Monthly Archives: August 2008
It’s Caroline Lucas again.
Caroline Lucas MEP, who is expected to be elected as the Green Party’s first leader later this week, said: “People will be literally dying from cold this winter while companies like Shell and BP are making record profits – that outrages ordinary people and we need a party that is prepared to stand up about that … rather than having a Labour government that is cowering in a cave and scared of actually speaking out against people in the City.”
Nothing Caroline Lucas ever says is not about death.
Before we look at her morbidity, however, let’s get a couple of things out of the way… Hypothermia is a problem. So is expensive energy. But Lucas is not against expensive energy. Here she is, talking earlier in the year, on BBC Question Time, arguing for higher fuel prices.
Curiously, she says we need higher fuel prices to modify our behaviour because ‘the end of cheap oil is over’. Could anything more stupid be said? Not only is the idea of taxing fuel redundant if it is becoming scarcer, the market gave Lucas the higher prices she was after, and now she calls it greedy! Whether it is green taxes, an inexplicable market phenomenon, or scarcity that pushes fuel prices up, it makes no difference. Higher prices mean we can do less, and poorer people bear the brunt. Higher fuel prices means more people dying. Fuel is really very useful stuff.
She is calling for energy companies to be forced to plough some of their profits back into “ensuring that some of the poorest people are able to keep warm”, and attacked Labour for presiding “over a period where we now have Victorian levels of social inequality”.
The Government has been resisting demands for a windfall tax to be levied against the energy companies, arguing that it would make Britain’s energy infrastructure unattractive to investors, just as it really needs upgrading. And who is standing in the way of that? That’s right… Caroline Lucas… who joined the Climate Campers this year, protesting at the proposed site of a new coal-fired power station, Kingsnorth.
Any government which commits to more coal fired power stations – and Kingsnorth is only the start – then claims to be aiming for a massive reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 is quite simply living in a fantasy land. … The Government should be showing real leadership in this debate, with measures to tackle rising energy costs and fuel poverty, as well as initiating major investment in energy efficiency, renewables and decentralised energy. According to its own figures, we could achieve a 30% reduction in energy use in the UK through existing efficiency measures alone.
Increasing efficiency and decentralising power generation is not going to make it more accessible to old people vulnerable to cold weather. Decentralising energy supply will make many people far more vulnerable to the climate. It will also make it vastly more expensive to produce, as the labour and maintenance costs increase. The idea that the market doesn’t exploit efficiency is just as absurd.
Let us put this bluntly, Lucas does not give a toss about old people. Unless, that is, they are dying. People who are dying, or are at risk of dying suddenly become political capital. This is the basis of Lucas’ morbidity. And it is the basis of environmental ethics. We compiled this video earlier in the year. Here is Lucas, in full doom mode, coming to a parliamentary constituency near you…
Environmentalism exploits the vulnerable, because, even if we fail to connect with the idea of eco-apocalypse, we still might respond to the victims Greens claim to speak for. In the framework that the Greens have constructed, the environment is the mechanism through which moral acts are transmitted. The rise of fuel prices (which is a bad thing, unless they are demanding it), according to this thinking, reduces old people’s access to natural resources (partly by inflating the price, but also by standing in the way of renewable energy, which is imagined to be unfailingly equitable, just by itself), leaving them exposed to the cold climate, putting them at risk of hypothermia. Similarly, using fossil fuels is an act of violence against the poor further away, because they will bear the consequences of climate change. There is no room in this framework for a conception of ‘good’, which stands for the elevation of people in any way, such as reducing their vulnerability to climate by technological and economic development. A philosophy so fixated and premised on the idea of catastrophe can only think of things in terms of degrees of bad. Therefore environmentalism’s concern for the poor is predicated solely on their usefulness as victims. Everyone else is a culprit, the best they can achieve is neutrality.
The Green Party are the party of death. It’s all they can talk about, and it’s all they think about. Their unsophisticated reasoning reduces to a morbid fascination; an obsession with cancers, plagues, famines, epidemics, pandemics, chaos, destruction, doom. Political movements in the past have offered ways to overcome the challenges that society and individuals face from the natural world by way of ill-health, shortages, and the elements, but the Green Party represents something very different. Instead of challenging the inevitability of poverty’s consequences to generate support, environmentalism seeks to use the image of these consequences to discipline the public into accepting poverty as inevitable. The thinking is no deeper than “capitalism kills grannies”, “vote for me, or get cancer”, “car-drivers are baby killers” As George Monbiot once put it, “Global warming means that flying across the Atlantic is now as unacceptable as child abuse”. The objective of all this is a kind of ‘balance’ between poverty and somehow everything in the world being totally wonderful. Except that there is nothing positive about the environmentalist’s message. It has nothing to offer. And it is corrosive to any idea that life… and politics… can be about more than mere subsistence.
Before the abysmal British summers of 2007 and 2008, a series of hot summers lead to the inevitable speculation that the UK would, in the near future, have a summer climate like that of the Mediterranean. If only! This in turn fuelled speculation that the water supply shortages that the country experienced would also become a more permanent feature of British life. This has always baffled us Editors, one of whom remembers a radio program broadcast a few years ago, about the ‘drought’. What was especially baffling was that the Editor in question had, as the program began, run some water from a tap, into a kettle, to make a cup of tea, and had just walked home over a bridge crossing a river, which seemed to have burst its banks into a field. What kind of ‘drought’ is happening while rivers are bursting their banks, and taps are flowing?
Our suspicions that something fishy was going on were confirmed when top secret satellite data was leaked to us from a highly confidential source. The data was generated by sophisticated sensing techniques known as ‘taking a picture in space’ to form an image of the surface of the Earth. When we got it, complex algorithms called ‘Photoshop’ running on a supercomputer called a ‘Pentium P5’ at Climate Resistance HQ processed the data to make the image readable by humans, and to reveal the truth to the claims that the world faces water shortages.
In seriousness, however… Talk of water shortages are key to many stories about the future. And climate change offers a superficially plausible reason to panic about ‘water wars’, and the breakdown of society. This shallow thinking holds that as people use more water than natural cycles can replenish, and as climate shifts, taking water away from its ‘natural’ flow, so the effect of drought will cause tensions that will escalate into wars, and other forms of social chaos. This is environmental determinism, writ large. And it is a departure from the thinking which guided the great Victorian engineers, who, over a century ago, set about building enormous reservoirs, dams, drainage and irrigation infrastructure, sewers, and water treatment works. And into the bargain, they even managed to make it look nice! They were not concerned with nature’s providence, but how to meet human needs, regardless of her whims. The scale of those projects, in today’s narrow mindset is incomprehensible. Hence, ambitions throughout the world are diminished by this sense of impossibility. That is less of a problem here in the UK, where, for a few months of the year, because of insufficient investment, we might not be allowed to water the garden or to wash the car. Where there are not the legacies of the Victorian (and later) engineers, the reality of water scarcity is much grimmer.
The absurd hand-wringing and washed-out arguments relating to ‘water shortage’ are challenged by a new film produced by WORLDwrite. Here is a trailer from the film, which puts the mealy-mouthed effluent from the panic-mongering misanthropists into context.
What is striking about the trailer is that, even in just a few moments, it exposes the absurd thinking behind cynicism towards development and its possibilities, and its disregard for the abilities and lives of those living in the developing world. These problems are much bigger problems than scarcity. In fact, they actively cause scarcity, and the problems associated with it.
Because of the influence of environmentalism masquerading as ‘science’, it is taken as read that development is impossible, and scarcity is inevitable. The ensuing arguments create ‘ethics’, by which development is challenged, seemingly in the interests and on behalf of the very people who it aims to help. But as we have said before, this kind of ethics is generated not for the benefit of people living in the developing world, but people – usually quite well-off people – often seeking little more than a direction for themselves, or to assuage guilt. WORLDwrite are particularly good at revealing the hypocrisy and doublespeak beneath conspicuous compassion, and the self-interest of people using images of starving and diseased children, whilst deciding for them what aspirations and resources they ought to be entitled to. What WORLDwrite’s productions ultimately reveal is that the biggest obstacle to solving the world’s real problems is the intellectual poverty right here in the ‘developed’ world.
Flush It will be premiered at the Battle of Ideas festival in November – well worth a visit, for the film, and for the many debates relating to the subject, whatever your views.
According to commentisfree, Ewa Jasiewicz is a writer, journalist, human rights activist and union organiser. In a recent post to the site, she identifies a split in the environmental movement between those who aim to stop climate change through ‘the system’, so to speak, i.e. through market solutions and state regulation, and those, such as her, who believe that nothing short of an anarchist revolution can solve the ‘climate crisis’.
How do we bring about a transformation which empowers us all? Grassroots organising in cooperative, low-impact, sustainable ways, glimpsed at the Climate Camp, and practised daily by millions, is one way towards this. Another is to live at the sharpest end of climate chaos today. … Changing our sources of energy without changing our sources of economic and political power will not make a difference. Neither coal nor nuclear are the “solution”, we need a revolution.
An interesting point to notice here is that anarchism, which, whether you had any sympathy with it or not, once had at its core some sophisticated ideas and principles, but is today framed in language relating to biospheres, ecosystems, and carbon budgets. It is by appealing to ‘science’ and anxieties about climate catastrophe — rather than our consciences — that today’s ‘revolutionary’ political arguments are made.
Jasiewicz was responding to comments made by George Monbiot at the climate camp, where he apparently ‘endorsed the use of the state as a partner in resolving the climate crisis’.
George is having something of an epiphany. Again. He recently conceded that atomic energy might be worth considering, a position he has rejected in the past. Jasiewicz claims that the climate camp represents the latest expression of a radical English tradition, which ‘stretches back to the Diggers, Levellers and the Luddites’ – movements which were once highly regarded by Monbiot, who helped to establish the Land is Ours, a group which also models itself on the Diggers. And as Jasiewicz points out, the camps’ members ‘honed their skills in the anti-roads movement of the mid-1990s’ – which Monbiot was also instrumental in establishing and publicising. But now he seems less certain of the radical positions he espoused less than a decade ago. In his introduction to his book Captive State: the Corporate Takeover of Britain, Monbiot said in 2000,
The struggle between people and corporations will be the defining battle of the twenty-first century.
Reading that passage from just 8 years ago, you would have thought that Monbiot might have more sympathy with Jasiewicz’s appeal for a revolution today. Now, however, in reply to Jasiewicz, he tells us on commentisfree that,
Stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim.
This is all the more surprising, given that, in 2000, following the passage above, Mobiot was sure that,
If the corporations win, liberal democracy will come to an end. The great social institutions which have defended the weak against the strong – equality before the law, representative government, democratic accountability and the sovereignty of parliament – will be toppled.
This conversion from radical politics, mirrors a sentiment expressed by climate change activist Mark Lynas in 2004, to Red Pepper,
I think inter-human squabbles about wealth distribution are now taking place within the context of a major destruction of the ecosystems which all of us depend on: rich, poor, black, white, homo sapiens or any other species. Therefore my argument is that the left-right political divide should no longer be the defining key priority. The struggle for equity within the human species must take second place to the struggle for the survival of an intact and functioning biosphere.
Equality is out, and the corporate takeover of the world is okay, just so long as it sorts out the climate. Lynas’ and Monbiot’s convergence on climate change as the ultimate issue in the future represents the final collapse of ideas that they have espoused in the past. It is intellectual exhaustion which takes them to where they stand. In spite of his epiphany, Monbiot has little light to shed on the world. Speaking about the young people on the Climate Camp, Monbiot continues his reply to Jasiewicz ( called ‘Identity Politics in Climate Change Hell’ on his website)
[Jasiewicz’s article] is a fine example of the identity politics that plagued direct action movements during the 1990s, and from which the new generation of activists has so far been mercifully free. … It would be a tragedy if, through the efforts of people like Ewa, they were to be diverted from this urgent task into the identity politics that have wrecked so many movements.
Yet Jasiewicz does not mention race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability. So it is curious that Monbiot – who claims to have held a professorship in politics at a UK university – should be so confused about what identity politics actually is. The subtitle of his article gives the game away:
In seeking to put politics ahead of action, Ewa Jasiewicz is engaging in magical thinking of the most desperate kind.
Monbiot confuses political identity with identity politics. In other words, what beset the movements he was involved with in the past were political ideas themselves. Jasiewicz, who embraces the ideas that made Monbiot the poster-boy of the disoriented Guardian-reading Liberal-Left of the 1990s for standing in the way of roads, housing developments, and corporate expansion, is now doing ‘magical thinking’. Where Monbiot once stood bravely in front of bulldozers (in front of the media) in order to resist ‘the corporate takeover of Britain’, he now thinks that such politics is ‘magical thinking’. That is indeed a change of heart. We have written before about Monbiot’s epiphanies. And last month, Spiked-Online editor, Brendan O’Neill reviewed his latest book, Bring on the Apocalypse: Six Arguments for Global Justice.
Monbiot, who once harried tourists, workers and shoppers over their bad habits but who now writes endlessly of science and sums, personifies an important shift that has taken place under the tyranny of environmentalism: the scientisation of elite fear and prejudice. And what of the science of climate change itself? No doubt there is research that shows the planet has warmed, and that man may have played a role in its warming; yet this science, too, has conveniently metamorphosed into a political and moral campaign to lower people’s horizons and keep them in their place. Call me a cynic, a doubter, even a denier if you like, I don’t care; but when scientific research continually and conveniently, almost magically, ‘proves’ that people are disgusting and must rein in their desires and change their habits – just as the elite caste, from priests to politicians, have been arguing for decades! – then I get suspicious.
(As an interesting aside, given Monbiot’s and Lynas’ rejection of Left politics, it is funny that in their criticism, they have accused of Spiked, and O’Neill of being ‘far-right’ ‘reactionary’, and ‘pro-corporate’. )
O’Neill notes the ‘metamorphosis of Monbiot’ from fringe but media-friendly weirdo, to member of the establishment, legitimised by ‘science’. Mark Lynas, who, just a decade ago was pushing custard pies into the face of Bjorn Lomborg, has undergone a similar transformation. His work of fiction, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet recently won an accolade from the Royal Society – its award for ‘science’ writing, worth £10,000. We said at the time,
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.
What Jasiewicz, Monbiot, and Lynas have in common is that the philosophies they have attached themselves have grown increasingly feeble. In response, the urgency of climate change alarmism is used to prop up their ailing arguments – ‘if you don’t do as we say, the world will end’. As we say above, Jasiewic frames her anarchism principally in terms of anthropogenic climate change. Monbiot used to share similar radical views, but as knee-jerk anti-capitalist, anti-road and land-rights movements failed to get off the ground, he turned up the catastrophic rhetoric, swapping the banner under which he marched for an end-is-nigh sandwich board. As his misconception of identity politics shows, he always lacked a thorough grasp of politics anyway. So it is no surprise that he has failed to create a consistent, coherent and robust understanding of what’s going on in the world, and looks to the skies to arm him with ways to appear radical.
This collapse shows us that environmentalism has not emerged from climate science, but has resorted to it. It is all that is propping up hacks such as Monbiot and Lynas, and the ossified political movements they claim to represent. Similarly, their new friends in the establishment, such as the Royal Society, like the political parties they advise are crumbling, not, as Monbiot worried in 200, because of the influence of corporations, but because of their own internal weaknesses. The Labour Party, the Tories, and the Liberals, and even the BNP join the anarchists, the socialists, and, of course, the Greens, in claiming that theirs are the only party which can save the planet. And all use ‘science’ to make their point.
The crisis is in politics, not in the skies. Monbiot – who, for some reason is regarded as one of the intellectual lights of the environmental movement – misconceives any form of politics as ‘identity politics’ because he struggles to identify himself. Therefore he becomes terrified of any political ‘identity’ or idea which threatens to undermine or usurp his fragile grip, expressed as his fears that ideas themselves will lead to the inevitable destruction of the biosphere by distracting people from their religious commitment to carbon reduction. Similarly, as more mainstream members of the establishment loose confidence in themselves and their functions, their claims to be engaged in ‘saving the planet’ is straightforward self-aggrandizement in the face of nervousness. We can say then, that the wasteland that is the intellectual landscape of contemporary mainstream and radical politics represents its thinkers’ own identity crises. The result is crisis politics – politicians, journalists, and activists who sustain themselves by creating panic, fear, alarm, and tragically, public policy.
Oxfam was once a charity set up to provide famine relief. It was hard to criticise without looking a bit mean. It is now a gigantic international NGO which influences the direction of policy towards and within the developing world. Like many other organisations, it has found a new way of arming itself by capturing anxieties about climate change. Where once there were ambitions for people in the third world to enjoy Western standards of living, now the voice of the voiceless instead celebrates the primitive lifestyles that the worlds poorest people suffer.
Africa should make more use of the skills of its nomadic peoples to help combat the challenges of climate change, the aid agency Oxfam says.
There are many ways to enjoy traditional culture. But, for example, when people in the UK have finished dressing up as vikings, and anglo-saxons, or reconstructing historic battles, they go back to their (slightly embarrassed) families in warm homes that are connected to mains water and electricity, in cars, on roads, and they return to jobs on Monday mornings. Traditional ways of life should be the stuff of museums, days out, hobbies, history lessons, and slightly weird obsessive people. There is nothing good – not even ‘sustainability’ – in primitive lifestyles. Primitive lifestyles mean dead babies, short and painful lives, a near total absence of justice, hard manual labour, child labour, disease, poverty, famine. The very things Oxfam aimed to abolish, it now seems to celebrate. Such is the logic of relativism.
It can be nice, educational, and fun to visit theme-parks, or read books, and all of that stuff, especially for families. It can raise interesting questions about the development of political ideas such as ‘state’ and rights. Why, though, would anyone want to actually live that kind of life? And for all the ‘rights of indigenous people’ and ‘preserving dying cultures’ rhetoric which emerge from the likes of Oxfam, shouldn’t the important thing be the right of such people to choose whether they want to live primitive or contemporary lifestyle? If you want to live in a mud hut, away from roads, water and power, we at Climate Resistance wish you all the best, and that you enjoy your experiment. But isn’t Oxfam doing it’s own ‘cultural imperialism’ thing here, and isn’t it more than a bit colonial? We wouldn’t accept such conditions. So why should we imagine that any other human wouldn’t want what we want – homes, running water, heat, transport, job prospects? Are cultures so different?
The UN climate panel predicts Africa will be hit hard by climate change in the next century, with tens of millions facing food and water shortages as rising temperatures are exacerbated by more droughts, floods and rising sea levels.
Let us assume the UN are right. Will the lives of nomadic people be better in the face of an unpredictable climate if there are roads, irrigation, running water, hospitals and all that stuff, or without? It’s got to be easier being a nomad if you can get the bus -or, shock horror, buy a van – when you’re bored of being a nomad.
Oxfam’s legitimacy on the world stage, and its role is entirely founded on the idea of there being an excluded voiceless people and forces in society which exclude them. There is nothing wrong with campaigning for change. But Oxfam would be impotent without voiceless victims to speak for. It needs a constituency, or it is redundant. Were the lives of the poor to be transformed such that they became politically and economically powerful, under the logic of Oxfam’s climate campaign, it would need to regard them as the criminals in the picture of the world they have painted. Instead of arguing for factories, roads, infrastructure (all the things which made Western lives better) Oxfam uses climate change to create the idea of victims and culprits, in an argument for ‘sustainablity’ over development. The tragedy is that the only thing it will sustain is poverty… And Oxfam. It claims that natural disasters are happening because of Western lifestyles, when in reality, natural disasters happen because of a lack of development. Oxfam stopped being a charity when it started telling people how they ought to live, rather than campaigning for equality.
Recently, we have discussed how Green is the colour of reinventing yourself, to make your washed out perspective seem fresh and relevant to today’s world. Gay rights activist and Green Party Parliamentary Candidate, Peter Tatchell, clothes himself in alarmist pseudo-science. Jean-Fancois Mouhot reinvents history itself by rewriting slavery in order to be able to make a moral equivalence of contemporary lifestyles and slave-owning. Arthur Scargill emerges from his tomb to make clean coal the answer to our climate problems. Oh, and Al Gore, who uses anxieties about global warming to make Kennedy-esque speeches.
Enter the psychologists. (Again).
“We know how to change behavior and attitudes. That is what we do. We know what messages will work and what will not.”
So says Yale University psychologist Alan Kazdin, president of the American Psychological Association to USA Today.
The group are convening for their annual convention, and are set to discuss a number of topics relating to the environment.
The article continues, to discuss a presentation of some research at the meeing:
News stories that provided a balanced view of climate change reduced people’s beliefs that humans are at fault and also reduced the number of people who thought climate change would be bad, according to research by Stanford social psychologist Jon Krosnick.
His presentation will detail a decade of American attitudes about climate change. His new experiment, conducted in May, illustrates what he says is a publicmisperception about global warming. He says there is scientific consensus among experts that climate change is occurring, but the nationwide online poll of 2,600 adults asked whether they believe scientists agree or disagree about it.
Interesting, isn’t it, that Krosnick has conducted a poll amongst the public, to see if their beliefs match those of the scientists, but neglected to poll scientists to establish their views. He takes for granted the magnitude of the consensus, and fails to actually define it. What is the point of agreement, against which he wishes to measure the public’s error? For a professor at an Ivy-League university, specialising in survey methodology, this ommission is stark, and very unscientific. What is more, it exhibits some considerable arrogance and contempt for the public. He assumes to know the truth, and beleives that the difference between his view and the public’s can be explained by some kind of psychological mechanism. They are so stupid and irrational that being exposed to balanced media risks people thinking the wrong things. Call the psycho-cops, democracy is on the loose.
Liberals and Democrats who attach themselves to the global warming issue (as Krosnick says they do more than their conservative counterparts), take note: this is neither liberal, nor democratic.
Krosnick invents a consensus position: climate change is occurring. But this is a meaningless assertion, devoid of any scientific value. Climate changes. Nobody disputes that. The question is about whether human influence (which again, nobody doubts) on the climate is significant enough to legitimise the politics in response to fears about it.Krosnick, who is, after all, an academic with expertise in political science really ought to know this.
The thing which is routinely mistaken as evidence of a scientific consensus – the IPCC reports – is not a product of a consensus. It is the product of 3 working groups, split into dozens of chapters, each of, at most, dozens of scientists, in a confused and non transparent process. There is no poll taken to see how many scientists agree with any particular point. There are few opportunities for scientists to challenge the interpretation of the report. And the IPCC is not made up of just climate scientists, but also social scientists and economists.
Again, we see the IPCC used by others to mean and to say whatever it is they feel like saying, with no regard for what it actually says, nor the process through which it was achieved. But who cares about facts?
By editing CNN and PBS news stories so that some saw a skeptic included in the report, others saw a story in which the skeptic was edited out and another group saw no video, Krosnick found that adding 45 seconds of a skeptic to one news story caused 11% of Americans to shift their opinions about the scientific consensus. Rather than 58% believing a perceived scientific agreement, inclusion of the skeptic caused the perceived amount of agreement to drop to 47%.
There doesn’t appear to be any mention of what the sceptic actually said, by which we ought to be able to establish whether or not the viewers were foolish to believe what they were seeing. The implication is that the sceptic must have been wrong, and the counterpart argument right.
In other words, by closing down debate, you can influence public opinion. You don’t need to be Goebbels to understand that. If there is any psychology to study here, it is not the public’s. It is the twisted psychology of the psychologists who think this kind of exercise is legitimate that needs scrutiny.
American Psychological Association leaders say they want to launch a national initiative specifically targeting behavior changes, including developing media messages that will help people reduce their carbon footprint and pay more attention to ways they can conserve.
In other words, the public can expect psychologists to be engaged in brainwashing them into accepting political propaganda. The APA are not the first to propose this. Last year, we reported on this video.
Back to the USA Today article. It explains what the APA hope to achieve.
They want to work with other organizations and enlist congressional support to help fund the effort.
Academics wrap themselves in environmentalism in order to reinvent themselves and demonstrate the relevance of their research to public policy. What is at issue is not an interest in the public’s understanding of the science, but their attachment to sides in the political ‘debate’. Social scientists and humanities academics who promise to influence public opinion in this way create their own legitimacy.
The scope of disciplines is broadened by tenuous logic such as Moffic’s, who, on the basis that global warming is a ‘public health issue’, crowbars a way to the table for psychiatrists. All disciplines begin to converge on global warming in this way, and reorganise themselves around environmentalism’s tenets. It has been said before that ‘global warming is the defining issue of our time’. Indeed it is. But climate change is less about society’s vulnerability to the climate, and much much more about various parts of the establishment’s struggle to define themselves. Cynics argue that environmentalism serves to help academics secure research grants. The truth is far darker. Academics are using the climate issue to provide them with direction, not merely cash. The direction is now less towards understanding things such as the mind, and more towards controlling it. On no more than the basis that ‘climate change is occurring’, moral philosophers tell us what is right, social historians invent lessons from history to make climate criminals in the present, science historians invent conspiracy theorists, and psychologists tell us how to apply distress to change public opinion, and why debate is just too risky to trust to the public. Only experts can save the world.
Alan Kazdin claims that he understands people sufficiently to “change behavior and attitudes” and that he knows “what messages will work and what will not.” The truth is that he and his colleagues only believe that they understand people, because they hold such a very low opinion of them. It is this low opinion which has been used in the past to influence the public, not through sophisticated reasoning, but by reducing members of society to creatures not deserving of democratic expression. Once you have convinced yourself of your rightness, and have diminished your view of the public to unthinking masses, things like democracy, debate, and genuine legitimacy cease to matter. You are no longer concerned with winning the debate, but controlling it for the higher purpose you believe you are engaged in.
Peter Tatchell, militant gay rights activist from the 1980s is reinventing himself as a Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Oxford East. On commentissimplyabsurd, he writes today about a looming global oxygen shortage.
Compared to prehistoric times, the level of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere has declined by over a third and in polluted cities the decline may be more than 50%. This change in the makeup of the air we breathe has potentially serious implications for our health. Indeed, it could ultimately threaten the survival of human life on earth, according to Roddy Newman, who is drafting a new book, The Oxygen Crisis.
We read this and found ourselves short of breath. But only because we couldn’t stop laughing. And who the hell is Roddy Newman anyway? Tatchell concludes,
Scaremongering? I don’t think so. A reason for doomsaying? Not yet. What is needed is an authoritative evidence-based investigation to ascertain current oxygen levels and what consequences, if any, there are for the long-term wellbeing of our species – and, indeed, of all species.
Green is not in fact merely the new pink. It is the new blue, yellow, black, brown… whatever. It is the colour chosen by anyone who ever nailed their colours to the mast, and found that, over the years, they’ve faded, and now find the need to reinvent themselves.
Still, Tatchell is not the maddest ever high-profile lunatic that the Greens have given a home to. In the early days of the party, David Icke, former footballer and sports TV presenter was their spokesman. Until this happened in 1991
Icke’s views lead to the end of his relationship with the Green Party. The humiliation he suffered after the interview didn’t help what appeared to be a process of separation, not just from the Greens, but reality itself. Still, he reinvented himself as the son of god, and conspiracy theorist second to none, and sold a few books on the way, so it’s hard to have too much sympathy for him.
In the comments section, Tatchell replies to the jibes he surely deserves,
I am coming at this issue from a commonsense perspective, based on some evidence. It is more a case of queries on my part, rather than grand assertions. Raising these issues seem plausible and reasonable to me. Please advise if and how I am mistaken.
The article above was not written as another doomsday scenario. Even if there is a danger from oxygen depletion it is still quiet a long way off. Moreover, I am a great believer that we humans can create solutions to problems – whether those problems are human-made or natural cycles.
Commonsense? Evidence? The ‘evidence’ that Tatchell claims to be in possession of misses something which barely needs repeating here. Air is 21% oxygen. There’s loads of it. And there’s nothing commonsensical about worrying about the end of it. That ought to have given him cause to pause before writing this nonsense. As it happens, it shows exactly how thoroughly you need to ‘understand the issues’ before creating a public role for yourself as somebody who is going to ‘save the planet’. His colleague, ‘Dr’ Caroline Lucas has no firmer grip on the science, yet wheels out similar factoids as incontrovertible evidence for her party’s policies. This group seeks public office, and influences the direction of public policy. As lunatics they provide some good laughs, but the reality is that they are, more often than not, taken seriously.
How has it come to pass that people wearing end-is-nigh sandwich boards have been given such credibility? This question cannot be answered just by looking at environmentalists or environmentalism alone. The answer must lie outside of environmentalism, otherwise we must give these lunatics credit for taking over the asylum that they do not deserve. After all, it is neither popularity nor intellectual power which has swept them to prominence.
We were tempted by an advert in the Times (London) yesterday:
Get your kids to help you switch-off this summer
Yes folks, you too could buy your energy from n-power, who will, in return, encourage your kids to spy on you and make sure you don’t lapse into climate criminality.
n-power’s Climate Cops website enlarges on the children’s mission:
Use your skills of investigation to help the Climate Cops cut down on the climate crimes that are taking place in your home.
Download the ‘Climate Crime’ cards and use them to search your home to make sure that none are happening under your own roof! Then build your ‘Climate Crime Case File’ and report back to your family to make sure they don’t commit those crimes again (or else)! You may need to keep a watchful eye over them by revisiting the case every week or two to make sure they don’t slip back into any of their old habits.
You can spread your search even wider by adding even more ‘Case Files’ to your notes. What about the homes of your uncles, aunts or friends from school?
Hmm, we’ll have two please. Whatever you say about Environmentalism, you can’t say its heart isn’t in the right place.
We were going to blog this, but Lee Jones beat us to it. Children, forward to the Glorious Green Future! leaves little to be said:
Kids are being re-educated to become moaning little Maoists forcing their ignorant mums and dads to ‘go green’.
George Monbiot’s recent conversion to atomic energy, on the basis that ‘I have now reached the point at which I no longer care whether or not the answer is nuclear. Let it happen’, continues to generate fallout.
The latest is that Arthur Scargill, the man who led the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in the 1980s against the Thatcher Government, has emerged from obscurity to argue the case for clean coal as the ‘solution’ to climate problems, and that atomic energy is dirty and dangerous
Has [Monbiot] not read the evidence presented by environmentalists such as Tony Benn and me at the Windscale, Sizewell and Hinckley Point public inquiries? Is he unaware that nuclear-power generated electricity is the most expensive form of energy – 400% more expensive than coal – or that it received £6bn in subsidies, with £70bn to be paid by taxpayers in decommissioning costs? Is he unaware that there is no known way of disposing of nuclear waste, which will contaminate the planet for thousands of years? Has he forgotten the nuclear disasters at Windscale, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?
Particularly interesting are the figures from the old Left who are the voices in this discussion. What is even more interesting is that they are framing their arguments around the issue of safety and risk.
I challenge George Monbiot to test out which is the most dangerous fuel – coal or nuclear power. I am prepared to go into a room full of CO2 for two minutes, if he is prepared to go into a room full of radiation for two minutes.
This is great idea. We wish them both good luck, and eagerly await the results of the experiment.
Atomic energy is a symbol of the Left’s decline during the eighties, as Thatcher undermined (if you’ll pardon the pun) its influence in a historical battle with the NUM, after which, the Left was never the same, if it was at all. Even more interesting is that Thatcher is alleged to have espoused environmental issues in order to create a basis for more atomic power stations, reducing the UK’s dependence on coal, and thus coal workers and their unions. Others claim that it was a ruse to develop Britain’s atomic weapons program. Whatever, the history of science being used to arm political arguments goes back a long way. Scargill has a score to settle. Lacking now the courage of his socialist convictions, he uses Thatcher’s argument. The man who, according to the slogans of the era, ‘walks on water’, now breathes pure CO2. A miracle, only matched by his resurrection from political death.
Tony Benn, socialist, animal rights activist, environmentalist, aristocrat (are you spotting a pattern yet) ought to know about the problems of the UK’s atomic energy network:
Then in 1955 President Eisenhower launched the ‘Atoms for Peace’ programme and many people, including me, saw this as a classic example of ‘beating swords into ploughshares’ and strongly supported civil nuclear power in Britain, a view I still held when, in 1966 I was appointed Minister of Technology with responsibility for the development of that programme.
Now, along with Scargill, Benn is against atomic energy.
I was told, believed and argued publicly that civil nuclear power was cheap, safe and peaceful and it was only later that I learned that this was all untrue since, if the full cost of development and the cost of storing long-term nuclear waste is included in the calculations nuclear power is three times the cost of coal when the pits were being closed on economic grounds. Nuclear power is certainly not safe as we know from accidents at Windscale (now renamed Sellafield), from Three Mile Island in America and Chernobyl in the Ukraine, dangers which the authorities have always been determined to downplay.
If Benn wants to know why atomic energy in the UK was expensive and messy, he might consult his own diaries. In France, they went with it, and now produces 80% of its own supply that way. When the UK’s infrastructure falls short, we buy electricity from France. In fact, France is the world’s top exporter of electricity, worth E3 billion a year. France is in this position because it invested in the development of the technology, which now produces cheap electricity. Britain’s atomic energy program, under the direction of, amongst others, Benn, was far less well organised, changing direction, and technologies, and failing to develop standards.
So should the UK go with atomic, or coal? (Leaving aside ‘renewables’).
To get the right answers, and to have a productive discussion, we need the right questions. Benn’s and Scargill’s arguments about safety are bogus. Mining is certainly no safer for miners than an atomic energy plant is for its workers. Miners are routinely exposed to radon, amongst many other risks. But as technology has developed, the risks to all sorts of workers – and the public – has diminished dramatically. So too has our vulnerability to the climate. The use of safety to arm the arguments about future energy supply – across the political spectrum – masks failing political perspectives. There is nothing ‘safe’ about energy. If there were, it would probably not be useful. And on the other hand, not having any energy is itself even more a risky business.
We have nothing against ‘renewables’ in and of themselves. On the contrary, newer, cleaner, more efficient forms of power generation might offer exciting opportunities. We do, however, object to the way that ‘renewable’ is a pretext for less energy. As we have said before, should renewables promise to provide us with more energy than we know what to do with, the environmental lobby would no doubt find good reasons to object to those, too.
Given that debates about coal, nuclear and renewables are never framed in terms of how best to generate more energy, they become no more meaningful than petty squabbles about health and safety, in which opposing sides only seek to influence the debate in order to score symbolic victories… Pissing contests.
Once the silly questions about safety are out of the way, and political capital is made out of something positive rather than by scare stories, we can focus once again on what we need energy for: for creating better lives, for enjoying our existences, for making things, and all of that stuff that has been forgotten in the paralysing nonsense that dominates the ‘debate’. Who really cares whether it is coal, atomic, or even renewables? The point is simply that the terms of today’s debate are stale, pointless, and depressing.
In the August edition of History Today, Jean-Francois Mouhot argues that ‘reliance on fossil fuels has made slave owners of us all’.
Most of us approach slavery with the underlying assumption that our modern civilization is morally far superior to the barbaric slave-owning societies of the past. But are we really so different? If we compare our current attitude to fossil fuels and climate change with the behaviour of the slave owners, there are more similarities than one might immediately perceive.
Mouhot begins his article by drawing some links between the industrial revolution and the slave trade. Goods such as weapons, chains, and locks were made in Britain, to keep slaves in bondage, and their labour created the goods that flowed back; sugar, cotton, tobacco.
Slave traders therefore played a significant – if perhaps indirect – role in the establishment of the industrialist system at the core of our contemporary societies.
Industrial society, it seems, only owes itself indirectly to slavery. And he continues to say that there are also links between industrialisation and the end of slavery. There seems to be no coherent basis for Mouhot to continue, yet he carries on with this tired comparison, seemingly only on the basis that steam power was unable to make slavery redundant in the cotton-fields. Mouhot turns to human nature itself to explain why this might have been.
The comparison starts with a hypothesis that it is a feature of human nature that whenever humans have had the possibility to find someone or something else to work for them for free or for a small cost, they have almost always taken advantage of it, even if it came at a high moral cost.
This is a very cynical conception of human nature and a particularly flawed hypothesis. What is more, it is an ahistorical hypothesis. History shows that slavery was rejected to the point that it is now considered to be disgusting. The transformation to the contemporary view of slavery from its general acceptance centuries ago shows how our moral sense, and our conception of humanity has changed. The difference between getting ‘someone else’, and ‘something else’ to work for us for free is stark. It is only by assuming this ahistorical position, and in fact degrading that developed sense of humanity, that Mouhot can substantiate his argument for a moral equivalence between using labour-saving devices and being a slave-owner.
Mouhot shows that to maintain the same standard of living, without fossil fuels, we would need about a hundred people working for us, full time. (Surely this is a good thing? After all, given that he has argued that humans ‘will always take advantage of the possibility of cheaper ways of doing things’, then the alternative to using oil is that humans are put to work as slaves. There could not be a more compelling argument for the continued use of fossil fuel). In fact, Mouhot misses an even deeper historical lesson. Industrialisation created the conditions in which the poor of the world were able to challenge their conditions. As poor people were widely distributed, and lacked the means to organise themselves, and had nothing to bargain with, they had no political capital. When the industrial revolution concentrated labour in towns, and created the possibility of the exchange of labour for wages, it made labour a political force. Industrialisation and capitalism toppled feudalism. This process happened as progressive theories were developing about the way in which people related to one another, and how they ought to relate to one another. In 1762, Rousseau, whose thoughts have shaped today’s world, wondered, in The Social Contract:
Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer.
Of course, Rousseau was speaking generally about slavery. But then, Mouhot himself uses the term very loosely in order to make his point. Mouhot is simply wrong to imagine that ‘high moral cost’ was a consideration in the exploitation of slave labour. It happened in a different age, where different ideas about what constitutes a human influenced the way people related to each other. We haven’t merely developed industrially, our morals, ethics and values have been transformed by the political ideas and struggles that have taken place over the last few centuries. In that time, the prevailing view has changed from one in which people were the property of Kings by Divine Right, to today, where people are (or ought to be) entitled to inalienable human rights. Nonetheless, Mouhot’s poor reasoning and ahistorical thinking continues:
Second, slavery caused harm to human beings, as does our current large-scale burning of fossil fuel. Some might argue that it is not possible to compare pain triggered by the use of slaves and pain caused by the use of oil, gas or coal, as in the latter case we are dealing with inanimate objects. However, when we burn oil or gas above what the eco-system can absorb, we are causing pain and suffering to other human beings. The release of carbon dioxide is already causing harm and human suffering and is forecast to produce much more, by increasing droughts and flooding, threatening crop yields and displacing large numbers of people.
Mouhot is simply wrong to claim that CO2 is ‘already causing harm and human suffering’. It cannot be shown, and it has not been shown by any sound method. He certainly hasn’t subjected the claim to any scrutiny. What is clear, and what we have pointed out on many occasions, is that the victims this kind of argument exploits for moral capital – the poor – would not be vulnerable to climate were they as wealthy as we are. The ethical case for equality is distorted by arguments such as Mouhot’s, which replace it with an ethic to stabilise the weather. What is missing from this process is the voices of the people on whose behalf Mouhot seems to be speaking. Let us imagine they have been asked, ‘what would you prefer, a stable climate, or Western levels of wealth?’ What do we think their reply would be? Of course, this would liberate Mouhot’s eco-slaves, and turn them into the climate criminals that he compares to slave owners. In other words, liberating the world’s poor who are vulnerable to climate by making them voices, rather than victims means that he can no longer turn to them for moral capital. So who is the slave owner? Mouhot has an answer to these points…
It is argued that there are some long-term benefits from the carbon economy: the hospitals, schools and roads we build today through the use of fossil fuels will benefit future generations. What is more, not all of the consequences of climate change are negative: a rise in temperature by a few degrees will have some beneficial aspects. However, these arguments are erroneous as the predicted overall damage, according to the IPCC, far outweighs any positive impacts climate change may have.
What predictions? The IPCC does not make any predictions. What Mouhot believes are ‘predictions’, are in fact ‘projections’, which consider what might happen under a range of possible scenarios, as assumptions. For example, The Technical Summary of IPCC AR4 Impacts and Vulnerability Group states:
Future vulnerability depends not only on climate change but also on development pathway.
An important advance since the Third Assessment has been the completion of impacts studies for a range of different development pathways, taking into account not only projected climate change but also projected social and economic changes. Most have been based on characterisations of population and income levels drawn from the SRES scenarios [2.4]. These studies show that the projected impacts of climate change can vary greatly due to the development pathway assumed. For example, there may be large differences in regional population, income and technological development under alternative scenarios, which are often a strong determinant of the level of vulnerability to climate change [2.4]. [OUR EMPHASIS]
The report also pointed out that more research was needed:
[TS 6.2] there has been little advance on:
• impacts under different assumptions about how the world will evolve in future – societies, governance, technology and economic development;
• the costs of climate change, both of the impacts and of response (adaptation and mitigation)
If that is not sufficient to convince anyone that development is a key determinant of vulnerability to climate, then there is plenty more. For example:
Vulnerability to climate change can be exacerbated by the presence of other stresses.
…Vulnerable regions face multiple stresses that affect their exposure and sensitivity as well as their capacity to adapt. These stresses arise from, for example, current climate hazards, poverty and unequal access to resources, food insecurity, trends in economic globalisation, conflict, and incidence of disease such as HIV/AIDS [7.4, 8.3, 17.3, 20.3].
Finally, what the IPCC do here is barely science at all, but the construction of stories by social scientists and economists, based on scientific projections given by climate scientists. And it is far from unchallengable. Nevertheless, it is clear that the claim Mouhot makes is not substantiated by the IPCC. It depends on a very subjective interpretation of its work, which combines a huge number of highly significant assumptions, complete with caveats – all of which are ignored. The IPCC is cited by Mouhot, not in order to point readers towards supporting information… it doesn’t exist. The purpose is to invoke scientific authority to support his specious moral reasoning. All Mouhot has done is to make something up, and attribute it to the IPCC. And anyway, anyone who disagrees is a ‘denier’.
But let’s not single Mouhot out. This is the standard to which even academics writing about climate change aspire. This is not an unusual case.
The claims made by Mouhot, that ‘predictions’ show that negative impacts will outweigh the positives, are not science. They are not made by scientists, and they fail to take into account what is possible through increased wealth. Indeed, the IPCC is wedded to the anti-wealth, sustainability agenda, which takes the view that wealth itself is environmentally destructive. In other words, the IPCC, through the sustainability agenda, is attached to a particular political idea that will influence the direction of development throughout the world over the coming decades. This is the counterpart political orthodoxy to the ‘scientific consensus’. And it is this political idea which is reflected as Mouhot considers a challenge to his argument, on the basis that slavery implies a relationship between slave and master, which does not exist in our reliance on fossil fuels.
…comparatively cheap energy is a required condition for the transport of foreign goods on a massive scale and over large distances. As it is inexpensive to transport those goods from the Far East to Europe or America, it is possible to import products often made in slave-like conditions for a fraction of the cost of producing them in our countries. We have delocalized slavery and put it far from view, but it still exists and we benefit from it. Secondly, the harm caused by climate change often amounts to violence or force against a large number of people. Global warming, like slavery, is already limiting the possibilities they have for living a good life. Floods, droughts and rising sea levels will force millions of people to become refugees; their land will be taken away from them and they may have to work in slave-like conditions instead of growing their own crops. Even if they do not become refugees, in the ‘developing world’ many poor peasants have to contract debts to survive. Any crop failure, which can be caused or worsened by climate change, put these peasants at the mercy of debt bondage. It is even possible that the consequences of climate change will be far worse and longer lasting, and affect a much larger number of people, than slavery ever did.
First, Mouhot’s imaginations are predicated on the principle of zero economic, political and social development in the developing world. Not only is this ahistorical, again, it is also counter-factual. Of course, working life in the developing world is not something that we would tolerate in the West, but it is still an improvement upon the conditions endured by people living in subsistence economies. That is why we see mass migration towards cities throughout the world, and in particular why people in China have abandoned rural lifestyles to work in factories in cities. And that is why we see development in China on an unprecedented scale. And of course we benefit from cheaper labour and production, and there is an element of ‘unfairness’ to this relationship. But this relationship is a transformation from no relationship. Equality cannot be achieved where there is no relationship.
Second, the claim that global warming is ‘already’ causing pain and suffering to the poor, or will in the future, also imagines that development does not offer protection against the elements. But why does Mouhot not imagine that governments in the developing world invest in infrastructure that will protect it from the climate, changing or not? After all, at the very least, even if the plight of humans isn’t worth a stuff, factories and other installations are worth protecting. Whereas, self-evidently, subsistence economies cannot afford to build protection for themselves against the elements.
Third, the lifestyle that Mouhot seems to want people in the developing world to continue living precludes the possibility of industrial development and economic growth. That in turn precludes the possibility of political transformation of the unequal relationships they are on the bad end of. In other words, Mouhot argues for the slave-master relationship to be sustained, lest it ‘damages the environment’. Mouhot cares not a hoot for these ‘slaves’.
What Mouhot writes is unmitigated nonsense. It is ahistorical, it is counter-factual, and it is ultimately an argument which can be used to sustain the conditions which are endured by the very people he claims to wish to save.
That ought to be the end of this already long post. But there is more to this story. At the bottom of the article is a very revealing profile of Mouhot.
* Jean-François Mouhot is project research officer at the University of Birmingham. He worked until recently for an environmental NGO campaigning against climate change. He is a member of the Rescue!History network: www.rescue-history.org.uk
The environmental movement makes a lot of noise about the interference of political interests in the public presentation of issues relating to climate change. It is constantly surprising to see that you can be an ecological activist without having your integrity challenged. But the slightest whiff of a connection to the oil industry is enough to ignite furious letters to the censor. So let’s allow Mouhot his biased influence on research which continues to sustain inequality in the world.
Rescue! History is an organisation that intends to connect the issue of climate change with the social sciences and humanities.
We therefore propose that as teachers, researchers and students of complex human societies of the past and present, whether as historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, human geographers, demographers, philosophers, writers, students of politics, economics, international relations, religion, literature and culture, or of other related fields, that our role and responsibility must be directed increasingly towards an understanding of how we arrived at this point of crisis. By the same token, we must seek to understand not only how societies, polities and cultures have previously, or currently, sustained themselves in conditions of scarcity and adversity but through our own actions also take some personal responsibility by reducing our carbon footprints if not to remedy then at least to help mitigate the consequences of climate change.
There are three things to consider here.
The first is that academics from these disciplines are being asked to take at face value ‘what science says’, rather than, as has been the case since positivism, for social scientists to challenge scientism – the idea that society can be understood and controlled in strict, scientific terms.
The second is that this statement of intent seems to use urgency to arm political, environmental orthodoxy with moral purpose, and to exclude dissent from academia.
Third, we ought to ask what it is that Rescue! History really aims to rescue. Is it humanity, or is it the humanities? Just as fears about climate change have armed flailing political parties with new purpose, as we have observed, it has breathed new life into academia; it has brought to the fore dusty old geography departments, and made them highly relevant to today’s world, and has reconnected moral philosophy to matters of the survival of the human race through ‘the ethics of climate change’. This is about more than simply capturing research budgets by making History relevant to climate change. This is about redefining History as a discipline, when, perhaps, it is a bit unsure of itself, in much the same way that directionless politicians from the old left and right alike are redefining their core values in environmental terms.
The consequence of all this is that slavery also gets re-written, backwards. If Mouhot’s argument actually emerged from a careful study of history, that would be one thing. But instead, he looks to History for ways of making moral arguments in the present, in favour of Environmentalism. He wants to use History to show that we’re the moral equivalent of 18th Century slave owners, not to advance our understanding of humanity’s transformation through time. In the process, he ignores our political, social, and cultural development, which must be against the very principles of History. These are the things that Environmentalism wants us to discard. Environmentalism’s political objectives, given legitimacy by a re-writing of history makes us all either victims or culprits, are achieved not through broadening and deepening our understanding of history, culture, and society, but by narrowing it in order to make crass, obscene, and bogus moral calculations.
Writing in the New Statesman about the make up of Climate Camp protest, Stephen Armstrong says,
According to the private espionage industry itself, roughly one in four of your comrades is on a multinational’s payroll.
The idea that intelligence operatives are running eco-protest direct action groups, such that one in four of them are working for the man, forgets that the other three are Trustafarians whose land-owning corporate boss daddies will put them well and truly on the payroll once they decide to chill out a bit.
The spies are probably there just to pick up some fresh ideas for the latest corporate marketing greenwash, or to inject the flailing political parties with the illusion of a radical policy initiative.
The vanity of the environmental protest movement knows no bounds. They imagine themselves as dangerous subversives. But really, they express exactly the same ideas as the government.
They just use less soap.