Environmentalism or death: that's the choice?

The UK Green Party – formerly the Ecology Party (1975-1985), formerly PEOPLE (1973-1975) – once rejected the conventional party structure of ‘leader and followers’ in favour of a model of ‘participatory politics’, comprising six ‘principal speakers’.

But discipline soon became an embarrassing issue. David Icke, former footballer and TV presenter, famously failed to represent the party when he was one of its spokesmen, preferring instead to talk about himself as the Son of God. In 1992, the party compromised its idealism to settle on two principal speakers; one male, one female. In a referendum held last November, the party decided that not having a leader was impeding the job of saving the planet. Last week, on 5 September, Caroline Lucas, the party’s member of the European parliament for the south-east region of England, beat her election rival, Ashley Gunstock, by a wide margin, and became the first leader of the Green Party.

These compromises on its constitutional ideals reflect the Green Party’s inability to identify a coherent political perspective. The party has latterly been understood to be on the left, but as erstwhile male principal speaker Derek Wall’s surprisingly honest biography of the party reveals, its anti-growth agenda was established by former Conservatives during the post-industrial economic gloom of the 1970s. According to Wall, ‘the theme of survival marked the bleak evolution of Green politics’ (1). This same sense of urgency and necessity has since attracted various disorientated anarchists and socialists to join former conservatives and members of society’s upper-crust, such as Edward (brother of James, and uncle of Zac) Goldsmith, and Jonathon Porritt.

Unlike radical parties of the past, the Green Party did not emerge from a grassroots movement with particular interests and philosophy. It has instead represented those alienated from mainstream politics as the left collapsed, and as the Right lost contact with the values of its past. Thirty-five years on, the success of the party has been limited to capturing disillusionment with the politics of post-industrial Britain, rather than convincing the masses of their imminent demise.

Unable to form a synthesis from differences within the party and to develop a coherent and cohesive political vision, the Greens have been unable to move beyond being the party of catastrophe. As Wall explains: ‘The founders of PEOPLE believed that the collapse of society was imminent unless swift action was taken.’ In spite of Britain emerging from the 1970s doldrums, there has been little change in the party’s outlook and its arguments remain preoccupied with Armageddon.

Consider, for instance, Lucas’s position on European policy to restrict aircraft emissions, to which there is only one dimension: impending doom. ‘When you hear scientists say that we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change, I don’t think what the public actually want is cautiousness, what they want is real leadership, and that is what the EU is promising to give, and yet that’s what we’re failing to do here’, said Lucas. (2)

But is being tough on climate change and the causes of climate change enough to make Lucas a leader? How will she reconcile the differences within a party only unified by its sense of doom, and take its message to the public? After all, being committed to taking a stand against economic growth, Lucas is unable to make convincing promises to transform people’s circumstances for the better. Instead, she can only offer to stop our circumstances from getting worse.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Word of Mouth about the language of environmentalism, Lucas recently said: ‘I think we need to get much better at painting a really positive picture of what a zero-carbon future could look like. Because climate change isn’t essentially an environmental problem, it’s a problem of security. We need to be using language, I think, around security in order to mobilise the kind of resources and the kind of urgency that we would get if we were talking about some kind of foreign invasion into Britain.’ (3)

It is telling that the only way Lucas can construct ‘really positive’ language is by fantasising about an invasion – an allusion to the apocryphal ‘war footing’ of the Second World War, where the public was united by a common spirit and purpose. But Lucas’s desire for such powerful moral authority is beyond her means. Lacking an invading enemy, she has to invent one. As Alex Gourevitch argued last year in n+1 magazine, the environmental movement’s reframing of impending doom in terms of security is not so much an alternative, nor even challenge to the ‘politics of fear’, as it is a reinvention of it:

‘Imagining ecological collapse as an overweening crisis demanding immediate action and collective sacrifice, with emergency decisions overriding citizens’ normal wants and wishes, is not really a politics at all, but the suspension of politics – there is no political choice, no constituencies to balance, nothing to deliberate. There is no free activity, just do or die. It seems we will have traded one state of emergency for another.’ (4)

Although the Greens have failed to establish a political philosophy, they have managed to turn their anxieties about the future of the climate into a system of ethical imperatives. At the UK Observer’s 2007 Ethical Awards ceremony, Lucas was given the title ‘Ethical Politician of the Year’ on the basis that she ‘spent the last 20 years campaigning on ethical issues, from GM, climate change and localised food production to mobile-phone safety’ (5). All you need to do to be ‘ethical’ in today’s world is to stand against things. The consequence of this is that it precludes discussion on how GM might be used to benefit – rather than merely protect – humanity, and climate change adapted, rather than submitted, to; such nuances are anathema to environmental ethics, and, of course, raise questions that relate to politics. Thus the Green Party is a party with ‘ethics’, but without politics.

This ethical system, albeit divorced from human values, arms Lucas and her party with a moral purpose – ‘saving the planet’ – which the major parties have difficulty emulating with such sincerity and conviction. So with its new leader, what kind of alternative is the new Green Party to the old mainstream parties?

Asked whether the Labour Party was suffering a leadership crisis on BBC TV’s Question Time in June, Lucas replied: ‘It’s not just a leadership crisis; it’s a crisis of direction of the whole Labour project, quite frankly. It doesn’t know where it’s going any more. It’s lost its way. It doesn’t have any values. [Gordon Brown] is a man who has said, for example, that climate change is the greatest threat that we face, and yet this is a man who is giving a green light to a massive expansion of Heathrow Airport.’ (6)

Lucas rightly points to the major parties losing contact with both their values and the public. But this is no stunning new insight. The defining feature of the major parties since the 1980s has been their indistinctiveness. They have reinvented their images, and searched for charismatic leaders and novel policy initiatives in the hope that they will help them overcome their political exhaustion. The Green Party is no different. In the debate about the party’s leadership, Wall, a Zen-eco-socialist, had argued that ‘top-down traditional politics turns voters off’. Lucas, the pragmatist, disagreed, arguing that: ‘Most people don’t relate to abstract concepts; rather they relate to the people who espouse and embody them.’ (7) She said that picking a leader was ‘not about weakening our principles; it’s about strengthening our effectiveness’. (8)

If Wall’s idealism could be described as naive, Lucas’s self-aggrandisement and cynicism of the public’s ability to engage with political ideas demonstrate contempt. But can you not imagine Gordon, Dave, and… er… the other one, saying much the same thing as Lucas? And might this cynicism of the electorate go some way to explaining the electorates’ growing cynicism towards politicians?

As the major parties have struggled to identify themselves and connect with the public, so they have dramatised and escalated the crises that the world faces in order to avoid facing up to their own. In April last year, the Labour Party committed Britain to a reduction in CO2 emissions of 60 per cent by 2050. Shortly after, the Tories upped the stakes to 80 per cent. Not to be outdone, the Liberal Democrats promised a carbon-neutral Britain by the same time. This is politics by numbers. And there is no challenge to this process in British politics, with each party only positioning itself to appear to be taking any given issue more seriously than the rest. Lucas, in spite of her prominence in the anti-war movement, does not challenge the dominance of ‘the politics of fear’, as much as she wraps herself in it entirely.

The Green Party’s environmental ethics are values that are estranged from human experience, and are premised, not on an understanding of how humans relate through social and economic structures, but through a fragile ‘biosphere’, to which human interests must take second place.

Doom is a stand in for the Green Party’s political vision, and environmental ethics are a stand in for its political philosophy. Rather than constructing a fresh new challenge to the failures of old political parties, the Greens have done little more than to make a virtue of them. And by abandoning politics altogether, in favour of a bogus system of ethics, they reflect today’s widespread disengagement from politics, and the mutual cynicism of politicians, the media, and the public. It is in this atmosphere that Lucas has been able to achieve such a high profile by pretending to be radical. Her rise to prominence in the European Parliament was granted, not by the will of a mass movement standing behind her, but by the votes of just 2.9 per cent of the electorate of her constituency in the south-east – 63.2 per cent of whom were not interested enough to register their vote. It seems that the proposition ‘Environmentalism or Death’ is not quite as rousing as Lucas and the Greens believe

(1) A short history of the Green Party of England and Wales, Another Green World, 9 October 2006

(2) Today, BBC Radio 4, 13 November 2007

(3) Word of Mouth, BBC Radio 4, 26 August 2008

(4) Whatever Happened to the War on Terror?, Alex Gourevitch, n + 1, 30 October 2007

(5) The Observer Ethical Awards in association with Ecover – winners revealed, Observer, 15 June 2008

(6) Question Time, BBC1, 28 May 2007

(7) Leading Edge, Guardian, 12 September 2007

(8) Green party decides it should have a leader, Guardian 30 November 2007

The Queen of the Greens

Ben has an article in today’s Spiked on our favourite Green, Caroline Lucas, who was elected as the Party’s leader last Friday. 

The UK Green Party – formally the Ecology Party (1975-1985), formally PEOPLE (1973-1975) – once rejected the conventional party structure of ‘leader and followers’ in favour of a model of ‘participatory politics’, comprising six ‘principal speakers’.

But discipline soon became an embarrassing issue. David Icke, former footballer and TV presenter, famously failed to represent the party when he was one of its spokesmen, preferring instead to talk about himself as the Son of God. In 1992, the party compromised its idealism to settle on two principal speakers; one male, one female. In a referendum held last November, the party decided that not having a leader was impeding the job of saving the planet. Last week, on 5 September, Caroline Lucas, the party’s member of the European parliament for the south-east region of England, beat her election rival, Ashley Gunstock, by a wide margin, and became the first leader of the Green Party.

These compromises on its constitutional ideals reflect the Green Party’s inability to identify a coherent political perspective.READ ON

The Silly-Season’s Soap-Opera Ice-Storm in a Tea-Pot

Explorer Lewis Pugh, self-proclaimed ‘Voice of the Arctic’ took a break from cold-water swimming to try to become the first person to kayak to the North Pole to raise awareness of himself the shrinking Arctic ice mass:

There is one side of me that really hopes I can get there, that I can kayak all the way from Europe to the North Pole. Because if I’m able to do that, I hope I’m able to show world leaders just how much the Arctic has melted, and just how much it’s going to affect each and every one of us. But then there’s the other side of me which says I really hope I don’t get there – I hope I fail, I hope I don’t succeed. Because if I am successful, then it’s a very worrying situation, because it shouldn’t be possible to kayak right across what used to be a frozen ocean.

It would certainly be an impressive feat of paddling. But Pugh should not kid himself that he is raising awareness; he is simply riding a mighty bow wave of awareness that has already been raised by the mainstream media, environmental activists and scientists.

The progress of the Arctic ice melt has been this year’s big climate story. Following an unusual winter, with record snows in China, Baghdad, and across the world, climate alarmists were unable to supply the media feeding-trough with upwardly-record-breaking statistics. After dismal 2007 and 2008 summers, and unusually heavy and late wintry storms, the public wouldn’t buy the idea that the UK was being ravaged by global warming. And as we all know, the Antarctic isn’t warming. Consequently, all eyes pointed north, which has caused much rumination over the significance of the level of ice at the end of the 2008 Northern Hemisphere’s summer. The Arctic has become less the subject of scientific investigation, and more the arena for a battle.

Just as environmental policies are based on the precautionary principle, global warming alarmists exploit the unknowable territory of the future. It is not knowledge which drives environmentalism, but the unquantified possibility of catastrophe. Quantified risk spoils the story, because quantified risks allow the possibility of solutions. So alarmism seeks refuge in the furthest reaches of the world’s most inhospitable locations, where it cannot be challenged. It is no accident that the harsh landscapes of the developing world and the polar regions are where the bulk of arguments about global warming rest, it is hard to get there, and it is almost as hard to get people from these places to tell you what it’s really like, and what they really want. Thus, environmentalists speak for distant people, and far off lands… and polar bears. In much the same way, quantum physics is frequently used to ‘explain’ parapsychology and quackery; telepathy and precognition, ghosts, and homeopathic medicine. The harder it is to penetrate the science, the better a home it makes for ideas that owe more to wishful than rational thinking.

In order to achieve leverage in the political arena, environmentalists have had to construct story-lines to keep the idea of climate change alive in people’s consciences. These double-up as morality plays, in which ‘climate criminals’ are responsible for the plight of species such as the polar bear, and poor people throughout the world. Unfortunately for environmentalists, science cannot produce data and research fast enough for them, and to a sufficient level of certainty. Therefore, the stories come and go. If there’s a hot summer, we are told to expect them to get hotter, and more frequent. If there are floods, we are told that they too will get more frequent and intense. And so on. The abstract results of climate research do not connect with the public as well as images of catastrophes and starving animals, nor with people’s direct experience of the weather.

For example, take the words of George Monbiot in 1999:

Climate change is perhaps the gravest calamity our species has ever encountered. Its impact dwarfs that of any war, any plague, any famine we have confronted so far. It makes genocide and ethnic cleansing look like sideshows at the circus of human suffering. A car is now more dangerous than a gun; flying across the Atlantic is as unacceptable, in terms of its impact on human well-being, as child abuse. The rich are at play in the world’s killing fields.

The problem George has is in convincing people that any of this is true is that it defies all their senses. There is no visible climate chaos, such as he describes. Sure, there are occasional floods, heavy rain, and heatwaves, and so on. But there always has been. For those affected, life eventually returns to normal, and for the vast majority of people who remain untouched by these events, life carries on. Where people are less fortunate, such as in the developing world, George attributes their misfortune to climate change, whereas a much more compelling argument is that their predicament is explained by their poverty. He wants to say “IT’S HAPPENING NOW”. But alas, it is not.

Back to the ice.

We all know what ice is. It is fairly evident when it is there. It is not some unusual social or scientific construct. So if you divide the amount of ice there is today, by the amount of ice there was yesterday less the amount of ice there is today, then you should know for certain how many days we have left until the end of life on Earth. Or, at least, that is the depth of thinking behind the current round of alarm emerging from the polar melt debacle.

A lot of the heat has been generated by a graphic issued by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), showing sea ice extent over the summer months. The question is whether the blue line representing 2008 will match the dotted green line representing the record-breaking 2007.

Well, that’s supposed to be the question. The reality is that the progress of the curves represents a real-time unfolding narrative, rather like a soap opera, which gives gravity to the background and humdrum story-lines of who-is-in-bed-with-who, villainous schemes, and blood-feuds. Will the deniers finally be exposed as ruthless and back-stabbing murderers, or will they once again foil the valiant efforts of the greens? Tune in, for the next exciting episode. Except that, just like a soap opera, it never ends. The turn of the curve provides the tension of the moment, but it never fuly resolves. A new story line emerges as the old one fizzles out, with the plot left slightly hanging, so that its protagonists can return at a later date (ie, when the writing team have run out of ideas).

Speaking of running out of ideas, Oliver Tickell, son of miserablist Malthusian Sir Crispin (just like Dynasty, it’s often the children of rich and powerful men who get to continue the story), wrote on commentisfree, citing the decline in summer ice, that:

We need to get prepared for four degrees of global warming, Bob Watson told the Guardian last week. At first sight this looks like wise counsel from the climate science adviser to Defra. But the idea that we could adapt to a 4C rise is absurd and dangerous. Global warming on this scale would be a catastrophe that would mean, in the immortal words that Chief Seattle probably never spoke, “the end of living and the beginning of survival” for humankind. Or perhaps thebeginning of our extinction.

See how the narratives stack up? At the top, global warming provides the situation. Beneath, sub-plots such as the ice extent story provide battle grounds for the constant war. At the bottom layer, the groupings and affiliations of goodies and baddies give rise to the politics. And in the sludge, the turbulent challenges that the heroes face. How can Tickell Jr. keep on side those who are losing faith in the good fight, and who appear to be making concessions to the enemy?

By linking to other story lines, of course. Such as Observer ‘science’ editor Robin McKie’s, who writes the episode called, “Meltdown in the Arctic is Speeding Up”:

Ice at the North Pole melted at an unprecedented rate last week, with leading scientists warning that the Arctic could be ice-free in summer by 2013.

In that week’s installment, the blue line had nudged slightly closer to the green dotted one. Everybody held their breath. Who would be vindicated: the deniers, or the warmers?

Steven Goddard broke the silence on The Register, after noticing that the NSIDC graphs showing this year’s ice retreat didn’t match the graphics published by the University of Illinois.

More importantly, the data did not support the panic that the Pole might be free of ice this summer, as had been reported by various news outlets, and attributed to David Barber of the University of Manitoba. This was upped by Dr. Olav Orheim head of the Norwegian International Polar Year Secretariat, who claimed that the entire polar cap might disappear. Others were more circumspect, yet still predicted that this year’s melt would be worse than last year’s. Yet the NSIDC data failed to show this. It looked like the deniers would be vindicated.

A National Geographic article captured the confusion which the characters of the soap opera were caught up in. It was written in June, just before the little blue line stopped following the trajectory set by the progress of ice last year. As has been mentioned, David Barber raised the possibility of an ice-free 2008 Arctic summer. Next up in the article, Sheldon Drobot, at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research lowered the stakes, saying that some ice might survive, but it might melt at the pole. But then the magazine announced that models suggest an ice-free Arctic is not likely until 2013. Spoiling the party, Ron Lindsay, of the University of Washington, Seattle’s Polar Science Center tells NG that, “Nobody knows for sure.” Finally, the article concludes that, whatever the differences between the predictions, “Almost all models have the Arctic completely ice free in the summer by 2100.” We might have to wait nearly a whole century for this plot line to terminate. Over the course of just 700 words, Aalok Mehta, the article’s author, had taken the viewers from a frenzy of expectation about a sensational conclusion, headlined “North Pole May be Ice Free for First Time This Summer”, down to the disappointing perpetual cliff-hanger.

The suspense was killing us. We had to find out more. Like fans possessed, we sought the contact details of the actors in the drama. What was the truth? What would the next turn of the plot be? Would ice disappear this summer? Or would it be 2013, as had been predicted by a model created by Professor Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Or would we have to wait a century to find out?

NSIDC senior scientist Mark Serreze was on hand to help put us straight. The Observer and National Geographic articles were simply ‘tabloid’ journalism.

MS: Our empirical data would suggest that 2013 is too aggressive […] What we’ve been on record as saying, and for quite some time now – and I’ll go on record saying it again – that, in our view, going to an ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer – going to a seasonally ice-free Arctic ocean – could be as early as 2030

For fans of the drama, it is a disappointment. But it was an improvement on the 100 years given by the NG, and 50-100 years given by IPCC’s AR4. Serreze says that the IPCC’s predictions are conservative, and that new data has come to light since AR4. The melt had proceeded faster than expected. But what about the sub-plot – the 2008 melting versus the year before?

Serreze’s colleague, Walt Meier, had contacted The Register to tell them that Goddard was mistaken. There are two different ways of measuring arctic ice, and they shouldn’t be compared.

The absolute numbers differ between the UI and NSIDC plots because UI is calculating ice area, while NSIDC is calculating ice extent, two different but related indicators of the state of the ice cover. However, both yield a consistent change between Aug. 12, 2007 and Aug. 11, 2008 – about a 10% increase.

As Meier reveals, it turns out that counting ice is not quite as straightforward as one might think. The ice thins, but the plot thickens. The NSIDC produce two measures of ice – extent and area. Area is beset by the satellite hardware’s inability to make a distinction between melt water on top of ice, and ice-free open water, and an upgrade in 1987 meant that the area covered introduces an upward error into the data. Extent is calculated by analysing the same source data, but measuring each pixel, and counting the number of 25x25km ‘pixels’ where the coverage of ice is greater than 15%. In other words, it’s not actually counting ice. As the NISDC website informs us:

The extent values are useful in a temporal series, but caution should be used citing the numbers apart from the time series or comparing with values derived from other studies. Ice concentrations are sensitive to the algorithm used, and resulting numbers for extent depend not only on algorithms but on other processing steps as well. The extent values have uncertain significance when taken individually. For example, the 15% concentration cutoff for extent is somewhat arbitrary. Using a 20% or 30% cutoff will give different numbers, although similar trends, for extent (for examples, see Parkinson et al. 1999).

For a moment, it looked like the deniers had seized the day. But Meier stole the plot back for the warmers, to accuse Goddard for an article which “consists almost entirely of misleading, irrelevant, or erroneous information about Arctic sea ice that add nothing to the understanding of the significant long-term decline that is being observed”.

Oh? Goddard’s error was in thinking that an absolute index of ice existed – for which he apologised. But what about the claims that 2008 would be worse than 2007? And the claims that the North Pole and even the entire ice cap may be ice-free this year? Was it misleading to ask questions about those? Were they not themselves misleading? Is it misleading to point out that 2008 was not turning out to be ice-free? The ball was no longer in anyone’s court. The blue line carried on.

On the 26th August, the NSIDC announced on their website that “Arctic sea ice now second-lowest on record”. The actors in the drama were now fully engaged in writing it, and commentating on it. When we spoke to Serreze earlier in the month, he told us that the 2007 ice extent was not the result of global warming, but because…

… essentially we had a perfect atmospheric storm, in which we had a pattern of winds that brought warm air to the Arctic and helped melt the ice.

Like El Nino is largely responsible for the high global temperatures in 1998, we ask. Exactly, replies Serreze.

But Serreze is apparently reticent to offer information on the complexities of ice melt unless asked specifically. Otherwise, he is happy to feed the narrative with sensational plot twists of his own that owe little to NSIDC data. As he told Der Spiegel on 28 August:

“An Arctic Ocean that is ice-free in summer is inevitable,” he said. Any recovery made by the ice sheet, he said, wouldn’t last “more than a couple of years in the best case scenario.” By the summer of 2030, he says, the Arctic will be completely ice free for a few weeks at a time.

And yet when we spoke to him, Serreze told us just how much of a guesstimate the 2030 figure actually is:

CR: So what sort of confidence intervals do you have around the 2030 figure then?

MS: Well, just that it’s an educated guess based on where we’re going. If you look at what the climate models have been saying – this is from those that were in the latest round of the IPCC, OK? – they’re saying that, depending on the model you select as the truth, you could be going to an ice-free Arctic Ocean anywhere from say 2050 to anywhere out beyond 2100. That’s what the latest round was saying, OK? About a year ago now, we had a paper led by my colleague Julienne Stroeve, which was showing that the current rate of decline is faster than any of these climate models are telling us. In other words, we are sort of faster than forecast […] when we say 2030, as the number that we throw out there, it’s based on the recognition that the models are too slow. And it’s based on just looking at what the observed behaviour of the system has been. So that 2030, you know, you wish I could put error bars around it – plus or minus seven years, right?

And when he’s not selling tentative extrapolations as inevitabilities, Serreze is drawing on catstrophe-lingo du jour to over-egg his pudding. As he told the BBC for an article that starts ‘Arctic sea ice has shrunk to the second smallest extent since satellite records began, US scientists have revealed’ (which is a remarkably underwhelming observation given how recently satellites have been used to record anything at all):

We could very well be in that quick slide downwards in terms of passing a tipping point

Serreze neither explains what this tipping point might be, nor why his NSIDC data suggests we might be passing it. In this sense, ‘tipping point’ is used simply as a sciencey-sounding synonym for ‘something terrible might happen’. And reporters don’t even think to ask him what on Earth he is talking about.

We don’t want to be too hard on Serreze and his fellow scientists. They have a big job to do. And in a world that attaches such importance to the path of a little blue line, much is expected of them. But it is to disparage the way in which such complex research and tentative conclusions are transmuted into unassailable facts for the purpose of gaining influence in the political arena. Here’s a correlation for you: the extent of Arctic sea ice is negatively proportional to the desperation with which politicians and the media will cling to it, like starving polar bears, in the absence of any political straws to clutch at. But Serreze and his colleagues should not be exempt from criticism – they are playing their own important role in the soap opera. The articles in Der Spiegel and the BBC were in response to press releases issued by NSIDC a couple of days previously. First, they whetted our appetites with this:

Sea ice extent has fallen below the 2005 minimum, previously the second-lowest extent recorded since the dawn of the satellite era. We will know if the 2008 record will also fall in the next several weeks, when the melt season comes to a close. The bottom line, however, is that the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent characterizing the past decade continues.

Then followed it up the next day with the money shot:

Update to yesterday’s advisory

Numbers are now available concerning current Arctic sea ice extent compared to the previous second-lowest year, 2005. Visit http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/ for more details.

You can hardly blame NSIDC for getting excited and wanting to tell the world about it. They’ve been slaving away for years gathering physical data from an obscure backwater of planet Earth, and suddenly they now find that data – and themselves – the focus of the media’s gaze. Their research is suddenly ‘relevant’. It doesn’t get much better than that when the accumulation of knowledge is increasingly hard to justify to the powers that be. Understandably, they want to make the most of it. And that means pumping out easily digestible, simplistic information. In fact, according to Walt Meier, the NSIDC scientist who complained to the Register, keeping it simple is a high priority for NSIDC. We were interested in why NSIDC seem to pay little attention to their area data, when it might be expected to provide additional information, in that it takes into account a measure of ice cover (from 0-100%) within each pixel. He told us that not only was the area data more problematic than extent, but that it’s important not to confuse people by making things complicated:

When you’re talking to the public and the press and so forth […] adding areainto the discussion can cause confusion. So we’ve kept to extent to keep things consistent in how we’re reporting things and reporting one parameter instead of two […] We’ve chosen to not include the area [data], even though there are interesting things to say about it, just because, for a lot of people, it does tend to muddy the water.

The irony is that the simplistic messages they put out are far more confusing than the state of knowledge in its full complex glory – as witnessed by the confusion generated by a year’s-worth of simplistic predictions and press releases.

Keeping things simple for the press and public has other implications. The NSIDC’s raison d’etre is to provide the data, which can then be used by scientists to describe and predict ice behaviour. Scientists obtain that data through the same website used by the press and public. And unlike the extent data, the area data is very hard to find. Try it. Could it be that the area data has not been scrutinised like the extent data simply because it is buried so deep within the website? If so, we have a strange situation in which the PR strategy of the NSIDC directly influences the nature of scientific investigation.

If the importance attached to NSIDC blue line is strange, then so is the fascination with the arbitrary ‘ice-free summer’ landmark. Like frogs spawning earlier or butterflies flying later, ice-free Arctic summers are, in themselves, neither evidence for global warming, nor a harbinger of doom – and yet that is exactly how it is used in the media. All are consequences of climate change. If global temperatures have been a bit higher than usual recently, it’s the most natural thing in the world that species adjust their life-cycles accordingly and that ice melts that bit faster. We should be far more worried if frogs did not make the most of an early spring, or if ice didn’t melt when it got hotter.

The twists and turns of little blue lines excite the audience, and provide superficially important news fodder. It fuels debates, but with wild speculation and utterly meaningless and inconsequential factoids that will be forgotten by the time the next climate record is set. Repeat ad nauseam. These artificial dramas are elevated to ludicrous heights by claims that our entire futures depend on them. Consequently, life imitates this art. The drama extends into our real lives. It becomes politics, ethics, laws. The more we look to little blue lines, the less we realise that whatever little blue lines do only determines what our existences will consist of if we believe that the direction of the little blue line is instructive. It isn’t. As we have argued before, environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because environmental determinism – upon which environmentalism is founded – posits that human history is the product of environmental conditions. If ethics, politics, and society is formed according to the twists and turns of blue lines because we decide that it ought to be, then sure enough, history will be determined by little blue lines. We will make ourselves vulnerable to climate in order to prevent climate change catastrophe. The fact is that human history occurred in spite of the direction of blue lines.

By the time we finished this post, Lewis Pugh had already failed in his mission to paddle to the North Pole. He got as far as 81 degrees north before becoming trapped in the ice. (Even last year – with its record low ice cover – he managed to reach 82 degrees north.) Strange then, given Pugh’s declaration that “I hope I fail, I hope I don’t succeed. Because if I am successful, then it’s a very worrying situation”, that he seems to have decided not to shout about how pleased he is that the world isn’t coming to an end just yet. Far from it. As he writes on his blog:

Although the expedition is over, in many ways the real work is still to come – my job now is to act as an ambassador for the Arctic, to convey to policy makers the changes that are taking place here. This starts immediately – I am going to Washington DC soon to speak to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. I spoke with Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) and his team in May, and it was a wonderful conversation – one I look forward to continuing. Smart people working hard to push these important environmental issues forward.

First Against the Wall When the Revolution Doesn't Happen…

The Green Party’s other principal speaker is Derek Wall. The party have been unable to decide on a leader over the years (they’re choosing one right at the moment), and so have had two: Caroline Lucas and Derek Wall – one for girls, and one for boys. No, we’re not kidding. Wall doesn’t make it into the media as often as his girly counterpart because he hasn’t had the electoral successes that Lucas has enjoyed. As we said yesterday, in 1999 Lucas won the support of 1.8% of the electorate, and 2.9% in 2004. Hmm. Maybe it’s just because she’s prettier.

Wall is a slightly different kind of Green to Lucas. He makes more noise about his eco-socialism than Lucas, who is more likely to tell you that capitalism will give you cancer. Wall’s blog lays out his stall:

“How to be green? Many people have asked us this important question. It’s really very simple and requires no expert knowledge or complex skills. Here’s the answer. Consume less. Share more. Enjoy life.” […] This blog promotes anti-capitalism, green politics, direct action, practical lifestyle change, Venezuela/Cuba and a touch of Zen. Ecosocialism or muerte!

(Anyone who thought we over-egged the pudding on Sunday for calling the Green Party ‘the party of death’, take note.)

One might expect Wall, allegedly a lecturer in political economy, to have a rather more sophisticated political argument than Lucas. But think again. The ‘Socialist Unity’ blog, for which Wall writes, carries the following image over his latest post.

Oh dear.

Wall’s post comes in the wake of the bizarre spectacle of the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, admitting to the Guardian newspaper that ‘people are pissed off with us [the Labour Government]’, and that economic times ahead ‘are arguably the worst they’ve been in 60 years’.

As we have said before, moments from history are often deployed where ideas have run dry

History lends today’s political players crutches to prop themselves up by. Alluding to WWII, public figures demand that we get on a ‘war footing’ to limit our consumption by ‘make do and mend’, as one British public information slogan said. To question this is to demand to be judged by that historical absolute; holocaust denial. To be a denier is, according to the likes of Hansen, to be guilty of ‘crimes against humanity’. The need for such crutches stems from the fact that today’s politicians have no legs to stand on, and environmentalism cannot produce its own history.

Darling puts us on a post-war footing by telling us that we face the worst economic conditions for 60 years. Caroline Lucas with the New Economics Foundation call for a ‘green New Deal‘. The United Nations Development Program’s 400-page Human Development Report on tackling climate change as a development issue begins by quoting Martin Luther King’s ‘Where do we go from here: chaos or community’ speech. [WARNING: BIG PDF]. Al Gore favorably compares himself to JFK by making ‘within ten years’ speeches, even though he holds no office, and has withdrawn from politics.

And Wall compares the Labour Government to Nazis, by using a quote from Mussolini (who was a fascist, not a Nazi), to advance his brand of eco-socialism (which, like the National Socialists is not socialist). There are two things to say about this. First, there is the fact that eco-socialism Wall is selling apparently cannot make a case for itself without the shadow of the swastika hovering above it. Second, Wall’s ‘socialism’ cannot sell itself without the ‘eco’ prefix. Wall calls for ‘eco-socialism or death’. But where the original slogan (‘socialism or death’) might have represented a sincere commitment to the struggle for equality, now it merely stands for ‘balance’ within the biosphere; if we don’t balance it, it kills us.

Wall places himself in contrast to Alistair Darling. But, as the Guardian article reveals, following his appointment, ‘Darling’s life, in his wife’s words, has been “a crisis a week” ever since.’ Mrs Darling understates things. The Labour Government has been in crisis since 1997. Poltics today only survives through generating crisis to avoid its own crises. And in his challenge to Darling’s party, and the mainstream politics which bumbles from crisis to crisis, Derek Wall does nothing other than create more crises – the spectres of Nazism and environmental chaos – because he, just like Darling, lacks any coherent political vision. Without crisis, he would be lost. As his profile on the Green Party website explains:

Dr. Wall describes himself as an eco-socialist, and Green politics as “the politics of survival”, stressing that “unless we build a green economy based on meeting need rather than greed our children face a bleak future. A world dominated by the need for constant growth puts people and the rest nature behind a blind economic system of accumulation”.

But this is fantasy politics. Later on in the profile, we learn that:

Dr. Wall practices Zazen and is influenced by spirituality through “pursuing a pagan appreciation of the living world in a variety of ways”. In Babylon and Beyond, he argues that Zen acts as a guard against utopianism as it “is based on being in the world rather than escaping from it”. He also links anti-capitalism and Zen, stating, based on the work of anthropologist and economist Marshall Sahlins, that “Zen minimises need and provides an alternative road to affluence”.

Hmm. The green hero, Dr. Wall stands against the forces of darkness and their plans to build an empire, by being in tune with the living world… Who does that remind you of?

Star Bores

Yoda.                    Derek Wall

The Party Without People

Caroline Lucas again again. In the New Statesman today, talking about the Green Party’s upcoming leadership contest, she says,

There is another crucial reason why Britain needs Green leadership now. Voter turnout at all elections has been falling. Fewer than one in four people vote in many local elections. Most people simply can’t see any difference between politicians from any of the three main Westminster parties. Minor divergences in economic management emerge from time to time, but the paradigm of privatisation, liberalisation and free market dominance has killed off many progressive policies.

Funny that Lucas should talk about low voter turnout. The motor-mouthed miserablist has benefited enormously from voter apathy, as the results from the last two European elections reveal.

% vote
% Electorate
% Electorate
Liberal Democrats
Green Party

As we can see, she took 7.42% of the vote in 1999, which amounts to just 1.8% of the electorate. In 2004, she increased her share to 7.9% of the vote, amounting to 2.9% of the electorate. No landslide. And yet it was enough to raise her profile well above any other European MP.

The poor showing at the European elections show how uninterested the public are in the EU. It is because so few people registered their vote that Lucas got a seat. And it is because people are so turned off by mainstream politics that the Green Party poll at all. And it is because mainstream parties cannot connect with the public that they have all turned to environmental concerns. The claim that the major parties are turning to environmentalism because it’s a vote winner defies the cold hard stats: it ain’t a vote winner.

The Relentless Morbidity of Environmentalism

It’s Caroline Lucas again.

Caroline Lucas MEP, who is expected to be elected as the Green Party’s first leader later this week, said: “People will be literally dying from cold this winter while companies like Shell and BP are making record profits – that outrages ordinary people and we need a party that is prepared to stand up about that … rather than having a Labour government that is cowering in a cave and scared of actually speaking out against people in the City.”

Nothing Caroline Lucas ever says is not about death.

Before we look at her morbidity, however, let’s get a couple of things out of the way… Hypothermia is a problem. So is expensive energy. But Lucas is not against expensive energy. Here she is, talking earlier in the year, on BBC Question Time, arguing for higher fuel prices.

[youtube mBTE4w3qIaw]

Curiously, she says we need higher fuel prices to modify our behaviour because ‘the end of cheap oil is over’. Could anything more stupid be said? Not only is the idea of taxing fuel redundant if it is becoming scarcer, the market gave Lucas the higher prices she was after, and now she calls it greedy! Whether it is green taxes, an inexplicable market phenomenon, or scarcity that pushes fuel prices up, it makes no difference. Higher prices mean we can do less, and poorer people bear the brunt. Higher fuel prices means more people dying. Fuel is really very useful stuff.

She is calling for energy companies to be forced to plough some of their profits back into “ensuring that some of the poorest people are able to keep warm”, and attacked Labour for presiding “over a period where we now have Victorian levels of social inequality”.

The Government has been resisting demands for a windfall tax to be levied against the energy companies, arguing that it would make Britain’s energy infrastructure unattractive to investors, just as it really needs upgrading. And who is standing in the way of that? That’s right… Caroline Lucas… who joined the Climate Campers this year, protesting at the proposed site of a new coal-fired power station, Kingsnorth.

Any government which commits to more coal fired power stations – and Kingsnorth is only the start – then claims to be aiming for a massive reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 is quite simply living in a fantasy land. … The Government should be showing real leadership in this debate, with measures to tackle rising energy costs and fuel poverty, as well as initiating major investment in energy efficiency, renewables and decentralised energy. According to its own figures, we could achieve a 30% reduction in energy use in the UK through existing efficiency measures alone.

Increasing efficiency and decentralising power generation is not going to make it more accessible to old people vulnerable to cold weather. Decentralising energy supply will make many people far more vulnerable to the climate. It will also make it vastly more expensive to produce, as the labour and maintenance costs increase. The idea that the market doesn’t exploit efficiency is just as absurd.

Let us put this bluntly, Lucas does not give a toss about old people. Unless, that is, they are dying. People who are dying, or are at risk of dying suddenly become political capital. This is the basis of Lucas’ morbidity. And it is the basis of environmental ethics. We compiled this video earlier in the year. Here is Lucas, in full doom mode, coming to a parliamentary constituency near you…

[youtube Higin1kY3PM]

Environmentalism exploits the vulnerable, because, even if we fail to connect with the idea of eco-apocalypse, we still might respond to the victims Greens claim to speak for. In the framework that the Greens have constructed, the environment is the mechanism through which moral acts are transmitted. The rise of fuel prices (which is a bad thing, unless they are demanding it), according to this thinking, reduces old people’s access to natural resources (partly by inflating the price, but also by standing in the way of renewable energy, which is imagined to be unfailingly equitable, just by itself), leaving them exposed to the cold climate, putting them at risk of hypothermia. Similarly, using fossil fuels is an act of violence against the poor further away, because they will bear the consequences of climate change. There is no room in this framework for a conception of ‘good’, which stands for the elevation of people in any way, such as reducing their vulnerability to climate by technological and economic development. A philosophy so fixated and premised on the idea of catastrophe can only think of things in terms of degrees of bad. Therefore environmentalism’s concern for the poor is predicated solely on their usefulness as victims. Everyone else is a culprit, the best they can achieve is neutrality.

The Green Party are the party of death. It’s all they can talk about, and it’s all they think about. Their unsophisticated reasoning reduces to a morbid fascination; an obsession with cancers, plagues, famines, epidemics, pandemics, chaos, destruction, doom. Political movements in the past have offered ways to overcome the challenges that society and individuals face from the natural world by way of ill-health, shortages, and the elements, but the Green Party represents something very different. Instead of challenging the inevitability of poverty’s consequences to generate support, environmentalism seeks to use the image of these consequences to discipline the public into accepting poverty as inevitable. The thinking is no deeper than “capitalism kills grannies”, “vote for me, or get cancer”, “car-drivers are baby killers” As George Monbiot once put it, “Global warming means that flying across the Atlantic is now as unacceptable as child abuse”. The objective of all this is a kind of ‘balance’ between poverty and somehow everything in the world being totally wonderful. Except that there is nothing positive about the environmentalist’s message. It has nothing to offer. And it is corrosive to any idea that life… and politics… can be about more than mere subsistence.

Watering Down Development

Before the abysmal British summers of 2007 and 2008, a series of hot summers lead to the inevitable speculation that the UK would, in the near future, have a summer climate like that of the Mediterranean. If only! This in turn fuelled speculation that the water supply shortages that the country experienced would also become a more permanent feature of British life. This has always baffled us Editors, one of whom remembers a radio program broadcast a few years ago, about the ‘drought’. What was especially baffling was that the Editor in question had, as the program began, run some water from a tap, into a kettle, to make a cup of tea, and had just walked home over a bridge crossing a river, which seemed to have burst its banks into a field. What kind of ‘drought’ is happening while rivers are bursting their banks, and taps are flowing?

Our suspicions that something fishy was going on were confirmed when top secret satellite data was leaked to us from a highly confidential source. The data was generated by sophisticated sensing techniques known as ‘taking a picture in space’ to form an image of the surface of the Earth. When we got it, complex algorithms called ‘Photoshop’ running on a supercomputer called a ‘Pentium P5’ at Climate Resistance HQ processed the data to make the image readable by humans, and to reveal the truth to the claims that the world faces water shortages.

In seriousness, however… Talk of water shortages are key to many stories about the future. And climate change offers a superficially plausible reason to panic about ‘water wars’, and the breakdown of society. This shallow thinking holds that as people use more water than natural cycles can replenish, and as climate shifts, taking water away from its ‘natural’ flow, so the effect of drought will cause tensions that will escalate into wars, and other forms of social chaos. This is environmental determinism, writ large. And it is a departure from the thinking which guided the great Victorian engineers, who, over a century ago, set about building enormous reservoirs, dams, drainage and irrigation infrastructure, sewers, and water treatment works. And into the bargain, they even managed to make it look nice! They were not concerned with nature’s providence, but how to meet human needs, regardless of her whims. The scale of those projects, in today’s narrow mindset is incomprehensible. Hence, ambitions throughout the world are diminished by this sense of impossibility. That is less of a problem here in the UK, where, for a few months of the year, because of insufficient investment, we might not be allowed to water the garden or to wash the car. Where there are not the legacies of the Victorian (and later) engineers, the reality of water scarcity is much grimmer.

The absurd hand-wringing and washed-out arguments relating to ‘water shortage’ are challenged by a new film produced by WORLDwrite. Here is a trailer from the film, which puts the mealy-mouthed effluent from the panic-mongering misanthropists into context.

[youtube Q-etT7VdWy8 ‘Flush It’ – WORLDwrite]

What is striking about the trailer is that, even in just a few moments, it exposes the absurd thinking behind cynicism towards development and its possibilities, and its disregard for the abilities and lives of those living in the developing world. These problems are much bigger problems than scarcity. In fact, they actively cause scarcity, and the problems associated with it.

Because of the influence of environmentalism masquerading as ‘science’, it is taken as read that development is impossible, and scarcity is inevitable. The ensuing arguments create ‘ethics’, by which development is challenged, seemingly in the interests and on behalf of the very people who it aims to help. But as we have said before, this kind of ethics is generated not for the benefit of people living in the developing world, but people – usually quite well-off people – often seeking little more than a direction for themselves, or to assuage guilt. WORLDwrite are particularly good at revealing the hypocrisy and doublespeak beneath conspicuous compassion, and the self-interest of people using images of starving and diseased children, whilst deciding for them what aspirations and resources they ought to be entitled to. What WORLDwrite’s productions ultimately reveal is that the biggest obstacle to solving the world’s real problems is the intellectual poverty right here in the ‘developed’ world.

Flush It will be premiered at the Battle of Ideas festival in November – well worth a visit, for the film, and for the many debates relating to the subject, whatever your views.

Identity Crisis Politics

According to commentisfree, Ewa Jasiewicz is a writer, journalist, human rights activist and union organiser. In a recent post to the site, she identifies a split in the environmental movement between those who aim to stop climate change through ‘the system’, so to speak, i.e. through market solutions and state regulation, and those, such as her, who believe that nothing short of an anarchist revolution can solve the ‘climate crisis’.

How do we bring about a transformation which empowers us all? Grassroots organising in cooperative, low-impact, sustainable ways, glimpsed at the Climate Camp, and practised daily by millions, is one way towards this. Another is to live at the sharpest end of climate chaos today. … Changing our sources of energy without changing our sources of economic and political power will not make a difference. Neither coal nor nuclear are the “solution”, we need a revolution.

An interesting point to notice here is that anarchism, which, whether you had any sympathy with it or not, once had at its core some sophisticated ideas and principles, but is today framed in language relating to biospheres, ecosystems, and carbon budgets. It is by appealing to ‘science’ and anxieties about climate catastrophe — rather than our consciences — that today’s ‘revolutionary’ political arguments are made.

Jasiewicz was responding to comments made by George Monbiot at the climate camp, where he apparently ‘endorsed the use of the state as a partner in resolving the climate crisis’.

George is having something of an epiphany. Again. He recently conceded that atomic energy might be worth considering, a position he has rejected in the past. Jasiewicz claims that the climate camp represents the latest expression of a radical English tradition, which ‘stretches back to the Diggers, Levellers and the Luddites’ – movements which were once highly regarded by Monbiot, who helped to establish the Land is Ours, a group which also models itself on the Diggers. And as Jasiewicz points out, the camps’ members ‘honed their skills in the anti-roads movement of the mid-1990s’ – which Monbiot was also instrumental in establishing and publicising. But now he seems less certain of the radical positions he espoused less than a decade ago. In his introduction to his book Captive State: the Corporate Takeover of Britain, Monbiot said in 2000,

The struggle between people and corporations will be the defining battle of the twenty-first century.

Reading that passage from just 8 years ago, you would have thought that Monbiot might have more sympathy with Jasiewicz’s appeal for a revolution today. Now, however, in reply to Jasiewicz, he tells us on commentisfree that,

Stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim.

This is all the more surprising, given that, in 2000, following the passage above, Mobiot was sure that,

If the corporations win, liberal democracy will come to an end. The great social institutions which have defended the weak against the strong – equality before the law, representative government, democratic accountability and the sovereignty of parliament – will be toppled.

This conversion from radical politics, mirrors a sentiment expressed by climate change activist Mark Lynas in 2004, to Red Pepper,

I think inter-human squabbles about wealth distribution are now taking place within the context of a major destruction of the ecosystems which all of us depend on: rich, poor, black, white, homo sapiens or any other species. Therefore my argument is that the left-right political divide should no longer be the defining key priority. The struggle for equity within the human species must take second place to the struggle for the survival of an intact and functioning biosphere.

Equality is out, and the corporate takeover of the world is okay, just so long as it sorts out the climate. Lynas’ and Monbiot’s convergence on climate change as the ultimate issue in the future represents the final collapse of ideas that they have espoused in the past. It is intellectual exhaustion which takes them to where they stand. In spite of his epiphany, Monbiot has little light to shed on the world. Speaking about the young people on the Climate Camp, Monbiot continues his reply to Jasiewicz ( called ‘Identity Politics in Climate Change Hell’ on his website)

[Jasiewicz’s article] is a fine example of the identity politics that plagued direct action movements during the 1990s, and from which the new generation of activists has so far been mercifully free.It would be a tragedy if, through the efforts of people like Ewa, they were to be diverted from this urgent task into the identity politics that have wrecked so many movements.

Yet Jasiewicz does not mention race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability. So it is curious that Monbiot – who claims to have held a professorship in politics at a UK university – should be so confused about what identity politics actually is. The subtitle of his article gives the game away:

In seeking to put politics ahead of action, Ewa Jasiewicz is engaging in magical thinking of the most desperate kind.

Monbiot confuses political identity with identity politics. In other words, what beset the movements he was involved with in the past were political ideas themselves. Jasiewicz, who embraces the ideas that made Monbiot the poster-boy of the disoriented Guardian-reading Liberal-Left of the 1990s for standing in the way of roads, housing developments, and corporate expansion, is now doing ‘magical thinking’. Where Monbiot once stood bravely in front of bulldozers (in front of the media) in order to resist ‘the corporate takeover of Britain’, he now thinks that such politics is ‘magical thinking’. That is indeed a change of heart. We have written before about Monbiot’s epiphanies. And last month, Spiked-Online editor, Brendan O’Neill reviewed his latest book, Bring on the Apocalypse: Six Arguments for Global Justice.

Monbiot, who once harried tourists, workers and shoppers over their bad habits but who now writes endlessly of science and sums, personifies an important shift that has taken place under the tyranny of environmentalism: the scientisation of elite fear and prejudice. And what of the science of climate change itself? No doubt there is research that shows the planet has warmed, and that man may have played a role in its warming; yet this science, too, has conveniently metamorphosed into a political and moral campaign to lower people’s horizons and keep them in their place. Call me a cynic, a doubter, even a denier if you like, I don’t care; but when scientific research continually and conveniently, almost magically, ‘proves’ that people are disgusting and must rein in their desires and change their habits – just as the elite caste, from priests to politicians, have been arguing for decades! – then I get suspicious.

(As an interesting aside, given Monbiot’s and Lynas’ rejection of Left politics, it is funny that in their criticism, they have accused of Spiked, and O’Neill of being ‘far-right’ ‘reactionary’, and ‘pro-corporate’.  )

O’Neill notes the ‘metamorphosis of Monbiot’ from fringe but media-friendly weirdo, to member of the establishment, legitimised by ‘science’. Mark Lynas, who, just a decade ago was pushing custard pies into the face of Bjorn Lomborg, has undergone a similar transformation. His work of fiction, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet recently won an accolade from the Royal Society – its award for ‘science’ writing, worth £10,000. We said at the time,

There is a peculiar symbiosis, in which, Lynas and his ilk give the scientific establishment authority by constructing nightmare visions of the future, which are given credibility by figures such as Sir Martin Rees and Lord May. The service that Lynas does for the Royal Society is to connect this institution to our everyday fears and anxieties, to give it relevance at a time when, as with politicians, it struggles to define its purpose.

What Jasiewicz, Monbiot, and Lynas have in common is that the philosophies they have attached themselves have grown increasingly feeble. In response, the urgency of climate change alarmism is used to prop up their ailing arguments – ‘if you don’t do as we say, the world will end’. As we say above, Jasiewic frames her anarchism principally in terms of anthropogenic climate change. Monbiot used to share similar radical views, but as knee-jerk anti-capitalist, anti-road and land-rights movements failed to get off the ground, he turned up the catastrophic rhetoric, swapping the banner under which he marched for an end-is-nigh sandwich board. As his misconception of identity politics shows, he always lacked a thorough grasp of politics anyway. So it is no surprise that he has failed to create a consistent, coherent and robust understanding of what’s going on in the world, and looks to the skies to arm him with ways to appear radical.

This collapse shows us that environmentalism has not emerged from climate science, but has resorted to it. It is all that is propping up hacks such as Monbiot and Lynas, and the ossified political movements they claim to represent. Similarly, their new friends in the establishment, such as the Royal Society, like the political parties they advise are crumbling, not, as Monbiot worried in 200, because of the influence of corporations, but because of their own internal weaknesses. The Labour Party, the Tories, and the Liberals, and even the BNP join the anarchists, the socialists, and, of course, the Greens, in claiming that theirs are the only party which can save the planet. And all use ‘science’ to make their point.

The crisis is in politics, not in the skies. Monbiot – who, for some reason is regarded as one of the intellectual lights of the environmental movement – misconceives any form of politics as ‘identity politics’ because he struggles to identify himself. Therefore he becomes terrified of any political ‘identity’ or idea which threatens to undermine or usurp his fragile grip, expressed as his fears that ideas themselves will lead to the inevitable destruction of the biosphere by distracting people from their religious commitment to carbon reduction. Similarly, as more mainstream members of the establishment loose confidence in themselves and their functions, their claims to be engaged in ‘saving the planet’ is straightforward self-aggrandizement in the face of nervousness. We can say then, that the wasteland that is the intellectual landscape of contemporary mainstream and radical politics represents its thinkers’ own identity crises. The result is crisis politics – politicians, journalists, and activists who sustain themselves by creating panic, fear, alarm, and tragically, public policy.

Backwards to the Future

Oxfam was once a charity set up to provide famine relief. It was hard to criticise without looking a bit mean. It is now a gigantic international NGO which influences the direction of policy towards and within the developing world. Like many other organisations, it has found a new way of arming itself by capturing anxieties about climate change. Where once there were ambitions for people in the third world to enjoy Western standards of living, now the voice of the voiceless instead celebrates the primitive lifestyles that the worlds poorest people suffer.

Africa should make more use of the skills of its nomadic peoples to help combat the challenges of climate change, the aid agency Oxfam says.

There are many ways to enjoy traditional culture. But, for example, when people in the UK have finished dressing up as vikings, and anglo-saxons, or reconstructing historic battles, they go back to their (slightly embarrassed) families in warm homes that are connected to mains water and electricity, in cars, on roads, and they return to jobs on Monday mornings. Traditional ways of life should be the stuff of museums, days out, hobbies, history lessons, and slightly weird obsessive people. There is nothing good – not even ‘sustainability’ – in primitive lifestyles. Primitive lifestyles mean dead babies, short and painful lives, a near total absence of justice, hard manual labour, child labour, disease, poverty, famine. The very things Oxfam aimed to abolish, it now seems to celebrate. Such is the logic of relativism.

It can be nice, educational, and fun to visit theme-parks, or read books, and all of that stuff, especially for families. It can raise interesting questions about the development of political ideas such as ‘state’ and rights. Why, though, would anyone want to actually live that kind of life? And for all the ‘rights of indigenous people’ and ‘preserving dying cultures’ rhetoric which emerge from the likes of Oxfam, shouldn’t the important thing be the right of such people to choose whether they want to live primitive or contemporary lifestyle? If you want to live in a mud hut, away from roads, water and power, we at Climate Resistance wish you all the best, and that you enjoy your experiment. But isn’t Oxfam doing it’s own ‘cultural imperialism’ thing here, and isn’t it more than a bit colonial? We wouldn’t accept such conditions. So why should we imagine that any other human wouldn’t want what we want – homes, running water, heat, transport, job prospects? Are cultures so different?

The UN climate panel predicts Africa will be hit hard by climate change in the next century, with tens of millions facing food and water shortages as rising temperatures are exacerbated by more droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

Let us assume the UN are right. Will the lives of nomadic people be better in the face of an unpredictable climate if there are roads, irrigation, running water, hospitals and all that stuff, or without? It’s got to be easier being a nomad if you can get the bus -or, shock horror, buy a van – when you’re bored of being a nomad.

Oxfam’s legitimacy on the world stage, and its role is entirely founded on the idea of there being an excluded voiceless people and forces in society which exclude them. There is nothing wrong with campaigning for change. But Oxfam would be impotent without voiceless victims to speak for. It needs a constituency, or it is redundant. Were the lives of the poor to be transformed such that they became politically and economically powerful, under the logic of Oxfam’s climate campaign, it would need to regard them as the criminals in the picture of the world they have painted. Instead of arguing for factories, roads, infrastructure (all the things which made Western lives better) Oxfam uses climate change to create the idea of victims and culprits, in an argument for ‘sustainablity’ over development. The tragedy is that the only thing it will sustain is poverty… And Oxfam. It claims that natural disasters are happening because of Western lifestyles, when in reality, natural disasters happen because of a lack of development. Oxfam stopped being a charity when it started telling people how they ought to live, rather than campaigning for equality.

We Have Ways of Making You Walk

Recently, we have discussed how Green is the colour of reinventing yourself, to make your washed out perspective seem fresh and relevant to today’s world. Gay rights activist and Green Party Parliamentary Candidate, Peter Tatchell, clothes himself in alarmist pseudo-science. Jean-Fancois Mouhot reinvents history itself by rewriting slavery in order to be able to make a moral equivalence of contemporary lifestyles and slave-owning. Arthur Scargill emerges from his tomb to make clean coal the answer to our climate problems. Oh, and Al Gore, who uses anxieties about global warming to make Kennedy-esque speeches.

Enter the psychologists. (Again).

“We know how to change behavior and attitudes. That is what we do. We know what messages will work and what will not.”

So says Yale University psychologist Alan Kazdin, president of the American Psychological Association to USA Today.

The group are convening for their annual convention, and are set to discuss a number of topics relating to the environment.

The article continues, to discuss a presentation of some research at the meeing:

News stories that provided a balanced view of climate change reduced people’s beliefs that humans are at fault and also reduced the number of people who thought climate change would be bad, according to research by Stanford social psychologist Jon Krosnick.

His presentation will detail a decade of American attitudes about climate change. His new experiment, conducted in May, illustrates what he says is a publicmisperception about global warming. He says there is scientific consensus among experts that climate change is occurring, but the nationwide online poll of 2,600 adults asked whether they believe scientists agree or disagree about it.

Interesting, isn’t it, that Krosnick has conducted a poll amongst the public, to see if their beliefs match those of the scientists, but neglected to poll scientists to establish their views. He takes for granted the magnitude of the consensus, and fails to actually define it. What is the point of agreement, against which he wishes to measure the public’s error? For a professor at an Ivy-League university, specialising in survey methodology, this ommission is stark, and very unscientific. What is more, it exhibits some considerable arrogance and contempt for the public. He assumes to know the truth, and beleives that the difference between his view and the public’s can be explained by some kind of psychological mechanism. They are so stupid and irrational that being exposed to balanced media risks people thinking the wrong things. Call the psycho-cops, democracy is on the loose.

Liberals and Democrats who attach themselves to the global warming issue (as Krosnick says they do more than their conservative counterparts), take note: this is neither liberal, nor democratic.

Krosnick invents a consensus position: climate change is occurring. But this is a meaningless assertion, devoid of any scientific value. Climate changes. Nobody disputes that. The question is about whether human influence (which again, nobody doubts) on the climate is significant enough to legitimise the politics in response to fears about it.Krosnick, who is, after all, an academic with expertise in political science really ought to know this.

The thing which is routinely mistaken as evidence of a scientific consensus – the IPCC reports – is not a product of a consensus. It is the product of 3 working groups, split into dozens of chapters, each of, at most, dozens of scientists, in a confused and non transparent process. There is no poll taken to see how many scientists agree with any particular point. There are few opportunities for scientists to challenge the interpretation of the report. And the IPCC is not made up of just climate scientists, but also social scientists and economists.

Again, we see the IPCC used by others to mean and to say whatever it is they feel like saying, with no regard for what it actually says, nor the process through which it was achieved. But who cares about facts?

By editing CNN and PBS news stories so that some saw a skeptic included in the report, others saw a story in which the skeptic was edited out and another group saw no video, Krosnick found that adding 45 seconds of a skeptic to one news story caused 11% of Americans to shift their opinions about the scientific consensus. Rather than 58% believing a perceived scientific agreement, inclusion of the skeptic caused the perceived amount of agreement to drop to 47%.

There doesn’t appear to be any mention of what the sceptic actually said, by which we ought to be able to establish whether or not the viewers were foolish to believe what they were seeing. The implication is that the sceptic must have been wrong, and the counterpart argument right.

In other words, by closing down debate, you can influence public opinion. You don’t need to be Goebbels to understand that. If there is any psychology to study here, it is not the public’s. It is the twisted psychology of the psychologists who think this kind of exercise is legitimate that needs scrutiny.

American Psychological Association leaders say they want to launch a national initiative specifically targeting behavior changes, including developing media messages that will help people reduce their carbon footprint and pay more attention to ways they can conserve.

In other words, the public can expect psychologists to be engaged in brainwashing them into accepting political propaganda. The APA are not the first to propose this. Last year, we reported on this video.

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Back to the USA Today article. It explains what the APA hope to achieve.

They want to work with other organizations and enlist congressional support to help fund the effort.

Academics wrap themselves in environmentalism in order to reinvent themselves and demonstrate the relevance of their research to public policy. What is at issue is not an interest in the public’s understanding of the science, but their attachment to sides in the political ‘debate’. Social scientists and humanities academics who promise to influence public opinion in this way create their own legitimacy.

The scope of disciplines is broadened by tenuous logic such as Moffic’s, who, on the basis that global warming is a ‘public health issue’, crowbars a way to the table for psychiatrists. All disciplines begin to converge on global warming in this way, and reorganise themselves around environmentalism’s tenets. It has been said before that ‘global warming is the defining issue of our time’. Indeed it is. But climate change is less about society’s vulnerability to the climate, and much much more about various parts of the establishment’s struggle to define themselves. Cynics argue that environmentalism serves to help academics secure research grants. The truth is far darker. Academics are using the climate issue to provide them with direction, not merely cash. The direction is now less towards understanding things such as the mind, and more towards controlling it. On no more than the basis that ‘climate change is occurring’, moral philosophers tell us what is right, social historians invent lessons from history to make climate criminals in the present, science historians invent conspiracy theorists, and psychologists tell us how to apply distress to change public opinion, and why debate is just too risky to trust to the public. Only experts can save the world.

Alan Kazdin claims that he understands people sufficiently to “change behavior and attitudes” and that he knows “what messages will work and what will not.” The truth is that he and his colleagues only believe that they understand people, because they hold such a very low opinion of them. It is this low opinion which has been used in the past to influence the public, not through sophisticated reasoning, but by reducing members of society to creatures not deserving of democratic expression. Once you have convinced yourself of your rightness, and have diminished your view of the public to unthinking masses, things like democracy, debate, and genuine legitimacy cease to matter. You are no longer concerned with winning the debate, but controlling it for the higher purpose you believe you are engaged in.