In the Pipeline

Just a quickie to say that we’re still here, and to flag up the Battle of Ideas festival at the Royal College of Art, London, 31 Oct/1 Nov.

Ben will be speaking at the session Solving the Energy Crisis: all about lightbulbs and lifestyle? where he’ll share the mic with Brenda Boardman (Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford; author of Home Truths: a low-carbon strategy to reduce UK housing emissions by 80%); Jacquie Burgess (professor of environmental risk, University of East Anglia); Martin Haigh (energy consultant, Shell); Peter Sammonds (professor of geophysics, UCL).

There’s lots more on the programme that might be of interest. Such as:

Bookshop Barnie at the Battle: ‘Why We Disagree about Climate Change’

The Fight over Flight: what’s the problem with air travel?

Abundant, Cheap, Clean… Contentious? Why is energy a battlefield today?

A Green New Deal: can environmentalism save the economy?

A New Nuclear Age?

See you there maybe.

On the Horizon

1) Battle of Ideas, 1-2 November, Royal College of Art, London

If last year’s event is anything to go by, it will be very good indeed. Here’s Professor Mike Hulme, School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and founding Director (2000-2007) of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, speaking at last year’s Battle at the session The Science and Politics of Climate Change, ten days after Al Gore and the IPCC got their Nobel Peace Prize:

To me it seems implicit that good science, as represented by the IPCC, plus good communication, as represented by Al Gore, will deliver peace on Earth. [But] it is not the case that, we have the scientific debate, then once we agree what the scientific evidence is, we simply have to communicate it, peace will break out, the world will act, and the problem would be solved. That is not what science’s role is; it’s not how most public political issues are resolved; and it’s certainly not the way climate change is going to be tackled […] The real issues are why we disagree about what to do about climate change. And science cannot provide us with the script that we all read from.

And if you have a spare 10 minutes, the rest is good, too:

[youtube XuxDkXwhtSo]

As are the other three speakers (90 minutes)

A couple of events jump out at us from the 2008 programme: Is our behaviour determined by our evolution?

Is the renewed interest in the evolutionary, genetic and psychological basis of human behaviour inspired by new evidence, or a diminished view of the human condition? Are social and cultural phenomena beyond the proper scope of natural science, or have we just become less hysterical about turning the microscope on ourselves?

Which makes us think of Andreas Ernst, Steven Moffic and Richard Louv. They aren’t on the panel. But the excellent Raymond Tallis is.

And for anybody intrigued by the uncanny similarities between environmentalism and the War on Terror, there’s Eco-imperialism?:

… Environmental concerns have joined terrorism and nuclear proliferation as key preoccupations in international affairs since the end of the Cold War. Free from the political constraints of the ‘old world order’, UN officials, Western politicians and NGOs frequently argue that the ‘international community’ has a responsibility to intervene in the affairs of ‘rogue’ sovereign states.Should industrial pollution and the destruction of natural habitats be seen as ‘crimes against nature’ (ecocide), justifying ecological interventions similar to humanitarian ones? Is the use of force to prevent serious and immediate environmental harm something we should now seriously consider? Or would this amount to ‘eco-imperialism’, transgressing international legal and political norms and state sovereignty?

2) Beyond the Pole, at a cinema near you, maybe, one day:

the first carbon-neutral, organic, and vegetarian option… er… expedition to make the pole

Perhaps satire isn’t dead after all. Although real life did beat them to it.

Watering Down Development

Before the abysmal British summers of 2007 and 2008, a series of hot summers lead to the inevitable speculation that the UK would, in the near future, have a summer climate like that of the Mediterranean. If only! This in turn fuelled speculation that the water supply shortages that the country experienced would also become a more permanent feature of British life. This has always baffled us Editors, one of whom remembers a radio program broadcast a few years ago, about the ‘drought’. What was especially baffling was that the Editor in question had, as the program began, run some water from a tap, into a kettle, to make a cup of tea, and had just walked home over a bridge crossing a river, which seemed to have burst its banks into a field. What kind of ‘drought’ is happening while rivers are bursting their banks, and taps are flowing?

Our suspicions that something fishy was going on were confirmed when top secret satellite data was leaked to us from a highly confidential source. The data was generated by sophisticated sensing techniques known as ‘taking a picture in space’ to form an image of the surface of the Earth. When we got it, complex algorithms called ‘Photoshop’ running on a supercomputer called a ‘Pentium P5’ at Climate Resistance HQ processed the data to make the image readable by humans, and to reveal the truth to the claims that the world faces water shortages.

In seriousness, however… Talk of water shortages are key to many stories about the future. And climate change offers a superficially plausible reason to panic about ‘water wars’, and the breakdown of society. This shallow thinking holds that as people use more water than natural cycles can replenish, and as climate shifts, taking water away from its ‘natural’ flow, so the effect of drought will cause tensions that will escalate into wars, and other forms of social chaos. This is environmental determinism, writ large. And it is a departure from the thinking which guided the great Victorian engineers, who, over a century ago, set about building enormous reservoirs, dams, drainage and irrigation infrastructure, sewers, and water treatment works. And into the bargain, they even managed to make it look nice! They were not concerned with nature’s providence, but how to meet human needs, regardless of her whims. The scale of those projects, in today’s narrow mindset is incomprehensible. Hence, ambitions throughout the world are diminished by this sense of impossibility. That is less of a problem here in the UK, where, for a few months of the year, because of insufficient investment, we might not be allowed to water the garden or to wash the car. Where there are not the legacies of the Victorian (and later) engineers, the reality of water scarcity is much grimmer.

The absurd hand-wringing and washed-out arguments relating to ‘water shortage’ are challenged by a new film produced by WORLDwrite. Here is a trailer from the film, which puts the mealy-mouthed effluent from the panic-mongering misanthropists into context.

[youtube Q-etT7VdWy8 ‘Flush It’ – WORLDwrite]

What is striking about the trailer is that, even in just a few moments, it exposes the absurd thinking behind cynicism towards development and its possibilities, and its disregard for the abilities and lives of those living in the developing world. These problems are much bigger problems than scarcity. In fact, they actively cause scarcity, and the problems associated with it.

Because of the influence of environmentalism masquerading as ‘science’, it is taken as read that development is impossible, and scarcity is inevitable. The ensuing arguments create ‘ethics’, by which development is challenged, seemingly in the interests and on behalf of the very people who it aims to help. But as we have said before, this kind of ethics is generated not for the benefit of people living in the developing world, but people – usually quite well-off people – often seeking little more than a direction for themselves, or to assuage guilt. WORLDwrite are particularly good at revealing the hypocrisy and doublespeak beneath conspicuous compassion, and the self-interest of people using images of starving and diseased children, whilst deciding for them what aspirations and resources they ought to be entitled to. What WORLDwrite’s productions ultimately reveal is that the biggest obstacle to solving the world’s real problems is the intellectual poverty right here in the ‘developed’ world.

Flush It will be premiered at the Battle of Ideas festival in November – well worth a visit, for the film, and for the many debates relating to the subject, whatever your views.

Battle of the Planet

The Institute of Ideas have put the video of The Science and Politics of Climate Change debate from this years Battle of Ideas festival online.

We’ve given Mike Hulme of the Tyndall Centre a bit of stick in our time, but he’s very good in this – “The real issues are about why we disagree about what to do about climate change, and science cannot provide us with the script from which we all read from” – as are Chris Rapley of the British Antarctic Survey, Hans Von Storch, and Joe Kaplinsky. It’s a very cool and positive debate, and they discuss their differences in good humour, avoiding the angry exchanges and accusations that too often accompany the meetings of different opinions on climate change politics and science. It’s well worth watching in its entirety.

Battling On

The Institute of Ideas are putting online a series of essays called ‘Battles in Print‘ to complement their yearly Battle of Ideas festival of debates. One of the essays was written by us. You can read it here. And here’s a preview of Climate science: truth you can wear on your hands,

’We are armed only with peer reviewed science’, declared the banner at the head of the Climate Camp march along the proposed route of the third runway at Heathrow in August. And in one sense they were – literally. The protesters were wearing gloves made from photocopied research papers and waving them at the police and television cameras as though nothing more needed to be said. For anyone still labouring under the misapprehension that behind the gloves was a careful argument for why the runway should not be built, Climate Camp spokesperson Timothy Lever was on hand to put them straight. ‘It’s not us saying you need to stop flying’, he said, ‘it’s the science that is telling us that we all need to fly less.’

One of the 70+ debates likely to be interesting to anyone concerned with the rise of environmentalism is The science and politics of climate change, which features:

Professor Mike Hulme, professor of climate change, University of East Anglia; founding director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Joe Kaplinsky, science writer
Professor Chris Rapley CBE, director, Science Museum; outgoing director, British Antarctic Survey
Hans von Storch, director, Institute for Coastal Research, GKSS Research Centre; professor at Meteorological Institute, University of Hamburg

Check out the full program for a host of other debates which will also be interesting, whichever side of the warming debate you find yourself on.

We have exceptionally busy over the last two months, which means we’ve been unable to post anything new for a while. But please keep an eye on the site, as we’re hoping things will return to normal shortly.