Who Do You Love?

The BBC report on a paper published in the current issue of Nature that poses a bit of a moral conundrum for environmentalists:

A new model of the Earth’s climate suggests that human-made carbon dioxide emissions may prevent the onset of the next ice age.

Based on geological history, the Earth would be expected to enter a new ice age in 10,000 to 100,000 years.

Researchers say even small changes in carbon dioxide levels right now could prevent this from happening.

So should we reduce emissions for the sake of our children’s children, or do we keep pumping out the GHGs for the sake of future civilizations or even some humanoid species that hasn’t yet had the chance to evolve?

The professor behind the study is keen to stress that the research doesn’t mean that global warming is suddenly a really good idea:

Professor Crowley warns against seeing increases in carbon dioxide levels as a good thing

And he’s right of course. Because no climate projections can tell us how much CO2 we should or shouldn’t be emitting. But it’s funny that scientists only seem to express such caution when there’s the sniff of a possibility that the research might disincline the masses to tread lightly on the Earth.

Anyway, judging by the lively discussion of the our-models-are-better-than-your-models variety the paper has generated, it seems it’s touched a few nerves. Carl Wunsch is among those not mincing their words:

Surely this isn’t science in any conventional sense. Taking a toy model and using it to make a “prediction” about something nearly a million years in the future, is a form of science fiction—maybe interesting in the same way a novel is, but it isn’t science.

We Are Armed Only With Rumour, Hyperbole And Friends In High Places

The Climate Camp protestors have been complaining about the way they have been treated by the police. Again. Caroline Lucas explains, on commentisrubbish,

Everyone who enters the site is being searched. Police officers are taking anything away that “could be used for illegal activity”, with efforts being made to strip protesters of such hardcore weapons of choice as bits of carpet, biodegradable soap and toilet paper. In the absence of any serious threat, the police clearly found it necessary to justify their presence with an unprovoked attack on personal hygiene.

As we said recently, the police are complicit in the camp’s PR. Heavy handedness just appears to lend the protest some drama, and sympathy for the silly protest. Worse still, it makes the protestors look like they are on the opposing side to the Government, when in fact, they have a lot in common.

But further North from the camp, near the site of the 2006 Climate Camp, another group of protestors in June halted a train bound for the Drax power plant, [video], attached ropes from the train to a bridge, and emptied coal from the train onto adjacent tracks.

It is hardly a surprise that the police therefore take the threat a little bit more seriously than the likes of Lucas claim it warrants. Indeed, the camp’s organisers boast of their intention to cause problems for the rest of the country:

On Saturday August 9th, the climate camp will go beyond talk and culminate in a spectacular mass action to shut down Kingsnorth. Permanently!

How can the police not take seriously the open threat made by the protestors – clearly no strangers to dangerous acts of sabotage – to sabotage an installation that serves hundreds of thousands of homes, businesses, schools and hospitals with power? We take very seriously the right of the camp to protest, and even to get up people’s noses by inconveniencing them. That is the stuff of democracy, after all. But you can’t expect the police to treat you all nice and fluffy while you are issuing threats that they are duty-bound to prevent you from carrying out.

The small group of self-important protestors have convinced themselves that they are beyond any kind of reproach, and are faultless. Reason does not apply to them. They have Gaia on their side.

Yet their arguments are too easily defeated. Last Friday, just eight Climate Camp protestors chained themselves to the gates of argibusiness giant, Cargill, on the basis that they are ‘profiting from hunger’ during global food price rises. This is simply crazy. The environmental movement has long campaigned for HIGHER food prices, arguing that industrial agriculture and distribution, in its search for lower prices and efficiencies is bad for the environment. If Cargill are profiting from higher prices, it is thanks to Environmentalism, as James Heartfield put it in Spiked recently:

For more than 20 years now, both the US and the European Union have pursued policies designed to reduce food output. They have introduced policies that reward farmers for retiring land from production (such as the EU’s set-aside and wilderness schemes). At the same time, the United Nations has used its aid programmes to penalise African farmers who try to increase yields with modern fertilisers or mechanisation. […] Just when it suited large-scale agriculture to wind down output to protect prices, the environmentalists were on hand to support land retirement schemes. Farmers, according to Britain’s Countryside Agency, would no longer farm, but become stewards of the countryside.

The leitmotif of the environmental movement is ‘the science says’. The camp’s slogan last year was ‘We are armed… only with peer-reviewed science’ . As we have said before, science is Environmentalism’s fig leaf. Behind the idea that ‘the science’ has promised catastrophe is the shameful illogic, unreason and plain untruths that Environmentalists don’t want us to see.

Writing in the Guardian, for example, Climate Camp protesters Ellen Potts, Oli Rodker, Johnathan Stevensen, Paul Morozzo and Mel Evans specify just how long all that ‘peer-reviewed science’ tells we have to save the planet:

Scientists tell us that from this week we have just 100 months to solve climate change.

Which scientists would that be then? Well, it seems it would be the Green New Deal Group, which comprises Larry Elliott (Economics Editor of the Guardian), Colin Hines (Co-Director of Finance for the Future; former head of Greenpeace International’s Economics Unit), Tony Juniper (former Director of Friends of the Earth), Jeremy Leggett (founder and Chairman of Solarcentury and SolarAid), Caroline Lucas (Green Party MEP), Richard Murphy (Co-Director of Finance for the Future and Director, Tax Research LLP), Ann Pettifor (former head of the Jubilee 2000 debt relief campaign, Campaign Director of Operation Noah), Charles Secrett (Advisor on Sustainable Development; former Director of Friends of the Earth) and Andrew Simms (Policy Director, the new economics foundation).

Spot the scientists, anyone?

Slightly more sobre – surprisingly – is the Camp’s very own ‘climate science’ page. It doesn’t talk of ‘just 100 weeks to save the planet’, but it does talk of 4°C temperature rise by 2100, giving rise to

reduced crop yields in the tropics, sea level rises and increases in flooding, more extreme weather events and at least a third of all species destined for extinction

These are, of course, factoids leeched from IPCC reports, and give the upper ranges of projections as predictions, and cite, third hand, worst-case scenarios from single-studies of very small sample groups taken from highly vulnerable species. There is, as yet, no clear evidence of ‘more extreme weather events’.

The reason for the camp’s relatively sobre – albeit still rather shrill – presentation of the ‘science’ might have something to do with its being written by a scientist.

Dr Simon L. Lewis, Earth & Biosphere Institute, School of Geography, University of Leeds. The author is a specialist on the interactions of tropical forests and climate change and a member of the Royal Society’s Climate Change Advisory Group. All the scientific information included here appears in the IPCC Fourth Assesment Reports, available at www.ipcc.ch

Climate Camp must be over the moon at having Lewis on board to write the sciencey bits. Unfortunately for them, however, what is striking is that the actions of the Climate Camp protesters is not justifiable on the basis of the Lewis’s summary. Which is why in interviews and letters to the Guardian, the protesters have to resort to the language of catastrophe.

Lewis’s thoughts on the matter of catastrophe, published on the Royal Society’s website are even more circumspect:

Are we heading for catastrophe? Possibly. It is currently impossible to make robust predictions concerning how future climatic changes will interact with social factors and non-climatic environmental problems in an increasingly globalised world, but it is straightforward to conceive of plausible and socially explosive scenarios (e.g. mixing a future economic recession and geopolitical tensions over resources, with extreme weather events causing a a key crop failure and resulting mass human migrations could overload political institutions). However, regarding climate change per se, it is physically possible to avoid the worst of climate change depending upon political choices now.

Nonetheless, we see here less climate science, and more speculation that is far closer to social science. And it gets worse:

The basic solution to climate change is obvious but rarely articulated forcefully: most fossil carbon must not get into the atmosphere. Currently the only proven way to do this is to leave most fossil fuels in the ground. That is no new oil fields, no new coal mines. But such apparently drastic measures are not on the mainstream agenda. Why? In my view this is because individuals, governments and companies all operate within a socio-economic system, capitalism, which, whether we like it or not, means it is difficult not to abide by the rules of this system.

This isn’t even social science – it’s political ideology. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with holding anti-capitalist views. Capitalism – like social science, and like climate science – needs to be challenged. But it’s clear that the boundaries between Lewis’s study of forests and his very shallow and fragile critique of capitalism are not as solid as they might be. If Lewis were a post-doctoral researcher specialising in tropical forest ecology who happened to be an anti-capitalist, that would be one thing. But instead, as is true of political discussions today, ‘science’ is the language in which ethical and political arguments are being made. In other words, Lewis, and the anti-capitalist environmental movement, cannot challenge capitalism in human, political, or on principled terms. If you aren’t sure about why that is wrong, consider what might be wrong with an argument attempting to ‘prove’ that theft and murder are wrong using Newtons laws of thermodynamics.

Writing on Commentisrubbish to explain the purpose of the camp, Lewis once again conflates science and politics:

A new high point of opposition starts this weekend as the Camp for Climate Action embarks on an eight-day protest to press the government and E.ON to abandon the scheme. This is no fringe issue: they will be taking action to stop a proposal potentially so destructive that increasing numbers of scientists are speaking out against it […]

The Climate Camp is creating space for serious debate about the kind of world we want to live in. More than that, the campers give shape to a force that can perhaps override the profits-now catastrophe-later logic of the government and E.ON: they form a broad-based movement of people committed to a socially just transition to a low-carbon society. I certainly don’t want to live in E.ON’s world, where business as usual trumps avoiding dangerous climate change. So I’ll be joining the campers in Kent. Anyone else with concerns about the future should do the same.

But he’s a scientist. So it must be true. Also no stranger to the language of catastrophe is Sir Martin “Our Final Century” Rees, president of the Royal Society, which funds Lewis’ research. Who said recently,

“Our main concerns are that coal fired powered stations are worse in terms of CO2 production even than oil or gas fired power stations.
“It would symbolically be very unfortunate if the UK were to approve a coal fired power station without imposing very strict requirements that some technology should be adopted that would allow it to capture the carbon dioxide it emits.”

So what have Rees and Lewis got to do with sabotage, police-brutality, and silly protests in Kent?

Quite a lot. We have described before the curious symbiosis between the Royal Society and activists such as Mark Lynas. What it reveals is that the establishment generates anxiety about the future, and are key to equipping the protestors with their arguments. The establishment is sympathetic to the protestors aims, as witnessed by the raft of environmental legislation on the cards and already in place. The establishment is involved in heavy policing of the protest. And the establishment is responsible for publicising the protest. This is not grass-roots activists, protesting about the state of things. This is anxiety within the establishment, expressing itself downwards. This process begins in the minds of those at the top, unsure of their roles, and of the future. It finds its way to a tiny number of individuals, who make a big noise and interesting pictures, which in turn creates the idea that this absurd protest has a point. But in truth, the entire spectacle owes itself to nothing more than the fact that Chicken Littles are running the roost, and that they depend on those prepared to flap about to make their positions more tenable, and legitimate.

The love-in between Climate Camp and the Royal Society is also evident in the protestors’ Guardian Letter:

The thought of going to prison even for a short period is daunting, but we cannot accept the logic of bail conditions that stop us attending a legal event at which Royal Society professors mix with families.

And which aims to shut down illegally a power station, by the way.

When the likes of Martin Durkin are deemed by the Royal Society to deviate from ‘the science’ of climate change, he is subject to the full wrath of the Royal Society. And yet it stands by as climate protesters and scientists take liberties with the truth and pass off opinion as science while hiding behind the Society’s very authority.

What the Royal Society ought to be doing – rather than running around like headless chickens – is providing sobre reflection, and scientific rationalism. It does exist, amongst the clucking. Take for example, the words of Carl Wunsch

…it is very difficult to separate human induced change from natural change, certainly not with the confidence we all seek. In these circumstances, it is essential to remember that the inability to prove human-induced change is not the same thing as a demonstration of its absence. It is probably true that most scientists would assign a very high probability that human-induced change is already strongly present in the climate system, while at the same time agreeing that clear-cut proof is not now available and may not be available for a long-time to come, if ever. Public policy has to be made on the basis of probabilities, not firm proof.

… and the words of Lewis in the same section of the RS website:

It is currently impossible to make robust predictions concerning how future climatic changes will interact with social factors and non-climatic environmental problems in an increasingly globalised world, but it is straightforward to conceive of plausible and socially explosive scenarios (e.g. mixing a future economic recession and geopolitical tensions over resources, with extreme weather events causing a a key crop failure and resulting mass human migrations could overload political institutions).

We can see firstly that there is no claim to certainty, or the science being ‘in’ on behalf of [ scientists, even those who make public, and very shrill statements about the need for action. Second, we can see that scientific arguments that we should act to mitigate climate change are founded on the precautionary principle – a controversial way of determining the best course of action in the face of unquantified risk. Third, what determines our vulnerability to climate is what Lewis refers to as ‘social factors’, therefore, concentration on the social factors would seem to be far more prudant than making attempts to control the weather. Unfortunately, though, he only considers ways in which we are vulnerable to climate, rather than resistant to it, and so concludes that we must act to change the weather. Fourth, then, climate change, given the right ‘social factors’ might not be a problem. But Lewis’s desire that we aim for changing the weather dimishes the ‘social factors’ which relate to our ability to resist the effects of climate. Fifth, it shows that the Royal Society and its associates are aware that social factors are more important than climatic ones, and yet they insist on alarming the public with terrifying stories and innuendo about those who dare to challenge it.

Perhaps the Royal Society simply doesn’t understand its role here. It too has become caught up in the political process, and its members seem to be as confused about what is politics and what is science as the circus-freak protestors. It too makes the mistake of believing that science can answer political questions about the future. It runs with it, because to say ‘we don’t really know’ would be to undermine its own position at a time when people – particularly the rest of the establishment – are turning to science for answers because politics isn’t providing them. The result is a loss of faith in both politics and science.

90 Minutes of TV; 16 Months of Handwaving…

…and counting…

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.