Has Climate Porn Already Tipped?

At the BBC’s Earth Watch blog, Richard Black takes a different perspective on the recent survey of the British public (well, 500 of them, anyway) and Climate Porn that we covered in our last post.

Among the emails that arrive in my inbox regularly on climate change, one sentiment expressed regularly is that the language of climate catastrophism is getting shriller and shriller as the arguments for the phenomenon collapse.

It’s one that I disagree with.

I think the language of catastrophism, chaos, doom – whatever you like to call it – has actually sobered up, in the UK at least, having peaked about three or four years ago when newspapers such as The Independent ran dramatic front pages on a regular basis, a new umbrella body for activists called Stop Climate Chaos came into existence, Roland Emmerich had the Atlantic Ocean freezing in an instant in The Day After tomorrow, and a leading thinktank lambasted a portion of the British press for indulging in “climate porn”.

Some long-time observers warned at the time that this would “turn people off”; the Cardiff study suggests they may have been right.

So is Richard right that global warming hysteria has diminished?

Thirteen months ago, the New Economics Foundation, with a group of other organisations including the UK’s Green Party, launched its 100 Months campaign, claiming that:

We have 100 months to save our climate. When the clock starts ticking, we could be beyond our climate’s tipping point, the point of no return.

In January, the Guardian reported James Hansen’s claim that the

President ‘has four years to save Earth’ – US must take the lead to avert eco-disaster.

Last month, John Beddington, the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisor foresaw a global environmental crisis in 2031:

As the world’s population grows, competition for food, water and energy will increase. Food prices will rise, more people will go hungry, and migrants will flee the worst-affected regions.

Earlier that month, Paul Kingsnorth and George Monbiot did battle in the Guardian over whether the eco-apocalypse was inevitable or could just about be prevented if human nature could be contained by state institutions. Wrote Kingsnorth:

On the desk in front of me is a set of graphs. The horizontal axis of each represents the years 1750 to 2000. The graphs show, variously, population levels, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, exploitation of fisheries, destruction of tropical forests, paper consumption, number of motor vehicles, water use, the rate of species extinction and the totality of the human economy’s gross domestic product.

Wrote Monbiot, his brother in despair:

Like you I have become ever gloomier about our chances of avoiding the crash you predict. For the past few years I have been almost professionally optimistic, exhorting people to keep fighting, knowing that to say there is no hope is to make it so. I still have some faith in our ability to make rational decisions based on evidence. But it is waning.

2009 also saw the release of the film, The Age of Stupid, which claims to be a documentary, but is in fact a fiction set in the future, charting the fall of civilisation as it was torn apart by Gaia’s wrath. Environmentalism’s inability to construct an understanding of the present forces it to base its fantasies – climate porn – from a position in the future. The film’s director, Franny Armstrong, was met in several public meetings by the UK’s Climate Change Minister, Ed Miliband, who was entirely unable to challenge her catastrophism, as we reported, back in June:

… it isn’t a debate. Miliband and Armstrong’s positions are not counterposed. Miliband is nothing if not a committed environmentalist. Yet he recognises that what both he and Armstrong want ain’t a vote-winner, and the public remain unconvinced about the environmental issue. Knowing that environmental policies therefore lack the legitimacy such far-reaching policies ought to have, he recently called for the green movement to demonstrate the kind of mass-movement that has driven political change in the past.

Miliband needed Armstrong, we said. To give his government’s policies moral legitimacy, she had thrown at him the figure that, according to the UN, 150,000 people die each year as a result of climate change, for which the UK would be culpable if it failed to act on climate change. As we pointed out in the same post, the figure had just been raised by the GHF, to 300,000 – another case of climate porn in 2009 – but both figures were dubious. What they entirely failed to show is how few people in the developing world died of causes attributed to climate change compared to other causes. In fact, as a cause it ranked the lowest, beneath obesity – not something you’d expect people in the Third world to suffer from. Moreover, what the figure entirely omits is that these secondary effects of climate change, were they experienced in the industrialised world, would likely have resulted in no deaths at all. And yet these 300,000 deaths are used as the basis for an argument for the mitigation of climate change rather than as a good reason for industrialisation and economic development. Such is the distorting effect of climate porn on political discourse.

Expressing the thesame symptoms of disorientation, here are some headlines from the Independent over the past year.

Is the Independent less shrill thanit used to be? Hardly.

Back in March, we wrote about the coverage of the Copenhagen climate discussions in the Guardian, most of which was written by David Adam. The following headlines all appeared in the same week:

  • Global warming may trigger carbon ‘time bomb’, scientist warns.
  • Caught on camera: The Greenland tunnels that could speed ice melt.
  • Sea level could rise more than a metre by 2100, say experts.
  • Severe global warming will render half of world’s inhabited areas unliveable, expert warns.
  • Europe ‘will be hit by severe drought’ without urgent action on emissions.

Adam finished his week of misery with a podcast about what he took from the conference:

The message might sound familiar is that we have to act, and that we have to act now. But I think the scientists, they have been saying it for a while, and we’ve been saying it in the media for a while… but I think the scientists have lost a little bit of patience almost. I mean one said to me here that we’re sick of having our carefully constructed messages lost in the political noise. You know this is the scientific community standing up and saying enough is enough, we’ve lost patience, get your act together.

But as we pointed out at the time, in an echo of his criticism of climate porn in 2006, Professor Mike Hulme gives us reason to take Adam’s and the conference organisers’ claims to be reporting ‘scientific opinion’ verbatim with a pinch of salt.

What exactly is the ‘action’ the conference statement is calling for? Are these messages expressing the findings of science or are they expressing political opinions? I have no problem with scientists offering clear political messages as long as they are clearly recognized as such.

[…]

But then we need to be clear about what authority these political messages carry. They carry the authority of the people who drafted them – and no more. Not the authority of the 2,500 expert researchers gathered at the conference. And certainly not the authority of collective global science. Caught between summarizing scientific knowledge and offering political interpretations of such knowledge, the six key messages seem rather ambivalent in what they are saying. It is as if they are not sure how to combine the quite precise statements of science with a set of more contested political interpretations.

Richard Black is perhaps a great deal more sensible in his reporting than his fellow journalists at the BBC, the Guardian, and the Independent. Yet he seems to have become immune to their sensational climate stories. They simply no longer register. But this desensitisation means a failure to reflect critically on environmentalism and its influence, and his journalism suffers as a consequence. With ‘a number of reports hinting that the pace of global temperature rise may have abated, for now at least’ in mind, Black considers whether this, rather than climate porn, may be having an influence over the direction of policy.

I wondered if this was being reflected in the intensive negotiations leading up to Copenhagen’s UN summit. After all, if governments were sensing a reason not to pledge difficult and potentially expensive transformations to their economies, you would expect them to take it.

Here, he misses the point that climate change isn’t something difficult for governments to cope with. It is actually convenient. The political establishment’s absorption of environmentalism allows it to substantially lower the standard by which it is measured, and gives authoritarianism a legitimising basis. The looming, inevitable environmental crisis instructs the public to lower their expectations accordingly. It means that rather than finding a way through problems such as energy supply, water and travel infrastructure, and of course, raising expectations, politicians can turn the normal business of politics around, and redefine the problem as one of individual morality. The statement that the public must use less electricity, must travel less, and must consume fewer resources is a statement that the public must expect less of politicians and politics, and behave themselves. The failure of the establishment’s collective imagination is what drives ‘climate change ethics’. The search for international agreements and legal frameworks to ‘combat climate change’ is a way of externalising what cannot legitimately be done domestically. Once in place, politicians can reasonably argue that punitive climate laws are a matter of international obligation; we are all bound by them, and cannot do anything about them. It defers politics and political accountibility to the strange, undemocratic, inaccessible space that exists between states.

Black continues…

Last week I had the chance to ask someone intimately involved in those negotiations. “No” was the answer – not reflected at all – in fact, what was being reflected were fears that the picture would be worse than the IPCC painted.

Climate porn operates at these levels, not just in the media. According to Black’s un-named climate negotiator, we can’t even trust the consensus – represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – to paint a reliable picture of the future. Therefore there can be no parameters by which we can begin to rationally understand or criticise the governmental, or inter-governmental response to climate change. Things can be perpetually based, not on what has been observed, or produced by science, but on the possibility that ‘the picture would be worse than the IPCC painted’… Climate porn, just as Hulme warned.

Black concludes by taking a closer look at the results produced by the survey of the British public, and determines, weakly, that theirs “and their leaders’ perceptions of climate change, in the UK and elsewhere, are not significantly out of step”.

Here, again, Black sees the world upside down. He can point to as many opinion polls and interpret them in as many ways as he likes: environmentalism has never been tested in the UK at the only poll that counts – democratic elections. Fear (climate porn), and hashed-together international frameworks (Copenhagen) – not democracy – are the vehicles through which environmental ideology cements itself in public institutions. Environmentalism’s influence within the establishment is ascendant precisely because the political establishment has such trouble connecting itself with the public.

5 thoughts on “Has Climate Porn Already Tipped?”

  1. I mentioned before that I don’t like the term Climate Porn. However apt it may be psychologically, it sounds as if you’re being gratuitously rude about warmists. It’s the kind of thing I’d say on CiF, not what you’d expect from a “carbon-science neutral” socio-political blog like yourselves.
    MInd you, the obsessive nature of the engagement of both sides is highly suggestive. I’m just as obsessed at poking fun at the warmists as they are at revelling in their misery. I’m like some sex-obsessed Puritan, determined that the warmists won’t get to enjoy their doom and gloom.
    It’s a bit like the English Civil War, isn’t it, with two disorganised but highly motivated armies tearing up and down the land in pursuit of each other, occasionally doing battle in some usually inconclusive skirmish, while the vast majority of the population observes from a distance with a mixture of fear and boredom.

  2. Ok, you’ve convinced me. I’ll go with Climate Porn. I opened the Guardian Environment Climate Change page today, and was greeted with four photos – three of the rotting bodies of dead animals and one of a parched landscape with camels.
    Among today’s most-read stories – “dolphin slaughter turns sea red” and “humpback whale found dead”. Climate necrophilia would be more precise.
    I’m back at what I do best. Posting obsessively at CiF, giving the Warmists a roasting, and putting in the odd plug for C-R and OmniClimate.

  3. [FROM THE EDITORS: Danny, please make an effort to post your comments sensibly, rather than in multiples. It means that we have to rescue your comments from the spam filter, otherwise. We won’t do this again in future. FYI, we aren’t that interested in what you have written.]

    There is much more to come. It aint over for a long time, 50o more years. See this for now;

    http://northwardho.blogspot.com/2009/09/how-climate-denialists-like-marc-morano.html

    ——————————————-

    Neven told me: Look, you have to understand the state of mind of these people. I think they are genuinely worried that AGW will have catastrophic consequences for a large part of the global population. They are a certain type of person with a certain psychological make up and background that makes them prone to worry about abstract things like ‘the planet’ or ‘humanity’.

    And in a sense it’s true that if CAGW does come about there are quite a few persons out there at the moment that are in a bit of an ethical predicament. Someone like Anthony Watts or Fred Singer or Ian Plimer (though they probably wouldn’t be around anymore if and when the catastrophe hit) would perhaps have reason to feel a bit guilty for their delaying tactics.

    In that sense it’s not so strange for someone like Danny Bloom to fringe the law of Godwin, so to speak, out of sheer frustration. Because you have to admit: If AGW is happening, there is not much action being undertaken (lots of plans, lots of promises, lots of theory, lots of political spinning) to get to the core of the problem and do something about it. If you really believe as a warmist that time is running out, it’s no wonder that you get frustrated .

    Imagine that you think your mother is showing symptoms of a terminal disease that can be cured if treated on time, but everyone else in the family convinces her it’s not true, she should wait a few weeks more before going to the doctor, etc. Some people can go nuts over that and shout at everyone at a birthday party that they’re all &#$*@ who don’t love their mother. Danny Bloom does. It’s not a good way to change things, even if they can be changed. But that’s what he did.
    ———————————-
    with Copenhagen meetings starting in less then 100 days, some climate activists are now planning a dramatic self-immolation protest in front of the UN bulding in NYC before the summit opens, with 5 people appearing to set themselves on fire to protest the world’s inaction on all this. However, they will be using Hollywood stuntmen suits to protect them from the flames and no one, repeat, no one, will get hurt or die. It’s all part of a concerted PR effort to get the world to wake up and pay attention. If anyone wants details and rehearsed photos of the event, email me at bikolang AT gmail dot com

    Marc Morano, who runs Climate Depot, a major climate change website, which doesn’t always agree with me, or me with it, but Marc is a good man and very civil, and he emails me after I sent him this item: “Thanks Danny. I will post. Very interesting.”
    ——————————
    http://northwardho.blogspot.com/2009/09/climate-depot-to-post-item-about-self.html
    ——————————-
    http://www.climatedepot.com/a/2908/Climate-Depot-compared-to-Holocaust-deniers-What-Jews-What-Final-Solution-What-death-camps-Thats-all-leftwing-propaganda-its-not-happening-period

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