Monthly Archives: July 2009
Any article that includes the line
The dragonfly family has more species than any other mammal
has got to be worth a closer look. And this one, from Saturday’s Guardian, doesn’t disappoint.
Dragonflies in danger of extinction seek sanctuary at new rescue centre
Pollution, pesticides and habitat loss bring dragonflies close to the brink after 325m years
Dragonflies may have hovered and hunted across the planet for the last 325m years, but their modern relatives are staring extinction in the face.
Don’t fear: dragonflies are no more ‘staring extinction in the face’ than they are warm-blooded, hirsuit creatures that bear live young and lactate. They don’t need rescuing. Indeed, there is no ‘rescue centre’.
All that has actually happened in the world to prompt the Guardian’s latest episode of extinction-porn is that the National Trust, the British Dragonfly Society and the Dragonfly Project have got together to open a visitor centre – a place for people to visit to learn about dragonflies – at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire. They have issued a press release about it, and have got a TV personality to perform the opening ceremony.
Naturally, the press release contains a few facts and figures to tempt the press. And how better to tempt the press than with a few bleak-looking statistics about how three species of dragonfly have disappeared from Britain since the 1950s and how a third of the regularly-occurring UK species are under threat? (The one about dragonflies being mammals comes straight from the Guardian’s own imagination.) Also naturally, the Guardian has taken these facts and figures and distorted them beyond recognition to spin a tale about the imminent extinction of all dragonflies everywhere in the whole world.
It follows, by definition, that all the species occurring in Britain must be declining, too. Yep, says the Guardian, it’s just that some are declining more spectacularly than others:
the new centre hopes to reverse the decline of the 42 species found regularly in the UK. Conservationists blame the decline on the loss of wetlands, and pesticides and insecticides drifting from farmland [...] Some British species are faring worse than others. White-faced darters have seen a signifcant loss and drying out of the bog pools where they live, while the Norfolk hawker’s limited distribution – mostly in the Norfolk Broads – has left it vulnerable to sea level rises and salt water infiltration.
A perusal of the website of the British Dragonfly Society (BDS), however, reveals that many species are increasing in range and/or numbers in the UK. For example:
Anax imperator – Emperor Dragonfly
‘Widespread in southern England and southern Wales; increasing its range northwards’
Brachytron pratense – Hairy Dragonfly
‘Uncommon but increasing its range. Now widely scattered through England, Wales and Ireland but rare in Scotland.’
Libellula fulva – Scarce Chaser
‘L. fulva is scarce in Britain and is consequently listed under category 3 (scarce) in the British Red Data Book on Insects [...] Populations appear to be stable and there is evidence that suggests that it may be expanding its range.’
Orthetrum cancellatum – Black-tailed Skimmer
‘Southern England, parts of Wales and Ireland. Increasing its range northwards.’
Sympetrum sanguineum – Ruddy Darter
‘Resident in south-east England and central Ireland but increasing its range.’
The data provided in the press release come from a report published last year that assessed the conservation status of UK dragonfly species according to criteria set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The last time this was done was in 1987, when six species met the criteria for being classed as rare, vulnerable or endangered. The new report makes it twelve (see Appendix 2). This does not mean, however, that things are twice as bad as they were in 1987, because the two data sets are not directly comparable. That’s because, as the introduction makes clear:
The IUCN Red List categories and criteria have undergone extensive review over the last 20 years. The current Version 3.1 was adopted by the IUCN Council in February 2000 (IUCN, 2001). This revised document has been accompanied by continually improved guidelines on the application of the IUCN criteria (IUCN, 2003; IUCN, 2005: IUCN Standards and Petitions Working Group 2006).
Moreover, despite the Guardian’s determination to extrapolate from the local to the global, endangerment in the UK has little bearing on a species’ vulnerability to extinction. All of the species supposedly ‘under threat’ are also present in mainland Europe – and some extend as far as Africa, Siberia, and even Japan. Only one (Coenagrion mercuriale) is endangered globally.
Likewise, none of the three species that have disappeared from Britain since the 1950s (Coenagrion scitulum, Coenagrion armatum, Oxygastra curtisii) are endangered globally.
And something else that doesn’t get mentioned, by the Guardian or in the presser, is that there have been two additions to the British dragonfly fauna over the same period that three have been lost:
Erythromma viridulum – Small Red-eyed Damselfly
‘Recent colonist (first records 1999). Local but spreading spectacularly through southeast England and the Isle of Wight.’
Anax parthenope – Lesser Emperor
‘Rare but currently annual migrant. First recorded 1996, Gloucestershire; has bred in Cornwall.’
Which adds up to a net loss from Britain of a single species. The colonisations are not, by the way, the result of introductions by humans, but of vagrant populations establishing breeding populations under their own steam. Additionally, there’s a bunch of other species that look poised to colonise our ponds in the near future:
Lestes barbarus – Southern Emerald Damselfly
‘Migrant/Vagrant from Northern Europe, possibly the Netherlands where it has increased recently. First observed in July 2002 in Norfolk. Also in the Channel Islands since 1995.’
Lestes (Chalcolestes) viridis – Willow Emerald Damselfly
‘Vagrant, has bred [possible future colonist(?)]. Widespread on Jersey.’
Sympetrum fonscolombii – Red-veined Darter
‘Fairly frequent migrant, principally to southwest England though scattered records from elsewhere (has reached Scotland). Breeds nearly annually, but colonies seemingly not stable.’
Sympetrum flaveolum – Yellow-winged Darter
‘Irregular migrant but may occur in large numbers (1995, 2006). Has bred after major influxes (e.g. Chartley Moss, Staffordshire, in 1996), but colonies do not persist.’
Dragonflies are strong fliers and, therefore, highly mobile species. They come and they go. As the authors of the 2008 report summarise:
The distribution of a number of Odonata species has changed significantly over the past 20 years. A number of species have increased their range northwards, additional species have been found to regularly breed within Britain and others have lost populations at the edge of their range.
But local extinctions and waves of immigration present a challenge for environmentalism. Because environmentalism is deeply conservative. Environmentalism doesn’t like change. It doesn’t like it when species go extinct, or when they get ideas above their station. Environmentalism, as the Guardian makes clear, would prefer everything to be how it was 325m years ago.
The UK government recently gave its ‘low carbon transition plan’ an airing. At the launch of the plan, the unelected Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills who has been forced, twice, to resign from previous roles within the government for his involvement in scandals, Lord Peter Mandelson said:
I am really proud of a government that has been in office for what… twelve… just over twelve or so years, that can still generate the interest, the energy, the ingenuity, and if you don’t mind me saying so, the wisdom to produce a low-carbon transition plan, a low carbon industrial strategy, that can set very very ambitious targets. But not satisfied with the targets, put in place too, the realisable plans and actions and decisions that we have to take as a country in order to realise those very ambitious targets. And I must say, it’s certainly an enormous credit to Ed [Miliband] in particular who has shown great leadership in bringing us to this point.
But Ed could not have done this without the pressure, the ideas, and the fire power of all the stake-holders, each and every individual represented in this museum tonight. So thank you very much indeed for helping bring the government, collectively, to this point. But your work is not yet done. You have to take us and help us and stand with us and take our views and our proposals and our policies out and around the country in order to generate real popular understanding for and support for what we are going to do in implementing this low-carbon transition plan. Because we are not going, in this country, to enjoy a high-carbon future. Certainly not one we can depend on, and certainly not one we can afford with finite supplies of fossil fuels, with their volatile prices being driven up by ever growing demand from fast-expanding emerging economies around the world. We need a much more dependable, safer, greener, affordable future than that…
In this very same month, the Vestas factory in the Isle of Wight, which makes blades for wind turbines, will cease production, with the loss of 600 jobs.
A press release from the government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced two days previously: ‘UK at forefront of a low carbon economic revolution‘. By 2020, it said, ‘more than 1.2 million people will be in green jobs’. It quotes Mandelson again:
The UK is already the sixth largest economy for low carbon goods and services, globally worth £3 trillion and growing, and today the government is outlining how its support for the economy will ensure our businesses and our workforce continue to lead the way. We must combine the dynamism of the private sector with a strategic role for government to deliver the benefits of innovation, growth and job creation in the UK.
The UK government, it seems, pats itself and its cronies on the back for setting ‘ambitious’ targets, and promising hundreds of thousands of new jobs, while the reality is that over a quarter of a million people lost their jobs in the spring months. The 600 workers at the Vestas factory will be joining more than 2.8 million (and rising) unemployed people at the dole queue. Who does Mandelson think he’s kidding?
But is this, as Mandelson claims, an industrial revolution? A genuine industrial revolution should make it possible to produce things more efficiently, creating greater dynamism within the economy. But this green “industrial revolution” yields no net benefit. What are called opportunities are generated at a net cost, absorbing money and labour that might be better spent on producing real industrial development, or public services such as schools and hospitals. Stagnation is spun as progress. For example, it is China’s industrial dynamism, not the UK’s, which has created markets for reclaimable materials. It is only by intervention and legislation that the UK is even able to collect plastic bottles, never mind reprocess them.
As Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor at The Times puts it, ‘Government claims that Britain already supports nearly one million “green-collar” jobs have been exposed as a sham’:
Britain’s Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, outlined yesterday by Lord Mandelson, claimed that the economy already supported 880,000 “low-carbon jobs” — a figure that he said was poised to grow by up to 400,000 by 2015 to more than 1.28 million. But a detailed breakdown of the figures obtained by The Times shows that they include an extraordinarily loose definition of the term.
[...] Figures supplied by Innovas showed that the total included 207 jobs in the supply and manufacture of animal bedding, 90 providing equestrian surfaces and 164 in the recycling of footwear, “slippers and other carpet wear”.
Mr Sharp acknowledged that there were some “weird and wonderful” categories. “We try to capture as much of the supply chain as possible,” he said.
Or, as Ben put it in the Register, back in April:
Citing Innovas’s report, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband said that the global green sector is already a three-trillion-dollar industry set to grow by fifty per cent. Agriculture accounts for 4 per cent of the World’s GDP of around $70tn. Is it plausible that the world’s ‘green’ economy is larger than the agricultural economy? These big numbers raise questions about the meaning of ‘green’?
“We try to create as wide a definition as possible”, says John Sharp, MD of Innovas Solutions, “because that way we can capture the supply chain. We don’t count things like toilet roll and stationery.”
But it includes the manufacture, installation, supply, and distribution of battery testing equipment, and nearly the entire chain from development to decommissioning and decontamination of nuclear power stations.
(Did Innovas’s report count journalists as working within the recycling industry, we wonder.)
Back to Mandelson’s speech and his claim that ‘we are not going, in this country, to enjoy a high-carbon future’. Mandelson claims that this is because of necessity and of material reality: fossil fuels are just too expensive and in too short supply to power the UK’s growth. The truth of the matter is that what is far more scarce than the (in fact, plentifully abundant) planet’s supply of fossil fuels is the political establishment’s supply of imagination. We’re not being offered a ‘high carbon future’ because none of the political parties have any idea about how to deliver optimistic plans. None of them have any idea about how to reinvigorate British industry. None of them even know how to make an argument for conventional energy generation. None of them can make arguments for courses of action that will create jobs as a worthwhile end without dressing it up in green, as a response to a ‘planetary emergency’ – they can’t even think of things that the huge number of people who are unemployed could be doing instead of claiming benefits. Their fecklessness and lack of credibility will manifest as the continued decline of British industry, the continued rise of unemployment, and the deepening of the mutual cynicism between the public and themselves.
The problem here is the future, and how it is defined. It is the Labour Party’s intellectual exhaustion that drives its progress from crisis to crisis. Its inability to determine a direction for itself means it looks for external crises, partly as a means to shift focus from its own incoherence, but also as an attempt to orient itself towards something… Anything. In short, because it doesn’t know where it’s going (i.e. the future), it has no idea how to get there (i.e. development and growth). Because it can’t make a positive argument for the future – it can’t raise the capital for projects; it can’t encourage development; it can’t negotiate the conflicts development will cause. It turns itself on development and growth itself and redefines ‘ambition’ as (at best) remaining in the present: ‘sustainability’, ‘precaution’, ‘security’. The present is, after all, always safer than the future. But don’t count on the opposition parties, because, as we have argued here on Climate Resistance, they suffer from exactly the same thing – none of them have any positive ideas about the future at all.
Enter climate change and the environmental ‘movement’. A general sense of anxiety about the future is given a scientific narrative – a projection, if you like, from our disoriented politics, out into the atmosphere. Mandelson asks the Green Great and the Good assembled at the launch of the Low Carbon Transition Plan to go forth and multiply the green message: ‘you have to take us and help us and stand with us and take our views and our proposals and our policies out and around the country in order to generate real popular understanding for and support for what we are going to do’. As we pointed out in our last post, the Government are only too aware that their environmental policies don’t really enjoy the public’s sympathy, and that the ideas underpinning them have not been tested democratically, and they know this is a problem. So Mandelson creates the policies, he then asks activists and journalists to generate credibility for them. This is politics backwards. Instead of creating ideas which achieve resonance among the public, thereby taking politicians and their ideas to power, Mandelson attempts to spin credibility from thin air, hoping that by making his policies appeal to the assembled movers and shakers he will reconnect his Government with the masses to resupply it with credibility and legitimacy. Obediently, messianic hacks and self-serving NGOs release missives that talk of the measures that aim to save the planet from certain destruction, but, in order to secure their undemocratic and unaccountable influence over the public agenda (much as with Mandelson), they say that the government’s policies do not go far enough.
The legacy of doing politics in this way will be a hugely inefficient Britain. If the ‘low carbon energy revolution’ will be at all successful in its aims, it will have created jobs by reducing their productivity: more people for less output. The jobs will be ‘made’ by generating scarcity, not by creating dynamism. Failure is being spun (by the Lord Spinmaster himself) as success, because Britain’s downward industrial trajectory is already a given.
This form of spin is not unique to the UK. For instance, in the US, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming published this on its website:
The nation that leads the race for clean energy technology will have a global economic advantage for the next century. With millions of manufacturing and high-tech jobs on the line, the United States cannot afford to fall behind.
Though we invented solar technology, the United States now lags behind Germany in solar power and manufacturing. The Germans control 47% of the global photovoltaic market, and Europe deployed 13 times more solar photovoltaic power than the United States last year.
The race for green energy? The intention here is to imply that at the end of the ‘race’ is some huge payoff. But there is no ‘race’ for ‘clean’ energy because ‘clean’ energy grants no advantage in itself – it’s only an advantage if there is a regulatory framework in place which creates a market for it. You can’t do more with ‘clean’ energy. In all likelihood, you can only do less. It’s not even comparable to some symbolic race, for instance to put people on the moon, because it doesn’t represent any ‘giant leap’ for mankind that can be identified as the fruitful expression of a nation’s commitment to its positive ideas. Instead, what’s driving the race is the fantasy, exploited by vapid politicians, that we stand on the edge of doom. If it’s a giant anything, the ‘renewable energy revolution’, by increasing our dependence on natural processes such as wind is a giant step backwards to feudal modes of production.
The article continues:
Denmark leads the world in wind power, even though our shores stretch thousands of miles longer.
Denmark made a commitment to wind power long before it became fashionable and invested heavily. This investment created a boom for wind turbine giants, Vestas – the company closing its Isle of Wight factory. Yet despite Denmark’s investment, its effect on the country’s CO2 emissions its unremarkable, and is only able to use 20% of it. The remainder is sold to Norway and Sweden, where it is used to ease the pressure on hydro-power – wind power only makes electricity when the wind blows, but water can be stored behind dams.
The article continues:
50 percent of all new jobs created in Ireland last year were clean energy jobs.
The Irish economy is currently deflating at an unprecedented rate – faster than any other. As this bleak article says, it shrank a whopping 8.5% in just the first quarter of this year. Unemployment in Ireland rose to 11.9% last month, and is expected (by the Prime Minister) to hit an eye-watering 15.5% by the end of this year, and continue its rise into the next. That 50% of all new jobs created in Ireland last year were in ‘clean energy’ means almost nothing – it could have been as few as 100 – and it certainly doesn’t represent the emergence of a golden new age of industrial dynamism and creativity. On the contrary, it is the failure of Western economies that is driving a version of the ‘Green New Deal’ in each of them. Each promising jobs, and each promising huge investments.
China is spending $12.6 million PER HOUR on clean energy development.
China is preparing to invest $440 to $660 billion this year in clean energy development.
China brought the world’s first mass-produced plug-in hybrid car to market, ahead of the Chevy Volt, and has plans to develop a network of electric vehicle charging stations. Korea and Japan are leapfrogging America in battery and electric vehicle technology that will power the vehicles of the future.
There is no surprise that China is investing in green technologies. Its dynamism and ability to actually deliver development – in contrast to the flailing Western economies – means that it will be able to take advantage of the market for green products that is being opened up by regulations, laws, taxes and subsidies here. Meanwhile, British, European and American firms are likely to be crippled by environmental legislation. Rather than attempting to create optimistic ideas about how to transform our economies and industries into something resembling China’s, we hear instead that we have to aspire to less energy consumption, with higher energy prices, and less efficient and less productive jobs… Meanwhile, the 600 jobs at the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight have moved to the East. This is the ‘race’ that the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming thinks the USA – formerly the powerhouse of Western capitalism – thinks it can win. It has already lost. ‘Green New Deals’, can only make it lose further; they do not address the political problems – the intellectual poverty of Western political elites – that make our economies duller and duller.
The Waxman-Markey legislation will launch a renewable revolution, one that draws on our manufacturing might and technological advantage and positions us to lead the world in wind, solar, efficiency, and carbon capture and sequestration technology.
It’s time to put America back in the driver’s seat in the global race for clean energy jobs and technology.
This is not a race to create a dynamic economy. It is not a race to create a new liberating politics. It is not an attempt to improve people’s lives. There is only a race, across the Green West, to stifle development, to prevent progressive change, and to remove entirely any form of aspiration from politics. That is the ‘revolution’ it wants to create. It is being advanced by people who are simply unable to make a case for any positive form of development, because they lack any sense of what that development might consist of, and lack any form of connection with the public. They are held over a barrel by unaccountable, unelected, self-serving and self-appointed Non-Governmental Organisations that increasingly oppose the very principle of economic growth and of technological development, and are increasingly hostile to the idea that people are able to and should be allowed to make decisions for themselves. This ‘revolution’ is being blindly constructed by people who, even if they did have a good argument for development on its own terms would not be able to frame it on such terms, because they have entirely lost faith in the idea that life can be improved. Instead, capital for political ideas is generated on the premise that material reality dictates that life simply cannot be improved. Politics is accordingly limited to a choice between different self-serving dysphorias and dystopian visions.
The cost of this move is a massive debt of credibility of the present to the future. The result will be hostility to politics and to science, and generally to trust in public institutions. Just as with the intense borrowing and spending that going on – rather than reflecting on what’s caused our current circumstances – this debt will grow and grow until the political reality really gets called in. Meanwhile, mere deferment of political crisis is being spun as progress. No wonder politicians are so terrified of the future. There may well be environmental problems, but as we often say: the crisis is in politics, not in the skies.
We’ve flagged up Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband’s relationship with climate activists before. When he’s not snuggling up to Franny ‘Age of Stupid’ Armstrong, he’s egging on airport protesters and comparing them to past popular movements:
When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilization. Maybe it’s an odd thing for someone in government to say, but I just think there’s a real opportunity and a need here.
He continued in this vein at the weekend when speaking to demonstrators at a Climate Justice event organised by Catholic aid agency CAFOD and Christian Aid:
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband urged people to continue to fight for climate justice at a rally in Doncaster at the weekend, emphasising the public’s ability to influence international green policies [...]
“I think it’s incredibly important that we show governments around the world that people really care about these issues and days like today are incredibly important” Miliband told the campaigners.
“I think we are winning the battle” Miliband added. “It is an uphill struggle, but I think it’s a battle we can win and you are contributing to it by what you do today and what you are doing in your daily lives.”
“I genuinely believe that people will make the difference to whether this challenge is tackled or not and I urge you to not succumb to the defeatism that says, ‘oh well, people can’t make a difference in this, it’s really about whether governments do their bit or not’.
“I think we need to keep up the good work between now and December if we are going to get the kind of ambitious deal on climate change that we need,” he added.
But it’s not ‘the people’ influencing climate policies. Miliband is desperate, desperate, desperate to make it look like we’re all green now, and that we’re all marching in the streets. But this image does not compare to reality. Just 400 people turned up to the rally, held in Doncaster, which has a population just shy of 300,000, and lies just 20 miles from Sheffield (population 1.8 million). Even in his own constituency, with his own party activists, and with the support of a number of church groups and environmental campaigning organisations, Miliband cannot raise more than a handful of supporters. There are, regularly, and throughout the country, village and school fêtes with a bigger turn-out. More people were in supermarkets in Doncaster that day, than were at the rally. More people were in their cars, or enjoying the warm weather in their gardens.
Yet Miliband continues to play Noah. Why? Speaking at the end of the rally, he said:
“I want to congratulate Cafod on its Climate Justice campaign. We need to keep up the good work between now and December if we are going to get the kind of ambitious deal on climate change that we need,” Mr Miliband said.
The electorate didn’t ever vote for what the Government are doing to ‘save the planet’ – the UK public have been denied the opportunity to have their interest in environmentalism tested at the ballot box – Miliband knows that. His public appearances are intended to maintain the illusion that he is responding to a popular movement, and has to whip up as much support as he can muster from anyone prepared to pose alongside him.
Miliband’s courting of the radical environmental movement has had the result of attracting their attention. The latest climate protest at the site of the planned Kingsnorth power station aimed to form a ‘giant human chain’, or Mili-Band (geddit?) around the existing plant. But although this protest numbered a slightly bigger 1,000 activists (they reckon), this is hardly the demonstration of popular uprising that Miliband wants it to be, and the ‘giant human chain’ only extended a small way around the site.
1,000 protesters turned up at Kingsnorth demanding that no new power plants should be built, and that they pledged to use direct action to prevent it. Meanwhile, the remaining 60,942,912 people of the UK weren’t at the protest, and probably all of them used electricity.
Oxfam activists were also in attendance at the Mili-Band. The ‘development’ charity encourages people to take direct action against… erm… development.
So few in numbers are these protesters, that the only way they can get their message across is by pulling stunts rather than actual ‘demonstration’ – the only thing such small number really demonstrate is impotence. Impotence manifests as rage, however, and so conceited are these individuals that in spite of their failure to reproduce their message, that they threaten sabotage if they aren’t heeded.
So what is all this in aid of?
This has all happened as New Labour starts making announcements about its Carbon Transition Plan, which outlines how it likes to think the UK will meet its target of a 34% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020:
The protesters fancy themselves as revolutionary thinkers that stand against the government, and ‘the system’. But look, here they are, doing the government’s PR work for them: organising events and speaking opportunities, and creating the illusion of grass-roots support. Behind this facade, the Labour Party are suffering perhaps their worst domestic crisis of legitimacy ever. The UK government has lost any moral authority in the international arena that it ever had. A paltry opposition fails to challenge any of its ideas. A supine media fails to hold it to account. And the activists come out ten-by-ten to save the whole undignified lot. This ark is a ship of fools. It’s not designed to save people from the climate; it’s designed to save themselves from the near-total collapse of their credibility.
After a 20-year-long role at the BBC, Peter Sissons has attacked the anti-journalistic culture at the BBC. Writing in the Mail on Sunday (the article has been taken off-line for some reason), Sissons outlines some key reasons for his decision to leave.
This bit caught our eye – look out for a familiar name.
Two other events disturbed me during the last few years.
Before I left News At Ten, I had to read out on air the BBC’s longest apology. It lasted nearly two minutes, and in it the BBC apologised to a diamond-mining firm called Oryx Natural Resources.
A report had falsely linked the firm with Al Qaeda, accusing one of its major shareholders of being a convicted terrorist. The two men had the same surname.
This humiliation for the BBC could have been avoided if one of journalism’s basic rules had been followed: if you think that you’ve got someone bang to rights, ring them up and ask them what they’ve got to say about it. But the story was, as they say, too good to check, and it greatly dented the BBC’s journalistic reputation, as well as its libel fund.
The other episode happened more recently. On a wintry Saturday last December, there was what was billed as a major climate change rally in London.
The leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, went into the Westminster studio to be interviewed by me on the BBC News channel. She clearly expected what I call a ‘free hit'; to be allowed to voice her views without being challenged on them.
I pointed out to her that the climate didn’t seem to be playing ball at the moment. We were having a particularly cold winter, even though carbon emissions were increasing. Indeed, there had been no warming for ten years, contradicting all the alarming computer predictions.
Well, she was outraged. I don’t have the actual transcript, but Miss Lucas told me angrily that it was disgraceful that the BBC — the BBC! — should be giving any kind of publicity to those sort of views. I believe I am one of a tiny number of BBC interviewers who have so much as raised the possibility that there is another side to the debate on climate change.
The Corporation’s most famous interrogators invariably begin by accepting that ‘the science is settled’, when there are countless reputable scientists and climatologists producing work that says it isn’t.
But it is effectively BBC policy, enthusiastically carried out by the BBC environment correspondents, that those views should not be heard — witness the BBC statement last year that ‘BBC News currently takes the view that their reporting needs to be calibrated to take into account the scientific consensus that global warming is man-made’.
Politically the argument may be settled, but any inquisitive journalist can find ample evidence that scientifically it is not.
I was not proud to be working for an organisation with a corporate mind so closed on such an important issue. Disquiet over my interview with Miss Lucas, incidentally, went right to the top at the BBC although, naturally, they never sought to discuss it with me. For me, this is not an issue about the climate, it is an issue about the duty of the journalist.
The truth of the matter is that for all the above reasons, I was no longer comfortable at BBC News. It remains an iconic organisation, but it stands at the crossroads.
The BBC is not able to challenge politicians in its mainstream output. Sure, there are occasionally sceptic opinions permitted onto the airwaves, but for a high-profile journalist to ask a challenging question is to speak out of turn. As Sissons implies, the BBC sees its responsibility principally to reproduce environmental ideology, not to hold politicians to account.
But let’s not single out the BBC. The culture that exists at the BBC is symptomatic of a wider phenomenon of which the BBC is just another victim. Lucas’s reaction demonstrates that she is simply not used to being challenged. Rather than seeking to explain Sissons’s challenge – perhaps using the very science she claims gives her political ideas legitimacy – she merely gets angry. It’s not even as if Sissons’s questions were particularly probing. She could easily have replied along the lines that a single bout of cold weather does not detract from an upward trend, for example. It is the fact that she does not that makes the question so revealing.
As we have argued here on Climate Resistance, climate change has become the means by which journalists and politicians alike have sought to reorientate their moral compasses. Accordingly, the world is increasingly seen through the prism of climate change. But by grounding themselves in ‘facts’, rather than in more philosophical commitments to principles, values, or even political ideas, politicians and journalists make themselves vulnerable. It means that if the ‘facts’ are challenged, their entire perspective on the world crumbles, and their value as journalists/politicians disintegrates. This is why we find journalists and politicians reacting so angrily to even the merest hint or whiff of ‘denial’.
Environmentalism is a symptom of being unable to explain the world, particularly on behalf of the establishment. It seeks to ground itself on facts, but cannot tolerate criticism. As we are fond of saying, the crisis is in politics, not in the sky.
(H/T: Austin and Rupert).
Poor George Monbiot is even miserabler than usual:
On the Guardian’s environment site in particular, and to a lesser extent on threads across the Guardian’s output, considered discussion is being drowned in a tide of vituperative gibberish. A few hundred commenters appear to be engaged in a competition to reach the outer limits of stupidity. They post so often and shout so loudly that intelligent debate appears to have fled from many threads, as other posters have simply given up in disgust. I’ve now reached the point at which I can’t be bothered to read beyond the first page or so of comments. It is simply too depressing.
His problem is that lots of commenters don’t agree with him. And Monbiot flatters himself that there can be only reason for that – someone must be paying them to do so:
As I documented extensively in my book Heat, and as sites like DeSmogBlog and Exxonsecrets show, there is a large and well-funded campaign by oil, coal and electricity companies to insert their views into the media.
They have two main modes of operating: paying people to masquerade as independent experts, and paying people to masquerade as members of the public. These fake “concerned citizens” claim to be worried about a conspiracy by governments and scientists to raise taxes and restrict their freedoms in the name of tackling a non-existent issue. This tactic is called astroturfing. It’s a well-trodden technique, also deployed extensively by the tobacco industry. You pay a public relations company to create a fake grassroots (astroturf) movement, composed of people who are paid for their services. They lobby against government attempts to regulate the industry and seek to drown out and discredit people who draw attention to the issues the corporations want the public to ignore.
Considering the lengths to which these companies have gone to insert themselves into publications where there is a risk of exposure, it is inconceivable that they are not making use of the Guardian’s threads, where they are protected by the posters’ anonymity. Some of the commenters on these threads have been paid to disseminate their nonsense, but we have no means, under the current system, of knowing which ones they are.
Monbiot even once went as far as challenging one of the commenters, who ignored him. Which has got to prove something:
Two months ago I read some comments by a person using the moniker scunnered52, whose tone and content reminded me of material published by professional deniers. I called him out, asking “Is my suspicion correct? How about providing a verifiable identity to lay this concern to rest?” I repeated my challenge in another thread. He used distraction and avoidance in his replies, but would not answer or even address my question, which gave me the strong impression that my suspicion was correct.
As it happens, we’ve been making the odd venture into Comment is Free discussions recently, and the funny thing is that the vast majority of our time on there has been spent fending off accusations that we are paid deniers, astroturfers, corporate sock-puppets, and that we’ve been posting under multiple aliases as part of an orchestrated campaign.
Monbiot’s preoccupation with astroturfers and the like sits hilariously with the fact that it is environmentalism that claims to be the grassroots movement trying to be heard above the din of the well-funded denial machine. The truth is of course that environmental orthodoxy is being driven from the top down, and comprises a range of corporate interests, policy-makers, media types, academics, NGO’s and private-school activists. The group it has most spectacularly failed to win over is the electorate. There’s a whole lot of people out there who disagree vehemently with Monbiot – too many for any denial machine to be able to afford to pay.
This failure is explained by the Monbiots of this world as the result of the influence of ‘deniers’, of course. Deniers have accordingly become the key antagonists in environmental mythology. But rather than taking on the arguments of the deniers, George has a fantasy battle in his own head. These fantasy deniers say so much more about George than they say about the real world.
Thanks to George Carty for pointing us to the Energy From Thorium Discussion Forum, where someone named Klaus Allmendinger has spotted something strange in the small print of a new report from WWF and Allianz insurance that claims to rank G8 countries in terms of their progress towards CO2 emissions targets:
… When noticing France AND Germany in similar places on the list, I looked a little further. France, according to this report, has still fairly high emissions from electricity production. A small footnote under one of the graphs though explains why:
“1 WWF does not consider nuclear power to be a viable policy option. The indicators “emissions per capita”, “emissions per GDP” and “CO2 per kWh electricity” for all countries have therefore been adjusted as if the generation of electricity from nuclear power had produced 350 gCO2/kWh (emission factor for natural gas). Without the adjustment, the original indicators for France would have been much lower, e.g. 86 gCO2/kWh.”
So basically, France’s CO2 emissions from electricity production are produced by ideological bias, not by fossil fuel combustion. It looks like the German emissions are lower than actual tons of CO2 also because of emission trading schemes. Allianz is of course also a trader in CO2 certificates.
It seems like the new battle-cry is: Enrons of the world, unite !!!
Not only does the report clearly not do what it claims to do, and not only is this another instance of Big Insurance joining forces with Big Environment to whip up alarm (not to mention premiums) about environmental risks (Allianz join Munich Re, RMS and Catlin), but, by ranking countries in terms of energy – rather than CO2 – production, it also supports our suggestion that Environmentalism has less to do with saving the planet than it does with reining in human aspirations.
The Bush administration’s unorthodox stance on climate change and stem-cell research led to widespread accusations that it conducted a war on science. The Democrats’ response has been to promise to ‘let science guide us, not ideology’, to ‘make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology’, and that ‘the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over’.
But in the latest issue of Issues in Science & Technology, Dan Sarewitz shows that, on the evidence of Obama’s presidency so far, science-led policy-making is easier said than done. Take Obama’s moves to change US stem-cell policy. Bush infamously restricted the use of federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research, limiting research to existing stem-cell lines. Writes Sarewitz:
Less than two months into his presidency, Obama announced that he would reverse the Bush policies by allowing research on cell lines created after the Bush ban. The president instructed the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to “develop guidelines for the support and conduct of responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research.”
In announcing the change, President Obama emphasized the need to “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” yet the new policy, as well as the language that the president used to explain it, underscores that the stem cell debate is in important ways not about scientific facts at all, but about the difficulty of balancing competing moral preferences. The new policy does not allow unrestricted use of embryos for research or the extraction of cell lines from embryos created by therapeutic cloning. In explaining that “[m]any thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research,” President Obama was acknowledging that, even in its earliest stages, the small group of cells that constitute an embryo are in some way different from a chemical reagent to be sold in a catalog or an industrially synthesized molecule to be integrated into a widget. Indeed, to protect women from economic and scientific exploitation, and in deference to the moral and political ambiguity that embryos carry with them, no nation allows the unrestricted commodification of embryos, and some, including Germany, have bans on destroying embryos for research purposes. Although most Americans favor a less restrictive approach to stem cell research than that pursued by President Bush, the issue is inherently political and inherently moral. Thus, some of the cell lines approved for research under the Bush restrictions might actually not be approved under the Obama guidelines because they may not have been obtained with the appropriate level of prior informed consent of the donor, a moral constraint on science that apparently did not concern President Bush.
Or take Obama’s decision to slash funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository:
At this point it is tempting to write: “It’s hard to imagine a case where politics trumped science more decisively than in the case of Yucca Mountain, where 20 years of research were traded for five electoral votes and the support of a powerful senator,” which seems basically correct, but taken out of context it could be viewed as a criticism of President Obama, which it is not. But the point I want to make is only slightly more subtle: Faced with a complex amalgam of scientific and political factors, President Obama chose short-term political gain over longer-term scientific assessment, and so decided to put an end to research aimed at characterizing the Yucca Mountain site. This decision can easily be portrayed in the same type of language that was used to attack President Bush’s politicization of science.
But not only is science-led politics difficult, if not impossible, it is also potentially dangerous. Sarewitz concludes:
… ownership of a powerful symbol can give rise to demagoguery and self-delusion. President Bush overplayed the national defense card in pursuit of an ideological vision that backfired with terrible consequences in Iraq. In turn, a scientific-technological elite unchecked by healthy skepticism and political pluralism may well indulge in its own excesses. Cults of expertise helped bring us the Vietnam War and the current economic meltdown. Uncritical belief in and promotion of the redemptive power of scientific and technological advance is implicated in some of the most difficult challenges facing humans today. In science, Democrats appear to have discovered a surprisingly potent political weapon. Let us hope they wield it with wisdom and humility.
Bob Ward is at it again. In an article for the Guardian, he writes that – shock, horror – ExxonMobil continues to fund organisations he disagrees with, even though he has told them not to.
A few weeks ago, ExxonMobil revealed that it made contributions in 2008 to lobby groups such as the National Center for Policy Analysis and the Heritage Foundation in order to “promote informed discussion”. So I have now written again to ExxonMobil to point out that these organisations publish misleading information about climate change on their websites
Ward, you might remember, started writing letters of complaint to the likes of Exxon when he was Director of Communications at the Royal Society, who supplied him with headed note-paper. He continued his crusade after taking up the post of Director of Global Science Networks at global risk insurance firm RMS. And he shows no sign of stopping now that he’s Policy and Communications Director at Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE.
The Guardian deems Ward’s article important enough to get its staff environment reporter to write an article about the fact that Ward has written an article:
The world’s largest oil company is continuing to fund lobby groups that question the reality of global warming, despite a public pledge to cut support for such climate change denial, a new analysis shows.
Company records show that ExxonMobil handed over hundreds of thousands of pounds to such lobby groups in 2008. These include the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) in Dallas, Texas, which received $75,000 (£45,500), and the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC, which received $50,000.
According to Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, at the London School of Economics, both the NCPA and the Heritage Foundation have published “misleading and inaccurate information about climate change.”
‘Hundreds of thousands of pounds’. Gosh. Compared to the sums made available for climate alarmism, even the ~$45 million paid out by Exxon over the course of a decade (according to Greenpeace’s Exxonsecrets website) is chicken feed. One only needs to compare it to the amount given by Ward’s benefactor, Jeremy Grantham, to put things into perspective. As a Sunday Times article revealed recently:
So concerned is Grantham, 70, over this issue that he has set up the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, endowed with £165m of his own money, to fund environmental research and campaigns. From it he is funding the LSE and Imperial donations, and other grants to American groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund.
So, just one individual has given nearly five times more in one lump to the green cause than Exxon (a petro-chemicals giant) is alleged to have given over the course of a decade. Nevermind the $billions at the disposal of the giant green NGOs such as WWF, and Greenpeace – many of which enjoy cosy relationships with governments and the EU, who go so far as paying such groups to lobby them.
According to Grantham:
Capitalism and business are going to have to remodel themselves and adapt to a rapidly changing and eventually very different world.
Says the… erm… Capitalist businessman. But whose interests will the remodelling of global capitalism and business serve?
Ward, of course, has his own interests served by elevating poorly-funded networks of ‘deniers’ to the status of global capitalist conspiracy. It gives the impression that there’s actually an organised challenge to the increasing influence of environmental ideology, giving him a role as its inquisitor. Thus, the image of the brave Ward standing against evil corporate conspiracies (with billionaires standing behind him, out of focus) gives such environmental ideology the appearance of socially-progressive radicalism.
Yet, arguably, Exxon are the ones doing the social good here, donating such sums that, if only in a small way, create the possibility of debate that has been so far dominated by the interests of the super-wealthy – the Goldsmiths, Prince Charles, the Tickells, Gore, and so on. Why should we take their word for it that their influence, and the influence of the institutions they lobby for, and fund, and direct, are operating in our interests?
Moreover, Ward’s accusations about the corrupting influence of corporate dollars can be thrown right back at him. From his HQ at the LSE, Ward’s boss Nick Stern runs both the Grantham and the Centre for Climate Change, Economics and Policy (CCCEP). While Ward’s employment is ostensibly with the Grantham, he also doubles up as PR man for the CCCEP. The CCCEP is funded jointly by the UK’s research councils and risk insurance giants Munich Re.
The close association between climate alarmists and the insurance industry is no less natural than that between ‘sceptics’ and Exxon. Just as Exxon might be expected to play down the threat of climate change when it suits them, Munich Re can be relied upon to overstate the dangers. Fear of risk is to the insurance industry what oil is to Exxon.
The difference is that Bob Ward doesn’t write letters of complaint to Munich Re insurers or articles for the Guardian when Munich Re disseminates ‘misleading and inaccurate information about climate change’ – which they surely do.
While Big Oil dishes out a few quid to a handful of pressure groups on the political fringes, Big Insurance conducts its business safely ensconced within the political, academic and scientific establishment. Its own brand of misleading and inaccurate information is acceptable simply because it does not conflict with the political goals of the environmental elite. Indeed, that same misleading and inaccurate information becomes central to the environmental cause, forming the basis of, for example, Kofi Annan’s much-publicised report ‘demonstrating’ that 300,000 people per year are dying as a result of climate change.
To take Exxon funding is to attract accusations of ‘denialism’, but to be funded by Munich Re is something to be proud of, to the extent that esteemed academic institutions such as the LSE want to tell the world about it:
New world-leading Grantham Research Institute opens for business as LSE joins forces with Munich Re on climate change
The £millions available to Ward and his colleagues have improved neither the quality of their arguments nor their popularity with the electorate. No wonder they are terrified that Exxon are still funding ‘deniers’. Grantham ought to ask for his money back. Surely, if ‘deniers’ were engaged in prostituting their intellectual resources for pure profit, the best way to ensure that the environmental message got heard would be to pay them to switch sides. After all, in spite of the $billions that have been made available to green causes, it’s only (allegedly) taken Exxon $45m to undo all that ‘good’ work.