits and the likelihood that they would be delivered. Sellers of carbon credits would have to pay to have their products rated, while buyers would also pay to gain access to the ratings.
IDEAcarbon sell themselves accordingly:
IDEAcarbon is an independent and professional provider of ratings, research and strategic advice on carbon finance. Our services are designed to provide leading financial institutions, corporations, governments, traders and developers with unbiased intelligence and analysis of the factors that affect the pricing of carbon market assets.
Other group directors include:
Ian Johnson – Chairman
Ian joined IDEAcarbon following a distinguished career at the World Bank. For eight years he was the Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development overseeing its work on climate change and carbon finance. Prior to that he played a major role in negotiating the establishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and managed its day-to-day operations for six years. Ian is presently an advisor to Globe, G8+5 and to the UNFCCC.
Samuel Fankhauser – Managing Director (Strategic Advice)
Sam served on the 1995, 2001 and 2007 assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He also gained hands-on experience in the design of emission reduction projects as a climate change economist for the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank. Sam joined IDEAcarbon from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, where his most recent position was Deputy Chief Economist.
Now, just imagine the fuss that would ensue, were some figure who was depended on for his impartial advice to make public statements on climate change that weren’t in accordance with the ‘consensus’, and it turned out that that person had a financial interest in the public’s perception on matters that he advised about? Might there not be some protest? After all, it’s not as if his advice is subtle:
Lord Stern, the former World Bank chief economist whose landmark report on the economics of climate change warned the world risked plunging into economic depression if action was not taken urgently on greenhouse gases, said carbon trading was a “key plank” in dealing with climate change.
It is often said that ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’. Well, it turns out that it will be great for the rich. As a December ’07 press release shows, there’s plenty to be positive about climate change:
“By 2020 the global carbon market could be worth EUR 240-450 billion” says Lord Nicholas Stern, Vice Chairman of IDEAGlobal Group, in the inaugural issue of CARBONfirst
He’s no fool, Sir Nick. This gives the lie to the claims that environmentalism is the continuation of anti-capitalism – there is clearly room for capitalists at the fair-trade, organic, global warming beano.
Just shouting about hypocrisy gets nothing done, and doesn’t change anything. But how does this happen? Why isn’t Stern embarrassed about this? Why don’t we see an equivalent to Exxonsecrets.org, showing the monied interests buzzing around the global warming issue? Why is it that this kind of barefaced conflict of interests is largely overlooked, while people like James Hansen call for oil company executives to face trials for ‘high crimes against nature and humanity‘, allegedly for distorting the public perception of climate change for profit?
What this shows is that ‘the ethics of climate change’ allow for financial and political interests to be overlooked for the ‘greater good’. The fact that Stern has been instrumental in creating the idea of mitigation serving that greater good must, by the very standards demanded by the environmental movement, surely raise questions about his profiting from it. Yet don’t expect outrage, because, as we have seen before, the ethics of climate change only apply one way. To challenge Sir Nicholas’s apparent profiting from his report would be to undermine the very foundations of so many environmentalists’ arguments. For example, one of our favourites, Sir Bob May, former president of the Royal Society, in his review of the Stern Report and George Monbiot’s Heat, cites Stern as an authority on ‘the facts’ which we are expected to ‘respect’.
Despite the growing weight of evidence of climate change, along with growing awareness of the manifold adverse consequences, there remains an active and well-funded “denial lobby”. It shares many features with the lobby that for so long denied that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. [...] Whoever got things started, this is a ball which ExxonMobile picked up and ran with, shuttling lobbyists in and out of the White House as it did so. Following earlier talks and seeking to exemplify its centuries-old motto – Nullius in Verba (which roughly translates as “respect the facts”) – the Royal Society recently and unprecedentedly wrote to ExxonMobile, complaining about its funding for “organisations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change”, and more generally for promoting inaccurate and misleading views – specifically that scientists do not agree about the influence of human activity on rising temperatures.
Eco-activist Mark Lynas, has won the Royal Society’s prize for popular science writing, for his book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.
Except that it isn’t science, it’s fiction. Science fiction; it takes a vaguely plausible scientific possibility, extrapolates it, and makes it the situation in which some form of drama plays out. For every one degree rise in temperature, Lynas considers what might happen to life on Earth.
Professor Jonathan Ashmore, Chair of the Judges said: “Lynas gives us a compelling and gripping view of how climate change could affect our world. It presents a series of scientifically plausible, worst case scenarios without tipping into hysteria. Six degrees is not just a great read, written in an original way, but also provides a good overview of the latest science on this highly topical issue. This is a book that will stimulate debate and that will, Lynas hopes, move us to action in the hope that this is a disaster movie that never happens. Everyone should read this book.”
‘Without tipping into hysteria’? Here are two versions of the front cover of the book,
The image on the left, like all clichéd science fiction, helps us to suspend disbelief by showing us an iconic landmark – Big Ben – ravaged by whatever the threat is supposed to be.
This is exactly what happened in the other global warming fantasy, The Day After Tomorrow (left). On the Right, we can see the Whitehouse being smashed by aliens. This kind image is used to inform us that the threat is to the order of the world. Our values, laws, institutions, organisations, and security are all threatened by whatever it is the science-fictionalist is writing about.
Of course, we should never judge a book by its cover. It would be unfair to claim that Jonathan Ashmore is wrong to claim that Lynas’s book isn’t ‘hysteria’, just on the basis of the book cover. Though, having said that, the cover does quote the Sunday Times, who say “… I tell you now, is terrifying”. We haven’t the time to review the book here. So here’s a couple of clips from the book, made into a film, featuring Lynas himself, to tell us what he imagines us to be facing.
Is this still ‘not hysteria’? We believe that it is, because, although Lynas appears to have ‘researched’ the ‘scientific evidence’, botching factoids leached from single-studies and worse case scenarios is not ‘sound science’, it is terrifying, and it hasn’t been subjected to any kind of scrutiny. Worse case scenarios are themselves necessarily science fiction – they have value not to science, but to prurient imaginations and politics. Detaching our treatment of them from the caveat that they are both worst-case, hypothetical treatments of very new, untested, unchecked, and unsubstantiated science is nothing but hysteria. Ashmore is highly misleading and dishonest in this regard. Merely saying that it is not hysteria doesn’t make it not so. Would he welcome, we wonder, a book which gave a best-case scenario treatment of the science, where humanity not only survives a 6 degree rise in temperatures, but positively thrives. No, he would not. Would it win any awards? The green movement would throw their toys out of the pram at such a book being published, let alone it being given such an accolade. They would call for it to be banned, claiming that it was ‘politically-motivated’, and misleading. There would be claims that its production had been paid for by Exxonmobil, by a scientist who had prostituted his intelligence and position for profit.
But this is not the first venture into fiction for the Royal Society and its members. It’s current president, Martin Rees wrote in 2004, Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future In This Century – On Earth and Beyond (sold in the UK as Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-first Century?) This is a bleak, miserable, pointless story about how our chances of surviving the next 100 years are just 50-50.
Also not against making things up is the previous president of the Royal Society, Lord May of Oxford. Last year, we caught him making things up about Martin Durkin, director of the Great Global Warming Swindle.
May told an audience in Oxford – where he shared a platform with Mark Lynas, interestingly – that Durkin had produced a series of 3 films denying the link between HIV and AIDS, for which Channel 4 were forced to apologise. That is untrue. Earlier last year, following an article reviewing 6 (also alarmist) books on the environment including Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Nicholas Stern’s report, and George Monbiot’s Heat, we discovered that, inconveniently, May had taken a few liberties with the facts himself, citing a single study, referenced in the Stern Report to make the claim that ’15–40 per cent of species‘ were vulnerable to extinction at just 2 degrees of warming, and that oil companies were responsible for a conspiracy to spread misinformation, and prevent action on climate change. This was a double irony, because in the same article, he had translated the Royal Society’s motto – Nullius in Verba – as ‘respect the facts’, rather than the traditional ‘on the word of no one’. Indeed, had May followed the Royal Society’s own advice, he wouldn’t have been taking Stern’s, Monbiot’s, and Gore’s words for it. But rather than being the incredulous scientist, and subjecting these fictions to the scrutiny we’d expect, May used the groundless alarmism found in these texts to arm ‘science’ – or rather, the Royal Society – with new authority.
As we said in a letter to the TLS,
Sir, – “Nullius in Verba”, the motto of the Royal Society, is usually translated as “on the word of no one”. That is a fine motto, the message being that knowledge about the material universe should be based on appeals to experimental evidence rather than authority…
It seems that, rather than basing knowledge about the material universe on experimental evidence, the Royal Society and its senior members instead seek authority in science fiction; the extrapolation of superficially plausible science, forward into the future, where a drama plays out.
Mark Lynas first drew significant attention to himself for his views on climate change in 2001, when he threw a custard-pie into the face of Bjorn Lomborg, during a book launch.
Pie-man Mark Lynas said he was unable to ignore Lomborg’s comments on climate change. “I wanted to put a Baked Alaska in his smug face,” said Lynas, “in solidarity with the native Indian and Eskimo people in Alaska who are reporting rising temperatures, shrinking sea ice and worsening effects on animal and bird life.”
Many countries in the Third World are also experiencing the effects of climate change. In Africa, Lake Chad is now a twentieth of the size it was in the 1950s, leaving millions potentially without water. The Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is planning the evacuation of its entire population as sea levels continue to rise.
“And yet despite all this evidence,” comments Lynas, “Lomborg somehow contrives to argue that it is cheaper to go on burning fossil fuels than to switch to clean energy to prevent runaway global warming. This feeds right into the agenda of profiteering multinationals like
Esso.” He continued: “I don’t see why the environment should suffer every time some bored, obscure academic fancies an ego trip. This book is full of dangerous nonsense.
Now, however, Lynas the one-time circus-activist stuntman, has his childish perspective on the world given respectability by the establishment’s accolades, and has expensive films made about his dark fantasy.
There is a peculiar symbiosis, in which, Lynas and his ilk give the scientific establishment authority by constructing nightmare visions of the future, which are given credibility by figures such as Sir Martin Rees and Lord May. The service that Lynas does for the Royal Society is to connect this institution to our everyday fears and anxieties, to give it relevance at a time when, as with politicians, it struggles to define its purpose.
Leader of the UK’s Conservatives, David Cameron, is at it again… Here he is, unveiling the latest installment of the ‘resurrection’ of the Tory Party, by announcing his continued commitment to Environmentalism, in spite of the prospect of an economic downturn, and rising fuel costs, by mixing the Green Party Manifesto, and a nod at the market, and some straightforward opportunism.
The Labour Party are on their knees. The Lib-Dems are barely registering. Cameron could say whatever he liked, or nothing at all. Yet here he is, wrapping himself in green cloth, telling the UK that there is no alternative, ‘cos the ‘era of cheap oil is over’, so we have to go Green. Well, we do now. Thanks to Dave.
The new ‘Blue Green Charter’ aims to ‘reconfigure our whole economy’ with horse feathers, and ‘overturn our hydrocarbon dependency’ by powering the country with rocking-horse shit.
This biodegradable policy commits the country to taxes, and the construction ‘positive social norms’ (no, we’re not kidding) to ‘induce behavioural change’. With Labour’s position becoming increasingly limp, Cameron now seems to be recycling ideas from the Green Party, wrapped up in the ‘greatest challenge facing our generation’ rhetoric which screams far louder about Cameron’s inability to speak to the current generation than it defines any realities that it faces.
The Green NGOs seem to be loving it.
Keith Allott, WWF-UK’s climate change spokesman said it would “avoid the risk of locking the UK into a high-carbon future” and could boost investment in carbon capture technology.
John Sauven, of Greenpeace, said: “The Tories’ proposals should have been more ambitious given what today’s technologies can deliver but, by ruling out the proposed old-style coal plant at Kingsnorth in Kent, today’s announcement puts Cameron way ahead of Brown when it comes to cleaning up our energy system.”
There you have it… David Cameron, doing as unelected, undemocratic, self-appointed NGO puritans tell him, whilst making a promise to commit you to reducing your energy bills or face punishment, embarrassment and high prices, rather than him taking responsibility for the construction of a functioning energy infrastructure.
Over the last year, we have looked at some of the words and ideas coming from the environmental movement through the Green Party’s MEP for SE England, Caroline Lucas. With her breathless, urgent catastrophism, Lucas epitomises Environmentalism and its hollow vision, shallow intellect, and deep misanthropy. In these respects, Lucas never disappoints us.
However, we are never very successful at getting Lucas or her press office to account for anything she has said. Luckily, she was on BBC TV’s Question Time last week, and has been appearing at a number of public events of late. So here is another opportunity to subject Lucas’s political ideas to some scrutiny.
The Question Time panel were asked if the Labour Party were suffering from a leadership crisis, to which Caroline Lucas replied that Labour’s problem is that it lacks values, that it no longer knows what it stands for, that it has abandoned its traditional values such as equality, and that Gordon Brown is a man who doesn’t know what he wants.
We agree with Lucas that the Labour Party is in crisis because it doesn’t know what it stands for. As we say in our first ever post, “Environmental concerns are serving to provide direction for directionless politics”. That is why Blair and Brown were keen to be seen to be acting on climate change, and that is why, in response to that action, the Tories committed themselves to a policy of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, against Labour’s 60%. And that is why, not to be out-done, the Liberal Democrats upped their bidding to a 100% reduction by 2050. But are Lucas and the Green Party offering anything so different?
As we have also pointed out, Environmentalism thrives in this atmosphere of political vapidity, not because it represents an alternative, but because it captures the nervousness caused by a lack of political direction. Environmentalism nurtures a general sense of doom with ideas about societal and ecological collapse. Without that sense of doom, environmentalism would be nothing.
As political movements across the political spectrum have increasingly found it difficult to generate ideas through which to connect to the public, so they have had to turn to other ways to achieve their legitimacy and authority. As Lucas points out, the Labour Party is suffering from a ‘crisis of direction’. But Lucas and the Greens have not found a direction by locating a new political vision to steer towards, but a nightmare to claim to be steering away from. Lucas attacks Brown for having no values, yet her arguments for social and economic change are not formed out of her principled objections to the way in which people relate to one another through social and economic structures. Instead, Lucas’s philosophy depends on a conception of humanity’s relationship with nature. She is, in terms of values, as poverty-stricken as any of those she attacks. Lucas doesn’t have some great store of values, with which she can create a positive view of how the world could be. Here is Lucas, speaking at a recent debate held by the World Development Movement, setting out her case for carbon rationing, trading and ‘equality’ and selling her argument for ‘equality’ in such (pseudo) scientific terms.
Notice that, in that speech, Lucas is using the word ‘resources’, not in the sense of stuff that we have, but in terms of the biosphere’s ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
It seems that, in order to make a case for equality, Lucas needs there to be a finite world, as if, were there no such limits (to the absorption of CO2 by natural processes), there would be no case for equality. This prevents her from conceiving of a world in which equality is achieved, not by rationing and people having less, but by people having more, and having their expectations raised. Lucas doesn’t have ‘values’, and hides the fact behind science. ‘Science’ is being used in place of values. ‘Science’ is Environmentalism’s fig leaf. It is being used to create the idea of limits, so that Environmentalism doesn’t have to commit itself to providing anything more than less and less. And just as science is used instead of values, doom is a stand in for political vision. If we don’t do as ‘science’ (environmentalism) says, then catastrophe awaits. Here, for example, Lucas tells us that unless we put up with high fuel prices and tax, we wont adjust our behaviour, and society will collapse.
It is an ‘interesting’ argument that says we need to artificially keep oil prices high because… err… the days of cheap oil are over because… err… of peak oil. For someone who lectures us about ‘science’, the logic of the causal world seems to have escaped Lucas’s understanding. Scarcity would do Lucas’s work for her. Obviously, what is at issue is not rescuing humanity from a looming catastrophe, but the legitimacy of a political movement bent on creating a behavioural and cultural change for its own benefit, on the premise that only it can save us from the terrible chaos that awaits us.
As much as Lucas tries to make her ideas sound positive, they are underscored and sold by a vision of catastrophe. She may talk of progressive ideas such as ‘equality’, ‘justice’, and ‘liberty’, but all of these ideas are mediated by, and through the environment. Our freedom is limited, not guaranteed by the environment. Equality is measured in environmental, pseudo-scientific terms of resource distribution. Social justice, according to Lucas, is equivalent to ‘environmental justice’. But what a pale imitation of justice that is; it doesn’t right any wrongs, or create the possibility of a better standard of living. And where Lucas promises that there will be less unemployment under a Green Government, it is because a ‘zero carbon economy’ is far more labour-intensive than its fully-powered counterpart. In such an economy, the job that oil did will be done by people. Fancy a job as a serf? How about a career as a treadmill operative? This will be the ‘equality’ and the ‘social justice’ that Lucas has designed for us.
The use of science to limit political possibilities, and lower our horizons by constructing plausible catastrophic scenarios is the everyday language of environmentalism. But, surprisingly, the failure of this unremittingly negative view of the world hasn’t escaped Lucas’ attention.
What? Caroline Lucas is against climate alarmism? The same Caroline Lucas who, in July last year, compared climate scepticism to holocaust denial? The same Caroline Lucas who said in July last year that,
… if you look at the implications of climate change, of runaway climate change, we are literally talking about millions and millions of people dying, we are literally talking about famines, and flooding, and migration and disease on an unprecedented scale. And so yes, I know these are sensitive words that I’ve used, but I feel so strongly that we urgently need to wake people up and stop this march towards catastrophe that I very much feel that we’re on.
Is the Caroline Lucas who is now against catastrophism the same Caroline Lucas who said in November,
… when you hear scientists say that we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change, I don’t think what the public actually want is cautiousness, what they want is real leadership, and that is what
the EU is promising to give, and yet that’s what we’re failing to do here.
Is it the same Caroline Lucas who said in February,
Around 75 per cent of all cancers are caused by environmental factors, mainly chemicals…
Is the Caroline Lucas who doesn’t believe that alarmism works, the same Caroline Lucas in this video?
Lucas appears to be very confused about what she is selling, and how she is selling it. She claims that we must change the way we live, to expect less, and to make do and mend, but that, somehow, this will make us all happier. She claims that she doesn’t depend on catastrophic visions to connect with the public, yet without it, there is no imperative to give her ideas a second thought. She claims to be part of a democratic movement, yet demands that the state regulate our behaviour. She claims to speak on behalf of the poor, yet would deprive the poor of the material means to change their lives; cheap goods, fuel, and mobility. She claims to have science on her side, yet she campaigns against the benefits of science; she is against animal research, and against evidence based medicine, favouring instead ‘alternative’ therapies; she campaigns against the use of agricultural and industrial chemicals; and she campaigns against anything which might have the charge of ‘unsustainable’ thrown at it. She claims to be against the coercive influence of big business, but in its place, she would put an authoritarian government that would regulate your freedom to travel, to buy things, and coerce you into observing an ‘environmentally friendly’ lifestyle.
A loss of values in politics is a bad thing. But the Green Party is far far worse. Give us disorientation over deeply confused misanthropy, any day.
“Nature as harmonious and peaceful? Have these people watched Springwatch?”
Good point. They had live footage of swallows eating their own chicks the other day.
Springwatch somehow manages to marry the genres of science documentary, freakshow and aspirational lifestyle programme. And how better to combine the three than with a bit of dolphin telekinesis? Not only can dolphins navigate and hunt using sonar, but by picking up each others’ sonar as it bounces back, they can, (“we think,” coughs co-presenter Simon King), read each others’ minds.
Wow, dolphins. See how these clever, gentle creatures play…
[Shots of dolphins riding the multi-storey bow-waves of oil tankers in the Moray Firth.
Cut to celebrity wildlife-sound-recordist, Christ Watson, against a sunset. He is listening theatrically into earphones and twiddling special dials on a machine slung over his shoulder]
Simon King: “Their whole world is made up of a picture of sound. And on that point, I’d just like to show you something. Just have a look at this:
“Of course there’s a lot of boat traffic up and down the Moray Firth. You’d expect it; it’s normal; has been here for many years. But just listen – and this is just normal boat traffic – just listen. Just listen to what happens.
That’s what you hear above water…
[calming shooshing noise].
“And this is what you hear underwater…
[horrible grinding drone]
“Sound travels about five time faster through salt water than it does through air, and it’s just astonishingly loud from such a huge distance.
“Now I know there are proposals to potentially develop oil and gas extraction near the Moray Firth. And you’ve got to think; there’s going to be increased traffic; there’s going to be building; there’s going to be all sorts of seismic activity; and as a result, you know, what’s that going to do to the dolphins? There’s a lot of study still to go, but, I don’t know, the conclusion? Still waiting [...]
Kate Humble: “Thank you Simon. Yes he’s right. I mean, there’s been quite a lot of talk recently, particularly when there are, kind of like, multi-strandings of dolphins or whales, that it could be down to noise pollution.”
Bill Oddie: “Yeah”
KH: “And when you hear that sort of thing, it doesn’t surprise you at all.”
BO: “Not at all. I was up there last year, with Chris Watson, actually, and we recorded the sound of a much bigger boat than that. And, I promise you, I had the earphones on. By the time it was within half a mile, it was like Status Quo on a bad night, you know, and not quite as entertaining, I promise you. The noise was unbelievable. I really couldn’t keep the earphones on.”
KH: “And you can see how disorienting that would be, particularly if it’s sound you rely on so much to find your way, your sense of direction.”
BO: “Totally, yes.”
KH: “Well, certainly, yes, research needs to be done.”
BO: “Well, I think the research has been done, you see. I just personally think it’s just perfectly obvious that it is a problem. And we know that and, really, some sort of legislation should be done. And that should be a boat-free area, really.
So, in summary, dolphins love playing about around huge, noisy tankers. But surely, all that noise can’t be good for them? Perhaps we should do some research. Although, nah, you just can’t be too careful, and anyway Bill Oddie once had his earphones turned up too high, so we’d better just ban something.
We’re back to Dr Fox again. Except that this is no nutter on a comedy programme. This is the voice of the BBC.
Further down the east coast, on the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth, there is another environmental calamity in progress. The BBC is on to it:
Fewer puffins are going to breed at the UK’s largest colony of the species, on the Isle of May, scientists report.
Numbers are down to about 41,000 breeding pairs this year from almost 70,000 pairs in 2003.
We have as little against puffins as we do against dolphins. The Isle of May is beautiful. We know it well. You can’t move for puffin burrows. That’s because the Isle of May’s puffin population has been growing spectacularly over the last half century.
Puffin numbers on the Isle of May increased steadily from a handful of pairs 50 years ago to around 69,300 pairs in 2003.
Global warming good for puffins, anybody? On the contrary, the BBC somehow still manages to turn it into a global warming scare story:
Researchers believe the decline is linked to changes in the North Sea food web, perhaps related to climate change.
And yet, despite being quoted at length in the article, Professor Mike Harris from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), who conducted the research, apparently says nothing about the climate change connection. Neither does the CEH press release that announced the survey results. The BBC has to go to the RSPB press office for that:
The suspicion is that climate change is altering the distribution of plankton across the North Sea.
This disrupts the entire food web, including predators such as puffin.
“This fits in with other evidence that North Sea birds have been desperately short of food over several seasons,” said the RSPB’s Grahame Madge.
By the time that the story has made it down to children’s news reports, the BBC has dropped any caution or context whatsoever. We’re killing the puffins and that’s all there is to it:
Scientists are worried that puffins are getting underweight and dying because they haven’t got enough fish to eat in the North Sea.
The Firth of Forth in Scotland is home to one of the UK’s largest puffin colonies.
But experts who’ve been counting the seabirds there say their numbers have fallen by about a third in five years.
They think climate change could be to blame for the birds not having enough to eat.
Oh for the days when all kids had to worry about was nuclear annihilation. At least that would be quick. Without a cold war to scare them silly, children now have to lie awake at night fretting about the ecopocalypse.
Here’s something else to give them nightmares: The Moray Firth bottlenosed dolphins, which are among the best studied population of dolphins anywhere, have a nasty habit of going around murdering harbour porpoises. What’s more, they only do that because they mistake them for baby bottlenosed dolphins:
“k7250″> ‘Evidence for Infanticide in Bottlenose Dolphins: An Explanation for Violent Interactions with Harbour Porpoises?’
Most harbour porpoises found dead on the north-east coast of Scotland show signs of attack by sympatric bottlenose dolphins, but the reason(s) for these violent interactions remain(s) unclear. Post-mortem examinations of stranded bottlenose dolphins indicate that five out of eight young calves from this same area were also killed by bottlenose dolphins. These data, together with direct observations of an aggressive interaction between an adult bottlenose dolphin and a dead bottlenose dolphin calf, provide strong evidence for infanticide in this population. The similarity in the size range of harbour porpoises and dolphin calves that showed signs of attack by bottlenose dolphins suggests that previously reported interspecific interactions could be related to this infanticidal behaviour. These findings appear to provide the first evidence of infanticide in cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). We suggest that infanticide must be considered as a factor shaping sociality in this and other species of cetaceans, and may have serious consequences for the viability of small populations.
That’s all a bit too much, however, for even Springwatch to cover.
We’ve mentioned before how those of an Environmentalist bent are liable to blame the perceived failings of anybody who disagrees with them on some sort of mental illness. There’s Andreas Ernst, for example, the scientist who says that the psychology of sceptics is more like that of rats than human beings. Or there’s the professor of psychiatry, Steven Moffic, who thinks that aversion therapy involving the use of “distressing images of the projected ravages of global warming” can cure sceptics of their pathological ways.
But there’s a corollary to the idea that scepticism is a form of madness, which is that to stay sane, you just have to be environmentally aware. A recent example is to be found on the BBC news site, which reports on the mounting scientific consensus, or emerging truth if you prefer, that to avoid depression, stress or psychosis, your best bet is to commune with Mother Nature:
The secret ingredient? Greenery. Those of us who live in towns and cities, and even some who live in the countryside, don’t get enough of it.
The result for most of us is highly stressful; we get irritable and depressed, and even physically ill (because high levels of stress mean higher risk of things like heart disease and diabetes).
While farmers, who arguably get more than their fair share of greenery, would seem to present something of a challenge to the theory (although that’s presumably just due to the psychiatric equivalent of climatic ‘natural variation’, or the rise of out-of-town shopping malls or something), it’s probably not much of a surprise to most people that doing non-stressful things like walking in the woods is good for reducing stress.
But this is science. The BBC’s wholly uncritical ‘news’ story (which is actually just an excuse to flag up its perennial Springwatch tv series, which this year features ‘nature does you good’ as one of its themes) draws on ‘research’ by Natural England, the RSPB, journalists, celebrities and various other experts in the field to prove its point.
First up is Springwatch presenter Bill Oddie, celebrity ornithologist, one-time comic, and BBC spokesman on climate change and now on mental health. He suffers from depression himself, and has no doubt that contact with nature helps his condition:
“when you get a downer, and lots of people suffer from this, there is no question, every self-help book, every doctor, every therapist will tell you: get out there in the fresh air, get yourself moving. It’s to do with fitness, it’s also to do with a meditational thing.”
Were we inclined towards the level of critical analysis provided by the BBC, we could suggest that, had Bill spent less time out in the woods talking to his feathered friends, he wouldn’t have got depressed in the first place. But we’re not. And anyway, it’s hardly Bill’s fault. (And he’s really quite good as wildlife tv presenters go. He might bang on a bit about how great it is when you’re out in the country and can’t see a trace of all those ghastly humans, but at least he doesn’t talk to the viewers as if they are seven-year-olds and pretend that nature is some sort of lovely, fluffy, real-life Beatrix Potter tale (as recent newspaper headlines testify.)) Our gripe is with the BBC. The article continues:
Scientific support for Bill’s beliefs comes from Dr William Bird, who combines a career as a GP with a part-time role as health adviser to Natural England.
Last year he produced a report for Natural England and the RSPB arguing that contact with nature and green space has a positive effect on mental health, especially among children.
So, a medical practitioner hired by a quango and an ornithological charity to justify their existences and relevance to ‘Modern Life’ counts as ‘scientific support’. Has the word ‘quack’ ever been more appropriate?
Dr Bird is urging his fellow GPs to prescribe regular walks and exercise in green spaces for patients suffering from heart disease, depression, obesity and the like.
We don’t doubt it.
Referring patients to the natural environment rather than the pharmacist is a lot cheaper than conventional pills and prescriptions…
We don’t doubt it. As we’ve said before, Environmentalism provides the perfect excuse for anyone in power to explain their failure to provide a public service.
The next expert witness is the journalist Richard Louv, who coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe the “deprivation, sometimes amounting to mental illness, of children who grow up without contact with the natural environment”. It is, says the BBC
an echo of the medically-established condition, attention deficit disorder
Indeed. But as the BBC points out in about the only vaguely factual part of its article:
“Nature deficit disorder” is not a condition the medical profession recognises
As a certain Dr Fox might say, ‘there’s no real evidence for it, but it is scientific fact’. And anyway, it seems that most of the medical profession do recognise it:
Natural England polled 70 GPs and nurses and found that 61% recommended that patients use green space, and 79% recommended walking informally.
So what’s the problem?
But that still left a sizeable minority who didn’t.
Neither the paucity of research nor the failure to identify a causal relationship between urbanisation and mental health prevented the authors from concluding that:
One way of helping to mitigate these effects would be the provision of good quality green spaces
This is more than just silly; it is verging on the sinister. Aside from the fact that nature deficit disorder is about as scientific as any old snake oil, there is something deeply patronising about the idea that we can all be happier if only we walked in the woods.
Unhappiness is the stuff of life, in that it is the experience that prompts us to improve our circumstances. It is a sign of the political times that, rather than encouraging people to realise their aspirations, various agencies – both governmental and charitable – seem to be telling us that our aspirations are the problem; rather than seek to change the world, we ought to put up with our lot and hang out with the trees.
Anyone who takes at face-value the advice to go for a walk and achieve ‘balance’ with nature, won’t be engaged in any serious attempt to either improve their own life or challenge problems in the real world, as much as they will be wishing them to just go away.
By fitting symptoms to diagnoses for the sake of realising the remedy – the environmental agenda – the powers that be are failing to see the wood for the trees. Fortunately, people don’t lack the brains to make the most of their spare time; unfortunately, they lack the means.
John Vidal, Guardian Environment Editor, claimed yesterday that
British buildings equipped with solar panels, mini wind turbines and other renewable energy sources could generate as much electricity a year as five nuclear power stations, a government-backed industry report has shown.
It wasn’t news. The other green-activist newspaper, the ‘Independent’ On Sunday leaked the report ahead of its publication, to create the idea that it had discovered a choice between a “Brown future” (a reference to the Prime Minister) illustrated by a dirty, industrial landscape, and a “Green future”, illustrated by a picture of some low-profile solar panels under some fluffy clouds in a deep blue sky.
The government-backed report, to be published tomorrow, says that, with changed policies, the number of British homes producing their own clean energy could multiply to one million – about one in every three – within 12 years.
It seems unlikely that there are only 3 million homes in Britain. Anyway…
These would produce enough power to replace five large nuclear power stations, tellingly at about the same time as the first of the much-touted new generation of reactors is likely to come on stream.
In his most pro-nuclear announcement to date, the Prime Minister indicated that he wanted greatly to increase the number of atomic power stations to be built in Britain. And he met oil executives in Scotland to urge them to pump more of the black gold from the North Sea’s fast-declining fields – even though his own energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, admitted that this would do nothing to reduce the price of fuel.
The equivalence to “five nuclear power stations” isn’t mentioned in the report. We looked hard for it. What were we missing? Where had it come from? We decided to ring Element Energy, the group who were commissioned to write the report, to see where the figure in the Independent had come from. Director Shane Slater told us that such a comparison was “outside the scope of the study”, and that it was an “unhelpful comparison”, with which he wouldn’t necessarily agree.
So where has the figure, published in both the IoS and Guardian come from?
The factoid is also mentioned in a press release from Monday, by Micropower, a group established by Liberal Democrat Lord Ezra to “represent the whole microgeneration sector”.
The report concludes that as many as nine million microgeneration installations could be in place in the next twelve years with an ambitious policy support framework. If this was to happen, microgeneration could produce as much energy as five large new nuclear power stations and by 2030 we could be saving as much carbon as if we were to take all HGVs and buses off our roads.
The IoS article predates press release, but we thought they might know where the figure came from. We spoke to them, and were told that “it wasn’t in the report”, which we knew already, but that it had “come out of the steering committee press release”, which said,
With ambitious policy measures, up to 9 million microgeneration systems could be installed by 2020, producing as much energy as 5 nuclear power stations. This would require an estimated cumulative cost of at least £21 billion
According to them, a comparison in a press release was intended to be illustrative, rather than make a case against nuclear energy. The calculation was achieved by adding together the equivalent gigawatt hours heat and electricity generated under this theoretical scenario, and dividing it by the output of a large nuclear power station. [Report]
But the result is that a headline that bears no relation to the study, and which has been picked up uncritically by many others:
An injection of 21 billion pounds ($41.22 billion) over the period could see nine times as many installations in place by the same time and generating as much power as five nuclear power stations, the independent report said.
A report backed by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has claimed that microgeneration could prevent the need for new nuclear power stations if enough people adopt the technology.
The study, which was compiled for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, found that technology such as solar panels and wind turbines on buildings could produce as much energy a year as five nuclear power stations.
The report concludes that microgeneration through the likes of solar panels or mini-wind turbines for homes could produce enough energy by 2020 to generate as much output as five nuclear power stations.
Would 9 million microgneration installations, which would cost upwards of £21billion for 1% of our energy needs, even be equivalent to 5 nuclear power stations?
No. for a start, 9 million microgenerators would require millions of man-hours of maintainence a year. The Independent continues,
Even more embarrassingly for the embattled Mr Brown, the report closely mirrors policies announced by the Conservative Party six months ago to start “a decentralised energy revolution” by “enabling every small business, every local school, every local hospital, and every household in the country to generate electricity”.
Here is the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, announcing that ‘decentralised energy revolution’.
But when was a ‘revolution’ ever about a mere 1% of our energy needs being met at an astronomical cost of £21 billion? What kind of ‘revolution’ is it, where instead of centralised power, we rely increasingly on what comes our way ‘naturally’? That’s only a revolution in the sense of going full circle and ending up where you started.
Speaking of which… In the same edition of the Independent On Sunday, in a story about the discovery of a previously isolated tribe, the headline told us:
Road to oblivion: new highway poses threat to Brazil’s uncontacted tribespeople
The article carried a picture of two, painted members of the tribe, attempting to fire arrows into the aircraft of the photographer. The caption warned that
…tribes face danger from ‘civilisation’.
Notice the scarequotes.
The Independent – and perhaps many others – have forgotten that civilisation is all about roads and centralised power generation. They free up our time, and allow society to become more sophisticated. They create the possibility of liberation from mundane existences, scraping a living from what nature provides. Yet the fashionable desire for off-grid living supposes that it is more rewarding, or more ‘ethical’ – to live as primitive, isolated an existence as possible. Both the romantic fantasy that the Independent routinely concocts out of primitivism, and the nightmare it constructs out of mis-interpreted press releases are fictions. If this fiction remains unchallenged, going off-grid will represent not a neat, efficient idea, but the first steps back into basic lifestyles and lowered horizons. What the Independent seems to want is an endarkenment.
Given that climate sceptics are as bad as the tobacco lobby and holocaust deniers, and that climate change is worse than international terrorism, which is worse than obesity, which is worse than climate change, and that the church is as desperate to connect with the masses as are all the other bad politicians out there, this was kind of inevitable:
Gordon Mursell, the Bishop of Stafford in England, is a man of the cloth. He is also a member of a posse of disoriented clerics, who have become so estranged from morally literate theology that they have embraced a new brand of demonology.
At a time when moralisers cannot give any real meaning to classical ideas about right and wrong, they try instead to make people feel guilty about their impact on the environment. So instead of targeting those traditional demons – Satan, say, or witchcraft – Gordon Mursell attacks climate change deniers.
In a parish newsletter, the bishop said that people who refuse to join the fight against global warming are like Josef Fritzl, the insane criminal in Austria who locked his daughter and her children in a cellar for 24 years. For Mursell, being sceptical about the conventional wisdom on climate change is akin to the monstrous crime committed by Fritzl. He says: ‘You could argue that, by our refusal to face the truth about climate change, we are as guilty as he is.’
Mursell has not called for climate change deniers to be burned at the stake – yet. But the idea that they should be punished is implicit in his message…
Read the rest here.