Among the most absurd elements of climate change debates is the persistence of the issue of ‘funding’. Absurd because at the same time that science is held to give uncorrupted and incorruptible instructions about how to respond to a changing climate, it is also held – by the very same people – to be vulnerable to ‘attack’ and ‘distortion’ by financial interests. This form of argument has been deployed by alarmists to diminish the credibility of anyone challenging the ‘consensus’, whether or not they actually challenge ‘the science’. According to this logic, anybody who has any sympathy with any sort of contrary argument, if they aren’t part of the organised conspiracy to ‘distort the science’, have been brainwashed by it.
It’s also absurd because no matter how hard an attempt is made to divide the debate between good and bad, funded and unfunded, interested and disinterested, the argument fails. For every vested interest in ‘business as usual’, there is a venture capitalist lobbying for legislation that will create a market for their carbon finance products. For every ‘politically-motivated’ argument standing against the Kyoto Protocol and its successor, there is an ideologue angling to reorganise society according to the tenets of environmentalism. For every ‘denial’ of climate change science, a hundred more liberties are taken with the facts in the other direction.
It’s even more absurd because those who shriek the loudest about the corrupting influence of dirty oil money tend to have far more than their fair share of power in climate debates.
Talking of which, we are flattered that Bob Ward – Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, erstwhile Director of Public Policy at risk insurance giants RMS and before that, Senior Manager for Policy Communication at the Royal Society – has dropped by to give his thoughts on our observation that, if you’re going to go around accusing the opposition of corruption, you’d better be whiter than white yourself. We suggested that Ward’s obsession with Exxon is rather ironic given his own links with the risk insurance industry. And, of course, the risk insurance industry has at least as much to gain from climate alarmism as Exxon has from playing down the dangers.
Except that the only thoughts that Ward has actually offered consist of accusations that… you’ve guessed it… that we are motivated by our own dodgy financial interests:
Dear Ben and Stuart,
Who needs ‘LinkedIn’ when you can have hilarious pages on spoof websites like this devoted to your career! Congratulations on one of the most imaginative attacks on me yet – it ranks alongside ExxonMobil’s attempts to convince Chris Huhne MP that there were question marks over my departure from the Royal Society!
I was hoping to gauge whether I was demonstrably more corrupt than you, but sadly you seem to be a bit shy about revealing the identity of your paymasters. Do tell!
Then, in true Pythonesque Spanish-Inquisition style, he adds:
I didn’t expect you to reveal your sources of financial support, and you didn’t disappoint. Or maybe you really are independently wealthy and don’t need to work for a living. Just like Prince Charles, eh chaps? Pip pip!
If Ward can be so wrong in this instance – and, for the record, he is utterly wrong on both counts – it does rather make one wonder about the veracity of any of his other accusations.
You are welcome to make of it what you like. We are aware that one mustn’t make too much of the witterings of a PR professional. But, at the very least, we’d expect rather more from a PR professional of Ward’s credentials, especially one who claims to speak for science – as Ward does in his many indignant open letters to his various nemeses. No, maybe not.
Anyway, like one commenter, we are intrigued to find out what Ward actually thinks is ‘imaginative’ about our account. All we have done is pull together a bunch of factual observations about the political, business and academic interests of Ward and his associates. No imagination necessary. But Ward is too busy with the ‘ad hominems’ to say what might actually be wrong with the piece.
It would seem that Ward is aspiring to the standards set by his former boss at the Royal Society, Bob May, who, while on the one hand, insists that we ‘respect the facts‘ (as designated by the Royal Society), is only too willing to make up stuff as it pleases him as long as it serves his political ends.
As we pointed out a long time ago, Greenpeace’s attempts to establish the size of the conspiracy to distort science culminated in a total failure of the argument. Their Exxonsecrets website aimed to demonstrate the flow of cash between the oil giant and a network of think tanks, and found a trail of cash amounting to $22 million between 1998 and 2006. Their own budget for the same period was $2.1 billion. For every dollar that Exxon is alleged to have spent on distorting the debate, Greenpeace spent a thousand on their own propaganda effort.
What does it prove? Not very much. All it says is that the issue of funding and interests isn’t clear cut, and in fact cuts both ways. But it does suggest that Grantham’s Policy and Communications Director is getting rather desperate if he is resorting to hurling accusations of dodgy funding at a couple of lowly bloggers.
If you think we are getting a bit over-excited by all this, you’re probably right. But the point is that, while people shriek that interests corrupt, it’s not just profits and careers that are being established on the back of climate change anxiety – an entire climate change industry and national and international political institutions are being constructed with the objective of changing the way we live. What we have argued on this blog is that, whatever the scientific truth about climate change, it doesn’t call for special politics and special political institutions that are, for the sake of our survival, above criticism and scrutiny. Bob Ward and his ilk seem to think that this industry and these institutions – which he has played his own small part in manufacturing – are above scrutiny, and that all he needs to do to dismiss any criticism is point his fingers and cry ‘Exxon!’. Given the lack of popular support for the restructuring of political systems on environmental grounds, perhaps Ward’s boss at Grantham, Lord Stern, should consider getting a new Public Relations man.