Eco-Nutcases Make Bad Law

Posted by Ben Pile on January 5, 2011
Jan 052011

Geoff points us to a Guardian article, which he points out goes some way to demonstrating the tendency of climate-alarmists to undermine their own credibility, and to alienate themselves against the wider public. Rather like the 10:10 campaign did with the ‘splattergate’snuff video…

Why we need a law on ecocide Until we have a law to prosecute those who destroy the planet, corporations will never be called to account for their crimes

Sophie Scholl, a Munich University student, was executed for revealing the truth about the activities of the Nazi authorities; today 20 brave Ratcliffe whistleblowers have been sentenced at Nottingham crown court for plotting to draw attention to the truth of the activities of another German entity. This time, replace the tyranny of the Nazis with the tyranny of the energy giant E.ON.

It should not be necessary to point it out: the Nazis systematically murdered millions of people; E.ON provides its customers — homes, schools, hospitals, churches, synagogoes, mosques, factories, offices — with electricity. If any of its customers don’t want to use electricity, they are free to turn off their appliances, and go hug a tree.

There is no Tyranny of E.ON. Nonetheless, in Polly Higgins’ fertile imagination, there is. And she proposes that to overthrow it, we need the creation of an international law, like the ‘crimes against peace’, such as genocide, called ‘ecocide’. That’s right, Higgins wants to oust the imaginary tyranny with a very real one. Says Higgins,

Sixty years ago the tyranny was Nazism. Today it is pursuit of profit without moral compass or responsibility. Despite the planned Ratcliffe protests, it is one that the majority of humanity accepts regardless of the known consequences. We look the other way
from the daily reports of destruction of our world by those who are in a position of superior responsibility; the master controllers of our fates are those who determine how we live our lives. It is the heads of the top corporations who gamble with the fate of our planet; those who produce and supply our energy are the most culpable of all.

Notice that Higgins first points the fingers at us… We’re no longer innocent bystanders: ‘… the majority of humanity accepts regardless of the known consequences.’ There are only degrees of guilt in her nasty moral universe.

She then makes an interesting move. In her view, we are culpable because we ignore ‘the master controllers of our fates are those who determine how we live our lives’, but we’re less culpable than the real baddies. And her answer, of course, is to morally-blackmail us into consenting to the creation of the means to create precisely the role of ‘master controller’, which hitherto only existed in her imagination. Higgins’ conception of ‘ecocide’ would make it almost impossible to run a company that produces and supplies energy. Thus the supply and production of energy falls under the control of a cartel of eco-lawyers.

Polly Higgins… You are an eco-fascist.

  51 Responses to “Eco-Nutcases Make Bad Law”

  1. Re: “Higgins wants to oust the imaginary tyranny with a very real one.”

    You’ve nailed it.

  2. I try to hold out against the term ecofascist, since there’s no way for the discussion to go from there. But Higgins and her like do ask for it. Environmentalists are clearly ideological totalitarians – a term which doesn’t trip off the tongue as easily as “ecofascist”, I agree.
    An ideology is a belief system which is immune to rational analysis, usually an ossified version of a perfectly normal political position. So communism can be seen as the ideological form of socialism, fascism the ideiological form of popular nationalism, and global warming belief as the ideological form of the green movement.
    The two former were born in violent circumstances, the latter in the longest period of peace that Europe has known. Its violence is only at the fantasy level, which it expresses by fantasies of blowing people up or punishing them at international courts, and by identification with the supposed victims of the supposed crimes of the supposed destroyers of the planet.
    There’s always the danger that a group of people with such a deranged view of the world may turn violent, and hence conform to our image of fascists. There’s also a very real danger that in thirty years time Ms Higgins will be a High Court Judge, handing out absurdly lenient sentences to people who think like she does, in some Real Ale Pub Putsch. So perhaps it’s a good idea to insult them while we can.

    Anyway, I can’t be accused of ideological rigidity, since I’ve changed my mind radically about the Guardian Environment website. I used to think it was an aberration in an otherwise intelligent newspaper, and that Monbiot, Vidal &co would eventually see reason. Now it’s clear that it’s a jerk circle of statistically challenged halfwits who are not worthy to lick Lord Rothermere’s boots, and I shall be writing to tell them so.
    (Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail supported Hitler in the early years of the Third Reich. Then he changed his mind.)

  3. Interesting to read about Polly Higgins’s rather disturbing fantasies, in the context of a recent development which does rather seem to smack of totalitarianism. Pierre Gosselin covers it here:

    http://notrickszone.com/2011/01/03/germany-passes-energy-tyranny-act-will-force-energy-rationing/

    Anyway, Happy New Year to all!

  4. Geoff, you’re right to say that we should use the term ‘eco-fascist’ carefully. Higgins compares EON to Nazis, and then demands (blackmail) that we create the bureaucracy that would create the very power that she wrongly imagines the ‘tyranny’ to have. She’s a ‘fascist’ on her own terms.

  5. Higgins and her ecototalitarianism would fit well with the likes of Danton, Robespierre and the other ‘heroes’ of the French Revolution.

    Presumably she would want a position on the Committee of Public Safety in order to supervise the denunciations, trials and executions of those who harbour incorrect thoughts.

    Or are suspected to.

  6. I propose an alternative to ‘eco-fascist’ with all its incendiary potential.

    Polly Higgins is mad.

  7. I prefer to use the word tyranny or tyrant in describing these views, and the personal wilfulness which drives them. It avoids the political pigeonholing into left or rightwing extremes and leaves the door open for the idea that a tyrannous state of mind pre-exists in some adults (perhaps it is dormant in all of us) – and that any political (or religious) ideology is merely an adopted vehicle (and a means for collusion) through which that wilfulness can (re)emerge and express itself.

    I think this event is what we describe with the phrase ‘the genie is out of the bottle’ (along with the acknowledgement of how difficult it is to get it back in again) and some would say it is exactly what William Blake is alluding to with his famous lines “Tyger, Tyger, burning bright / In the forests of the night…”.

  8. Idiotboy – Higgins and her ecototalitarianism would fit well with the likes of Danton, Robespierre and the other ‘heroes’ of the French Revolution.

    This is the real problem with comparing moments from the present with moments from the past, which is why it’s generally not a good idea to use the word ‘fascist’.

    The French — much as with most — revolution produced its own violent heroes in its struggle against a violent regime. That is not to take sides, so to speak, with violent revolutionaries, but neither is it to imagine that their actions can be seen in contrast to the civil freedoms we now enjoy.

    Higgins attracts the term ‘fascist’ because she attempts to draw the historical parallel, which unfortunately for her looks more like the idea she wants to realise, than the state of things as they are with EON.

  9. On the comments page to the article by our tricoteuse, Weaselmeister (6 January 2011 1:04PM) reproduces a deleted page from Wikipedia on which we learn that:
    “Polly Higgins is an international environmental lawyer, barrister and initiator of Planetary Rights. In November 2008 Polly was invited to address the United Nations on the call for a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights …
    “More recently Polly has expanded the declaration into a wider all encompassing declaration, entitled the Universal Declaration of All Beings. This is a ‘soft law’ Declaration, which has come to be more commonly referred to as The People’s Declaration. It is a guidance document setting out the values, responsibilities, rights and freedoms for all. It is based on the commonality of all beings, transcending all religions and belief systems. It can be applied individually and collectively, as well as nationally and internationally. See Trees Have Rights Too for fuller details.
    “In April 2008 Polly also founded WISE Women in Sustainability and the Environment – an international network set up to provide a voice for more women in the environmental field, brings together women who are working on sustainability and environment related issues. The Wise Women Speaker Database promotes Wise Women with particular expertise in related areas.
    “Recently voted, in March 2009, by The Ecologist magazine as “One of the Top Ten Visionaries to Save the Planet” for her work on Planetary Rights, Polly is a renowned international speaker and expert on the integration of Earth Jurisprudential principles into global governance systems.
    “She has an MA in Cultural History, postgrad diplomas in Semiology and Decorative Arts, as well as a Law Diploma”.

    It would be easy to make fun of much of this (please feel free) but there’s something particularly sinister in the idea of someone with an MA in cultural history writing this. She has three websites, five speaking engagements this month, and a book out recommended by Bianca Jagger. Robespierre doesn’t come near.

  10. Geoff,
    The wiki quote you mention suggests that part of the problem is an obsession with equality at the expense of everything else. For example, I’d say this desire underlies ideas like multi-culturalism and is generalised by environmentalists to include other animals and apparently trees as well – don’t know whether they also want to include viruses and rocks?

  11. Absolutely bizarre. And for a lawyer, she has not thought this through too well at all (understatement). Does Nature or anything over than human beings care about the destruction of species and ecosystems? Evidently not (unless there is a deity who watches over all species and holds “ecocidal” transgressors to account, which Polly is not claiming.) Nature doesn’t care if the sabre-toothed tiger or the giant panda dies out, and will just replace one species with another in a geological eyeblink. It’s the same with ecosystems, just on a larger scale – where were the Florida Everglades during the planet’s “Snowball Earth” phase? Where will they be in another few million years?

    It’s clear that only we care (or not, as the case might be.) If the giant panda is to be saved from extinction, it’s because human beings value it, not because it holds some sort of intrinsic value in the world. “Ecocide” is a nonsense.

  12. Philip
    I can’t see anything about an obsession with equality in Higgins’ bio. She looks to me to be typical of so many on the far left in having renounced sensible demands for more fairness in society (e.g. a return to the kind of progressive income tax which existed under both conservative and labour governmentsin the sixties) for ranting against Nazi Corporations. It’s displacement activity (and in that sense might be compared with multiculturalism, although the similarity stops there, as far as I can see). How much equality a capitalist society can or should aim for is a key political question. Environmentalism simply muddies the waters with their ludicrous manipulation of statistics of sea level rise in Bangla Desh.
    Alex
    I’ve just read a couple of brilliant descriptions of the rise and fall of ecosystems – in
    Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear”. As a thriller it’s pretty rubbishy, but the brief histories of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks are great, making exactly your point.

  13. I have to agree with Geoff here… The only form of equality Higgins is interested in is equality between trees and people, not between people. But in fact, her philosophy seems to put trees slightly above people. I’m doing a post about it now.

    I really don’t think that ideas about left and right are adequate at all to explain Higgins’s perspective. I think what we’re seeing is a complete departure from that era of politics, with a near comprehensive disconnect from their philosophical ground (and indeed reality itself). She’s quite mad, so it is interesting to see that she’s got so far.

  14. Ben: “She’s quite mad, so it is interesting to see that she’s got so far”.
    I agree entirely, but isn’t it depressing that after years of dispute, with the rational grounds for global warming politics shrinking practically day by day, the Guardian still thinks it a good idea to print this kind of stuff?
    Those sceptics (maybe Philip is one) who think that global warming is a typically left-wing ideology, should realise just how out of character this is for the British left, i.e. for papers like the Guardian and the Independent, and for the Labour and Liberal parties. British left-wingers have their faults, bless them – but subverting democratic institutions and denouncing harmless electricity utilities as Nazis has not been among them.
    You say that ideas about left and right are inadequate to explain Higgins’s perspective, and that we’re seeing a complete departure from that era of politics, with a near comprehensive disconnect from their philosophical ground.
    The disconnect which I find interesting is not that from the philosophical ground, but from the social roots. All the time we sceptics have been celebrating the scientific wheels coming off the bandwagon, the wagon has just kept on rolling, like a cartoon character running off the edge of a cliff and treading air, driven as it is, not by scientists, but by politicians and journalists.
    I don’t see how the fundamental left-right class-based politics can ever be superceded in our society. On the other hand, I don’t see how a Labour Party which ignored the Redcar election result and chose Ed Miliband can ever recover its sanity. Perhaps we shall all be forced to join Polly in a rousing chorus of “Tomorrow belongs to Me”

  15. Geoff and Ben – I expect you are both right; to be honest, I find it quite hard to imagine how she thinks about this. If there really is a “near comprehensive disconnect” with traditional politics, then I imagine that arguments over equality vs freedom become somewhat moot and perhaps it is simply that Ms Higgins dislikes other people – in any case, I’ll look forward to the post on the subject to find out more.

  16. Geoff,
    I’m more confused about the politics than anything else, although I can see a lot in common with the tactics of the far-left. I do think I’m starting to come to terms with the idea that environmentalism is politically something completely new (as Ben suggests). But it would help me if I had a clearer picture of exactly what that new thing is – although when I find that out, I suspect I’m not going to like it very much.

  17. Philip, here’s a quote from climate-activist and writer, Mark Lynas, which I’m particularly fond of quoting. It’s from a 2004 edition of Red Pepper magazine.

    I think inter-human squabbles about wealth distribution are now taking place within the context of a major destruction of the ecosystems which all of us depend on: rich, poor, black, white, homo sapiens or any other species. Therefore my argument is that the left-right political divide should no longer be the defining key priority. The struggle for equity within the human species must take second place to the struggle for the survival of an intact and functioning biosphere. This doesn’t mean giving up the fight on behalf of the poor, but it does mean that one’s position on the environment is going to be the crucial political divide of the next century. And many left-wingers are very anti-environment. Some socialists retain the old technocratic mindset where they think everything can be engineered and humans are all-powerful. Many more leftish people are also too polite to mention over-population, which along with climate is probably the key environmental issue. I think that we should give just as much thought to other species of life, who will presumably continue to suffer even if human society eventually gets more egalitarian. – http://www.redpepper.org.uk/Interview-with-Mark-Lynas-author/

    Monbiot, who has had a much closer relationship with the superficially radical/left/anarchist movements has made similar remarks over the last decade. However, Monbiot has a tendency to vacillate, so it’s never clear which of his statements really reflects his position — if he even has one.

    On equality vs freedom point, I think these aren’t as robust a pair of categories (let alone a spectrum) as we’d want them to be. The left, for instance, has produced its own arguments about the tendency of the ‘equality imperative’ (if I may call it that) to produce self-serving elites. And freedom — while being a great sounding idea which is hard to stand against — rather depends on what it means, and to whom. What does freedom mean, if it doesn’t mean that the means to enjoy it will be forthcoming?

    The desire for coordinates that help to explain current political debate and its history is understandable. But there’s a danger that they get superimposed over a view of events in way that obscures the real picture. The specious division of the debate into ‘scientists and deniers’ should be an object lesson in the inadequacies of binary, opposing categories to explain complex debates.

  18. Thanks for the endorsement Ben:

    I really don’t think that ideas about left and right are adequate at all to explain Higgins’s perspective. I think what we’re seeing is a complete departure from that era of politics, with a near comprehensive disconnect from their philosophical ground (and indeed reality itself). She’s quite mad, so it is interesting to see that she’s got so far.

    ;-)

  19. But it would help me if I had a clearer picture of exactly what that new thing is – although when I find that out, I suspect I’m not going to like it very much.

    Philip, unfortunately for your desire for clarity, there is no clear picture to be had. Environmentalism is not like left movements of the past, there’s no single theoretical basis to any movement within it, no constituency of interests it represents, no real definition of ends or means or purpose or programme, all of which gave identity to the historic ‘left’ and perhaps to a lesser extent, the right and their parts. That is a problem experienced by the contemporary (and putative) left and right alike.

    The reality is really really messy. To put it really bluntly, the definition of the state of affairs is its lack of definition. Climate change offers an escape from the disorientation, by being the ‘defining issue of our time’, but invariably it gets expressed in the terms of the past.

  20. Ben – Thanks for the Mark Lynas quote, I hadn’t seen it before and it helps me a lot. I feel a little less happy to learn that “the definition of the state of affairs is its lack of definition” (although I don’t doubt you are correct).

    I was struck by the phrase “…now taking place within the context of a major destruction of the ecosystems…”. At least Mark has been honest enough to explicitly state his central premise. I assume he truly believes it, and so I wonder how his journey could have delivered him with such conviction to such a conclusion?

  21. One way of understand the complexity might be to ask: what is the state of disorientation (the “messiness”) to which environmentalism is supposed to be an answer? How does someone start out studying cultural history and end up demanding Rights for Trees? Or, how does someone who demands Rights for Trees get to be published in a serious newspaper?
    To answer this would require an analysis of the collapse of the Left, a process which is commmon to many if not all Western democracies, but which has unfolded in a wide variety of ways. (In Britain, unlike the USA, you don’t have to be a millionaire to get elected. Nor have any British leaders sought political asylum in Tunisia, as happened to the head of the Italian Socialist Party).
    A common theme underlying the collapse of left-wing parties (or their adoption of Thatcherite policies) has been their inability to prevent the general widening of the gap between rich and poor. I haven’t read “the Spirit Level” or followed the arguments, but it sounded pretty poor stuff, far from the kind of rallying cry necessary to reawake a mass movement demanding social justice or a fairer society. Without such a movement, class-based politics has no sense. You might as well choose your party to match your colour scheme.

  22. I was struck by the phrase “…now taking place within the context of a major destruction of the ecosystems…”. At least Mark has been honest enough to explicitly state his central premise. I assume he truly believes it, and so I wonder how his journey could have delivered him with such conviction to such a conclusion?

    Credit where it is due, Lynas was extremely frank in the recent Channel 4 film, “what the green movement got wrong” (I’m sure it’s on google video or youtube). He candidly explains that for him and quite a number of other greens, activism was very much an emotional expression. My review of it is at http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/9868/ . What really interested me was Monbiot’s reaction, both in the TV debate following the film, and later on the pages of the Guardian. He really attempted to smear the film’s participants and the broadcaster, rather than reflect on its content. Lynas essentially makes a concession to the public’s view of hysterical, ranty environmentalists (though it goes nowhere), but Monbiot does little but shout “HERETIC” at the top of his voice.

  23. Ben: “To put it really bluntly, the definition of the state of affairs is its lack of definition.”
    Or – the definition of the state of mind is its lack of definition.

    “Climate change offers an escape from the disorientation…”
    And yet climate change IS the disorientation. Hence, we have a vicious cycle (and a need, as a society, to break it). It is as if that which is fled from, and that which is fled to, is the same thing.

    “…but invariably it gets expressed in the terms of the past.”
    That is likely to be because climate change is the container of a retrogressive (and unacceptable) wish – along with the role of the overseeing ‘authority’ figure that belonged to (and indeed, made possible) the time being wished for.

    Being charitable, Higgins’ piece could be read as the words of a woman who has wilfully abandoned her own authority and is now desperately flailing around trying to make some sense of the world she finds herself in as a result. Her whole article boils down to little more than a tantrum in which she preferences the authorities she will accept or reject in place of her own vacated one.

  24. Geoff – “A common theme underlying the collapse of left-wing parties (or their adoption of Thatcherite policies) has been their inability to prevent the general widening of the gap between rich and poor.”

    Perhaps for many in the West, the gap between rich and poor is somewhat moot. After all, most people have a lot more than the simple physical needs of life and being comparatively poor may for many be more a choice than a necessity. If so, then much of the focus both for activists and for political parties has evaporated. Is it therefore the success of the West that has created the moral and emotional vacuum now occupied by environmentalism?

  25. Philip –

    Perhaps for many in the West, the gap between rich and poor is somewhat moot.

    It gets more moot the further away from ‘poor’ that you get, though, doesn’t it.

    After all, most people have a lot more than the simple physical needs of life and being comparatively poor may for many be more a choice than a necessity.

    How many people? Which choices? When were they made? Who really made them?

    Is the expansion of the welfare state under Thatcher — and the governments which followed — the consequence of the sum of all choices made by the poor?

    I think not.

  26. Peter S
    “It is as if that which is fled from, and that which is fled to, is the same thing”.
    Sounds like a pretty good definition of the future, which contains both our hopes and aspirations, and our death.
    I just reread the article, looking for signs of mental confusion, particularly between past, present and future. The only example I found is when she describes James Hansen as “the former head of Nasa’s Goddard Institute”. Odd.
    Otherwise, given belief in catastrophic man-made global warming, her project sounds eminently sensible, much more so than Monbiot, who believes equally firmly in imminent doom, but nonetheless rabbits on about badgers, or badgers us into lodging strangers.

  27. Ben
    Wasn’t the “expansion of the welfare state under Thatcher” simply a matter of additional expenditure on unemployment benefit, often disguised as “disability benefit”? My memory of the Thatcher years is seeing beggars in the street for the first time. Unlike the “winter of discontent” which supposedly put paid to the previous Callaghan government, this wasn’t an urban myth.
    Philip
    The increasing gap between rich and poor is well-attested in many countries. It’s difficult to express simply, because income is on a continuum, but you see figures quoted like: bosses who fifty years ago were twenty times richer than the factory worker are now two hundred times richer. Obviously, the factory worker is now far richer than his equivalent fifty years ago, so drawing moral conclusions is not easy. I wouldn’t say that the relative comfort of the working classes nowadays means that the focus for political parties has evaporated, although it does explain the tendency for the left to focus on specific minorities rather than “the masses”.

  28. Slightly off-topic, but anyone who thinks the climate change debate deserves more intelligent treatment (ie everyone here) should take a long look at
    http://enthusiasmscepticismscience.wordpress.com/
    where the history and philosophy of science are brought to bear, and Macchiavelli and Aristotle have their say, as well as Ravetz and Hulme.

  29. Slightly off-topic, but anyone who thinks the climate change debate deserves more intelligent treatment (ie everyone here) should take a long look at
    http://enthusiasmscepticismscience.wordpress.com/
    where the history and philosophy of science are brought to bear, and Macchiavelli and Aristotle have their say, as well as Ravetz and Hulme.

    I have read a few posts now, and having just completed the post about post-normal science being ‘Marxist science’, I think I shall leave it there. It’s nonsense. The author does not the bring history and philosophy of science to bear, but brings the present to bear over the past.

  30. I have read a few posts now, and having just completed the post about post-normal science being ‘Marxist science’, I think I shall leave it there. It’s nonsense. The author does not the bring history and philosophy of science to bear, but brings the present to bear over the past.

    To make matters worse, the author is aware of the shortcomings of his own article, because he repeats them from a discussion here: http://buythetruth.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/climate-change-and-the-death-of-science/ where he sketches an outline of the article he went on to write. Before he does this, the excesses of the criticism of PNS/Ravetz/Hulme are politely discussed, when it would have been perfectly fair to call it a right wing, revisionist, and a-historical rant.

    The sceptics’ criticisms of Ravetz and Hulme over the last year have been ugly, and nakedly political — in a bad way. It’s enough to make me want to donate to Greenpeace.

  31. Ben
    You call Berniel’s criticism of PNS/Ravetz/Hulme “a right wing, revisionist, and a-historical rant”. Ravetz doesn’t seem to think so, since he engages in amical discussion with his critics at
    http://enthusiasmscepticismscience.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/revolutionary-science-post-normal-climate-science-and-neo-marxism/
    The article compares Ravetz’s view of science with Marx’s view of philosophy in the Feuerbach theses. Ravetz points out that he dropped Marxism before 1956, and the author accepts that. A later article compare’s Hulme’s incomprehension of climate scepticism with the theologians’ incomprehension of atheism. What’s wrong with that? I leave the author’s politics aside, forgive his spelling, and benefit from his wide reading and thoughtful analysis.
    Of course, most sceptics are right wing ranters. As a left-wing ranter myself, I read Delingpole and North with a guilty shudder. It’s normal that ardent anti-tax anti-big-government rightwingers should be the first to spot the scandal of climate change. They won’t be the last.

  32. having just completed the post about post-normal science being ‘Marxist science’

    It seemed to me that he was accusing post-normal science of having its origins, and many of its tactics, from a lineage extending back to post-WWII Western academic neo-Marxism. I don’t think he was actually accusing it of being Marxist, as such.

    The weakness to me is that that the movers of academic Marxism were in the soft sciences, and it isn’t at all clear how it morphed into the hard sciences. A direct lineage seems unlikely, as historians don’t usually branch out into physics late in life. More likely, the climate scientists saw how the humanities were able to use their academic studies to push their politics, and decided to do likewise.

  33. Ben and Geoff –

    I’m not trying to suggest that there are no longer any poor people or that the gap between rich and poor has not grown. The only figures I’ve come across are ones talking about changes in average incomes i.e. I haven’t seen figures expressing changes for different groups within society. But whatever the root causes, my impression is that there is less activism around social issues than when I was younger (which is also what I understood Geoff to be saying). If true, is this simply another reflection of the political vacuum described by Ben? Perhaps people who would in the past have been activists over social causes have instead become activists over the environment? Even if there isn’t a clear picture of the nature of environmental politics, then perhaps it is still possible to understand the root causes for this political vacuum?

  34. Geoff – “It’s normal that ardent anti-tax anti-big-government rightwingers should be the first to spot the scandal of climate change. They won’t be the last.”

    I was talking to one of my neighbours a few years ago about a problem with my local council, and she commented to me that it was because they were “obsessed with climate change”. At the time I knew next to nothing about the issue, but took it to be a scientific one and decided to try to understand it as such. I’ve no doubt that anyone who seriously tries to approach the issue in this way will find that it’s almost impossible to untangle. But even so, it quickly becomes clear that the “official position” is unjustified. My point is that it isn’t necessarily the case that you come upon environmentalism as a political issue – even though I understand it in that way now. Personally, I’ve no particularly strong political bias – floating voter probably. I’ve found it very disconcerting to see at times what I take to be right wing and religious motivation in some of the sceptical comment. On the other hand, I find the implications of the extreme environmentalism of a Polly Higgins even more frightening, especially when you read that such people are apparently people of influence, even in some cases associated with bodies like the UN or EU. One good thing at a personal level is that the interest in environmentalism has forced me to find out a little more about subjects I’d never really looked into much in the past – as well as the chance to get involved here.

  35. Philip
    I agree about the right-wing and religious motivation in some of the sceptical comment being disconcerting, and equally, the left -wing desire to change the world (whether the world likes it or not) which lies behind so much climate alarmism. However, what I take to be right-wing opinions expressed at, say Wattsupwiththat may just as well be culturally determined, common to Americans of left and right. Much of the Tea Party rhetoric could come out of Mark Twain, whose fervent opposition to slavery and Western intervention in China placed him on the left.
    On the question of the influence of people like Higgins, it’s worth looking at the case of Bryony Worthington, who was quietly elevated to the House of Lords for her work on drafting the Climate Change Bill. Caligula made his horse a senator, but only after he’d shown his paces. This is Milliband’s untried filly. (see
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/nov/19/labour-peer-bryony-worthington
    Add the 10:10 gang to your list of sinister warmists who need watching, and suddenly you’re an anti-feminist witch-hunter – inevitably, given the strength of radical feminists in the warmist movement.

    I hope Ben comes back to the Post Normal Science question, because it seems to be relevant to the Higgins case. Special circumstances demand special laws, special rights to disobey the laws, and a special kind of science. Climate Change provides those special circumstances. Both those propositions need combatting, in my opinion.

  36. Geoff, the right wing rant in question is at the URL supplied, not Berniel’s site. Berniel is less honest about his partial treatment of Ravetz, and recycles the nonsense from the BuyTheTruth article, which had been explained as a misunderstanding by the more sober commenters there. Berniel ignored anything inconvenient.

    The article compares Ravetz’s view of science with Marx’s view of philosophy in the Feuerbach theses. Ravetz points out that he dropped Marxism before 1956, and the author accepts that.

    Yes, which means the article has no foundation. And there’s a massive clue for Bernie in what Ravetz says:

    I had broken with political Marxism before the events of 1956, and in research and teaching in the history of science in the early 1960′s I saw its inadequacies as a heuristic for that field.

    To which Berniel replies

    Your early break with Marxist theorising (in the early 60s {sic}) is an important contribution to this analysis — as a clarification.

    How could anyone offering to bring history to bear, to explain continuity between Marxism — or ANY Left wing theory — and PNS fail to understand the significance (and the date) of the events of the 1950s? How could it possibly come as a surprise to Berniel? This really is the moment at which the Left was forced to examine itself, and why the New Left emerges from this moment. It is nearly another 4 decades after this transformation — and after yet another comprehensive transformation of the Left and of global politics — that Ravetz proposes that there is such a thing as PNS.

    In terms of drawing continuity between historical thinkers and contemporary movements, it is between these times that Paul Ehrlich (a member of the Republican Party) re-invents Mathus (a classical liberal political economist in the Adam Smith school); Garret Hardin proposes the abolition of all property held in common for the purposes of protecting the environment in The Tragedy of the Commons; a group of Conservatives set up the party which is to become the Green Party; Senior diplomat Crispin Tickell begins to move the British establishment to take notice of the climate issue, and succeeds in persuading Thatcher who makes an appeal to the Royal Society to engage (politically) with the issue; the UN commissions the Brudtland Report (to which Thatcher responds positively) and other than sustainability, establishes discussions on population growth, the ozone layer, pesticides, and climate, the UNFCC is established, all informed by the precautionary principle… And so on.

    Yet Berniel — as much as many of the right wing sceptics — seems to want to make out that it is Ravetz who has made all this possible through PNS.

    He makes a minimal acknowledgement of the emergence of the New Left, but yet doesn’t seem to understand its significance:

    It was these ‘new Marxists’ of the 1960s and 1970s who dragging Marxist scholarship from its open affinity with Soviet-aligned communist parties and with Stalinist Marxism (however belatedly so, for there was overwhelming evidence of the atrocities of Stalinism at least from the mid-1950s). They did not abandon Marxism, but humanised it through a retreat to the young Hegelian Marx, the one who had written those 11 theses all those years ago.

    There was a New Left, and there were perhaps New Marxists, but there is no single New Marxism. The New Left Review printed its first issue in January 1960. One of its Founders, EP Thompson had resigned from the Communist Party in the same year that Ravetz points out he broke with Marxism. Thompson then begins a journal, the Reasoner, which challenges orthodox Marxism by creating an alternative to it — i.e. to develop a project for the New Left. By the 1960s, Thompson has fallen out with his successor at the NLR, Perry Anderson, and writes ‘The Poverty of Theory’ against the orthodox, structuralist Marxists after Louis Althusser. Anderson responds with an account of the ‘Arguments Within English Marxism’. There is no ‘they’ with a doctrine of Marxism in the way that Berniel imagines. ‘Marxism’, then, as a word, exists in Berniel’s thesis, merely to cause the bile to rise up the throats of his readers from the right. It’s otherwise a term that is empty of content, merely serving to polarise the debate with empty nouns; Berniel, like many right-sceptics gets political in the climate debate to pick fights with ghosts. In the process, he ignores the role of the right in the development of environmentalism and climate alarmism.

    None of which, of course, is to say that the Left had no role. And this is the point… Berniel, who ends his redundant revision of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s (for the love of god, the entire era of the cold war!) with this…

    Nonetheless, this scholarship-as-activism persisted until the collapse of both academic and soviet Marxism in the late 1980s, when many new Marxists fell in with the environmental movement and help them expand their policy profile to social and economic reform. Perhaps we should not be surprised that a similar doctrine of science, validated as praxis, should emerge around this time in the environmental sciences.

    As I’ve already pointed out, by the late 1980s, environmentalism was well and truly established internationally within the institutions of the UN, and the concept of sustainability had begun to inform the policy making of none other than Thatcher, who cites the imperatives of ‘sustainable development’ in her climate change speech to the Royal Society. The UK’s scientific establishment has been given its political function, and Ravetz has not even sat down to write PNS.

    If it means anything to point out that there is a post-political void in the current era, it is that any attempt to expose historical continuity is likely to be unmitigated bullshit. And so it is with Berniel’s thesis. The ‘New Marxists’, if they ‘fell in with the environmental movement’, it would be for the same reason that the Conservatives who had joined it prior fell in with them: the collapse of their perspective. After all, it is at this point that Thatcher’s victory over the Left in the UK coincides with the collapse of the Soviet Union, yet she is now left without a political project, and her triumph begins to turn sour. A year before PNS is proposed, Francis Fukuyama wrote,

    What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

    It is Western governments… it is western liberal governments… where ‘Marxism’ is a spent force… that go on to attempt to make climate change the universal basis of government. Obviously, their triumph was short-lived, but not for ‘Marxism’ in any form rising from the ashes. As to who won it, then… It looked for a moment that it was the Right, but then it turns out that things are never so decisive. There is no Left left. Not a draw, then, either, because there isn’t really a Right, either, which doesn’t now suffer the same problems that the Left have: what is the Right about? What is it for? What does it want to do? It really does not know, and neither does its adherents, and thus we see ‘the Left’ reinvented by the disoriented right in today’s arguments about climate change.

    How is it possible that a school of thought, which as a theory begins to fall apart by the 1950s, and as a political movement completely collapses by the end of the 1980s, finds the means to resurrect itself just a year later, to become an instrument of climate change activism? Berniel admits he cannot say.

    What he does say is this:

    PNS was used as a tool to discredit critics and sceptics in what would otherwise be seen as little more than ad hominem attacks.

    And this is where Hulme enters, and angers the Right-sceptics.

    In fact, Hulme makes absolutely no attempt to bring PNS to bear over the material scientific claims from Singer and Avery. Here is the moment in which Hulme moves from normal to post-normal science:

    So far so good. Deploying the machinery of scientific method allows us to filter out hypotheses – such as those presented by Singer and Avery – as being plain wrong. But there are two other characteristics of science that are also important when it comes to deploying its knowledge for the benefit of public policy and society: that scientific knowledge is always provisional knowledge, and that it can be modified through its interaction with society.

    And this is the moment that Hulme puts the problem into perspective alongside arguments from alarmists:

    We need this perspective of post-normal science if we are going to make sense of books such as Singer and Avery’s. Or indeed, if we are to make sense of polar opposites such as James Lovelock’s recent contribution The Revenge of Gaia, in which he extends climate science to reach the conclusion that the collapse of civilisation is no more than a couple of generations away.

    The danger of a “normal” reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow. Singer has this view of science, as do some of his more outspoken campaigning critics such as Mark Lynas. That is why their exchanges often reduce to ones about scientific truth rather than about values, perspectives and political preferences. If the battle of science is won, then the war of values will be won.

    It should be obvious, then, that Hulme does not use the term ‘post-normal science’ partially or prescriptively, but descriptively. The second paragraph of Hulme’s above is something this blog has attempted to focus on: the tendency of politics to be smuggled in under cover of ‘science’, or that ‘science’ is a fig leaf for exhausted political agendas; that this use of science in this way reflects a broader phenomenon; and that sceptics mirror the mistakes of their green counterparts in expecting ‘science’ to be morally and politically instructive. And so it is with the expectation that the climate debate can be terminated with the right account of late C20th warming. Whatever its cause, there remains the fact that greenhouse gasses exist in increasing quantities. There remains a question about its degree, and then there are the questions about climate’s sensitivity to warming. The ‘science’ doesn’t get ‘post-normal’ until this sensitivity of climate to CO2 is held as equivalent to society’s sensitivity to climate, both in the arguments put forwards by alarmists, and, by virtue of responding in the language of science, by that argument’s critics. As Hulme points out:

    If only climate change were such a phenomenon and if only science held such an ascendancy over our personal, social and political life and decisions. In fact, in order to make progress about how we manage climate change we have to take science off centre stage.

    I find it hard to disagree.

    After some considerable word play, Berniel returns to attempt to demonstrate that PNS is a revision of Marxism:

    – then we are pretty much back to the inevitable revolutionary ascendency of the proletariat over the bourgeois, with the activist-academics playing a leading role. In this way the post-normal understanding of the practice of climate science resembles the neo-Marxist’s understanding of their own praxis in the social sciences during the 1970s and 1980s.

    Berniel looks for resemblance to locate continuity. This mirrors a mistake environmentalists have made which we’ve called on this blog ‘geometric congruence’ – http://www.climate-resistance.org/tag/geometric-congruence . Environmentalists have variously attempted to demonstrate the continuity of political ideas by merely noticing the same ‘shape’ to arguments, for instance against the abolition of slavery and arguments against the controls on the use of fossil fuels. Thus, climate change deniers become the modern equivalents and historical descendants of slave-traders. Berniel does the same here. PNS is shown to be ‘Marxist’ merely by pointing out that ‘the point is to change it’ in some crude way emerges in the observation that the demand for ‘evidence-based policy-making’ (I use the term loosely to describe the phenomenon) politicises the function of evidence-making. It’s a trivial observation. Moreover, it owes at least as much to the thinking that belonged to the political right.

    As for proletariat and bourgeois… At least as far as the UK is concerned, it is the ‘bourgeois’ class which is involved in the creation of special climate politics, and special climate institutions. It is the British establishment itself which has gone green. The proles remain in their cars, not buying organic food, not worrying about their carbon footprints, etc. But neither are they revolting against climate orthodoxy. If the neo-neo-neo-neo-Marxists are confused about who they are representing — and it is possible that they are, if they exist — then the confusion is mirrored by the right-sceptics. And it is those sceptics who seem to be doing far more to re-invent ‘Marxism’ than anyone else.

    To Geoff’s question, then — what’s wrong with that?… Climate change is being used to reanimate exhausted political agendas, and this is mirrored in the reaction to climate change politics. I am tempted to say, ‘the point is to change it’: many Right sceptics instead want to cling to old political categories and exhausted political projects — ones which, not coincidentally, they defend by recourse to scientific claims. Right sceptics should allow themselves to move on, even if it does mean ‘changing it’. After all, the debate is really about aversion to change — political and climate — and its the alarmists who have been most resistant to it, and are thus literal ‘conservatives’.

  37. It seemed to me that he was accusing post-normal science of having its origins, and many of its tactics, from a lineage extending back to post-WWII Western academic neo-Marxism. I don’t think he was actually accusing it of being Marxist, as such.

    By that token, then, Marx is a Smithite. Ideas develop. An idea’s putative origins says nothing about its value. ‘Marxism’ is invoked here merely to give a partisan or tribal — rather than intelligent — treatment of PNS.

  38. Ben
    Thanks for your long reply, which will take me some time to digest and reply to. Briefly: Berniel, like most sceptics, doesn’t claim to be an academic, and is more interested in combating a pernicious doctrine which has gained political ascendancy than in providing a watertight analysis. (Which doesn’t excuse historical inaccuracy, of course. I already criticised him for some sloppy chronology on the question of art history, of all things). Unlike most sceptics, he thinks history and philosophy are important for an understanding of global warming politics. For this he is to be congratulated, and I shall continue to read his long detailed book reviews with interest.
    I got the impression from the dismissive tone of your first comment above that you feel any dialogue with Berniel would be unproductive. Both Spencer Weart and Ravetz have replied to his posts in combative but constructive ways. How do you feel about engaging directly with him? There are few enough people around who treat these subjects seriously.

  39. Berniel, like most sceptics, doesn’t claim to be an academic, and is more interested in combating a pernicious doctrine which has gained political ascendancy…

    Marxism? PNS? Climate alarmism? Environmentalism? I wonder if he can tell them apart. He’s read plenty on the subject, but I’m guessing only from one side of the bookshelf.

    As for engaging critically with Berniel, I felt he ignored the inconvenient criticism of the PNS-as-Marxism idea on the pages he’d read before he repeated the idea. Hulme and Ravetz came under a lot of attack for reflecting critically, honestly, and bravely on the positions they had come from, and the mistakes they had made. The likes of Dellingpole, some at WUWT, Mad Mel Phillips, and many others were completely hostile, graceless, and anti-intellectual — not the marks of people who want to take the history and philosophy seriously. I don’t see any sign that Berniel treats the debate differently.

  40. Geoff – Thanks for your reply and the link. Environmentalism gives every impression of being a left-wing PC movement, but perhaps it is just that those are the people who shout loudest about it. Is it reasonable to think that someone with an urge to activism is likely to be attracted to both environmental and left wing causes? I think it’s probably true that these kinds of causes, as well as right-wing populism, due to their simplicity attract a superficial and emotional response from people. I’d say that many of my responses to issues in the past have also been superficial and emotional – disgust at Thatcher for destroying mining communities; disgust at Blair for lying over just about everything; even acceptance of a Guardianish position on environmentalism. There didn’t seem any need to dig deeper. This doesn’t seem like a very sensible attitude now, but it might be common. If so, then this kind of complacent apathy might also be a part of the cause of the political vacuum? I’d be delighted to find out how you and Ben understand this question.

    You suggested I think that the requirement for PNS is an idea that needs combating. I’ve only read the WUWT articles about it (by Ravetz and Willis Eschenbach), so I still have some catch up to do. But based on those articles, I do agree with what you said – I just hated the whole idea of it.

    I’d also meant to thank Ben for his final comment on the “year of the sceptic” post, but got distracted here instead. He said several things that I found myself strongly agreeing with, especially this:

    “On the contrary, my broader argument is that we should concentrate on human relations … The problem of environmentalism is the emphasis it puts on the relationship between society and environment. It emphasises the primacy of this relation, so to speak. An alternative would hopefully re-orient emphasis on ourselves.”

    http://www.climate-resistance.org/2011/01/the-year-of-the-sceptic.html#comment-2741

  41. Mooloo
    I agree with your comment that “the climate scientists saw how the humanities were able to use their academic studies to push their politics, and decided to do likewise”. It seems to me pretty uncontroversial, but Ben’s detailed timeline means I shall have to go back and look again.
    Philip
    My knowledge of Ravetz doesn’t go much beyond the dispute with Eschenbach at WUWT either, and my political reactions to Thatcher, Blair, and environmentalism correspond exactly to yours. The only difference between us is that, like Ben, I once studied philosophy, (long before Ben was born) so am easily fascinated by the ideas behind the movements, as is Berniel at enthusiasmscepticismscience. On a practical level, I feel I need a much deeper understanding of the history and sociology of ideas in order to fathom the rise of climate alarmism.
    Of course, one more cold winter, one more disastrous Miliband performance, one more IPCC gaffe, and perhaps the movement will die away, as so many predicted following Climategate, and we can all forget Marx’s dictum that “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it” and go back to leading normal lives. In the meantime, I’ll be looking further into the issues raised by Ben. Cheers.

  42. Ben –

    I found the historical summary in your long comment at 2:15 pm particularly useful, thank you – I think it has helped to answer several of my questions. I imagine it should help others as well. Perhaps I could encourage you to turn it into a top-level post at some point (if you haven’t already done this)? Can I also ask you to recommend any other writers or books in this area, especially those that might help to balance my view point … ? For example, it sounds as if Mike Hulme’s book would be useful to me, possibly Fukuyama’s as well.

  43. Geoff, “The only difference between us is that, like Ben, I once studied philosophy …”

    I reckon that is a big advantage though. Whilst trying to get a handle on the issue, I’ve certainly found the non-science aspects fascinating and important, but my reading is bound to be patchy at best. On that note, please also feel free to offer me any reading recommendations you think might broaden my horizons a little more …

    Since we seem to be offering up confessionals at the moment, I could also mention that the way in which I came to the subject has meant that I have never seriously doubted that man-made climate change (and several other environmental concerns) are real phenomena. It is the alarmism and associated solution proposals that I take issue with (perhaps this is true for the other contributors here as well). Because of this, I have equally found it disconcerting to realize that some people do completely reject the scientific arguments – even Lindzen’s and Spencer’s – presumably on political grounds alone. Perhaps one of the points that Ben is trying to get across, is that it should be perfectly valid for everyone to express their political desires without feeling the need to justify them using scientifically based arguments.

  44. Philip, Hulme’s book is definitely worth reading. Stuart Blackman (the other blogger here — he’s busy with twins right now) interviewed him a while back. http://www.climate-resistance.org/2009/05/top-british-boffin-time-to-ditch-the-climate-consensus.html I really don’t understand the anger he’s created from the sceptics; he’s totally willing to engage in debate — which is after all what most sceptics have been demanding — and he says that its a problem that there is no debate. I wonder if the sad truth is that many sceptics wouldn’t know what to do with a debate, and for them the matter is as decided as it is for many climate activists.

    Fukuyama is useful in demonstrating the thought processes of the Right at the time following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He later withdrew his ‘end of history’ thesis, and became a critic of non-conservativism in the wake of the War on Terror and the Bush Administration. The implication of the ‘end of history’ is the beginning of the ‘post-political’ era. i.e. ‘history is politics’ in the Marxist sense, as Fukuyama (not a Marxist) points out. In short, however, the new era isn’t the triumph thinkers like him had anticipated, and the Western liberal democracy — the ‘final universalised form of government’ in Fukuyama’s view — soon begins to suffer its own crises. One thing, for instance, we might say about this era is that it is the least dangerous era in human history: the world becomes wealthier, there are fewer wars, there is much less poverty, and there is steady improvement across many indicators of progress; yet ‘security’ becomes the primary concern of politics, and Western politics and culture becomes increasingly risk-averse. There’s almost zero possibility of atomic war, for example, which only recently had been a constant threat.

  45. Regarding PNS, I noticed an article from Judith Curry that makes me think it has been a mistake to dismiss it too hastily:

    http://judithcurry.com/2011/01/24/lisbon-workshop-on-reconciliation-in-the-climate-change-debate/

    The suggestions outlined in the “Towards reconciliation” section seem to me to be a very good start. If PNS does provide a framework for such ideas, then I think it may be worthwhile to revisit it.

  46. “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.

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  49. Ben, the record shows Ehrlich stopped being a Republican long ago. My take, for what it is worth, is that the AGW miasma transcends left or right politics. AGW is a manifestation of human foibles.
    While I agree the analysis you offer to justify calling the nasty green party lady an eco-fascist, at least in the US fascist has become a forbidden term. When the word is used, even when used carefully and thoughtfully, the conversation then switches to violations/fulfillment of Godwin’s law. This conversational reality is almost as annoying as the vast over use of the term ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’ to describe some of the political actions of the current US Administration.

  50. Hunter – My take, for what it is worth, is that the AGW miasma transcends left or right politics.

    Many posts on this blog make the same point. And indeed, pointing to PE’s membership of the GOP was intended to make that same point.

    The wider point being that environmentalism seems to be a ‘post-political’ phenomenon.

    I use the term ‘eco-fascist’ very rarely indeed. I think this may even be the only time I’ve used it on this blog. However, I think it is appropriate here. Yes, it is a strong word. But as I explained to Geoff above:

    Higgins compares EON to Nazis, and then demands (blackmail) that we create the bureaucracy that would create the very power that she wrongly imagines the ‘tyranny’ to have. She’s a ‘fascist’ on her own terms.

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