Trouble at Miliband

Posted by Ben Pile on June 26, 2011
Jun 262011

Former Labour-government climate activist, Ed Miliband — who, for some reason, is now the opposition leader — has an interview in the Guardian about his and his party’s performance.

Ed Miliband today lays out far-reaching reforms designed to modernise Labour’s relations with the trade unions, open the party up to the public, and reinvigorate what he describes as its boring annual conference.

The Labour leader regards these changes as critical to his efforts to get the party back in touch with the electorate, and ensure it stays in opposition for only one term.

One way Miliband could make the Labour Party conference less boring is to make himself absent from it and public life in general, assuming that there’s nobody as dull and disconnected as he is, waiting to fill his shoes. The interview continues…

In a Guardian interview Miliband says: “I want to open up the leadership to the party and the party to the country. In a society that is changing so fast in so many ways, we cannot continue as we are, with essentially a closed structure that was formed a century ago.”

Such an admission that the Labour Party is disconnected from the public ought to cause more self-reflection than blaming the legacy of its organisational structure. It’s palpable nonsense, anyway, the structure of the Labour Party of today — never mind its political principles — owes little to the structure of the Labour Party of 1911. Over its history, it has distanced itself from unions, and favoured ‘third way’ and social democracy in place of socialism. It was the Union vote that won the leadership election for Ed Miliband over his brother, David, and that he now seeks to ‘modernise’ the party’s relationship with them is hardly a surprise. Unions, too, have been unable to sustain the numbers of their own membership. Disconnection is rife.

Says Miliband…

I have a clear sense of where the country needs to go and what needs to happen to the party.

Really? What’s that then? Amongst his proposals is that,

Non-party members, such as Greenpeace or other NGOs, would be entitled to speak at party conference as “registered consultees”. Miliband said: “In order to have a good conversation at party conference, you’ve got to expand the conversation.”

But aren’t Greenpeace already involved in the conversation? Here they are sitting on Parliament’s rooftop…

And just to point out that I’m not merely Labour-bashing, but making a serious point here, here’s David Cameron, singing from Greenpeace’s Rooftop.

Greenpeace and other NGOs are already heavily involved in the policy-making process, at all levels Government, national and international. Inviting them to party conferences — where they’re already invited, anyway — will not broaden the debate, but will narrow it yet further.

NGOs have been co-opted by governments and politicians for two reasons. The first is that supposition that NGOs can make government policies appear to be responsive to needs, be they social or environmental. The ‘ethical’ stamp of approval from self-appointed activists thereby gain some semblance of legitimacy: ‘it doesn’t matter that nobody is voting for us, we’re saving the planet’. The second is a supposition that NGOs can help to reconnect the gap between politicians and the public.

But NGOs are neither democratic nor accountable. Their influence is not legitimate. But there’s worse news for Miliband. The idea that NGOs can mobilise popular support is a proven failure. Back in 2009, Miliband, conscious of the fact that the government’s climate policies lacked democratic legitimacy, asked the environmental movement to come up with some bodies,

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

The result was a shambles. Miliband grew closer to the Age of Stupid director, Franny Armstrong, who established the 10:10 campaign and the couple made many public appearances together in which she’d hector him about not taking climate seriously enough, and he’d whinge that there wasn’t enough support. What Miliband hadn’t noticed is just how totally the 10:10 campaign was incapable of generating public support. For starters, the message of Age of Stupid is profoundly anti-popular, and expresses contempt for the unwashed, ever-consuming masses and their desires for more, better, faster, cheaper. This was epitomised in their attempts to ‘connect’ with the public with an advert depicting the violent and bloody murder of individuals — including children — who didn’t appear to be taking the climate message seriously. Climate sceptics, for all the rumours that oil companies give $millions to ‘deniers’ to ‘distort’ the public perception of the climate debate could not have created anything that so succinctly captured the nastiest side of the environmental movement and its character.

The 10:10 campaign’s ill-judged attempt to ‘communicate’ across the divide demonstrated that NGOs serve as outsourced government departments. What this relationship reveals is that, for the likes of Ed Miliband, the legitimacy of his role, and the basis for the policies he creates are after-thoughts. He’s found himself as the leader of the opposition, and is now thinking ‘ok, I’m leader of the Labour Party, now how can I make myself as popular as I need to be to be the leader of the Labour Party’. And it’s as though he’s decided which policies he wants, and now wants to set about making those policies legitimate without actually debating them — call in the NGOs. This is politics upside down. It should be popular support which brings political leaders and their ideas to power. Instead, we see bland and hollow managerial politicians in bed with NGOs employed as public image consultants in some mutually self-serving play for power. Miliband’s programme can only make it a more ugly spectacle, assuming, that is, anyone is even watching.

A Dark Shade of Green

Posted by Ben Pile on June 23, 2011
Jun 232011

Conservation is too often taken at face value. Criticise it, and you may find yourself accused of wanting to concrete over the entire countryside, and to have all the creatures that live within in slaughtered for fun.

The truth is, however, that even a country as densely-populated as the UK is less than 10% developed, and the majority of its population live in cities that are strangled by ‘green belt’ — rings of land protected by law. This furthermore means that only the wealthy can afford to live or build outside the city limits, meanwhile, house prices within it rise inexorably, and the size of properties gets smaller, and the local facilities and infrastructure struggle to cope. What price ‘conservation’, then? Freedom… mortgages that few people can afford… escalating rents… state-sponsored landlords and spiralling benefit costs… increased cost of living… decreasing living standards. Conservationists then argue that we need MORE green space to help us mentally recover from the stresses of modern life.

The green-space-as-public-amenity argument is thus shown as so much bunk. Conservation comes at a price, and that price is rarely discussed. Rather it is assumed that we’re running out of space for all things bright and beautiful, while we create prisons for ourselves.

There’s another kind of conservation too — the idea that without a conservation effort, species of flora and fauna will disappear. I put these arguments into two categories. The first is the ‘web-of-life’ or ‘biodiversity’ argument, in which ‘species’ are valuable because they exist as part of a network or ecosystem which has both intrinsic moral and material value — a natural order– on which our own existences depend, and that we should observe. The second is the idea that we like there to be creatures and some kind of wilderness. I have some sympathy with the second insofar as I think this subjective valorisation of ‘nature’ deserves a hearing in discussions about development; there should be a public discussion about the value of nature, since most people seem to like and value it. The former, however, I believe is an attempt to bypass that discussion, but to create political value of natural processes through blackmail: ‘conservation or death’.

Then there’s an even darker side of conservation. Just as conservation has its human cost in the UK, it has greater consequences where the humans it displaces are less wealthy and more excluded from political life. Many have commented on the ‘neocollonialist’ tendency of conservationists. A new Channel 4 documentary considers some of its excesses.

I’m not sure if this film will show here, or if non-UK readers will be able to see it. Here’s the link, if the above player does not work.

The film itself unfortunately takes a few tenets of conservation at face value, and doesn’t quite get to the bottom of it. Nonetheless, it makes some valuable, shocking points that remind us what conservation in its unchecked, political form really looks like: it puts humans below nature.

The Fishy, Wishy-Washy IPSO Report

Posted by Ben Pile on June 21, 2011
Jun 212011

The list of the 26 contributors to the IPSO panel of expert scientists is on page 10 of the report of the three day conference. The previous posts here seem to have attracted a lot of interest, so I thought I’d have a yet deeper look at this panel for those following the story.

Let’s get the easy bit over with. Of the 26 contributors, we can immediately exclude half of them as non-experts:

Kelly Rigg is Executive Director of the Global Campaign for Climate Action.

Charlotte Smith is a Senior Accounts Director at Communications INC.

Mirella Von Lindenfels is Director of the The International Programme on the State of the Ocean, but alslo works at Communications INC, alongside Charlotte Smith.

Matt Gianni is a Policy Advisor at Deep Sea Conservation Coalition

Barry Gardiner is a British Member of Parliament, and Vice President GLOBE UK Global Legislators Organisation

Aurelie Spadone is a Marine Programme Officer at the International Union for Conservation of Nature

James Oliver is a Project Officer at the International Union for Conservation of Nature

Kristina M Gjerde is High Seas Policy Advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature

Patricio Bernal is Project Coordinator at the International Union for Conservation of Nature

Dan Laffoley is a Senior Advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature

Conn Nugent is the Executive Director of the JM Kaplan Fund

Josh Reichert is Managing Director of the Pew Environment Group

Karen Sack is Director of international ocean conservation at the Pew Environment Group

Remember, IPSO are selling this as

A high-level international workshop convened by IPSO met at the University of Oxford earlier this year. It was the first inter-disciplinary international meeting of marine scientists of its kind and was designed to consider the cumulative impact of multiple stressors on the ocean, including warming, acidification, and overfishing.

I have excluded most of the above names on the basis that they are palpably not marine scientists. There are a few who may once have been such experts, but are not involved in research, but in issue-advocacy for a coalition of ENGOs — the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

There are 13 names remaining.

Jelle Bijma seems to have a sufficiently solid scientific background, even if his research interests — Ocean Warming and Acidification; Proxy Development and Innovation; The Earth System on Long Time Scales — are ones we see too much confidence about in the broader debate.

Score: 13-1

Phil Tranthan also seems like a reasonable bet.

Score: 13-2

It’s not clear what Prof. Tom Hutchinson does, or specialises in .But he works at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), a division of the UK Government’s  Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Our work directly supports delivery of the aquatic-related aspects of Defra’s key priorities and strategic objectives. As an executive agency, we play a vital role in securing healthy marine and freshwater environments for everyone’s well-being, health and prosperity. This is achieved by providing evidence-based scientific advice, managing related data and information, conducting scientific research, and facilitating collaborative action through wide-ranging international relationships.

Score: 13-3

Which brings us to Ove Hoeghk-Guldberg, a professor and director of the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland.

Unfortunately for Prof. Hoeghk-Guldberg, he’s let his reputation get spoiled by his ownblurring of science and activism during Anthony Watts tour of Australia:

The Tuesday night meeting in Brisbane on the WUWT Australian tour had a bit of unexpected fireworks courtesy of Aussie reef scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg. The meeting started off with some protestors outside holding placards with the tired old messages claiming “funding by big oil”…etc. Professor Ove actually incited this on his blog, saying that “The Climate Shifts crew and other scientists will be there en masse to record and debunk the lies that will be told.”

Score: 14-3

Then there’s Alex Rogers, the organiser of the IPSO thing… whatever it is. Is he a scientist, or an activist? As Alex Cull pointed out in the comments on the previous post, sadly, Dr Roger’s also blurs the lines between science and activism:

IPSO’s scientific director is Alex Rogers, Professor of Conservation Biology at Oxford University. According to his web page at Oxford University’s Dept of Zoology, he has also worked for Greenpeace and WWF, and in addition, currently holds a position with GLOBE International.

It would be harder to come to this conclusion had the event he has organised had been the thing it was advertised as being. But when you make claims such as ‘run by Scientists for the world’, you start to look somewhat messianic.

Score: 15-3

Chris Yesson, a Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London looks like a fairly sensible chap. Shame he go involved in this nonsense.

Score: 15-4

Kirsty Kemp is a colleague of Chris Yesson.

Score: 15-5

Derek Tittensor is a research scientists at the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science group at Microsoft Research. Fair enough, though I have my doubts about the UNEP and its WCMC.

Score: 15-6

Philip Chris Reid is a senior research fellow at the Sir Alasdair Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, University of Plymouth. This press release from December ’09 says,

A new report looking at the relationship between the world’s oceans and global warming is set to fire a stark warning shot across the bows ahead of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen. [...] The study, led by Professor Chris Reid, from the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS), the University of Plymouth and the Marine Biological Association (MBA), has found that both rising sea temperatures and a reducing ability of the oceans to absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) may be leading to an acceleration of climate change. Drawing upon the research of over 100 of the leading oceanographers and scientists around the world, the work is co-authored by more than thirty experts from organizations in ten countries, such as the British Antarctic Survey and the Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany. The 150-page report has taken 18 months to produce and was initially commissioned by the WWF. It is unprecedented in its scale and scope, and examines evidence of changes in ocean temperature and ecosystems, rising acidification and methane levels, and massive shrinkage of the polar ice caps.

Sorry, Chris. By the standards set by environmentalists, you can’t claim to be engaged in scientific research free from some agenda.

Score: 16-6

Daniel Pauly is Professor of Fisheries at the University of British Columbia. According to his CV he was a Board Member of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Canada, 2004 to 2006.

Sorry, Daniel.

Score: 17-6

Tony Pitcher is a colleague of Daniel Pauly’s at the University of British Columbia.

Score: 17-7

William Cheung is a Lecturer in Marine Ecosystem Services at the University of East Anglia. According to his profile page at the UEA website, he has “been a member of the IUCN Groupers and Wrasses Species Specialist Group since 2005″.

Sorry, Dr Cheung, but imagine if you had worked for a network of oil industry research organisations… Do you think you’d be regarded as a source of impartial comment on climate change?

Score: 18-7

Charles Sheppard is a professor at the University of Warwick. According to his profile page,

I hold a half-time position of Professor in the Department. The remainder of my time I work for a range of UN , governmental and aid agencies in tropical marine and coastal development issues.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.


But wait a minute. Haven’t all the members of this panel — never mind the 8 who don’t seem so confused about the difference between activism and science — merely been invited to this event simply because they have emphasised things like ‘sustainability’ and ‘ocean acidification’, and ‘climate change’? And isn’t that why they have been invited? Isn’t the point of IPSO simply to ask researchers of a similar mind to take part, and then present their ‘findings’ as the result of a scientific enquiry?

I could do the same thing tomorrow. I could email my academic friends — the ones I know to be broadly sceptical of climate change politics, if not the science — and invite them to my house for coffee. ‘Are you really worried about the end of the World’, I could ask. ‘Not really’, they would say. I could write up their non-concern in an expensive brochure. I could then pitch it to the world as convincing evidence that ‘things are not as bad as previously thought’. And the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, the Times, the Telegraph, and the Daily Mail would report the findings, verbatim, without questioning it, wouldn’t they? Just as they have done here:

The Independent:

Oceans on brink of catastrophe
Marine life facing mass extinction ‘within one human generation’ / State of seas ‘much worse than we thought’, says global panel of scientists

The Telegraph

World’s oceans move into ‘extinction phase’

The next generation may lose the opportunity to swim over coral reefs or eat certain species of fish, scientists have warned, as the world’s oceans move into a ‘phase of extinction’ due to human impacts such as over-fishing and climate change.


Panel: Problems With Oceans Multiplying, Worsening
The health of the world’s oceans is declining much faster than originally thought — under siege from pollution, overfishing and other man-made problems all at once — scientists say in a new report.

The Guardian:

‘Shocking’ state of seas threatens mass extinction, say marine experts
Overfishing and pollution putting fish, sharks and whales in extreme danger – with extinction ‘inevitable’, study finds.

The BBC:

World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ decline
The oceans are in a worse state than previously suspected, according to an expert panel of scientists.

The Daily Mail:

World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ state say scientists as they warn of marine extinction
The world’s oceans are facing an extinction crisis as the result of a range of human impacts from over-fishing to climate change, scientists warned today.

And it’s the same everywhere. A little club of eco-warriors –many, if not most, of whom are not scientists —  is presented, across newspapers in every single country, as a panel of experts. The headlines have found their way into hundreds of thousands of twitter feeds.

Why didn’t journalists think to ask: what is IPSO; who are its members; and why should we regard their say as the final word?


A commenter at Watts Up With That makes the following observation:

Espen says:
June 21, 2011 at 6:10 am
Hmm, the owner of “Communications Inc Limited”, Mirella von Lindenfels, was also “director” at IPSO and “head of Media” at Greenpeace (see ). And her current clients include (not very surprising) IPSO and Greenpeace:

It was Greenpeace all along, after all.

Mirella von Lindenfels’s Experience

Communications Inc Limited
Public Relations and Communications industry
2003 – Present (8 years)

International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)
Nonprofit Organization Management industry
2007 – 2010 (3 years)

Not for profit marine conservation organisation designed to build a greater understanding of the role of the global ocean in maintaining life on earth and the measures necessary to preserve it.
Director of Media and Audio Visual
Amnesty International
Nonprofit; Nonprofit Organization Management industry
1999 – 2003 (4 years)

head of Media
Nonprofit; Nonprofit Organization Management industry
1996 – 1999 (3 years)

A Deep Sea Mystery

Posted by Ben Pile on June 20, 2011
Jun 202011

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ decline

Warns Richard Black at the BBC.

The oceans are in a worse state than previously suspected, according to an expert panel of scientists.

In a new report, they warn that ocean life is “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”.

They conclude that issues such as over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together in ways that have not previously been recognised.

The impacts, they say, are already affecting humanity.

The panel was convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), and brought together experts from different disciplines, including coral reef ecologists, toxicologists, and fisheries scientists.

Call me a cynic, but I no longer take claims about ‘expert panel of scientists’ at face value. Sadly, Richard Black of the BBC does.

Who are the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) anyway? A visit to their website barely gives any information about itself at all. It doesn’t appear even to have an email address, let alone a postal address. There is no mention of who is running it, or what organisations are involved. Isn’t that a bit odd, for ‘an expert panel of scientists’.

Looking at the final report [PDF] produced by IPSO, there is similarly little mention of the organisation’s relationship to the rest of the world, such that we can see for ourselves what kind of a panel of experts they really are. However, at the top of the report is the following text:

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) is a coalition of over 60 organizations worldwide promoting fisheries conservation and the protection of biodiversity on the high seas. The DSCC has been actively involved in the international debate and negotiations concerning the adverse impacts on deep-sea biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction from bottom trawling and other methods of bottom fishing on the high seas since 2003/2004.

Ok. So who the hell are the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition?

Surprise, surprise…

A coordination team works together with a Steering Group that currently consists of the Ecology Action Centre, Greenpeace International, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Environment Group and Seas at Risk. The DSCC has developed a formidable international team of scientists, policy and communication experts, lawyers and political activists who on behalf of the deep sea have established a strong reputation and profile on the issue at the UN and in other fora.

The ‘panel of experts’ — IPSO — may well be expert. But, look, again, we see Greenpeace’s name up there, steering the research — in its own words — alongside the Pew group, and Friends of the Earth.

I don’t believe a word of it. This is not scientific research, it’s ‘grey literature’, put out by yet another grey institution, the true nature of which is concealed from first appearances. Not far behind, the agenda is revealed.


I’ve been browsing the IPSO site, which is very poorly designed. The most charitable thing I can say about IPSO is that it is a project by Dr Alex Rogers, to pass himself off as an international research programme. Here he is, talking about the end of the world, like all good zoologists should.

I made a bit of a mistake above. I thought that the front page would list its most recent research. It turns out that the research I was looking at, which was sponsored by DSCC was last year’s. This year’s project was sponsored by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). So who are the IUCN?

[The IUCN] helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges. It supports scientific research, manages field projects all over the world and brings governments, non-government organizations, United Nations agencies, companies and local communities together to develop and implement policy, laws and best practice.

IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network – a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries.

IUCN’s work is supported by more than 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. The Union’s headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, Switzerland.

So, yeah, another NGO lobbying outfit, in cahoots with government and businesses, blurring the lines between activism, scientific research, and so on.

Back to IPSO. Here’s the web-page that relates to the new report. It describes the background to the report:

The 3 day workshop, co-sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), looked at the latest science across different disciplines.

The 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries produced a grave assessment of current threats — and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues: that the world’s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.

So it turns out that this report took the scientists just three days of chin-wagging. Says the report:

The workshop provided a rare opportunity to interact with other disciplines to determine the net effect of what is already happening to the ocean and is projected to do so in the future.  Over the  three days 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries (Annex 1) assessed the latest information on impacts and stresses, and the synergistic effects these are having on the global ocean.

Through presentations, discussions and recommendations the workshop documented and described the cumulative effects of such impacts, how these commonly act in a negatively synergistic way, and why therefore concerted action is now needed to address the consequences set out in this report.

Now, this is being presented as the product of a scientific process. But it turns out that it’s a little conference of self-selecting individuals, clearly given to a particular agenda.

The scientific outcomes from this workshop will be used first and foremost to strengthen the case for greater action to reduce anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide related to climate change and ocean acidification while also reducing other stressors.  The findings underscore the need for more effective management of fisheries and pollution and for strengthening protection of the 64% of the ocean that lies beyond the zones of national jurisdiction. They thereby form a major contribution to implementation of the major IPSO report on the Global State of the Ocean. This event follows on from the IPSO/Royal Society event in 2009 that focussed on the future for coral reefs.

But in what way is the product of the 3-day gloom-fest a ‘scientific outcome’? No doubt, with a fancy name like ‘International Programme on the State of the Ocean’, citations to the report it produces will impress people. Indeed, it sounds like an expensive, exhaustive survey of the world. But it was just a couple of dozen eco-warriors in a single room, chatting about their fears.


Barry Woods has emailed me with a bit more on the profiles of some of the attendees of this ‘expert panel’ — the 27 people behind the “World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ decline” report.

The attendees are listed on page 10 of the report. [PDF]

Barry Gardiner is Labour MP for Brent North, and Vice President Globe UK, the Global Legislators Organisation. Globe’s about pages say,

there exists a strategic opportunity to coordinate a legislative response to key global environmental challenges in advance of Rio +20. This response recognises and seeks to strengthen the central role of legislators and parliaments in tackling the major global environmental challenges, as well as placing a much greater emphasis on the role of legislators in holding governments more effectively to account for the implementation of international commitments.

I wonder what Barry Gardiner knows about marine ecology. He has a degree in philosophy, apparently, so not much then. So much for this panel of experts…

Dan Laffoley is Marine Vice Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which seems to be the current sponsor, and is discussed above. Joining him is his colleague Aurelie Spadone.

Kelly Rigg - Executive Director, Global Campaign for Climate Action. No obvious expertise in marine biology, it says here,

Kelly Rigg is the Executive Director of the GCCA, a global alliance of 250 organizations cooperating under the banner of the tcktcktck campaign. She has been leading international campaigns for nearly 30 years on climate, energy, oceans, Antarctica and other issues. She was a senior campaign director for Greenpeace International during 20 years with the organization. After leaving Greenpeace she went on to found the Varda Group consultancy providing campaign and strategic advice to a wide range of NGOs, and led the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition’s campaign to protect the high seas from destructive bottom fishing.

Josh Reichert is Managing Director of the Pew Environment Group. They say of themselves,

In 1998, the Trusts established the Pew Center on Global Climate Change for the purpose of providing credible information, straight answers and innovative solutions to address global climate change. At the inception, the Business Environmental Leadership Council was created to engage the businesses community in the climate debate. The council included 46 companies, mainly Fortune 500 firms with combined revenue of more than $2 trillion and over 4 million employees. In 2007, the Pew Center played a major role in launching the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an unprecedented alliance of nonprofit organizations and leading businesses—including General Electric and all three major U.S. automobile manufacturers—in support of federal emissions-reduction legislation

Although Reichart “he has written more than 60 publications and co-produced films on the plight of fisheries and marine ecosystems“, it’s hard to see what expertise he has in marine ecology… “Mr. Reichert holds an undergraduate degree in applied behavioral sciences from the University of California, Davis, and master’s and doctoral degrees in social anthropology from Princeton University”.

Conn Nugent is Executive Director of the JM Kaplan Fund

The Environment Program concentrates on marine conservation, especially in ocean waters that lie beyond the jurisdiction of a single national government. The program currently supports grantees working to: create international protections for species and ecoregions of the High Seas; educate scientists and the public about the value and vulnerability of the ocean as a world system; and foment civil society movements to protect Arctic waters and Arctic coastal communities.

Conn Nugent’s blog profile gives no indication of his or her qualifications in marine science:

Highlights: • Exec Dir, JM Kaplan Fund (2000-present). Programs in environment, historic preservation, immigration: US, Mexico, Cuba, worldwide. • Exec Dir, Intl Physicians for Prevention Nuclear War. 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. • Founder/editor,,, • Freelance writer, editor, graphic designer. Harvard College, Harvard Law School. Peace Corps. Teacher. Exec Dir: Planned Parenthood California; Bay State Charitable Trust; New Alchemy Inst; Five Colleges; Citizens Union. Prog Dir, Nathan Cummings Foundation. Articles on land use, architecture, defense, fiscal policy, medicine, sports.

So, not much evidence of the scientific expertise that is being claimed of this team. Yet there are a number of agendas at the table. And some well-funded agendas, at that.

Fun Finding the Eco Lobby’s Funding

Posted by Ben Pile on June 18, 2011
Jun 182011

Following my post at Bishop Hill, I thought I’d use the EU’s transparency site to check out a few more arrangements between the EU and NGOs. As I pointed out in my post, only the accounts for the years 2007-2009 are listed. This isn’t news, by the way, we knew that the EU funds green organisations before. I just wanted to see what it is these days.

First, Friends of the Earth. Here’s the report.

€813.721,00 SI2.532419.1
Subject of grant or contract: OPERATING GRANT FRIENDS OF THE EARTH

€790.020,00 SI2.502536.1

€777.818,00 SI2.480177.1
Subject of grant or contract: Operating grant to Friends of the Earth Europe

€399.872,00 SCR.718701.2
Subject of grant or contract: REALLOCATION OF FUNDS FROM 2008 FUNDS TO 2007

€140.000,00 SCR.CTR.213148.01.1
Subject of grant or contract: Create local capacity for sustainable rural development

€38.000,00 D45.B0808.005479.1
Subject of grant or contract: PROJETS DE DEMOCRATIE PARTICIPATIVE : The Countdown to Copenhagen: The European Voice on the future of climate change

36.345,40 SYM.0000010475.1

€9.469,50 SYM.0000010473.1

€5.000,00 SI2.543881.1
Subject of grant or contract: CLIMATE WEEK 24-31 OTOBER 2009

So Friends of the Earth took €3,010,245 from the EU between 2007-9.

Now WWF.

€3.499.999,00 SCR.632677.1
Subject of grant or contract: Strengthening Indigenous Community Based Forest Enterprises (CBFEs) in Priority Ecoregions in Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Africa

€2.500.000,00 SCR.CTR.152063.01.1
Subject of grant or contract: Projet de Développement d’Alternatives Communautaires à l’Exploitation Forestière Illégale Phase II (DACEFI II)

€1.550.000,00 SCR.650794.1
Subject of grant or contract: Programme dAppui à la Production Agricole durable en périphérie de la réserve de Luki et à la Sécurisation Alimentaire dans les districts de Boma et du Bas-Fleuve (PAPASA Luki)

€1.075.896,00SI2.512715.1 Subject of grant or contract: CONSERVATION OF ALLUVIAL HABITATS OF COMMUNITY INTEREST

€128.700,00 CCR.IES.C382691.X0.2
Subject of grant or contract:

€40.000,00 SI2.481752.1
Subject of grant or contract:

So the WWF enjoyed gifts of €8,794,595 from the EU. Actually, it got more. It was a joint beneficiary on over €28million euros of EU funds, but I’ve only listed the direct payments from the EU to the WWF.

There’s a lot more. For instance, the Climate Action Network Europe received €1,514,720. in total, then, three searches reveal €13,319,560.

Now, I’m not one usually given to ‘follow the money’ arguments. This is because I thought the green arguments about oil companies funding scientific research to disrupt climate policy-making were completely absurd. My view was that ‘what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’, and so the argument about ‘well-funded denial machines’ was easily shown as hypocrisy. On that basis, we could exclude complaints about ‘special interests’ dominating the policy-making process as double-standards and special pleading.

But here we have something quite different. Here we have a government funding environmental organisations campaigning and researching  efforts, and we can see a direct effect of that campaigning and research in policy. In an era of ‘evidence-based policy-making’, if you only fund the evidence-making that suits the policy you’ve already determined, then we can only call it ‘policy-based evidence-making’.

So where is the research grant to climate sceptics and other critics of environmentalism? We can see a lot of green NGOs getting paid money they would not need if they were truly autonomous. Aren’t NGOs now just outsourced government departments? If you’ll pardon the expression, doesn’t it look here like climate change establishment has its collective head up its arse?

Where we have seen relatively small sums passed between energy companies and independent think tanks, it has drawn the ire of the likes of Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. It should be remembered here that the Grantham Institute itself is the beneficiary of a whopping £24 million gift from Jeremy Grantham, a very rich man indeed. And also in the employ of the Grantham Institute is Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Review, the document which continues to inform UK climate policy.

I wonder how big all of this really is, and how independent the research that informs national and international policies really is. If you’ve any ideas, or find anything ‘interesting’ in the EU transparency database, or anywhere else, please mention them in the comments below.

Guest Post at Bishop Hill

Posted by Ben Pile on June 16, 2011
Jun 162011

I am very pleased to have a guest post up on the excellent Bishop Hill, Ideological money laundering.

As everybody now knows, the headlines from IPCC WGIII report on renewable energy appear to have been written by Greenpeace. When the Summary for Policy Makers was published last month, I was one of many who noted the role of Greenpeace, and the extent to which the SPM’s authors were involved in the renewable energy industry. Steve McIntyre’s discovery has caused further criticism  of the IPCC’s letting such overt agendas near its evidence-making for policy-makers, even from the green camp, albeit only because it is such bad PR. But there is yet more to this story.

Call me naive, but I have constantly amazed by the sums available to the environmental agenda for little more than PR.

The Lowest Uncommon Denominator

Posted by Ben Pile on June 12, 2011
Jun 122011

The Guardian’s ethical agony aunt, Leo Hickman complained yesterday that,

Climate sceptics flirt with intelligent design and Islamophobic group

Leaving aside the question about whether or not it is true that the group really is in the business of promoting Islamophobia and ID, so what? Even if it were true, why shouldn’t sceptics ‘flirt’ with them? Says Hickman,

Here we go again: prominent climate sceptics gathering together to meet under the welcoming awning of a right-wing, libertarian thinktank. And some people still choose to question the notion that climate scepticism tends to be far more motivated by rigid ideology rather than reasoned objections to the science?

Accepting an invitation to speak at a debate, is on Hickman’s view, equivalent to being an advocate of that group’s agenda or purpose.

But this is nonsense. Let’s imagine that a creationist, Islamophobic organisation held debates on those issues. Imagine also that it invited an Islamic scholar and an atheist evolutionary biologist, and they accept the invitation. Would that scholar and atheist, by virtue of accepting those invitations, now stand against Islam, and against Darwin’s theory? Of course not. So why would they accept the invitation? To answer questions about Islam and Darwin, of course, to offer a defence of them, and to challenge the opposing perspective. Debates and conferences are opportunities to exchange and challenge ideas. Conferences and debates are riven through with differences of opinion. If they were not, they would be called rallies instead.

Hickman continues,

This time the event is being held in Los Angeles and has been organised by a group called the American Freedom Alliance, which claims to be “a non-political, non-partisan movement which promotes, defends and upholds Western values and ideals”.

On Sunday, it will host “Big Footprint: Is Green the New Tyranny” at the UCLA Faculty Center. Speakers on the programme include Lord Monckton, Benny Peiser, James Delingpole, Phelim McAleer, Steven Milloy, Christopher Horner, and Richard Lindzen – all of whom are very familiar figures to anyone conversant with the climate debate.

As far as I am aware, these sceptics are not known for their views on creationism and Islam. I know one of them to be very religious, another an atheist. So in what sense is it meaningful that sceptics have accepted an invitation to an ‘intelligent design and Islamophobic group’?

There are two main problems for activist journalists like Hickman. First, he appears to claim that the sceptics are only able to see the world through ideological filters. Second, the implication is that his own argument is blessed by the gift of perfect sight — it has removed ‘ideology’ from its vision.

The trouble with this is that it gets things the wrong way round. Environmentalism is an ideological phenomenon, as has been discussed at length on this blog. In summary of the arguments here: environmental politics precedes environmental science, in spite of environmentalists’ claim to the contrary. That prior-ness of the political to the science is the presupposition of a highly dependent, determined, rigid relationship between the environment and human society (e.g. environmentalists make an equivalence of sensitivity of climate to CO2 and society to climate). Finally, that determined relationship is itself premised on quasi-mystical ideas about nature’s tendency to produce ‘balance’, and a low estimation of humanity. Meanwhile, nothing can be said about sceptics in general to characterise their perspective.

There is nothing that actually defines climate change scepticism. It’s not like environmentalism, which has at its core an eco-centric view of the world. This perspective gives the environmental movement identity: it has shared values, aims, beliefs — its ideology. It also therefore gives its critics grounds from which to criticise it. Climate sceptics, on the other hand, bring a range of views to the climate debate. Some of them may well be religious, and some may well be ‘ideological’ in the sense that Hickman uses it, but there is no core, positively-expressed philosophy of scepticism. To put that more neatly, climate-environmentalism is a particular perspective that attracts criticism from a range of other perspectives.

Hickman wants to say that scepticism is a particular, ideological phenomenon. But he is unable to take issue with scepticism in general — it has no defining premise. Hiding his own ideological perspective behind ‘science’, he is forced to look around the issue of climate scepticism without ever actually confronting it in the terms in which it is expressed. So instead, like many angry environmentalists, he looks for the connections: sceptics associated with energy companies; sceptics apparently in bed with people with odd and nasty ideas. And these are taken as the fundamental expression of climate scepticism, even though they have nothing to do with climate change. This sets up the polarised, binary moral dimension of the debate, with which we are all familiar. To take issue with climate change alarmism is to find oneself in a camp with all the bad people. To be a climate change denier is to be a religious nutter, a racist, on the ‘right wing’, and so on. What gets discussed then, is not the matter at hand — the climate, and what to do about it — but what links who to what. Neither the science of the climate or ‘ideology’ of either environmentalism or its critics ever gets discussed.

And how could it ever be discussed, when the presupposition is that any dialogue with climate change deniers — aka racists, aka religious nutters, aka bad people — is itself illegitimate?

Hickman’s framing of the climate debate is a defensive manoeuvre. However, it has been very successful. Environmentalists have been able to close down debate, and shut out criticism by sustaining the view that climate change scepticism is variously the result of particular agendas. It’s a simple strategy: you find the most unpleasant act or argument from somebody, however loosely associated with the opposite side they are, and suggest that it says something about the movement in general. In other words, you find the lowest uncommon denominator, and treat it as the lowest common denominator to suggest that it divides the other side. An example of this is the treatment by eco-journalists of the death threats made against climate scientists in Australia. Hickman tweeted,

Guardian now reporting death threats sent to climate scientists in Oz. Would be nice to see sceptics utterly condemn it

The implication, of course, is that sceptics must apologise for the actions of what Hickman presents as their comrades, as though they were somehow culpable.

Hickman’s colleagues at The Guardian have made much of some extreme anti-environmental actions recently. Hickman, Monbiot and Damian Carrington have themselves received email and phone threats, according to Carrington in an article in January. Carrington asked for comments below the line to suggest why this might happen.

So it’s clear that even in issues such as climate change there is an active fringe of people deploying violent rhetoric and hate mail against those with whom they disagree. Could that tip the balance between thought and action in the mind of an unstable individual? It’s a worryingly plausible thought.

My suggestion was that in order to make the use of violence legitimate, it is necessary to first dehumanise the people you had targeted. The anti-human agenda of environmentalism, therefore, might say something about the violence of the likes of the Unabomber and other environmentalists, that Carrington seemed to have overlooked in favour of looking at only death threats against environmentalists. The Unabomber’s manifesto, after all, bears uncanny resemblance to many articles in the Guardian. My comments and references to them were deleted and my account at the Guardian deleted.

Doesn’t this speak most loudly about the fact that those of a greenish hue have real difficulty answering their critics? It is almost as if they need to be the victims of death threats in order to portray climate sceptics in such a way. They need to be able to associate environmentalism’s critics with things such as creationism (never mind the mystical and mythological premises of their own perspective) and racism.

I challenged George Monbiot for similar attempts to smear his critics on Twitter recently. I asked him to account for his argument. Did he respond? Yes, by blocking me from his twitter feed: an action designed to prevent abuse of twitter by those making nuisances of themselves, and using the application to abuse others. There is no difference, it seems, in the Green mind between challenging a view, and abusing the holder of that view. So much for dialogue, the environmentalists are too nervous of criticism to permit it. They only want public debate on their own terms. No sceptics allowed.

To be fair to Hickman, he was prepared to have a discussion with me, via twitter. This is a limiting format — about as limited as it can get. I had pointed out to Leo in a ‘tweet’ that it was a problem for him that he concentrates on the alleged associations of sceptics, rather than the substance of their argument. Being the Guardian’s ‘ethical’ man, he should take criticism of environmental ethics seriously. He didn’t really like the ‘ethical’ tag, he told me. Odd, for the author of books called ‘A Good Life’, and ‘A life Striped Bare: My Year Trying to Live Ethically’. The discussion continued, as best it could in such a limited format, with me asking Hickman about the problems of eco-centric ethics. It came to an end because, it seemed, he felt that the use of ‘what ifs’ in a conversation about the substance of his ethical perspective, were ‘high theory’, and belonged in a philosophy seminar, not in the real world. It seems obvious that the author of many articles and a number of books about environmental ethics, who seems to want those ethics to be brought to bear over public policy has a very shallow, narrow, and hollow understanding of ethics.

This experience is consistent with each of the limited occasions I have been able to actually get environmentalists to have a discussion. It always begins with the guilt-by-association argument against sceptics, who fly in the face of scientific evidence. Period. Once they concede that this is not a binary debate — that the debate is more complicated that ‘climate change is happening’ versus ‘climate change is not happening’ — discussion explodes, exposing the mystical, mythological and ideological prejudices of environmentalism. No wonder, then, that environmentalists are terrified of debate, and not only refuse to participate in it when it creates the possibility of embarrassing them; they are terrified of it happening at all, and so have to resort to making claims about the associations of the participants of other discussions, rather than the substance of that discussion.

So, then, what is there to say about the conference in question?

This is what Hickman says,

What is more surprising, perhaps, is that some of them are happy to accept the invitation of an organisation that has promoted intelligent design and seems to tread a very fine line indeed between fighting “Islamic fascism” and outright Islamophobia. Are these speakers happy – or even aware – of the company they will be keeping this weekend? Is it fair to assume they did their homework on this group before accepting their invitation to be flown to LA to participate in the event?

I have no idea what the American Freedom Alliance ‘really’ stands for other than what it says on its about page:

In America, faith is voluntary and cannot be imposed;
In America, faith is consistent with freedom of inquiry, critical thinking and the application of reason and logic;
In America, faith tolerates those who question, those who change their faith and those who reject faith altogether.
It is affirmed by the American Freedom Alliance that humanity thrives on freedom of conscience. Without it, the human personality and its potential for goodness, creativity and altruism are stifled. To the extent that freedom of conscience is denied, the opportunities for oppression, coercion and totalitarianism are multiplied exponentially.

Oh, such evil…

To the claims that the AFA are ‘creationist’, and ‘Islamophobic’, the website does seem to link to material that speaks about the ‘rise of Islam’ in Europe, threatening Western culture; and there seems to be links to literature that attempts to challenge at least part of the evolutionists account of life on Earth. I think this is a bit silly — I don’t believe Europe is being ‘Islamified’, and is doing a grand job of rejecting the enlightenment all by itself, no help from without. I also have little time for the creation debate. (And anyway, don’t we see prominent muscular atheists making similar statements about Islam?) But however silly these are, the AFA appears to commit itself to debate on these matters:

All residents of Southern Calfornia, regardless of political persuasion, religious beliefs, philosophical stance or scientific conviction, are invited to join us in these vital discussions on who we are and where we came from.

Hickman concludes:

So, my central question is simply this: are these climate sceptics – particularly ones such as Peiser and Lindzen who like to position themselves away from the fringes as mainstream speakers for their cause – proud to be speaking under the banner of this organisation?

But the sceptics there are not ‘speaking under the banner of this organisation’. They are meeting to discuss the following topics:

10:00 am – 11:15 am:
Morning Panel – Global Warming: Alarmism or Looming Catastrophe?
11: 30 am – 12: 45 pm: Morning Breakout Sessions
a. The Al Gore Road Show: The Media and Global Warming
b. Are there Financial Incentives for Advocating Global Warming.
c. Is there an Element of Religiosity to Global Warming Advocacy?
1:45 pm – 2:45 pm: Afternoon Keynote: Michael Shaw
Agenda 21 and the U.N. Mandate for Social Revolution
2: 45 pm- 4:00 pm: Afternoon Panel:
The Sustainability Agenda: Who Gains, Who Loses?
4:15 pm – 5:30 pm: Afternoon Breakout Sessions
a. The Drive towards Population Control/ Non Governmental Organizations and their Power
b. ICLEI and its Impact on Local Government / The Challenges to U.S Sovereignty
6:30 pm: Cinema Gateway Screening of Cool It!
9:00 am -10:30 am
10:30 am – 11:45 am: Morning Keynote: Wesley J. Smith
Is the Animal Rights Movement Attempting to Destroying the Concept of Human Exceptionalism?
12 noon – 1:00 pm: Morning Panel
Transhumanism, Deep Ecology and Ecocide: How Are Shifting Social Attitudes Re-shaping Our Appreciation of Human Uniqueness?
Lunch film screening: The Bio-Ethics Debate: What Value Has Human Life?
2:15 pm- 3:30 pm: Afternoon Plenary : Chris Horner
The Great Energy Debate: Are Fossil Fuels Really on the Way Out?
3: 45 pm – 5:00 pm: Afternoon Panel:
Ethanol, Solar and Wind Power: What Are the Costs, What are the Benefits?

This looks to me to be perhaps the most interesting programme of any debate about the climate or environment I have ever seen. I am an atheist (though I don’t wear the badge on my lapel) and would count myself as a ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’… I don’t care what the alleged links between the organisers of this event are or what their agenda is… I am glad these debates, with these topics are being held, and these questions asked about the agenda of environmentalism. The discussion about Islam and Islamophobia, creationism and evolution can happen elsewhere, at another time. All agendas need scrutiny, especially those with such far-reaching influence as the environmental movement seems to have achieved.

But Hickman et al seem resistant to the idea that eco-centric ideas should be challenged. They seem to be against debate. And the reasons for this seem obvious. They are terrified of debate, not simply because they do not trust any organisers who dare to challenge environmental orthodoxy, but because they do not trust individuals — whatever their persuasion — to come away from such a debate having made up their own minds about the arguments they have been exposed to. The censorious and elitist character of the rhetoric from environmentalists are not the marks of self-confidence, or trust in science: they are aware of the fragility of their own perspective. The debate between environmentalists and their critics is not divided on ‘science’. It is divided by a lie about what it means to criticise environmentalism. Only one half is allowed to speak.

Jun 102011

Every year, the Guardian’s sister Sunday, the Observer, holds an ‘ethical awards‘ ceremony.

It is quite a sight. Awards ceremonies are, as a rule, full of the pathologically smug anyway. An ‘ethical’ awards ceremony sets the smug-o-meter past any conceivable limit. Seriously… an ‘ethical awards’? Is there anything more self-regarding than handing out gongs to people you believe to be ‘ethical’? Isn’t it just a little bit, well, painfully shameless?

The Observer seems to imagine itself in a position to judge what is ‘ethical’ or not, without regard for what ‘ethics’ actually are. The Taliban have ‘ethics’. Nazis had ‘ethics’. ‘Ethics’, throughout history, have been held close to the chests of bigots, zealots, murderers and downright psychopaths. ‘Ethics’ has come to mean ‘good’, where really they are in fact a branch of moral philosophy. And within moral philosophy, there are debates: contested ideas about where morality emerges from. For instance, two of the biggest debates are whether or not there can be a mind-independent notion of moral good, and whether actions should be judged by their consequences, or by the principle which guided them. Yet the Observer seems to have cast all this to one side, closed the debate about ‘ethics’, and decided that it knows what is ‘ethical’ and what isn’t. And, surprise, surprise, the ‘ethical awards’ go to the individuals, organisations and companies that best reflect the prejudices of the Guardian and Observer.

Why don’t think they just call it the People-Who-Think-Like-Us Awards? That is, after all, all that it means to say something is ‘ethical’ in this cack-handed way. The implication is that nobody else has any moral conscience.

This years ethical ‘Observer Lifetime Achievement Award Winner’ is…

James Lovelock

World-renowned scientist, James Lovelock, has won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 Observer Ethical Awards, in association with Ecover. Lovelock the originator of the Gaia hypothesis was recognised for pioneering a model that now forms the basis of climate science.

James Lovelock began his career at the Medical Research Council but has variously worked for NASA, Harvard, with Lord Rothschild (the former boss of Shell) and for MI5. It was while working at NASA on the programme to establish whether there was life on Mars that Lovelock developed the Gaia Hypothesis, which postulates that the biosphere is a self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep healthy by controlling the chemical and physical environment. Many consider this his most important work that underpins today’s view of climate science. Lovelock was also one of the first people to discover a link between CFCs and the depletion in the ozone layer through the invention of the electron capture detector, a device that detects atoms and molecules in gas. By his own admission, Lovelock has spent most of his career outside of the scientific establishment. He is both an inspiration to and detractor of the ‘green movement’ not least because of his support of nuclear energy. At 92 he continues to work every day and is writing his next book.

Lovelock may or may not be a brilliant scientist. But what is his contribution to ‘ethics’? Even if it turns out that the Gaia hypothesis turns out someday to be true, what does it say about ethics?

Even if we imagine the world to be some kind of self-regulating system, it makes no difference to right and wrong. We could still decide that it is right to interfere with its processes in our own interests. And we could do so in good conscience, having explored the ‘ethics’ of our decision. Moreover, one could hold with the Gaia hypothesis and decide that mass-murder and rape are virtuous, being completely in accordance with the continuity of self-regulating ecosystems.

All Watched Over by Monbiot

Posted by Ben Pile on June 8, 2011
Jun 082011

Monbiot, again. He has a piece in yesterday’s Guardian, taking issue with a report commissioned by the previous government — but taken up enthusiastically by the coalition. The report aimed to put a value on the UK’s ecosystem, such that planning policies could take account of the ‘ecosystem services’ that development may destroy. But, complains Monbiot, The true value of nature is not a number.

If you thought the true value of nature was the wonder and delight it invoked, you’re wrong. It turns out that it’s a figure with a pound sign on the front. All that remains is for the Cabinet Office to tell us the true value of love and the price of society, and we’ll have a single figure for the meaning of life.

The ‘wonder and delight’ you experience when you look at some nature is highly subjective, of course. It’s much easier for city folk to get misty eyed about green spaces. People who have to endure it’s realities are less romantic about it. And the report discusses the subjective value of nature in terms of the ‘amenity’ seemingly provided by green space. For instance, page 24 of the synthesis report claims,

Diversification of forest structure for biodiversity benefits improve cultural services, through better amenity value, while increases in forest cover potentially benefit carbon regulation and can also contribute to flood regulation throughout river catchments.

This should be straightforward enough. ‘Ecosystems’ provide things, claims the report, that we’d otherwise have to pay for if they were destroyed. To build the ‘flood regulation’ infrastructure that nature appears to give us for free would cost a quantity of money that is relatively easy to calculate — if you accept the premises that ‘nature’ ‘provides’ ‘services’. ( I don’t accept them, but it is of no consequence here.)

As for the subjective part, so what? A DVD of a movie has subjective vale. You might like it, I might hate it. But the fact of subjectivity doesn’t mean that it can’t be given a price. As the price increases, fewer people would want to buy it. As it lowers, so its production becomes less worthwhile. Ditto, a book. I have many books I’d not want to lose, and some I have paid over-the-odds for. But there are many books I don’t think are worth the paper they are written on.

Value is not intrinsic to either of these things, and nobody with any sense ever claimed otherwise. Indeed, nobody sensible ever claimed that ‘ the wonder and delight invoked’ by books and movies (rather than by nature) had some objective value, either. Money value — in its most basic sense — merely makes it possible for us to exchange the DVD for the book, or for whatever I need or desire, bank balance permitting. So Monbiot’s complaint that the study had put a value on nature seems somewhat redundant. Nothing has a true value. Money is a fiction, which has no intrinsic value out with the confidence that we place in it that it can represent a value in exchange. And so is nature.

So why the surprise? Did Monbiot never notice that, when the likes of Stern were discussing climate change as a ‘market failure’ in terms of ‘externalities’, they were, bringing the value of nature into relation to other things? And what did Monbiot ever mean, when he spoke of the exploitation of the natural world for profit by capitalist enterprises — i.e. for money — if there were no value in nature? What would it mean to even talk about the ‘destruction of nature’, if it were not for the fact that nature had some value? If there was no value to be somehow drawn from the natural world, capitalists simply wouldn’t attempt to find it. Monbiot concludes,

It’s the definitive neoliberal triumph: the monetisation and marketisation of nature, its reduction to a tradeable asset. Once you have surrendered it to the realm of Pareto optimisation and Kaldor-Hicks compensation, everything is up for grabs. These well-intentioned dolts, the fellows of the grand academy of Lagado who produced the government’s assessment, have crushed the natural world into a column of figures. Now it can be swapped for money.

Don’t be fooled by the reference to economic theories. Monbiot’s grasp of things here is extraordinarily weak. He reveals a breath-taking ignorance of his own movement’s thought, never mind it’s apparent enemy. From its inception, the contemporary environmental movement was precisely about the integration of the economy — of people’s productive lives — and the environment. That is the very essence of political ecology. That is the meaning of ‘living within ecological limits’. That is why it proposes a ‘no growth’ agenda. If there are no means by which the natural world can be brought into relation with our activities, then the imperative to ‘live within limits’ can only fall on deaf ears; without some metric, the notion of limits is entirely redundant. If there is nothing by which we can measure the ‘balance’ of nature, how can we ever determine what is ‘sustainable’? Or maybe that’s the point.

Moreover, far from reflecting a ‘definitive neoliberal triumph’, the valorisation of natural processes reflects its abject failure. A history lesson for Monbiot should begin with Malthus, a disciple of Adam Smith, the classical political economist. The lesson would move on to Paul Ehrlich — a member of the GOP, at the time — who similarly pronounced that human industrial society had reached its end. In the same era, and from the same end of the political spectrum was Garret Hardin, fan of Hayek, and author of The Tragedy of the Commons — a primary text for students of ecology. This work determined that, for the protection of natural resources, publicly owned property (commons) should be abolished:

An alternative to the commons need not be perfectly just to be preferable. With real estate and other material goods, the alternative we have chosen is the institution of private property coupled with legal inheritance. Is this system perfectly just? As a genetically trained biologist I deny that it is. [...] We must admit that our legal system of private property plus inheritance is unjust–but we put up with it because we are not convinced, at the moment, that anyone has invented a better system. The alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate. Injustice is preferable to total ruin.

Hardin concludes his essay by arguing that even human fertility should be constrained:

The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon. “Freedom is the recognition of necessity”–and it is the role of education to reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed. Only so, can we put an end to this aspect of the tragedy of the commons.

More than 40 years have passed since environmentalists began doing precisely what Monbiot says had only been achieved last week. As much as environmentalism is today identified with the Left, it’s history is equally embedded in the Right. For what these categories are worth — which is not much –the Left and Right flirt with eco-centricism at various points throughout history. To put it very crudely: we can see at the end of the post-war boom, conservatism coinciding with environmentalism in the gloom of the 1970s. And at the end of the cold war, the Left appears to go green as red drains from geopolitics. Far from representing a neo-liberal triumph, then, what the attempt to locate a new material basis for economics in environmentalism represents is the loss of faith in capitalism. Whether Left or Right, the argument is no longer about the virtues of either form of social organisation, but about what Hardin, who makes a literal misreading of Hegel, called ‘necessity’: we must do what the numbers — nature herself — say. Both attempts to reformulate Left and Right economic thought through ecology argue that failure to realise their agenda will result in catastrophe.

Monbiot criticises the report.

…  this assessment is total nonsense, pure reductionist gobbledegook, dressed up in the language of objectivity and reason, but ascribing prices to emotional responses: prices, which, for all the high-falutin’ language it uses, can only be arbitrary. It has been constructed by people who feel safe only with numbers, who must drag the whole world into their comfort zone in order to feel that they have it under control. The graphics used by the assessment are telling: they portray the connections between people and nature as interlocking cogs. It’s as clear a warning as we could take that this is an almost comical attempt to force both nature and human emotion into a linear, mechanistic vision.

This is one rich statement, coming from Monbiot. The interesting bit comes at the end — the complaint about ‘interlocking cogs’ and ‘nature and human emotion’ forced’ into a linear, mechanistic vision’.

Why is this so surprising? Well, in 2007, Monbiot made a startling confession in an attack on Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley.

Like Ridley, I am a biological determinist: I believe that much of our behaviour is governed by our evolutionary history. I accept the evidence he puts forward, but draw completely different conclusions. He believes that modern humans are destined to behave well if left to their own devices; I believe that they are likely to behave badly. If you belong to a small group of intelligent hominids, all of whom are well known to each other, you will be rewarded for cooperation and generosity within the group. (Though this does not stop your group from attacking or exploiting another.) If, on the other hand, you can switch communities at will, travel freely, buy in one country and sell in another, hire strangers then fire them, you will gain more from acting only in your own interest. You’ll have an even stronger incentive to act against the common good if you run a bank whose lending and borrowing are so complex that hardly anyone can understand what is happening.

Ridley and I have the same view of human nature: that we are inherently selfish. But the question is whether this nature is subject to the conditions that prevailed during our evolutionary history.

The author of such a view is in no position to complain about ‘pure reductionist gobbledegook, dressed up in the language of objectivity and reason’, or about ‘people who feel safe only with numbers, who must drag the whole world into their comfort zone’, or about the view of ‘the connections between people and nature as interlocking cogs’, or about an ‘attempt to force both nature and human emotion into a linear, mechanistic vision’. These are each what Monbiot’s biological determinism is, and they have been discussed at length on this blog before. Briefly, once you take the view that humans are creatures that can be understood through a deterministic framework, their own views become immaterial to the debate about how society should be organised and governed. It is merely a matter of doing the math, and doing as the numbers instruct. It is easy to see much environmentalism in this approach. Political ecology then, simply takes its narrow understanding of humanity and ecology to determine what political institutions are necessary for the functioning of society. This was the subject of my article at Spiked recently on the Nobel Laureate Symposium on Sustainability.

We don’t have to stretch our imaginations to get a glimpse of what these new institutions and powers – the object of the sustainability agenda’s ambition – will look like and what they are really about. The mock trial of humanity allowed the laureates to play out their fantasy in which humanity’s guilt is turned into political power. In this intertwined relationship, there is no need of democracy; political power is simply justified on the basis of humanity’s guilt and the inevitability of catastrophe. The laureates imagine themselves in a state administrated by Plato’s philosopher kings. Us mere plebs are deemed incapable of determining things for ourselves. They appoint themselves, in case our base ambitions, desires and needs get the better of us and we send the world into ruin.

Why then, Monbiot’s sudden volte-face about the mechanistic understanding of the relationship between nature and society?

One reason might be that Adam Curtis’ excellent series, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace has been showing on BBC2 recently. It’s an attack on the deterministic and mechanistic thinking that lies at the centre of much contemporary orthodoxy, across what remains of the political spectrum. The second episode was, in my view at least, the most comprehensive criticism of political ecology I’ve ever seen on TV, but which left wriggle room for environmentalists to distance themselves from the establishment environmentalism that has persisted since the early 1970s.  Monbiot appears to have been watching the series, and it does seem to have caused at least some reflection, as is borne out by his tweets last night.

Watching Adam Curtis discussing my old lecturer #BillHamilton. Here I am, torn between Bill’s mechanistic genetic determinism …

… and my horror at the mechanistic economic determinism of those putting a price on nature. Confused or what?

Hamilton and Dawkins had more influence on my thinking than any others.

That, I should add, was long before Hamilton got into that dodgy eugenic stuff.

‘Putting a price on nature’ isn’t, by itself ‘economic determinism’. Again, it’s clear that Monbiot’s confusion is owed to the fact that he really doesn’t understand the debate he is engaged in. Rather, it is environmental and biological determinism that drives the report, and are brought into its economic analysis to give it ground, not vice-versa. They are its premises. It is eco-centric. It starts from the premises that Monbiot himself seems to start from — the determinism developed by his gurus, Bill Hamilton and Richard Dawkins.

A while ago, Monbiot considered one of Dawkins’ theories — memetics — and what it could tell us about the phenomenon of climate change denial. Monbiot was upset by the torrent of criticism he was receiving under the line of his articles posted the Guardian website, Comment is Free and elsewhere.

Scrambled up in these comment threads are the memes planted in the public mind by the professional deniers employed by fossil fuel companies. On the Guardian’s forums, you’ll find endless claims that the hockey stick graph of global temperatures has been debunked; that sunspots are largely responsible for current temperature changes; that the world’s glaciers are advancing; that global warming theory depends entirely on computer models; that most climate scientists in the 1970s were predicting a new ice age. None of this is true, but it doesn’t matter. The professional deniers are paid not to win the argument but to cause as much confusion and delay as possible. To judge by the Comment threads, they have succeeded magnificently.

The idea is highly mechanistic. It uses an analogy of genetics, to suggest that ideas proliferate in the same way. Ideas are like genes, says the theory. Just as genes which are better adapted to their physical environment proliferate, so memes — ideas — which are best adapted to culture also proliferate. Says Monbiot,

In his fascinating book Carbon Detox, George Marshall argues that people are not persuaded by information. Our views are formed by the views of the people with whom we mix. Of the narratives that might penetrate these circles, we are more likely to listen to those that offer us some reward. A story that tells us that the world is cooking and that we’ll have to make sacrifices for the sake of future generations is less likely to be accepted than the more rewarding idea that climate change is a conspiracy hatched by scheming governments and venal scientists, and that strong, independent-minded people should unite to defend their freedoms.

This is the highly mechanistic view of humans that Monbiot now claims to reject. It says that humans do not make decisions, or engage with the ideas they are exposed to, but instead respond to memes engineered by giant corporations. This is surely the tin-foil-hat theory of climate change denial. Yet it appeals to Monbiot, because it belittles the humans — mere machines — who refuse to obey him, and explains their disobedience. Equipped with such a view, Monbiot does not have to answer any criticism. The automata who criticise him are sub-human.

If humans really are the mechanistic objects that memetics and biological determinism maintain they are, this creates a problem for Monbiot, the biological determinist. If humans really ‘aren’t persuaded by information’, and their ideas and values are mere fictions, what does this say about the ‘the wonder and delight’ invoked by ‘nature’? Isn’t it as arbitrary as anything else we think or feel? What then, is the point of trying to protect it?

The climate debate is presented by Monbiot as a matter of straightforward scientific facts to which we must respond by reorganising society. But behind these are many further claims — many of which are about humanity.  They range from the metaphysical, such as his theory of memes, through to the mythological, such as his views of nature as a system of checks and balance. Like most environmentalists, the role that ‘nature’ plays in Monbiot’s arguments is comprehensive. Everything is understood through an eco-centric perspective, from humans themselves, through to ‘communities’, society, economics, and politics. Problems within them are accordingly naturalised, and seen as a matter of disequilibrium, to which nature, as ‘sustainability’ and ‘balance’ — all represented by statistics — are the solutions. These claims amount to a political ideology or even a theocracy, though nothing like as coherent.

The urgency with which the climate issue is forced up the political agenda comes at the expense of environmental ideology being either understood or tested. Monbiot’s ravings epitomise this state of affairs. His argument is both inconsistent, and incoherent. He vacillates between arguments that he finds necessary one moment, but uncomfortable the next. The spectacle really is like the environmental movement in microcosm: riven through with contradiction, it tears itself apart. Dare to point out the problem, and rather than be offered a better, more coherent account, you will be guilty of the most heinous crimes: to wish death on the world, to deny truth itself, and worst of all, to be motivated by better-formulated ideas about the world than he has. Until he works out that he represents simultaneously the worst of the establishment and ‘radical’ environmentalism, Monbiot’s scribbling will continue to serve as useful insight into the twisted, crisis-ridden logic of both.

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