The Pastiche Politics of the Runway Rush

Following the Plane Stupid protest group’s day in court recently, another climate group, Climate Rush is planning disruptive action at Heathrow and Manchester airports next Monday, according to activist media portal, Indymedia.

Hundreds of anti-aviation protesters are expected to give the government a nasty shock when they return to Parliament after their Winter Recess on Monday 12th January. Protesters from the environmental action group, ‘The Climate Rush’ will be holding a sit-down picnic at the Departures Gate of Terminal One in Heathrow Airport. The dinner will begin at 7pm sharp and is expected to last several hours. At the same time the Northern Climate Rush will hit Manchester Airport Terminal 3 (Domestic Departures).

Climate Rush? Silly name. Never heard of them? Nor have we.

‘The Climate Rush’ held their first protest last October. Taking their inspiration from the Suffragettes they mounted a ‘rush’ on Parliament.

Ah. It’s a ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ form of protest.

But let’s give this claim that they take ‘their inspiration from the Suffragettes’ a little more inspection. What exactly is it they are taking from the movement?

Yesterday, we looked briefly at the words of Ed Miliband MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change…

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.

…and we pointed out that far from standing against the Government, protesters styling themselves on the Suffragette movement were necessarily doing what the Government were instructing them to do. It is curious, isn’t it, that Government lacks such confidence in its environmental policies, that it asks people to participate in ‘direct action’ in order to make it own actions look like a response to a democratic movement. What this clearly indicates is that the Government knows that environmental concerns do not emerge from ‘grass roots’, mass political movements. And it knows that it is a problem.

The favourable comparison of climate activists to the Suffragettes fails at the first inspection. Could we imagine that it was the early 20th Century Government, wanting to extend the franchise to women, calling for the radicalisation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage? No.

Climate Rush’s website continues to explain themselves:

Climate Rush is inspired by the actions of the Suffragettes 100 years ago, who showed that peaceful civil disobedience could inspire positive change. We are a diverse group of women and men who are determined to raise awareness of the biggest threat facing humanity today – that of Climate Change. Our government acknowledges the huge problems we face from Climate Change, but carries on with business as usual. We demand DEEDS NOT WORDS because individual choice alone cannot curb CO2 emissions if we are to stop runaway global warming.

And here a further contradiction separates the Suffragettes from Climate Rush. Demanding ‘deeds not words’ is all well and good, but the Suffragettes’ claim was that women were as capable as men in determining what form of Government should exist. Climate Rush, meanwhile, claim that Government action is necessary because individuals are not capable of making decisions. An equivalent claim by the real Suffragettes would be that women be made equal to men by removing the male right to vote. Some kind of equality.

This echoes the statements made by the lawyer defending the Plane Stupid protesters yesterday, quoted in the Guardian:

Benjamin Newton, defending, said the group regretted what they saw as the necessity of taking part in the protest, but had done so as a “last, desperate act” having exhausted all traditional means of influencing the democratic process.

It’s not the Government that environmental protesters have failed to influence – as we can see from Miliband’s words, they are on side. It’s the ‘stupid’ public that the Plane Stupid and Climate Rush protesters have failed to reach. Publicity seeking, and irritating stunts are their only avenue of expression. What this expression amounts to is not a call for democratic equality, but, on the contrary, less democracy. The democratic process has failed.

These protesters have nothing in common with the Suffragettes. At all. They flatter themselves with the image of heroic, oppressed, and put upon victims, such as the following graphic from the Climate Rush website:

Here we see silhouettes of women dressed in the Suffragette style, wearing sashes, bearing the slogans, not of radical demands for equality, but for less democracy, for lower standards of living, and less freedom. This is all about style and absolutely nothing about substance. A meaningful and important historical movement has been plundered for its iconic value only, with the values it represented left forgotten.
Such a travesty is possible because of the immaturity and intellectual vacuity of the environmental movement, and the Government which requested it. We’ve argued before here on Climate Resistance that environmentalism is unable to make its own history. Therefore it needs to steal gravity from moments in the past in order to make some kind of statement in the present. And so we see claims that ‘climate change is our moon landing‘, we are offered a ‘Green New Deal‘, and environmental advocates try to rekindle the mythological spirit that was generated during WWII as the country was on a ‘war footing’, all pretending that environmentalism offers a hugely liberating way of life.
This game of dressing-up and let’s-pretend is pastiche politics. It creates retrogressive manifestos by decoupage, not political ideas: historical images are stripped of their context to give meaning to the lives of a small number of morally-disoriented moralising whingebags. This breeds grotesque chimeras: the privileged offspring of the establishment, convinced simultaneously of their own importance and the belief that they are the downtrodden victims of industrial society. They march into the lives of ordinary people, going about their ordinary business and demand it all stops, to be reorganised around their insecurities and sense of alienation. Such incomprehensible naffness would be funny, if these infantile clowns didn’t already have what they were demanding.

…Unless You're Filthy Stinking Rich

You can just imagine the editorial meetings that led up to BBC2 commissioning It’s Not Easy Being Green:

BBC executives: This grass-roots environmental movement is all very well, but we’re never going to save the planet if the middle classes don’t join the revolution. We need to make environmentalism inclusive.

So they hire Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Francis “Dick” Strawbridge MBE and his awfully nice family to host the show and give it some grass-roots street-cred by hiring rock-chick Lauren Laverne (who has come a long way since she described the Spice Girls as ‘Tory scum’) to present a weekly feature investigating ‘the posh end of the green market’. In this first episode she explores how to build an eco-friendly swimming pool for a mere £100k.

In the first episode of the third series, the Strawbridges tile their roofs with photovoltaics – a snip at £15k, of which the government contributes £2.5k. Bargain, says Strawbridge Sr:

Bearing in mind that you could easily spend about a thousand pounds a year for electricity for a house like ours, the panels will pay for themselves – eventually.

The BBC executives have got the wrong end of the stick entirely. If there is an environmental movement, it’s not grass-roots. It’s populated by the very Lieutenant-Colonels, rock-chicks, Crown Princes, trustafarians and ‘Tory scum‘ that the BBC are trying to reach out to. It’s Not Easy Being Green just gives privileged people one more reason to feel pretty damned pleased with themselves. The show is also mis-named; being green is easy – you only have to devote all your time, attention and resources to it, and make your lifestyle the subject of a reality TV show. It’s just a mystery why everyone else doesn’t do it.

The Stupid Stansted Stupid Defence

The Stansted protesters have had their day in court.

Most of the 22 campaigners, who are members of the group Plane Stupid, were ordered to do between 50 and 90 hours community service after admitting aggravated trespass. The incident closed the airport in Essex for five hours.

Each of the protesters must pay compensation of £60 to cover £3,000 worth of damage to the perimeter fence, which they cut through in the early hours of 8 December, and orders made for court costs totalled £570.

According to the Guardian, the group also face being sued for £2 million. That’ll dent the trust funds.

None of this is as interesting as the account given by the defence lawyer. According to the same article,

Benjamin Newton, defending, said the group regretted what they saw as the necessity of taking part in the protest, but had done so as a “last, desperate act” having exhausted all traditional means of influencing the democratic process. “They felt government policy was directly contrary to meeting the country’s international obligations to mitigate climate change and that those policies were going to make us closer to the tipping point,” he said.

This is a nonsense defence.

The ‘democratic process’ had, just a week and a bit before the protest, produced the UK’s Climate Change Act, which commits the country to an 80% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050 – going further than ‘meeting the country’s international obligations to mitigate climate change’ by a third. But as we pointed out, the process wasn’t democratic. There was no real debate, and the ‘democratic institution’ – parliament – defers decisions to an unaccountable committee of ‘experts’, who have their own interests served by climate legislation.

Worst than this, however, is the idea that these protesters see themselves as above the ‘democratic process’. In their view, they’ve failed to influence the debate, yet don’t pause to reflect on that failure as the consequence of their own shortcomings.

Let’s not say that all disruptive action of this kind is a necessary wrong. It’s not, at least in our view. Feel free to disagree in the comments below. But these protesters don’t have any such grievance. They are not excluded, or persecuted in any way. As the Guardian point out, they’re actually from rather privileged backgrounds. Yet these well-heeled kids beleive they have been alienated by a process that they are entitled to rule over.

Their defence is that there’s something stupid about the democratic process. It’s failed to listen to them. But it is their failure to mount a convincing argument, and to build popular support. Consider the words of Ed Milliband MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who said on the day of the protest

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.

The establishment welcomed the protestors – it needs them. It has embraced their environmental concern – it needs it too. The protestors and the sense of crisis generated by the environmental movement legitimise the Government’s environmental policies. These policies are retogressive, authoritarian, and serve the interests of the political establishment, that otherwise struggles to identify its purpose. The kids at the protest say that “We’re here because our parents’ generation has failed us and its now down to young people to stop climate change…”, but really, they’re doing the work of the very institutions that they imagine themselves to be pitched against.

So who’s stupid?

The Poorly Physician in a Huff

Just over a year ago, we picked up on a post at the miserablist blog, Grist, by Professor Andrew Dessler, former scientific advisor to the Clinton administration. Dessler had compared the planet’s ‘suffering’ from climate change to a child with cancer. ‘Who are his parents going to take him to in order to determine the best course of treatment?’, Dessler asked. Not to the ‘quacks’ (the ‘sceptics’). Better take the child to the real doctors (the IPCC).

Expertise matters. Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. The list of skeptics on the EPW blog contains few bona fide climate specialists. In fact, the only criteria to get on the list, as far as I can tell, is having a PhD and some credential that makes you an academic. So Freeman Dyson makes lists. While I’m certain he’s a smart guy, I would not take a sick child to him, and I won’t take a sick planet to him either. In both cases, he simply does not have the relevant specialist knowledge. That also applies the large number of social scientists, computer programmers, engineers, etc., without any specialist knowledge on this problem. The bottom line is that the opinions of most of the skeptics on the list are simply not credible.

As Dessler discovered – after we told him – the IPCC is substantially comprised, not of climate scientists (aka ‘doctors’) but exactly the ‘large number of social scientists, computer programmers, engineers, etc., without any specialist knowledge on this problem’ that he accused the membership of the ‘Inhofe 400’ list of being. We surveyed the IPCC authors from WGI, WGII and WGIII hailing from the UK and USA, and found that Dessler’s characterisation of the IPCC didn’t stand up to scrutiny. If Dessler’s claim had not been made by Dessler, but by some run-of-the-mill political hack, his mischaracterisation would be inconsequential. But Dessler cannot claim to have been unaware of what the IPCC is comprised: he’s a climate science professor, and was an advisor to the Clinton administration. If he is was ignorant, he’s employed well above his ablilty. If he wasn’t ignorant, then he’s a straightforward liar. 

Dessler’s shrill tones have not diminished during 2008. Following an article on the usually ‘liberal’ Huffington Post by Harold Ambler, Dessler writes today that Ambler’s article was ‘replete with gross factual errors about the science of climate change’.

Word is that this was an editorial slip-up on HuffPo’s part; they don’t typically provide a place for this kind of agitprop. The essay is gone from the site’s portal pages and rumor has it The Huff herself may address the issue soon.

It is always interesting to discover ‘liberals’ acting illiberally. And it is when climate scepticism threatens environmentalism’s influence over the liberal camp that liberals who have bought the green cause get really illiberal. Consider, for example, Bjorn Lomborg, who has never ‘denied’ global warming, climate change, nor that they represent serious problems which ought to be addressed, probably by government intervention. In spite of his rather mild (in comparison to many sceptics’ claims) position, Lomborg was the subject of more vitriol from the alarmist propaganda machine than perhaps any other climate-sceptic/denier/realist figure. Why? Because he is – look at him – super liberal. As liberal qualifications go, you don’t get much more liberal than a gay vegetarian Danish academic. (Denmark – for those who don’t know, is perhaps the most liberal place on earth: it has a tax rate that would make many conservatives go into anaphylactic shock, it has a huge welfare state, and has the lowest income inequality in the world, not to mention one of the highest standards of living.) Whatever you want to call him, the word ‘conservative’ just doesn’t really sum him up. And that is why he terrified the environmental movement. It’s not because he challenged the science, it is because he threatened the political project. He offered a rational and pragmatic methodology to assess the world’s problems that was consistent with liberal values. And in reply, the environmental movement went ballistic. 

So let’s get this straight, the substance of Harold Ambler’s unremarkable essay is of little significance. What’s got up Dessler’s nose is that it was published on the liberal/left Huffington Post. To allow liberals to fall out of line on the climate issue would be to reveal the nebulous character of mainstream liberal thought – without the spectre of immenent catastophe, there’s not much keeping it together. Hence, Dessler diminishes the essay as ‘agitprop’ and welcomes its removal from the ‘portal pages’. Dessler’s rhetoric does two things. First, it tells the reading liberal what to think and legitimises censoriousness. More importantly, second, it fires a shot across the bows of any liberal organ which dares to entertain a climate sceptic on its pages in much the same way as Martin Durkin’s Great Global Warming Swindle (just 90 minutes of TV in a shedule jam-packed with environmentalism) drew furious comments about Channel 4 from the Great and the Good. It threatens to withdraw the moral authority loaned to liberals by climate science.

If Mahatma Ghandi were still alive and dared to express scepticism about the climate issue, ‘liberals’ reading the ‘liberal media’ would struggle to identify the difference between his views, and those of Ann Coulter.


Prosperous New Fear

Before we get stuck into 2009, we missed a spillage from the festive period that needs mopping up…

In a remarkably gullible news item, the BBC covered a new report revealing that 2008 was a ‘Huge year for natural disasters’:

The past year has been one of the most devastating ever in terms of natural disasters … climate change [is] boosting the destructive power of disasters like hurricanes and flooding

The report finds that:

Although there were fewer “loss-producing events” in 2008 than in the previous year, the impact of natural disasters was higher […]

More than 220,000 people died in events like cyclones, earthquakes and flooding, the most since 2004, the year of the Asian tsunami.

Meanwhile, overall global losses totalled about $200bn (£137bn), with uninsured losses totalling $45bn, about 50% more than in 2007.

This makes 2008 the third most expensive year on record, after 1995, when the Kobe earthquake struck Japan, and 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina in the US.

The BBC article quotes expert Torsten Jeworrek:

“Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes,”

Thing is, Torsten Jeworrek is an expert in insurance, not climate. He is on the board of insurance giants Munich Re. And Munich Re are the authors of the new report. It goes without saying that insurance companies need to keep abreast of developments in risk if they are to provide a service for their clients. But it also goes without saying that generating alarm about those same risks is also to their advantage. To paraphrase what we have said before, fear of risk is to Munich Re what oil is to Exxon. Indeed, Munich Re says as much on its website:

Risk is our business: Among other things, we reinsure the risks connected with oil rigs, satellites and natural catastrophes, and those arising from the use of genetic engineering and information technology or from the management of companies.

Climate change is not the only issue Munich Re is whipping up alarm about. It also desires that we flap over other scares du jour, such as piracy…

Piracy reaches new dimensions: The frequency and severity of piracy attacks have reached alarming levels


Megacities extremely vulnerable to natural perils, technological risks, terrorism and environmental hazards / More risk awareness and greater transparency urgently needed with regard to hazard exposure / Munich Re presents its views at the UN’s World Conference on Disaster Reduction

and obesity…

Obesity and type 2 diabetes are spreading at an alarming rate around the world

But, mostly, it’s climate change…

10 April 2008
India: Increase in losses due to climate change / Board member Torsten Jeworrek: “In coming decades, the effects of climate change will make themselves felt particularly in emerging countries like India.”

climate change…

29 September 2008
Munich Re exhibition in Tokyo highlights risks and opportunities of global warming

climate change..

27 December 2007
Natural catastrophe figures for 2007: Higher losses despite absence of megacatastrophes, very many loss events / Overall economic losses of US$ 75bn / Board member Dr. Torsten Jeworrek: Loss figures in line with the rising trend in natural catastrophes, Munich Re is prepared

climate change…

July 2008
High death toll marks the 2008 half-year natural catastrophes figures

and climate change…

5 June 2007
Munich Re signs the “Declaration on Climate Change” of the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative. / Munich Re Board member Torsten Jeworrek: “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. What we do today is crucial for future generations. Therefore, swift international action is urgently needed.” / Munich Re forecasts long-term increase in demand for risk protection as a result of climate change and growing concentrations of values.

And there’s plenty more climate change where those came from.

Munich Re is certainly not the first insurance company to try to cash in on climate alarm by generating more of it. Back in April 2007 we reported on the efforts of risk assessment giants Risk Management Solutions (RMS) to do the same. Bob Ward, RMS’s Director of Global Science Networks, was continuing a crusade against the dirty denialist industry – namely, Exxon and Martin Durkin – that he started while in his previous employment as Senior Manager for Policy Communication for Exxon-slayers the Royal Society.

What is surprising is that the BBC have deemed the witterings of an insurance company worthy of a news story, and moreover, that they have chosen to take those witterings entirely at face value. At the very least they could have wondered why earthquakes were lumped into the analysis or how much the figures were skewed by one devastating cyclone in Myanmar.

Torsten Jeworrek’s quotes – like the whole BBC story, in fact – are lifted directly from Munich Re’s press release. But then, perhaps the BBC didn’t have much choice (other than to ignore the story completely) because Munich Re haven’t actually made their report available. When we emailed them for a copy, media relations officer Alexander Mohanty replied that:

there is no additional report or publication.
Munich re’s annual report on natural catastrophes is a press relase only traditionally.
But we will publish a more in-depth report in march called ‘topics’.

The BBC has been known to argue that the existence of ‘the consensus’ on climate change means that they are not obliged to seek balancing viewpoints from anyone who doesn’t entirely sign up to it. With this story however, they seem to be going rather further than is necessary to live up to their own journalistic ideals. They back up Jeworrek’s comments with quotes from Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research, which are also lifted verbatim from the presser:

“It is now very probable that the progressive warming of the atmosphere is due to the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity,” said Prof Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research.

“The logic is clear: when temperatures increase there is more evaporation and the atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapour, with the result that its energy content is higher.

“The weather machine runs into top gear, bringing more intense severe weather events with corresponding effects in terms of losses.”

The company said world leaders must put in place “effective and binding rules on CO2 emissions” to curb climate change and ensure that “future generations do not have to live with weather scenarios that are difficult to control”.

Yes, ‘the logic is clear’…

– the world has been warming up a bit
– human activity probably has something to do with that
– some models say this might influence the frequency of severe weather events
– therefore, an expensive year for civilisation (and insurance companies) means that climate change is already happening
– therefore, we need a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions

Other than pointing out that Hoppe’s clear logic is clearly not, it’s hard to comment on the accuracy and rigour of Munich Re’s analysis, because, as we said, the analysis is not available for scrutiny. But it’s hard to see how an insurance company can have had more success than ‘the world’s 2500 top climate scientists’ at isolating the effect of climate change on the occurrence of severe weather events. But then again, perhaps we can look forward to the IPCC citing Munich Re on matters of climate-change induced weather patterns in its own reports in the future. And in a world where top scientists are wont to defer to economists on scientific matters of climate change, that is not such an unlikely possibility.

It is perhaps interesting that the economist in question, Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern, has rather a close working relationship with Munich Re. Understandably, Munich Re is rather proud of the fact that its dirty insurance money funds such a high profile environmentalist:

In 2008, Munich Re launched a cooperation with Professor Lord Nicholas Stern and the London School of Economics (LSE), the aim being to advance research into the economic impact of climate change.

And Prof Lord Sir Nicholas has nothing to be embarrassed about. Because nobody – least of all the BBC – seems at all bothered by any such conflict of interests. They are all too busy worrying about who Exxon is funding. Those who shriek the loudest about climate change – whether it’s insurance companies, Stern, the Royal Society, Lord Adair Turner or the Tickell dynasty – often have the most to gain from alarmism. It seems that the greens have been right all along: an economic tail really does wag the scientific dog.