Monthly Archives: November 2008
The British National Party (BNP) causes much anxiety to today’s mainstream politicians. Almost entirely unable to take the immigration debate head on, Britain’s parties have, for the last few years been wholly mealy-mouthed about their policies. The juggling act between not wanting to be seen to be ‘letting everybody in’ on the one hand, but on the other, not wanting to be seen as illiberal, means that life is made pretty nasty for many people hoping to make a better life here (for whatever reason), while the concerns which express themselves as support for the BNP have gone unaddressed in the hope that they will just wither away.
The BNP isn’t the kind of party we have an iota of sympathy with. But neither do we buy into the idea that its recent apparent increase in popularity is quite as meaningful as it has been portrayed. Its members have been banned from speaking on University campuses, and loud, pointless protests follow wherever they get the chance to speak. The ‘no platform for fascists’ policy of Student Unions and liberal left activists has the unfortunate consequence of closing down free speech and debate. Hmm. Rather like… erm… fascism in the 1930s? (Funny how today’s ‘liberal’ values… aren’t.)
Recently, the party’s membership list was leaked and published on the internet. This has caused problems for people on the list who work in the public sector, such as policemen, who are not allowed to be members of the BNP. More illiberal liberal ‘democratic’ values in operation.
As a Times article last week revealed, several prominent ex-members of the Green Party were on the list.
The party conceded this morning that Keith Bessant, a two-time parliamentary candidate, and Rev John Stanton, a former local party chairman, had defected to the far-right nationalist organisation.
This ought to be surprising, because the Greens have been positioning themselves as the super-liberal’s party of choice. Caroline Lucas, for example, wrote recently that, following the growing disinterest in the main parties,
… the Greens have continued to make progress, but so have the BNP. Our politics of hope are being pitted against their politics of hate and ignorance … the onus is on the Greens to grow faster and ensure positive politics and the opportunity for real change leaves the BNP where they should remain – out in the political cold. To do that, we will need to beat them in every region where they pose a threat, including London, where the BNP won an Assembly seat this year, and the North West region, where Nick Griffin has installed himself as the BNP’s lead candidate.
Greens are supposed to be some kind of opposition to the BNP. But as Rob Johnston at Bad Ecology points out, the distinction between the two parties isn’t as clear as it seems.
Greens agree with the BNP about migration and the green belt. They promise to: minimise the environmental degradation caused by migration; not allow increased net migration; and end the pressure on the Green Belt by reducing population and stopping growth-oriented development.  Reduction in non-white tourism and immigration would be an inevitable consequence of government restrictions on air travel. Few refugees from Iraq, Darfur, Zimbabwe manage to get all the way to Britain without a large carbon footprint, neither can tourists from beyond Europe.
We’ve noted before that Green is the colour assumed by parties of all colours that are unable to make a robust argument for their political ideas, Left or Right, Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, Anarchist, or Marxist. It is a curious thing that contemporary Nazis can be found making environmental arguments to support their case in the same way as mainstream politicians. For instance, if you were to type www[dot]nazi[dot]org into your browser, you would find yourself at the website of the Libertarian National Socialist Green Party, whose swastika emblem appears in a white circle, on green, not, as was once the case, red. The website declares that
Green is a fraction of the National Socialist view on land. “Blood and Soil” is our doctrine of homeland, or origin to each person, and thus which ground is sacred to them and they upkeep for generations. Each ethnic group should have a homeland, because in a consensus group one can declare poisoning the earth to be a great offense.
The deep ecology movement restated what the NSDAP believed: that in order for humans to exist without destroying their environment, it had to be placed on equal footing with humans, recognizing in addition that its space requirements were greater as while humans are one species, nature is uncountable interlocked species, creating a codependent, eternal whole.
As the Times article continues,
Mr Bessant, who ran for MP as a Green Party candidate in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, in 2001 and 2005, claims to have left the BNP soon after joining.
A spokesman for the Green Party claimed today that Mr Bessant was in the BNP not because he was a racist but because he felt they had better environmental policies. “He formed the opinion that the BNP climate change policy was more radical than ours,” he said.
The claim that Bessant “didn’t hold any racist or bigoted views” is interesting. If you hold that the BNP is wrong because it is racist, then to join it, in spite of its racism is at least as bad as joining it for its racist policies. He might not be a racist, but he nonetheless joined a party that the G-P spokesman believes to be racist, indicating that he didn’t see racism as a reason not to join. The point being that humans, in this view, take second place to the interests of ‘the environment’.
The party also confirmed that a church minister, the Rev John Stanton, from Rochford, Essex, whose name also appeared on the membership list, was once a local Green Party chairman.
Rev Stanton, 76, said he joined the BNP because of immigration concerns. “I am not a racist,” he said. “It’s Islam I don’t like, not Muslims. If a Muslim family moved next door, I would treat them like any other family.”
Mr Stanton, who heads the Rock Dene Christian Fellowship, a house church, at his home with a congregation of 22, also spent four years as a Liberal Democrat councillor in Rochford in the 1990s and five years as a Conservative in the 1970s.
The father-of-four also spent some time as a UKIP member before joining the BNP in 2007.
“I’m dismayed that the list got into the public domain, but these things happen when people get disgruntled,” he said.
The Reverend’s movement from the conservatives, to the Liberals, to the Greens, to the BNP indicates some reluctance to commit himself to a party.
Or is it more the case that green – being the colour of reinvention – is the colour chosen by parties who fail to make arguments for change without the drama provided to them by the idea of environmental catastrophe? The Reverend failed to find a home, perhaps, because the parties he experimented with failed to identify themselves politically. The Green Party, which began life as PEOPLE, formed by disgruntled conservatives in the 1970s, has attracted a rag-bag of misfits in search of a cause, many, if not most of them from the wreckage of the UK radical Left. Disoriented Reds and Blues alike have found refuge in the certainty offered by the prospect of the imminent collapse of the ecosphere.
The way to challenge environmentalism is not to trace its origins back to Nazi Germany (though it is interesting to do so in its own right and it’s also a fun way of annoying Greens). Neither is it productive to cast environmentalism as the re-emergence of the Left. Contemporary environmentalism exists on a new axis. The values they espouse belong neither to the Left, nor Right, but Down.
Now that we can locate Green politics as separate to the Left-Right axis, some self-reflection is called for. Why is it that the parties representing these positions have been unable to sustain their positions? Left or Right, environmental sceptics ought to start taking responsibility for the influence that environmentalism has achieved, and to create political ideas that place humans at the centre of political discussions. Perhaps this new direction should be called ‘Up’.
A CNN article at the end of last week said that
A team of international scientists led by Dr James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, say that carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are already in the danger zone.
The ‘danger zone’? Is that ‘science’? Either way, the opinions of these alarmist scientists is hardly news…
Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere currently stand at 385 parts per million (ppm) and are rising at a rate of two ppm per year. This is enough, say the scientists, to encourage dangerous changes to the Earth’s climate. As a result we risk expanding desertification, food shortages, increased storm intensities, loss of coral reefs and the disappearance of mountain glaciers that supply water to hundreds of millions of people.
Hansen has established his public profile by making incautious statements exaggerating the extent of global warming and its effects. Consequently, he is celebrated by the environmental movement. Yet, as we reported in the past, the curious positioning as a hero puts as much distance between him and the ‘scientific consensus’ represented by the IPCC Assessment Reports as there exists between the IPCC and any climate change ‘denier’. For example, where Hansen has warned of sea-level rises measured in feet, the IPCC’s most recent report talks of just inches.
Hansen-worshipers answer that the IPCC is naturally conservative about its estimations. But on that basis, we might as well dispense with the IPCC – whose reports have successively down-graded their estimates of sea-level rise over the years – and indeed, science itself. The environmentalists switch their investment from the ‘scientific consensus’ to the maverick as it suits them. Not as much a credit crunch as a credibility crunch. A speculative bubble is forming around Hansen.
Here at Climate Resistance, we have long argued that whatever the scientific realities of climate change, it does not justify the special politics that are demanded by environmentalists. This is partly because, however much warming the natural world is subject to, human society is far more dynamic, adaptable, and able to alter itself than the natural world. The human world is not an extension of the natural world. It is not weathered and changed by the elements.
Although at any instant, human society is dependent on natural process to function, the instance of those dependencies are not what human society is predicated on. Human society has experienced all manner of climate problems, localised shortages of resources, and over-abundances of weather. But where it rains a lot, we build drainage systems. Where it doesn’t, we build dams and reservoirs, and divert rivers. We fertilise soil, irrigate dry fields, and build sea defences. Of course, there are the occasional failures of the systems we build, but where there has been the most development, people are far better protected than their predecessors.
So why are scientists so worried about desertification, food shortages, increased storm intensities, and the disappearance of mountain glaciers’?
Until this year, a bigger problem for the developed world than food shortage and desertification was an over-abundance of food production. Over the last few decades, many international organisations and governments have aimed to reduce agricultural production while environmentalists, claiming that that ‘climate change is happening now’ worried about decreasing fertility. This year saw record prices in food and fuel, but not because of peak oil, as was claimed, and not because of climate change. The reason for these price spikes is all too human. As we pointed out recently, in spite of Oxfam’s claim that the poor in Bangladesh are being ‘driven further into poverty because of climate change’, agricultural production and yield had increased, as had GDP. If poverty in Bangladesh is increasing, clearly it has little to do with a changing climate. Similarly, there is little evidence that storm intensity and frequency are increasing.
Hansen thinks these sorts of changes would take several centuries, but he said we would have to deal with a “holy mess…as ice sheet disintegration unfolded out of our control”. As far as current global observations are concerned, Hansen cites both the decline of Arctic sea ice and the worldwide retreat of mountain glaciers as causes for major concern. “Once they are gone,” he said, “the fresh water supplies for hundreds of people dependent on rivers originating in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky mountains will be severely reduced in summer and fall.”
While ice extent may indeed be ‘out of our control’, (as if it was ever in our control) the issue for humans is not controlling the weather, but controlling our vulnerability to it. We do that, not by aiming to control the weather one way or the other, but, as described above: adapting to become resilient to the weather, and to controlling the local environment.
Hansen’s alarmism loses sight of our ability to adapt. Perhaps glaciers will melt. But for the ‘hundreds of people dependent on rivers originating in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky mountains’, all is not lost. If glaciers melt, it says little in the general sense about the net input to those glaciers. It will still rain and snow in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky mountains. The water will still flow downhill, as it always has. This creates a new opportunity for dam-building, putting the elements more concretely under our control.
And there is the rub. Environmentalists don’t actually want things to be under our control. The objective of environmentalism – some kind of synchronicity with the natural world – is not based on necessary principles emerging from climate science, but on an ethic, a higher purpose of which we are mere subjects.
Dr Hansen says it’s impossible to say when we will reach the point of no return. “It’s like the economy, it’s a non-linear problem,” he said. “You knew, given the continued input of big deficit spending that things would go to pot, but nobody could predict the time of collapse with any confidence. We had better start reducing emissions soon and get back below 350 ppm within several decades — otherwise I doubt that the ice sheets can stand such a long strong pressure.”
Similarly, being able to make statements about what the future consists deprives the environmental movement of its capital: fear. For if we were able to make definitive statements about what the future might bring, we could develop accordingly, again, extending our ability to control adverse effects.
Hansen’s fear and uncertainty about the future will drive society into a catastrophe of its own making, not one inflicted by an angry Gaia. As we have said before, environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more we believe that society is determined not by ourselves, but by climatic effects, the more we will organise ourselves around the idea, limiting our ability to respond to climate – changing or not.
Science is often at its most newsworthy when it proves the blatantly obvious: getting drunk makes you more likely to fall over; sunbathing is a risk factor for sunburn, etc. But science that ‘proves’ something that journalists, commentators and policy bods like to think was blatantly obvious can also command more than its fair of column inches. Last year, for example, we reported on how a paper published by the Royal Society had proved once and for all that The Great Global Warming Swindle really did get it wrong about the influence of the sun on global warming, just like the Royal Society had said it had. More recently, there was the news that human activities had been attributed directly to the rise in temperatures at the Earth’s poles:
there was not sufficient evidence to say this for sure about the Arctic and Antarctic.
Now that gap in research has been plugged, according to scientists who carried out a detailed analysis of temperature variations at both poles.
Their study indicates that humans have indeed contributed to warming in both regions.
Which presumably came as a surprise to Naomi Oreskes, Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego, according to whom the matter had been settled decades ago. In fact, the ‘fact’ that polar temperatures have been increasing faster than in the rest of the world was the prime ‘fact’ presented by Oreskes in her influential lecture, The American Denial of Global Warming, to justify her thesis that the whole issue of global warming and what we should do about it was done and dusted in the 1970s.
The latest example is to be found in the Independent, where Steve Connor reports on how his own personal prejudices about the restorative effects of green space are now supported by ‘the science’:
Proof at last: living near parks and woodland boosts health, regardless of social class.
Another whose assumptions are now vindicated scientifically is David Tibbatts from the charity GreenSpace:
“The study confirms what we have been saying for many years – parks are important for health and everyone should have access to high quality, beautiful and vibrant green spaces.”
The ‘proof’ is provided by a study published in last week’s issue of the Lancet (free registration required). It presents evidence that the health gap between rich and poor is narrower in areas where there is easy access to green space. Having made a good stab at controlling for the effects of socio-economic class – no easy task – the authors of the paper find that socio-economic health inequalities are nearly halved in those areas where greenery is most easily accessible compared to where it’s most sparse.
Of course, whatever the Independent might tell us, a single study rarely ‘proves’ anything, especially in such a noisy, contingent science as epidemiology. As co-author of the study Richard Mitchell of the University of Glasgow told us on the telephone:
It’s the first time anybody has done this, and inevitably it raises more questions than it answers.
Like how big the effect is compared to socio-economic class itself, for example? The answer to that one is far from clear. It’s certainly smaller, as Mitchell confirmed, but it’s hard to tell how much smaller. That’s because Mitchell and his collaborator Frank Popham (University of St Andrews) have used a narrow measure of health – mortality rate before retirement age – that does not compare directly with data on life-expectancy, which is the usual measure of health inequalities. Comparing like with like would require a separate study using different datasets. Life expectancy is approaching a decade shorter for those in the lowest social class compared to to the highest in the UK. Mitchell and Popham estimate that close proximity to green space means that an additional 1328 people live beyond retirement age per year. But it takes some imagination to expect that the latter makes much impact on the former.
And does it really follow that town planners just need to make more space for trees? Which is the take-home message of Connor’s piece:
Dr Mitchell, who is based at the university’s department of public health and health policy, said: “We would encourage the Government to consider carefully what their policy on green spaces is and to bear this research in mind when planning urban areas for the future.”
In these deterministic times – when we see ourselves as slaves to economies, climates and our evolutionary psychologies – these are questions that nobody feels the need to actually ask. Complex political questions are just too easy to ignore when simple mechanistic answers are handed out on plates.
It’s also striking that, although the paper concerned was published as part of a special issue on social inequalities in health, none of the other papers have received nearly as much attention. This paper is media-friendly precisely because it confirms the prejudices of a media machine that consistently fails to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of environmentalism.
Neither do the press reports mention any of the caveats that Mitchell and Popham raise in their paper:
We undertook a highly powered population study with a simple approach, using robust health outcomes from reliable data sources. The study was hypothesis driven, and that hypothesis was based on findings from a large amount of research. However, the study did have several weaknesses. First, the measure of exposure to green environments was restricted. Although we knew the proportion of green space in the area of residence of people who had died, we had to assume that individuals living in areas with equal proportions of green space actually had equal access to that green space. Had appropriate data been available, we could have used a measure of distance to defined green spaces as a proxy for access, although we would still have had no data for whether populations living closer to a specified green space did actually access it to a greater extent. Furthermore, quality of green space could be a substantial determinant of use and activity within it, and we had no data for quality. No national dataset describing the quality of green space to which the population has access in England is available.
Second, our data were cross-sectional. We had no means of knowing the extent to which individuals had access to green environments throughout their life. Migration before death (eg, to access residential care) could have placed some people into a distinctly different environment from that in which their disease was acquired or developed. If such migration varied by income group, our results could be affected. Since we have no data for migration patterns, we were unable to quantify the effect of this factor.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the measure of green space might be associated with other risk factors that we have not controlled for in our models. One of the difficulties of exploring the effect of physical environments on health is that access to good physical environments is strongly associated with the socioeconomic position of individuals. Residual confounding is therefore a threat to studies of this type.
Mitchell and Popham suggest that a combination of increased opportunities and motivation for physical activity plus a reduction in stress-related health problems might account for their results. This is supported, they say, by the observation that inequalities in early death due to any cause and due to circulatory diseases were reduced by close proximity to greenery while class differences in deaths due to lung cancer and suicide were not. The kind of stress that leads to circulatory disease is, according to Mitchell ‘a different sort of stress’ to that which makes smoking attractive or leads to self-harm. That maybe. But that’s certainly a claim that requires scrutiny from the scientific community.
When we spoke to him, Mitchell made it clear that planting trees is no substitute for wealth redistribution:
No government in the UK is ever going to get elected on the kind of really radical redistribution you would need to close the gap that way. The extent to which the gap shrinks in the greenest areas is more than has been achieved by current policy in the UK for quite a long time though, so this is a sizable effect. It’s really important not to overlook the redistribution of wealth. But, while we’re waiting for the revolution, it’s good news that environment can exert what seems to be a substantial influence.
We share his frustration, if not his defeatism. Wealth inequalities might have increased under the New Labour government, but that’s surely something to revile rather than run with. Mitchell makes a similar point in the press release issued by the University of Glasgow:
“Obviously, resources must still be ploughed into trying to narrow the inequality gap between rich and poor, and with that will come advances in the population’s general health.”
But Mitchell himself isn’t always so circumspect. In an article he wrote for the Sunday Herald about this research, socio-economics doesn’t get a mention. But he does sign off with a call to action:
So, the next time there is a planning permission argument in which a local green space is at risk, bear in mind that the green space is worth protecting because it is making a contribution to your health, and those of the people around you.
It reminds us of our conversation back in July with marine biologist Jason Hall-Spencer, who told us:
When you’re interviewed, you can give your own personal point of view, but when you publish a paper that goes up for rigorous peer review, then it’s got to have the caveats and everything else.
Well, yes, you can. But it doesn’t follow that you should.
In support of his case that policymakers should heed the message of his study, Mitchell also told us that:
the other thing is, so far as we know so far, green spaces don’t do any harm.
Which could read like a mission statement for environmentalism. As we tend to argue quite frequently on this site, environmental policies introduced in the absence of any better ideas can and do do harm. Green spaces and policies compete by definition for space and resources with amenities and policies that might address class inequalities per se. And when basic services such as refuse collection and sanitation are being reinvented under the banner of environmentalism, tree planting is a convenient and attractive option for cash-strapped town planners.
We feel a bit mean picking on Mitchell. The bulk of the blame certainly does not fall on his shoulders. We don’t doubt that he’s doing good science, or that his intentions are noble. But he has a career to look after like the rest of us. And as a scientist, looking after one’s career means constantly justifying one’s research in policy terms. Then there is the tyranny of the news peg – the reporting of newsworthy single studies in the absence of context or caution – to consider. And the tyranny of ‘relevant’ science. And of ‘evidence’-based policymaking. And of ‘science communication’ policies that require scientists to seek to popularise their work as part of the job description. Combined, the result is that any tin-pot political philosophy can be ‘proven’ scientifically, which does an injustice to both politics and science.
A new model of the Earth’s climate suggests that human-made carbon dioxide emissions may prevent the onset of the next ice age.
Based on geological history, the Earth would be expected to enter a new ice age in 10,000 to 100,000 years.
Researchers say even small changes in carbon dioxide levels right now could prevent this from happening.
So should we reduce emissions for the sake of our children’s children, or do we keep pumping out the GHGs for the sake of future civilizations or even some humanoid species that hasn’t yet had the chance to evolve?
The professor behind the study is keen to stress that the research doesn’t mean that global warming is suddenly a really good idea:
Professor Crowley warns against seeing increases in carbon dioxide levels as a good thing
And he’s right of course. Because no climate projections can tell us how much CO2 we should or shouldn’t be emitting. But it’s funny that scientists only seem to express such caution when there’s the sniff of a possibility that the research might disincline the masses to tread lightly on the Earth.
Anyway, judging by the lively discussion of the our-models-are-better-than-your-models variety the paper has generated, it seems it’s touched a few nerves. Carl Wunsch is among those not mincing their words:
Surely this isn’t science in any conventional sense. Taking a toy model and using it to make a “prediction” about something nearly a million years in the future, is a form of science fiction—maybe interesting in the same way a novel is, but it isn’t science.
It’s Oxfam. Again. Some people have been a little confused about our ‘attacks’ on Oxfam. Why would we want to criticise nice people who are trying to do good?
We are interested in the ideas which Oxfam use to understand and explain the problems they hope to answer. Intending to good is one thing. The ideas being to put into practice are another. Here is an example of bad ideas in action,
Oxfam America is proud to participate in an exciting project bringing together artists and activists from around the world, each doing their part to illustrate how climate change is affecting poor communities right now.
Oxfam America’s Climate Change on Canvas project commissioned the following picture by ‘painting activist’, Ashley Cecil.
Announcing the completion of the commission, the groups website informs that,
“I realized that farming is hard these days because of changing temperatures, but it’s often the sole survival for people in rural areas,” says Cecil. “It’s hard to feed a family when you can’t farm.” This struggle inspired one of the painting’s most striking elements: the long trail of dust that streams from one woman’s empty bowl. “I wanted to show that the women are not harvesting crops the way they had hoped,” Cecil explains. “They’re holding a bowl of dust, because this is what they’re left with—burnt, dry dust, dry branches… In other words, what we’d expect to see is not there.”
It is a shame that oil paintings do not carry a bibliography of the research they cite. As we pointed out previously, Oxfam’s claim that climate change is driving the poor in Bangladesh ‘further into poverty’ is not born out by the statistics which show steady increases in agricultural production, yields per hectare, GDP per capita, in spite of climate change.
She believes that Americans need to do more to tackle the crisis, even if it’s just by making small changes to their lifestyle. “The first piece is education,” she says. “Whether it’s though statistics, words, or images—whatever turns on that light bulb for someone, and makes them act.”
It’s hard to understand how a painting explains how a ‘small change in lifestyle’ will positively influence the lives of the world’s rural poor. It won’t hydrate the contents of the women’s bowls. It won’t irrigate their fields.
Oxfam America is just one of many Oxfam International affiliates who will be creating canvases for this project. Similar works of art will travel from all over the world—created by professional artists, unknown artists and members of developing communities—to be exhibited at the UN conference, representing a unified global movement around climate change and poverty. This piece will go to Poland and come back to the US where Oxfam plans to use art as a mobilization tool around climate change in 2009.
‘Art as a mobilization tool’? Just as both Oxfam and Cecil fail to explain how small adjustments to lifestyles are equivalent to a gift of fertility to the soils tended by the poor, they fail to explain how an image can create a positive engagement with a political idea. Can images do that? How?
Images such as Cecil’s don’t’ ask us to understand the complex economic, social and political interactions throughout the world, and how and why the poor are excluded from them. They only ask us to respond to the image emotionally. We are supposed to feel the women’s pain. But in asking ‘how can we make it better?’, we are only really asking how we can make ourselves feel better, so that we can feel and be less guilty. That’s the limitation of ‘art’ depicting poverty as a tool of ‘mobilization’ (manipulation), because that is the limitation of emotional engagement with images.
Cecil and Oxfam are keen to tell you how to make yourself feel better, nonetheless. It’s those ‘small changes to lifestyle’ (though many are urging ‘drastic action’) that are your salvation. Plus, no doubt, a small contribution payable monthly by standing order.
Back to the criticism of our criticism of Oxfam…
It is our belief that Oxfam’s increasingly shallow campaigns reflect the organisation’s difficulty in understanding development and poverty, and the relationship between them. In other words, it seems to have lost its purpose. This is a reflection of a wider political phenomenon, of which the predominance of environmentalism is a symptom. We seem to have forgotten why we wanted development in the first place. It is as if the lifestyles depicted in Cecil’s painting were to be aspired to, were there just a little more rain. Development is a bad thing. It stops rain.
If we were to add a city skyline into the background of Cecil’s painting it might ask a very different question of its audience. Why are people living like that, with such abundance in such proximity? Of course, in reality, many miles separate the two women from any such city, but the question still stands; there is abundance in the world, and there is the potential for plenty more. Yet Oxfam have absorbed the idea from the environmental movement that there isn’t abundance. This changes the relationship between development and poverty from one in which development creates abundance into one in which development creates poverty; it deprives people of subsistence. But really, the city (not) behind the two women could organise the infrastructure necessary to irrigate the parched landscape, the delivery of fertiliser, and a tractor. The field could be in full bloom, in spite of the weather. The two women could be wealthy.
Oh no, says Oxfam. That’s not sustainable.
Why should ‘sustainability’ be Oxfam’s concern? If, as we discussed in the last post, pits full of human excrement are an immediate end to the problems of poverty, why not have an ‘unsustainable’ solution to the immediate problem of poverty? And so on to the next ‘unsustainable’ form of development. And the next. And the next. And the next. Few of us still burn wood in our houses for heat. Yet we didn’t run out of wood. Unsustainable developments on top of unsustainable developments has made the world more sustainable. The process is sustainable, even if the mode at any given instant isn’t.
Oxfam seem to be making a role for themselves where they are able to dictate a mode of existence which is ‘sustainable’. This is a departure from the arrangement in which they were a means to an ends – solving poverty. Now, it seems, the means is the ends. Oxfam’s very purpose seems to be to purpetuate itself – it’s focus on development sacrificied for its own sustainability, the poverty it is responding to increasingly its own intellectual vacuity.A behemoth, searching the dark for its own purpose.
The myth of sustainability is that it is sustainable. The truth is that drought and famine have afflicted the rural poor throughout history – before climate change was ever used to explain the existence of poverty. Limiting development to what ‘nature’ provides therefore makes people vulnerable to her whims. Drought is ‘natural’. Famine is ‘natural’. Disease is ‘natural’. They are all mechanisms which, in the ecologist’s lexicon are nature’s own way of ensuring ‘sustainability’. They are checks and balances on the dominance of one species. To absorb what Hitler called ‘the iron logic of nature’ is to submit to injustice, if famine, drought and disease characterise it. We can end poverty, but not by restricting development. Yet that seems to be Oxfam’s intention. That is why we criticise it.
Oxfam, with the Climate Justice Program and Advocates for International Development are running a competition.
We are calling on lawyers, academics and law students worldwide to put forward the strongest legal case possible to demonstrate that rich countries’ greenhouse-gas emissions are violating the human rights of people in developing countries
The group want entrants to base their imaginary case on the fictional victims of climate injustice in the made up country ‘Algoria’. (Al-Gore-ia. Geddit?)
The complaint (etc.) should:
1. identify the plaintiffs, which may be the State of Algoria, and/or any of its citizen(s) or other groups, whom you consider could have a valid cause of action under international law;
2. identify the defendant State(s), which should be an actual State or actual States;
3. specify the remedy or remedies sought; and
4. set out the arguments for any of these obligations that you consider are enforceable before that forum.
The intention of the competition is ‘to emphasize the international obligations of states, stimulate innovation and progress in international law addressing climate change, and to bring public attention to the urgency of the matter’. But once again, it is more Oxfam’s intellectual poverty than a meaningful understanding of poverty, inequality and injustice that is revealed by its campaigning. Take, for example, the words of Oxfam’s Kate Raworth,
When vulnerable communities have tried to use human rights law for climate justice, it has thrown up major weaknesses. It’s extremely difficult for people in poor countries to identify who to sue, how to prove the injury done, or even where to bring their case.
The first thing that Kate needs to understand is that there is no such thing as ‘climate justice’. It is meaningless. Justice for the climate? Justice from the climate? Justice to the climate? Justice of the climate? Justice with the climate? It makes no sense. Justice does not exist between objects in the world, nor between objects and people. Justice (or injustice) exists between, and only between people. We can conceive of civil or social justice and criminal justice because, as concepts, they assume that people bear responsibilities to others.
Oxfam wish to construct the idea of ‘climate justice’ in order to establish the idea that acts are transmitted through the environment and inflicted on others. But this is nonsense. None of us can aim our actions at another through the environment in the way we can aim a gun at another, or to rob them, as is understood through the concept of criminal justice. Neither can we select groups, and oppress them, exploit them, or deprive them of what they need through the environment, as can be understood through the concept of social justice. In both these conceptions of justice, the way one party acts on another is direct. We can explain how an act of aggression is inflicted upon people. We cannot do the same thing with the climate. It is impossible to substantiate the claim that any climate event or change is the consequence of anthropogenic climate change. Even if it could be demonstrated that climate change had caused a particular problem, the ‘crime’ that the ‘victim’ is the subject of is not defined by the action of the perpetrator, but by the status of the ‘victim’. If I were to somehow make it rain more on your house it would annoy you. But the drains would carry the water away. If I were to make it rain less on your house, you’d probably thank me. That same ‘act of aggression’, inflicted on someone who, we must assume, has enjoyed a ‘stable climate’ (even though no such thing exists anywhere), but who existed in a society which could not extend such benefits to him, might cause him harm.
Oxfam asks its imaginary legal team to consider that,
Last week, you read an article in the Algoria Times reporting the Algorian Environment Minister as saying that, “We’re going to suffer massively from climate change. It’s already happening and undermining the human rights of our people. I blame the developed world. They’ve got to stop dragging their feet, reduce their emissions and pay up for their past profligacy. If they can’t come up with a fair negotiated deal at the UN by the end of 2009, we should take them to court instead to make them do it.”
The second thing Raworth needs to understand is that the climate does not give people rights. Accordingly, the climate cannot take their rights away. Just as ‘justice’ describes acts between moral actors, rights are given by people to themselves. The ‘right’ to a stable climate is a nonsense because it is not something which can be given by anyone to another any more than the weather can be controlled. Someone entitled to a ‘stable climate’ has as much a complaint about a natural shift in climate as he does about a hypothetical anthropogenic one. In both cases his complaint is identical – his rights have been trampled upon. But who is he going to take his complaint about an ‘act of god’ to? How would the court trying Oxfam’s fictional case under ‘international law’ (whatever they think that is) determine and make a distinction between ‘natural’ and anthropogenic shifts in climate, resulting in the injured party’s loss of a ‘right’ to a stable climate?
Oxfam’s morality play is set in
Algoria (an imaginary country) is a small, mid-latitude, developing country. With high mountain regions in the north, the majority of its population live in the mangrove-fringed fertile coastal plain to the south, mostly making their basic living from small-scale agriculture and fishing, benefiting from the glacier-fed rivers. Some progress has been made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, with notable reductions in cases of measles and maternal mortality. Significant expenditure is planned, with the help of international development assistance, to provide clean water and basic sanitation facilities for the 60% of the population with no access to them. But about 40% of the population still live on less than one US dollar a day, and over 25% of children under five are underweight.
Their conception of development is somewhat skewed. It asks for rights and ‘justice’ for people who make a ‘basic living’ from ‘small scale’ agriculture. The problem is that where justice is in greater supply, people no longer live such lifestyles. People who expect, and demand, and fight for justice and rights do not expect, demand or fight for ‘basic lives’ and for ‘small scale agriculture’. This is because there is nothing about ‘basic lives’ and ‘small scale agriculture’ which creates justice and rights. On the contrary, basic lives are an injustice; people deserve more. What is more, people whose lives are consumed by small scale agriculture necessarily lack the material means to organise themselves to demand and to create justice and rights. Oxfam’s ambitions to provide things such as ‘basic sanitation’, for example, miss the point. It is as if they believe it can be possible for there to be poverty and ‘justice’. To anyone with any sense of justice, this is a contradiction.
Progress, in Oxfam’s story, for example, is understood as ‘reductions in cases of measles and maternal mortality’ and ‘basic sanitation facilities’. This is not progress. Progress is the eradication of measles and maternal mortality (or as good as), and the provision of advanced – not basic – sanitation. ‘Basic sanitation’ is a pit in the ground full of shit. That is not progress. Progress is civil infrastructure. Why isn’t Oxfam arguing for sewers and piped water, and for roads, and factories, and businesses, and power stations?
It is curious that while Oxfam celebrates ‘basic lives’, it aims to ‘stimulate innovation and progress in international law addressing climate change’. That kind of ‘innovation’ and ‘progress’ are neither.
In this strange world of Algoria, development is impossible (it causes climate change) and progress is a zero-sum game (our ‘profligacy’ is their poverty). It is in this fantasy world that Oxfam’s conception of ‘environmental justice’ is invented.
Oxfam celebrate basic lives, and basic sanitation. Meanwhile, it turns anyone with more than basic sanitation who lives more than a basic life into the culprits of a ‘climate crime’. The result is that it tells people in the developing world, and the industrialised world how they ought to live, and what they ought to expect. Oxfam has ceased to be a development charity, and has become an undevelopment charity.
Cleverer children are more likely to vote for the Green Party or the Liberal Democrats in a general election than other parties when they become adults, research suggests. The study, by the University of Edinburgh and the UK Medical Research Council and published in the journal Intelligence, indicates that childhood IQ is as important as social class in determining political allegiance. The IQs of more than 6,000 subjects were recorded at the age of 10, before any secondary schooling. Twenty-four years later they were asked about their voting habits.
This contradicts our experience of Greens. But this is science. So let’s not put our experience above the scientific method.
The Times article is a bit misleading. The abstract of the journal article ( http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2008.09.00 ) says
People with higher childhood intelligence were more likely to vote in the 2001 election (38% increased prevalence per SD increase in intelligence), and were more likely to vote for the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats (49% and 47% increased prevalence per SD increase in intelligence, respectively). The intelligence-Green party voting association was largely accounted for by occupational social class, the intelligence-Liberal Democrat voting association was not.
So, in fact, the more posh you are, the more likely you are to have voted Green..
When the associations between intelligence test scores and party voting were additionally adjusted for occupational social class, the association with voting for the Green Party was attenuated by 45% (odds ratio of 1.49 changed to 1.27), and was no longer significant.
This must come as a bit of an annoyance to Mark Lynas, who, as we reported earlier in the year, believes that it’s the working class who were interested in his Green chums.
Lynas had said of a poll that,
perhaps the most fascinating result of all emerges from the small print of the different social classes of the ICM survey respondents. Environmentalists are constantly accused of being middle-class lifestyle faddists, who don’t understand the day-to-day financial pressures faced by “ordinary” working people.
The class breakdown of the individuals who participated in the study, and who voted green are as follows: Professional, 9 (11.5%). Managerial/technical, 47 (60.3%). Skilled non-manual, 12 (15.4%). Skilled manual, 7 (9%). Semiskilled, 3 (3.8%). Unskilled, 0 (0%).
The accusations ring true, unfortunately for Lynas.
Nobody would be surprised that social class is reflected in voting preference. And our beef here isn’t even with the silly claim that Greens are more intelligent. What’s odd about this kind of study is that it tries to reduce voting behaviour to absurd metrics. The only way to understand how people vote the way they do is to understand how they engaged with the ideas on offer, not their ability to engage with them.
Not that this is the intentions of the study’s authors (we just think it is a bit silly), but it is a tendency of the environmental movement to look for ways to reduce its opposition to unthinking, unaware consumer-bots in order to legitimise undemocratic and authoritarian policies. Politics is about ideas. Beware politics – and social science – by numbers.