A lot of hand-wringing is going on about those billboards which depict individuals known for their psychopathic tendency and their comments on the environment. The use of the image of Ted Kaczynski (AKA the Unabomber) seems to have caused particular offence to those who in fact seem to be delighting in taking offence, and relishing the opportunity to demand that climate change sceptics apologise for the billboard campaign, and condemn it and the Heartland Institute, even though they had nothing to do with it.
Take for instance, the words of Keith Kloor, who seems to be offering running commentary on the affair, as though it were an unfolding event with global significance…
5/6, 9:30am EST: At his blog, Andrew Montford says the ”reverberations are going to be felt for quite a while.” Then he proceeds, Anthony Watts style, to demonstrate his partisan tendencies by devoting the rest of his post to similar guilt-by-association tactics by climate advocacy blogs. As Leo Hickman lamented on Twitter [shorthand cleaned up] to Montford, “very sad that you, too, like Watts, couldn’t resist a ‘comparison’ drive-by rather than simply condemn.” After I seconded this, Montford tweeted: “I’m trying to understand why Heartland’s actions [are] considered so much worse than the others.”
I’m trying to understand how he can’t see the difference. Heartland’s posters were part of a public advertising campaign that included a detailed explanation for why Heartland believed they were appropriate. While Heartland has discontinued the billboards, it should be noted that they have not apologized or renounced the message they conveyed.
Montford had pointed out that the Guardian had published a number of articles online, which claimed that there was a significance in Anders Breivik’s comments on climate change, and his reference to climate sceptics in his manifesto:
If Leo thinks that Helmer should dissociate himself from Heartland, then presumably he thinks that the Guardian should remove Grist from its Environment Network?
The double standards are interesting. The implication of Kloor’s criticism is that Montford must unreservedly condemn the Heartland’s campaign, as though he were somehow implicated by it. In other words, that Montford isn’t entitled to ask questions about the standards being demanded of sceptics, by the likes of the Guardian’s environmental correspondents. In other other words, Montford isn’t allowed to ask questions about the putative connection between people of a certain belief and their actions in general.
And the comments about the link between Breivik and climate change from Grist are not the Guardian’s only attempts to link climate scepticism to violence.
Just over a year ago, following Jared Lee Loughner’s attempt to murder congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Damian Carrington asked the Guardian’s online readers…
I have received a handful of threats by email and phone myself, which given my low profile is a measure of the extent of the problem. My better-known colleagues George Monbiot and Leo Hickman receive more.
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.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Carrington was evidently attempting to say that climate change scepticism and violence were somehow connected. I took Carrington up on his offer. And I made my own comparison between violence and the ideology which drove it. The comments were deleted from the Guardian’s website, and my account suspended, as I explain here.
The Guardian moderator clearly objected to my own linking of Kaczynski’s environmentalism with his violence. I had argued that environmentalism’s tendency to view humans in a variously negative light must be a factor in the violence which he went on to commit. In order to do violence to humans, one must have a degraded view of humanity. It is easier to pull the trigger or plant the bomb when you believe that humans are no better — and may even be worse — than bugs and beasts. The Guardian is the most prominent publication in the UK that is attached to such a view of humans. It routinely publishes articles that speak about humans in such terms. For e.g. Monbiot:
It is a campaign not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but against ourselves.
Of course, once you take the view that the object of politics is to diminish humans in the scheme of things, you’re not necessarily committed to mass murder. But the point was to explain that a dim view of humanity must be a necessary condition for killing people. If there is a connection between ‘ideology’ and expressions of violence, as Carrington was suggesting, then Carrington ought to start looking at the anti-human ideology he and his colleagues were advancing and its possible consequences. Ideas matter.
But ideas only matter to the Guardians of the planet when the ideas under examination are not their own. Never mind the connection between ideology and violence, then, what is behind the double standards?
The Heartland Institute seems to have become something of a bogeyman for green hacks. However the HI remains a tiny organisation. Time was when journalists like Kloor, Carrington and Hickman would rant about Exxon and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, though the evidence linking energy companies to think tanks was — and still is — scant.
The trouble for journalists who campaign on green issues is in explaining why the world does not respond to their doomsaying, and rush out to get behind the cause. It’s a paradox, in their view, that they can be so convinced while the public remains at best divided on the issue, and at worst, completely indifferent to the possibility of Thermageddon. The only way it can be explained is by connecting the public’s indifference to any organised attempt to intervene in the public sphere.
This means amplifying any operation, no matter how small or poorly-funded, to the extent that it becomes an organisation with global reach, and control over the public’s perception of climate change. In other words, in order to sustain this view, it is necessary to abandon any sense of proportion. Furthermore, it is necessary to forget the extent of the institutional effort in the other direction: the enormous collaboration between national governments, supranational political organisations, NGOs, corporations and, of course, self-regarding hacks.
I am not all that bothered, either way, by the Heartland’s campaign. It’s not the way I would choose to intervene in the debate. It’s not all that offensive to point out that Kaczynski’s environmentalism and his violent campaign were not coincident, though any power that the argument has is lost by turning it into a slogan on a billboard. Those of us who are not involved have nothing to explain, apologise for, condemn or distance ourselves from, to the individuals who are making a song and dance about this affair, principally for their own, transparently ‘partisan’ ends.