Monthly Archives: June 2015

Brian Cox — of wide-eyed BBC science spectaculars fame — is lauded as one of science’s leading advocates, and a ‘science communicator‘.

But for a man who is so keen to extol the virtues of the scientific method, and its unequalled ability to make sense of the world and how to make it a better place, he seems awfully confused:

Granted, it was just a tweet. But it was a tweet that provoked a volume of conversation, in which Cox defended his position.

More about that shortly. But what strikes me immediately about Cox’s words is that although he emphasises science, he is quick to abandon it as the lingua franca of debates of consequence. Better to simply take the piss out of people you disagree with than engage with them on the ground you hold sacred. So much for science, then. And so much for the scientist who seems to have won awards for his expertise in ‘public engagement’ in science. This should prompt some discussion about what is meant by ‘science’, what is meant by ‘engagement’ and what is meant by ‘public’. “Taking the piss” is not science. And telling people what they must think (for fear of having the piss taken out of them by the pop-star-turned-TV-physicist) is not ‘public engagement’ with science. Moreover, the ‘public’ imagined by ‘communicators’ seems to be a mindless body that must be instructed, not individuals who are capable of forming an understanding for themselves until they are anointed.

Cox, as is the wont of most people in his position, who use their elevated status to pronounce on climate change, misapprehends climate scepticism — mostly because he’s more interested in “taking the piss” out of it, than in actually understanding the terms of the debate. He is informed not by the debate itself, but by the polarised view of the debate, which precedes it. The politics of the climate debate precede the science. Thus, on Cox’s view, there is only ‘the science’ and its deniers. All nuance is given up.

This is a surprise, because, as is discussed in a recent post here, Cox had an opportunity to see how the establishment’s own preoccupation with climate change threatened to dominate the research agenda, and his own field of high energy physics. Here he is, arguing with the then UK Chief Scientific Advisor, David King, who argued that the LHC was nothing more than an expensive device for navel-gazing.

It is odd that this exchange did not produce more reflection from Cox on the nature of the climate debate. Here he was, facing a bureaucrat, not even a green lobbyist or environmental activist, telling him that the machine he was so proud of was a waste of money, which would have been better spent on climate change research. “This is part of a journey that we’ve been on for about a hundred years to understand what are the building bocks of matter and the forces that stick them together”, said Cox, after being asked if there was nothing more useful that the money could have been spent on. This answer should have been enough, but Cox went on to spell out what that meant. “The transistor, the silicon chip.. It’s given us the ability to cure cancer, to potentially kill brain tumours. There an endless list… I would argue in fact the modern world has been invented as a result of this quest, and this is the next step”. King disagreed. “This money was spent on curiosity-driven research which may conceivably have some impacts on our well-being in the future. I suspect it wont”, said the Chief Miserablist, “I think we’ve probably driven this type of research far enough that it’s now more navel-searching than searching for potential future developments for the benefit of mankind”.

Scientific research priorities invariably reflect political priorities. In the days of the Cold War, that meant big stunts that demonstrate superpowers’ economic might and military prowess. For better or worse, this meant exploring the infinitesimal and the near-infinite. In today’s political climate, ambitions have been called back from the stars. Science, and the technological progress it has driven, seems to have unleashed risks, even if it has helped to win a geopolitical battle. Hence David King now frames climate change as our ‘moon landing’ — a fitting demonstration of how scientific ambition has been brought back down to Earth with a bump.

What goes up must come down, after all. Cox has since joined the same ranks. Made famous by the BBC, he now speaks more for the establishment than for science.

Asked by Gerry Morrow, ‘why don’t you get some real evidence the future will be catastrophic[?]’, Cox replied,

‘Have you empirical validation for these predictions?’, asked Rupert Darwall.

This is interesting. Cox claims that the necessity of making ‘policy decisions’ makes it imperative to take at face value probabilistic statements, which are not empirically-verified. Better the informed than the uninformed guesswork. But what is this ‘uninformed guess work’ we are asked to compare with ‘informed guesswork’. Moreover, what is the ‘informed guesswork’ informed by? Cox unwittingly reveals that the imperative is political, not scientific, and that his reasoning is circular. Why ‘must’ policy decisions be made? If the answer is that ‘informed guesswork’ suggests that policy decisions are imperative, Cox should admit it, rather than “taking the piss” out of sceptics, who might have something to say about the nature of that guessing. It is not as if Cox can say that there is something in particular, which science has positively identified and which is as tangible, say as the mechanism of evolution, which sceptics have ‘denied’.

There is a difference between being sceptical of something, and sceticism of guesswork. As I have argued before, this produces amongst the hand-wringing tendency to lose grip on what they claim is at the centre of their own argument: the scientific consensus. If the consensus is only so much guesswork — albeit ‘informed’ guesswork — but it is treated as concrete, the scientific consensus becomes a consensus without an object, and ditto, on the same view, scepticism becomes scepticism without an object. The debate amounts to two sides disagreeing about something that the side which claims something exists cannot even identify.

What is it that Cox believes sceptics are sceptical of? As Rupert Darwall makes clear, it is not the warming effect of CO2…

The real object of scepticism, then, might be no more than the over-extension of the climate narrative, which may have rather more read into it than was given to it from science.

This, naturally returns us to the IPCC. Cox was asked what he counted as evidence…

It’s not a particularly well-formulated question, I would argue, since most scepticism isn’t scepticism of “AGW”. But it is a question asked of a celebrated ‘science communicator’, nonetheless… The answer is of course, the IPCC’s synthesis report SPM…

… Which provokes the same response…

To which the award-winning science communicator replies with,

I have read AR5 SR SPM properly. And I still find it problematic. Take for example, this line from page 8.

Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence).

But this is a meaningless statement by itself. It refers to no science. It’s just a headline. To find out what it actually refers to, we need to interrogate the full version of the Synthesis Seport [PDF -10MB], not the Summary for Policymakers, and even that is merely a pointer to the relevant sections of the rest of the AR5 reports.

Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence). Impacts of such climate-related extremes include alteration of ecosystems, disruption of food production and water supply, damage to infrastructure and settlements, human morbidity and mortality and consequences for mental health and human well-being. For countries at all levels of development, these impacts are consistent with a significant lack of preparedness for current climate variability in some sectors. {WGII SPM A-1, 3.2, 4.2-3, 8.1, 9.3, 10.7, 11.3, 11.7, 13.2, 14.1, 18.6, 22.2.3, 22.3,, 24.4.1, 25.6-8, 26.6-7, 30.5,Table 18-3, Table 23-1, Figure 26-2, Box 4-3, Box 4-4, Box 25-5, Box 25-6, Box 25-8, Box CC-CR}

So how significant is the vulnerability revealed by ‘impacts from recent climate-related extremes’? How many ecosystems and how many ‘human systems’ are vulnerable and exposed to what degree of ‘climate variability’? So many weasel words litter this statement, I find it hard to take seriously at all, let alone as a summary of scientific evidence. But let’s press on, nonetheless.

The first reference is to WGII SPM A-1. But this is another SPM, not the actual review of the ‘science’. The first paragraph of A1, for instance reads,

In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Evidence of climate-change impacts is strongest and most comprehensive for natural systems. Some impacts on human systems have also been attributed5 to climate change, with a major or minor contribution of climate change distinguishable from other influences. See Figure SPM.2. Attribution of observed impacts in the WGII AR5 generally links responses of natural and human systems to observed climate change, regardless of its cause. 6

More problematically, WGII is concerned with “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”, not the “physical science basis” of climate change. WGI in fact finds,

… there has been a likely increasing trend in the frequency of heatwaves since the middle of the 20th century in Europe and Australia and across much of Asia where there are sufficient data. However, confidence on a global scale is medium owing to lack of studies over Africa and South America but also in part owing to differences in trends depending on how heatwaves are defined (Perkins et al., 2012). Using monthly means as a proxy for heatwaves Coumou et al. (2013) and Hansen et al. (2012) indicate that record-breaking temperatures in recent decades substantially exceed what would be expected by chance but caution is required when making inferences between these studies and those that deal with multi-day events and/or use more complex definitions for heatwave events

So what the Synthesis report referred to as ‘high confidence’ in ‘impacts’ of ‘heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires’ seems to be owed to only a ‘likely increasing trend’ of heatwaves, as far as the science is concerned. And on rainfall..

Given the diverse climates across the globe, it has been difficult to provide a universally valid definition of ‘extreme precipitation’.

And floods…

In summary, there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale.

On droughts…

the current assessment concludes that there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century, owing to lack of direct observations, geographical inconsistencies in the trends, and dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice. Based on updated studies, AR4 conclusions regarding global increasing trends in drought since the 1970s were probably overstated.

On cyclones…

this assessment does not revise the SREX conclusion of low confidence that any reported long-term (centennial) increases in tropical cyclone activity are robust, after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities.

On extratropical storms…

In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extratropical cyclones since 1900 is low. There is also low confidence for a clear trend in storminess proxies over the last century due to inconsistencies between studies or lack of long-term data in some parts of the world (particularly in the SH).

I could not see any statement on the frequency of wildfires. What is interesting, though, is how different the Synthesis Report, its SPM and WGII appear to be from WGI with respect to these phenomena, almost to the point of outright contradiction. Similarly, on the impacts of these events, on which the SPM claims ‘high confidence’, the same report claims,

Direct and insured losses from weather-related disasters have increased substantially in recent decades, both globally and regionally. Increasing exposure of people and economic assets has been the major cause of long-term increases in economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters (high confidence). {WGII 10.7.3, SREX SPM B,}

But of course losses from weather have increased, because the wealth that is destroyed by weather — aka development — has increased. As the IPCC chapter admits,

Growth-induced changes in past losses are removed by normalizing to current levels of destructible wealth. So far, only one study analyzes normalized global weather-related insured losses(Barthel and Neumayer, 2012), but the period is too short (1990–2008) to support a meaningful analysis of trends.

Moreover, the IPCC’s Special Report on Extremes (SREX) found that,

“There is medium evidence and high agreement that long-term trends in normalized losses have not been attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change”
“The statement about the absence of trends in impacts attributable to natural or anthropogenic climate change holds for tropical and extratropical storms and tornados”
“The absence of an attributable climate change signal in losses also holds for flood losses”

Also via Roger Pielke Jr,

“Some authors suggest that a (natural or anthropogenic) climate change signal can be found in the records of disaster losses (e.g., Mills, 2005; Höppe and Grimm, 2009), but their work is in the nature of reviews and commentary rather than empirical research.”

So to Brian Cox, we can say that the IPCC is certainly not the final world on climate science, or its impacts. Nor is it an unchallengeable presentation of the evidence. It is, taken as a whole, internally inconsistent — it’s parts are in contradiction with many of its other parts on important matters. (Some other contradictions are discussed here).

Pointing out these inconsistencies is what will ultimately lead to an improved understanding of the natural world, and to understanding our relationship with it, including an understanding of the extent to which we depend on it. By preferring to respond to climate sceptics by ‘taking the piss’, Cox will deprive science of the very thing that makes it possible: competing perspectives, each attempting to account for some phenomena or other. Cox rules out any challenge to what appears to him as the ‘consensus’ a priori, not as a consequence of an understanding of the science, but as a consequence of who is making the argument… Politics, in other words, at the expense of science.

The only way Cox can sustain his claim to be the champion of science, then, is if we note the difference between science as a process and Science as an institution. For Cox, the two may be the same thing, but we can see for ourselves that the authority of the IPCC and its reports subsists more in its political function as representatives of the consensus than as a scientific analysis.

The point couldn’t be better demonstrated than by Cox himself. He points to the most problematic part of the IPCC’s output: the SPM of the Synthesis report. And he points to it as evidence. And yet it contradicts the rest of the Assessment Report. The IPCC can’t even communicate clear science to a science communicator. All he is left with is ‘taking the piss’.

This is a weird science indeed. And it is a weird science communicator and science advocate who wields the authority of scientific institutions, rather than champions the scientific method, and who allows political expediency to posit half-baked Bayesian waffle in the place of scientific knowledge. On Twitter.

Cox started well. But he is surely a victim of his own success. Not being all that remarkable (as far as the public is concerned) for his science, he was instead made famous by being a relatively pretty face in an era of dumbed down television, in which producers were nervous of otherwise ugly scientists (in)ability to generate ratings. Chosen then to speak for science — to make science cool — Cox was inevitably drawn closer to the establishment and its preoccupations. Perhaps some iron law dictates that as an individual without merit is elevated as a scientific hero, the bigger prick he will turn out to be.

Cox knows very little about climate science, hence he waves the authority of the IPCC AR5 SR SPM in no more a qualified way than the climate campers, who declared in 2007 that they were “Armed… only with peer-reviewed science”. They thought they were, but the pages they were holding aloft like a preacher holds a bible were not from a scientific paper, nor was it peer-reviewed. It was a report called ‘living within a carbon budget‘ from the Tyndall Centre, for the Coop Bank and Friends of the Earth.


Cox is not so different. But let’s not single him out. More important is understanding what produced Cox. After all, Cox merely reproduces the orthodox view, not even of climate science, but of critics of that view. He preaches the virtues of science, but it is a view of science that looks more like a search for authority than as a liberating form of knowledge — a quest that is shared by the proponents of climate politics. Challenges to that form of politics look to its advocates as denial of science, but it is they, who would so easily dismiss criticism on that basis, who are anti science as a process though not science as an institution. Science is increasingly more about shoring up ailing political institutions than about shedding light on material phenomena. If it weren’t so, it would be hard to explain Cox’s anger and frustration with climate sceptics.

If that sounds too much, consider this. Here is Cox explaining to a TV producer why time goes in one direction, and why the direction you move through time is constrained.

So clearly Cox is an able communicator. But this ability breaks down as Cox nears the climate debate. At this point he becomes sweary and impatient. Perhaps, then, Cox should stick to science, and maybe stick to physics. Outside of physics, he becomes inarticulate and aggressive. Isn’t that tendency in microcosm what we see in the broader climate debate? Science overreaches itself, and then its proponents and heroes are forced to fight what are essentially their own excesses — grand claims made before evidence, supported only by ‘probabilistic’ guesswork, and protected from criticism by the notion of a polarised debate — but which appear to them as ‘sceptics’ and ‘deniers’. It would be harder to be a sceptic of the IPCC if its AR’s were more consistent. And it would be harder to criticise the IPCC and UNFCCC if the process was not so transparently about turning a seemingly scientific idea into a vast political project.

One of the least-explored but most revealing things about the climate change debate (such as it is) is the intersection of climate science and psychology. I have yet to see anything from psychologists that sheds any light on the debate more than it merely exacerbates its problems. And I have yet to encounter a psychologist who seems able to take criticism, and who is not, let us say ‘attached’ to a particular outcome of that debate. In the Guardian yesterday, Oliver Burkeman writes,

At yesterday’s summit in Bavaria, the G7 leading industrial nations agreed to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century. It’s easy to be cynical about these things, but these official goals really matter. And one big reason is this: in the absence of intergovernmental action, we are hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with this problem as individuals.

My problem with the G7’s new goal is the same as it is with any supranational organisation’s pronouncement: where is your mandate? Briefly, it seems to me that climate change allows the construction of political institutions and the accretion of power above democratic oversight. To some, that looks like a conspiracy theory. But there’s nothing secret about it: it is all done in plain sight. There is no secret about the intention to build supranational organisations to tackle seemingly “global problems” that would be intractable under normal politics, by which I mean sovereign national democratic governments. And it is no secret that these organisations make more of the issue of climate change than either the man-in-the-street or the governments themselves make. A simple thought experiment suffices: would the UN or the EU, or for that matter, organisations like The World Economic Forum, World Bank and NGOs be any smaller, were climate change never to have presented itself? I think not. And yet this process of institution-building goes on, largely unchallenged, or even unquestioned. I find that odd.

Burkeman continues:

In fact, if a cabal of evil psychologists had gathered in a secret undersea base to concoct a crisis humanity would be hopelessly ill-equipped to address, they couldn’t have done better than climate change. We’ve evolved to respond more vigorously to threats that are immediate and easy to picture mentally, rather than those that are distant and abstract; we’re more sensitive to intentional threats from specific humans, rather than unintentional ones resulting from collective action; we’re terrible at making small sacrifices in the present to avoid vast ones in future; our attention is seized by phenomena that change daily, rather than those that ratchet up gradually over years.

All of these premises strike me as problematic, if not flat-out wrong. Are they a damning indictment of human’s faculties? Or are they a justification for psychologists seeking a slice of political action? All political ideas — ideas about how society ought to be organised, if it is to be organised at all — begin with a conception of humans, whether that be an explicit or implicit declaration. Burkeman’s claim is the one that we are familiar with: individuals are not competent to make decisions about their own future when faced with a problem such as climate change:

And should it dawn on us that our behaviours don’t match our beliefs – that we’re not doing our bit to save the planet, even though we think we should – we find it far easier to adjust the belief (downgrading the importance of climate change) than the behaviour (flying less, having fewer children).

This principle gives the title to Burkeman’s article: “We’re all climate change deniers at heart“. Accordingly, he proposes a system of mechanisms which produce “climate change denial”, which he takes from George Marshall and Daniel Kahneman

In one strikingly depressing scene in his recent book Don’t Even Think About It, climate change activist George Marshall interviews the Nobel prizewinning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the leading scholar of cognitive biases, and tries to nudge him into saying that understanding our brains’ limitations will, at the very least, make it easier to overcome them. “I’m not very optimistic about that,” Kahneman replies, despondently sipping tomato soup. “No amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standard of living. So that’s my bottom line: there is not much hope. I’m thoroughly pessimistic. I’m sorry.” The pessimism of experts provides yet another reason to pay attention to something else, anything else, instead of climate change: why choose to spend your days feeling relentlessly depressed?

Such is the climate psychologist’s burden…

Even once you grasp that people in general are terrible at responding to a threat such as climate change, though, there’s another hurdle: it remains much harder to accept how far you’re prone to such psychological pitfalls yourself. (This bias against perceiving your own bias has its own label: the bias blind spot.) It’s easy enough for any of us who aren’t climate-change deniers to engage in armchair psychoanalysis of them: they’re mired in denial and defence mechanisms, busily constructing online communities of like-minded people to help shield themselves from guilt, from accepting the need for personal sacrifices, or from contemplating their mortality. It’s much more difficult to accept that, in a subtler sense, you might be a climate change denier yourself. But the drive to eliminate cognitive dissonance – to rid yourself of the discomfort that comes from holding contradictory beliefs, or failing to act in accordance with your beliefs – is an awesomely powerful thing.


Personally I lean more towards Kahneman’s pessimism. Yet the same self-questioning stance surely demands that I acknowledge even pessimism has its selfish payoffs: if there’s nothing to be done, I might as well not bother trying to do anything. Despair can be a kind of denialism, too.

Of course, this blog is about building an online community of like-minded people, to help shield us from guilt, and from the need to accept my own personal sacrifice, and to defer my inevitable mortality… So I would say this… But what I think is interesting is just how terribly limited Burkeman’s injunction is. He seems to want his fellow climate concerned to reflect on themselves to the extent to which it would reveal that they are some kind of climate change deniers (though he believes that this is ultimately doomed to fail, along with the human race, in Thermageddon). But he doesn’t seem willing to reflect on the opposite: the extent to which he needs climate change to make his opening statement, praising the G7 for their statement on abolishing the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century… “these official goals really matter… we are hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with this problem as individuals.”

Why aren’t we free to interrogate official thinking? Why is psychology limited to interrogating the individual mind, to establish its limits, and not official thinking? I am amazed that psychologists have not been more forthcoming in this respect, to criticise the climate psychologists, if not the alarmists. After all, it is not as if there is no precedent for asking questions about the authority of the psychological sciences, as this short film about David Rosenhan’s famous experiment shows:

The problem of being sane in insane places, then, is that you cannot speak about the use of psychiatric labels where they are not appropriate. Accordingly, we cannot speak about the problems of climate science, or climate policy, or environmentalism without betraying our psychological inclinations such as ‘cognitive dissonance’, to avoid facing sacrifice or mortality. And it’s not until we accept the authority of official pronouncements on our condition that we are to be released from the climate mental ward, into the limited freedom outside it, which has been designed according to the exact same specification and principles as the hospital.

But unpacking the problem reveals much more about the psychological sciences — to the extent that they are attached to the climate issue — than it reveals about the psychology of individual ‘deniers’. The psychologist is not a climate scientist. As such, he can only measure the sanity of his patient against his own understanding of climate science (or policy).

In other words, psychology has to borrow its authority from climate science. And it is not until it has borrowed this authority from climate science that it can identify problems lumped under the term ‘cognitive dissonance’, to give it not just political significance, but global political significance.

So why isn’t psychology — as a science — able to produce it’s own authority, per the Royal Society’s motto, nullius in verba, ‘on the word of no one’? If mathematical proof depended on axioms supplied by cellular biology, we would wonder about mathematics. But very few questions seem to be asked when psychologists pronounce on the limitations of individual’s psychology, based on their own understanding of climate science: the ‘facts’ it supplies to them, such that they can detect ‘cognitive dissonance’.

One answer is Rosenhan’s experiment. Of course, that experiment was about psychiatry, rather than psychology as such. But the experiment is pertinent. The ambition of understanding the human mind and its shortcomings is not matched by the results produced by this branch of psychology. Nobody needed science to tell us that to err is human, nor that answering questions of perspective are confounded by perspective itself.

Call me a psychology sceptic, then, before you call me a climate change sceptic. New sciences make big claims about how understanding the object of their studies will transform the world. But these big claims invariably seem to be invested in by politics than by those of us who labour in our misapprehensions of the world, and our cognitive dissonance. Be they sociologists, eugenicists, Malthusians, cyberticians, memeticians or technocrats, the positivists’ dream is our recurring nightmare. Sciences are invented and reinvented, to reorganise political priorities, away from our befuddled minds.

It would be harder to say all this if the promise made by the G7 was not to ‘phase out’ fossil fuels by 2100, but to instead focus attempts to make such a thing possible. This was the point discussed in the previous post — the UK’s self-appointed climate aristocrats who want $150 billion to make wind and solar power economically competitive with coal. Yet even with that impulse, there is a problem. They presuppose the feasibility of the objective, and rule out the alternatives, be they low carbon or not, such as nuclear fission and fusion, distorting the research agenda, and depriving other experimental pathways of budgets. They ‘pick winners’, in other words, while enriching those techniques whose advocates have made the biggest claims. It is as if all we need to do to work out what the price of one form of energy will be in the future is find the relationship between R&D expenditure and the price signal, and extrapolate it into the future… And voila!…

So what happens if we are allowed to interrogate the psychology of the climate artistocrats and climate shrinks? The big claims that were made by psychologists in the twentieth century caused it to fall out of favour, and to lose its authority — in contrast to big, sexy science like high energy physics, which still promises to discover the ‘god particle’, no less. Meanwhile, researchers were increasingly made to prove their relevance to society — ‘impact’ — rather than to investigate the material world merely as an end in itself. I believe that the result is an ugly, self-serving compact between scientific institutions and politics. The antipathy towards humans, and the low estimation of their faculties expressed by those who embrace this nexus of psychological and climate science is the even uglier chimera of this union. It seems that weak science can multiply itself, and to amplify its message by teaming up with another weak science in the service of a political agenda.

After I tweeted about Burkeman’s post yesterday, some wag tweeted back,

Yeah. Shame your grandchildren won’t get to vote on your stupidity – I know how they’d vote..

The implication is, of course, that it is my (non-existent) children’s (non-existent) children who will suffer the consequences of my stupidy — climate change. Yet I am confident that future generations should be able to vote, as much as they should be able judge my words for themselves, not to have some climate academic limit their vote, and to rule out their judgement as cognitive dissonance.

The point of climate change psychology — much more than climate science — is to protect the political establishment from such judgement in the present. It is a form of consensus enforcement, and debate policing.

It is through debate that the shortcomings of individuals can be overcome, and some kind of synthesis produced out of profound disagreements achieved. So we don’t need some psychological toolkit to examine our own psychologies. And we do not need climate psychologists to point these shortcomings out. This is the dynamic that makes science possible, after all. But climate change psychology aims to rule out inconvenient perspectives, to exclude them from debate, such that only officially-sanctioned opinion is allowed to have any consequence.

The interesting phenomena in the climate debate is not ‘cognitive dissonance’, but the emergence of academic disciplines like climate change psychology. Rather than people checking themselves for latent climate change denialism, it is these werido academics, their claims and their institutions which need to be interrogated. They take themselves as planet-savers at face value, of course, but why should we?

The climate debate has seen much history dragged into the present, to be served up again as hollow pastiches in environmentalists’ and climate activists’ shallow morality plays. Unable to make their own history, greens have to recycle moments from the past, to give their cause historical significance in the present. There have been green ‘New Deals‘. Martin Luther King’s words were altered to make a green message — a climate ‘fierce urgency of now‘. There have been comparisons of abolition with mitigation, allowing academic activists to claimt that climate sceptics were the latter day moral equivalent of slave traders. Some activists have gone further than mere figurative allusions, and dressed themselves up as ‘climate suffragettes‘. But my favourite has been the “climate change is our moon landing”, beloved of erstwhile UK chief Science Advisor, David King.

Kennedy’s famous moon landing speech outlined the ambition to put men on the moon within a decade. And so it is no surprise that a decade is the time frame chosen by the latest venture to bear King’s name…


King is one of six climate aristocrats — the others are all Peers — that have put together the ‘Global Apollo Programme’ (GAP), which wants the same proportion of GDP spent by each member country as the US spent on its own moon-shot.

The top table of Gap is as follows.

Sir David King, Former UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser. Lord John Browne, Executive Chairman at L1 Energy. Former President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and former CEO BP. Lord Richard Layard, Director of Wellbeing Programme, LSE Centre for Economic Performance. Emeritus Professor of Economics. Lord Gus O’Donnell, Chairman, Frontier Economics. Former UK Cabinet Secretary. Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and Former President of the Royal Society and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge & Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics. Lord Nicholas Stern, IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government, LSE, & Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. Lord Adair Turner, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of New Economic Thinking & Former Chairman of the Financial Services Authority and the Committee on Climate Change.


This blog has never objected to increased emphasis and budgeting on energy R&D. Contrary to the comments made about energy by notable environmentalists, more energy is a good thing…

“It would be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy.” — Amory Lovins

“Giving inexpensive and abundant energy to Americans today would be like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.” — Paul Ehrlich.

Environmentalism, it is argued here, has always been, and is necessarily about locating political authority in a particular view of humans, society and its relationship with the natural environment. Abundance, or even just the promise of abundance, is anathema to that view. Even abundance in the abstract sense divorces us from nature. A theological comparison pertains here with The Fall. The limits of nature are there to discipline us, to constrain our vices, and to impose the order that our sins turn to chaos.

On the optimistic, humanist view, however, more energy is a good thing precisely because it frees us from such limits which invariably result in suffering. But abundance threatens the political order imagined by today’s secular ascetics. So it is a surprise to see the leading proponents of far-reaching climate malthusianism now openly calling for R&D.

The question that needs to be asked about any claim for R&D expenses, though, must be ‘what for?’. Energy R&D is not a good thing in-and-of-itself. Energy is a Good Thing for us. The new Global Apollo Programme seems to want energy to be for the climate.

The contradiction here is one that the GAP cannot understand. It sounds great, to find a source of energy which is as cheap as coal within a decade. But this would be no leap equivalent to landing on the moon, because it would not yield any benefit to us greater than burning coal. Moreover, the same R&D budget not restricted to the green sector might create the possibility of new sources of fossil fuels. It might accelerate the exploitation of methane hydrates, for instance. Or it could help in the development of techniques like underground coal gasification. Or fracking, of course. Restricting R&D to ‘green’ technology could conceivably carry the consequence of precluding such developments which would make fossil fuels more abundant and less expensive, thereby denying those who would benefit from it the advantages of any new technology. The best that GAP offers us is life a decade hence as good as today.

The report produce by GAP claims that

One thing would be enough to make it happen: if clean energy became less costly to produce than energy based on coal, gas or oil. Once this happened, the coal, gas and oil would simply stay in the ground. Until then fossil-fuel-based energy should of course be charged for the damage it does, but ultimately energy should become able to compete directly on cost. How quickly could this happen?

The challenge is a technological one and it requires a major focus from scientists and engineers. The need is urgent. Greenhouse gases once emitted stay with us for well over a century. It would also be tragic if we now over-invested in polluting assets which rapidly became obsolete.

In the past, when our way of life has been threatened, governments have mounted major scientific programmes to overcome the challenges. In the Cold War the Apollo Programme placed a man on the moon. This programme engaged many of the best minds in America. Today we need a global Apollo programme to tackle climate change; but this time the effort needs to be international. We need a major international scientific and technological effort, funded by both public and private money. This should be one key ingredient among all the many other steps needed to tackle climate change which have been so well set out in the latest reports of the IPCC.

On GAP’s view, finding a technology to exploit renewable resources such that they become as cheap as coal is nothing more than just scientific investigation. But what if such a discovery were never possible? What if it turns out that it is, after all, harder to turn ambient energy into useful energy than it is to turn energy-dense substances into energy?

The key to this miraculous discovery lies in another chart produced by GAP.


I love these charts, because they mean absolutely nothing. What are the pillars supporting? And in what sense are storage, transmission and efficiency ‘foundations’ for the pillars? They would make more sense if they were labelled, ‘Sunday’, ‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’ from the bottom, followed by ‘Wednesday’, ‘Thursday’, ‘Friday’ across. Says the GAP,

For three of these six areas (which are shaded in the diagram) there is already a high level of research effort. For example, in nuclear fission there is the G4 international programme to produce a much more efficient use of uranium whereby enrichment occurs on site; in nuclear fusion there is the International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor (ITER) programme. But in the three unshaded areas (renewables, storage and transmission) there is far too little research and the present proposal focusses on those areas.

But how true — or significant — is this?

Figures from the OECD and IEA seem to bear out the proportions. (I haven’t been able to locate the precise amounts of funding). (There seems to be some data missing from the series, and the reduction in funding may be a result of quality. Also, I am assuming that this is government expenditure, not including private funding of R&D).

But think about what is being produced here. The proof of concept of a new solar PV cell would fit in your hand. But a proof of concept for nuclear fusion or fission would likely require a great deal more hardware, real estate infrastructure and thus capital, just to get off the ground. For this reason, also, state funding of R&D might be filling a gap in nuclear, so to speak, which potential developers could close for themselves in the storage and solar sectors. GAP’s comparison might not be one of apples and apples.

Moreover, if there is an urgent need to address the problem, in what way is the $5 billion of global R&D budget for nuclear energy ‘enough’? It wouldn’t even be enough to build a nuclear power station. Given that Nicholas Stern — one of the leaders of GAP — imagines a world in which climate change costs integer percentages of global GDP, and argues for similar expenditure or opportunity cost on mitigation, it hardly seems like a sensible claim. Even more so, when we consider that energy storage will always add a cost to generation, and that generation of power from renewables might never compete with coal. Einstein’s equation, on the other hand, tells us what the material limits of yield from nuclear reactions are, and they are astronomical compared to even the most optimistic expectations of yield from renewable energy.

Again, this isn’t a throw-all-the-money-in-the-world-at-nuclear-R&D argument, mainly because I don’t believe the premises of GAP, that climate change is the urgent problem that Stern et al have claimed. But there is a better argument for investing in energy R&D for the good it will produce for people. And if climate change is an urgent problem, why spend such a paltry amount as $150bn a year on it? Why not spend as much on energy R&D as was spent on banking bailouts and quantitative easing throughout the Western world?

One answer returns us to the political utility of scarcity. In short, GAP is a manifesto for climate bureaucrats, and the promise to them is that they will be able to sustain their cake and eat it. It is only by making modest proposals, rather than by making promises of the deadly abundance, that the climate establishment can maintain its grip over the political agenda. The clue is in the programme:

(1) Target. The target will be that new-build base-load energy from renewable sources becomes cheaper than new-build coal in sunny parts of the world by 2020, and worldwide from 2025.

(2) Scale. Any government joining the Programme consortium will pledge to spend an annual average of 0.02% of GDP as public expenditure on the Programme from 2016 to 2025. The money will be spent according to the country’s own discretion. We hope all major countries will join. This is an enhanced, expanded and internationally co-ordinated version of many national programmes.

(3) Roadmap Committee. The Programme will generate year by year a clear roadmap of the scientific breakthroughs required at each stage to maintain the pace of cost reduction, along the lines of Moore’s Law. Such an arrangement has worked extremely well in the semi-conductor field, where since the 1990s the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) has identified the scientific bottlenecks to further cost reduction and has spelt out the advances needed at the pre-competitive stages of RD&D. That Roadmap has been constructed through a consortium of major players in the industry in many countries, guided by a committee of 2-4 representatives of each main region. The RD&D needed has then been financed by governments and the private sector.

Look at how quickly we skate through such petty little detail as how, in the space of just five years, this project will make solar power cheaper than coal in sunny countries, and how simple it will be for countries to join. But then look at how much detail there is about the committee, as it effortlessly reproduced Moore’s Law in an entirely different technology sector, as though laws such as Moore’s simply by designing the right institutional configuration.

Would we be surprised to find the names King, Browne, Layard, O’Donnell, Rees, Stern, Turner on this committee? They seem to be the names on almost every other climate boondoggle going?

The tone of the GAP’s report seems incredulous that the world has not already handed over all its cash to these six knights and peers of the realm.

We are talking about the greatest material challenge facing humankind. Yet the share of global publicly-funded RD&D going on renewable energy worldwide is under 2% (see Table 1).18 19 Remarkably the share of all energy research in total publicly-funded R&D expenditure has fallen from 11% in the early 1980s to 4% today. This is a shocking failure by those who allocate the money for R&D.


But hold on a minute, my Lords… Who, free from the excesses of party politics and democratic contest, has been in a position to advise governments on the best strategies to dealing with climate change? Your noble selves, that’s who. In fact you were appointed in precisely this capacity. But as yet, it has taken you decades to organise an effort to orient publicly-funded research.

There is no doubt that David King has argued for different research priorities. Here he is in 2008, arguing with Brian Cox, who later became as disappointing as King, for his misapprehension of the climate debate (amongst other things, including his religious conception of ‘science’).

As reported here at the time, King was jealous of the budget’s available to high-energy physics, its international profile and its superstar status. Particle physics is sexy, whereas people who bang on about climate change invariably express themselves in a nasal whine, and in contrast to the optimism of their counterparts in physics, are preoccupied with the negative implications of their science. King, for example, saw the search for the Higgs-Boson as so much ‘naval-gazing’, without useful application in a world at the brink of catastrophic change — a burden that he seemed to be shouldering all by himself, while others toyed with expensive hardware. Never mind the possibility that the work at Cern might produce insight useful for the development of nuclear energy.

King’s colleague at GAP, Martin Rees, takes a similar view of inappropriate scientific research priorities, as has been discussed here before. In Our Final Hour, Rees outlines his scare stories, amongst which are his estimate that the odds of the human race surviving this century are just 50%, and that by 2020 — five years into the GAP project — “bioterror or bioerror will lead to one million casualties in a single event“. It was, after all, science which unleashed all that carbon. Science’s bureaucrats, then, are very good at making work for themselves.

Science has been very good, then, at telling us about what we must not do. But not so good at providing solutions to the problems its leading lights claim to have identified. As Climate Change Committee (CCC) member, Julia King, admitted, the CCC saw behaviour change as a key strategy in reducing emissions. Odd words, for a professor of engineering — unless it is behaviour she wants to engineer. And that seems to have been the emphasis of climate bureaucrats. As was pointed out in Rob Lyons’s interview with Bjorn Lomborg a few years ago, ‘Climate change: a practical problem, not a moral one‘. Said Lomborg,

If you do the standard Kyoto-style solution […] you do a couple of pence worth of good for every pound that you spend. But if you spent that same pound on energy R&D, you’d avoid £11 worth of climate damage – that’s 500 times more benefit. That’s why I’m suggesting we should be spending real money on tackling climate change, but we should be spending it smartly not stupidly.

But, of course, abundance creates a scarcity for the climate bureaucrat, who now scratches around for justification. It has taken so long for the climate change establishment to recognise the relatively strategies advocated by the likes of Lomborg, Pielke and the Breakthrough Institute because their ambition of creating a global political climate institution has been so long in its collapse. Political reality has caught up with environmentalism’s ambitions, and it is only now that the policy-down approach looks like it is about to collapse that the technology-up approach, seems to be gaining traction, and that the likes of Stern et al are pretending it was their idea all along.

It would not have been hard for the technology-up approach to have succeeded where the ambitious one-size-fits-all global policies have utterly failed. Financing R&D through microtaxes on energy consumption would have made some complain about the necessity of such a project, and the rights and wrongs of state intervention in innovation. But it would have been hard for those complaints to say that any real harm would come of it. Instead, climate sceptics can point to actual harm. There have been two decades of re-emphasis in the development agenda, which may have deprived millions of people access to energy, and increased energy costs in more developed economies, making life harder for millions of poorer families, and depriving many more of opportunity. We can compare the consequences of anti-technology (and in many instances, anti-human) policies to the emerging reality: that stories of climate catastrophe were simply overcooked, and intended to give momentum to a political project; that the implications of climate change are not as urgent as other problems faced by very many people; that development (not even ‘adaptation’) , including access to cheap energy, would be a better remedy to any likely perceivable consequences of climate change than radical mitigation; that hasty mitigation is itself harmful.

These things now being understood is a demonstration of the GAP project’s moral bankruptcy. We are supposed to take at face value the good faith of these six men. But in fact this latest move looks much more like six climate bureaucrats hedging their bets ahead of failure at Paris, and the shifting of the climate agenda.

If that sounds like I’ve over-egged the point, consider the concluding paragraphs from the Guardian’s coverage of GAP’s launch

Sir David Attenborough, who recently discussed climate change in a meeting with US president Barack Obama, said: “I have been involved in arguments about the despoilation of the natural world for many years. The exciting thing about the [Apollo] report is that it is a positive report – at last someone is saying there is a way we can do things.”

Prof John Schellnhuber, a climate scientist and former adviser to German chancellor Angela Merkel called the Apollo plan “truly ingenious” and said it “could well be a tipping point” in tackling climate change.

Is it conceivable that such learned figures such as Attenborough and Schellnhuber didn’t know of the existence of this form of idea — of spending around $15bn a year on energy R&D? Did they miss Lomborg’s book and film, “Cool It” — which contain much more detail than the GAP report? Or Pielke’s and the BTI’s volumes of work on the same theme? If it is true that they’d never considered the possibility before, it speaks to their bad faith nonetheless. They have no place commenting on climate change if they are new to this idea of solving the problem of climate change through technology. And so it is with the six knights and lords, who make no mention of Lomborg, either.

Tim Worstall puts it most succinctly:

These people are idiots, aren’t they?

Everyone and their grandmother knows that if you can design, invent or kludge together something that either:

Generates electricity cheaper than coal


Can store intermittently produced electricity cost effectively

…then you’re likely to become the world’s first dollar trillionaire. It’s, how to put this, uncertain, that any more incentive is needed.

Idiots, they surely must be. In fact, doesn’t this story of a King, and his defenders of the Realm in search of the Holy Grail sound awfully familiar?

The Global Aoollo Programme arrive at the COP meeting in Paris…

Two things have become clear to me over the years regarding the putative ‘ethics’ of the Guardian’s green campaigns, copy and hacks.

First, it is a general rule that ‘ethics’ are for thee, but not for me. Second, these ‘ethics’ are intended to elevate those who bear them.

The people who bang on the loudest about ‘ethics’ are usually the least observant of these ‘ethical’ principles. It is not uncommon to find the climate Great and Good — celebs like Leonardo di Caprio and Pharrell Williams — preaching climate change to the World from the comfort of a private jet or luxury yacht. ‘Ethics’ gives a platform, from where to judge.

For the Guardian, the two limitations of its ‘ethics’ mean that it can weave an article out of nothing but the alleged infraction of an “ethic”, while in fact being in the midst of something far worse.

In today’s Guardian, Terry Macalister — the paper’s energy editor — writes

Shell sought to influence direction of Science Museum climate programme
Oil giant raised concerns one part of the project, which it sponsored, could give NGOs opportunity to open up debate on its operations, internal emails show

The article is published as part of the newspaper’s Keep it in the Ground campaign against fossil fuel companies, encouraging big capital investors to move their interests out of brown energy — ‘divestment’. The allegation is that Shell, as long-time sponsors of the Science Museum in London may have used this funding relationship to change the messages delivered by the museum’s climate change exhibit.

I visited the museum a few years ago, and wrote it up for Spiked. Read it here. Most notable, I felt, was the reflection of the times across the Museum’s different galleries. All those artefacts of historical pioneering spirit — spacecraft, aircraft, instruments and machines — were now lost to bland interactive displays.

The contrast between the space race and today’s low aspirations epitomised by Atmosphere invites a further comparison of the prevailing ideologies of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries and their propaganda. For all the world’s deep and dangerous problems that belied the optimism surrounding the Apollo programme, and of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin’s missions, they remain uplifting reminders of what is possible. The contemporary preoccupation with climate change, on the other hand, yields only joyless propaganda: an antithesis to the progress promised in the past.

Here’s some video I took of the same.

It was, as I described it, a tedious dollop of eco-propaganda. If there was any influence of fossil fuel companies’ dirty money on the exhibition, it certainly wasn’t obvious to me. The exhibition was, in spite of being sponsored by oil companies, as glib and alarmist as any propaganda issued by green NGOs.

Yet the Guardian claim…

Shell tried to influence the presentation of a climate change programme it was sponsoring at the Science Museum in London, internal documents seen by the Guardian show.

Epitomising this weird new puritanism, ex-academic and Guardian blogger, now at the failed 10:10 campaign, Alice Bell tweeted,

Exactly a year after my Spiked article on the exhibition, Bell seemed to agree…

So, exceedingly pretty as Atmosphere is, the highlight of my trip to the museum was gawping at the Apollo 10 capsule. A humble-looking object, it has actually been around the Moon. You can see scorch marks from when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

I thought about its history, and the many times I’d stood there before. I remembered conversations I’d had with people about it. I remembered being moved to read more about the history of space travel, including the ways images from Apollo missions had inspired green activism in the 1970s, presenting Earth as a fragile, beautiful and, indeed, blue sphere in space.

Time spent quietly pondering the history of an object is an old-fashioned idea of a museum, but it still has power.

She’s wrong, though, of course. What inspired the ‘green activism’ of the 1970s was not as much pretty pictures of ‘Gaia’ as much as it was the oil shock, and the other economic and Cold War crises that developed as the postwar economic boom turned to bust. And it was not ‘green activists’ which were inspired as much as billionaires and their lackeys, who formed around the Club of Rome, and influenced the UN. Bell re-writes environmentalism’s history. Many, many many more young minds were inspired by the possibilities that the moon landing represented than were moved by the lonely image of the earth in Space. The green movement’s half-century campaign for austerity has sought to deny those possibilities to those minds.

I digress. The point here is that the Atmosphere exhibition at the science museum, clearly wasn’t some kind of fossil-fuel propaganda. Nobody taking the exhibition at face value could walk away from it as a climate change sceptic. Not even Alice Bell was complaining in 2011 that there was any hint of scepticism or denial in the exhibition. Her criticism was, like mine, that the fashion for interactive displays and the suchlike, as a way of attempting to engage minds with the ‘issues’ is probably not adequate.

The only way it would be possible to see Atmosphere as serving fossil fuel interests would be if one were to reflect on just how naff its exhibits and messages were, and what thinking and relationships may have been behind it.


Take this utterly clichéd House of Cards artwork, for instance. If we see it as an ironic gesture, then, yes, perhaps we can see that it could come to epitomise everything green: an art project that is entirely without artistic merit is commissioned by a public organisation with mixed private/public funding, as part of a broader, policy-relevant exhibition; an otherwise talentless ‘artist’ supported by a public organisation. Or perhaps the plan was simply to bore people away from the issue.

Where are the crappy paintings by climate sceptics at this Shell-sponsored exhibition? Where are the second-rate interactive media installations giving the sky-dragon version of climate change physics at this fossil-fuel industry funded show? And where are the glib ‘messages’ moderating — let alone ‘denying’ — the alarmist narratives served up at this Big Oil beano? If Shell or its PR firms intended to use Atmosphere to serve its own interests in the climate debate, it should be thoroughly ashamed of itself… Not for the shame of seeking to intervene in this way, but because it has done such a pisspoor job of it.

So what is behind the headlines? This picture of an oil company’s massive, illegitimate intrusion into the public debate on climate change, you will notice, is painted with run-of-the-mill Guardianista weasel words… “The Anglo-Dutch oil group raised concerns with the museum…”, “The company also wanted to know…”, “Emails show the close relationship between the Science Museum and Shell…”, “… a Shell staff member gives what they call a “heads up” on a Reuters story…”, “…a Shell employee [has] some concerns [that an] exhibition […] creates an opportunity for NGOs to talk about some of the issues that concern them around Shell’s operations.”

Is this the stuff of a conspiracy? Raising concerns? Are “close relationships” between major funders and beneficiaries unusual? Or is it just innuendo?

Perhaps one complaint — that “Shell’s own climate change adviser – former oil trader David Hone – made recommendations on what should be included” — might have been more interesting, had the exhibition not been, as discussed above, a virtual playground for climate alarmism. But there was no sign of scepticism of either climate science or policy on show.

Similarly, the Guardian suggests that the museum is compromised because its director criticised Greenpeace… (HOW DARE HE?!!).

the Science Museum’s former director Chris Rapley criticised Greenpeace’s successful campaign to make Lego drop its partnership with Shell.

But this, neither, passes the smell test. While this conspiracy between Shell, the Science Museum and Rapley was going on, he was penning his awful monologue, 2071, which I reviewed for Brietbart London back in November.

If you really want to know what this stage play formula is like, imagine a compulsory lecture on climate change at a low-tier university. On Saturday night. With Powerpoint. A city… no a world… of better offers exists outside. But you are trapped.

This is no exaggeration. Chris Rapley is keen to qualify his role as lecturer by professing his expertise in many things during the opening ten minutes (they felt like hours). One of those things is the cryosphere (the frozen parts of the planet), which is so-called because Rapley went there and bored entire mountains of ice to tears.

Rapley has since given up his snow mobile. Now he sits in a chair, from where, almost motionless, he freezes the brains of hundreds of people, each of whom seem to have volunteered themselves for this 70 minute ordeal of skull-crushingly dull ‘untertainment’ for up to £32 each. By the end of its ten-day run, some 3,600 individuals will have witnessed Rapley’s sedentary call to action.

Yet Naomi Klein Tweeted…

If Chris Rapley is part of some conspiracy to ‘silence the climate debate’, much less undermine climate science and subvert climate policy, he has me completely fooled. I am totally and utterly hoodwinked by his clever act. I have been to the climate change exhibition at the Museum he was director of. And I have been to see his stage play. And I have seen him speak at about half a dozen debates. I remain unimpressed by his argument and intellectual depth, but I am convinced he is a believer. He has bored me to tears, and I’m sure he has done it for his own self-interest, but I am sure he believes, nonetheless.

It is perhaps significant that the Guardian article does not reveal who obtained these emails. Because reading them reveals absolutely nothing underhand at all. See for yourself.

But another reason for the Guardian’s coyness is that the campaign which obtained the email exchange between the Science Museum and Shell wants to use the fact of sponsorship to embarrass the museum into dropping the sponsor. That campaign is BP or not BP, whose aim is to disrupt oil companies’ sponsorship of cultural events, as this video shows.

An interesting aside… The chap at 0:52 introduced as “Danny”, AKA Danny Chivers. Chivers appears to be the PKA Tim Lever, spokesman of the 2007 Climate Camp. Here he is, talking to Richard and Judy…

Clearly disrupting mass transport left Timmy and his pals more alienated from an unappreciative audience than they were anticipating. Better to target the luvvies, by disrupting instead subsidised and sponsored performances of Shakespeare. This demonstrates a considerable adjustment of the radical environmental movement’s ambitions over the last few years: from disrupting operations at one of the busiest transport hubs in the world… To heckling at a play, to an audience who likely already shares their values, and whose minds did not need changing.

If there is any constituency in the world that needs no encouragement to participate in a shallow Two Minute Hate ritual against oil companies, it is the luvvies — whose lifestyle choices are, broadly speaking, subsidised on the basis that they are Good Things. And it is this which most reflects the utter absurdity of the campaign. As the BP-or-not-BP campaign’s own video shows, nobody was fooled by BP’s sponsorship of the arts — its greenwashing. And so it is equally unlikely that anyone coming away from the Atmosphere exhibition would, even if they had noticed Shell’s sponsorship, have come away from it thinking about what a thoroughly decent Big Oil company it is.

BP-or-not-BP are concerned that people might not understand, you see, that companies which sponsor cultural things… Things like museums, operas, and plays… Do bad things, like producing energy for things like, erm, museums, operas and plays, as well the vehicles which take people to them, and things such as schools, hospitals and… Horror of horrors… factories where things are made. BP-or-not-BP want to rid the cultural sphere of companies like BP and Shell, not because they can point to any substantive interference intended to sway opinion in the climate debate, but because they believe that by purging the cultural sphere, the debate can be won. Think of it as Ethical Cleansing…

This brings us to why the Guardian omitted the FOI requesters… Their divestment campaign now in full swing, it would be a foolish time to admit to the world that there is something hypocritical about campaigning to ‘Keep it in the Ground‘ at the same time as being sponsored by the third largest coal mining interest in the world.

The very same Guardian writer has written articles under that very same campaign, saying that “Oil companies’ sponsorship of the arts ‘is cynical PR strategy’“. But just a couple of clicks away is the Guardian’s Anglo American partner zone section of its Sustainable Business pages, the most recent article on which was published just two days ago.

This is first-order, Class-A hypocrisy, of course. There is nothing that any Guardian journalist can say about Shell’s sponsorship of the Science Museum, or its climate exhibitions. There is no way the Guardian can continue to campaign to ‘keep it in the ground’. And there is no way it can criticise any organisation for being secretive about its arrangements, or for failing to respond to what it demands are ‘ethical’ imperatives.

So much for the Guardian’s climate ‘ethics’, then. That paper demonstrates that ‘ethics’ don’t apply to itself. Its own ethical cleansing campaign has, for years, consisted of endless stories about links between oil companies, policy-makers and public organisations, dominating the debate. But these were so many stories about next-door-neighbour’s-cousin’s-cat-who-one-knew-a-man… Take this graphic from the Guardian’s campaign. What’s missing?


The answer is the name and logo of the Guardian’s own sponsor, Anglo-American. They seem to have bought The Guardian’s silence. A bigger scandal, surely, than Shell sponsoring a climate-change exhibition.

Beyond the Graun failing to meet the standards it sets for others, though, is a sadder picture. The Science Museum’s former director, Chris Rapley, for instance, caught between a rock and a hard place. And Shell themselves, of course, trying to do the right thing in the era of corporate social responsibility.

A plague on all their houses. They invited it. Rapley chose to use the Science Museum as a vehicle for environmental politics. And Shell stumped up the ready money, for whatever ends. They wanted to champion climate change, but have been caught out and called out by the very movement they were seemingly hoping to capture. Shell, for instance, are sponsors of the Green Alliance (see their list of partners here), which coordinated the recent cross-party consensus on climate policy ahead of the recent UK general election. Where was the outrage, the direct action, and the Grauniad innuendo?

If Rapley, the scientist was worth an iota of his public profile, he would have been far more critical of the environmental movement, and he would have been critical of it long before it campaigned to get Lego to pull out of a deal with Shell. And Shell themselves, rather than lavishing money on green NGOs and lobbying outfits would have spent its money more wisely if it had spent a few quid on challenging the nonsense that its beneficiaries publish routinely… Including that daft exhibition at the Science Museum.

What are these kind of ‘ethics’, anyway? The Islamic State has ‘ethics’. The Taliban has ‘ethics’. They too seek to purge culture of infidels. And, as the Mirror journalist put it, they will brook no dissent. But behind these ‘ethics’ are naked self-serving ambitions to control society. That is what ‘ethics’ are in today’s world. They are not a form of knowledge, to which we all have access, to measure the rights and wrongs of actions, but are diktats, issued by self-appointed authorities for their own ends.

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