Hansen’s Glacial Recession

A CNN article at the end of last week said that

A team of international scientists led by Dr James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, say that carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are already in the danger zone.

The ‘danger zone’? Is that ‘science’? Either way, the opinions of these alarmist scientists is hardly news…

Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere currently stand at 385 parts per million (ppm) and are rising at a rate of two ppm per year. This is enough, say the scientists, to encourage dangerous changes to the Earth’s climate. As a result we risk expanding desertification, food shortages, increased storm intensities, loss of coral reefs and the disappearance of mountain glaciers that supply water to hundreds of millions of people.

Hansen has established his public profile by making incautious statements exaggerating the extent of global warming and its effects. Consequently, he is celebrated by the environmental movement. Yet, as we reported in the past, the curious positioning as a hero puts as much distance between him and the ‘scientific consensus’ represented by the IPCC Assessment Reports as there exists between the IPCC and any climate change ‘denier’. For example, where Hansen has warned of sea-level rises measured in feet, the IPCC’s most recent report talks of just inches.

Hansen-worshipers answer that the IPCC is naturally conservative about its estimations. But on that basis, we might as well dispense with the IPCC – whose reports have successively down-graded their estimates of sea-level rise over the years – and indeed, science itself. The environmentalists switch their investment from the ‘scientific consensus’ to the maverick as it suits them. Not as much a credit crunch as a credibility crunch. A speculative bubble is forming around Hansen.

Here at Climate Resistance, we have long argued that whatever the scientific realities of climate change, it does not justify the special politics that are demanded by environmentalists. This is partly because, however much warming the natural world is subject to, human society is far more dynamic, adaptable, and able to alter itself than the natural world. The human world is not an extension of the natural world. It is not weathered and changed by the elements.

Although at any instant, human society is dependent on natural process to function, the instance of those dependencies are not what human society is predicated on. Human society has experienced all manner of climate problems, localised shortages of resources, and over-abundances of weather. But where it rains a lot, we build drainage systems. Where it doesn’t, we build dams and reservoirs, and divert rivers. We fertilise soil, irrigate dry fields, and build sea defences. Of course, there are the occasional failures of the systems we build, but where there has been the most development, people are far better protected than their predecessors.

So why are scientists so worried about desertification, food shortages, increased storm intensities, and the disappearance of mountain glaciers’?

Until this year, a bigger problem for the developed world than food shortage and desertification was an over-abundance of food production. Over the last few decades, many international organisations and governments have aimed to reduce agricultural production while environmentalists, claiming that that ‘climate change is happening now’ worried about decreasing fertility. This year saw record prices in food and fuel, but not because of peak oil, as was claimed, and not because of climate change. The reason for these price spikes is all too human. As we pointed out recently, in spite of Oxfam’s claim that the poor in Bangladesh are being ‘driven further into poverty because of climate change’, agricultural production and yield had increased, as had GDP. If poverty in Bangladesh is increasing, clearly it has little to do with a changing climate. Similarly, there is little evidence that storm intensity and frequency are increasing.

Hansen thinks these sorts of changes would take several centuries, but he said we would have to deal with a “holy mess…as ice sheet disintegration unfolded out of our control”. As far as current global observations are concerned, Hansen cites both the decline of Arctic sea ice and the worldwide retreat of mountain glaciers as causes for major concern. “Once they are gone,” he said, “the fresh water supplies for hundreds of people dependent on rivers originating in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky mountains will be severely reduced in summer and fall.”

While ice extent may indeed be ‘out of our control’, (as if it was ever in our control) the issue for humans is not controlling the weather, but controlling our vulnerability to it. We do that, not by aiming to control the weather one way or the other, but, as described above: adapting to become resilient to the weather, and to controlling the local environment.

Hansen’s alarmism loses sight of our ability to adapt. Perhaps glaciers will melt. But for the ‘hundreds of people dependent on rivers originating in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky mountains’, all is not lost. If glaciers melt, it says little in the general sense about the net input to those glaciers. It will still rain and snow in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky mountains. The water will still flow downhill, as it always has. This creates a new opportunity for dam-building, putting the elements more concretely under our control.

And there is the rub. Environmentalists don’t actually want things to be under our control. The objective of environmentalism – some kind of synchronicity with the natural world – is not based on necessary principles emerging from climate science, but on an ethic, a higher purpose of which we are mere subjects.

Dr Hansen says it’s impossible to say when we will reach the point of no return. “It’s like the economy, it’s a non-linear problem,” he said. “You knew, given the continued input of big deficit spending that things would go to pot, but nobody could predict the time of collapse with any confidence. We had better start reducing emissions soon and get back below 350 ppm within several decades — otherwise I doubt that the ice sheets can stand such a long strong pressure.”

Similarly, being able to make statements about what the future consists deprives the environmental movement of its capital: fear. For if we were able to make definitive statements about what the future might bring, we could develop accordingly, again, extending our ability to control adverse effects.

Hansen’s fear and uncertainty about the future will drive society into a catastrophe of its own making, not one inflicted by an angry Gaia. As we have said before, environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more we believe that society is determined not by ourselves, but by climatic effects, the more we will organise ourselves around the idea, limiting our ability to respond to climate – changing or not.

Environmentalism According to Lucas

Over the last year, we have looked at some of the words and ideas coming from the environmental movement through the Green Party’s MEP for SE England, Caroline Lucas. With her breathless, urgent catastrophism, Lucas epitomises Environmentalism and its hollow vision, shallow intellect, and deep misanthropy. In these respects, Lucas never disappoints us.

However, we are never very successful at getting Lucas or her press office to account for anything she has said. Luckily, she was on BBC TV’s Question Time last week, and has been appearing at a number of public events of late. So here is another opportunity to subject Lucas’s political ideas to some scrutiny.

The Question Time panel were asked if the Labour Party were suffering from a leadership crisis, to which Caroline Lucas replied that Labour’s problem is that it lacks values, that it no longer knows what it stands for, that it has abandoned its traditional values such as equality, and that Gordon Brown is a man who doesn’t know what he wants.

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We agree with Lucas that the Labour Party is in crisis because it doesn’t know what it stands for. As we say in our first ever post, “Environmental concerns are serving to provide direction for directionless politics”. That is why Blair and Brown were keen to be seen to be acting on climate change, and that is why, in response to that action, the Tories committed themselves to a policy of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, against Labour’s 60%. And that is why, not to be out-done, the Liberal Democrats upped their bidding to a 100% reduction by 2050. But are Lucas and the Green Party offering anything so different?

As we have also pointed out, Environmentalism thrives in this atmosphere of political vapidity, not because it represents an alternative, but because it captures the nervousness caused by a lack of political direction. Environmentalism nurtures a general sense of doom with ideas about societal and ecological collapse. Without that sense of doom, environmentalism would be nothing.

As political movements across the political spectrum have increasingly found it difficult to generate ideas through which to connect to the public, so they have had to turn to other ways to achieve their legitimacy and authority. As Lucas points out, the Labour Party is suffering from a ‘crisis of direction’. But Lucas and the Greens have not found a direction by locating a new political vision to steer towards, but a nightmare to claim to be steering away from. Lucas attacks Brown for having no values, yet her arguments for social and economic change are not formed out of her principled objections to the way in which people relate to one another through social and economic structures. Instead, Lucas’s philosophy depends on a conception of humanity’s relationship with nature. She is, in terms of values, as poverty-stricken as any of those she attacks. Lucas doesn’t have some great store of values, with which she can create a positive view of how the world could be. Here is Lucas, speaking at a recent debate held by the World Development Movement, setting out her case for carbon rationing, trading and ‘equality’ and selling her argument for ‘equality’ in such (pseudo) scientific terms.

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Notice that, in that speech, Lucas is using the word ‘resources’, not in the sense of stuff that we have, but in terms of the biosphere’s ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

It seems that, in order to make a case for equality, Lucas needs there to be a finite world, as if, were there no such limits (to the absorption of CO2 by natural processes), there would be no case for equality. This prevents her from conceiving of a world in which equality is achieved, not by rationing and people having less, but by people having more, and having their expectations raised. Lucas doesn’t have ‘values’, and hides the fact behind science. ‘Science’ is being used in place of values. ‘Science’ is Environmentalism’s fig leaf. It is being used to create the idea of limits, so that Environmentalism doesn’t have to commit itself to providing anything more than less and less. And just as science is used instead of values, doom is a stand in for political vision. If we don’t do as ‘science’ (environmentalism) says, then catastrophe awaits. Here, for example, Lucas tells us that unless we put up with high fuel prices and tax, we wont adjust our behaviour, and society will collapse.

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It is an ‘interesting’ argument that says we need to artificially keep oil prices high because… err… the days of cheap oil are over because… err… of peak oil. For someone who lectures us about ‘science’, the logic of the causal world seems to have escaped Lucas’s understanding. Scarcity would do Lucas’s work for her. Obviously, what is at issue is not rescuing humanity from a looming catastrophe, but the legitimacy of a political movement bent on creating a behavioural and cultural change for its own benefit, on the premise that only it can save us from the terrible chaos that awaits us.

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As much as Lucas tries to make her ideas sound positive, they are underscored and sold by a vision of catastrophe. She may talk of progressive ideas such as ‘equality’, ‘justice’, and ‘liberty’, but all of these ideas are mediated by, and through the environment. Our freedom is limited, not guaranteed by the environment. Equality is measured in environmental, pseudo-scientific terms of resource distribution. Social justice, according to Lucas, is equivalent to ‘environmental justice’. But what a pale imitation of justice that is; it doesn’t right any wrongs, or create the possibility of a better standard of living. And where Lucas promises that there will be less unemployment under a Green Government, it is because a ‘zero carbon economy’ is far more labour-intensive than its fully-powered counterpart. In such an economy, the job that oil did will be done by people. Fancy a job as a serf? How about a career as a treadmill operative? This will be the ‘equality’ and the ‘social justice’ that Lucas has designed for us.

The use of science to limit political possibilities, and lower our horizons by constructing plausible catastrophic scenarios is the everyday language of environmentalism. But, surprisingly, the failure of this unremittingly negative view of the world hasn’t escaped Lucas’ attention.

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What? Caroline Lucas is against climate alarmism? The same Caroline Lucas who, in July last year, compared climate scepticism to holocaust denial? The same Caroline Lucas who said in July last year that,

… if you look at the implications of climate change, of runaway climate change, we are literally talking about millions and millions of people dying, we are literally talking about famines, and flooding, and migration and disease on an unprecedented scale. And so yes, I know these are sensitive words that I’ve used, but I feel so strongly that we urgently need to wake people up and stop this march towards catastrophe that I very much feel that we’re on.

Is the Caroline Lucas who is now against catastrophism the same Caroline Lucas who said in November,

… when you hear scientists say that we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change, I don’t think what the public actually want is cautiousness, what they want is real leadership, and that is what
the EU is promising to give, and yet that’s what we’re failing to do here.

Is it the same Caroline Lucas who said in February,

Around 75 per cent of all cancers are caused by environmental factors, mainly chemicals…

Is the Caroline Lucas who doesn’t believe that alarmism works, the same Caroline Lucas in this video?

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Lucas appears to be very confused about what she is selling, and how she is selling it. She claims that we must change the way we live, to expect less, and to make do and mend, but that, somehow, this will make us all happier. She claims that she doesn’t depend on catastrophic visions to connect with the public, yet without it, there is no imperative to give her ideas a second thought. She claims to be part of a democratic movement, yet demands that the state regulate our behaviour. She claims to speak on behalf of the poor, yet would deprive the poor of the material means to change their lives; cheap goods, fuel, and mobility. She claims to have science on her side, yet she campaigns against the benefits of science; she is against animal research, and against evidence based medicine, favouring instead ‘alternative’ therapies; she campaigns against the use of agricultural and industrial chemicals; and she campaigns against anything which might have the charge of ‘unsustainable’ thrown at it. She claims to be against the coercive influence of big business, but in its place, she would put an authoritarian government that would regulate your freedom to travel, to buy things, and coerce you into observing an ‘environmentally friendly’ lifestyle.

A loss of values in politics is a bad thing. But the Green Party is far far worse. Give us disorientation over deeply confused misanthropy, any day.