Hypocritic Oaf

There was a lively little exchange on the Today programme this morning between class-warrior Julie Burchill and posh eco-activist George Monbiot. Burchill was there to promote her new book Not In My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, in which she accuses high-profile Green activists of being hypocritical, authoritarian elitists:

In every other political movement, you will have people from the working classes. Even the Suffragettes, who were really posh, there were, like, some northern mill girls involved. Every green involved is from a rich, inherited-wealth family, and I think they just have a great contempt for the mass of people. It’s always cheap food, cheap travel that they say is such a terrible thing, as if it’s dreadful for the working class to have access to things they’ve always had, and I find this quite morally repugnant […]

Greenery is a great way now for posh, useless people to lecture the working classes about what they should be doing, and how they shouldn’t be having cheap food or cheap holidays, and it’s just so disgusting and hypocritical tomfoolery

George Monbiot was there to disagree:

It’s a concatenation of every lazy and ridiculous stereotype about the greens. And it seems to me that she knows nothing about Environmentalism, hasn’t bothered to do any research, and yet still feels able to mouth off about it at some length. And as for this idea that we’re all po-faced, hair-shirt posh people, it’s just complete nonsense.

He even had some research to prove it:

There was a recent ICM poll which showed that people in social classes D and E are far more concerned about environment and far more concerned that the government does something about it than people in social classes A and B. [His emphasis]

This is an argument he borrowed from his posh mate Mark Lynas, who had himself cobbled it together after a cursory rummage in the poll’s small print. But what Lynas actually said was this:

The number of people who thought that environment should be the government’s priority rather than the economy was substantially higher (56%) among the lower income, less well-educated DE demographic than among the better-off ABs (47%).

And even that was a highly optimistic interpretation. Yes, 56% of DEs thought that environment should have priority over economy compared to 47% of ABs, but that difference was balanced out by the 33% of DEs (compared to 26% of ABs) who thought green taxes should never be introduced. The responses of ABs and DEs to the remaining two questions were the same. And as we pointed out at the time, closer scrutiny of the small print reveals that the demographics of the poll’s respondents were such that a much higher proportion of DE respondents were unlikely to be affected by environmental tax hikes.

But once the poll has been filtered by Monbiot, via Lynas, the emergent truth is that

people in social classes D and E are far more concerned about environment and far more concerned that the government does something about it than people in social classes A and B.

Which is kind of funny when the subject of the interview is green hypocrisy and the person concerned is a strident Environmentalist with a penchant for writing stroppy articles at the merest whiff of a dodgy ‘fact’ from anybody who doesn’t conform to the climate orthodoxy. Here and here, for example.

Monbiot kept digging:

It’s true that upper-middle class people like me get far too much airtime by comparison to everybody else, but […] this doesn’t distinguish Environmentalism from any other aspect of public life. If you look at journalism, if you look at the arts, if you look at politics – even, for God’s sake, the Labour party is partly dominated now by relatively posh people. Why single out Environmentalism for this?

Monbiot might well be right that Environmentalists are no more hypocritical than various other opportunistic professionals, but is that really something to shout about? And it’s still worth singling out the Greens because they are the only ones claiming to be a grass-roots popular movement.

Talking of which, George was conducting his interview live from the Climate Camp protest in Kent. Which is about as grass-roots as it gets if you listen to the likes of Monbiot. Which makes the following comment made to a message board by a disgruntled eco-activist particularly hilarious:

i took time out of my life to attend both Drax and Heathrow camps… (costing me a huge chunk out of my monthly budget)
but have decided against coming to the camp in Kent this year.
reasons being, i feel the camp has an arrogant, middle class clique of “organisers”- who claim the camp has no leaders (but aggressively shout at you if ur not in bed by 11pm) and claim the camp has anarchist roots, whilst appearing (to me) as a bunch of george mombiet arse licks….
yes, i support the camp…
but no, i am not going out of my way to support it, as i do not wish to be judged/looked down on/be bossed around by a bunch of snobs posing as protestors

We Are Armed Only With Rumour, Hyperbole And Friends In High Places

The Climate Camp protestors have been complaining about the way they have been treated by the police. Again. Caroline Lucas explains, on commentisrubbish,

Everyone who enters the site is being searched. Police officers are taking anything away that “could be used for illegal activity”, with efforts being made to strip protesters of such hardcore weapons of choice as bits of carpet, biodegradable soap and toilet paper. In the absence of any serious threat, the police clearly found it necessary to justify their presence with an unprovoked attack on personal hygiene.

As we said recently, the police are complicit in the camp’s PR. Heavy handedness just appears to lend the protest some drama, and sympathy for the silly protest. Worse still, it makes the protestors look like they are on the opposing side to the Government, when in fact, they have a lot in common.

But further North from the camp, near the site of the 2006 Climate Camp, another group of protestors in June halted a train bound for the Drax power plant, [video], attached ropes from the train to a bridge, and emptied coal from the train onto adjacent tracks.

It is hardly a surprise that the police therefore take the threat a little bit more seriously than the likes of Lucas claim it warrants. Indeed, the camp’s organisers boast of their intention to cause problems for the rest of the country:

On Saturday August 9th, the climate camp will go beyond talk and culminate in a spectacular mass action to shut down Kingsnorth. Permanently!

How can the police not take seriously the open threat made by the protestors – clearly no strangers to dangerous acts of sabotage – to sabotage an installation that serves hundreds of thousands of homes, businesses, schools and hospitals with power? We take very seriously the right of the camp to protest, and even to get up people’s noses by inconveniencing them. That is the stuff of democracy, after all. But you can’t expect the police to treat you all nice and fluffy while you are issuing threats that they are duty-bound to prevent you from carrying out.

The small group of self-important protestors have convinced themselves that they are beyond any kind of reproach, and are faultless. Reason does not apply to them. They have Gaia on their side.

Yet their arguments are too easily defeated. Last Friday, just eight Climate Camp protestors chained themselves to the gates of argibusiness giant, Cargill, on the basis that they are ‘profiting from hunger’ during global food price rises. This is simply crazy. The environmental movement has long campaigned for HIGHER food prices, arguing that industrial agriculture and distribution, in its search for lower prices and efficiencies is bad for the environment. If Cargill are profiting from higher prices, it is thanks to Environmentalism, as James Heartfield put it in Spiked recently:

For more than 20 years now, both the US and the European Union have pursued policies designed to reduce food output. They have introduced policies that reward farmers for retiring land from production (such as the EU’s set-aside and wilderness schemes). At the same time, the United Nations has used its aid programmes to penalise African farmers who try to increase yields with modern fertilisers or mechanisation. […] Just when it suited large-scale agriculture to wind down output to protect prices, the environmentalists were on hand to support land retirement schemes. Farmers, according to Britain’s Countryside Agency, would no longer farm, but become stewards of the countryside.

The leitmotif of the environmental movement is ‘the science says’. The camp’s slogan last year was ‘We are armed… only with peer-reviewed science’ . As we have said before, science is Environmentalism’s fig leaf. Behind the idea that ‘the science’ has promised catastrophe is the shameful illogic, unreason and plain untruths that Environmentalists don’t want us to see.

Writing in the Guardian, for example, Climate Camp protesters Ellen Potts, Oli Rodker, Johnathan Stevensen, Paul Morozzo and Mel Evans specify just how long all that ‘peer-reviewed science’ tells we have to save the planet:

Scientists tell us that from this week we have just 100 months to solve climate change.

Which scientists would that be then? Well, it seems it would be the Green New Deal Group, which comprises Larry Elliott (Economics Editor of the Guardian), Colin Hines (Co-Director of Finance for the Future; former head of Greenpeace International’s Economics Unit), Tony Juniper (former Director of Friends of the Earth), Jeremy Leggett (founder and Chairman of Solarcentury and SolarAid), Caroline Lucas (Green Party MEP), Richard Murphy (Co-Director of Finance for the Future and Director, Tax Research LLP), Ann Pettifor (former head of the Jubilee 2000 debt relief campaign, Campaign Director of Operation Noah), Charles Secrett (Advisor on Sustainable Development; former Director of Friends of the Earth) and Andrew Simms (Policy Director, the new economics foundation).

Spot the scientists, anyone?

Slightly more sobre – surprisingly – is the Camp’s very own ‘climate science’ page. It doesn’t talk of ‘just 100 weeks to save the planet’, but it does talk of 4°C temperature rise by 2100, giving rise to

reduced crop yields in the tropics, sea level rises and increases in flooding, more extreme weather events and at least a third of all species destined for extinction

These are, of course, factoids leeched from IPCC reports, and give the upper ranges of projections as predictions, and cite, third hand, worst-case scenarios from single-studies of very small sample groups taken from highly vulnerable species. There is, as yet, no clear evidence of ‘more extreme weather events’.

The reason for the camp’s relatively sobre – albeit still rather shrill – presentation of the ‘science’ might have something to do with its being written by a scientist.

Dr Simon L. Lewis, Earth & Biosphere Institute, School of Geography, University of Leeds. The author is a specialist on the interactions of tropical forests and climate change and a member of the Royal Society’s Climate Change Advisory Group. All the scientific information included here appears in the IPCC Fourth Assesment Reports, available at www.ipcc.ch

Climate Camp must be over the moon at having Lewis on board to write the sciencey bits. Unfortunately for them, however, what is striking is that the actions of the Climate Camp protesters is not justifiable on the basis of the Lewis’s summary. Which is why in interviews and letters to the Guardian, the protesters have to resort to the language of catastrophe.

Lewis’s thoughts on the matter of catastrophe, published on the Royal Society’s website are even more circumspect:

Are we heading for catastrophe? Possibly. It is currently impossible to make robust predictions concerning how future climatic changes will interact with social factors and non-climatic environmental problems in an increasingly globalised world, but it is straightforward to conceive of plausible and socially explosive scenarios (e.g. mixing a future economic recession and geopolitical tensions over resources, with extreme weather events causing a a key crop failure and resulting mass human migrations could overload political institutions). However, regarding climate change per se, it is physically possible to avoid the worst of climate change depending upon political choices now.

Nonetheless, we see here less climate science, and more speculation that is far closer to social science. And it gets worse:

The basic solution to climate change is obvious but rarely articulated forcefully: most fossil carbon must not get into the atmosphere. Currently the only proven way to do this is to leave most fossil fuels in the ground. That is no new oil fields, no new coal mines. But such apparently drastic measures are not on the mainstream agenda. Why? In my view this is because individuals, governments and companies all operate within a socio-economic system, capitalism, which, whether we like it or not, means it is difficult not to abide by the rules of this system.

This isn’t even social science – it’s political ideology. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with holding anti-capitalist views. Capitalism – like social science, and like climate science – needs to be challenged. But it’s clear that the boundaries between Lewis’s study of forests and his very shallow and fragile critique of capitalism are not as solid as they might be. If Lewis were a post-doctoral researcher specialising in tropical forest ecology who happened to be an anti-capitalist, that would be one thing. But instead, as is true of political discussions today, ‘science’ is the language in which ethical and political arguments are being made. In other words, Lewis, and the anti-capitalist environmental movement, cannot challenge capitalism in human, political, or on principled terms. If you aren’t sure about why that is wrong, consider what might be wrong with an argument attempting to ‘prove’ that theft and murder are wrong using Newtons laws of thermodynamics.

Writing on Commentisrubbish to explain the purpose of the camp, Lewis once again conflates science and politics:

A new high point of opposition starts this weekend as the Camp for Climate Action embarks on an eight-day protest to press the government and E.ON to abandon the scheme. This is no fringe issue: they will be taking action to stop a proposal potentially so destructive that increasing numbers of scientists are speaking out against it […]

The Climate Camp is creating space for serious debate about the kind of world we want to live in. More than that, the campers give shape to a force that can perhaps override the profits-now catastrophe-later logic of the government and E.ON: they form a broad-based movement of people committed to a socially just transition to a low-carbon society. I certainly don’t want to live in E.ON’s world, where business as usual trumps avoiding dangerous climate change. So I’ll be joining the campers in Kent. Anyone else with concerns about the future should do the same.

But he’s a scientist. So it must be true. Also no stranger to the language of catastrophe is Sir Martin “Our Final Century” Rees, president of the Royal Society, which funds Lewis’ research. Who said recently,

“Our main concerns are that coal fired powered stations are worse in terms of CO2 production even than oil or gas fired power stations.
“It would symbolically be very unfortunate if the UK were to approve a coal fired power station without imposing very strict requirements that some technology should be adopted that would allow it to capture the carbon dioxide it emits.”

So what have Rees and Lewis got to do with sabotage, police-brutality, and silly protests in Kent?

Quite a lot. We have described before the curious symbiosis between the Royal Society and activists such as Mark Lynas. What it reveals is that the establishment generates anxiety about the future, and are key to equipping the protestors with their arguments. The establishment is sympathetic to the protestors aims, as witnessed by the raft of environmental legislation on the cards and already in place. The establishment is involved in heavy policing of the protest. And the establishment is responsible for publicising the protest. This is not grass-roots activists, protesting about the state of things. This is anxiety within the establishment, expressing itself downwards. This process begins in the minds of those at the top, unsure of their roles, and of the future. It finds its way to a tiny number of individuals, who make a big noise and interesting pictures, which in turn creates the idea that this absurd protest has a point. But in truth, the entire spectacle owes itself to nothing more than the fact that Chicken Littles are running the roost, and that they depend on those prepared to flap about to make their positions more tenable, and legitimate.

The love-in between Climate Camp and the Royal Society is also evident in the protestors’ Guardian Letter:

The thought of going to prison even for a short period is daunting, but we cannot accept the logic of bail conditions that stop us attending a legal event at which Royal Society professors mix with families.

And which aims to shut down illegally a power station, by the way.

When the likes of Martin Durkin are deemed by the Royal Society to deviate from ‘the science’ of climate change, he is subject to the full wrath of the Royal Society. And yet it stands by as climate protesters and scientists take liberties with the truth and pass off opinion as science while hiding behind the Society’s very authority.

What the Royal Society ought to be doing – rather than running around like headless chickens – is providing sobre reflection, and scientific rationalism. It does exist, amongst the clucking. Take for example, the words of Carl Wunsch

…it is very difficult to separate human induced change from natural change, certainly not with the confidence we all seek. In these circumstances, it is essential to remember that the inability to prove human-induced change is not the same thing as a demonstration of its absence. It is probably true that most scientists would assign a very high probability that human-induced change is already strongly present in the climate system, while at the same time agreeing that clear-cut proof is not now available and may not be available for a long-time to come, if ever. Public policy has to be made on the basis of probabilities, not firm proof.

… and the words of Lewis in the same section of the RS website:

It is currently impossible to make robust predictions concerning how future climatic changes will interact with social factors and non-climatic environmental problems in an increasingly globalised world, but it is straightforward to conceive of plausible and socially explosive scenarios (e.g. mixing a future economic recession and geopolitical tensions over resources, with extreme weather events causing a a key crop failure and resulting mass human migrations could overload political institutions).

We can see firstly that there is no claim to certainty, or the science being ‘in’ on behalf of [ scientists, even those who make public, and very shrill statements about the need for action. Second, we can see that scientific arguments that we should act to mitigate climate change are founded on the precautionary principle – a controversial way of determining the best course of action in the face of unquantified risk. Third, what determines our vulnerability to climate is what Lewis refers to as ‘social factors’, therefore, concentration on the social factors would seem to be far more prudant than making attempts to control the weather. Unfortunately, though, he only considers ways in which we are vulnerable to climate, rather than resistant to it, and so concludes that we must act to change the weather. Fourth, then, climate change, given the right ‘social factors’ might not be a problem. But Lewis’s desire that we aim for changing the weather dimishes the ‘social factors’ which relate to our ability to resist the effects of climate. Fifth, it shows that the Royal Society and its associates are aware that social factors are more important than climatic ones, and yet they insist on alarming the public with terrifying stories and innuendo about those who dare to challenge it.

Perhaps the Royal Society simply doesn’t understand its role here. It too has become caught up in the political process, and its members seem to be as confused about what is politics and what is science as the circus-freak protestors. It too makes the mistake of believing that science can answer political questions about the future. It runs with it, because to say ‘we don’t really know’ would be to undermine its own position at a time when people – particularly the rest of the establishment – are turning to science for answers because politics isn’t providing them. The result is a loss of faith in both politics and science.

Who is Pachauri Calling 'Flat Earthers'?

A hat-tip to Anthony Watts, who points to an interview in the Chicago Tribune with head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri.

Q: What do you think about the small but vocal group of doubters still out there?

A: There is, even today, a Flat Earth Society that meets every year to say the Earth is flat. The science about climate change is very clear. There really is no room for doubt at this point.

Of course, no room for doubt = no room for science. But leaving aside Pachauri’s errors such as this, there is a bigger question about the way in which ‘science’ is used to make statements about the future of society.

We are creating conditions for the social structure to break down. If that happens, clearly there will be more conflicts. With coastal flooding, there could be hundreds of millions of environmental refugees.

The argument that Pachauri uses here is nothing more than environmental determinism; the idea that human history is shaped by its environmental circumstances.

There is no doubt that there is a degree to which the circumstances people find themselves in determine the outcome of their lives. We can take it as read that the human race evolved in circumstances which were beyond its control. But in today’s world, people’s lives are no longer dictated by their environments, not by virtue of environmental stasis, but because of our own abilities.

Society now thrives in a wide range of conditions, from the frozen arctic to the harsh deserts. Entire rivers have been diverted in order to irrigate fields, and serve new cities with water. Marshes have been drained, and low-lying areas raised. Cities have been constructed below sea level. Valleys have had dams built across them. But now, Pachauri claims that a mere few degrees change in temperature over the course of a century – the time it took us to develop the internal combustion engine, atomic energy, powered flight, cures for many diseases, to land men on the moon, the Internet… – will cause society to collapse.

Pachauri is simply wrong. Social structure has very little – and as we develop, less and less – to do with environmental conditions. Furthermore, social conditions are our defence against environmental conditions. For example, where there is industrial development, there is less vulnerability to the environment. Tsunamis, earthquakes and storms in the developing world kill thousands. Deaths from similar conditions in the developed world kill far, far fewer. This is a cold, hard, measurable, scientific fact.

That Pachauri gets things arse-about-face wouldn’t be so tragic if it didn’t threaten to undermine the very social structures he claims to wish to protect. In emphasising climate stability over industrial society’s influence over outcomes for people’s standard of living, he prioritises, wrongly, an anti-development agenda. This will leave more people more vulnerable to climate.

Pachauri is the flat earther. It is time he was exposed as such.

Camping It Up

It’s Climate Camp time again. Last year, activists numbering 1500 (less than the capacity of some nightclubs) took part in a high-profile protest near Heathrow Airport, the site of a proposed new runway. As the camps occupied themselves recycling their own urine, eating lentils, and making sure that the media didn’t get too close to them (they didn’t want unfavourable press), hundreds of thousands of travellers took to the skies above them. Such a numerical demonstration of the protest’s unpopularity failed to dent the smug self-righteous protestors’ self-confidence.

This year, the anti-development camp is at Kingsnorth, Kent, the site of a proposed coal-fired power station – the first in the UK for 30 years, such has been the UK’s government’s inability to commit itself to energy infrastructure. If this station ever gets built, it will merely replace Britain’s crumbling capacity, not add to it. Nonetheless, the protestors would rather that the lights went out… for the sake of the polar bears.

The camp’s website says…

This year’s workshop timetable is the best ever with over 200 workshops covering everything from vegan cake baking and climate science through to the role of banks in the fossil fuel economy and how to plan successful direct action.

Oh, what fun! Mmm. Vegan cakes. But apart from horrid food, and boring lectures, what is the camp actually about?

“E.ON and the government believe that you can have endless fossil-fuelled economic growth in a world of finite resources,” said Christina Greensford, who helped to secure the camp. “People from all over the UK are here to create a democratic, low-carbon society in which our long term future on this planet is prioritised over the short term profit margins of the fossil fuel industry.”

Yep. That’s right. The fossil fuel industry force people at gunpoint into power-showers (which is why this bunch of smellies might object to them), into their cars, and onto planes taking them on holidays. In fact, the very idea of a holiday was invented by evil fossil fuel companies, just so that they could sell us fuel. The only way you can avoid their mind-control rays is by wearing a tin-foil hat.

This year the protesters plan to halt production at the existing plant, which supplies electricity to 1.5 million homes in the South East. Over the last few years, ‘direct action’ has become increasingly the way in which protest is expressesed. This is because these silly campaigns remain unpopular, and fail to generate the momentum to become mass political movements, and to demonstrate real political capital. Stunts, and a lot of noise are substitutes for a lot of people.

The threat of disruption to energy supply, public safety, and damage to civil infrastructure means the police are attendant at these events in large numbers. Unfortunately, this means that they are complicit in the PR campaign of these fringe groups. They make the protest look both radical, and powerful, and news-worthy. It is none of these things. A better idea would be to let the protestors cause the chaos they seek so that we can see just how popular their ideas really are.

The media also serve as accomplices in such protests. A particularly ludicrous example occurred in 2005. According to the hourly news headlines on BBC Radio 4 on 12 February that year, demonstrators were marching through the streets of London and Edinburgh in protest at the failure of certain countries to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol. Only later did it emerge that a grand total of 25 protesters had turned out in Edinburgh. Rather generously, another BBC Online news story described the turnout as ‘dozens’. That is fewer than can be found grumbling about the length of the check-out queue in the supermarket on an average Saturday afternoon. The London gig attracted a barely more respectable 500. What is remarkable is that so few protesters turned up despite the free national publicity offered by the BBC. The announcement on MySpace of a house-party is generally more successful at pulling in the punters.

As it happens, although the protestors believe they are radicals who are challenging the Government’s short-termist mindset, their ideas and the Government’s are in step with one another. The Government would really rather that it didn’t have to go through the difficult process of building new power stations. It means risking doing something almost as unpopular; actually making decisions. The environmental protest has done the Government a service in arming it with arguments that development is a bad idea. That’s why it spends tens of millions – more – on campaigns to get us to use less energy, to recycle, to not use too much stuff, and copes with housing shortages by promising ‘eco-homes’ in ‘eco-towns’. The UK Government is about as popular as the climate camp, and is therefore nervous of commiting itself to any decision which might reflect badly on it.

One way for it to reconnect with the public – which it hasn’t yet tried – is to face down the inertia generated by environmentalists. It could say, ‘stuff Kyoto, we need more power stations, roads, proper houses, and airport runways’. Into the bargain, this might create new jobs, and, horror of horrors, wealth.

The problem is, there is not a movement which demands this of the paralysed UK Government. Yet. There ought to be one, because it might prove to be far more popular.

We don’t fancy camping on squatted land in Kent, however. And you can shove your solar-powered vegan lentil cakes up your urine-recycler.

Any ideas?

Politics: Aborted

Asking Can This Planet Be Saved?, Paul Krugman in the NYT, contemplates the effect of oil exploration in the USA, and the ‘5%’ possibility of 10°C rise in global temperatures, and comes to the conclusions that the continued moralisation of such questions is the only answer.

The only way we’re going to get action, I’d suggest, is if those who stand in the way of action come to be perceived as not just wrong but immoral. Incidentally, that’s why I was disappointed with Barack Obama’s response to Mr. McCain’s energy posturing — that it was “the same old politics.” Mr. Obama was dismissive when he should have been outraged.

Our question would be ‘can the likes of Krugman really get any more shrill?’ He certainly seems to intend to.

Taking issue with Krugman, Roger Pielke Jr compares the language of the Left, to the Right’s treatment of the abortion issue. It is ‘abortion politics’, he argues:

Climate change is the new locus of the U.S. culture wars. Unlike the abortion issue which was turned into a referendum on morality by the political right, the climate issue is fast becoming a referendum on morality by the political left. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Pielke is right that the Left expresses itself in the same language as the Right. But he shouldn’t be surprised. ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ in the culture wars are fairly meaningless assignments. Both sides fail to identify themselves in political terms, and struggle to put any real distance between themselves and the other. They turn instead to bogus moral territory that becomes further and further removed from their respective traditions or philosophies. The adoption of the climate issue by the ‘Left’ represents a total departure from politics, and a total disconnect with human values. It is not so much ‘abortion politics’, then, as much as simply, ‘politics aborted’. Its claim to the moral highground is equally tenuous.

It is in this atmosphere of political (and moral) exhaustion that environmentalism has thrived. Politicians struggle to connect with people, and so escalate the sense of crisis in order to elicit their participation, and legitimise their own positions. The real crisis is not in the atmosphere, it is in politics.

Smoking Out Unreasonable Certainty

In conversations with our exasperated green friends, we are often asked what we would accept as ‘proof’ that global warming ‘is real, and is happening’. This is a fairly typical misunderstanding of the sceptical position. Well, ours anyway. We do not argue that humans have not caused global warming. Our position is that even scientific proof of mankind’s influence on the climate is not sufficient to legitimise Environmentalism, or the environmental policies being created by governments in response to pressure from Environmentalists. It is possible to decide that even 10 metres of sea level rise is a price worth paying for constantly increasing living standards; the problem would be in extending the benefits of that increase to those who, in the short term, might lose out. But too often, environmental policies and rhetoric bear no relation to science whatsoever, let alone ‘proof’.

What we believe is happening when people mistake political arguments for scientific ones is that people have lost confidence in making calculations about human values, and so turn to ‘science’ to provide them. Thus we see a mad rush to derive ‘ethics’ from the issue of climate change. It is much easier to create a direction for your otherwise defunct moral compass with a crisis on the horizon. It gives purpose to otherwise purposeless politics. That huge looming catastrophe overwhelms any other considerations that might get in the way. Environmentalism epitomises the widespread loss of moral reasoning. Its desire to possess an unchallengeable moral imperative – as though it were the unmitigated word of God – doesn’t reflect its actually possessing it, but the disorientation of its constituency. When you are lost, you do not look for detail, you look for the biggest thing to orientate you. So it is for Environmentalism. And what could be bigger than the end of the world?

Accordingly, Environmentalists have had to defend the idea that catastrophe is just around the corner. It is where their entire political capital is invested. Without it, they are disoriented; disaster avoidance is a poor substitute for goal-seeking. In lieu of a definitive scientific proposition linking anthropogenic CO2 to the imminent end of the world, the idea of a ‘consensus’ was forged out of necessity (not through scientific discovery), allegedly consisting of ‘the vast majority of the world’s top climate scientists’. These scientists agree, we are told, that ‘something must be done’, even if they don’t agree about why, or how they know. It turns out, in fact, that ‘certainty’ relates not to the scientific understanding of the influence of CO2 on natural processes, but the application of the precautionary principle.

This fragile and nebulous consensus is protected by a variety of myths about anybody who wishes and dares to challenge it: they have vested interests; they have prostituted themselves; they belong to an organised conspiracy; they stand lonely against a vast and entirely unanimous scientific body. One of the most prominent myths is that sceptics employ a ‘tactic’ to subvert the public’s trust in the consensus by challenging the integrity of the scientific theories it is assumed to consist of (even though these theories have not been identified, let alone confidence in them measured). Along these lines, Naomi Oreskes’ thesis gives it the title ‘the tobacco strategy’, which itself owes much to George Monbiot’s book, Heat, which in turn draws on the Exxonsecrets.org website run by Greenpeace. We have written about the ‘tobacco strategy‘ and its variants before. But it hasn’t gone away, and so, reading an article by custard-pie-thrower-turned-respectable-‘science’-writer, and shrill Gaia-botherer, Mark Lynas, we thought it deserved some further attention.

Like the tobacco lobbyists who spent years denying the links between smoking and cancer, global warming denialists don’t have to win the debate – they simply have to confuse the public indefinitely to successfully undermine any political action which might hit the interests of their backers in the fossil fuel industries

The tactic is, according to Lynas, Oreskes, and Monbiot, to generate doubt about the certainty of the science being presented by climate activists, in order to win public opinion.

It is interesting that all Lynas believes he has to win the debate is to claim that the sceptics don’t have to win the debate, and to somehow link ‘denial’ of one form to another, rather than actually have it. He excuses himself from the debate by saying that all that his would-be counterparts would have to do to win it would be to show that doubt exists. Environmentalists generally, and Lynas particularly, don’t like debate, and avoid it. He doesn’t think he needs to have one; ‘the science’ is settled. And from ‘the science’ flow all of the imperatives and moral absolutes, as if from the mouth of God. Instead of making the case, he insists that it is made. Done. Finished. Over. Settled. ‘In’. Won.

So, what of the link between the denial of the link between cancer and smoking on the one hand, and the denial of the end of the world on the other? What function is it serving, other than to divert attention from the substance of the case for mitigation, which has not in fact been made?

In the case of smoking, ‘denial’ had very little to do with convincing the public that it was safe. Instead, tobacco companies were forced to establish doubt about the link between smoking and cancer because they faced litigation. Whatever the wrongs of ‘denying’ the scientific evidence generally, in the face of litigation it is entirely reasonable to cast doubt on whatever case is being bought against you. That’s the whole point of the legal process; no matter how grievous the crime you are accused of is, and no matter what the strength of the moral case for damages is, you are entitled to a defence. No matter how culpable you are in actual fact, you are entitled to have your defence heard. Courts of law are established on this principle.

In the simple black and white moral universe, anti smoking activists and lawyers set to make many millions of dollars are the goodies, and those profiting from the sale of cancer-causing cigarettes are the baddies. But in the real world, things aren’t like that. Yes, smoking is ‘bad’, and the world would possibly be a better place if no one damaged themselves by smoking. But the anti-smokers ought to have considered the consequences of challenging the tobacco industry in the courts. Would it ever make the world a better place? How would it be effective? In the end, it opened the door to lawyers in search of a huge payoff. That is why and how the ‘denial’ industry – if it exists – began. If this ‘denial machine’ is a monster, the part of Frankenstein is played by those who sought to close down the tobacco industry – and free all those slaves to tobacco – in the courts.

Nonetheless, prominent environmental activists like Monbiot and Oreskes – who, given their academic positions, ought to know better – maintain the image of the evil tobacco lobby in order to ‘link’ its modus operandi to climate sceptics. It’s a cheap shot. And it makes very little sense, not least because, as has been discussed, such ‘denial’ constitutes a legitimate legal defence in the face of litigation bought about by the ‘goodies’, but also because there is no real substance between the two strategies that we wouldn’t find between any form of positive claim about the material universe, and any scepticism of that claim. That is to say that anyone challenging any form of assertion can only go about challenging that claim by casting doubt over it. Monbiot, according to his own website, held a position (fellow, or professorship) in the philosophy department at Bristol University. The mind boggles. Let’s hope that it was not logic which Mobiot ‘taught’. Lynas – not an academic – also objects to challenges to ‘consensus’ science from sceptics.

The arguments change all the time: this year it is “global warming has stopped”, while last year it was “hurricanes aren’t linked with warming”, and the year before “satellites don’t show any warming of the atmosphere”. As each argument is laboriously refuted by scientists, the deniers simply drop it and skip onto the next one.

In fact, there is some fairly compelling evidence that global warming has stopped since 1998, such as it has not actually got any warmer over the last decade. That’s not to say that anthropogenic global warming has ‘gone away’, of course. And there is some even more compelling evidence that neither hurricane frequency nor intensity have increased with global warming. While IPCC AR4 WGI states that there is a ‘slight’ increase in activity and intensity, they also admit that there is a great deal of ‘natural variability’ masking it. It is, of course, always ‘natural variability’ which is used to wave away evidence that is not consistent with the theory. Never mind that ‘natural variability’ indicates a substantial unknown which needs to be isolated before any guilt can be attributed to humans for changing the atmosphere. And never mind that, as Roger Pielke Jr has shown, normalising storm damage against inflation, population, and wealth yields no signal which would excite warmers. Regardless of whether or not hurricane frequency and intensity have increased, the effect of that increase has been more than mediated by our increasing wealth and population. But that doesn’t stop Lynas using the ‘fact’ (it may well not be one) of increasing intensity and frequency to argue in favour of reducing the very wealth that buffers us against environmental problems! Shooting himself in the foot to mediate the effects of shooting himself in the foot would be less stupid. At least that way, he might still have a leg to stand on.

No surprise, then, that Lynas – clearly no friend of logic – refuses to recognise the legitimacy of debate and challenges to the orthodoxy on which his argument is constructed. No prizes for guessing what he fears debate might reveal. Yet sceptics have helped the scientific process produce some notable shifts in the argument coming from the side Lynas believes to be beyond reproach. For example, Steve McIntyre’s continuing work looking at the way global temperatures are derived from proxies has prompted NASA GISS to adjust their methodology, and the temperature record was adjusted as a consequence. Also thanks to McIntyre, the IPCC no longer uses Mann’s famous ‘Hockey Stick’ graph which was the source of so much panic in 2001, when it appeared as a key graphic. This case should tell us about the value of scepticism to the scientific process. Of course, NASA GISS, like many others, constantly appraise their own work. But this process should be open and transparent, particularly as the research is used to inform policy-making decisions throughout the world, affecting the lives – and possibly even the deaths – of billions of people.

As it happens, it is very difficult for sceptics to challenge climate science, because those engaged in creating models of past and future climate do not cooperate with challenges to their methodology, and refuse to release their working. Like Lynas, they too seem to feel that the moral high-ground belongs to them. Climatologist and Professor at the UK’s UEA, Phil Jones – who worked with Mann on the infamous ‘hockey stick’ – for example, told climate-realist, Warwick Hughes, who had asked for details about his methodology,

We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.

Why indeed? So much for ‘the science’ then. The ‘settled science’. The science which is ‘in’. The science which ‘won’ the ‘debate’. The science to which the ‘vast majority’ of ‘the world’s top scientists’ all subscribe, yet which they have not seen, they cannot see, and can only have access to if they will not subject it to scrutiny.

And there’s the rub. Oreskes, Monbiot, and Lynas – none of them climate scientists, incidentally – make shrill noises about ‘manufacturing doubt’. But in maintaining that the ‘tobacco strategy’ acts against the public interest, they must reject the idea that debate is in keeping with the spirit of the scientific method. Ditto, debate – the fundamental essence of democracy – must also be against the public interest. Who’d have thought that transparent scientific processes and debate are against the public interest? So much for the Enlightenment, too; the age of reason must be over. We must take it on faith that Lynas, Monbiot, Oreskes, and Jones are acting not their own interests but in ours. We have no way of testing that. And they have no way of proving it. We cannot engage in the discussion, we must just accept it. Yet they want the entire world to reorganise its political, social, and economic structures; for the entire world to live different lifestyles; and for our ambitions to be diminished, lest they cause us to behave ‘unsustainably’. That’s easy for them to say. No wonder that all this stuff about doubt and uncertainty becomes so important. Smoke and mirrors.

As we have said, the ‘manufacture of doubt’, or ‘the tobacco strategy’ has been presented by various environmental activists as the work of nefarious conspiracy. The story tells that interests within the oil industry have simply re-run the same script to achieve the same effect on public opinion, for the same ends: continued profit. The oil companies, the tobacco companies, and the hired scientific opinion are the ‘baddies’, and the climate change activists, IPCC scientists, and the class-action lawyers are the good guys. That’s all you need to know.

But think a little deeper, and a different picture emerges. If the tobacco strategy has its roots in a defence against litigation, it follows that the ‘standard of proof’ set by Oreskes, Lynas and Monbiot to legitimise political action to mitigate climate change is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Our exasperated Environmentalist friends, who asked us what ‘proof’ would change our mind, set the bar (pardon the pun) and invite the legal defence. All that needs to be provided to challenge unreasonable certainty is reasonable doubt. It is entirely legitimate, therefore, for sceptics to cast doubt over the scientific case, because the narrative with which Lynas, Oreskes, and Monbiot chose to advance their cause is a courtroom drama. But not only did they invite the legal defence, they also honed the tactics that are now being turned against them by the opposition – they are now on the receiving end of the very precautionary principle that has served them so well for so long.

However, what is being sought by this court is not ‘truth’, but guilt. In spite of green claims to possess scientific truth, the emphasis of this process is not establishing material fact, but the elevation of Environmentalism by diminishing the moral character of its detractors. Environmentalists have failed to make the political argument for Environmentalism using science. Instead of achieving momentum for their political ambitions through mass politics (ie, winning the debate, and getting people to join up), the rhetoric instead takes the form of a kangaroo courtroom drama. The guilt is already established: we, the audience, have already seen the ‘crime’: the ‘denial’ of the link between smoking and cancer. Now, we watch the morality play unfold, just as it did during the tobacco wars.

If a parallel is to be drawn between then and now, it’s that in both cases the ‘denialists’ were created by the ‘good guys’. Neither the case against smoking nor the case for immediate mitigative action on climate change is justified by the science alone. There are the pesky matters of personal sovereignty and responsibility, political legitimacy, democratic process, and other costs/benefits to consider. Being right and being righteous are different things. Which is why Environmentalists have had to resort to consensuses, to legal action, to judgements by unelected bodies, and to denying the very legitimacy of opposition, in order to advance its arguments.