According to commentisfree, Ewa Jasiewicz is a writer, journalist, human rights activist and union organiser. In a recent post to the site, she identifies a split in the environmental movement between those who aim to stop climate change through ‘the system’, so to speak, i.e. through market solutions and state regulation, and those, such as her, who believe that nothing short of an anarchist revolution can solve the ‘climate crisis’.
How do we bring about a transformation which empowers us all? Grassroots organising in cooperative, low-impact, sustainable ways, glimpsed at the Climate Camp, and practised daily by millions, is one way towards this. Another is to live at the sharpest end of climate chaos today. … Changing our sources of energy without changing our sources of economic and political power will not make a difference. Neither coal nor nuclear are the “solution”, we need a revolution.
An interesting point to notice here is that anarchism, which, whether you had any sympathy with it or not, once had at its core some sophisticated ideas and principles, but is today framed in language relating to biospheres, ecosystems, and carbon budgets. It is by appealing to ‘science’ and anxieties about climate catastrophe — rather than our consciences — that today’s ‘revolutionary’ political arguments are made.
Jasiewicz was responding to comments made by George Monbiot at the climate camp, where he apparently ‘endorsed the use of the state as a partner in resolving the climate crisis’.
George is having something of an epiphany. Again. He recently conceded that atomic energy might be worth considering, a position he has rejected in the past. Jasiewicz claims that the climate camp represents the latest expression of a radical English tradition, which ‘stretches back to the Diggers, Levellers and the Luddites’ – movements which were once highly regarded by Monbiot, who helped to establish the Land is Ours, a group which also models itself on the Diggers. And as Jasiewicz points out, the camps’ members ‘honed their skills in the anti-roads movement of the mid-1990s’ – which Monbiot was also instrumental in establishing and publicising. But now he seems less certain of the radical positions he espoused less than a decade ago. In his introduction to his book Captive State: the Corporate Takeover of Britain, Monbiot said in 2000,
The struggle between people and corporations will be the defining battle of the twenty-first century.
Reading that passage from just 8 years ago, you would have thought that Monbiot might have more sympathy with Jasiewicz’s appeal for a revolution today. Now, however, in reply to Jasiewicz, he tells us on commentisfree that,
Stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim.
This is all the more surprising, given that, in 2000, following the passage above, Mobiot was sure that,
If the corporations win, liberal democracy will come to an end. The great social institutions which have defended the weak against the strong – equality before the law, representative government, democratic accountability and the sovereignty of parliament – will be toppled.
This conversion from radical politics, mirrors a sentiment expressed by climate change activist Mark Lynas in 2004, to Red Pepper,
I think inter-human squabbles about wealth distribution are now taking place within the context of a major destruction of the ecosystems which all of us depend on: rich, poor, black, white, homo sapiens or any other species. Therefore my argument is that the left-right political divide should no longer be the defining key priority. The struggle for equity within the human species must take second place to the struggle for the survival of an intact and functioning biosphere.
Equality is out, and the corporate takeover of the world is okay, just so long as it sorts out the climate. Lynas’ and Monbiot’s convergence on climate change as the ultimate issue in the future represents the final collapse of ideas that they have espoused in the past. It is intellectual exhaustion which takes them to where they stand. In spite of his epiphany, Monbiot has little light to shed on the world. Speaking about the young people on the Climate Camp, Monbiot continues his reply to Jasiewicz ( called ‘Identity Politics in Climate Change Hell’ on his website)
[Jasiewicz’s article] is a fine example of the identity politics that plagued direct action movements during the 1990s, and from which the new generation of activists has so far been mercifully free. … It would be a tragedy if, through the efforts of people like Ewa, they were to be diverted from this urgent task into the identity politics that have wrecked so many movements.
Yet Jasiewicz does not mention race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability. So it is curious that Monbiot – who claims to have held a professorship in politics at a UK university – should be so confused about what identity politics actually is. The subtitle of his article gives the game away:
In seeking to put politics ahead of action, Ewa Jasiewicz is engaging in magical thinking of the most desperate kind.
Monbiot confuses political identity with identity politics. In other words, what beset the movements he was involved with in the past were political ideas themselves. Jasiewicz, who embraces the ideas that made Monbiot the poster-boy of the disoriented Guardian-reading Liberal-Left of the 1990s for standing in the way of roads, housing developments, and corporate expansion, is now doing ‘magical thinking’. Where Monbiot once stood bravely in front of bulldozers (in front of the media) in order to resist ‘the corporate takeover of Britain’, he now thinks that such politics is ‘magical thinking’. That is indeed a change of heart. We have written before about Monbiot’s epiphanies. And last month, Spiked-Online editor, Brendan O’Neill reviewed his latest book, Bring on the Apocalypse: Six Arguments for Global Justice.
Monbiot, who once harried tourists, workers and shoppers over their bad habits but who now writes endlessly of science and sums, personifies an important shift that has taken place under the tyranny of environmentalism: the scientisation of elite fear and prejudice. And what of the science of climate change itself? No doubt there is research that shows the planet has warmed, and that man may have played a role in its warming; yet this science, too, has conveniently metamorphosed into a political and moral campaign to lower people’s horizons and keep them in their place. Call me a cynic, a doubter, even a denier if you like, I don’t care; but when scientific research continually and conveniently, almost magically, ‘proves’ that people are disgusting and must rein in their desires and change their habits – just as the elite caste, from priests to politicians, have been arguing for decades! – then I get suspicious.
(As an interesting aside, given Monbiot’s and Lynas’ rejection of Left politics, it is funny that in their criticism, they have accused of Spiked, and O’Neill of being ‘far-right’ ‘reactionary’, and ‘pro-corporate’. )
O’Neill notes the ‘metamorphosis of Monbiot’ from fringe but media-friendly weirdo, to member of the establishment, legitimised by ‘science’. Mark Lynas, who, just a decade ago was pushing custard pies into the face of Bjorn Lomborg, has undergone a similar transformation. His work of fiction, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet recently won an accolade from the Royal Society – its award for ‘science’ writing, worth £10,000. We said at the time,
There is a peculiar symbiosis, in which, Lynas and his ilk give the scientific establishment authority by constructing nightmare visions of the future, which are given credibility by figures such as Sir Martin Rees and Lord May. The service that Lynas does for the Royal Society is to connect this institution to our everyday fears and anxieties, to give it relevance at a time when, as with politicians, it struggles to define its purpose.
What Jasiewicz, Monbiot, and Lynas have in common is that the philosophies they have attached themselves have grown increasingly feeble. In response, the urgency of climate change alarmism is used to prop up their ailing arguments – ‘if you don’t do as we say, the world will end’. As we say above, Jasiewic frames her anarchism principally in terms of anthropogenic climate change. Monbiot used to share similar radical views, but as knee-jerk anti-capitalist, anti-road and land-rights movements failed to get off the ground, he turned up the catastrophic rhetoric, swapping the banner under which he marched for an end-is-nigh sandwich board. As his misconception of identity politics shows, he always lacked a thorough grasp of politics anyway. So it is no surprise that he has failed to create a consistent, coherent and robust understanding of what’s going on in the world, and looks to the skies to arm him with ways to appear radical.
This collapse shows us that environmentalism has not emerged from climate science, but has resorted to it. It is all that is propping up hacks such as Monbiot and Lynas, and the ossified political movements they claim to represent. Similarly, their new friends in the establishment, such as the Royal Society, like the political parties they advise are crumbling, not, as Monbiot worried in 200, because of the influence of corporations, but because of their own internal weaknesses. The Labour Party, the Tories, and the Liberals, and even the BNP join the anarchists, the socialists, and, of course, the Greens, in claiming that theirs are the only party which can save the planet. And all use ‘science’ to make their point.
The crisis is in politics, not in the skies. Monbiot – who, for some reason is regarded as one of the intellectual lights of the environmental movement – misconceives any form of politics as ‘identity politics’ because he struggles to identify himself. Therefore he becomes terrified of any political ‘identity’ or idea which threatens to undermine or usurp his fragile grip, expressed as his fears that ideas themselves will lead to the inevitable destruction of the biosphere by distracting people from their religious commitment to carbon reduction. Similarly, as more mainstream members of the establishment loose confidence in themselves and their functions, their claims to be engaged in ‘saving the planet’ is straightforward self-aggrandizement in the face of nervousness. We can say then, that the wasteland that is the intellectual landscape of contemporary mainstream and radical politics represents its thinkers’ own identity crises. The result is crisis politics – politicians, journalists, and activists who sustain themselves by creating panic, fear, alarm, and tragically, public policy.
Writing in the New Statesman about the make up of Climate Camp protest, Stephen Armstrong says,
According to the private espionage industry itself, roughly one in four of your comrades is on a multinational’s payroll.
The idea that intelligence operatives are running eco-protest direct action groups, such that one in four of them are working for the man, forgets that the other three are Trustafarians whose land-owning corporate boss daddies will put them well and truly on the payroll once they decide to chill out a bit.
The spies are probably there just to pick up some fresh ideas for the latest corporate marketing greenwash, or to inject the flailing political parties with the illusion of a radical policy initiative.
The vanity of the environmental protest movement knows no bounds. They imagine themselves as dangerous subversives. But really, they express exactly the same ideas as the government.
They just use less soap.
There was a lively little exchange on the Today programme this morning between class-warrior Julie Burchill and posh eco-activist George Monbiot. Burchill was there to promote her new book Not In My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, in which she accuses high-profile Green activists of being hypocritical, authoritarian elitists:
In every other political movement, you will have people from the working classes. Even the Suffragettes, who were really posh, there were, like, some northern mill girls involved. Every green involved is from a rich, inherited-wealth family, and I think they just have a great contempt for the mass of people. It’s always cheap food, cheap travel that they say is such a terrible thing, as if it’s dreadful for the working class to have access to things they’ve always had, and I find this quite morally repugnant […]
Greenery is a great way now for posh, useless people to lecture the working classes about what they should be doing, and how they shouldn’t be having cheap food or cheap holidays, and it’s just so disgusting and hypocritical tomfoolery
George Monbiot was there to disagree:
It’s a concatenation of every lazy and ridiculous stereotype about the greens. And it seems to me that she knows nothing about Environmentalism, hasn’t bothered to do any research, and yet still feels able to mouth off about it at some length. And as for this idea that we’re all po-faced, hair-shirt posh people, it’s just complete nonsense.
He even had some research to prove it:
There was a recent ICM poll which showed that people in social classes D and E are far more concerned about environment and far more concerned that the government does something about it than people in social classes A and B. [His emphasis]
The number of people who thought that environment should be the government’s priority rather than the economy was substantially higher (56%) among the lower income, less well-educated DE demographic than among the better-off ABs (47%).
And even that was a highly optimistic interpretation. Yes, 56% of DEs thought that environment should have priority over economy compared to 47% of ABs, but that difference was balanced out by the 33% of DEs (compared to 26% of ABs) who thought green taxes should never be introduced. The responses of ABs and DEs to the remaining two questions were the same. And as we pointed out at the time, closer scrutiny of the small print reveals that the demographics of the poll’s respondents were such that a much higher proportion of DE respondents were unlikely to be affected by environmental tax hikes.
But once the poll has been filtered by Monbiot, via Lynas, the emergent truth is that
people in social classes D and E are far more concerned about environment and far more concerned that the government does something about it than people in social classes A and B.
Which is kind of funny when the subject of the interview is green hypocrisy and the person concerned is a strident Environmentalist with a penchant for writing stroppy articles at the merest whiff of a dodgy ‘fact’ from anybody who doesn’t conform to the climate orthodoxy. Here and here, for example.
Monbiot kept digging:
It’s true that upper-middle class people like me get far too much airtime by comparison to everybody else, but […] this doesn’t distinguish Environmentalism from any other aspect of public life. If you look at journalism, if you look at the arts, if you look at politics – even, for God’s sake, the Labour party is partly dominated now by relatively posh people. Why single out Environmentalism for this?
Monbiot might well be right that Environmentalists are no more hypocritical than various other opportunistic professionals, but is that really something to shout about? And it’s still worth singling out the Greens because they are the only ones claiming to be a grass-roots popular movement.
Talking of which, George was conducting his interview live from the Climate Camp protest in Kent. Which is about as grass-roots as it gets if you listen to the likes of Monbiot. Which makes the following comment made to a message board by a disgruntled eco-activist particularly hilarious:
i took time out of my life to attend both Drax and Heathrow camps… (costing me a huge chunk out of my monthly budget)
but have decided against coming to the camp in Kent this year.
reasons being, i feel the camp has an arrogant, middle class clique of “organisers”- who claim the camp has no leaders (but aggressively shout at you if ur not in bed by 11pm) and claim the camp has anarchist roots, whilst appearing (to me) as a bunch of george mombiet arse licks….
yes, i support the camp…
but no, i am not going out of my way to support it, as i do not wish to be judged/looked down on/be bossed around by a bunch of snobs posing as protestors
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.
It’s Climate Camp time again. Last year, activists numbering 1500 (less than the capacity of some nightclubs) took part in a high-profile protest near Heathrow Airport, the site of a proposed new runway. As the camps occupied themselves recycling their own urine, eating lentils, and making sure that the media didn’t get too close to them (they didn’t want unfavourable press), hundreds of thousands of travellers took to the skies above them. Such a numerical demonstration of the protest’s unpopularity failed to dent the smug self-righteous protestors’ self-confidence.
This year, the anti-development camp is at Kingsnorth, Kent, the site of a proposed coal-fired power station – the first in the UK for 30 years, such has been the UK’s government’s inability to commit itself to energy infrastructure. If this station ever gets built, it will merely replace Britain’s crumbling capacity, not add to it. Nonetheless, the protestors would rather that the lights went out… for the sake of the polar bears.
The camp’s website says…
This year’s workshop timetable is the best ever with over 200 workshops covering everything from vegan cake baking and climate science through to the role of banks in the fossil fuel economy and how to plan successful direct action.
Oh, what fun! Mmm. Vegan cakes. But apart from horrid food, and boring lectures, what is the camp actually about?
“E.ON and the government believe that you can have endless fossil-fuelled economic growth in a world of finite resources,” said Christina Greensford, who helped to secure the camp. “People from all over the UK are here to create a democratic, low-carbon society in which our long term future on this planet is prioritised over the short term profit margins of the fossil fuel industry.”
Yep. That’s right. The fossil fuel industry force people at gunpoint into power-showers (which is why this bunch of smellies might object to them), into their cars, and onto planes taking them on holidays. In fact, the very idea of a holiday was invented by evil fossil fuel companies, just so that they could sell us fuel. The only way you can avoid their mind-control rays is by wearing a tin-foil hat.
This year the protesters plan to halt production at the existing plant, which supplies electricity to 1.5 million homes in the South East. Over the last few years, ‘direct action’ has become increasingly the way in which protest is expressesed. This is because these silly campaigns remain unpopular, and fail to generate the momentum to become mass political movements, and to demonstrate real political capital. Stunts, and a lot of noise are substitutes for a lot of people.
The threat of disruption to energy supply, public safety, and damage to civil infrastructure means the police are attendant at these events in large numbers. Unfortunately, this means that they are complicit in the PR campaign of these fringe groups. They make the protest look both radical, and powerful, and news-worthy. It is none of these things. A better idea would be to let the protestors cause the chaos they seek so that we can see just how popular their ideas really are.
The media also serve as accomplices in such protests. A particularly ludicrous example occurred in 2005. According to the hourly news headlines on BBC Radio 4 on 12 February that year, demonstrators were marching through the streets of London and Edinburgh in protest at the failure of certain countries to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol. Only later did it emerge that a grand total of 25 protesters had turned out in Edinburgh. Rather generously, another BBC Online news story described the turnout as ‘dozens’. That is fewer than can be found grumbling about the length of the check-out queue in the supermarket on an average Saturday afternoon. The London gig attracted a barely more respectable 500. What is remarkable is that so few protesters turned up despite the free national publicity offered by the BBC. The announcement on MySpace of a house-party is generally more successful at pulling in the punters.
As it happens, although the protestors believe they are radicals who are challenging the Government’s short-termist mindset, their ideas and the Government’s are in step with one another. The Government would really rather that it didn’t have to go through the difficult process of building new power stations. It means risking doing something almost as unpopular; actually making decisions. The environmental protest has done the Government a service in arming it with arguments that development is a bad idea. That’s why it spends tens of millions – more – on campaigns to get us to use less energy, to recycle, to not use too much stuff, and copes with housing shortages by promising ‘eco-homes’ in ‘eco-towns’. The UK Government is about as popular as the climate camp, and is therefore nervous of commiting itself to any decision which might reflect badly on it.
One way for it to reconnect with the public – which it hasn’t yet tried – is to face down the inertia generated by environmentalists. It could say, ‘stuff Kyoto, we need more power stations, roads, proper houses, and airport runways’. Into the bargain, this might create new jobs, and, horror of horrors, wealth.
The problem is, there is not a movement which demands this of the paralysed UK Government. Yet. There ought to be one, because it might prove to be far more popular.
We don’t fancy camping on squatted land in Kent, however. And you can shove your solar-powered vegan lentil cakes up your urine-recycler.
Earth Hour 2008 ‘happened’ yesterday. Except it didn’t. The whole point is that nothing happens.
Created to take a stand against the greatest threat our planet has ever faced, Earth Hour uses the simple action of turning off the lights for one hour to deliver a powerful message about the need for action on global warming.
Except that this wasn’t a message, because anybody who wasn’t involved wouldn’t have been able to witness anything. Everyone who was involved would have been reflecting on the “greatest threat our planet has ever faced” silently, while everyone else carried on about their business, oblivious to the most pointless demonstration in the planet’s history.
Even if anyone had noticed, what would the “powerful message” have been? “Look, we don’t have any lights on”.
The organisers tell us that “Earth Hour 2008 was a global movement.” But this form of action is in fact inaction. Environmentalist campaigns may consider themselves “movements”, but in fact, they are characterised by antipathy towards any form of movement whatsoever, like last year’s Climate Camp at Heathrow Airport was, for example.
Similarly, Friends of the Earth’s campaign The Big Ask Virtual Web March is about channeling the collective apathy of the environmental non-movement to create a database of video whinges about modern life. Tellingly, it boasts many more contributors than they could muster at any real-world march.
The environmental unmovement is not only confused about what is action and what is inaction, but also what is progressive, and what is retrogressive. A consequence – could it ever been realised – of dragging the developed world back to primative technologies and basic lifestyles is that the expression of political action will also be limited. The environmental unmovement is against mass movements. Literally. And it is by depriving mass movements of the means of action that the environmental unmovement becomes a retrogressive and deeply conservative force.
That’s the title of a debate on 22 August at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Climate-Resistace editor Stuart was one of the speakers, with John Gray, Mark Vernon and Ron Ferguson. His talk went a bit like this…
Just so you know… I don’t believe in God. And I think science is a Good Thing. Science is one of the many fine products of the Enlightenment. It is the best way of exploring the material Universe we have. And it has transformed human lives for the better.
So I am not about to say that Atheism in general, and science in particular, is just another fundamentalism.
I will say, however, that certain atheists and scientists are becoming increasingly fundamentalist.
More specifically, I’d argue that while conventional religions are declining – at least in Europe – science is increasingly being used by certain groups – including sections of the scientific establishment itself – who are seeking to impose their own morality on the rest of us and to justify intolerance towards dissenting voices. And that this flies in the face of the very Enlightenment values from which science arose. And that this serves to close down healthy scientific and political debate, and, ultimately, hampers human progress.
I’d suggest that we have seen some fine examples of secular fundamentalism in the news this week. Anyone who has seen any coverage of the Climate Camp march along the proposed route of the third runway at Heathrow will have seen the huge banner at the head of the procession: “We are armed … only with peer reviewed science.”
Climate Camp spokesperson Timothy Lever put it more explicitly: “It’s not us saying you need to stop flying; it’s the science that is telling us that we all need to fly less.”
Of course there are no scientific studies that show that Heathrow shouldn’t have a third runway, like there are no scientific studies proving we should fly less. That is not the realm of science. What the science does tell us is that the world has been warming up recently and that anthropogenic carbon dioxide probably has quite a lot to do with it. It’s up to society at large to work out what to do with that information.
But the sort of talismanic use of scientific knowledge displayed at Climate Camp is fuelled, at least in part, by the scientific establishment itself.
For a start, the Royal Society – the UK’s premier scientific institution – has even started enshrining pre-Enlightenment values into its constitution. Its motto Nullius in verba has been translated since 1663 as “on the word of nobody”. The motto distanced science from the scholasticism of the ancient universities. It stressed that scientific knowledge is based on appeals to experimental evidence rather than to the word of authority figures. In the 21st century, however, the Royal Society has dropped that translation. According to Robert May, former president of the Royal Society and ex-chief scientific advisor to the UK government, it is best translated as “Respect the facts”.
And which facts are we supposed to respect? Well, the Royal Society’s, of course. Hence the Society’s press release – headed “The Truth About Global Warming” – that accompanied their publication of a paper countering the claims made by the infamous TV programme The Great Global Warming Swindle that recent variations in global temperature are better explained by solar activity than by CO2 emissions. Since when has a single scientific paper constituted “the truth”? The Royal Society is harking back to the days of scholasticism and its figures of authority.
This can only serve to close down the scientific debate, even though the scientific process is absolutely dependent on that debate, scrutiny of ideas, scepticism and argument to establish robust material truths.
Meanwhile, those who go against the ‘scientific consensus’ on climate change – which is itself a very slippery entity to pin down – are labelled deniers or heretics, who are, we are told by the Royal Society, the work of the Devil, or at least his modern, secular equivalent, ExxonMobil.
But some scientific fundamentalists go further than that. Dissenters, they say, are not just corrupt, or disrespectful of the facts, or plain-old-fashioned wrong – they are deluded, maladapted or ill.
In an editorial earlier this year in the journal Medscape General Medicine, Professor of Psychiatry Steven Moffic proposed the use of aversion therapy involving “distressing images of the projected ravages of global warming” to encourage responsible environmental behaviour among sceptics – this is less Clockwork Orange and more Clockwork Green.
Meanwhile, German psychologist Andreas Ernst has developed a theory that people who fail to act to reduce their CO2 emissions are similar psychologically to rats.
OK, so these are extreme examples. But they aren’t really so different from more mainstream efforts to describe complex human behaviour in simplistic biological terms.
It’s hard to talk about scientific fundamentalism without mentioning Richard Dawkins. And the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science exemplifies such efforts. To quote: “We intend to sponsor research into the psychological basis of unreason. What is it about human psychology that predisposes people to find astrology more appealing than astronomy?”
The assumption here is that humans are biologically predisposed to the irrational – although only some human beings of course – the ones who are wrong.
Another tack that Dawkins takes is to write off religion and unreason to mind-controlling memes, hypothetical units of cultural selection that supposedly compete for space in the habitat of human brains. This posits religion and unreason as mind viruses. And the memes meme has caught on to an extent that is disproportionate to its scientific status. It has to date proven un-testable, and has zero explanatory power. This is not science; it is humanities-envy.
Again, that is contrary to the Enlightenment values of human agency and rationality. Because if ‘bad’ ideas are the products of parasitic memes, then why not the ‘good’ ones? The label of science is being used to escape the need to confront ideas politically. It betrays an unwarranted faith not in God, but in Nature, determinism, and in humans as mechanistic biological entities rather than social, rational ones who are both the products and the architects of civilisation.
Scientists have traditionally offered us a better, brighter future. And science has delivered. Now it seems that the best it can do is hope to make that future a less terrible one.
Martin Rees, current President of the Royal Society tells us in his book Our Final Century that humankind has a 50/50 chance of surviving the 21st century. That judgement has nothing to do with science – scientists can barely model the climate yet, let alone the future course of human history. And yet it has scientific authority on the basis that its author is President of the Royal Society. And the Royal Society – as they themselves tell us – are the custodians of the facts.
Give me a conventionally religious person with a positive vision for how we might go about creating a better future, any day, instead of those secularists who foretell the end of the world, who propound meme theory as an explanation for culture, or those at Climate Camp waving peer-reviewed scientific papers at the TV cameras.
I repeat – atheism is not just another fundamentalism. And nor is science. But, if it is going to continue being the invaluable tool for humanity that it has been since the Enlighte
ent, it has to be very careful that it doesn’t become one.
The Climate Camp draws to a close. The result? A vandalised depot, a besieged office block and a day off for its employees, and more than 40 protesters arrested, some of them grumbling about their treatment by the police. (What did they expect?)
But what was this protest really about, apart from a ‘fun’ week of eating lentils, recycling urine, and playing at planet-saving superheroes? All of the UK’s political parties are moving in the way that the protesters want. They are not really at odds with the government, nor the opposition at all. If the most important issue is a 90% cut in CO2 emissions, the Conservative Party intends to see CO2 emissions cut by 80% – wouldn’t it be better for the Climate Camp protesters to swallow their pride and join them, than get arrested or beaten up by the police?
For those of us who think that being able to fly to almost anywhere in the world is something worth celebrating, the Manifesto Club have started a campaign to do just that. They are calling for stories about the life-expanding possibilities that flight creates – something which the miserable 2,000 protesters have forgotten during the last week, while 1.4 million travellers have passed over their heads.
It’s not something that Richard Madeley from Channel 4’s Richard and Judy show has forgotten. Last Friday, the show broke from the safety of the chat-show routine format to host a robust exchange between Richard, Climate Camp protester Tim Lever, Green Party spokesperson Jenny Jones, and Mirror Journalist Kevin O’Sullivan. Richard and O’Sullivan took issue with the protester’s arrogant self-importance, and condescending attitude towards people who just want to go on holiday – a rare sight on British TV, which all too often buys into global warming orthodoxy, and portrays climate change activists as saints.
The “Camp for Climate Action” has opened near Heathrow Airport. Announcing the event, and commenting on some of the legal problems the organisers have faced, the campaign website said:
Unfortunately the police have stopped and searched some people coming to the camp, under anti-terrorism legislation. This is clearly an abuse of this legislation as the Climate Camp is organised openly, and we are clearly not a terrorist group!
We’d agree that anti-terror legislation is the wrong sledgehammer for this bunch of nuts, and however much we disagree with Climate Camp, their right to protest is worth defending.
However, Climate Camp are not against playing the terror card to further their own political messages:
The science is clear: global emissions of carbon dioxide must go into rapid decline within the next decade. If they don’t, humanity faces a bleak future.
The science says nothing of the sort, of course. The science just says that the world has been getting warmer recently and that that is probably largely due to CO2 emissions. And their political message?
To achieve this in a way that respects global justice means 90% cuts in developed countries like the UK
Hey, that’s a radical 10% more than the UK Conservative Party is calling for. (Perhaps the extra 10% covers the ‘global justice’ bit.)
As we say in our introduction:
15. Widespread disengagement from politics means that politicians pander only to the loudest, shrillest voices.
Success in politics today is achieved through painting a darker vision of the future than one’s adversaries. A cursory look at the environmental movement, and those behind the War on Terror, for example, would give the impression that the two were politically opposed, but a closer inspection reveals that they are cut from the same cloth. Take away the terror, and there is nothing left; no positive view of what society can achieve, no sense of shared purpose, no vision of a better life – just a vague promise of ‘security’.
Fear-mongers need media coverage. But only the right sort of media coverage. Previous Climate Camp actions have banned the media from their sites. Last year, the Camp was organised around the aim of shutting down the Drax power plant, and causing widespread inconvenience so that we all heard about the stunt, and “got the message”, but it doesn’t want the media to intrude on the precious lives of its own activists. This year, that policy received criticism from journalists:
Camp for Climate Action has stated that media will only be permitted on site between 11 am and noon; that they must be accompanied and identified with a flag; must stick with the tour; that some journalists will not be allowed on site and that a “black-list” will be operated. Sympathetic journalists will be given longer access.
After this protest from the NUJ, the campaign’s website announced that it had changed its policy, and explained:
This policy is a compromise that attempts to provide reasonable media access whilst respecting camp participants’ right to privacy. Past protest events similar to the camp have had a no-access policy, and last year’s media hour, which worked well for all concerned, was, we thought, a major step forward. The proposed addition this year of longer access for some journalists was intended as yet another step toward fuller media access and more in-depth coverage. However, this year’s experiment in providing greater access has not worked for anyone. The media team does not have enough people to do the job, journalists saw a tiered system as unfair and many camp participants have declined the offer of living for a few days with the press. So, we have revised and simplified the policy, with fairness, equal treatment of all, and ensuring that we have the capacity to deliver what we offer as our key principles.
Climate Camp is so anxious about its image that its organisers have cordoned off those who might be on-site, but off-message – it doesn’t even trust its own membership to speak freely. It’s a funny kind of protest movement that has to ban the media from observing it on the squatted land it occupies. The pretence of ‘protecting privacy’ is as spurious as the overzealous application of anti-terrorism legislation by the police. In excluding the critical eye of the media, and favouring those who would paint the protest in a good light, it reveals exactly the same Orwellian tendencies it claims to be the victim of. It wants a public image on its own terms, to pull a loud, irritating, inconvenient stunt, and then run away to hide behind it’s ‘rights’ when challenged. ‘Postman’s knock’ politics. A big noise, but no message.