Over at Political Affairs, which promises “Marxist Thought online”, an article published today warns that, according to the latest IPCC report,

Mass extinction of species is likely within 60-70 years, on a scale larger than most of the five major extinction events that have occurred in the earth’s history.

But neither of the reports issued so far this year say anything of the sort. The only mention of extinction in either of the reports are in Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability – Summary for Policymakers, Working Group II:

Approximately 20-30% of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5°C.

and

There is a risk of significant biodiversity loss through species extinction in many areas of tropical Latin America.

These largely unquantified statements are so far removed from the alarmism in Political Affairs that there seems little point going into any greater depth about the article’s scientific merit.

We can safely assume that this kind of alarmism is the way the magazine thinks the masses will be roused. But as we pointed out yesterday, there is little difference between the ways in which the left and the right stretch scientific reports beyond recognition. So what is the difference between the establishment and the revolutionaries?

UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron has announced his commitment to an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. This move ‘beats’ Labour’s promise of a 60% reduction by the same date.

Cameron’s announcement follows statements by the Conservative Party’s Quality of Life Challenge policy group, whose website announced last weekend that they had ‘publised [sic] an important update to the Quality of Life Group’s recent report on acceptable climate change and CO2 emmission [sic] targets‘. The policy group challenge the Stern report, drawing on the IPCC’s WGII summary for policymakers, and others, to conclude that ‘the existing 60% goal is likely to prove inadequate […] UK emissions will have to be reduced by at least 80% by 2050′.

The statement is justified on the basis that ‘the politics must fit the science and not the other way round’ (‘Don’t give up on 2°C [PDF -NO LONGER AVAILABLE]‘). On the face of it, this seems a perfectly sensible approach. The trouble is that the science doesn’t actually say that mitigation is a better strategy than adaptation, let alone whether an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 is better than a 60% reduction. Mitigation, far from being a no-brainer is a complicated and controversial field scientifically. By claiming that their 80% figure is derived from the science, the Tories are hoisted by their own petard – this is a clear case of the science being stretched to fit the politics.

Moreover, mitigation policies cannot be a matter for science alone; they must also be informed by moral and political considerations. And yet when parties hide behind claims that their policies are derived from the science, these are necessarily excluded from the discussion. For example, in a recent article in Nature called ‘Lifting the taboo on adaptation‘, Roger Pielke Jr, Gwyn Prins, Steve Rayner and Daniel Sarewitz argued that the case for adaptation had not been sufficiently heard.

Yet policy-makers need to understand the limitations of mitigation for reducing vulnerabilities, and give more urgent consideration to broader adaptation policies — such as improved management of coastal zones and water resources — that will enhance societal resilience to future climate impacts regardless of their cause. To define adaptation as a cost of failed mitigation is to expose millions of poor people in compromised ecosystems to the very dangers that climate policy seeks to avoid.

So why would the Tories wish to exclude discussion of alternative strategies? Why would they claim that alternatives would contradict the science, that they are ‘at the margin of the debate’, and that ‘we cannot risk them being wrong’? The answer is simple: lacking a framework of political principles, they have such little scope to set themselves apart from their Labour and Liberal (and for that matter, Green) counterparts that their only option for demonstrating their fitness for leadership is to appear to be taking the issue more seriously. And that’s the only option open to their counterparts, too. The result is an escalation of the ‘crisis’ that ends up looking more like the razor wars than politics.

Cynics on both sides of the issue may dismiss Cameron’s words as empty rhetoric, as mere postures assumed to embarrass the Labour Party, and to rob the liberals and the Greens of their environmentalist edge. They may well be right, but what is important here is to recognise how dramatically environmental thinking is narrowing political discussion about the future. Crisis politics dominates thinking right across the political spectrum and hides politics behind scientific absolutes which simply do not exist, and cannot be interrogated. Even the Socialist Workers Party is getting in on the act, calling for cuts of ‘at least 80 percent […] by 2030‘.

That all parties are pushing in the same direction on this one might lead some to argue that they can’t all be wrong. But it would be more true to say that they can’t all be correct. Discussions about the future are being reduced to an arms race of gimmicks that appeal to the very same fear that they generate. It’s enough to make five blades in a disposable razor seem like a positively radical, world-changing idea.

April 2007. Since its release in February, the IPCC’s AR4 (Working Group I) Summary for Policymakers has been uncritically reported in the mainstream media, and its findings often exaggerated. Because of a perception that the public mood demands action to mitigate climate change, the UK government has used the IPCC findings to justify committing the country to a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Like much environmental policy, this has gone largely unchallenged by opposition parties.

We believe that an unfounded sense of crisis – and therefore urgency – dominates public discussion of environmental issues. Thus, demands for urgent action to mitigate climate change thrive at the expense of genuine, illuminating, nuanced debate.

Neither the science nor the politics of climate change should be exempt from scrutiny. Our intention is to provide some decent commentary on how science, politics and the media handle environmental matters, for anyone interested in challenging this dangerous new orthodoxy. And for anyone just interested.

Where we’re starting from…

  1. There is good scientific evidence that human activities are influencing the climate.
  2. The evidence for anthropogenic climate change is neither as strong nor as demanding of action as is widely claimed.
  3. Our ability to mitigate, let alone reverse any such change through reductions in CO2 emissions is even less certain.
  4. The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported inaccurately reflects the true scientific consensus.
  5. There is no scientific consensus on how society should proceed in the face of a changing climate.
  6. How society should proceed in the face of a changing climate is the business of politics.
  7. Science does not and should not proceed by consensus.
  8. Political arguments about climate change are routinely mistaken for scientific ones.
  9. The IPCC is principally a political organisation.
  10. Environmentalism is principally a political phenomenon.
  11. And yet climate change policies go unchallenged by opposition parties.
  12. The goals/aspirations/values of society are/should be matters of politics, not science.
  13. The current emphasis on mitigation strategies is impeding society’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, whatever its cause.
  14. The public remain unconvinced that mitigation is in their best interests.
  15. Widespread disengagement from politics means that politicians pander only to the loudest, shrillest voices.
  16. Science is increasingly expected to provide moral certainty in morally uncertain times.
  17. Environmental concerns are serving to provide direction for directionless politics.

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