According to the likes of Bob Ward, George Monbiot, Ben Goldacre and Steve Connor, it is a well established fact that the slump in global temperatures over three decades in the middle of the last century is the result of changes in the composition of atmospheric aerosols following various clean air acts in the western world.
Failure to acknowledge this fact is ‘straightforward scientific dishonesty’, according to Monbiot, and ‘a major misrepresentation of the scientific evidence’, in the words of Ward. Goldacre described the question of the post-war temperature slump as a prime example of a denialist ‘zombie argument’ (it ‘survive[s] to be raised again, for eternity, no matter how many times [it is] shot down’) and wrote that it has ‘been answered already, ages ago’. It’s the aerosols, stupid.
We have stated repeatedly that such certainty is not justified by the state of scientific understanding of atmospheric aerosols (see links above). So it’s good to see Quirin Schiermeier’s piece in today’s issue of Nature – The real holes in climate science – which identifies aerosols as one of four problematic areas of climate change research (the other three being Regional climate prediction, Precipitation, and The tree-ring controversy):
Atmospheric aerosols — airborne liquid or solid particles — are a source of great uncertainty in climate science. Despite decades of intense research, scientists must still resort to using huge error bars when assessing how particles such as sulphates, black carbon, sea salt and dust affect temperature and rainfall.
Overall, it is thought that aerosols cool climate by blocking sunlight, but the estimates of this effect vary by an order of magnitude, with the top end exceeding the warming power of all the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by humans.
One of the biggest problems is lack of data…
Schiermeier goes on to describe how little is understood about the relative contributions of white aerosols (eg, sulphates, which have a cooling effect) and black carbon (which has a warming effect); how we don’t know the atmospheric aerosol composition in the present, let alone the past; how little we know about the way in which aerosols interact with clouds and other atmospheric processes, etc.
He doesn’t go into the implications of this lack of knowledge for our understanding of the post-war temperature slump. But it goes without saying that, if ‘Scientists have yet to untangle the interplay between pollution, clouds, precipitation and temperature’, then the claims of Ward, Monbiot, Goldacre, Connor et al are wildly off the mark, if not examples of ‘straightforward scientific dishonesty’.
Thankfully, neither is the post-war temperature slump mentioned in the obligatory list of long-debunked denialist arguments (Enduring climate myths) that accompanies Schiermeier’s article – something of a first for the genre.
The Nature piece is not without its faults. For a start, it is framed in terms of the putative attack on climate science by ‘deniers’. And Hans von Storch is already complaining that Schiermeier has misquoted him, and that the article ignores myths perpetuated by the orthodoxy (of which we could add a few of our own). But perhaps it has dealt the severe head trauma that was needed to finish off for good the real zombie argument – that ‘Temperatures declined after the Second World War as a result of sulphate pollution from heavy industry, causing global dimming. This is well-known to all climate scientists.‘
One event, seen by two environmental activists called George, produces two, contradicting stories in the Guardian.
George Marshall, suggests that CRU email hacking was ‘orchestrated smear campaign’, but one which yielded no evidence of anything questionable, but that ‘an application of dirty political tactics to climate change campaigning’ seeks to undermine the upcoming Copenhagen conference. Innocent scientists, who know little about communication, have unwittingly handled the affair badly, causing a PR disaster for themselves.
George Monbiot, on the other hand, is uncharacteristically reflective, and ‘dismayed and deeply shaken by’ the emails. ‘There are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad’, he says.
There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request. Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Monbiot then calls for head of the CRU, Phil Jones, to resign. Nonetheless, this doesn’t support the conspiracy-theories about the hockey stick and widespread scientific fraud, he concludes, before giving a ‘satirical’ example of what it would take to convince him that such a conspiracy did exist. Most notably, however, he answers a commenter to the site:
I apologise. I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely.
This is, of course, what we’ve been telling Monbiot for several years now.
The point here is that the two Georges seem to have very different takes on what the CRU hacking has revealed. Marshall believes that the attempt to prove a conspiracy reveals a conspiracy. Monbiot says that the hacking has not substantiated the conspiracy-theory, but that certain scientists are culpable. It’s worth pointing out that, although Marshall and Monbiot accuse sceptics of conspiracy-theorising, their own arguments about ‘deniers’ and ‘well funded denial machines’ are also conspiracy theories.
We have argued here on Climate Resistance that it is a mistake to see the ascendency of environmentalism’s influence as the fruit of a conspiracy. This, we have argued, credits the environmental movement with too much. What we have said is that environmentalism has become mainstream because of the failure of the political parties, individuals, organisations, and institutions to sustain coherent political ideas and to share them with the public. The environmentalist’s tendency to see scepticism as the expression of a conspiracy owes itself, we think, to this same symptom. Climate change denial is discussed in terms of secret deals between trans-national corporations and think-tanks to subvert the public’s understanding of ‘the science’. Whereas such networks that they do manage to ‘expose’ turn out to be barely funded at all (especially by contrast to green lobbying and PR efforts), not at all hidden from view, and entirely consistent with the way the business of politics is done in today’s world. The point is that it is because environmentalists start from a position of disorientation that they tend to see any political relationship or connection as evidence of a conspiracy. The 9/11 ‘truthers’ offer us a useful metaphor: it is what isn’t said that often counts for more than what is said.
But let’s be fair. It isn’t just environmental activists who are conspiracy-mongering. The increasingly prominent climate sceptic Christopher Monckton wrote yesterday:
This is what they did — these climate “scientists” on whose unsupported word the world’s classe politique proposes to set up an unelected global government this December in Copenhagen, with vast and unprecedented powers to control all formerly free markets, to tax wealthy nations and all of their financial transactions, to regulate the economic and environmental affairs of all nations, and to confiscate and extinguish all patent and intellectual property rights.
Monckton is right that this is a phenomenon relating to the ‘classe politique’, but he again makes the mistake of attributing to it far too much intentionality. The objectives of environmentalism are not deliberate, nor about purposively engineering a social order as such. They are not ‘about’ realising any political project. There is certainly a concerted effort to build supra-national institutions that will control, regulate and manage every level of public and private life. But the ‘classe politique’s’ desire for these institutions is unfocussed, and the result of its attempting to manage its own crises. What Monckton sees as an attempt to establish a ‘global government’ are the desperate attempts of governments to rescue themselves from their own failure of purpose. As we are fond of saying, ‘the crisis is in politics, not in the skies’. Politicians and political movements project their own failures – their loss of identity, and their inability to communicate with constituencies and to explain the world – out into the world. They respond to their own failure, by creating institutions that are ‘above’ them, to which they defer.
The unconscious logic is this… Politicians (and movements, etc) borrow authority from science, because they cannot create their own. As such, any political project that this process produces is necessarily negative – the avoidance of catastrophe, terrorism, epidemics, etc. In short, politicians borrow ‘objectivity’ from science because of a lack of faith in the inherently subjective nature of democratic politics – the need for political engagement and discussion. But the loan of credibility from science to politics is not sufficient to sustain the legitimacy of political institutions, because of the problem of democratic accountability and legitimacy. As we can see, this form of politics has failed to connect with the public. So, on the basis of the looming catastrophe, institutions are established above politics, which it putatively ‘answers to’. Contemporary politics (ie, politicians) cannot cope with accountability, and so defers sovereignty away from ‘the people’ (to whom they are accountable) to a higher agency, such that it can be made ‘necessary’ to meet ‘international obligations’ (and to avert catastrophe) before meeting demands ‘from below’. In short, this is about managing people’s expectations of politics and politicians.
Monckton’s criticism is expressed as concern about the vulnerability of ‘free trade’ to environmental institutions, taxation, and regulation. But it is during an era in which the idea of free markets have become orthodoxy that the conditions for environmentalism’s ascendancy have been created. In that same era, communism has virtually disappeared, socialism too. What remains of the ‘left’ – social democracy – has embraced market principles. Moreover, it is as much conservatives as ossified leftists who have attempted to reinvent themselves as ‘green’. The climate debate simply does not divide on either left/right or pro-market/anti-market lines. The UK conservatives have fully embraced the sustainability agenda, and its emphasis on localism. Moreover, schemes such as cap-and-trade, albeit while regulating a market, nonetheless use the market to provide putative solutions to putative climate problems. And it should not be forgotten that it was Monckton’s former boss, Thatcher, who was instrumental in bringing climate change to the attention of the world’s governments, and the creation of UK and international institutions to combat climate change. As the website of the exposed CRU itself explains:
The UK Government became a strong supporter of climate research in the mid-1980s, following a meeting between Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher and a small number of climate researchers, which included Tom Wigley, the CRU director at the time. This and other meetings eventually led to the setting up of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, within the Met Office. At the same time, other governments were also taking notice and wanted more information. As this need was not being met by international scientific bodies and institutions at the time, they set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This was under the United Nations Framework (later the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC) and led to assessments being produced in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007. CRU staff have been heavily involved in all four assessments, probably more than anywhere else relative to the size of an institution (see IPCC AR4 Authors).
The ‘classe politique’ began its greening, and its borrowing from scientific authority more than 25 years ago – during which time Monckton himself was an active member of that same ‘classe politique’ he now shouts at. Yet he spoke to it, and influenced it. He cannot have it both ways. The history of contemporary environmentalism is as much the history of contemporary conservatism as it is the history of the contemporary, yet now equally defunct, Left. That it has taken him this long to see what kind of monster has been created is surely something on which he needs to reflect a little more deeply than he has done. The sleep of reason brings forth monsters… It is not enough to say ‘environmentalism is communism’, because he must know it is not true – he was there at the former’s birth, if not its conception, and the latter’s comprehensive death. Such an ahistorical perspective is precisely the symptom of the Georges, and their paranoid conspiracy-mongering. Yet the Georges can be let off the hook – slightly – because it cannot be claimed that they were there, at number 10 Downing Street, as environmentalism’s seeds were being sown.
Our argument thus far, then, can be summarised as follows. It is disorientation that causes debate to be seen as consisting of good guys beset by political conspiracies. The loss of historical perspective causes attempts to give a coherent account of the opposing argument to fail. Both ‘sides’ lack the means to explain the other, and to positively express themselves. Thus each side becomes the side that wants to save the world, the other the one that intends to destroy it. Yet, no doubt, both sides act out of conviction, and in good faith, even if they would deny the other. Their problem is their inability to self-reflect.
Curiously, the responses to the ‘Climategate’ mess similarly do not divide according to ‘sides’ taken in the debate. Monbiot thinks that those involved need to be punished:
I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.
Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, believes that ‘only a thorough investigation could now clear [the CRU researchers'] names.’
The selective disclosure and dissemination of the messages has created the impression of impropriety, and the only way of clearing the air now would be through a rigorous investigation.
Nigel Lawson, another conservative-from-the-Thatcher-administration-turned-climate-sceptic similarly feels there is a need for such a process:
The integrity of the scientific evidence on which not merely the British government, but other countries, too, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claim to base far-reaching and hugely expensive policy decisions, has been called into question. And the reputation of British science has been seriously tarnished. A high-level independent inquiry must be set up without delay.
On each side of the debate, there are those for, and those against such an investigation, and those who think that the CRU researchers need to be either punished, or exonerated. No clear lines emerge.
Ward, characteristically, presupposes the findings of any such investigation. If it’s green, it’s right, in his view of the world. Monbiot and Lawson, to different extents, believe that clarity needs to be recovered. Marshall takes a different view, saying that:
Jones should speak to every journalist who calls, go on the offensive and defend his science.
Before we agree with Marshall, we shall point out that if Jones had taken this advice years ago, there would be no Climategate now. It’s a bit late to start being ‘transparent’, now that it is clear that he has gone out of his way to be opaque.
The Guardian article from which many of these quotes were taken, goes on to cite another opinion.
Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth’s executive director, also dismissed calls for an inquiry. He said: “Calls for an inquiry look suspiciously like an attempt to cast doubt on the science of climate change ahead of crucial UN negotiations. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists believe that climate change is happening, that it is man-made, and that it poses a major threat to people across the planet. We can’t afford to be distracted from the need for urgent action to combat global warming – rich countries must lead the way by agreeing to slash their emissions when they meet in Copenhagen next month.
… In other words, the stakes are too high to allow an investigation to create the idea in the public mind that there is any reason to doubt the certainty that the CRU have seemingly produced.
If there were such an inquiry, it would certainly not be the first of its kind.
Bjorn Lomborg’s book, The Skeptical Environmentalist attracted much angry attention earlier this decade, prompting an investigation by the Orwellian-sounding Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD). They found Lomborg guilty of ‘dishonesty’ in 2003, but later that year, the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation overturned the ruling, finding it dishonest itself.
After McCintyre and McKitrick’s efforts to replicate the methodology of the iconic ‘hockey-stick’ graph and subject it to the scrutiny it deserved, the US congress asked the National Research Council (NRC) of the United States National Academy of Sciences to investigate the plausibility of such historical reconstructions (the North Report). Simultaneously, another report was instigated by Congressman, Joe Barton, focusing more specifically on the work behind the Hockey Stick (the Wegman Report).
Speaking in the aftermath of the recent leak (but before the discussion of an inquiry), Bob Ward brings up what he presents as ‘attacks’ on the Hockey-stick’s authors.
The attacks on the hockey stick graph led the United States National Academy of Sciences to carry out an investigation, concluding in 2006 that although there had been no improper conduct by the researchers, they may have expressed higher levels of confidence in their main conclusions than was warranted by the evidence.
In fact, the reports and their meanings are far less easy to parse than Ward claims. For McIntrye’s perspective on the reports and their findings, read here.
The fact is that institutional modes of ‘clearing up’ controversies fail comprehensively. Critics of Lomborg will cite the initial DSCD finding, rather than its parent organisations retraction. Similarly, the reports that followed in the wake of McIntyre and McKitrick are not as conclusive as their detractors (or their supporters) often claim. Arguably these kind of reports merely muddy the waters, entrench positions, demonstrate the paucity of clear evidence, and, far from convincing the public of the stainless character of those implicated, such inquiries just generate suspicion about the execution of the process, and alienate the public from the debate. Lack of facts provoke an argument, and rather than drawing a line under sordid affairs, inquiries have a tendency to amplify them.
Moreover, an inquiry into Climategate would be truly Kafkaesque. Politicians, deferring the business of democratic politics to scientific and supra-national institutions, commissioning inquiries when that process generates controversy… It’s easy to imagine an infinite regress of deferments… commissions, inquiries, reports, organisations… none of which ever resolve the increasingly surreal problematic created by the previous layer of spin, intrigue, sleaze and abrogations of responsibility.
No, the problem begins with this. There is no need for an inquiry into the behaviour of the CRU staff, because what is really at issue is not ‘is the world really warming, and is it our fault?’. Creating institution after inquiry after organisation after report after commission after committee, after international treaty, after ‘science’ to answer this question is the reason this whole debacle stinks. The farce began with politics being deferred to ‘science’. Instead of a public contest of values and ideas, vapid and gutless politicians outsourced their responsibilities to scientific academies, hoping that it would rescue their own legitimacy. It failed. An inquiry will shed no light on the matter as much as it would extend the symptom, because, as we said in our previous post:
There is no need for sceptics to attempt to locate conspiracies, fraud, or deception. Because the reality is that environmentalism has thrived in an era in which any purposive political action – least of all the execution of a conspiracy – is impossible. Environmentalism has influenced public policy not because of fraud, but because of the intellectual vacuity of politicians. And it is beyond the ken of most commentators, journalists, and eco-PR bods such as Ward to deceive the public, because they don’t even reflect on the coherence, consequences, or political character of their own ideas. Fecklessness is rife, and that is why the world is greening.
Unless you live a fully sustainable life in a cave without any internet access, you will no doubt be aware of the hacking into a UK climate research institution’s computer system, and the release of emails between prominent figures in the small world of climate science.
This is, of course, immensely good fun, and intriguing, and is already leading to questions being asked about what the small group of individuals involved were up to. The question in the sceptic’s mind is naturally whether this data will reveal the smoking gun, leading to the discovery that liberties have been taken with certain facts. Certainly, some embarrassing prose has been exchanged, and now exposed. But it requires a degree of interpretation to make it stick. It is highly unlikely that this will render the entire climate debate over and done. But let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that there was something terribly damaging in the emails that have surfaced. Would it bring the house of cards down?
We don’t think it would.
The putative certainty that the ‘hockey stick’ provided for climate politics has not yielded the momentum the environmental movement et al think it entitles them to. Domestic climate politics has not won either the hearts or minds of the public, and climate policies remain the object of much scepticism, suspicion, and cynicism. The institutions that have been created seemingly in order to ‘deal with climate change’, at local, national, and international levels, have not been created though normal political processes, nor after having their objectives or principles tested democratically. As we argue here, these institutions have more likely been created because of a lack of public sympathy for environmentalism, than merely in spite of it. (If the greens had really won the argument, why would they not try to give the institutions that have been created in its name the legitimacy of a popular mandate, as well as blessing it with scientific authority?)
Environmentalists naturally seek to explain their political failure as a deficit between the public’s understanding of the issues and ‘the science’. Politicians, too, enjoy appearing to be responding to a crisis that exists above and beyond politics than responding to anything within it. Politics is suspended in order to ‘save the planet’ at the politicians convenience. Democracy is postponed until further notice. But not because of the hockey stick. In fact, the document that has been central to the ascendency of environmental politics owes little to scientific certainty:
In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. – Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
Published nearly a decade before the hockey stick’s appearance, this agreement, which is even signed by George Bush Sr, aims to be the framework which will lead to:
… international agreements which respect the interests of all and protect the integrity of the global environmental and developmental system
The foundation for this framework is belief in the ‘integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our home’, and that:
Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
Piecing these together… First, it is not necessary for there to exist a coherent argument that the Earth’s nature is ‘integral and interdependent'; the precautionary principle waves the Rio Declaration’s first premise past any scrutiny. Second, its unstated conclusion – the corollary to human beings’ entitlement to ‘a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature’ – is that humans aren’t entitled to a life that is not ‘in harmony with nature’ as it is conceived according to the tenets of ‘sustainable development’. By virtue of the ‘integral and interdependent nature of the Earth’, any life that is not ‘in harmony with nature’ is depriving another of its right to exist ‘in harmony with nature’. Never mind that ‘nature’ and ‘harmony’ are, at best, entirely nebulous, if not mystical concepts, this is environmentalism’s Bill of Rights or Magna Carta, only it leaves us humans with very little.
What’s this got to do with the CRU hacking, you say? Well, the point is that it is not necessary to peek behind the firewall to get an understanding of what kind of beast environmentalism – or any form of eco-centric political philosophy – is. What research such as that produced by the authors of the exposed emails does is supply the kind of framework expressed by the Rio Declaration with some parameters, merely so that it can narrate itself. That is to say that the politics of the Rio Declaration are prior to the Hockey Stick. Moreover, by virtue of the deployment of the precautionary principle, the conclusion of the Rio Declaration is its own premise. It’s got its head up its own arse.
The point is that any detected or projected rise in temperature does not speak for itself, no matter how sound the science behind it actually is. Any such data needs to be interpreted. That is to say that before you know what ‘science says’, you have to know what has been asked of it. As the Rio Declaration demonstrates, the question of what a rise in temperature means has already been given, or rather assumed. In the logic of environmentalism, the sensitivity of climate to CO2 is held to be equivalent to the sensitivity of society to climate. But this, again, has no basis in science. Instead it is an entirely political, or ethical precept, centered on the concept of ‘balance’ and ‘harmony’ with ‘nature’. The function of ‘science’, in what follows from environmental logic, is the search for ‘evidence’ of the status of this mythical balance. But, again, ‘evidence’ does not speak for itself, because, again, it requires interpretation. Anything that is not ‘normal’, implies ‘imbalanced’ in this way of thinking.
The mistake many sceptics have been making appears to be the mirror of the mistake that environmentalists have been making – they both assume that the argument for environmental politics emerges from environmental science, either correctly as a process that produces objectively sound analysis, or as an institution prone to corruption. It doesn’t. It is only recently that arguments emerging from the environmental movement have attempted to give themselves weight by appealing to what ‘science says…’ and that from this scientific fact emerge an array of ethical imperatives and its special form of politics. Previously, environmental arguments were expressed in terms of ‘precaution’. As we can see, the Rio Declaration posits a prior relationship with nature before a scientific conception of that relationship, making an institution of the precautionary principle well in advance of putative certainty.
Of course, the emergence of the hockey stick in IPCC TAR began to alter the language of the discussion away from precaution and towards scientific certainty. As such, it has become the focus of sceptics and of warmers, for a variety of reasons. And there are very good reasons – relating to both the scientific methodology, and owing to the behaviour of those that produced it – to doubt the hockey-stick’s prescience, never mind its hindsight. As a purely scientific exercise, it may well have its own merits. But those involved in its creation, and its uncritical reproduction across the climate discussion – the politicisation of climate science – brought the hacking-attempts upon themselves. Because once this graph was given such totemic significance to the political process – ie, once so many arguments about so many futures were seemingly based on this document – its authors should have either managed expectations of science, or fully opened up every aspect of their research to scrutiny. There is no legitimate reason for hiding any aspect of an argument which demands a course of action to ‘save the planet’.
In spite of the apparent certainty offered to the debate about climate change, however, the debate was not over. Even if the Hockey Stick graph really did demonstrate anthropogenic climate change, the argument about its consequences remain unresolved. As we have discussed in recent posts, the premise that the sensitivity of both human society and the climate are equivalent is unsound. For instance, it is claimed that ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’ in an attempt to naturalise the phenomenon of poverty. This assumes that not driving our cars will do anything to change the plight of the world’s poor, and fails to address the matter of poverty. The point here is that the environmentalist’s conception of humanity’s relationship with nature is not premised on material evidence.
A conclusive debunking of the ‘hockey stick’ graph will not debunk the framework through which the environmentalist sees the world. It will not challenge the basis of environmentalism. And it will not disturb the foundations of the institutions that have been established in order to ‘save the planet’ (ie, to reproduce environmental ideology). Copenhagen will not be built on hockey sticks, just as Kyoto wasn’t. It, like the Rio Declaration, was created before the IPCC produced any claims regarding conclusive detection of an anthropogenic signal in the temperature record.
Our argument here on this blog has been that in order to understand the ascendency of environmental politics, it must be seen principally as a political phenomenon. The politics is prior to the science. It’s not as if environmentalism is new. Eco-centric ideas have operated in political ideas throughout history. They didn’t persist in Malthus’s era. Romantic forms of socialism such as Morris’s failed to thrive. The blood-and-soil environmentalism of the Nazis did not survive. Paul Ehrlich’s dire prophecies did not materialise. The question sceptics need to address is why this kind of thinking stuck in the era roughly spanning the late 80s to the present. Until we can do that, no amount of scandal and debunking of exaggerated scientific claims will substantially alter the debate.
There is no need to explain the phenomenon of environmentalism and its success in influencing political institutions throughout the world as a conspiracy between a small number of people. It is evident that the greening of Western governments has occurred almost entirely without the ideas pertaining to this transformation ever having been the subject of democratic testing. It is transparent that the institutions that have been established are not populated by accountable individuals, and have been located outside, above, or beyond the reach of normal domestic politics. Politicians who have been instrumental in creating the green future have emphasised the scare story, rather than openly discussed what kind of future it is that they are creating. Whatever failures of scientific methodology or fraud these emails represent, exposing them will not expose the phenomenon of environmentalism and its causes.
None of this is intended to pour water on the arguments made in the debate by those who are focussed on the science. It is essential to scrutinise the science produced in this debate in order to show that there are problems in the political argument that they seemingly support. The point is that no amount of science can sort the debate out, because it is not principally a scientific debate.
Environmentalists claim that their argument is grounded in scientific objectivity. But this is only possible because they fail to see their argument as political. Writing on Friday about the CRU hacking, our old friend, Bob Ward, wrote in the Guardian:
More importantly, these skeptics have not overturned the well-established basic physics of the greenhouse effect, namely that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and increasing its concentration in the atmosphere causes the earth to warm. They also have not managed to make melting glaciers and rising sea levels, or any other evidence of warming, disappear into thin air. But they have managed to confuse some of the public about the causes of climate change.
Those making scientific arguments for political action on climate change cannot complain about confusing the public, and ought to focus instead on their own confusion. What Ward and those engaged in making arguments like his haven’t overturned is the idea that small changes in climate are easily coped with by wealthy, industrialised, economies. The premise that they operate on is that they cannot, and this is the basis of their political and ‘ethical’ outlooks. As such, their environmentalism turns into an argument against development, and against humanity itself. They betray this much when they attempt to explain any failure of their political ideas to resonate with the public. Ward continues:
Over the past five years, Mann and Jones in particular have been subjected not only to legitimate scrutiny by other researchers, but also to a co-ordinated campaign of personal attacks on their reputation by ‘sceptics’. If the hacked e-mails are genuine, they only show that climate researchers are human, and that they speak badly in private about ‘sceptics’ who accuse them of fraud.
It is inevitable as we approach the crucial meeting in conference in Copenhagen in December that the sceptics would try some stunt to try to undermine a global agreement on climate change. There is no smoking gun, but just a lot of smoke without fire.
Ward neglects to offer us any idea about which sort of scrutiny is legitimate, and which isn’t. The implication is that the good guys want to save the planet, and the bad guys want it to be destroyed. In Ward’s view, goodies and baddies populate the debate. Any attempt to scutinise the basis of an agreement at Copenhagen is, in Ward’s view, illegitimate, and will be answered by Ward accusing people of fraud, or some such illegitimate interest.
What this betrays is the fragility of the environmental argument and its premises. There is no need for sceptics to attempt to locate conspiracies, fraud, or deception. Because the reality is that environmentalism has thrived in an era in which any purposive political action – least of all the execution of a conspiracy – is impossible. Environmentalism has influenced public policy not because of fraud, but because of the intellectual vacuity of politicians. And it is beyond the ken of most commentators, journalists, and eco-PR bods such as Ward to deceive the public, because they don’t even reflect on the coherence, consequences, or political character of their own ideas. Fecklessness is rife, and that is why the world is greening.
Bob Ward is at it again. In an article for the Guardian, he writes that – shock, horror – ExxonMobil continues to fund organisations he disagrees with, even though he has told them not to.
A few weeks ago, ExxonMobil revealed that it made contributions in 2008 to lobby groups such as the National Center for Policy Analysis and the Heritage Foundation in order to “promote informed discussion”. So I have now written again to ExxonMobil to point out that these organisations publish misleading information about climate change on their websites
Ward, you might remember, started writing letters of complaint to the likes of Exxon when he was Director of Communications at the Royal Society, who supplied him with headed note-paper. He continued his crusade after taking up the post of Director of Global Science Networks at global risk insurance firm RMS. And he shows no sign of stopping now that he’s Policy and Communications Director at Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE.
The Guardian deems Ward’s article important enough to get its staff environment reporter to write an article about the fact that Ward has written an article:
The world’s largest oil company is continuing to fund lobby groups that question the reality of global warming, despite a public pledge to cut support for such climate change denial, a new analysis shows.
Company records show that ExxonMobil handed over hundreds of thousands of pounds to such lobby groups in 2008. These include the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) in Dallas, Texas, which received $75,000 (£45,500), and the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC, which received $50,000.
According to Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, at the London School of Economics, both the NCPA and the Heritage Foundation have published “misleading and inaccurate information about climate change.”
‘Hundreds of thousands of pounds’. Gosh. Compared to the sums made available for climate alarmism, even the ~$45 million paid out by Exxon over the course of a decade (according to Greenpeace’s Exxonsecrets website) is chicken feed. One only needs to compare it to the amount given by Ward’s benefactor, Jeremy Grantham, to put things into perspective. As a Sunday Times article revealed recently:
So concerned is Grantham, 70, over this issue that he has set up the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, endowed with £165m of his own money, to fund environmental research and campaigns. From it he is funding the LSE and Imperial donations, and other grants to American groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund.
So, just one individual has given nearly five times more in one lump to the green cause than Exxon (a petro-chemicals giant) is alleged to have given over the course of a decade. Nevermind the $billions at the disposal of the giant green NGOs such as WWF, and Greenpeace – many of which enjoy cosy relationships with governments and the EU, who go so far as paying such groups to lobby them.
According to Grantham:
Capitalism and business are going to have to remodel themselves and adapt to a rapidly changing and eventually very different world.
Says the… erm… Capitalist businessman. But whose interests will the remodelling of global capitalism and business serve?
Ward, of course, has his own interests served by elevating poorly-funded networks of ‘deniers’ to the status of global capitalist conspiracy. It gives the impression that there’s actually an organised challenge to the increasing influence of environmental ideology, giving him a role as its inquisitor. Thus, the image of the brave Ward standing against evil corporate conspiracies (with billionaires standing behind him, out of focus) gives such environmental ideology the appearance of socially-progressive radicalism.
Yet, arguably, Exxon are the ones doing the social good here, donating such sums that, if only in a small way, create the possibility of debate that has been so far dominated by the interests of the super-wealthy – the Goldsmiths, Prince Charles, the Tickells, Gore, and so on. Why should we take their word for it that their influence, and the influence of the institutions they lobby for, and fund, and direct, are operating in our interests?
Moreover, Ward’s accusations about the corrupting influence of corporate dollars can be thrown right back at him. From his HQ at the LSE, Ward’s boss Nick Stern runs both the Grantham and the Centre for Climate Change, Economics and Policy (CCCEP). While Ward’s employment is ostensibly with the Grantham, he also doubles up as PR man for the CCCEP. The CCCEP is funded jointly by the UK’s research councils and risk insurance giants Munich Re.
The close association between climate alarmists and the insurance industry is no less natural than that between ‘sceptics’ and Exxon. Just as Exxon might be expected to play down the threat of climate change when it suits them, Munich Re can be relied upon to overstate the dangers. Fear of risk is to the insurance industry what oil is to Exxon.
The difference is that Bob Ward doesn’t write letters of complaint to Munich Re insurers or articles for the Guardian when Munich Re disseminates ‘misleading and inaccurate information about climate change’ – which they surely do.
While Big Oil dishes out a few quid to a handful of pressure groups on the political fringes, Big Insurance conducts its business safely ensconced within the political, academic and scientific establishment. Its own brand of misleading and inaccurate information is acceptable simply because it does not conflict with the political goals of the environmental elite. Indeed, that same misleading and inaccurate information becomes central to the environmental cause, forming the basis of, for example, Kofi Annan’s much-publicised report ‘demonstrating’ that 300,000 people per year are dying as a result of climate change.
To take Exxon funding is to attract accusations of ‘denialism’, but to be funded by Munich Re is something to be proud of, to the extent that esteemed academic institutions such as the LSE want to tell the world about it:
New world-leading Grantham Research Institute opens for business as LSE joins forces with Munich Re on climate change
The £millions available to Ward and his colleagues have improved neither the quality of their arguments nor their popularity with the electorate. No wonder they are terrified that Exxon are still funding ‘deniers’. Grantham ought to ask for his money back. Surely, if ‘deniers’ were engaged in prostituting their intellectual resources for pure profit, the best way to ensure that the environmental message got heard would be to pay them to switch sides. After all, in spite of the $billions that have been made available to green causes, it’s only (allegedly) taken Exxon $45m to undo all that ‘good’ work.
Bob Ward’s accusations about our funding arrangements made us realise that anyone out there wishing to push their filthy dirty oil money our way have no way of getting it to us. To that end, we have installed a shiny new button, dedicated to him. Please feel free to click it (or the ‘donate’ menu item at the top of the page to contribute in £ or Euros) and help us keep the resistance going.
Even if you’re not an energy transnational, if the recession isn’t biting you too hard, and you enjoy this blog, just a dollar/euro/pound or two would come in handy. We’d like to upgrade our server, get a better functioning website design, and maybe add a few features.
Thank you most kindly.
Among the most absurd elements of climate change debates is the persistence of the issue of ‘funding’. Absurd because at the same time that science is held to give uncorrupted and incorruptible instructions about how to respond to a changing climate, it is also held – by the very same people – to be vulnerable to ‘attack’ and ‘distortion’ by financial interests. This form of argument has been deployed by alarmists to diminish the credibility of anyone challenging the ‘consensus’, whether or not they actually challenge ‘the science’. According to this logic, anybody who has any sympathy with any sort of contrary argument, if they aren’t part of the organised conspiracy to ‘distort the science’, have been brainwashed by it.
It’s also absurd because no matter how hard an attempt is made to divide the debate between good and bad, funded and unfunded, interested and disinterested, the argument fails. For every vested interest in ‘business as usual’, there is a venture capitalist lobbying for legislation that will create a market for their carbon finance products. For every ‘politically-motivated’ argument standing against the Kyoto Protocol and its successor, there is an ideologue angling to reorganise society according to the tenets of environmentalism. For every ‘denial’ of climate change science, a hundred more liberties are taken with the facts in the other direction.
It’s even more absurd because those who shriek the loudest about the corrupting influence of dirty oil money tend to have far more than their fair share of power in climate debates.
Talking of which, we are flattered that Bob Ward – Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, erstwhile Director of Public Policy at risk insurance giants RMS and before that, Senior Manager for Policy Communication at the Royal Society – has dropped by to give his thoughts on our observation that, if you’re going to go around accusing the opposition of corruption, you’d better be whiter than white yourself. We suggested that Ward’s obsession with Exxon is rather ironic given his own links with the risk insurance industry. And, of course, the risk insurance industry has at least as much to gain from climate alarmism as Exxon has from playing down the dangers.
Except that the only thoughts that Ward has actually offered consist of accusations that… you’ve guessed it… that we are motivated by our own dodgy financial interests:
Dear Ben and Stuart,
Who needs ‘LinkedIn’ when you can have hilarious pages on spoof websites like this devoted to your career! Congratulations on one of the most imaginative attacks on me yet – it ranks alongside ExxonMobil’s attempts to convince Chris Huhne MP that there were question marks over my departure from the Royal Society!
I was hoping to gauge whether I was demonstrably more corrupt than you, but sadly you seem to be a bit shy about revealing the identity of your paymasters. Do tell!
Then, in true Pythonesque Spanish-Inquisition style, he adds:
I didn’t expect you to reveal your sources of financial support, and you didn’t disappoint. Or maybe you really are independently wealthy and don’t need to work for a living. Just like Prince Charles, eh chaps? Pip pip!
If Ward can be so wrong in this instance – and, for the record, he is utterly wrong on both counts – it does rather make one wonder about the veracity of any of his other accusations.
You are welcome to make of it what you like. We are aware that one mustn’t make too much of the witterings of a PR professional. But, at the very least, we’d expect rather more from a PR professional of Ward’s credentials, especially one who claims to speak for science – as Ward does in his many indignant open letters to his various nemeses. No, maybe not.
Anyway, like one commenter, we are intrigued to find out what Ward actually thinks is ‘imaginative’ about our account. All we have done is pull together a bunch of factual observations about the political, business and academic interests of Ward and his associates. No imagination necessary. But Ward is too busy with the ‘ad hominems’ to say what might actually be wrong with the piece.
It would seem that Ward is aspiring to the standards set by his former boss at the Royal Society, Bob May, who, while on the one hand, insists that we ‘respect the facts‘ (as designated by the Royal Society), is only too willing to make up stuff as it pleases him as long as it serves his political ends.
As we pointed out a long time ago, Greenpeace’s attempts to establish the size of the conspiracy to distort science culminated in a total failure of the argument. Their Exxonsecrets website aimed to demonstrate the flow of cash between the oil giant and a network of think tanks, and found a trail of cash amounting to $22 million between 1998 and 2006. Their own budget for the same period was $2.1 billion. For every dollar that Exxon is alleged to have spent on distorting the debate, Greenpeace spent a thousand on their own propaganda effort.
What does it prove? Not very much. All it says is that the issue of funding and interests isn’t clear cut, and in fact cuts both ways. But it does suggest that Grantham’s Policy and Communications Director is getting rather desperate if he is resorting to hurling accusations of dodgy funding at a couple of lowly bloggers.
If you think we are getting a bit over-excited by all this, you’re probably right. But the point is that, while people shriek that interests corrupt, it’s not just profits and careers that are being established on the back of climate change anxiety – an entire climate change industry and national and international political institutions are being constructed with the objective of changing the way we live. What we have argued on this blog is that, whatever the scientific truth about climate change, it doesn’t call for special politics and special political institutions that are, for the sake of our survival, above criticism and scrutiny. Bob Ward and his ilk seem to think that this industry and these institutions – which he has played his own small part in manufacturing – are above scrutiny, and that all he needs to do to dismiss any criticism is point his fingers and cry ‘Exxon!’. Given the lack of popular support for the restructuring of political systems on environmental grounds, perhaps Ward’s boss at Grantham, Lord Stern, should consider getting a new Public Relations man.
At the risk of getting all Exxon-Secrets ‘on yo asses’… Thanks to the reader who let us know about Bob Ward‘s latest career move. Ward, if you remember, left his post of director of communications at the Royal Society to join global risk analysis firm RMS as Director of Global Science Networks. It was a perfectly natural progression that allowed him to continue both his pseudo-scientific catastrophe-mongering and his crusade against Exxon and Martin Durkin. Which he did.
Ward now pops up at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, where he has taken on the post of Policy and Communications Director. The Grantham is chaired by Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern of Brentford, author of a rather influential report on the economics of climate change, and who stands to profit admirably from institutional environmentalism via his carbon credit reference agency. It is no surprise that Ward and Sir Nicholas find themselves in the same company department, given their shared interests. Stern is also Chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP), which is funded by the UK government’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and which acknowledges that ‘Generous support for the Centre’s work is also provided by Munich Re’. Munich Re is the insurance giant that claims to know what the IPCC does not when it comes to the reality of climate change in the present.
Glancing down the profiles of Grantham’s management team, we spot another corporate Green to have found a new home among academic foliage. The last time we looked, Sam Fankhauser was Managing Director of IDEAcarbon:
IDEAcarbon is an independent and professional provider of ratings, research and strategic advice on carbon finance. Our services are designed to provide leading financial institutions, corporations, governments, traders and developers with unbiased intelligence and analysis of the factors that affect the pricing of carbon market assets.
IDEAcarbon’s parent company is IDEAglobal, where Stern is Vice President.
Fankhauser doubles up as a member of the Climate Change Committee, the ‘independent’ body set up by the UK government to advise the UK government on climate policies.
The CCC is chaired by Lord Adair Turner of Ecchinswell, a man whose CV includes stints of environmental activism as a trustee for WWF and membership of the Advisory Board of Climate Change Capital, a firm offering services as an ‘investment manager and advisor specialising in the opportunities created by the transition to the low carbon economy’.
After all this, we were slightly disappointed to gather that the Grantham Research Institute is not named after the birthplace of green pioneer Margaret Thatcher. That it’s named in honour of multi-millionaire sponsors Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham, whose Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment also supports such green multi-nationals as Greenpeace, Oxfam, WWF and the Union of Concerned Scientists, is no less appropriate, however.
Grantham’s raison d’être is, according to its Chair:
Professor Stern said: ’As scientists continue to play their role in analysing the causes and effects of climate change, it is crucial that social scientists take a lead in the building of policy. The Grantham Institute will produce high-quality, policy-relevant research, alongside a range of outputs designed to support policy development, raise public awareness and contribute to private-sector strategy formation.’
Climate Resistance would not stoop to suggest that the corporate and ideological interests of the Grantham Research Institute’s staff could conceivably influence the direction or quality of its research output.
In fact, it’s worth re-stating that we wouldn’t make so much of the financial interests of these folk were it not for the fact that Bob Ward and his cronies make so much about links with dirty oil money, as exemplified by Ward’s former boss at the Royal Society, Bob May, writing in the TLS:
Despite the growing weight of evidence of climate change, along with growing awareness of the manifold adverse consequences, there remains an active and well-funded “denial lobby”. It shares many features with the lobby that for so long denied that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. [...] Whoever got things started, this is a ball which ExxonMobile picked up and ran with, shuttling lobbyists in and out of the White House as it did so. Following earlier talks and seeking to exemplify its centuries-old motto – Nullius in Verba (which roughly translates as “respect the facts”) – the Royal Society recently and unprecedentedly wrote to ExxonMobile, complaining about its funding for “organisations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change”, and more generally for promoting inaccurate and misleading views – specifically that scientists do not agree about the influence of human activity on rising temperatures.
Likewise, we would be less interested in such dodgy dealings if it weren’t for the mainstream media’s tendency to decry Exxon funding as corrupting of the scientific method while deeming Munich Re’s pronouncements – let alone the pronouncements of those they sponsor – as above scrutiny. It’s also worth re-stating at this point that fear is to the insurance industry what oil is to Exxon.
The ESRC’s CCCEP is worthy of further comment. According to its home page:
Human-induced climate change could have enormous impacts on economies and societies if we persist with ‘business as usual’. This is the consensus view of climate scientists and one with which economists are increasingly finding agreement (eg The Stern Review). It is much less certain, however, that our economic, social and political systems can respond to the challenge. Will public, private and civic actors take action to create low-carbon economies? What emission reduction strategies will be efficient, equitable and acceptable? How much should we invest, and when, on measures to reduce vulnerability to climate change? Who will bear the costs and enjoy the benefits? [...] The Centre is chaired by Professor Lord Stern of Brentford
So, Lord Professor Sir Nicholas Stern’s report on the economics of climate change is somehow representative of the ‘scientific consensus’, and he shall, therefore, chair the ESRC’s climate change body.
There was a time when the social sciences felt it necessary to scrutinise the natural sciences, on the basis that scientists weren’t quite as objective as they liked to think they were. They had a point, even if the scientists were probably more objective than the sociologists thought they were. It was a good fight. Now, however, the starting point of centrally-funded social science is that it accepts unconditionally that not only is there is a scientific consensus on climate change, but there is an economic one, too. Aren’t new-fangled scientific practices like consensuses and peudo-scientific creations like ‘sustainability’ precisely what the social sciences should be scrutinising?
The CCCEP assumes from the outset that it follows necessarily that something must be done – and, indeed, that is the duty of each of us to do something. From its mission statement:
Climate change and its potential impacts are increasingly accepted, but economic, social and political systems have been slow to respond. There is a clear and urgent need to speed up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to unavoidable climate change.
The Centre’s mission is to respond to this need by advancing public and private action on climate change through innovative, rigorous research.
This is not sociology as the study of social institutions. It is sociology as government department, scholarly discipline and activist group all rolled into one. As if the Science Wars never happened, ‘climate science’ is free once again to speak ‘Truth to Power’ unfettered. Except that now it is aided and abetted by those who would be scrutinising it were it not for the fact that sociology has lost any sense of mission, just as political parties, the media, environmentalist activists and a host of scholarly disciplines attempting to justify themselves in terms of ‘relevance’ have lost sense of their mission.
The environmental orthodoxy is a tangled web of corporate interests, policy-makers, -movers and -shakers, academics, NGO’s and activists – all pushing in the same direction. Which would be just fine if the idea had been tested democratically. But it hasn’t. We’ve said it many times… environmentalism has not risen to prominence through its own energies: it has not developed from a mass movement; it isn’t representative of popular interests. It is useful only to various organisations that have otherwise struggled to justify themselves over the last few decades. The political parties have bought it. Various ‘radical’ organisations have bought it. Large sections of the media have bought it. Academic departments and funding agencies have bought it. Little wonder that corporate interests have been able to jump upon the bandwagon and play their hearts out for personal financial gain.
Forget speaking ‘Truth to Power’. Today it’s all about speaking ‘Official Truth™ for Official Power©’.
Before we get stuck into 2009, we missed a spillage from the festive period that needs mopping up…
In a remarkably gullible news item, the BBC covered a new report revealing that 2008 was a ‘Huge year for natural disasters':
The past year has been one of the most devastating ever in terms of natural disasters … climate change [is] boosting the destructive power of disasters like hurricanes and flooding
The report finds that:
Although there were fewer “loss-producing events” in 2008 than in the previous year, the impact of natural disasters was higher [...]
More than 220,000 people died in events like cyclones, earthquakes and flooding, the most since 2004, the year of the Asian tsunami.
Meanwhile, overall global losses totalled about $200bn (£137bn), with uninsured losses totalling $45bn, about 50% more than in 2007.
This makes 2008 the third most expensive year on record, after 1995, when the Kobe earthquake struck Japan, and 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina in the US.
The BBC article quotes expert Torsten Jeworrek:
“Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes,”
Thing is, Torsten Jeworrek is an expert in insurance, not climate. He is on the board of insurance giants Munich Re. And Munich Re are the authors of the new report. It goes without saying that insurance companies need to keep abreast of developments in risk if they are to provide a service for their clients. But it also goes without saying that generating alarm about those same risks is also to their advantage. To paraphrase what we have said before, fear of risk is to Munich Re what oil is to Exxon. Indeed, Munich Re says as much on its website:
Risk is our business: Among other things, we reinsure the risks connected with oil rigs, satellites and natural catastrophes, and those arising from the use of genetic engineering and information technology or from the management of companies.
Climate change is not the only issue Munich Re is whipping up alarm about. It also desires that we flap over other scares du jour, such as piracy…
Megacities extremely vulnerable to natural perils, technological risks, terrorism and environmental hazards / More risk awareness and greater transparency urgently needed with regard to hazard exposure / Munich Re presents its views at the UN’s World Conference on Disaster Reduction
But, mostly, it’s climate change…
10 April 2008
India: Increase in losses due to climate change / Board member Torsten Jeworrek: “In coming decades, the effects of climate change will make themselves felt particularly in emerging countries like India.”
27 December 2007
Natural catastrophe figures for 2007: Higher losses despite absence of megacatastrophes, very many loss events / Overall economic losses of US$ 75bn / Board member Dr. Torsten Jeworrek: Loss figures in line with the rising trend in natural catastrophes, Munich Re is prepared
and climate change…
5 June 2007
Munich Re signs the “Declaration on Climate Change” of the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative. / Munich Re Board member Torsten Jeworrek: “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. What we do today is crucial for future generations. Therefore, swift international action is urgently needed.” / Munich Re forecasts long-term increase in demand for risk protection as a result of climate change and growing concentrations of values.
And there’s plenty more climate change where those came from.
Munich Re is certainly not the first insurance company to try to cash in on climate alarm by generating more of it. Back in April 2007 we reported on the efforts of risk assessment giants Risk Management Solutions (RMS) to do the same. Bob Ward, RMS’s Director of Global Science Networks, was continuing a crusade against the dirty denialist industry – namely, Exxon and Martin Durkin – that he started while in his previous employment as Senior Manager for Policy Communication for Exxon-slayers the Royal Society.
What is surprising is that the BBC have deemed the witterings of an insurance company worthy of a news story, and moreover, that they have chosen to take those witterings entirely at face value. At the very least they could have wondered why earthquakes were lumped into the analysis or how much the figures were skewed by one devastating cyclone in Myanmar.
Torsten Jeworrek’s quotes – like the whole BBC story, in fact – are lifted directly from Munich Re’s press release. But then, perhaps the BBC didn’t have much choice (other than to ignore the story completely) because Munich Re haven’t actually made their report available. When we emailed them for a copy, media relations officer Alexander Mohanty replied that:
there is no additional report or publication.
Munich re’s annual report on natural catastrophes is a press relase only traditionally.
But we will publish a more in-depth report in march called ‘topics’.
The BBC has been known to argue that the existence of ‘the consensus’ on climate change means that they are not obliged to seek balancing viewpoints from anyone who doesn’t entirely sign up to it. With this story however, they seem to be going rather further than is necessary to live up to their own journalistic ideals. They back up Jeworrek’s comments with quotes from Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research, which are also lifted verbatim from the presser:
“It is now very probable that the progressive warming of the atmosphere is due to the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity,” said Prof Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research.
“The logic is clear: when temperatures increase there is more evaporation and the atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapour, with the result that its energy content is higher.
“The weather machine runs into top gear, bringing more intense severe weather events with corresponding effects in terms of losses.”
The company said world leaders must put in place “effective and binding rules on CO2 emissions” to curb climate change and ensure that “future generations do not have to live with weather scenarios that are difficult to control”.
Yes, ‘the logic is clear’…
– the world has been warming up a bit
– human activity probably has something to do with that
– some models say this might influence the frequency of severe weather events
– therefore, an expensive year for civilisation (and insurance companies) means that climate change is already happening
– therefore, we need a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions
Other than pointing out that Hoppe’s clear logic is clearly not, it’s hard to comment on the accuracy and rigour of Munich Re’s analysis, because, as we said, the analysis is not available for scrutiny. But it’s hard to see how an insurance company can have had more success than ‘the world’s 2500 top climate scientists’ at isolating the effect of climate change on the occurrence of severe weather events. But then again, perhaps we can look forward to the IPCC citing Munich Re on matters of climate-change induced weather patterns in its own reports in the future. And in a world where top scientists are wont to defer to economists on scientific matters of climate change, that is not such an unlikely possibility.
It is perhaps interesting that the economist in question, Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern, has rather a close working relationship with Munich Re. Understandably, Munich Re is rather proud of the fact that its dirty insurance money funds such a high profile environmentalist:
In 2008, Munich Re launched a cooperation with Professor Lord Nicholas Stern and the London School of Economics (LSE), the aim being to advance research into the economic impact of climate change.
And Prof Lord Sir Nicholas has nothing to be embarrassed about. Because nobody – least of all the BBC – seems at all bothered by any such conflict of interests. They are all too busy worrying about who Exxon is funding. Those who shriek the loudest about climate change – whether it’s insurance companies, Stern, the Royal Society, Lord Adair Turner or the Tickell dynasty – often have the most to gain from alarmism. It seems that the greens have been right all along: an economic tail really does wag the scientific dog.
The future is bleak. That seems to be the message that everybody wheeled into the public spotlight is keen to tell us. Indeed, if you can’t say that the future is bleak, you have no business being on the news.
Other than the current comparisons to today’s economic climate with the Great Depression, there seems to be two main categories of doom saying; the first tells us that the stuff we do will cause irreversible damage to the planet. The second tells us that we’re running out of stuff to do stuff with anyway. Either way, we’re up a certain creek without a paddle. It’s a ticking time bomb. A disaster waiting to happen. Not if, but when. The disaster B-movie has mutated, grown limbs, escaped its fantasy celluloid landscape, and found a new home in the imaginations of the people whose expertise we might have thought would protect them – and us – from such silliness. But embracing disaster movie clichés is now part of the expert commentators’ routine.
Matthew Simmons, CEO, Energy Investment bank Simmons & Co joined Richard Heinberg – Senior fellow, Post Carbon Institute, and Liberal-Democrat, John Hemming MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary group on Peak Oil and Gas for a recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s consumer affairs programme, You and Yours, for some lunch time fear-mongery.
You can listen again, here.
This kind of thinking is straight out of the environmentalists’ cookbook. But it is not unique to environmentalists.
PRESENTER: And when you’ve been asked before if it’s time, you know, for this whole idea of peak oil and gas to be part of the public policy you’ve said, ‘it’s passed time, and in fact the solution now is to pray’. Is it really as dire as that?
MATTHEW SIMMONS: I beleive so, and I beleive the data is overwhelmingly… it’s not perfect yet… it won’t be until we look back with, you know, the benefit of two or three year hindsight… But I think the data is pretty clear that basically we reached, the sustainable top oil production in 2005. So we’re now three years beyond the tipping point.
Amongst many critics of environmentalism on the right, environmentalism is regarded as the continuation of the Left. Environmentalists are ‘watermelons’, they say; green on the outside, red in the middle. Various eco-warriors haven’t been keen to challenge this perception, arguing that climate scepticism was a front for the interests of oil companies, who face a reduction in their profits. This was also the claim of a former director of media relations of the UK’s Royal Society, Bob Ward. Ward sent angry open letters to Exxonmobil and the media, demanding that they stop funding sceptics, which he continued even after he left the RS to work at insurance products firm, Risk Management Solutions (RMS). But as we pointed out, if Ward is criticising oil companies for having an interest in the public’s doubt about global warming, then Ward, now working for RMS, which sells products relating to the effects of climate change, has an interest in the public’s undue fear of catastrophe. If nobody feared climate change, there would be no market for the products created by Ward’s new employers. Fear is to RMS as oil is to Exxonmobil.
Similarly, Matthew Simmons has something to gain by promoting the idea that the oil is about to run out, and we’re all going to die. Scarcity, or the belief that something is scarce, makes his commodity more valuable. It pushes the price up. It means that, as a CEO of an energy investment bank, he has to do less investing for each dollar of return, than he would, were prices lower than they have been in the past. The urgency with which he presents his case also creates the drive to subsidise ‘renewable’ energy installations, which he will no doubt benefit from.
The company’s website announces itself,
Simmons & Company is the only independent investment bank specializing in the entire spectrum of the energy industry. Founded in 1974, the firm has acted as financial advisor in over $134* billion of transactions, including 535 merger and acquisitions worth over $93 billion. Simmons has served as co-manager on over $35 billion in public debt and equity offerings. During 2007 Simmons closed 49 M&A transactions worth $26 billion and co-managed 10 offerings worth $4.9 billion. The firm’s clients range from small, privately held companies to multi-billion dollar public entities.
Does that sound to anyone like workings of a secret socialist conspiracy?
Richard Heinberg lightens the mood of the conversation. ‘We’re going to have to re-think just about everything we do’, he says.
PRESENTER: Are we talking about population control at some point?
RICHARD HIENBERG: Well, certainly we’re going to have to look at how to reduce population increase and perhaps even contemplate ways to reduce fertility so that gradually the human population can contract back to a level that we can sustain. Obviously we want to do this in the most humane way, without disregarding human rights, but at the same time, the ecological reality is we may not be able to support seven, eight, or nine-billion people.
And here we see the ecological and depletion arguments converge. Humans must balance not merely their lifestyles, but their lives, and the lives of the families they want to have, and their rights against ‘ecological reality’. All that is necessary to demand people lower their horizons, aspirations, and expectations is to invoke ‘ecological reality’. Gone are the days when nature was studied in order to be harnessed for the benefit of humanity. Today’s study of nature is a political exercise that is undertaken in order to discover ways of legitimising social control. You want liberty? Well, tough, ecological reality dictates that it’s not possible. Start digging.
And don’t expect capitalists to rush to the rescue.
PRESENTER: Matt Simmons, do you really think we’re going to have to have population control as a result of your fears over peak oil?
MATTHEW SIMMONS: I think population control is like introducing a new car. It’s a great concept, but basically it just takes too long. We don’t have the time for these. We would have had the time if we started thinking about this in the ’70s or ’80s, but again, population control, unless we’re talking about genocide, it takes decades to implement so… Liberating the workforce, and allowing people to work when they want and where they want, growing food locally, ending globalisation, ?[making things we're using]? can be implemented in three to four years, so. That’s the draconian measures we need to do. And long-term we need to think about these other things, but they’re very long-term implementations, and we don’t have that time, we ran out the clock.
‘Liberating the workforce’ in Simmons’ argument is not really about liberation at all. He’s principally talking about telecommuting. Which is fine if you happen to be in his line of work (not to mention if you have a nice big house, with plenty of room for working in). If you happen to be one of those people doing the ‘growing food locally’, it means hard work, and low pay. Allowing people to work ‘where they want and when they want’ is also a neat idea. But Simmons doesn’t mean freedom. It doesn’t mean allowing people to work 100 miles away from where they live. It doesn’t mean letting people drive, or, heaven forfend, flying to new opportunities. Industry with a ‘low ecological impact’ isn’t liberating. It’s back-breaking, manual labour. And what to make of a CEO of an investment back calling for an end to globalisation?!
Once upon a time, capitalists sought to find new ways of meeting human needs and desires. Even if that meant, sometimes, creating things we didn’t really want, or didn’t really need. It is curious, then, that Simmons should be using ‘ecological reality’ as the basis for an argument against globalisation, and for a radical change in our lifestyles.
This pessimism has found a home in the establishment as much as it has amongst the self-proclaimed revolutionary activists. Anti-globalisation protesters clash with the authorities at G8 meetings, but if CEOs of energy investment banks are saying the same things, then it’s not clear what either are asking for. Between the demonstrators and the companies, the Government, and the political parties, there is very little difference of perspective on the problem.
‘I think we need to recognise that there is a link between food and energy.’ Says Lib-Dem MP, John Hemming. Well, you’d have hoped so, wouldn’t you?
JOHN HEMMING: Fertilisers are generally… the feedstock is from oil. So you will always have a link between the two. And the policy changes that are needed are the same, whether you agree with the doomsday scenario or not, we still need to be much more orientated towards controlling the use of fossil fuels.
PRESENTER: And is the Government currently doing that? Is it doing as much as it not only could but should, desperately should according to Matt and Richard? Do you think it is?
JOHN HEMMING: I think the Government’s not even doing as much as it intends to. The first problem from the Government is denial. They estimate the peak, global peak for hydro-carbon production to be in 2030. They explain that’s based on the IEA figures, and the IEA perhaps indicate a figre of 2011 2012. If you start by denying there is a problem then it’s not suprising they’re not doing anything about it.
PRESENTER: So what should they be doing?
JOHN HEMMING: There’s a wide range of things. We’re producing a number of reports. But the fact that you cannot for instance, have a third runway at Heathrow Airport is a very obvious thing. They plan for a growth in air transport. It’s a farce to plan for a growth in air transport when there isn’t actually the fuel to power it.
If there really is no fuel to power aircraft at Heathrow, then there’s no real problem about it being built. So it is odd that Hemming makes a point of it.
It is telling that the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary group on Peak Oil and Gas does not focus his responsibilities to finding new ways to power the country, were his fears about peak oil to be correct. He recognises that energy is essential – he tells us that it takes ten calories of fuel energy to make one calorie of food energy. This is a good thing, because the more fuel energy that has gone into producing food, the less human labour has gone into producing it. He doesn’t recognise that, and wants instead to control the use of fossil fuels. Hemming continues:
Energy is going to be rationed, by the price, or by tradable energy quotas. If it’s rationed by price, poorer people will suffer to a far greater extent than aiming… and it require international action, there’s no question about it. One country can’t resolve this on their own. But you have a limited numbers of ways of dealing with it. When you look at the numbers game in terms of alternative energies, they’re all various partial solutions, it’s not clear that they add up to a complete solution, therefore, you have to look at how you equitably deal with the fossil fuel provision that we have. And the tradable energy quotas is one way forward, the other one is pricing the poor people out of the market, which isn’t very fair.
Hemming has ignored coal, and he has ignored nuclear, and the other fossil alternatives. The ‘peak oil’ crisis relates only to a relative depletion of crude oil reserves, not of fossil fuels. Much of South Africa’s petrol is produced from coal. Alternatives such as oil shale and sands exist in much greater quantities than crude ever has, but what stops these from being exploited has been the low price of crude until relatively recently. While there is uncertainty about the future of the global economy, and the way in which oil prices will respond, there is little incentive in investing in alternatives which may not, in the medium term, compete with crude. But plenty of alternatives – some of them renewable – exist, and in abundance. The problems are, firstly that these alternatives are incompatible with environmental anxieties. The second is that they are incompatible with the intellectual vacuum driving the thoughts of men such as Hemming, Simmons, and Heinberg.
PRESENTER: Matt Simmons, you’re an expert on the impact that this could have on the, as it were, the global economy, it seems that pretty well every and any solution is going to have an impact on those at the bottom end of the scale.
MATT SIMMONS: That’s one of the reasons we basically can’t let the market sort this out. Because the market sorting it out is going to last for a few weeks and then we have social chaos, and then we’re into a resource war. What we really need to realise is this is a global problem, it’s not a UK problem, it’s not a United States problem, it’s not a California problem or a Texas problem. And we’re basically on the edge of scarcity of oil which means we basically have to do a fast retreat from our heavy addiction to using oil. As Richard said, this is transportation. All the other forms of energy relate to electricity and heat. But this is transportation, so it’s pretty simple, we have to travel less, and that means liberating the work force, paying by productivity, any long-distance commuting… luckily we have a tool kit we’ve already developed to do that… But we now need to implement something which has the intensity of a war effort of world war 2, or the Manhatten Project, or rebuilding Europe, and do this all very fast in the next two or three years, or we’ve really lost the battle.
Turning a restriction on travel and ‘payment by productivity’ into ‘liberating the work force’ is an impressive example of Orwellian spin. One might say ‘freedom from freedom’, and make as much sense. ‘Payment by productivity’ might be a great idea if you’re a CEO of an investment bank. But if you’re working in ‘localised food production’, it means little more than a few pence from the gang master if you shove more dirt. One of the best things about the ability to move is that it freed people to move to find work on better terms. Reducing the opportunity to travel means reducing opportunities to work. John Hemming’s perspective is no deeper.
Well I think we need to focus more on quality of life rather than standard of living, and the evidence is that people aren’t necessarily happier in an environment where they commute for two hours each day. Those factors need to be taken into account. And what is critical is we need to look at an equitable way of dealing with scarcity and to just price the poor people out of the market, which is what the Government are doing isn’t an equitable way of dealing with it.
Perhaps here we begin to see what’s at the heart of the nonsense emerging from these three men. Hemming has nothing to offer us at all. Scarcity is an inevitability as far as he is concerned, because without the prospect of doom hanging over us, he is, as was the Emperor, without clothes. He can’t raise people’s expectations with a positive vision because he lacks one. Instead, he exploits the story created by ‘ecological reality’, to cast himself as the saviour. He can’t make any claims to make us any richer, but he tells us that he can make us happier, if only we’d abandon our attachment to our materialist ‘standard of living’. This isn’t politics, it’s Buddhism. His concern for the poor is quite moving. But rather than worrying about their happiness, we’re pretty sure they’d rather he got on with the business of raising standards of living, so that they can get on with their emotional lives, by themselves, thank you very much. Just who does he think he is?
We’re realy are at the stage where Government needs to move on from denial. The people can adjust their own lifestyle to be less energy-dependant, and that’s strongly advisable thing to do because we’re not going to see over time a massive reduction in prices, whatever happens. So it’s in everybody’s interests to adjust their lifesytle to minimise their use of energy.
We have noted before the tendency of political parties not in power to escalate the scale of the problem faced, and to say that only their policies reflect what the ‘science says’, and that the other parties are therefore ‘in denial’. When we began this blog, the Labour government had announced their commitment to a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Shortly after, the Conservatives announced that they would see an 80% reduction by the same time. The Liberal Democrats – Hemming’s party – announced that by 2050, they would make Britain carbon neutral by measures including banning the petrol engine, and, curiously, banning nuclear power. This process owes nothing to science, and is merely posturing by percentage points like boys boasting about their physical strength. In the past, politicians would try to attract your vote by arguing that the political philosophy and economic theories they espoused would make a better life either for you, or for everyone. Now, people like Hemming argue that you need to make lifestyle changes, and get used to less. ‘Ecological realities’ are invoked in place of principles and values. Statistics that bear no relation to human experience underpin stories of terrible ecological consequences and social collapse.
Similarly, investment capitalists once sought to innovate ways to achieve an edge over their competitors, and passed on some of the savings made by economies of scale, efficiency, and industrial processes to the consumer. Like the politicians embracing environmental tenets, today’s CEOs of energy investment banks suffer from a scarcity, not of natural resources, but the ideas and imagination required to continue providing the world with the services it needs. Instead of innovating, Matthew Simmons appears to be protecting his commercial position by lobbying for regulation, and protecting the value of his commodity by creating the illusion of scarcity.
Environmentalism is not unique to the Left. It is being absorbed by parties and individuals positioned across the political spectrum; Conservative, Liberal and Left, and by capitalists and anti-capitalists, radicals and establishmentarians alike. Intellectually exhausted political parties and their members and zombified corporate CEOs try to breathe life into their collapsing organisations by wrapping themselves in green. But this reinvention brings them ever closer to ‘end-is-nigh’ sandwich board lunatics like Richard Heinberg, and further and further away from the public. The tragedy is that their limited vision is the basis on which the future is being constructed. Politicians should be engaged by the task of enabling the exploration of new, cheaper and more abundant sources of energy, and investment capitalists should be finding ways of making them commercially viable. Instead, we seem to be facing an economic crisis, with rows upon rows upon rows of public figures telling us to expect less and less. With people like that at the helm, it is no wonder this ship is sinking. Down is the only direction these people know.
Every day in the UK, £millions are spent on making sure that national and local government departments do not produce too much CO2. Business, schools and hospitals have to make sure they are complying with regulations that require them to reduce their environmental impact – rather than doing business, teaching, and making people well. Commuters across the country face increasing fuel taxes and rising costs of public and private transport. Children are taught to fear for the security of their future, and their parents are scolded for the selfish act of reproducing in the face of over-population. House-builders are forced to meet new ‘environmental standards’, and architects design homes not for their intended occupants’ comfort and quality of life, but to make sure that their living standards are not ‘unsustainable’. Across the media, countless programs, news items, articles, and lifestyle guides instruct us on how we can – and must – change the way we live our lives in a constant barrage of environmental propaganda. Politicians battle about what percentage cuts of CO2 emissions by when will save the planet, and whether the carrot or the stick is the best way to induce behavioural change. NGOs and supra-national organisations dictate policy to democratic governments. ‘Environmental psychologists’ theorise as to what it is about ‘human nature’ which prevents us from obeying environmental diktats. Climate change is the defining issue of our time – not because of incontrovertible scientific fact, but because it has become the organising principle of public and private life.
A mere 90 minutes of programming on Channel 4, nearly a year and half ago, challenged this orthodoxy’s influence. And those behind the orthodoxy have been spitting feathers ever since. It has raised more green bile than almost any other commentary, and has become the scapegoat for the environmental movement’s failure to connect with the public. Accordingly, the environmentalists’ fragile claim to legitimacy means that its first response is to spit invective at its detractors, the second is to run to the censor. What it has not tried is to engage in debate. To do so would be to appear to concede that, in fact, the debate is not over, the science is not ‘in’, and there are various approaches that can be taken in response to climate change, regardless of whether or not humans are causing it.
“It’s not fair!” scream the complaints to OFCOM, that just 90 minutes of program have been so influential, amidst, literally, months of airtime given over to proclaiming that we are doomed, that we face imminent destruction, that unless we change our lifestyles, millions, maybe billions of people will die from plague, pestilence, drought and famine. Never mind that these prophecies themselves lack a scientific basis; you can say whatever you like about the future, just so long as you don’t make the claim that it is not dominated by catastrophe. The most lurid imaginations can project into the future to paint the kind of picture that would have Hieronymus Bosch screaming for mercy, without ever risking OFCOM’s censure. You can make stuff up, providing it will contribute to the legitimacy of this new form of authoritarianism.
The OFCOM ruling on Martin Durkin’s polemic, The Great Global Warming Swindle, was published yesterday. Its findings are that there were problems; that comments attributed to David King – the UK’s chief scientific advisor at the time – were not made by him, even though they were; that the IPCC had not been given sufficient time to respond to comments made about it, even though it had been; and that Professor Carl Wunsch had been misled as to the nature of the program, even though he hadn’t (and isn’t that what investigative journalists are supposed to do?). On the matter of misleading the public, Ofcom found that it had not been offended, harmed, nor materially misled. A mixed review, then, saying, in summary, that Channel 4 were right to broadcast the polemic, but should have paid more attention to the rights of the injured parties. You’d have thought that would be the end of it. But now Ofcom itself is facing criticism from the eco-inquisition, and their decision is to be appealed by Bob Ward, former communications director of the UK’s Royal Society, on the basis that inaccuracies in the program were harmful to the public. Here he is on BBC Radio 4’s PM show:
Eddie Mair: What got you so cross?
Bob Ward: Well, what’s made me angry is the suggestion by Channel 4 that they have been found by the OFCOM ruling not to have misled the audience. And that is not what the ruling says. The ruling says that there were clearly inaccuracies in the programme and that these were admitted by Channel 4, many of them, but, in the opinion of OFCOM, these did not cause harm or offence to the public. Now, I’m afraid that there is no real justification in the ruling that OFCOM have tested whether it caused harm and offence, and actually, there’s quite a lot of evidence out there that it has caused harm, because people have changed their views, I think, about whether greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change.
EM: And you think that’s down to one programme?
BW: Well, it’s certainly contributed to it, and as Hamish Mykura [Channel 4 Commissioning Editor] was saying, he believes that it’s acted as a lightning rod. It certainly, I mean, people I’ve talked to professionally within the insurance industry with whom I work, some of them have been swayed, and that’s quite damaging. So, as a result, I think it’s certainly true that I and many of the other complainants are now going to appeal against the OFCOM decision on the grounds that there is clear evidence of harm.
EM: Do you think perhaps that some of the complaints that went to OFCOM were too detailed and too technical?
BW: Well, OFCOM did say that they are not there to rule on scientific accuracy, so it’s certainly been a challenge, which is why it’s taken them 16 months to rule. But it’s disappointing that they have reached the conclusions that they have – that although they recognise there are inaccuracies, it didn’t cause harm. They don’t appear to have investigated whether there is harm and how you would justify this. In fact, the OFCOM process is not very transparent itself; it’s not clear how they went about assessing the accuracy of these claims.
EM: Isn’t it true though – and this came over in the interview on The World At One – that while Channel Four obviously broadcast this programme, it intends to broadcast Al Gore’s documentary when it becomes available for television, so a range of views are being represented?
BW: That’s true. And one doesn’t object to a range of views. But there has to be a responsibility among broadcasters not to broadcast factually inaccurate information. That must be against the public interest. And I just don’t accept that broadcasting a programme like this, which was inaccurate about a subject as important as climate change, does not harm the public interest. And that unfortunately is what OFCOM said.
We have argued before that what emerges from the hand-wringing about the few moments of broadcasting that challenge environmentalism is not the exposure of the conspiratorial network of ‘well-funded denialists that environmentalists and the likes of David King and Bob Ward want us to believe exists. Indeed, such shrill hectoring better serves to show the environmental movement in its true colours. The fact that Environmentalists have been unable to laugh off or ignore what they regard as inaccurate tosh speaks volumes about the confidence in their own flimsy arguments. Without the argumentative ammunition to make their case politically, they need to make it into a morality tale. Environmentalists need Durkin and the Swindle like a pantomime needs a villain. They’ve written him into the script. If he didn’t exist, they’d have to invent him.
The Swindle has been made a scapegoat by pollsters Ipsos Mori, Bob Ward and his former boss Bob May, George Monbiot and many others desperate to explain the failure of Environmentalism to capture public hearts and minds. One has to wonder, then, what they hope to achieve by raising the profile of the film. The history of censorship shows that the more noise you make about something you regard as an abomination, the more interesting you make it, and the further you undermine your own position. The reaction to the Swindle has, since we began the blog, led us to look more closely at the activities of the Royal Society, and Bob Ward and co themselves. It turns out that his own position is not so spotless.
In June last year, we recorded Bob May, erstwhile president of the Royal Society, lying to an audience in Oxford about the Swindle‘s director, Martin Durkin. May told the audience that Durkin was responsible for a three part series denying the link between HIV and AIDS, and that this form of climate scepticism was equivalent to denying the link between passive smoking and lung disease. Where were Bob Ward’s complaints about mispresentation and calls for accuracy? It’s hard to believe that May would have made such an error of fact in public, when he publicly demands that we ‘respect the facts‘. All the more ironic is that in counseling us to ‘respect the facts’, he should made several further errors of fact, not least in his translation of ‘Nullius in Verba’, but also in his statement of fact that ’15–40 per cent of species potentially facing extinction after only 2°C of warming’, omitting the fact that this is aworst-case scenario predicted by just a single study. Again, where was Bob Ward and his calls for accuracy? He was busy penning inaccuracies of his own, perhaps. In his open letter to Martin Durkin’s Wag TV, one of Five major misrepresentations of the scientific evidence in the film concerned Durkin’s suggestion that the global temperature slump in the 1950s and ’60s, which was concurrent with rising emissions of greenhouse gases, was problematic for orthodox global warming arguments. Ward asserted that it is established that this is the result of white aerosols masking the greenhouse effect, and yet mainstream climate scientists we spoke to described the evidence for that as flimsy, and said that the debate continues. Another of the ‘five misrepresentations’ concerned Durkin’s argument that solar activity is a major driver of rising temperatures. The science has long been settled, said Ward. So why did the Royal Society find it necessary to publish new research based on a new dataset to demonstrate that the sun was not responsible for global warming after all? And just to make sure we got the message, they even launched the research with the strapline ‘the truth about global warming!‘
All this is not to suggest that the weight of evidence points to the sun rather than anthropogenic CO2 as the culprit. We are more concerned with the double standards employed by the Royal Society and its associates, a body that should surely be standing back from the squabbling and providing cool, calm information about the science in all its glorious complexity. A body that deals in a currency of facts needs to be especially careful about how it wields them. Like a body that bangs on about the dodgy financial interests of ‘deniers’ looks rather silly when its own dealings are on the grubby side of squeaky clean.
So, 16 months after the event, we have a report that says Durkin might have stretched the facts a tad, might have been a bit less than entirely honest with his contributors, might not have been quite as balanced as he could have been. And we are supposed to be surprised? It’s a TV programme. We could have got the same answer from a taxi driver as from a shiny report from an unelected quango. Meanwhile a browse through the pretty pie charts in OFCOM’s carbon audit suggests that the number of plastic coffee cups and notepaper used by OFCOM over those 16 months might have had a bigger negative impact on the planet than any seeds of doubt cast by Durkin’s film. If you think that’s a trivial point, then read George Monbiot’s recent comment on the silly affair, where he asks ‘why does Channel 4 seem to be waging a war against the greens?’.
This ‘War against the Greens’ consists of Durkin’s Swindle, his 2000 film about GM technology (an issue which Monbiot cannot claim the scientific establishment in the form of the Royal Society was with him on) and three-part series in 1997 called Against Nature, and a film by a different producer in 1990. And… errr… that’s it. That’s the extent of this ‘war’. Channel 4 broadcasts 24 hours a day, and has done for most of the past 18 years. Of nearly 160,000 hours of programming, this ‘war’ makes up around five hours; just 300 minutes. Monbiot continues:
It is arguable that no organisation in the United Kingdom has done more to damage the effort to protect the environment
If he’s right, then he’s got absolutely nothing to worry about.
Sceptics and critics of Environmentalism have been portrayed as cranks, weirdos and outsiders. You can make your own mind up about the truth of that. What the reaction to them shows, however, is a deep-seated anxiety which is totally disproportionate to reality. Monbiot and Ward’s paranoid hystrionics about the audacity of Channel 4 and Martin Durkin is nothing short of sheer lunacy. Their hypocrisy and unfounded outrage is breath-taking to an extent that it’s hard to actually conceive of an historical, or even pathological precedent. You would have to be seriously off your rocker to imagine that 5 hours of broadcasting over the course of two decades constituted a war, let alone even a mild threat. The real war – if there is a war, some might dare to suggest that it is simply debate about policy in a democratic society – is a war against journalistic freedom to present Greens such as George Monbiot and Bob Ward as the utter lunatics they really are. Fortunately it doesn’t take documentary films to show this; they do it all by themselves. You don’t need to portray Monbiot as a sinister purveyor of authoritarian misanthrophopy; you can just read his column.