Cut and Paste Journalism

BBC bosses today tried to make excuses for the cut-and-paste job by BBC science journalist, Susan Watts, as discovered by Tony at Harmless Sky recently. Answering criticism on Watts’ blog, Newsnight Editor Peter Rippon said:

We did edit sections of the speech to reflect the elements in it that referred to Science. The aim was to give people an impression or montage of what Obama said about science in his inauguration speech. This was signposted to audiences with fades between each point. It in no way altered the meaning or misrepresented what the President was saying. You can look for yourself above.

If this is true, it means that the editorial team at BBC Newsnight are shockingly naive. If that is true, then we would like to know, what are they doing producing the networks flagship current affairs magazine programme?

Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt with respect to their editorial oversight, by which we mean that we accept that they are naive, the feature drips with the kind of ideological prejudice that any run-of-the-mill eco-warrior can muster. This is not news, nor is it analysis. It is projection.

Here is a transcript of the feature, Restoring science to its rightful place, with our commentary.

OBAMA: We will restore science to its rightful place [snip] roll back the spectre of a warming planet [snip] we will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.

As has been pointed out, this is a cut and paste job, which sets up the background to Watts’ presentation. Peter Rippon claims this has been done innocently, and that ‘fades between each point’ underscore the ‘montage’ of different parts of Obama’s speech, as an ‘impression’ of what he had said, not what he had actually said. But these images are not of Obama, but of a victorian green house in London’s Kew Gardens. Why would different shots of 19th Century greenhouse architecture make it obvious to viewers that what they were hearing was a ‘montage’?

WATTS: President Obama couldn’t have been clearer today, and for most scientists, his vote of confidence will have come not a moment too soon.

So here is Watts’ naked position: Bush was anti science. And now ‘most scientists’ are happy because Bush is gone. Bush = anti-science; Obama = pro-science. Bush is a baddy, and Obama is a goody. Science says so. It proves it. Understand?

Watts says that Obama ‘couldn’t have been clearer’, but she had to splice his words together to get him to make her point.

You don’t need to be a Bush fan to find this kind of retrospective shallow. We’re not Bush fans. Yet, throughout the last eight years, what has struck us is that science has become the stick with which to beat Bush, not because he really stood against science, but because his critics – not just the Democrats – lacked any real substance either. That is to say, as we have in the past, that science is a last-resort of vacuous politics: it fails to make a persuasive case on its own terms, and so borrows authority from ‘science’. Like trying to use ‘science’ to prove that something is immoral, what this reveals is the intellectual exhaustion of the critic.

Watts continues:

In the eight years of the Bush presidency, the world saw the Arctic ice cap shrink to a record Summer low, the relentless rise of greenhouse gas emissions, and warnings from scientists shift from urgent to panicky.

So Bush melted the ice cap, right?

There has certainly been a shift in rhetoric from ‘urgent to panicky’, but that shift is not justified by ‘the science’. The IPCC’s AR4 gave no reason to believe that thermageddon was any closer than it was when its predecessor AR3 came out. To make it sound like it did, environmentalist commentators – notably those at the BBC – also had to cut and paste.

And as we have pointed out recently, the panicky tone of environmentalists is owed not to the emergence of new climate research but to their need to sustain leverage over a sympathetic establishment. In fact, the big stories over the last few years – the prospect of an Arctic free of summer ice, fears about peak oil after price hikes, and predictions of ‘warmest summers on record’ – all failed to materialise. If recent history shows anything, it is that environmentalists have reached the point of peak doom.

President Bush came to power at the start of a new decade, a new century, and what many thought would be a new era for science. The news that scientists had pieced together an early draft of the human genome had given a palpable lift to the end of the Clinton presidency.

There are many things you can say about the end of the Clinton administration, but ‘palpable lift’ isn’t really one of them. Clinton’s years were characterised by scandal and political crisis, offset by a very aggressive foreign policy – pretty much what the ensuing Bush administration consisted of. For example, as CNN reported in 1998:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Saying “there will be no sanctuary for terrorists,” President Clinton on Thursday said the U.S. strikes against terrorist bases in Afghanistan and a facility in Sudan are part of “a long, ongoing struggle between freedom and fanaticism.” […]

The president said he ordered the strike against bin Laden and his compatriots because of “compelling information they were planning additional terrorist attacks against our citizens and others with the inevitable collateral casualties and .. seeking to acquire chemical weapons and other dangerous weapons.”

Doesn’t that sound familiar? As it turned out, the Sudanese factory Clinton bombed turned out to be making pharmaceuticals, not WMD. Just a few months later:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — From the Oval Office, President Clinton told the nation Wednesday evening why he ordered new military strikes against Iraq. The president said Iraq’s refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors presented a threat to the entire world. “Saddam (Hussein) must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons,” Clinton said.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? The point we are making here is that it is difficult for people – journalists especially – to locate territory from which to criticise Bush. Clearly, the War on Terror – and all its rhetoric – had roots in the Clinton era. The Bush administration doesn’t look so different, after all. Different styles, maybe, but the same substance. Unless, as Watts claims, they took different positions on science:

Science was riding high. But Bush was less attentive.

But According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, things aren’t so simple:

How can it be said that Bush was ‘anti-science’ if, as the AAAS seem to indicate, research budgets increased during his administration? In ignorance of what she speaks, Watts continues:

Religion, or at least the religious vote, informed Bush policy. His very public distaste for stem-cell research mattered because it raised public suspicion of science. Creationism has grown stronger, to the point that more Americans now believe in the biblical story of creation than evolution.

It’s not as much Bush’s hostility to ‘science’ that Watts worries about, but the failure of his critics to use ‘science’ to influence public policy. One may well say that Bush’s policies didn’t reflect ‘scientific’ opinion. But the point we have made here, many times, is that science cannot produce moral arguments. Science cannot tell you that it is ‘right’ to abort or research on a foetus. These matters, which seemingly characterise the debate that was influenced by religious attitudes, are only illuminated by science to the extent that it says what may be possible to achieve. The problem, as we have outlined in the past, is that Bush’s critics hide their shame – their inability to make moral arguments – behind science. It is a fig leaf.

Watts is deeply confused. According to her, it is ‘the religious vote’ that influences Bush. But in the very next sentence, it is Bush’s ‘distaste for stem-cell research’ that raises public suspicion, seemingly with the effect of increasing the prevalence of creationism. One moment, Bush is weak because he respond to the vote, the next he is able to manipulate it. Whether we agree with Bush or not, Watts’ complaint is that Bush succeeded in making an argument to the public through the democratic process. Her complaint is with democracy. The science that Watts believes trumps democracy is good, old fashioned arrogance.

And anyway, where did Watts get the idea that adherence to Biblical interpretations of life on Earth increased under Bush? Not from Gallup, which has data going back to 1982:

Bush’s ‘distaste for stem-cell research’ is a favorite of those wishing to cast him in the role of enemy of science. But Watts’ statement simplifies the political reality to the point that it bears no relationship to the truth. US policy requires that Federal funds cannot be used for research on embryonic stem cells. State-sponsored researchers can and do work on stem cells from other sources. And meanwhile, university researchers can and do work on embryonic stem cells – just so long as they don’t use federal funds (which makes for some complicated partitioning of lab equipment in many a US university department). For what it’s worth, we, too, are not impressed by US stem-cell policies. But neither are we impressed by the simplistic portrayal of Bush’s stance, especially when the US’s regulation of embryonic SC research is mirrored in the policies of a host of European nations, including such models of Liberal democracy as Germany and Denmark.

Watts:

Scientists have got used to attempts to silence them. But now they are speaking out again. Unlike economic recession and wars which pass, climate change does not and there are deadlines if we want to avoid a point of no return. In fact scientists calculate that Obama has four years in which to save the world.

On her blog, Watts expands on her claims that scientists have been silenced, in a post that Asher Mullard, an editor at the science journal Nature, describes as ‘a meaty overview of a light at the end of the tunnel after 8 long years for scientists’…

Just last week a Nasa scientist, Jim Hansen, whom Bush had tried to silence in the past warned that Obama has just four years to save the world. But unlike Bush, Obama does listen to scientists. He’s already promoted many to top advisory positions… crucially on energy policy.

We’ve dealt with Hansen’s ‘four years to save the world’ claim elsewhere. But note that, in Watts’ world, the speculative splutterings of a single rogue scientist become ‘In fact scientists calculate that Obama has four years in which to save the world’.

If Bush did try to silence Hansen, he didn’t try very hard. Hansen has barely been out of the news this century. According to the Washington Times:

A NASA scientist who said the Bush administration muzzled him because of his belief in global warming yesterday acknowledged to Congress that he’d done more than 1,400 on-the-job interviews in recent years.

To pick but one example from his vast output, in 2007, we reported on Hansen’s 3000-word article in New Scientist where he claimed that sea level rise will be orders of magnitude faster than IPCC projections suggest. When the same magazine, in the same month, reported on Harvard scientist Willie Soon’s paper in the journal Ecological Complexity, which challenged received wisdom that climate change is imperilling polar bears, the scientific argument was ignored in favour of speculation about Soon’s alleged links to the oil industry, and that the research was part of an orchestrated campaign to undermine the environmental movement’s use of the polar bear as an icon. Who’s being silenced?

Hansen is Watts’ representative scientist. And yet he departs from ‘the consensus’ as spectacularly as any executive of ExxonMobil – he just happens to do so in a more politically correct direction.

Back to the transcript:

But unlike Bush, Obama does listen to scientists. He’s already appointed several to leading advisory positions. And although he has to deal with internal squabbles about whether cap and trade or a carbon tax is the best way to bring down greenhouse gas emissions, at least the Obama team does agree on the goal.

As did all the other presidential candidates. And as do the Socialist Workers, the UK Conservative Party, the far-right British National Party and everybody else.

So Obama has a unique opportunity to fix the recession and fix climate change at the same time. He just has to have the nerve to follow through. And this year of all years, leadership matters, because the world hopes to thrash out a global deal to cut emissions. So if he does stick to his promises on renewables, energy efficiency, carbon capture and storage, and hybrid vehicles, he’ll help loosen the grip that fossil fuels hold on all our lives.

So Obama can fix the recession and save the world from global warming… But why stop there? Maybe we could ask him to find a cure for cancer and the common cold too, by next week? Oh, and then there’s that eternal question he could answer – ‘why are we here?’ Obama’s to-do list grows as the people reporting on his progress empty their heads of reason. Watts’ analysis is, as we said at the beginning of this post, not journalism, but projection. Her story says nothing about Obama and his policies, nor does it accurately reflect the role of science and its relationship with public policy, nor does it even give a plausible account of the last decade’s political developments. It doesn’t even tell you anything useful about climate change. It is all about Watts, her hopes and her prejudices, informed only by ignorance, hidden behind a veneer of scientific authority.

There’s another question perhaps Obama can answer by, like, yesterday: what are science correspondents actually for?

Biased Broadcasting Climate – Part 2

Over at the Harmless Sky blog, the sharp-eyed, and quick-minded Tony N has spotted an alarming piece of journalistic interference with Obama’s inauguration speech.

It would seem that someone at the BBC had taken the trouble to splice the tape so that half a sentence from paragraph 16 of the inauguration speech was joined on to half a sentence from paragraph 22, and this apparently continuous sound bite was completed by returning to paragraph 16 again to lift another complete sentence.

This is journalism at its worst.

Only Four Years Left to Save Environmentalism

Another sure sign that environmentalists are struggling to sustain a rational basis for their influence emerged last week. The pages of the Observer featured the opinion of NASA activist/scientist James Hansen in two articles [1 , 2] and an editorial.

Barack Obama has only four years to save the world. That is the stark assessment of Nasa scientist and leading climate expert Jim Hansen who last week warned only urgent action by the new president could halt the devastating climate change that now threatens Earth. Crucially, that action will have to be taken within Obama’s first administration, he added.

Of all the hopes pinned on Obama, ‘saving the world’ has to be the most revealing of the hoper, be it the Observer Journalist, the Observer, or Hansen.

As we pointed out last Thursday, the environmental movement’s only leverage is the prospect of catastrophe. It has no popular appeal in any real sense. So when it appears that governments are ‘on-message’, or in any way sympathetic to its concerns, the only way to sustain its undemocratic and unaccountable influence is to escalate the sense of urgency, or their function will become redundant.

This suggests that the hoper’s nervousness is owed, not to material facts about the state of the world – obviously – but their inability to explain the world, and their tenuous grip on the public agenda.

As an apparently sympathetic Obama steps to the fold, so we see the environmental protagonists escalating the sense of crisis.

“We cannot now afford to put off change any longer. We have to get on a new path within this new administration. We have only four years left for Obama to set an example to the rest of the world. America must take the lead.”

After eight years of opposing moves to combat climate change, thanks to the policies of President George Bush, the US had given itself no time for manoeuvre, he said. Only drastic, immediate change can save the day and those changes proposed by Hansen – who appeared in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and is a winner of the World Wildlife Fund’s top conservation award – are certainly far-reaching.

So where did this ‘four years’ figure come from?

In 2006, the same Hansen had argued that

“I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change … no longer than a decade, at the most,” Hansen said Wednesday at the Climate Change Research Conference in California’s state capital.

Less than two and a half years later, the ten years is reduced to four years.

Shortly after Hansen made his ten year claim, UK and Dutch premiers Tony Blair and Jan Peter Balkenende wrote in a letter to the EU that

The science of climate change has never been clearer. Without further action, scientists now estimate we may be heading for temperature rises of at least 3-4C above pre-industrial levels. We have a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing catastrophic tipping points. These would have serious consequences for our economic growth prospects, the safety of our people and the supply of resources, most notably energy. So we must act quickly.

The fact that science hasn’t – indeed, cannot – identify ‘catastrophic tipping points’ doesn’t bother politicians who use science in this way. The concept of a tipping point is only useful to politicians – it has little scientific meaning. It is a gun to your head. Do you trust the authority of the man holding it, or do you challenge it? If you don’t do as he says and you’re wrong, you might trigger the tipping point. You lose. But if you’re right to challenge it, the trust we have in politicians, and politics built around the myth of catastrophe itself disintegrates. You lose. Either way, the threat is that society breaks down, because either the climate will change, destroying our ‘fragile relationship’ with nature, or the myths on which authority is established are ripped from beneath it. This is the politics of fear.

Greens have presented themselves as radical alternatives to mainstream politics. But they use exactly the same language. In November 2007, we reported Caroline Lucas’s attempts to use ‘catastrophic tipping points’ to elevate herself.

Well, when you hear scientists say that we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change, I don’t think what the public actually want is cautiousness, what they want is real leadership, and that is what the EU is promising to give, and yet that’s what we’re failing to do here.

This was the second time we had picked up on Lucas’s claim that the planet had a deadline. Justifying her claim that climate change denial was equivalent to holocaust denial, she had said previously that

What’s prompted me is real concern that a recent opinion poll showed that half the population still don’t think that there’s scientific certainty about climate change; they still think there’s a real debate to be had there. And it worries me enormously because if we don’t have a population that really understands that 99.999% of international scientists do believe that climate change is happening and do believe that it’s human caused, if people don’t understand that then they’re not going to put the pressure on the politicians that is so desperately needed and so urgently needed because we’re being told we’ve literally got between five and ten years in which to put in place a proper policy framework to address climate change. And unless people are really convinced that it’s a problem they’re not going to act to change it.

Last year, vulcanologist Bill McQuire announced that we had just ‘seven years to save the planet‘ in a book of the same name. Amazon describe it thus,

‘Bill McGuire succinctly tackles a series of green queries… the book is an excellent first stop for getting clued up about climate change. ‘ METRO ‘..author Bill McGuire points out that to salvage a civilisation capable of maintaining a semblance of organisation approximate to what we have now, we must achieve a near-zero carbon economy by 2050’. GREENEVENTS ‘McGuire makes telling points about the size of the challenge we face if we are to escape some of the nastier effects of climate change. And his sense of urgency is well-placed.’ FOCUS

(Where would McGuire be, if it weren’t for the end of the world? Certainly not making numerous appearances on TV shows, or selling books. Doom is big business.)

In August last year, policy director and head of the climate change programme at the New Economics Foundation, Andrew Simms announced that we had just ‘100 months to save the world‘.

So, how exactly do we arrive at the ticking clock of 100 months? It’s possible to estimate the length of time it will take to reach a tipping point. To do so you combine current greenhouse gas concentrations with the best estimates for the rates at which emissions are growing, the maximum concentration of greenhouse gases allowable to forestall potentially irreversible changes to the climate system, and the effect of those environmental feedbacks. We followed the latest data and trends for carbon dioxide, then made allowances for all human interferences that influence temperatures, both those with warming and cooling effects. We followed the judgments of the mainstream climate science community, represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on what it will take to retain a good chance of not crossing the critical threshold of the Earth’s average surface temperature rising by 2C above pre-industrial levels. We were cautious in several ways, optimistic even, and perhaps too much so. A rise of 2C may mask big problems that begin at a lower level of warming. For example, collapse of the Greenland ice sheet is more than likely to be triggered by a local warming of 2.7C, which could correspond to a global mean temperature increase of 2C or less. The disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet could correspond to a sea-level rise of up to 7 metres.

Is it four years or is it six? Or is it ten or fifteen? The tipping point is being used by everyone. The only thing that differs is when this tipping point is supposed to occur.

The idea of a ‘tipping point’ began as scientific speculation that climate systems ‘flip’ from one ‘state’ to another, rather than change as one variable – the concentration of greenhouses gasses in the atmosphere – changes. This idea armed environmentalists with the threat that a changing climate would suddenly – rather than over the course of millenia – reach a point where climate change was so rapid that natural processes on which human society depends would in turn collapse, leaving us starved of resources, and unable to cope with the new conditions.

The problem for environmentalists is that no such ‘tipping point’ has been identitifed by climate science, and the social consequences of moving past tipping points remain poorly defined. The NEF, for example, cannot point to any scientific literature which identifies tipping points. Instead, their 100 month calculation is formed from a variety of headline statements and studies taken from here, there, and everywhere. (They invent a tipping point).

Take for example, the figure of 2 degrees which Simms says is the point which must not be exceeded. The more technical document accompanying his article and campaign website says that this figure,

… is the maximum acceptable level of temperature rise agreed by the European Union and others as necessary to retain reasonable confidence of preventing uncontrollable and ultimately catastrophic warming.

The report doesn’t say where the rationale behind the figure of 2 degrees can be located, nor why we should take the EU’s word for it. Moreover, what is the ‘reasonable confidence’ that the NEF want to ‘retain’ about the future? It implies that what lies beyond 2 degrees is not ‘reasonable confidence’ of there being a catastrophe, but less certainty about there not being one. In other words, it says nothing about climate – 2 degrees is not a tipping point, but an arbitrary point, beyond which we can be less certain about the end of the world than before it. We might just as well observe that ‘catastrophe’ is less likely before a 1000 degree rise in global temperature than after it.

We’ve pointed out before that this is ‘politics by numbers’. In this game, all you need to do to elevate yourself over your opponents is add one to their offer. This done by commissioning someone with the appropriate letters after their name to do back-of-an-envelope calculations using the figures which have already been ‘established’ by other players in the game. It is voodoo science, and it only means anything if you already actually believe it.

Once you have performed the ritual which establishes the new magic numbers, you can present your manifesto. And so it is with the NEF. Their ‘Green New Deal‘ document is

Inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programme launched in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, this modernised version is designed to tackle our current crash: the interlinked crises of climate change, recession and energy depletion.

It goes on…

The global economy is facing a ‘triple crunch’: a combination of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and soaring energy prices underpinned by encroaching peak oil. It is increasingly clear that these three overlapping events threaten to develop into a perfect storm, the like of which has not been seen since the Great Depression, with potentially devastating consequences.

As we pointed out recently, one of those three crunch factors – high oil prices – is already a non fact. Like Hansen, the NEF and the Green New Deal Group elevate themselves with these kind of statements. But soon their forecasts will catch up with them.

Following Obama’s inauguration, and the NEF’s attempts to cast their ideas as the contemporary equivalent of Roosevelt’s New Deal it seems appropriate to answer Hansen’s demands to the new president with words from Roosevelt’s inuagural address.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Obama himself mentions fear:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

If Obama is really to choose ‘hope over fear’, he will have to challenge the influence of the likes of Hansen. Can he do it? Well, we hope so.

The Movement Movement

One of the most toxic effects of environmentalism’s tendency to reduce human needs and wants to problems that need to be contained and controlled is found in the debate over transport policy. Movement itself is threatened by demands that we reduce our ‘impact’ on the world. We are urged not to take ‘unnecessary’ journeys and to take them in the least carbon-intensive ways, or the carbon calculator will be used to prove our guilt.

But why should people feel guilty about travelling? Isn’t the freedom to travel a moral good? If we can travel, we can find opportunities for work, to meet new people, to find new culture, discover new ideas, or just escape for a while, for whatever it is we want to indulge in. Travel broadens the horizons of the mind.

Hoping to mount a defence of this freedom is a new group, starting up on Facebook for now, Modern Movement.

Protests over the third runway at Heathrow, and against airport expansion in general, attempt to portray much needed investment in transport infrastructure as an unwanted imposition on ‘the people’, rather than a development to be welcomed.

Heathrow may not be the ideal location for a large airport but we need more runways. Flying is a freedom millions have only recently been able to afford. The long-standing environmentalist prejudice against the freedom of flight shows that for Greens, the real problem is freedom of movement for the masses.

Modern Movement – a group campaigning, amongst other things, for 21st century transport infrastructure – is mobilising against the moralisation of cheap flights and the ‘cheap’ people (in the eyes of Greens) who take them. We support the building of the third runway at Heathrow.

The observation that when living standards suffer, people turn away from green issues, is correct. And so people should! People deserve better – lower fares and faster transport ultimately give people more time and money to do the things that matter. The majority continue to vote with their feet by taking flights…while they can still afford to.

Modern Movement demand fast, cheap and plentiful transport and an end to the moralisation of flying.

George's Aga Ga-Ga and the Heathrow Hoo-Haa

George Monbiot is a very confused man. A few days ago, he announced his campaign against the Aga cooker (because it uses lots of energy). This, he said ‘is indeed a class war’ – the Aga is an expensive piece of kit, and therefore, you have to be rather wealthy to own one. We thought he wasn’t entirely serious about this campaign, it was just a rather childish attempt to prove to his detractors at Spiked-Online that the Green movement wasn’t dominated by the upper classes. He might just as well have shot himself in the foot to prove that he wasn’t lame. 

I’ve lost count of the number of aspirational middle-class greens I know who own one of these monsters and believe that they are somehow compatible (perhaps because they look good in a country kitchen) with a green lifestyle. The campaign against Agas – which starts here – will divide rich greens down the middle.

George is trying to resist criticism that the environmental movement is dominated by the upper classes by committing himself to a campaign that will, according to him, divide them. In other words, it’s a nonsense that at best defeats itself. But this wasn’t a joke. Yesterday, George appeared on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show [Listen again] to talk about why the Aga is a bad thing:

there are lots and lots of ways to spread love and happiness, but starving out the people of the Horn of Africa because of repeated droughts caused by our use of Agas is not one of them 

George’s commitment to class war gets even more bizarre and questionable. Shortly afterwards, the Guardian published a comment piece, in which he announces that,

A Labour government approves the expansion of Heathrow – why, it’s almost enough to make you vote Tory

This isn’t a joke, either.

So my guilty, monstrous thought is this: why shouldn’t we vote Conservative if it’s the only remaining hope of preventing this crazy scheme from being built? What else is there left to lose? I won’t act on this impulse, but I know that plenty of others will. When these invertebrates are booted out of office, they will have no one to blame but themselves. 

Monbiot began the week calling for class war. He ends it by canvassing for the Conservatives. Eco-socialism on Monday; eco-conservatism by Friday. This reveals something we’ve been long arguing here on Climate-Resistance: that environmentalism doesn’t fit neatly into the Left-Right spectrum. Without commenting on the merits or demerits of Left over Right or vice-versa, if environmentalism’s fiercest proponents can switch ends of the political spectrum, then their claims to have put humans at the centre of their politics is entirely bogus; the fundamental principals are environmental, not human. George is willing to sell out the latter for the sake of the former. 

It gets weirder. George’s Aga ga-ga phoney class war, which followed criticism from Spiked, came in an article which attacked the Editor of Spiked, Brendan O’Neill. At the beginning of the article, Monbiot makes an issue of O’Neil’s Marxism, but by the end, he places O’Neill on the other side. 

Yes, this is a class war; and Brendan O’Neill and his fellow travellers have sided with the toffs. These Marxist proletarian firebrands are defending the class they profess to hate.

(O’Neil – who doesn’t ‘profess to hate’ any class – answers Monbiot here). 

So not only does George demonstrate that much of Spiked’s criticism is correct by his calling for a ‘class war’ against the Aga, he switches from eco-Socialism to eco-Conservatism over the course of a working week, and then accuses others of being Right, where they had, according to him, assumed to be Left! 

George emerges dizzy from his own spinning and thinks it is the world that’s confused about what direction it is moving in. And this is his fundamental problem. Everything he writes is a projection of his own inability to understand a world that fails to conform to his expectations. The ideas he uses to orientate himself fail to give him purchase on his own existential crisis; they crumble underfoot. The result is his capricious, vacillating, and incoherent column in the Guardian, with its frequent attacks on Spiked. This disorientation demonstrates beautifully, albeit unintentionally, Spiked’s broader criticism that the Left-Right axis isn’t sufficient to explain the world. Monbiot is a painful symptom of this disorientation, not a bright and leading advocate of an urgent cause. 

He is a walking contradiction – as you’d expect from a man who, as James Heartfield has pointed out, is the son of Tory politicians descended from French aristocrats, went from a famous public school, through Oxbridge, to the BBC, yet fancies himself as a critic of the establishment. The very same establishment has mirrored George’s disorientation by redefining itself according to the tenets of environmentalism. The Government has gone Green. The Labour Party is Green. The Tory Party is even Greener. The media is dominated by the environmental message. Huge Corporations rush to demonstrate their Green credentials. This makes it harder and harder for Monbiot to style himself as an anti-establishment radical – he fails to realise it, but they’ve bought the message, in spite of environmentalism’s failure to interest the wider public. Thus the few occasions where environmentalism is challenged or fails to assert itself become the battlegrounds for George’s war with the imaginary anti-environmental ‘establishment’. Hence, Spiked, one of the few critics of environmentalism become the object of his anger and frustration, and the go-ahead for the new Heathrow runway moves him to join the Conservatives, and further towards the real establishment.

You can’t blame George for this confusion, however. It is a complicated world, made more complex by the Heathrow affair. 

A staggering argument emerged yesterday, for example. John McDonnell, MP for the area where the new runway will be built, was suspended from Parliament for staging a protest about the decision about the future of the runway not being the subject of a vote

Later he told the BBC that he would not apologise for his actions because he was representing his constituents and their rights to have their voices heard.

By doing what he did, he said he was asserting the values of “democracy and the sovereignty of Parliament” stemming back “to the days of Cromwell”.

“This is about asserting the right of MPs to decide the policies of this country and not having them bulldozed through without a vote in the House of Commons.”

This is a bit rich. The concerns of residents likely to be displaced notwithstanding, environmental policies which will have adverse consequences for the entire UK population have, as we have long been arguing here, gone through the House of Commons almost entirely unopposed and without debate, yet environmental politics have never been tested by the UK democratic process. All of the parties have absorbed environmentalism, and made it the centre of their manifestos. Most recently, MPs voted for the Climate Change Bill, which became law, and allowed an unaccountable and unscrutinised Climate Change Committee to dictate what the UK’s climate targets ought to be. 

In other words, the Greening of the UK establishment, has been entirely undemocratic. 

Answering Monbiot’s war on the Aga today, William McGrath, chief executive of the Aga Rangemaster Group says,

Monbiot asks: “So where is the campaign against Agas? There isn’t one.” The reason for this is that there is nothing to attack.

There is nothing to attack, or rather, there is nothing that George can find to attack – so empty is his imagination – to sustain his image as a radical. In search of an enemy, he declares war on ovens, and gets burnt. He has only himself, and his infantile inability for self-reflection to blame. 

Pick a Number – Any Number

Worldwatch, which aims to ’empower decision makers to build an ecologically sustainable society that meets human needs’ have upped the stakes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – To avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, world carbon emissions will have to drop to near zero by 2050…

The increase now being demanded by Worldwatch pretends to have a rational, scientific basis…

“Global warming needs to be reduced from peak levels to 1 degree (Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) as fast as possible,” co-author William Hare said at a briefing on the “State of the World 2009” report. “At this level you can see some of the risks fade into the background.”

… but a far more likely explanation for the new figure is the need of huge eco-NGOs to have some kind of leverage over governments. After all, if Governments began to comply with the demands of these organisations, it would undermine their raison d’etre. What would be the point of a $multi-multi-multi million NGO, if its campaigning didn’t need to extend much beyond commissioning dark imaginations to draft its reports? 

Kyoto aimed for a 60% cut, apparently based on the IPCC’s reports. The UK Government has committed itself to an 80% cut. Obama has made noises about his intentions to see the USA meet the demands of environmentalists. With the USA and Australia now seemingly aboard the ship of carbon-reducing fools, the eco-NGOs have to move the goal posts, or fade into obscurity. 

This is the logic of crisis politics, which we pointed out right back when this blog began. Our second post – In Crisis Politics, the Only Way is UP – discussed the UK Conservatives trumping Labour’s commitment to a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, by announcing their plans to set a target of 80%. In response, the Liberal Democrats later said they thought the figure ought to be 100%. And here we see exactly the same thing happening: posturing by numbers. The world’s governments began to commit itself to 60%, some to 80%, and Worldwatch up the figure. 16 months ago, we speculated that the only next step would be for parties to start claiming that they would deliver a carbon negative Britain. And that’s pretty much what Worldwatch have done.

Hare said that global greenhouse gas emissions would need to hit their peak by 2020 and drop 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and keep dropping after that. He said carbon dioxide emissions would have to “go negative,” with more being absorbed than emitted, in the second half of this century.

The scare stories stay the same, while only the numbers change. 

“However this turns out, we still have some precious time and a clear shot at safely managing human-induced climate change,” Engelman said. “What’s at stake is not just nature as we’ve always known it, but quite possibly the survival of our civilization. It’s going to be a really interesting year.”

The survival Engelman is worried about is not the survival of civilisation, but the survival of the bizarre political structure – insitutions, NGOs, ethics, economics, ideology – that has established itself on the prospect of imminent global catastrophe. 

Comment is NOT Free

Over at Comment is Free, George Monbiot attempts to rescue the eco-movement from the criticism that they’re a bunch of toffs by launching a campaign to ‘ban the aga’. “This is indeed a class war,” he says. 

So where is the campaign against Agas? There isn’t one. I’ve lost count of the number of aspirational middle-class greens I know who own one of these monsters and believe that they are somehow compatible (perhaps because they look good in a country kitchen) with a green lifestyle. The campaign against Agas – which starts here – will divide rich greens down the middle.

(For those readers hailing from lands without them, an Aga is a very large, solid and heavy cooker, which is ‘always on’, and was a much-coveted lifestyle/status symbol in the eighties.)

George is keen to demonstrate his readiness to split the green movement following criticism from Spiked-Online that its membership is almost exclusively or disproportionately people with middle and upper class backgrounds.

Edited by Brendan O’Neill, it concentrates on denying the existence of social and environmental problems, and attacking protest movements with a hatred so intense and disproportionate that it must contain an element of self-disgust.

Monbiot imagines that the failure of the UK’s environmental movement is the fault of Spiked and its associates. But what’s even weirder than this conspiracy-mongering is George’s plan to distance himself from Spiked’s criticism, and to reveal Spiked as the ‘real’ friend of the rich. 

Yes, this is a class war; and Brendan O’Neill and his fellow travellers have sided with the toffs. These Marxist proletarian firebrands are defending the class they profess to hate. Bosses of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your planes.

Mark Lynas, author of Six-Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, tried to make a similar argument in reply to Spiked earlier in the year after a poll of voting behaviour, in his view, revealed a greater interest in environmental issues amongst working class people. 

So perhaps anti-environmental class warriors like the editors of Spiked need to find a new cause to champion. The working-class people who they claim “can’t afford to be concerned about climate change” actually care more about the future of the planet than the rich – and are doing a lot less damage to boot. So next time you hear someone defending motorway expansion or cheap flights on behalf of the British poor, ask yourself the question: whose side are they really on?

But as we showed, Lynas’ treatment of the raw statistics was, erm, bad statistics. Furthermore, Lynas’ claim to be onside with the poor of the world is undermined by his comment to Red Pepper magazine in 2004, 

The struggle for equity within the human species must take second place to the struggle for the survival of an intact and functioning biosphere.

…which is exactly the sort of thing which Spiked criticise him for. Similarly, Monbiot argued in August, that his eco-socialist and eco-anarchist comrades risked undermining his efforts to save the planet

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

Which is curious, because just a few years ago, George himself was a staunch anti-capitalist, arguing in 2000 that 

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

Monbiot accuses Spiked of ‘moving to the Right’. Yet Monbiot, 8 years after his attempt to mobilise the masses against global capitalism… gives up, and calls for people to abandon politics, or the world will end. 

He and Lynas struggle hard to reply to the criticisms made by Spiked. And that is why they need to use words such as these…

[LM (prior to Spiked)] campaigned against bans on tobacco advertising, child pornography and the ownership of handguns. It denied that genocide had taken place in Rwanda, or ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. It provided a platform for writers from the hard-right Institute for Economic Affairs and Centre for the Defence of Free Enterprise. Frank Furedi started writing for the Centre for Policy Studies, which was founded by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher. He and the LM writer Tony Gilland wrote to the supermarket chains, offering – for £7,500 – to educate “consumers about complex scientific issues”.

… in an effort to throw muck at their critics. It is only by turning Spiked into advocates for genocide, child pornography, laissez-faire capitalism, Smoking, murders and evil-supermarkets that Monbiot can elevate himself and his fragile argument. 

But Monbiot’s is a shallow, weird, and infantile argument, for which he takes a drubbing in the comments. One of which, from James Heartfield, author of Green Capitalism: Manufacturing Scarcity in an Age of Abundance, was deleted by the moderators.  

Is George Monbiot being a bit sensitive about being called a toff? But then his ancestors were French aristocrats, the Ducs de Coutard, his parents leading Tory Politicians who sent their little boy to Stowe Public school and Brasenose College, Oxford, before George got a job at the BBC, trolled around the anti-roads protests for a while, sponsored by career diplomat Sir Crispin Tickell, then landing his current job as Guardian columnist. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Monbiot)

George thinks air travel the equivalent of child abuse, except when he is doing it to ‘promote his book’. Climate changes gives George the intellectual justification for refusing to share his flights with the great unwashed.

Site Design

A number of readers have let us know of some problems with the site. 

First is the colour scheme, which makes difficult reading for more mature eyes. 

The second is the loading time of pages in Internet Explorer. 

We’re aware of both these problems, and are working on a way to make the site better, but it takes a great deal of time. Meanwhile, we suggest using either Firefox or Google Chrome – both of which are better browsers in our view.

How you pay for tomorrow's scares, today

In a remarkably gullible news item, the BBC reported 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,” it proclaimed.

This was drawn from a report that found that although there were fewer “loss-producing events” in 2008 than in the previous year, the impact of natural disasters was higher. It claimed that more than 220,000 people died in events like cyclones, earthquakes and flooding, the most since 2004, the year of the Asian tsunami. Global losses totalled about $200bn (£137bn), with uninsured losses totalling $45bn, about 50 per cent more than in 2007, the report claimed. All of which made 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.

And why would that be? The BBC article quoted expert Torsten Jeworrek, who claimed: “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. 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

…terrorism…

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.”

… and climate change …

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

… and 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

… and 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.”

… and climate change …

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 Ben Pile and I 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.

Or they could have drawn on the academic literature. An article published in 2007 in the journal Science concluded that:

global weather-related economic losses (inflation adjusted, 2006 dollars) have increased from an annual average of U.S.$8.9 billion from 1977–1986 to U.S.$45.1 billion from 1997–2006. However, because of issues related to data quality, the low frequency of extreme event impacts, limited length of the time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change brought about by greenhouse gas emissions (S1). This conclusion is likely to remain unchanged in the near future.

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’.”

Höppe springs eternal

Intriguingly Jeworrek’s Munich Re colleague Peter Höppe, who is also quoted by the BBC, is an author of the Science paper cited above, which stresses the current impossibility of attributing natural disaster losses to the effects of global warming. At the Prometheus blog, Höppe’s co-author on the Science paper, Roger Pielke Jr from the University of Colorado, flags up the divergence between the words of Höppe-the-scientist and Höppe-the-insurer:

Munich Re scientists (Hoeppe and E. Faust) publish in Science that attribution of losses to greenhouse gas emissions is not presently possible, and a Munich Re board member says that such attribution is ‘very probably’ leading to more extreme events,” notes Pielke.

It’s certainly 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.

The economist in question is Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Report.

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.

Professor Lord Sir Nick 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.

The insurance premiums we pay are largely based on the historical record – but they also include some measure of the risk of the risk of damage tomorrow. This needs to be rational calculation: if the risk of catastrophic climate change is exaggerated, then we are paying too much.

It seems that the greens have been right all along: an economic tail really does wag the scientific dog.

Munich ReDux

Further to our post on the love-in between Munich Re insurance the BBC and Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern…

Over at Prometheus, Roger Pielke Jr presents statistics that contradict Munich Re’s statements on increases in the human and economic costs of natural disasters:

Even as populations continue to grow, there has been no upward trend in the loss of life, despite the tragic reality of major disasters around the world every year. Extracting a climate change signal in that data is just not possible.

Intriguingly, Pielke has collaborated with Munich Re’s Peter Hoppe on economic costs, resulting in a paper in Science which concluded that:

According to data collected by Munich Re, global weather-related economic losses (inflation adjusted, 2006 dollars) have increased from an annual average of U.S.$8.9 billion from 1977–1986 to U.S.$45.1 billion from 1997–2006. However, because of issues related to data quality, the low frequency of extreme event impacts, limited length of the time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change brought about by greenhouse gas emissions (S1). This conclusion is likely to remain unchanged in the near future.

In the BBC article we reported on, however, Hoppe is quoted as saying:

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

And his Munich Re colleague Torsten Jeworrek said:

This continues the long-term trend we have been observing. Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes. These, in turn, generate greater and greater losses because the concentration of values in exposed areas, like regions on the coast, is also increasing further throughout the world.

As Pielke puts it:

So Munich Re scientists (Hoeppe and E. Faust) publish in Science that attribution of losses to greenhouse gas emissions is not presently possible, and a Munich Re board member says that such attribution is “very probably” leading to more extreme events.

He concludes:

The fact is that 2008 disaster losses tell us nothing about human-caused climate change. They offer no pressing reason for passing a climate treaty, since such a treaty can have no real effect on the climate for decades anyway. And even if it did the main reason for increasing losses is social not climatic. There are far better reasons for a global climate treaty than reducing disaster losses, since there are far better approaches to that end (as we argue in our Science paper). Further, there may be good reason for Munich Re to want to increase its rates, but making grossly unsound appeals to the spectre of greenhouse gas impacts on disasters in the near term will both harm its own credibility as a business, and potenially harm efforts to secure a global climate treaty, as overselling the science will inevitably result in a backlash.

Read the whole thing here.