Monthly Archives: February 2012

I’ve got myself into trouble recently, for using words like ‘idiot’ too often. Especially on twitter. Here’s my favourite:

#Moronbiot

Am I reaching the end of my vocabulary?

James Delingpole seems equally frustrated. He’s written about “Why I am so Rude to Warmists

It was prompted when I very vocally expressed my disgust at one of the standard phrases trotted out by Warmists and other eco-loons in these debates (as, of course, inevitably, they did again on Sunday): the one about “preserving the planet for future generations”.

You can be sure that there is very little thought behind the kinds of trite little pieties Delingpole alludes to. At best, they are nothing more than a form of moral blackmail, by individuals who have no better reason to explain to anyone else why they have a public profile. In Delingpole’s case, he was sharing a car with the person who uttered the hollow piety on the way back from a BBC debate.

As Delingpole explains,

Does anyone imagine that back in 1012 they were all agonising about how the children of the future might cope in 2012, what with all the scarce resources being used up at an alarming rate to make ships and spears and light warning beacons for the next Viking raid? Somehow I don’t think so. Yet this is precisely the kind of unutterable boll***s you hear being advanced almost every day by people like this liberal-leftie media type with whom I had my big row.

It is indeed utter, utter boll***s as James calls it.

So how to counter it? I share Delingpole’s frustration. “The answer is, of course, that there is no counter.”

He has a point. How can one reason with nonsense?

There is clearly a yawning casm — if not between climate alarmists and reality, then certainly between people who believe in the words they are uttering and people who simply don’t. The really interesting thing about the claim to be speaking “for future generations” is that it doesn’t matter how many people think you’re talking bollocks, you can claim the moral high-ground — you’re speaking for people who don’t exist yet, and who aren’t able to tell you that you’re talking complete bollocks, as well as thinking it.

In short, pretending to care for people who don’t exist is a fantastic ruse for people who don’t give a toss about people in the present.

One of my politics lecturers used to call deep differences in society ‘cleavages’. There’s an obvious pun in that, too. But it’s a good word, which describes how tensions emerge between groups of people, ultimately causing some political change or another.

Speaking of which…

I have no idea who Brian Palmer of Slate Magazine is… But he writes

I just finished reading The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, in which Steven Pinker argues that violence in all forms has diminished over the past few centuries. That’s good for people, of course, but it got me thinking about the environment. How does war affect the planet?

I mentioned Pinker’s book a few posts ago. The pessimists of the world believe that wars are becoming more frequent, and thus we are moving closer to some kind of Armageddon. But in fact, the opposite is true, as Pinker shows. The world is far safer than it ever has been. But talk to people — especially greens, and they don’t think so. They are ever less certain about the world and the future.

So even when they are confronted with the facts, miserablists still have to search for a reason to see bad in the good. Brian Palmer’s question looks to me like such a gesture… ‘Huh, so few babies are dying and there are fewer wars… But so what… What about the trees?’

Yeah, what about the trees?

The human and financial costs of armed conflict are so vast that few people have stopped to consider what war does to rivers, trees, and elephants. In recent years, academics have been much more interested in how environmental degradation contributes to war than in how wars degrade the environment. In addition, no two wars affect the planet in the same way. The environmental devastation from a nuclear war, for example, would be difficult to estimate in advance.

Yes, we should all be really worried about the effects of war on trees.

From this side of the cleavage, I’m wondering what the hell Palmer is on about. If a couple of trees get knocked down in an exchange of nuclear weapons… Well, I really don’t care. Where is Palmer’s moral compass? Who really cares about the environment of a war zone, in which people are being killed?

And it’s not even ‘future generations’ Palmer seems to be moved about,

Armies used to defeat each other by killing huge numbers of enemies in direct battle. Today, military strategists try to undermine the enemy’s war machine with less bloodshed. That usually means occupying huge swaths of land and destroying the industrial infrastructure. In other words, as war becomes safer for humans, it may be increasingly dangerous for the planet.

This is just extraordinary bullshit in so many respects. Is Palmer’s claim that, rather than taking direct aim at people’s heads, soldiers now just blow up factories, and that this is worse? It would seem so…

One need only observe peacetime accidents to see what terror a bomb could unleash if dropped on a modern chemical factory. At the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984, water infiltrated into a tank holding methyl isocyanate. The mixture caused an explosion that contaminated the surrounding area, killing thousands. Attacks on chemical plants are entirely possible. President Clinton ordered the bombing of a Sudanese factory in 1998 precisely because he thought it was stocked with dangerous chemicals.

Apart from the fact that Palmer seems to be calling for the good old days of war, when men stood opposite men with swords and spears… It looks like he has invented a whole new form of warfare that nobody has ever thought of before: targeting industry and infrastructure to stop the enemy. Gosh… Imagine how much sooner WWII would have ended, had the Allies and Axis powers had thought of such horrific tactics… Oh, hang on a minute…

Who says it’s wrong to call environmentalists morons, idiots, and to say that they talk ‘unutterable bollocks’? Maybe we’re just not rude enough.

<em>Published on Spiked-Online at http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/12163/</em>

When internal documents from a libertarian think tank – the Heartland Institute, known for its sceptical views on climate change – were published on the internet recently, climate-change activists around the world were elated. The leak seemed to reveal the existence of a conspiracy to distort science and impede political progress on solving climate change, just as activists had claimed. But the celebrations turned sour when one of the documents turned out to be fake, and the remainder turned out to reveal nothing remarkable. Rather than telling us anything about organised ‘climate-change denial’, this silly affair reveals much more about environmentalists.

One of the endlessly recurring themes of the environmental narrative is – in the words of the man at the centre of the ‘Fakegate’ mess, water and climate researcher Peter Gleick – that an ‘anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated’ effort exists ‘to cast doubt on climate science’, and ‘muddy public understanding about climate science and policy’. According to this mythology, right-leaning think tanks are funded by big energy companies that are keen to protect their profits from environmental regulation.

There are two problems for environmentalists convinced by this mythology.

The first is that it has never been plausible. Large corporations do not suffer from regulation. They are simply able to pass costs on to the consumer. Moreover, regulation creates firm ground on which to base longer-term strategic decisions about capital investments. And finally, regulation creates opportunities for companies that are able to mobilise resources to enter new markets. Wind farms, for example, are not cottage industries. Regulation suits larger companies.

The second problem for environmentalists has been to demonstrate that the myth is anything more than a myth. An ongoing Greenpeace project launched in 2004, for instance, aimed to provide a ‘database of information on the corporate-funded anti-environmental movement’. However, the sums of money involved were paltry. According to Greenpeace, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, one of the most vilified organisations, had received just $2million from Exxon between 1998 and 2005. Yet between 1994 and 2005, total donations to Greenpeace amounted to over $2 billion. According to the greens’ conspiratorial narrative, a handful of conservative think tanks with relatively small resources were seemingly able to undo the campaigning of a host of huge international environmental NGOs, national governments, international agencies, and yes, corporate interests, whose combined resources were many, many thousands of times greater.

The myth of the climate change denier exists in the heads of environmentalists, and seems to prevent them entering into conversation with anyone that dares to criticise environmentalism. The crusade of ‘communicating’ climate change is not a project that involves an exchange of views. To criticise environmentalism is to ‘deny The Science’, no matter how incoherent the environmentalist’s grasp of science or how lacking his or her sense of proportion.

It must be for that reason that, when Gleick was invited to speak at an event held by the Heartland Institute, he refused. Instead of taking the opportunity to bring ‘The Science’ to ‘the deniers’, he created an email account using the name of a Heartland Institute board member. With this, he emailed an administrator at the think tank, requesting internal documents be forwarded to the spoofed inbox ’ a tactic known as ‘phishing’ in bank fraud.

Gleick has now confessed to soliciting the Heartland’s internal documents. However, it was the contents of a strategy document which caused the most interest from environmentalists, and the Heartland Institute claim that this memo was faked. Gleick claims that he was not the author of the faked document, and that it was emailed to him from an anonymous source. He set up the fake email account in order to establish the document’s authenticity, to see if it would be corroborated by the documents he sought.

This seems to be a somewhat implausible account of events, not least because it was the hammy wording of the document that led to immediate speculation that Gleick was the author. A number of sceptics observed that the author of the faked document was either vain or intent on flattering Gleick, and was unable convincingly to produce a document that could have been written by climate sceptics. As Megan McArdleobserved in the Atlantic: ‘Basically, it reads like it was written from the secret villain lair in a Batman comic. By an intern.’

But speculation about the identity of the author is pointless. And so, too, is speculation about how much of what was claimed by the faked document is true. The documents reveal that the Heartland Institute took $4,638,398 (about £3million) in receipts in 2011. This is, by campaigning standards, very small beer, and only part of that went towards the Institute’s global-warming campaign. To put that figure into perspective, an article in Time magazine recently revealed ‘that between 2007 and 2010, the Sierra Club accepted over $25million [£15.7million] in donations… mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy—one of the biggest gas-drilling companies in the US and a firm heavily involved in fracking – to help fund the Club’s Beyond Coal campaign’.

It would seem that fossil-fuel companies give far greater sums to environmental campaigning organisations in order to score advantage over rival fossil-fuel companies than they give to anti-environmental campaigning organisations. Yet environmentalists the world over were jumping up and down after the stolen documents apparently showed that the Charles G Koch Charitable Foundation – funded by the much loathed Koch Industries, which has substantial energy interests – had itself funded the Heartland Institute. At last, environmentalists were able to connect an energy giant with a conservative think tank. But Koch only gave $25,000 (£16,000) in 2011, and that donation was earmarked for a project that had nothing to do with global warming: the Institute’s healthcare newsletter service.

But a sense of proportion isn’t something that bothers environmental activists and journalists. It did not stop them believing that their mythology had finally been made real. ‘Leak exposes how Heartland Institute works to undermine climate science’, said the Guardian‘s Suzanne Goldenburg, adding: ‘Libertarian think tank keeps prominent sceptics on its payroll and relies on millions in funding from carbon industry, papers suggest.’ Except the documents didn’t suggest it at all, it was simply a figment of Goldenburg’s imagination. In the same newspaper, and making heavy use of the faked document, Leo Hickman smugly announced that ‘If you like your hypocrisy sandwiches served with a side order of double standards, then these leaked documents are certainly the place to dine out’.

There is no doubting that these journalistic idiots – and many more besides – were duped. But in fact they were convinced of the story before the documents were even published. They had fooled themselves. And when the forgery was revealed, the facts faded even further away from their focus. Many journalists even tried to present Gleick as a hero. Naomi Kleintweeted that Gleick ‘took big risks to bring important truths about the deniers to light’. George Monbiot declared Gleick a ‘democratic hero’, and that ‘he has done something of benefit to society’. Monbiot went on to chastise Telegraph columnist, Christopher Booker, for failing to declare that he had received a $1,000 honorarium from the Heartland Institute, for speaking at its annual climate-change conference.

Is it really plausible that a journalist such as Booker has been bought for a measly thousand bucks? Or is Monbiot, like many others, pointing at trivialities to sustain the environmental mythology. Elsewhere in the Guardian, climate-change ethical philosopher James Garvey reveals the truth in his question: ‘If Gleick frustrates the efforts of Heartland, isn’t his lie justified by the good that it does?’ Environmentalists are so convinced of their cause that it is the only moral absolute. The Guardian, a newspaper which makes such a virtue of ‘ethics’, and of ‘transparency’ – especially in the climate debate – now seems to be saying ‘it’s okay to lie’.

The environmental movement is as promiscuous with its ‘ethics’ as it is with ‘The Science’. You can make stuff up, apparently, just so long as you do so in order to ‘save the planet’. And this is why sums as paltry and insignificant as $1,000 are so important to their perspective. It is only by amplifying the trivial that the myth of ‘networks’ of ‘well-funded deniers’ can be sustained. It’s only when you lose a sense of proportion that a few million dollars can stop global action on climate change. Trivia, vanity and mythology allows environmentalists to turn ordinary facts of politics – funding, associations of people, and campaigning organisations – into secret conspiracies to explain their own failure to create a popular movement.

I have a post up on Spiked about Fakegate.

One of the endlessly recurring themes of the environmental narrative is – in the words of the man at the centre of the ‘Fakegate’ mess, water and climate researcher Peter Gleick – that an ‘anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated’ effort exists ‘to cast doubt on climate science’, and ‘muddy public understanding about climate science and policy’. According to this mythology, right-leaning think tanks are funded by big energy companies that are keen to protect their profits from environmental regulation.

Read on.

It was written through the fug of flu. What I wanted to get at is just how powerful ecological mythology seems to be. It seems to reduce even people with advanced scientific degrees to complete intellectual zombies. The idea that an outfit with a budget of £3 million can compete with the INGOs, governments, and the business interests in the green sector simply makes no sense whatsoever.

James Murray is the editor of BusinessGreen.com . Here are his tweets about the Heartland document leak.

The faux-outrage of the ecological righteous about this is amazing, given that they can’t actually say what the Heartland Documents reveal which isn’t applicable to the strategies of the environmental movement, in spades. And James Murray’s tweets and blog posts epitomise the hypocrisy and double standards.

Take, for instance, this warming from him that companies must be consistent…

what this scandal reveals is that if you are going to commit to developing greener business models, you cannot pick and mix which parts of your business get involved. Failure to enact genuinely company-wide change programmes means you are always at risk of seeing otherwise admirable green initiatives undermined by less progressive activities elsewhere in the business.

[…]

Any business that is publicly committed to a greener future needs to know who it is working with, who it is funding, and how its lobbying activities are managed. Failure to undertake this due diligence and ensure all lobbying activities are in line with the company’s wider green commitments leaves an organisation facing the risk that one day a conscientious individual will reveal their support for anti-environmental campaigns. In one swoop, any hopes of establishing a company as a green leader can be lost for a generation. And that is the kind of surprise no green executive wants to face.

Murray is threatening anyone who might dare deal with the Heartland or any other organisation that publicly questions or challenges climate change policies.

And yet, is Murray’s own house in order?

No.

BusinessGreen.com is owned by Incisive Media, which operate a fair number of specialist magazines, covering a range of industrial sectors. Amongst the portfolio are these, surprisingly un-green publications:

Global Technology Forum (GTF) provides senior engineering professionals and executives in the refining and petrochemical sector with leading technical conferences and training events. GTF has recently expanded its coverage of this important sector with its new website, GTForum.com. With a comprehensive global coverage of the downstream oil sector, GTForum is perfectly positioned to meet the needs of industry professionals all over the world.

Energy Risk Online is the leading digital subscription service dedicated to risk management, trading, regulation and trading technology for the global energy and commodities markets. The content of the publication has been described as required reading by chief financial officers, treasurers, chief risk officers, trading heads and fund managers around the globe. With world developments driving volatility in the global oil, gas and power markets, the need for a reliable source of information on risk management and financing is greater than ever.

Guess what… Behind Business Green is a company which trades with and profits from the fossil fuel industry. Tadaaaaaa! Look! A massive conspiracy!

Of course not. But then, neither is there much to the story that is currently exciting environmentalists and people like James Murray, who doesn’t seem to know whether his role is the editor of a trade journal, the director of a business lobbying organisation, or just a propagandist. It’s confusing of course, in these uncertain times. No wonder he’s so confused about the Heartland documents.

I haven’t had the chance to have much of a look at what some climate activists are calling the ‘sceptics climategate’.

Except it isn’t. The sums of money involved here are minute, compared to the budgets of companies, NGOs, governments and bodies like the EU and UN to spend on environmental propaganda.

And this epitomises yet again the environmentalist’s failure to develop a sense of proportion. Not only are the Heartland’s funds dwarfed, there is no substantial relationship between it, the state, and other policy-making processes, as there are between NGOs, national governments, scientific research organisations and the UN, and of course, huge firms.

It is amazing to see how the environmental movement responds to challenges to its claims, authority, and privileged access to policy-makers. The UK’s GWPF has a budget a fraction of the size even of the Heartland Institute, yet activists seem to believe that Nigel Lawson and Benny Peiser have between them prevented the possibility of the much sought-after international agreement on carbon emissions.

The documents allegedly reveal that some funding came from oil interests. If so, again the question is ‘why so little’? If oil companies really were concerned about protecting themselves from regulation (in fact corporates benefit from tight regulation), why wouldn’t they spend $tens or $hundreds of billions on campaigns? Why wouldn’t they spend $billions — they have the resources, after all. But, of course, this ‘oil companies fund denial’ nonsense is a zombie argument; it’s been put back to death so many times, it’s barely worth repeating: oil companies also fund research and organisations that are impeccably green. As do people with substantial interests in oil — my favourite being Jeremy Grantham, who employs climate big mouth, Bob Ward at the Grantham institute. Grantham funded the Grantham Institute to the tune of £12 million — way more than the budget available to the Heartland — presumably, some of which came from dividends from the $1.5 billion dollars he has invested in oil company stock.

None of this bothers Bob Ward though, who is shamelessly tweeting about the leaked documents, as though there were no flies on him.

Ditto, green activists all over the web and twitter, as if they really had uncovered a conspiracy: a hidden network of relationships between huge firms, governments, secretive and undemocratic international agencies, and other vested interests.

But that description still much better suits the environmental movement.

These alarmists — aren’t they! — have got hold of a number of strategy documents that might just as easily have been produced by the environmental movement, to discuss budgets, ways to intervene in the climate debate, how to do PR, and organise research. There’s nothing dodgy about that — it’s the way contemporary politics works. Strategy documents and business plans are not very exciting.

In contrast, Climategate — which I’ve never actually had much time for — surprised people, because the environmental movement had made claims about researchers’ unimpeachable moral conduct, and pure, unadulterated scientific research.

The message from all this must be that the environmentalists who bang on about funding must be very, very desperate indeed to find ways of avoiding debate about climate change.

I have an article over at Spiked about the way climate change alarmism seems to hide in the most remote locations.

A study published in Nature last week has found that the effects of climate change on Himalayan glaciers have been overstated. But rather than facing up to their alarmism, those who have been guilty of exaggeration remain as unreflective as ever. Perhaps they are intent on continuing to make political and moral capital out of the possibility of climate catastrophe.

Read on…

<em>Published on Spiked-Online at http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/12113/</em>

study published in Nature last week has found that the effects of climate change on Himalayan glaciers have been overstated. But rather than facing up to their alarmism, those who have been guilty of exaggeration remain as unreflective as ever. Perhaps they are intent on continuing to make political and moral capital out of the possibility of climate catastrophe.

The researchers behind the study recorded the progress of ice caps and glaciers throughout the world over an eight-year period in order to estimate their contribution to sea-level rise. The scientists were reportedly ‘stunned’ by their findings: the Himalayan glaciers weren’t as sensitive to climate change as had been previously thought. Nonetheless, the message has not changed. ‘People should be just as worried about the melting of the world’s ice as they were before’, they said.

The researchers claim that, in spite of the non-melting Himalayan glaciers, the rate at which ice throughout the world is melting remains a cause for worry because sea levels are still rising. But then sea levels have been rising for all of recorded history and for thousands of years before. Even at the current rate of rising, global sea levels will be just 30 centimetres higher in a century’s time – an increase that would be dwarfed by a modest wave on a beach. It’s hardly the stuff of disaster movies.

Among the litany of claims about climate change, sea-level rise is one of the most tangible. But a sober reading of the literature put out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does not support the alarmist message or the claim that immediate and drastic action is needed to mitigate climate change. Of course, that’s not to say that climate change isn’t a problem, but rather that it’s not as urgent as often claimed. It’s a problem that could be solved in good time and without the kind of reorganisation of the world that environmentalists demand.

But because this reality doesn’t suit the policies environmentalists want to bring about, more dramatic images are constantly called for. Greens have long traded in icy icons to advance their cause. For example, in his 2006 Oscar-winning doc, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore warned about the peaks of Kilimanjaro becoming ice-free. In fact, there was good evidence that the disappearance had been taking place since the nineteenth century, and had nothing at all to do with us driving cars – as implied in the film.

Then there is the annual ritual of shrill panic-peddling about the melting of Arctic sea ice. Each summer brings fresh speculations about how many years the sea ice will remain at the pole. As I have pointed out previously on spiked, when one out of six new studies showed that a new record had been set for Arctic sea ice extent, the Guardian’s Damian Carrington declared: ‘Ice is the white flag being waved by our planet, under fire from the atmospheric attack being mounted by humanity.’ It didn’t matter that none of the other five datasets warranted Carrington’s doom-mongering, the anomalous outlier gave his fantasy plausibility anyway. Environmental alarmism is nothing if it isn’t promiscuous with ‘scientific evidence’.

Perhaps even worse is that other story from the Arctic, told ad infinitum: the plight of the poor polar bear. The melting Arctic is, according to the claims of many environmentalists, depriving this creature of its natural habitat and so it is in danger of extinction. But this story is wildly exaggerated, too, including in the BBC’s recent Frozen Planet series.

In a letter to the Radio Times, Nigel Lawson of the Global Warming Policy Foundation rebutted many of the series’ claims, including the one about the polar bear population falling. In truth, Lawson wrote, it is rising. Environmentalists were apoplectic. Polar oceanographer Dr Mark Brandon, from the Open University, issued a rebuttal after claiming that Lawson’s article had been ‘patronising, wrong and the usual tired obfuscation and generalisation’. Yet a closer examinationof the research cited by Brandon suggests a very different picture. In fact, there is only sufficient data to say that one out of 19 sub-populations of polar bears is in decline. Polar bear populations had been estimated as being in decline in spite of evidence to the contrary. Overall, and based on actual population studies, there is good evidence that polar bear numbers have increased, as Lawson said.

So how come scientists and environmental journalists are so often ‘stunned’ when data from the real world turns up to challenge the view of the world that exists within their heads? Tom Chivers of the Telegraph graciously informs us that ‘when we learn something unexpected about climate change, it’s because the much-derided climate scientists have found it’. So it’s not thanks to the sceptics interrogating the alarmists’ claims – no, never! But Chivers’ haughtiness was premature. What needs explaining is not who discovered what – the scientists or the ‘deniers’ – but how alarmist claims about climate change always seem to precede the evidence, such that researchers believe the negative picture before the science has delivered a verdict.

After all, scientists – as much as environmental activists – emphasise dramatic stories, and they often do so on the scantest evidence. Expertise does not preclude the reproduction of hysteria about the imminent collapse of the world’s glaciers, ice caps or polar bear populations and the subsequent inundation of all the world’s cities by floods, the drying up of resources, the creation of ‘climate refugees’, chaos and war. These are the views produced and reproduced uncritically by experts.

What concerns this sceptic when it comes to that kind of climate alarmism and the bizarre politics it produces, is the possibility that all too often stories precede science. There is a widespread idea that there are actual and robust measurements of polar bear populations, the extent of glaciers, the rate of sea-level rise, and the extent of polar sea ice. But in each of these cases, closer examination of the available evidence reveals the role of guesswork in the estimation of these ‘indicators’ of climate change and its effects. Worse still, perhaps, is the possibility that these ‘indicators’ are presupposed to be in decline for no other reason than the truism ‘climate change is happening’.

Once you presuppose that climate change is happening, it doesn’t take a leap of faith to incorporate the assumption into models to estimate the health of polar bear populations, the progress of glaciers, and the vulnerability of Arctic sea ice. There were no data showing polar bears and Himalayan glaciers to be in terminal decline. Even measurements of Arctic sea ice only extend back to 1979. And so knowledge which is patchy, based on sparse data, estimates and guesswork is fitted into an encompassing storyline of climate change. Really, they ought to remain disconnected stories, at least until more robust studies can show otherwise.

The most extreme conditions on the planet are naturally the least accessible and therefore the least understood. Such regions aren’t simply distant; our primary access to them is through the imagination. It is no coincidence, then, that stories about climate change seem to be located at the hottest, highest, deepest and coldest parts of the world. The most alarming stories about climate change rest where there is the least data. Like explorers in search of Yeti, climate researchers hunt frozen landscapes hoping to make the myth a reality.

You have to admire the shameless abuse of words… Even when alarmists are being honest, they’re being dishonest.

Damien Carrington — who is head of environment at the Guardian, which tells you almost everything you need to know about what’s going on inside his head (if at all) — writes about the discovery that Himalayan glaciers may not have been as vulnerable as previously thought

The Himalayas and nearby peaks have lost no ice in past 10 years, study shows
Meltwater from Asia’s peaks is much less than previously estimated, but lead scientist says the loss of ice caps and glaciers around the world remains a serious concern

It’s a don’t-rush-back-into-the-water moment, isn’t it. {Cue ‘Jaws’ theme}.

Carrington quotes one of the researchers behind the study,

People should be just as worried about the melting of the world’s ice as they were before. […] The new data does not mean that concerns about climate change are overblown in any way. It means there is a much larger uncertainty in high mountain Asia than we thought. Taken globally all the observations of the Earth’s ice – permafrost, Arctic sea ice, snow cover and glaciers – are going in the same direction.

Hold on a minute. Environmentalists have been banging on about Himalayan Glaciers melting for bloody years. Even when it turned out that the IPCC had take a completely wrong figure from ‘grey literature’, the claim that Himalayan glaciers are vulnerable to melting persisted. For instance, only this week, Donald R. Prothero, who claims to have been ‘Professor of Geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena’, writes in an article called ‘How We Know Global Warming is Real and Human Caused‘, that,

Glaciers are all retreating at the highest rates ever documented. Many of those glaciers, especially in the Himalayas, Andes, Alps, and Sierras, provide most of the freshwater that the populations below the mountains depend upon—yet this fresh water supply is vanishing. Just think about the percentage of world’s population in southern Asia (especially India) that depend on Himalayan snowmelt for their fresh water. The implications are staggering.

Not only was doubt cast over the pace of Himalayan Glacial retreat by the IPCC/2035 claim, it was widely reported at the same time that the dependence on the glaciers by Asia’s population was massively over-stated too. What sceptics have tried to explain is that, when you overstate things like the speed of change and the human consequences of that change, other people naturally start to question the argument. It’s no good restating the same mythology that existed before, in defence of the idea that we ‘know’ that ‘climate change is happening’ and that ‘we caused it’.

And the same is true of the most recent discovery. Of course it means “that concerns about climate change are overblown”. What else could it possibly mean, when one of the concerns turns out — yet again, as it happens — to have been overblown? How many times were the Himalayan glaciers pointed at? How many times did sceptics reply that there wasn’t sufficient data? how many times did alarmists claim in response that the sceptics had ‘denied the science’, and even that they were being paid for by Big Oil? I have quite definitely lost count. Donald R. Prothero, like many before him, tried to make the claim that a billion people depend on the glaciers. In just one discovery, we’ve established that Climate Change is a problem which has been reduced by that same magnitude. It’s a billion people less of a problem.

Elsewhere on the Guardian blogs, Leo Hickman asks,

Are the world’s glaciers threatened by climate change?
A Nature study has shocked researchers by finding that the Himalayas have lost no ice over the past decade. Leo Hickman, with your help, investigates. Get in touch below the line, email your views to leo.hickman@guardian.co.uk or tweet @leohickman

It’s an interesting inversion of traditional journalism.

In the past, journalists went out to discover things. They then formulated an argument about what they had researched and wrote about it. (Assuming that they didn’t just make it up in the pub). And then it would be read by readers, who, presumably, then made up their mind about the article given their confidence in the journalist, and the quality of the article. Now, however, it seems it is the readers who are being asked to do the research, and then the journalist makes up his mind…

If quoting figures to support your points, please provide a link to the source. I am particularly seeking links to data and papers which show the wider, global picture regarding the impact of climate change on glaciers, and, crucially, the impact on humans and habitats if they do melt. I will also be inviting various interested parties to join the debate, too. And later on today, I will return with my own verdict.

I will return with my own verdict, he promises, from ‘pon high. All of which begs the question, what is the point of Leo Hickman? We can all go and do our own research, and read it alongside others’, and form our own analyses; Hickman adds no value to the process of journalism — journalism 2.0… perhaps?

Adam Curtis produced an interesting feature on a similar phenomenon — the decline of TV journalism — a while ago for an otherwise terrible TV programme… (Watch it, it’s brilliant).

I wonder if there’s something similar going on here. The real authority is in the blogosphere, the energy of which the Guardian has attempted to capture with this ‘live blogging’ thang. It’s no longer really enough to rehash the words of scientists with whichever alarmist slant the eco-hacks want to treat them with — it doesn’t really give purchase any longer. Sales are flagging. Even Guardian print readers are switching off to the alarmsim. The online edition seems to be the only way the organisation can sustain its presence. Climate change alarmism turns out to have very little to do with climate change.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if things you encounter in the climate debate are real, or clever works of fiction or satire.

For example, the website Trees Have Rights Too – ecological justice for all sounds to me very much like a joke, parodying the excesses of some eco-warrior. But it is in fact the website of Polly Higgins, the barrister-turned-Gaia’s-advocate, who really does think that non-human things have ‘rights’. The deranged lawyer wants to make a crime of ‘ecocide‘ comparable to genocide, because killing a nest of ants is a bit like the systematic murder of a race of people. Higgins view of people, then, is that they are no better than ants — so why not let them suffer?

Another crazy idea that has resurfaced recently is Jean-François Mouhot’s idea that

Once, men abused slaves. Now we abuse fossil fuels

Pointing out the similarities (and differences) between slavery and the use of fossil fuels can help us engage with climate change in a new way

In an article in the Guardian last week, Mouhot said,

Intriguing similarities between slavery and our current dependence on fossil-fuel-powered machines struck me: both perform roughly the same functions in society (doing the hard and dirty work that no one wants to do), both were considered for a long time to be acceptable by the majority and both came to be increasingly challenged as the harm they caused became more visible.

Back in 2008, I thought it was a joke when I came across the author making the same argument in an article in an edition of History Today. I blogged about it back then, but perhaps too verbosely. More briefly: the use of oil and slaves can only be moral equivalents of course, if we think oil is capable of subjective experience — will, in other words. There’s nothing about using a substance or an object which is ‘like’ using a person against their own will. Yet it takes an academic historian to wonder whether or not there is.

Trying people for ‘ecocide’ and making moral equivalents of slavery and burning oil speak about two, very much related phenomena: total moral disorientation, and the completely diminished view of humanity.

Which brings me to my most recent discovery, and which I still cannot quite believe, and which I am urging caution on, before any comments are made.

This email found its way to me…

Dear Author:

This is the official solicitation for open peer commentaries for the Summer issue of Ethics, Policy, and Environment (http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/cepe).

For this next issue, 15.2, we have selected a Target Article by Matthew Liao (NYU), Anders Sandberg (Oxford), and Rebecca Roache (Oxford) titled “Human Engineering and Climate Change.” The abstract follows:

Abstract: Anthropogenic climate change is arguably one of the biggest problems that confront us today. There is ample evidence that climate change is likely to affect adversely many aspects of life for all people around the world, and that existing solutions such as geoengineering might be too risky and behavioural and market solutions might not be sufficient to mitigate climate change. In this paper, we consider a new kind of solution to climate change, what we call human engineering, which involves biomedical modifications of humans so that they can mitigate and/or adapt to climate change. We argue that human engineering is potentially less risky than geoengineering and that could help behavioural and market solutions succeed in mitigating climate change. We also consider some possible ethical concerns regarding human engineering such as its safety, the implications of human engineering for our children and for the society, and we argue that these concerns can be addressed.  Our upshot is that human engineering deserves further consideration in the debate about climate change.

 We are now soliciting approximately 4-6 open commentaries in response to this article.  Potential commentators will be invited to write short 750-1500 word responses which will be published simultaneously with the lead target article.

[…]

Sincerely,

Benjamin Hale and Andrew Light

Co-editors

I have no idea how humans could be modified, so that they can become walking, talking solutions to climate change. And I have no idea how the authors make an argument that ‘ethical concerns’ about modifying people to become climate change solutions can be overcome. I am still not sure that it isn’t a joke.

However, the journal exists.  Ethics, Policy & Environment will cost you £109 for just three issues a year.

While Ethics, Policy & Environment centers on environmental ethics and policy, its substantive coverage is wider. Authors have been concerned with a range of subjects, such as applied environmental ethics, animal welfare, environmental justice, development ethics, sustainability, and cultural values relevant to environmental concerns. The journal also welcomes analyses of practical applications of environmental, energy technology, regional, and urban policies, as well as theoretically robust discussions of common arguments that appear throughout debates on environment and energy policy, either in the scholarly literature or in the broader civic sphere.

The articles authors, Matthew Liao (NYU), Anders Sandberg (Oxford), and Rebecca Roache, all seem to be real researchers at respectable institutions — Oxford and New York Universities.

More surprisingly, the journal doesn’t appear to be some half-baked vanity project either. Roger Pielke Jr. and Max Boykoff are listed as Associate Editors, and the Utilitarian moral philosopher, Peter Singer is on the journal’s editorial board.

Academia is of course an area where ideas should be free. (And again, we should wait until we’ve read the paper before leaping to too many conclusions.) But it is increasingly the case that academia isn’t where ideas are free: it is increasingly the place where unorthodox ideas and opinions are shut down, and where independence, which gave the freedom to speak truth to power has been sold off, to instead speak official truth for power. The demand for ‘evidence-based policy-making’ has forced the colonisation of the academy.

Whimsies such as pondering ‘I wonder if it is right to subject people to biological modifications to suit my political ambitions’ once had little or no application outside the stuffy old ethics corridor in the philosophy faculty. Questions about ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin’ did not concern many outside the quad. But increasingly, the university department has had to prove its value in the real world.

All three researchers, you see, work at the Oxford Martin School (OMS) at the University of Oxford. The slogan on the website of the OMS boasts that they are ‘TACKLING 21ST CENTURY CHALLENGES”. Says their about page:

The Oxford Martin School was founded as the James Martin 21st Century School at the University of Oxford in 2005 through the vision and generosity of Dr James Martin. It is a unique interdisciplinary research initiative tackling global future challenges.

Our mission: to foster innovative thinking, interdisciplinary scholarship and collaborative activity to address the most pressing risks and realise important new opportunities of the 21st century.

There are two main focuses for our work:

Research – supporting forward-looking and interdisciplinary research to address 21st century challenges and opportunities.

Impact – fostering impact-oriented initiatives and facilitating public engagement that will influence policy and effect positive change on a global scale.

Moreover, within the OMS is yet another little school, to which at least one of the authors belong:

The Future of Humanity Institute is a multidisciplinary research institute at the University of Oxford.  It enables a select set of leading intellects to bring careful thinking to bear on big-picture questions about humanity and its prospects.  The Institute belongs to the Faculty of Philosophy and the Oxford Martin School.

So it would seem that the journal article really does intend to offer to the world an ethical argument for the modification of humans, to deal with climate change.

But we will have to see what that is. Perhaps it will make us less sensitive or vulnerable to temperature. Perhaps it will a modification that allows us to run really really fast, so that we no longer need to use cars. Or perhaps it’s a device that makes us more obedient. I look forward to finding out.

Meanwhile, there is more to be said about the institutions that have been set up in Oxford.

The Future of Humanity Institute is the leading research centre looking at big-picture questions for human civilization. The last few centuries have seen tremendous change, and this century might transform the human condition in even more fundamental ways.  Using the tools of mathematics, philosophy, and science, we explore the risks and opportunities that will arise from technological change, weigh ethical dilemmas, and evaluate global priorities.  Our goal is to clarify the choices that will shape humanity’s long-term future.

One of the things I’ve tried to stress on this blog is the difference between positively and negatively defined ideas about humanity and its future. The institutions at Oxford, it seems, have founded themselves on the idea that the ‘big-picture questions for human civilisation’ come from without. Climate change and other risks seem to ‘define’ this generation — it doesn’t get to define itself.

Let’s call the bluff on this idea that the institute is exploring ‘big questions’. The preoccupation with risks is not about finding and answering ‘big questions for human civilisation’. Institutions such as this are simply performances, which act out the narratives that reflect the political establishment’s anxieties. Looking again at the homepage of the Future of Humanity Institute, it is clear that it is preoccupied with ‘global catastrophic risk’, following the link, reveals the claim that,

Global catastrophic risks are risks that seriously threaten human well-being on a global scale. An immensely diverse collection of events could constitute global catastrophes: potential factors range from volcanic eruptions to pandemic infections, nuclear accidents to worldwide tyrannies, out-of-control scientific experiments to climatic changes, and cosmic hazards to economic collapse.

The Future of Humanity Institute is simply cashing in on contemporary scare stories, and the fashion for political ideas to be grounded, not on ideas about progress, liberty, or development, but on catastrophe, disaster, and the impossibility of any form of progress. The purpose of such exercises is to arm increasingly disoriented and disconnected public bodies with legitimacy and purpose. Insofar as the Oxford Martin School, and the Future of Humanity Institute are the coming together of the academy and policy-making worlds, then, they also represent the point at which the establishment sticks its head up its arse.

From the pages of the Guardian

Use Rio+20 to overhaul idea of growth, urges EU climate chief
Connie Hedegaard says GDP model of growth causes overconsumption, drives up commodity prices and ignores the environment

Connie Hedegaard is the European Commissioner for Climate Action. It would be easy to think with such a role, and expressing such sentiments that she was something of a lefty, but she in fact belongs to the Danish Conservative Peoples Party.

The Graun continues:

The world must use a landmark environmental summit this year to change forever the current damaging model of economic growth, Europe’s climate chief has warned, or face future crises as severe as the one currently enveloping the eurozone.

Overconsumption of critical resources, and the rising prices of key commodities such as food, energy and natural materials as a result, risk derailing the world economy – but these problems will not be tackled unless today’s economic models are overhauled, according to Connie Hedegaard, EU commissioner for climate action. That is because judging economic growth purely on the basis of production and consumption, as happens now, encourages rampant overconsumption and fails to value the natural environment.

Fiona Harvey — who wrote the article — has little in the way of a faculty of reflection. I’ve met her, and she’s nothing if not zealous. This article is an argument for the complete change to the global economy, on the say so of some figures who are even more self-regarding than the author. Fine, Fiona, Connie (and Joseph Stiglitz gets a mention too), you want to change the world and save the planet. These are noble aims. But the idea that it should be changed at conferences in Rio, rather than by the actual inhabitants of the planet is surely a problem. Why doesn’t Harvey write instead ‘big-headed climate twonk wants to change the world through an entirely undemocratic institution’? Environmentalists, although bang on about ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’ are the first to put aside such concepts when, as ends, threaten to deprive them of means.

Shock, horror, slightly thick Guardian eco-hack doesn’t think idea through. We’re talking about Hedegaard here… The journalism is merely disappointing, the politics is disgusting. Says Hedegaard:

“The 21st century must have a more intelligent growth model, or else it’s really difficult to see how we feed 7 billion people now and 9 billion people [by 2050],” she said. “Resources were cheap before, but it seems we are in for a period where resources become more and more expensive. Oil is coming up in price, so many other commodities are coming up in price. Food prices are rising. We need to deal with this.”

The Commissioner’s solutions are, of course, ways of producing energy that are more than twice as expensive as the resources they are intended to replace. But resources could be cheap once again, were commissioners to argue for R&D in sectors that could produce energy for less, in increasing abundance: new nuclear techniques, for instance, or new ways of exploiting gas, oil, and coal. The more expedient story for undemocratic and unaccountable commissioners, however, is that ‘stuff is running out’. It’s not.

“This is an opportunity to rethink [how we measure growth],” Hedegaard told the Guardian. “The knowledge is out there, the analysis has been done. We can take this decision in Rio.”

Current models of growth prize only consumption and production, rating countries’ performance according to their GDP.

However, there is a growing belief among some economists that this long-standing model has outlived its usefulness, and provides no protection for the natural world. The Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz has been one of the leading voices calling for a change, and world leaders including David Cameron, the UK prime minister, have heeded the call, promising moves towards a broader definition of economic value.

“This has a lot of relevance to the euro crisis,” said Hedegaard. “We’re trying to make it clear that the climate change crisis is an economic crisis, a social and a job crisis – it should be seen as a whole. If we do not tackle these, we will be in crisis mode for many, many years.”

This is what Rio is really about. Politicians have given up on the idea of growth. I haven’t. You probably haven’t. But politicians, left and right alike, have. They don’t know how to deliver it, though they certainly still know how to keep it amongst their own. Growth, in the West, is in reality, off the agenda. And once there is a political consensus that this is the case, and that the job of politics is not about economics, but to save the world and make people happy (apart from money), you don’t need to ask the public for a mandate. You just need to have huge meetings every N years, to make real the sense that the world is about to end and that Something Must Be Done, and that therefore whatever happens in the political sphere is legitimate. The mandate comes from above — supranational, planet-saving political institutions — not from below, us. The rest is sheer Disney – a product of cold, faux sentimentality delivered by people only too happy to tread on your face. “We care“, they want to tell you.

Hedegaard reveals the truth. It was supposed to be about saving the planet, protecting the environment. But it soon turned out that it was much more about changing the human world, and of legitimising political institutions that struggle to identify their purpose. Things are running out, she claims, yet all indications are that there are more fossil fuels at our disposal than ever before. Where prices have risen, it is because of political uncertainties, created as often as not by politicians like Hedegaard, creating scarcity where there might easily be abundance. Sanctions, wars, environmental regulation: these are the things that have pushed up energy prices, not its depletion.

Post archive
  • 2014
  • 2013
  • 2012
  • 2011
  • 2010
  • 2009
  • 2008
  • 2007
  • 2006
  • 2002