The Spy Who Nagged Me

The Guardian has a couple of articles claiming that the UK police infiltrated environmental activist organisations.

Today’s paper:

He turned up with long hair, tattoos and an insatiable appetite for climbing trees. Few people suspected anything odd of the man who introduced himself as Mark Stone on a dairy farm turned spiritual sanctuary in North Yorkshire.

Yesterday’s Observer:

Legal documents suggest Kennedy’s activities went beyond those of a passive spy, prompting activists to ask whether his role in organising and helping to fund protests meant he turned into an agent provocateur.

There is some speculation that a current trial of protesters may collapse as a consequence.

It’s all very intriguing, of course. But all the talk of the possibility that Mark Stone/Kennedy may have been an ‘agent provocateur’ belies the fact that the state — that is to say the British government, and the UK’s political establishment — wanted the same thing as the protesters: strong, international, legally-binding restrictions on CO2 emissions. The thing which has held the deadlocked government back from realising its ambitions is that dreaded nuisance, the British public, not those dreadlocked nuisances, eco-protesters.

To make the point, here are again two things I’m fond of using to demonstrate the fact that the eco-activists are merely doing what the government want them to do. Here is the current PM, holding a press release at Greenpeace’s London HQ:

[youtube 8gr5rIK097E]

Here is the previous Secretary of State for Energy and Climate change, Ed Miliband, now leader of the Labour Party:

When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilization. Maybe it’s an odd thing for someone in government to say, but I just think there’s a real opportunity and a need here.

Maybe the police were worried about what might happen if environmental activists actually succeeded in targeting one or more of the UK’s power stations, disrupting the Grid. I know, it sounds crazy.

But if the police are really worried about public order in the wake of self-righteous activists closing down the UK’s electricity supply, leading to widespread chaos, they should perhaps go and have a word with these sitting-down-activists…

… rather than these ones…

One Law for Tree, Another for Ewe

This is Polly Higgins, she’s a barrister, and an eco-warrior. She wants there to be an international law to punish ‘ecocide’.

[youtube NwQ82ZQJ6Hk]

This is why this is an absurd idea, in case it wasn’t already obvious.

Higgins idea is that ecocide is

“the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory have been severely diminished”

There are already many problems with this idea, and it has only just been taken out of its box.

The biggest problem is that ‘the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory’ has happened spontaneously, or ‘naturally’, throughout history. Perhaps in the same way, entire groups of people have perished. But we would not call the death of a given population of people through plague, famine, or some other natural catastrophe ‘genocide’, which is what Higgins wants us to understand ‘ecocide’ as equivalent to. And by the same token, there has never been a natural genocide.

You couldn’t try ‘nature’ for the spontaneous transformation of forest into savannah or desert, nor for the emergence or passing of an ice age. Yet these things surely are nothing but ‘the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory’ which ‘severely diminishes’ the ‘peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory’. So in order to cope with this problem, Higgins makes a distinction between ‘ascertainable ecocide’: deforestation, oil spills, fossil fuel extraction, pollution-dumping; and non-ascertainable ecocide: tsunami, earthquake, typhoon, Act of God. The line of interest here is that ecocide is caused ‘by human agency or by other causes’, but it’s only ecocide that is ’caused by human agency’ which is pertinent.

Several new problems emerge.

1. Is ‘ascertainable ecocide’ (deforestation, oil spills, fossil fuel extraction, pollution-dumping) a problem for ‘the inhabitants of [a] territory’, if it is not the case that ‘peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory have been severely diminished’? This is the ‘if a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody to hear it, does it still make a sound’ question for the eco-lawer-warrior.

2. Is there not an acceptable level of diminished ‘peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory’, and what is it? That is to say, surely we accept the occasional oil spill, because pulling oil out of the ground creates many new possibilities for human life, which are not possible otherwise. Put another way, isn’t the occasional disturbance of ‘peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of [some] territory’ the price of a better condition of existence?

Before any light is shed on these questions, Higgins outlines the concept of ‘crimes against peace’, which have already been established, and which are tried in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

[youtube JHO30rNSksA]

The existing ‘crimes against peace’ are crimes against people: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crime, crime of aggression. They are, according to Higgins:

  • a) Principles of universal validity which apply to civilisation as a whole
  • b) The prohibition of certain behaviour
  • c) Universally outlawed
  • d) morality based on the sacredness of life

These definitions are somewhat redundant. ‘Principles of universal validity which apply to civilisation as a whole’, for instance means no more than ‘law’. And most laws are to some extent the ‘prohibition of certain behaviour’. Point c — ‘Universally outlawed’ — is a mere restatement of a and b. Higgins could have shed as much light on ‘crimes against peace’ by saying ‘laws are laws’.

‘In essence’, says Higgins, ‘a crime against peace is a morality based on the sacredness of life’. Can she really mean that?

Genocide is a ‘crime against peace’, so a simple substitution of equivalent terms gives us the following paraphrase:

Genocide is a morality based on the sacredness of life.

It should be clear here that Higgins is talking gobbledegook. To be charitable (or rather, to give sense to her proposition such that we can take issue with it) what she seems to want to say is that life is sacred, and that therefore there is a moral imperative to protect life, and that the laws which prohibit ‘crimes against peace’ are intended to serve that imperative. The laws and the crimes they prohibit are not ‘a morality’; laws are not morality, and morality is not law. One can act morally outside of the law, and conversely one can act immorally within the law, and one can seek to turn moral ideas into laws, but they will never be equivalents. Higgins, the barrister, has presumably studied law, and so really ought to be aware of the distinction. Moreover, Higgins should be aware of the distinction between a crime and a law.

The difficulty Higgins has with a clear exposition of the ‘crimes against peace’ and their philosophical basis is owed to the fact that she wants to make them do what they were not actually designed to do. Higgins wants to extend ‘crimes against peace’ to protect all life, whereas they are originally conceived to protect only human life. That is to say that the moral foundation of the laws prohibiting ‘crimes against peace’ is the understanding of the sacredness of human life, not life in general. Thus her list a through c is designed to sound like a plausible set of premises, but in fact are tautologous, ultimately meaningless, and are not reflected in the wider literature about ‘crimes against peace’. For instance, if you search for these expressions on Google, you will find that it returns results that link mainly to discussions about Higgins’ own conception of ecocide, not international law. Thus this outline of crimes against peace is very much unique to Higgins.

So it is only after her reinvention of ‘crimes against peace’ that they become about protecting ‘the well being of life’, and a sleight of hand allows her to extend this to ‘the well being of all life’ as though she had only made a minor adjustment to the language:

These crimes are put in place to protect and uphold the well-being of life. I’m proposing that we extend that definition to including a fifth crime. And that is the crime of ecocide. And we extend the well being of life to not just human life, but to all life.

But this is far more than a minor adjustment to the language. It is a complete re-writing of the language and its meanings, and the philosophical underpinnings.

Now we have an answer to our two questions from the first film. The ‘inhabitants’ who are the victims in the definition of ecocide:

the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory have been severely diminished

… are any entity which is ‘life’. I.E. the members of the ecosystem are the inhabitants of an ecosystem. Tree, bug, germ, mouse, bush, mushroom… are all now protected by the law prohibiting ecocide.

So the most obvious (and fatal) problem for Higgins definition of ‘ecocide’ is that it should only be prohibited by law if we hold with its premise that ‘all life is sacred’. Some people may well believe such a thing, but they are few and far between, and there is no automatic reason to assume that people would necessarily agree with this, in the way that we can expect people to have mutual regard for human life.

That should be enough to show that ‘ecocide’ should not be made a crime. It is a matter of conscience, perhaps. But not a matter for courts of law. Nonetheless, there emerge some curious contradictions and redundancies from the original conception, which reveal more about Higgins ‘thinking’ in particular, and of environmentalism in general.

On Higgins’ view, human agency makes humans subject to the law prohibiting ecocide in order to protect all life. But the definition does not protect all life from itself, nor humans from other organisms. Humans, then, are exceptional, in that the faculty of agency makes it possible for them to be culpable, yet is not understood to give them any privilege, nor even any protection from the elements, or from any natural thing.

This is remarkable, because human agency is the exclusively human attribute from which the premise that ‘all human life is sacred’ emerges. It is the faculty of agency which makes human life sacred. Only a human can reason about the sacredness of anything, be it humanity, pig, or life. This is the premise of the international laws intended to protect human dignity from systematic degradation: mass murder, humiliation, persecution, and so on. But the object of sacredness in Higgins’s view is in the first instance human life as a mere biological process, not ‘human life’ as a mere condition of agency. Higgins misses the very important thing about human life: it is experienced; it has purpose, intention, values. Instead, on Higgins view, the thing which gives human life its identity is ‘agency’ as though it were some arbitrary characteristic, such as extravagant plumage, adaptation to a particular ecological niche, or some well-developed instinct that makes it subject to laws.

Higgins has denied the very thing which made ‘crimes against peace’ particular to humans. The consequence of her move from human exceptionalism to anti-humanism is that she commits the crimes that the definition of ‘crimes against peace’ were designed to prohibit: she degrades humanity. She credits humans with less moral worth than slugs and toads, not merely because she privileges some abstract notion of ‘life’ over ‘being alive’, but because she turns agency — which ought to be a characteristic that privileges human life — into something which makes humans obliged to endure life within natural limits, while being the only organism capable of both endurance, and conceiving of a means to improve it: chopping down forests; drilling for oil, coal and gas; eradicating pests and diseases; intensive agriculture, etc.. etc.. This is what is meant on this blog by ‘anti-humanism’. It runs deep throughout environmentalism. Yet it is presented by environmentalists as a straightforward telling of the facts.

More trivially, perhaps, is the redundancy within the definition of the crime.

the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory have been severely diminished

Now we know that the word ‘inhabitants’ means any living thing, and that living things comprise ‘ecosystems’, and that ecosystems are geographically bounded, we can again substitute equivalent terms in the expression to produce the following absurdity:

the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given ecosystem(s), whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the ecosystem(s) of that ecosystem(s) have been severely diminished

Higgins admits as much in a circuitous rewording of an existing crime against peace that protects the environment, the emphasis of which she again moves from people to all life in general.

‘widespread long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall COMMUNITY advantage anticipated’
= the extensive damage to the ecosystem(s)
= Ecocide

The law Higgins modifies had obviously been designed to protect those caught up in a war from aggressors damaging the productive capacity of the land. The law was never designed to protect ‘nature’ or ‘life’ in general. But through word play, and after concealing the basis for the law, Higgins radically transforms its purpose. The word ‘community’ had previously been ‘military’. Thus prohibiting any force from causing damage to the resources on which human populations depend, in order to inflict punitive or malicious damage to that population. The ‘natural environment’ gets substituted for ‘ecosystems’ and the word ‘community’ gets substituted, again, for the ‘members of ecosystems’, i.e. all life. So once again, the substitution reveals the tautology.

widespread long-term and severe damage to ecosystem(s) which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall ecosystem(s)’ advantage anticipated.

Clearly there are problems now with the proportion of any ‘ecocide’ crime. Ecocide could almost be any crime, otherwise. Chopping down a tree would deprive the ‘community’ of its ‘ecosystem’. Is chopping down a tree ‘ecocide’? Two trees? A small forest? To establish some proportion, Higgins establishes some existing legislation might be useful, with the definition of ‘size, duration and impact’. Size can be easily established, according to Higgins by doing things like looking at satellite images to gauge the extent of deforestation, for instance. Various agencies monitor the ‘depletion of species’, she says, and this information could be made available.

The recent Mexican gulf oil spill is given as an example of long-term extensive damage. Leaving aside the questions that exist about the actual extent of the damage caused by the oil spill, and taking Higgin’s claims at face value, the spill would surely not fall under either category of ‘ascertainable ecocide’ or ‘non-ascertainable ecocide’. After all, it wasn’t a deliberate leaking of oil into the ocean. And to compare it to the existing equivalent, genocide, no Nazi would have been able to pretend that they ‘accidentally’ murdered 6 million Jews. It wasn’t human ‘agency’ which caused the oil spill, because ‘agency’ isn’t a factor in the kind of negligence that would ’cause’ an accident. Moreover, since it is people, and not abstract agencies such as ‘companies’ that she wants to try, it would be hard to locate the individuals ‘responsible’ in such a huge operation. Yet presumably, she want’s to hold BP’s directors — who likely had little to do with the actually technical process — to account. Again, the concept of agency in Higgins’ understanding is limited, and only serves to make humans morally culpable, without being in fact independent moral agents.

Higgins moves on to establish ‘why’ it is necessary to make ‘ecocide’ a crime.

[youtube PF8rTEqBai0]

Says Higgins…

  1. 100 living species become extinct
  2. 1,000 acres of peat bogs are excavated
  3. 150,000 acres of tropical rainforest are destroyed
  4. 2 million tons of toxic waste is dumped
  5. 22 million tons of oil are extracted
  6. 100 million tons of GHGs are released
  7. … each day

These look like dramatic figures. But the basis for #1 at least, can be ignored straight away as completely alarmist. The definition of ‘species’ is not particularly robust, and the only way that the existence of a species can be established is by a positive identification. The non-existence of a species can only be established by looking everywhere, simultaneously — an impossibility. These results are the product of a model, and the model itself is going to contain far more assumptions than facts. And just as the notion of ‘species’ is ambiguous, so too is the definition of ‘extinction’. The weakest of all material claims made by environmentalists are about ‘biodiversity’ and extinction.

We can also ask ‘so what’ to the remaining questions. What is the problem of 1,000 acres of peat bog being excavated? What value does peat have, while it merely sits there, being peat? And isn’t Higgins also against the extraction of fossil fuels which would make it unnecessary to extract peat — if it’s being used for energy? How much rainforest is really being destroyed? Where? and isn’t it also true that many parts of the world are seeing massive reforestation? And again, isn’t it the case that the real saviour of the forests is the oil well? If there’s oil and coal available, who in their right mind would want to use wood?

The UN, says Higgins, as though it were an authority, says that ‘ecosystems are at tipping point’, as if that meant anything. But it doesn’t. What is a ‘tipping point’? More to the point, what is an ecosystem, and how is it determined what its ‘tipping point’ actually is? Nobody knows. Onto this bogus ecological reasoning, Higgins adds the headline findings from an attempt to determine the financial value of ‘ecosystem services’, and the ‘damage’ to them that has been caused by ‘corporates’. Between $2.2 and $4 trillion, she claims, of ‘ecocide’. But is this spurious figure a big price for the benefit? What’s the point of assessing costs without assessing benefits? Don’t ask the UK’s former chief prognosticator, Sir David King, who believes that the conflicts in Dafur and Iraq are fought for water and oil respectively, and that as such, we can say that this century will be the century of ‘resource wars’. But what does a scientist know about wars, and why they are fought? The claims can be easily dismissed. Dafur is a region that has historically experienced long and deep periods of drought — mother natures own form of ecocide; and before either of the military campaigns in the gulf, the price of oil stood stable at around $20/barrel. At such low prices, the real problem is not resource scarcity, but on the contrary, its over abundance. David King’s advice to the government is as ill-conceived as Higgins’; yet King was actually appointed. The lunatics are running the asylum. But if only it was as simple as madness…

We have to break the cycle, says Higgins, of ecocide>resource-depletion>conflict>war. She demands that it be broken urgently. But her claims are premature. A recent study in PNAS concluded that

Scientific claims about a robust correlational link between climate variability and civil war do not hold up to closer inspection. […] The graph shows change in the estimated probability of civil war (five variants) for six alternative climate measures, based on 1,000 simulations for each model specification. Given the feeble impact of climate, illustrating the range of uncertainty is more meaningful than plotting point estimates of predicted probabilities. In all but one of the specifications, the 95% confidence bands for the climate variables include both positive and negative effects. Moreover, neither temperature nor precipitation performs consistently across models as even the sign of the mean first difference estimate for a given variable is sensitive to model specification. Only the final model (5f in Fig. 2) returns a statistically significant climate parameter estimate; apparently, major civil war years (i.e., years with at least 1,000 battle deaths) are more frequent in years following unusually wet periods—a result that directly contradicts the notion of scarcity-induced conflicts.

As has been argued on this blog, the naturalisation of complex social phenomena such as conflict and poverty is one of the most damaging things about environmentalism. Now we can see this danger made real in the prose of Higgins’ argument. She pretends that a law abolishing ‘ecocide’ will prevent war. But surely the reality is the opposite. The implication that wars are fought for resources should create an imperative to locate more resources, and better ways of using them. But instead, Higgins wants us to reduce the production of water, and oil. Far from reducing the possibility of resource wars, by limiting their supply, environmentalism and environmental institutions such as laws against ecocide will make them happen.

[youtube WgFSE9yMm_s]

Higgins now moves to consider ‘lessons from history’. And this is something we’ve all seen before: the comparison of arguments against environmental regulation with arguments against the abolition of slavery. Slavery is a topic discussed on this blog here, here, and here. And as we point out, the comparison of making equivalents of using oil and using slaves depends on the degraded understanding of what makes slavery wrong in the first place. It should be no surprise that somebody who only holds with the limited understanding of human agency that Higgins has should find it easy to draw a comparison between denying humans the right to express their freedom and filling up the car.

Listen carefully to Higgins’ narrative:

We can see what happened 200 years ago with the aboltion of slavery. At that time there were 300 companies trading either directly or indirectly in slaves. There were 600 million slaves on the market. What we had there was upstream, the traders who were the 300 companies and downstream we had the 6,000 consumers. They were the end users.

In 1810 — 200 years ago — there were just 1 billion people on the planet. The graphic says differently, but in the voice over, Higgins claims that 600 million of them were slaves. I assume that she intended to say that there were 6 million slaves, but that she got confused. But the mistake it speaks generally about her lack of fluency with the facts she’s using that she didn’t spot her mistake as she said it, nor even in post production, nor even in watching it since it has been published. But the figure is meaningless in any case. Slavery, of course, only features in this argument to provide a moral absolute: something we’re already committed to. It’s a lazy way of making an argument. And it gets more sloppy. The abolitionists’ strategy was to turn off the supply of slaves, and so it is with resource ‘exploitation’: we should turn off supply. We should make those responsible for supplying resources also responsible for ecocide. And the arguments against abolishing slavery look like the arguments against environmental legislation. Even if this is true — which seems unlikely, unless you think that a barrel of oil ought to have legal rights — it’s true only by virtue of the facts of the market. Arguments about the regulation of any trade will take a similar form, because, although the commodities in question may be different, the mechanism of their exchange is always similar. That’s the point of capital: it permits the exchange of things of different types: labour, wool, coal, and food have little in common as substances, but can be exchanged for money, and vice-versa. There is absolutely nothing of interest, therefore, in the comparisons Higgins draws.

[youtube _uCB8FfO2UI]

Higgins now considers some institutions that already exist, which may serve the aim of fighting ecocide. There’s not much to say about the nonsense, except to say that she again extends the definition of existing legal definition to encompass all organisms, not merely people. She then extends this further to argue that ‘We need now to move towards protecting all community interests. So that would be the water, as well as the soils, as well as the air, as well as the land, as well as the species who live within that territory.’ It would not be able to exist as an organism in the world Higgins wants to create.

Ecocide is already understood as a moral crime, says Higgins, it just needs to be made formal. But how true is this?

It may well be true that oil spills and the like cause public anger. But this is largely because it has an effect on people, and that such a mess for both humans and wildlife might, in many cases, have been avoided by due care. The claim that the public reaction to environmental disaster legitimises the creation of a law banning ecocide is a stretch: most people do not think that trees, nor water, air and land, have rights.

Punishing ecocide with fines doesn’t work, says Higgins, only incarceration provides the disincentive necessary to prevent it. She would lock up CEOs, heads of states, heads of financial institutions. These people would not want to jeopardise their liberty, and so would refuse to permit, or involve themselves with anything likely to cause ‘ecocide’. Thus they are turned from planet-destroyers into planet-savers. Meanwhile, of course, nothing would happen. No mining of energy. No economic or technological development. No chemical production. No industrial agriculture. No hospitals. No schools. No Factories. There could only be subsistence lifestyles in Higgins’ bleak Utopia.

[youtube qkimgUYb5uU]

Higgins now summarises her argument, begining with an account of ‘strict liability’ as it stands in the UK.

Parliament creates an offence of strict liablity because it regards the doing or not doing of a particular thing itself so undesirable as to merit the imposition of a criminal punishment on anyone… irrespective of that party’s knowledge, state of mind, belief or intention.

The involves a departure from the prevailing cannons of the criminal law because of the importance which is attached to achieving the result which Parliament seeks to achieve.

On this basis, shouldn’t proposing the crime of ecocide should fall into this category? It is a disgusting idea, which degrades the very concept of humanity, making the human no more significant before the law than an ant, worm, or for that matter, germ… Except that, unlike animals, humans can be tried and punished. This idea, then, is worse even than the medieval practice of trying animals as happened throughout Europe. Infestations of rats, insects, leeches would result in their being summoned before a court, and threatened with excommunication. They were, as beings in creation, subject to Gods law, and as such were given legal representation, and often won, leaving humans to suffer. It took the enlightenment to end such practice. And it was in this era that the concept of humanity developed, such that we would now see the summoning of an animal to court, or extending rights to animals as legal subjects as ridiculous. Until now, that is. Higgins, who wants to extend legal rights to trees and insects — the ‘wider earth community’ — epitomises the end of humanism:

View the planet as an inert thing, and what we do is we impose a value. We commoditise the planet. That is property law. View the planet as a living being, and we recognise the intrinsic value, and we take responsibility.

What was discovered during the enlightenment was that nature has no intrinsic value. Value is an inherently human concept. Only humans valorise. Nothing else is capable of understanding value. Without humans, then, the planet really is inert. Moreover, it is evident that the planet is not a living being — no planet is a living being. By presupposing a ‘value’ for ‘the planet as a living being’ Higgins reduces the whole of humanity into merely another species, and this creates the basis of a system of law — a powerful set of institutions — to extend the reach of her poisonous ideas. As I pointed out in the previous post, Higgins wants to replace the tyranny that exists as a figment of her imagination as a real, functioning, institution: eco law, which punishes eco criminals. The real purpose of eco law is to create an eco-tyranny, in control of resources in exactly the way Higgins imagines EON to be.

If the law is an ass, its mother, the law-maker is presumably not going to be troubled by the family resemblance being pointed out — she is after all, by her own admission, no better than any other ‘inhabitant of the wider earth community’.

It seems unlikely that her ideas will ever be realised, because there would be a very real fight about any such law and the institutions to serve it being created.

Yet having said that, there remains an important question. How is it possible that someone can come to embrace these absurd ideas without seeming to have reflected at all critically on their soundness, and their consequences? If it can happen to Higgins, can’t it happen to any other eco-loon in a position of power?

This blog has argued previously that environmentalists have tended to alienate themselves through the expression of their own ideas in the public sphere. Maybe this has two implications.

First, we should openly point at and mock Higgins and any institution that gives her ideas positive space: the Guardian, and the UN, in this case.

Second, we should take more seriously the fact that the positive developments that the last few centuries of human history have produced seem to be disappearing from public debate. We now have Higgins demanding a forced march back beyond the dark ages. We should be sure about what we are defending, and not imagine that this is just a debate about whether or nor ‘climate change is happening’ that can be settled with the correct scientific account. It’s bigger than that, and even climate change alarmists should be concerned about what Higgins proposes.

Eco-Nutcases Make Bad Law

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.

Disclaiming Environmentalism

Another interesting disclaimer from the front cover of expensive reports commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change… This one looks at the future of wind energy in the UK.

While Pöyry Energy (Oxford) Ltd (“Pöyry”) considers that the information and opinions given in this work are sound, all parties must rely upon their own skill and judgement when making use of it. Pöyry does not make any representation or warranty, expressed or implied, as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this report and assumes no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of such information. Pöyry will not assume any liability to anyone for any loss or damage arising out of the provision of this report. The report contains projections that are based on assumptions that are subject to uncertainties and contingencies. Because of the subjective judgements and inherent uncertainties of projections, and because events frequently do not occur as expected, there can be no assurance that the projections contained herein will be realised and actual results may be different from projected results. Hence the projections supplied are not to be regarded as firm predictions of the future, but rather as illustrations of what might happen. Parties are advised to base their actions on an awareness of the range of such projections, and to note that the range necessarily broadens in the latter years of the projections.

Most interesting in my view is the line that ‘The report contains projections that are based on assumptions that are subject to uncertainties and contingencies.’

Isn’t that true of the environmentalists’ entire argument?

Forecasting Ambivalence

While we’re on the subject of making predictions… I was interested in this post by Roger Pielke Jr yesterday.

Forecasting the future is fraught with difficulties.  It can be even more challenging if people pay attention to your forecasts and use them in decision making.  So it is perhaps understandable that some forecasters seek to avoid accountability for their predictions.

Pielke is responding to the emergence of some embarrassing internal memos from the Met Office, in which the author considers ways to plausibly distance the organisation from its statements. The contents of the MO’s machinations are by-the-by… Pielke continues,

The idea that forecasts, once made, leave an agency “hostage to fortune” is no doubt true, but it can also be crucially important information for the public to evaluate the reliability of future forecasts.  The criticism that the Met Office has faced in recent years results from too much credibility being placed in their forecasts.  Highlighting the true state of predictive capabilities can help decision makers to understand better the uncertainties in forecasting, even if that means low credibility for the forecasters.

This is a point made often here. Over-statement, exaggeration, dramatisation, moralisation, and so on, are all things that have, in the past year created the embarrassment for the climate alarmist. That is to say climate alarmism undermines its own credibility.

The Met Offices recent embarrassments relate to weather more than climate, of course. And as we are often told ‘weather is not climate’ (unless it’s weather that demonstrates global warming). And so there have been predictable (pardon the pun) comments to the effect that the short-term predictive skill of weather forecasters says nothing about their colleagues’ ability to predict future climate. That’s easy for them to say, of course.

So there’s predicting weather. And there’s predicting climate. And presumably, there’s predicting the consequences of the predicted climate. And then there’s the predictions about how effective policies will be, and what their costs will be, which weigh up one set of forecasts against another. It’s a vast web of predictions, which must in itself call into question the safety — if not the sanity — of all this projection. Nonetheless, we are reminded that ‘the science is in‘.

While doing some research today, I came across this neat little caveat at the front of a report by AEA, which describes itself as A world leading energy & climate change consultancy. It reminded me of Pielke’s post.


Confidentiality, copyright and reproductionThis report is the Copyright of Defra and has been prepared by AEA Technology plc under contract to Defra. The contents of this report may not be reproduced in whole or in part, nor passed to any organisation or person without the specific prior written permission of Defra. AEA Technology plc accepts no liability whatsoever to any third party for any loss or damage arising from any interpretation or use of the information contained in this report, or reliance on any views expressed therein.

The report was commissioned by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which was established by the Climate Change Act 2008. AEA were commissioned by the CCC to produce a number of reports and analyses, so that the CCC could advise Parliament on what the carbon budgets for each 5 year period to 2050 should be. You can see all the ‘supporting research’ for the CCC’s carbon budget advice to Parliament for the first 3 budgeting periods at the CCCs website, here.

AEA produces the following reports:

AEA (2008) MARKAL-MED model runs of long term carbon reduction targets in the UK (1)
AEA (2008) MARKAL-MED model runs of long term carbon reduction targets in the UK (2)
AEA (2008) Review and update of UK abatement cost curves for the industrial, domestic and non-domestic sectors
AEA (September 2008) Greenhouse gas emissions from shipping: trends, projections and abatement potential

… And each of them contains the same caveat:

AEA Technology plc accepts no liability whatsoever to any third party for any loss or damage arising from any interpretation or use of the information contained in this report, or reliance on any views expressed therein.

There are approximately 60 million third parties to this report, to which its authors accept no responsibility. Yet their futures, and the futures of the millions more who will be born after the Climate Change Act, are in no small way being decided by the content of this report, which its authors accept no responsibility for. And this little caveat gives us a glimpse into the nature of contemporary politics.

At the bottom, are these 60 million people, none of whom has had the opportunity to express their views on environmental politics at the ballot box. At the ‘top’, so to speak, is a Parliament, comprised of parties which have each absorbed environmentalism and climate-alarmism. Yet in spite of this consensus, the parties were unable to interpret ‘the science’ to turn it into policy. So they created the CCC to which they deferred technical, scientific, and economic policy-making. The CCC in turn defer to environmental consultants. Everyone is claiming to be the one ‘saving the planet’, yet nobody is accepting any responsibility for making policy, or for producing the evidence for ‘evidence-based policy-making’.

In normal democratic politics, people have a sanction. Come the beginning of a new electoral term, even if we lack something to vote for positively, political disappointments can be de-selected, or the parties that represent their ideas voted against. Yet what opportunity is there to express our (lack of) confidence in an environmental consultancy which lacks the balls to even put its money where its mouth is? What opportunity is there to challenge the CCC, and the values and ideas it brings to its analysis? And when did the political parties ever have the bravery to reflect critically and publicly on the climate agenda?

Yet the projections supplied to the CCC and to Parliament must stand as equivalent in some way to the ideas which once informed normal politics. That is to say that these projections are political in their function, even if the content of them seems to be scientific, objective, and value-neutral.

Perhaps I am over-stating things here. Perhaps the caveat is a mere formality, designed to pre-empt some unforeseen legal problem. But to me it reads like a get-out clause by an outfit which knows its product is not fit-for-purpose. Like a cheaply manufactured, low-quality knock-off item sold without guarantee out of a car boot or garage sale. Caveat emptor.  Except we don’t buy it… We haven’t bought it. The only people who have bought it are the people who have shirked their responsibilities, but kept their office.

Perhaps the Met Office and the AEA are now beginning to realise the extent to which forecasting and prediction are now political functions. As Pielke points out, ‘The idea that forecasts, once made, leave an agency “hostage to fortune” is no doubt true’… The response has been the ‘plausible denial’ of agency itself: politicians can say, like Blair leaving office, having launched wars from dodgy dossiers, ‘I did what I thought was right‘. Panels of experts can claim that they merely reviewed ‘the best available science’. And those engaged in projecting and forecasting can say that they’re not responsible for the decisions that are made in the light of their research. ‘Don’t blame me, I only work here’…

The Year of the Sceptic?

The Guardian have annouced that ‘2010 was the Year of the [climate] Sceptics‘.

But, says the Guardian, sceptics should not sleep easy in their beds; ‘science’ is making a comeback…

By contrast, 2011 could just see the triumph of science, for two reasons.

First, the facts are increasingly stark. 2010 looks set to equal or exceed 1998 as the warmest year on record. And it doesn’t stop there. 1998 hit record levels in part because it coincided with the warming impacts of ‘El Nino’. By contrast, 2010’s highs have happened despite the cooling influence of ‘La Nina’.

Second, in the wake of Climategate, scientists are realising that pure research ain’t enough: they need to communicate much better, too – and engage openly with their adversaries. The more that happens, the more threadbare the rhetoric of denial will appear. The grudging agreement reached at Cancun will help; all the more so because both China and India have come on board as never before.

The hack-activists at the Guardian still believe that the debate divides on ‘the science’, such that one side consists of ‘scientists’ and the other, ‘sceptics’/’deniers’. This is a view of the debate that this blog has spent much time debunking, to spend much time repeating it would be pointless; they’re simply not listening. Briefly, then…

2010 was ‘the year of the sceptics’, not because the sceptics triumphed, but because climate alarmism weakened.

Climategate didn’t do as much to undermine climate science as it undermined the picture that the Guardian — amongst others — had painted of climate scientists as saintly warriors for truth. Once its silly cartoonish view of the debate had suffered embarrassment, so too did its entire argument. The point the Guardian misses in its observation that ‘that pure research ain’t enough’, is that it never was ‘pure research’ driving the debate; ‘pure research’, that is, in either the sense of unadulterated science or morally unimpeachable — both senses being interchangeable in the Guardian’s bizarre narration of the climate debate. Scientists, if they ‘come out’ as the Guardian are anticipating, will only reveal more of the same. Let’s welcome them, whichever putative side they belong too… If only there was allowed to be a debate, were it not not for the shrill histrionics from that newspaper… Bring it on.

This doesn’t mean scepticism will melt away overnight. With the impacts of global warming, as ever, lagging behind the rise in temperatures, the sceptics will still find a hearing. And they’ll be fired up by a new kind of energy. For years, advocates of bold action on carbon cuts have argued that energy insecurity strengthens their case. That’ll be harder to maintain now that shale gas has entered the mix. Not only is it relatively cheap, but there is a truly humungous amount of it in the USA. The science may be settled, but the coming year will show that the debate is far from over.

2009-10 was even more a catastrophic episode for climate-environmentalism because its incoherence as a political idea became obvious as it got closer to being reproduced in real, functioning, political institutions and bureaucracies. COP15 didn’t fail to produce a meaningful agreement because it was invaded by sceptics; it fell apart because too much moral and political capital was invested in ‘the science’. Yet the Guardian still believe that all that it will take for ‘the sceptics’ to be routed is a year that is 0.01 degrees hotter than the previous, and ‘scientists’ bashing sceptics round the head with the proof. This is precisely the expectation which has undermined climate science. You can make any argument you like, and expect it to be taken as unadulterated truth, as long as its premise is that ‘climate change is happening’.

So what kind of year will 2011 be? This Last year, we made our own predictions on this blog:

First, we are anticipating that “scepticism” or “denial” – call it what you want – will become more organised this year, perhaps it already is. Second, although the climate issue is not going away, it has suffered terrible PR, and there is widespread recognition that the climate change pudding has been over-egged. We anticipate that the environmental debate will begin to refocus around the issue of over-population, rather than climate.

The sceptics have yet to prove themselves as organised as we thought they could be. Sadly it seems that many critics of environmentalism are still preoccupied with the idea that the science by itself is sufficient to understand and challenge the excesses of environmentalism. We’ve argued here that this is to mirror the mistake that environmentalists make; to believe that a negative or static temperature trend will defeat eco-dogma. Perhaps worse, it seems that where sceptics do venture more political arguments, it is to reinvent the political battles of the past than to shed any real light on the present. The use of the climate issue to reanimate lifeless political traditions and the conflicts they define themselves by speaks to the vacuity of the perspectives comprising the wider debate, not merely the climate issue. And that makes the second prediction yet more relevant; the climate issue could disappear from public life tomorrow, and barely a tenet of environmentalism will have been challenged. Climate alarmism will be able to simply slide into some other ground: the population issue.

So for 2011, I think we can say to the Guardian that if they thought 2010 really was ‘the year of the sceptic’, they ain’t seen nothing yetThey are their own worse enemy, and it seems that, judging by their recent articles, there is considerable scope for them to continue undermine themselves, without the help of sceptics.

But… in all seriousness, as several recent posts on this blog have discussed, the population genie is out of the green bottle. It is becoming respectable and mainstream with the help of media-friendly, but geriatric household names, such as Sir David Attenborough; and scientists such as the previous president of the Royal Society, Martin Rees; and James Lovelock. Being much less abstract an idea than climate change, Malthusianism will be an easier thing to sell to a public suffering from ‘austerity measures’, rising unemployment, increasing costs, and an increasingly detached political class and an ever more hopeless political opposition.

Happy new year!