The 'Green Energy Revolution': Spinning Failure as Success

The UK government recently gave its ‘low carbon transition plan’ an airing. At the launch of the plan, the unelected Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills who has been forced, twice, to resign from previous roles within the government for his involvement in scandals, Lord Peter Mandelson said:

I am really proud of a government that has been in office for what… twelve… just over twelve or so years, that can still generate the interest, the energy, the ingenuity, and if you don’t mind me saying so, the wisdom to produce a low-carbon transition plan, a low carbon industrial strategy, that can set very very ambitious targets. But not satisfied with the targets, put in place too, the realisable plans and actions and decisions that we have to take as a country in order to realise those very ambitious targets. And I must say, it’s certainly an enormous credit to Ed [Miliband] in particular who has shown great leadership in bringing us to this point.

But Ed could not have done this without the pressure, the ideas, and the fire power of all the stake-holders, each and every individual represented in this museum tonight. So thank you very much indeed for helping bring the government, collectively, to this point. But your work is not yet done. You have to take us and help us and stand with us and take our views and our proposals and our policies out and around the country in order to generate real popular understanding for and support for what we are going to do in implementing this low-carbon transition plan. Because we are not going, in this country, to enjoy a high-carbon future. Certainly not one we can depend on, and certainly not one we can afford with finite supplies of fossil fuels, with their volatile prices being driven up by ever growing demand from fast-expanding emerging economies around the world. We need a much more dependable, safer, greener, affordable future than that…

In this very same month, the Vestas factory in the Isle of Wight, which makes blades for wind turbines, will cease production, with the loss of 600 jobs.

A press release from the government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced two days previously: ‘UK at forefront of a low carbon economic revolution‘. By 2020, it said, ‘more than 1.2 million people will be in green jobs’. It quotes Mandelson again:

The UK is already the sixth largest economy for low carbon goods and services, globally worth £3 trillion and growing, and today the government is outlining how its support for the economy will ensure our businesses and our workforce continue to lead the way. We must combine the dynamism of the private sector with a strategic role for government to deliver the benefits of innovation, growth and job creation in the UK.

The UK government, it seems, pats itself and its cronies on the back for setting ‘ambitious’ targets, and promising hundreds of thousands of new jobs, while the reality is that over a quarter of a million people lost their jobs in the spring months. The 600 workers at the Vestas factory will be joining more than 2.8 million (and rising) unemployed people at the dole queue. Who does Mandelson think he’s kidding?

As Ben wrote in the Register back in April:

But is this, as Mandelson claims, an industrial revolution? A genuine industrial revolution should make it possible to produce things more efficiently, creating greater dynamism within the economy. But this green “industrial revolution” yields no net benefit. What are called opportunities are generated at a net cost, absorbing money and labour that might be better spent on producing real industrial development, or public services such as schools and hospitals. Stagnation is spun as progress. For example, it is China’s industrial dynamism, not the UK’s, which has created markets for reclaimable materials. It is only by intervention and legislation that the UK is even able to collect plastic bottles, never mind reprocess them.

As Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor at The Times puts it, ‘Government claims that Britain already supports nearly one million “green-collar” jobs have been exposed as a sham’:

Britain’s Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, outlined yesterday by Lord Mandelson, claimed that the economy already supported 880,000 “low-carbon jobs” — a figure that he said was poised to grow by up to 400,000 by 2015 to more than 1.28 million. But a detailed breakdown of the figures obtained by The Times shows that they include an extraordinarily loose definition of the term.

[…] Figures supplied by Innovas showed that the total included 207 jobs in the supply and manufacture of animal bedding, 90 providing equestrian surfaces and 164 in the recycling of footwear, “slippers and other carpet wear”.

Mr Sharp acknowledged that there were some “weird and wonderful” categories. “We try to capture as much of the supply chain as possible,” he said.

Or, as Ben put it in the Register, back in April:

Citing Innovas’s report, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband said that the global green sector is already a three-trillion-dollar industry set to grow by fifty per cent. Agriculture accounts for 4 per cent of the World’s GDP of around $70tn. Is it plausible that the world’s ‘green’ economy is larger than the agricultural economy? These big numbers raise questions about the meaning of ‘green’?

“We try to create as wide a definition as possible”, says John Sharp, MD of Innovas Solutions, “because that way we can capture the supply chain. We don’t count things like toilet roll and stationery.”

But it includes the manufacture, installation, supply, and distribution of battery testing equipment, and nearly the entire chain from development to decommissioning and decontamination of nuclear power stations.

(Did Innovas’s report count journalists as working within the recycling industry, we wonder.)

Back to Mandelson’s speech and his claim that ‘we are not going, in this country, to enjoy a high-carbon future’. Mandelson claims that this is because of necessity and of material reality: fossil fuels are just too expensive and in too short supply to power the UK’s growth. The truth of the matter is that what is far more scarce than the (in fact, plentifully abundant) planet’s supply of fossil fuels is the political establishment’s supply of imagination. We’re not being offered a ‘high carbon future’ because none of the political parties have any idea about how to deliver optimistic plans. None of them have any idea about how to reinvigorate British industry. None of them even know how to make an argument for conventional energy generation. None of them can make arguments for courses of action that will create jobs as a worthwhile end without dressing it up in green, as a response to a ‘planetary emergency’ – they can’t even think of things that the huge number of people who are unemployed could be doing instead of claiming benefits. Their fecklessness and lack of credibility will manifest as the continued decline of British industry, the continued rise of unemployment, and the deepening of the mutual cynicism between the public and themselves.

The problem here is the future, and how it is defined. It is the Labour Party’s intellectual exhaustion that drives its progress from crisis to crisis. Its inability to determine a direction for itself means it looks for external crises, partly as a means to shift focus from its own incoherence, but also as an attempt to orient itself towards something… Anything. In short, because it doesn’t know where it’s going (i.e. the future), it has no idea how to get there (i.e. development and growth). Because it can’t make a positive argument for the future – it can’t raise the capital for projects; it can’t encourage development; it can’t negotiate the conflicts development will cause. It turns itself on development and growth itself and redefines ‘ambition’ as (at best) remaining in the present: ‘sustainability’, ‘precaution’, ‘security’. The present is, after all, always safer than the future. But don’t count on the opposition parties, because, as we have argued here on Climate Resistance, they suffer from exactly the same thing – none of them have any positive ideas about the future at all.

Enter climate change and the environmental ‘movement’. A general sense of anxiety about the future is given a scientific narrative – a projection, if you like, from our disoriented politics, out into the atmosphere. Mandelson asks the Green Great and the Good assembled at the launch of the Low Carbon Transition Plan to go forth and multiply the green message: ‘you have to take us and help us and stand with us and take our views and our proposals and our policies out and around the country in order to generate real popular understanding for and support for what we are going to do’. As we pointed out in our last post, the Government are only too aware that their environmental policies don’t really enjoy the public’s sympathy, and that the ideas underpinning them have not been tested democratically, and they know this is a problem. So Mandelson creates the policies, he then asks activists and journalists to generate credibility for them. This is politics backwards. Instead of creating ideas which achieve resonance among the public, thereby taking politicians and their ideas to power, Mandelson attempts to spin credibility from thin air, hoping that by making his policies appeal to the assembled movers and shakers he will reconnect his Government with the masses to resupply it with credibility and legitimacy. Obediently, messianic hacks and self-serving NGOs release missives that talk of the measures that aim to save the planet from certain destruction, but, in order to secure their undemocratic and unaccountable influence over the public agenda (much as with Mandelson), they say that the government’s policies do not go far enough.

The legacy of doing politics in this way will be a hugely inefficient Britain. If the ‘low carbon energy revolution’ will be at all successful in its aims, it will have created jobs by reducing their productivity: more people for less output. The jobs will be ‘made’ by generating scarcity, not by creating dynamism. Failure is being spun (by the Lord Spinmaster himself) as success, because Britain’s downward industrial trajectory is already a given.

This form of spin is not unique to the UK. For instance, in the US, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming published this on its website:

The nation that leads the race for clean energy technology will have a global economic advantage for the next century. With millions of manufacturing and high-tech jobs on the line, the United States cannot afford to fall behind.

Though we invented solar technology, the United States now lags behind Germany in solar power and manufacturing. The Germans control 47% of the global photovoltaic market, and Europe deployed 13 times more solar photovoltaic power than the United States last year.

The race for green energy? The intention here is to imply that at the end of the ‘race’ is some huge payoff. But there is no ‘race’ for ‘clean’ energy because ‘clean’ energy grants no advantage in itself – it’s only an advantage if there is a regulatory framework in place which creates a market for it. You can’t do more with ‘clean’ energy. In all likelihood, you can only do less. It’s not even comparable to some symbolic race, for instance to put people on the moon, because it doesn’t represent any ‘giant leap’ for mankind that can be identified as the fruitful expression of a nation’s commitment to its positive ideas. Instead, what’s driving the race is the fantasy, exploited by vapid politicians, that we stand on the edge of doom. If it’s a giant anything, the ‘renewable energy revolution’, by increasing our dependence on natural processes such as wind is a giant step backwards to feudal modes of production.

The article continues:

Denmark leads the world in wind power, even though our shores stretch thousands of miles longer.

Denmark made a commitment to wind power long before it became fashionable and invested heavily. This investment created a boom for wind turbine giants, Vestas – the company closing its Isle of Wight factory. Yet despite Denmark’s investment, its effect on the country’s CO2 emissions its unremarkable, and is only able to use 20% of it. The remainder is sold to Norway and Sweden, where it is used to ease the pressure on hydro-power – wind power only makes electricity when the wind blows, but water can be stored behind dams.

The article continues:

50 percent of all new jobs created in Ireland last year were clean energy jobs.

The Irish economy is currently deflating at an unprecedented rate – faster than any other. As this bleak article says, it shrank a whopping 8.5% in just the first quarter of this year. Unemployment in Ireland rose to 11.9% last month, and is expected (by the Prime Minister) to hit an eye-watering 15.5% by the end of this year, and continue its rise into the next. That 50% of all new jobs created in Ireland last year were in ‘clean energy’ means almost nothing – it could have been as few as 100 – and it certainly doesn’t represent the emergence of a golden new age of industrial dynamism and creativity. On the contrary, it is the failure of Western economies that is driving a version of the ‘Green New Deal’ in each of them. Each promising jobs, and each promising huge investments.

China is spending $12.6 million PER HOUR on clean energy development.

China is preparing to invest $440 to $660 billion this year in clean energy development.

China brought the world’s first mass-produced plug-in hybrid car to market, ahead of the Chevy Volt, and has plans to develop a network of electric vehicle charging stations. Korea and Japan are leapfrogging America in battery and electric vehicle technology that will power the vehicles of the future.

There is no surprise that China is investing in green technologies. Its dynamism and ability to actually deliver development – in contrast to the flailing Western economies – means that it will be able to take advantage of the market for green products that is being opened up by regulations, laws, taxes and subsidies here. Meanwhile, British, European and American firms are likely to be crippled by environmental legislation. Rather than attempting to create optimistic ideas about how to transform our economies and industries into something resembling China’s, we hear instead that we have to aspire to less energy consumption, with higher energy prices, and less efficient and less productive jobs… Meanwhile, the 600 jobs at the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight have moved to the East. This is the ‘race’ that the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming thinks the USA – formerly the powerhouse of Western capitalism – thinks it can win. It has already lost. ‘Green New Deals’, can only make it lose further; they do not address the political problems – the intellectual poverty of Western political elites – that make our economies duller and duller.

The Waxman-Markey legislation will launch a renewable revolution, one that draws on our manufacturing might and technological advantage and positions us to lead the world in wind, solar, efficiency, and carbon capture and sequestration technology.

It’s time to put America back in the driver’s seat in the global race for clean energy jobs and technology.

This is not a race to create a dynamic economy. It is not a race to create a new liberating politics. It is not an attempt to improve people’s lives. There is only a race, across the Green West, to stifle development, to prevent progressive change, and to remove entirely any form of aspiration from politics. That is the ‘revolution’ it wants to create. It is being advanced by people who are simply unable to make a case for any positive form of development, because they lack any sense of what that development might consist of, and lack any form of connection with the public. They are held over a barrel by unaccountable, unelected, self-serving and self-appointed Non-Governmental Organisations that increasingly oppose the very principle of economic growth and of technological development, and are increasingly hostile to the idea that people are able to and should be allowed to make decisions for themselves. This ‘revolution’ is being blindly constructed by people who, even if they did have a good argument for development on its own terms would not be able to frame it on such terms, because they have entirely lost faith in the idea that life can be improved. Instead, capital for political ideas is generated on the premise that material reality dictates that life simply cannot be improved. Politics is accordingly limited to a choice between different self-serving dysphorias and dystopian visions.

The cost of this move is a massive debt of credibility of the present to the future. The result will be hostility to politics and to science, and generally to trust in public institutions. Just as with the intense borrowing and spending that going on – rather than reflecting on what’s caused our current circumstances – this debt will grow and grow until the political reality really gets called in. Meanwhile, mere deferment of political crisis is being spun as progress. No wonder politicians are so terrified of the future. There may well be environmental problems, but as we often say: the crisis is in politics, not in the skies.

A Peak Peak-Oil-Theory Theory

Five months is a long time in climate politics. The arguments change with the seasons. Back in the hazy days of July and August, the eco-newswires were dominated by stories about ‘record-breaking’ arctic ice extent – even though it wasn’t record-breaking, and the record is only 30 years long. Now, they are more likely to be stories telling us that 2008 hasn’t been all that warm, but that global warming is still happening.

The other dominant story was the genuinely record-breaking oil prices. Every time you filled your car with petrol, the price had gone up by several per cent. The environmental movement was keen to interpret this as another harbinger of the beginning of the end, and used it to demand that we change our ways. It seemed to prove that we were in the grip of what they said peak-oil theory had predicted. Here is Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP on BBC TV, in June.

[youtube mBTE4w3qIaw]

‘The days of cheap oil are over’, she says. ‘A look at the figures’ (what ‘figures’?) would demonstrate that we’re past the ‘half way point of all oil’, meaning that it would get more and more expensive, she claims. Demand outstrips supply. Lucas must be disappointed then, that OPEC have announced that they are cutting production by 2.2 million barrels a day in an order to rescue the price from its current plunge. In July, a barrel cost $147. Today, it costs just $41.53. If ‘the days of cheap oil are over’, why is it so cheap? Why is it necessary to create the scarcity which Caroline Lucas said existed in order to create the higher prices she demanded?

It could still be argued that the price drop reflects the current economic climate. And indeed, there is some sense in the argument that as demand has dropped so too has the price. But this doesn’t explain the peak. Because, back in June and July, it’s not as if the world was experiencing an economic boom.  Another major story – you may have noticed – of the last two years has been the ‘credit crunch’ that began in early 2007. Yet these two years of worsening economic affairs saw the price of oil rocket upwards. Just as we know house prices can ‘bubble’, so too can commodity prices. The upward prices were driven, in part, not by imminent scarcity, but by the idea that they might continue. After all, many – not just Greens – were lining up to make this drama a crisis. And who wouldn’t invest in oil, if they thought it was running out? And here’s the funny thing… It’s not in oil producers’ interests for people to believe that there is an abundance of oil. The idea of scarcity makes their product more valuable. Who are these Greens working for? On this basis, too, there is no real incentive for companies to invest in new exploration. New extraction facilities are hugely expensive. Invest prematurely, and you alter the market, price, and of course, politics. Imagine that in July 2008 you had invested your capital on the basis of reports that…

Some analysts have raised the possibility of prices rising as high as $200 a barrel during the next 18 months. … “You really cannot forecast how much further the market will rally now,” said Tatsuo Kageyama from Kanetsu Asset Management in Tokyo. “All I can say is the market will continue to rise.

… you’d be feeling the pinch now.

Search the web for charts showing oil prices, and what they reveal is that upward surges in oil price reflect political events. Regional conflict in the Middle East, and Africa, the War on Terror, assassinations, strikes, and so on, litter the upward progress of curves. Yet environmental doom-sayers are quick to tell us that there is something fundamentally wrong about our relationship with the natural world, and that we stand on the brink of a precipice. Nothing could be more arse-about-face. Oil prices were high for very human reasons.

The ‘half way point’ between what was in the ground and its depletion has been given incredible significance by various alarmists. It is yet another ‘tipping point’ that is used to manufacture drama from dull statistics, in much the same way as Arctic ice progression is used to manufacture drama from dull statistics. Once this fictional point is passed, we are supposed to enter some dark new epoch, in which a society that has foolishly been predicated on some ‘unsustainable’ relationship with the natural world begins to collapse. The search for these points-of-no-return represent a religious mission to look for ‘signs’ from Gaia. So convinced are people that such algebraic maxima exist, which give mathematical identity to society’s relationship with nature, that anything and everything becomes a ‘tipping point’ at the expense of understanding the world more deeply; understanding the increasing price of oil as a shortcoming of the market in the face of events in the human – rather than geological – world, for example. The idea of the ‘tipping point’ then assumes political significance. Rarely a day goes by without it being applied to something – gun crime, obesity, you name it. Where there is a moral panic, you will find the ecological metaphor – the “tipping point” – being used to paint a picture of inevitable decline into social chaos.

The invocation of social chaos is a demand for social control. Like alienated weirdos who once stood in public places wearing ‘the end is nigh’ placards, the people making these statements cannot explain the world – it’s already chaotic for control freaks. For example, they can’t explain oil prices in terms of political events. Curves representing Arctic sea ice approach ‘tipping points’, which they argue represent movement towards ‘runaway climate change’. ‘We’ve got to change the way we live’, they say. While they so comprehensively fail to explain the social world, we should ignore them, just as we walked past those men in their placards. They deserve only a bit of sympathy, at arms length.

There is a problem for people making these statements. Their luck runs out. Nature takes a different course. So…

As the environmental movement emphasises our relationship with nature, how about we treat doom itself as a ‘natural resource’ which is exploited for political capital? It is a resource that is depleted in two ways. First, let’s assume that it is finite – nature cannot continue to provide alarmists with these resources forever, and so their jumping on everything as the sign of ‘the end’ is unsustainable. Second, the utility of these resources becomes diminished as an increasingly credulous public tire of them – demand for more and more doom grows. Hence, climate change alarmists leap on sea ice extent one year, floods the next, heatwaves the next… and so on. Each new trend constitutes a new deposit of resource, that will be depleted, flogged to death, over the season.

Let’s call this theory the peak peak-oil-theory theory. So far, environmental alarmists have been able to avoid reaching the peak because they have been able to locate new trends, and invent new ways of telling stories about the progress of little blue lines which, for that season, appear to make sense. But now, there is clear evidence emerging that the tipping points have been passed.

Doom does not carry over from one season to the next. Arctic sea ice recovers from its ‘historic low’ in a year that climate-activist-meteorologists admit that global warming is postponed. The commodity price bubble of doom bursts. In order to prevent a crisis, alarmists pump ever more doom into the market, promising a bleaker future, but it just makes them look sillier and sillier. Confidence in the doom market crumbles still further, as the value of doom approaches nil.

[youtube Higin1kY3PM]

The world’s doom-shale deposits, previously thought to contain enough pessimism to fuel the green project for centuries to come, don’t. The idea that technological developments will allow these reserves to be tapped is mere propaganda. The days of cheap doom are over.

Who's the Basket Case, Oxfam?

There’s an advert for Oxfam running on UK TV at the moment that caught our attention. It is most odd.

[youtube eQK6ODxDfDY]

The little old lady and her friends seem to be vomiting at injustice, thereby making the world a better place. In a way, this almost represents the depths to which Oxfam have sunk in this campaign. It is as if they were marketing a product that would solve injustice in the same way that certain products soothe the effects of excess stomach acid after overindulgence. In other words it seems as though they want you to engage with the concept of injustice as though it is something which affects you personally. It makes you vomit. Hand over your cash, and we’ll get rid of it for you.

Here is another Oxfam film, where they appear to have persuaded passers-by to confess their carbon-sins. Again, a remedy for overindulgence.

[youtube mC_2gZJ0d04]

As we have reported before, Oxfam presents itself as an agency through which problems in the world can be defeated, yet often they take a curiously anti-development line. A recent Oxfam report recommended that developing countries promote ‘traditional lifestyles’ as a means to combating climate change. In recent years, and in the light of the climate crisis, Oxfam has redefined ‘poverty’ and ‘injustice’ in environmental terms.

For example, Oxfam have their own campaign to stop the new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, the site of this years Climate Camp. 

Coal or renewable? The old way, or the new. We head right back to dirty energy with E.ON’s Kingsnorth. We destroy our chances of avoiding a climate catastrophe and let climate change push poor people deeper into poverty. Or we innovate and start a clean energy revolution. Now is the time to choose.

You’d have thought, wouldn’t you, that a development agency would be in favour of power stations, both here, and in the developing world. But it seems they are more interested in ‘traditional lifestyles’.

Another Oxfam video shows what kind of lifestyle this is, in the context of climate change. After telling us that every year a third of Bangladesh’s land is flooded, and that ‘climate change is making the situation worse’, we hear Sahena’s story.

[youtube WqYgDGy8Z4M]

On you tube, the film’s blurb tells us that

The annual monsoon rains in Bangladesh are getting heavier and more unpredictable — last year’s floods were the worst in decades, affecting nine million people…

We were wondering how true is was that climate conditions in Bangladesh were getting worse, and less predictable. Here in the UK, the weather has never been ‘predictable’. Why should it have ever been any more predictable in Bangladesh?

The data relating to the extent of flooding in Bangladesh is very sparse. In fact, we spent nearly two days searching for it. If you know of such data, we’d be grateful if you could direct us to it. There also didn’t seem to be much long term data relating to the effect of floods on mortality, nor of damage done in terms of cash value. 

There have been some tragic events in Bangladesh, which is, after all, the region most prone to flooding than any other. But there doesn’t seem to be any basis for the claim that floods are getting heavier because of climate change, nor that conditions are less predictable. It appears that the dictum ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’ has been used without regard for facts. It looks as though Oxfam have done little more than to look for people who are particularly vulnerable to climate (climate which, as it happens, has always been hostile and highly variable) to make their claim. It must be true that if ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’, and ‘climate change is happening’ then the poorest people in the poorest region must make the best case for Oxfam’s climate campaign. The image of the poor farmer, struggling to help her community defend itself against the conditions it suffers as a consequence of Western profligacy is second to none.

But just how bad are things getting because of climate change, in Bangladesh? There must be some data which shows just how terrible the conditions that we are inflicting upon them have become. It should be easy to show just how bad life for farmers already experiencing climate change has become.

Except it isn’t.

[All data: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, except GDP ($US per capita, constant prices): IMF]

This graph shows various trends in Bangladesh, relative to their levels in 1961, (and 1980, in the case of GDP). The amount of arable land has indeed slightly diminished (8% between 1961 and 2007), yet rice production and yield has increased substantially. Meanwhile, the population has increased nearly three-fold.

So, yes, clearly there is an extent to which climate conditions have affected life in Bangladesh. But we cannot say, as Oxfam has, that climate change has pushed people further into poverty. We might be able to attribute an 8% of the loss of agricultural land to flooding. And it may even be because of climate change. But this does not seem to have made life worse for Bangladeshi rice farmers (who account for 75% of agricultural production), who have meanwhile been able to realise a three-fold increase in production from a 30% increase in land area.

We can think of two ways to explain this. Firstly, the increase in population itself. In spite of claims that ‘overpopulation’ risks tipping the world into catastrophe, many hands make lighter work of big projects, such as farming, and recovery from disaster, even in Bangladesh – one of the most densely populated countries. Secondly, contrary to Oxfam’s desire to see poor people locked into traditional ways of life, industrial methods of production increase crop yields.

The worst possible strategy for Bangladeshi farmers would be to return to ‘traditional lifestyles’, and reduce their population. Oxfam’s campaign would likely cause far more problems than it can attribute to climate, let alone climate change. 

This graph is by no means the whole picture. We’re not statisticians, so we may have made fundamental errors interpreting and presenting the data. What we were interested in was the claims endlessly repeated by the likes of Oxfam that things are getting worse, and worse, and worse in the developing world because of climate change, because of us. Nor are we saying things are rosy in Bangladesh, and that we should not be concerned about it, and the problems it faces.

But there is a difference between being concerned about a place and milking a developing region for the kind of capital Oxfam wants to extract from it. It’s shallow campaigns reduce the understanding of development problems to a kind of us-and-them, victims-and-perpetrators morality tale, where we inflict acts of violence on the Bangladeshi poor through the ‘environment’. While there is a good argument that the West has in many respects, failed poorer regions, often in its own interests, it is not the case that this issue can be understood in such black and white terms. It also forgets that Banglashis have made their own progress, but wants you to forget about it, so that it can capitalise on the images of victimhood that it creates, in order to elevate itself as their saviour, with your cash. It wants you to think that Bangladesh is a basket-case, and that you are responsible for it, and for sorting it out.

Oxfam have resorted to environmental language because they simply cannot conceive of development in any other terms. It is their intellectual vacuity which takes them here. Understanding development –real development – is impossible for Oxfam, because it doesn’t give them a role. It celebrates ‘traditional lifestyles’ because lifestyles in industrial society lead to the kind of politics that leaves Oxfam voiceless. It needs victims. And it needs culprits. Without them, it is cashless.

It is Oxfam which is the poverty stricken basket case.

Road to an Atomic Damascus or the Green Reformation?

Poor old Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees: our future on a hotter planet, who once thrust custard pies into the faces of people who dared to question environmental orthodoxies. He now finds himself on the receiving end of eco-dogma. Fancy that.

Just a month ago I had a Damascene conversion: the Green case against nuclear power is based largely on myth and dogma. […] The backlash to my first magazine article on the subject prompted my inbox to collapse, the blogs to drip with venom, the dirty looks to multiply.

In August, Lynas wrote an article for the New Statesman magazine, How nuclear power can save the planet. Citing eco-prophet Dr. James Hansen’s shrill and attention-seeking mission to persuade world leaders to give up coal (and defend vandals in courts), Lynas concluded that:

Deployed entirely in tandem with renewables, fourth-generation nuclear could offer a complete decarbonisation of the world’s electricity supply – and on the sort of timetable that Dr Hansen and his fellow climatologists demand.

Lynas’s conversion isn’t all that spectacular, nor even newsworthy. Author of the Gaia Hypothesis, James Lovelock, has long been an advocate of atomic energy, as this interview with the Guardian in 2000 revealed:

This answer, Lovelock says, is ecologically clean and tidy and has a very bad press. It is nuclear power. “I can envisage somewhere about 2050, when the greenhouse really begins to bite, when people will start looking back and saying: whose fault was all this? And they will settle on the Greens and say: ‘if those damn people hadn’t stopped us building nuclear power stations we wouldn’t be in this mess’. […]

“I have told the BNFL, or whoever it was, that I would happily take the full output of one of their big power stations. I think the high-level waste is a stainless steel cube of about a metre in size and I would be very happy to have a concrete pit that they would dig – I wouldn’t dig it – that they would put it in.” He says he would use the waste for two purposes. “One would be home heating. You would get free home heat from it. And the other would be to sterilise the stuff from the supermarket, the chicken and whatnot, full of salmonella. Just drop it down through a hole. I’m not saying this tongue-in-cheek. I am quite serious…”

Although Lovelock’s attitude to atomic energy raised eyebrows and caused a bit of a debate, it didn’t seem to influence the environmental movement much. This is because science is only interesting to environmentalists when it is saying something is dangerous. When it says something is safe (or rather, it puts risks into some greater perspective), it is generally ignored. After all, Caroline Lucas, the new Leader of the UK’s Green Party is very much ‘for science’ when it appears to lend her ideas about Apocalypse some credibility. However, the rest of the time, she seems to be very much against it.

Take, for instance, her claims earlier this year that ‘Around 75 per cent of all cancers are caused by environmental factors, mainly chemicals…’, and that EU legislation designed to stop ‘chemicals’ was being undermined by a conspiracy between the major parties and industry.

Or, how about her efforts last year to ensure that ‘alternative’ ‘medicine’ was ‘recognised’ by European health agencies? ‘It wasn’t easy persuading the governments’ negotiators to accept […] the importance and relevance of alternative medicine – but we have managed it, which should serve as a tool towards a broader and indeed holistic approach to public health.’ So much for evidence-based medicine, then.

And on the subject of medicine, consider her attempts to ban animal research in the EU, on the basis that ‘Animal research is not only cruel, it also has significant scientific limitations which mean it can never be relied on to guarantee human health or safety.’ She neglects to tell us how ‘alternatives’ to medicine – such as staying ill, perhaps – guarantee human health and safety. Presumably, it’s better to be dead than unsafe. Whatever… clearly the decision to use animals in the development of therapies to cure and alleviate human suffering from conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, cancer, and the rest is not undertaken by scientists on the basis that there is no better alternative to the animal model, but because they are sadists, who enjoy using them.

‘What has Lucas got to do with any of this?’, we hear you ask. Well, first, we never like to miss an opportunity to point out what a total lunatic the new leader of the Green Party is. Second, Lucas was on BBC’s Radio 4’s Today program last week, arguing with Lynas about whether atomic power was really Green or not. A bun-fight between two of our favourite subjects. Here it is.

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Lynas’s discovery that ‘a lot of the environmentalist’s anti-nuclear case was based on myths’ seems to have taken him by surprise. We can only hope there is more to come. Lucas’s response is of course simply irrational. After claiming that inefficiencies in the current system could be effectively converted into supply, she then claimed that atomic energy is no solution because there simply isn’t time to install new nuclear power stations, because the time it takes to plan and build them. The risks of nuclear are too great and too expensive. She won’t entertain the prospect, no matter what the ‘science’ says is possible, because the risks are simply to great. Terrorism, accidents, nuclear proliferation… It’s all just too impossible.

And here lies the problem for Lucas… (we’ll return to Lynas in a moment)… She can’t consider the possibilities that abundant centralised energy – green or otherwise – might create because it would totally undermine her ethics and her political edge. It would turn all climate problems into engineering problems rather than moral ones. In her view, today’s troubled geopolitics is created principally by the capitalist system’s need for growth, and cheap fuel. This in turn creates the terrorists she seems to imagine have designs on our atomic energy infrastructure. (Never mind that power plants are designed to withstand such attacks). It creates also the very antagonism between countries that moves them to seek ways to establish their muscle on the world stage by acquiring nuclear weapons. There is a causal relationship, in her view, between the satisfaction of your dirty desire to eat burgers from McDonald’s, global warming, terrorism, the war on terror and Iraq, and nuclear proliferation. The only solution to this is the mitigation of climate change, through mediating material aspirations and desires. But if science can produce a clean and cheap form of power, then the relationship ends. The fuel of capitalist growth ceases to cause climate change. Geopolitics is no longer ‘all about oil’. And what’s worse, this engineering solution can be realised by either the politics of the Left, or the Right. Lucas therefore looses her political capital, even if the discussion of atomic energy is only hypothetical. Lucas needs nuclear to be necessarily a totally unworkable, implausible, terrifying technology. It needs to be worse than carbon. Because if it’s better than carbon, then it is a solution.

This is Green dogma. It defends itself in this way. Any deviation from its tenets results in Armageddon, apocalypse, catastrophe, damnation. Lynas has seen this in a rare moment of sanity, according to him on some kind of road to Damascus, but in truth this conversion bears less resemblence to the Story of St. Paul – Lynas was already a Believer – than it does to the Reformation, and it is founded on ideas just as sloppy as Lucas’.

Lynas’s change of mind came at the same time as another high priest of environmentalism was undergoing a similar epiphany. George Monbiot wrote in the Guardian a couple of days before Lynas that, ‘…I no longer care whether or not the answer is nuclear. Let it happen…’.

We wrote at the time that the Green’s were ‘Split Over the Atom‘, a situation that was made all the more absurd by the presence of Arthur Scargill at the Climate Camp. This rift deepened, a few days later when Ewa Jasiewicz, a ‘writer, journalist, human rights activist and union organiser’ took issue with Monbiot’s pragmatism about the possibility of ‘solving climate change’ within the framework of conventional politics. ‘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.’, She said, and called for something resembling an anarchist revolution.

In response, Monbiot misconceived identity politics as political identity, as though espousing a political philosophy – such as anarchism, in this case – was some kind of equivalent to being black, gay, female, physically disabled, or whatever. This form of politics, he said, was what had beset the radical movements of the 1990s in their attempts to change the world, forgetting, it seemed, that Monbiot’s own shrill protests in the 1990s, and well into the 2000s were very similar to Jasiewicz’s today.

As we also pointed out, Monbiot’s change of heart about the necessity of dismantling capitalism in order to achieve climate stability – or, as he put it, ‘Stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim’ – reflected very closely Lynas’s own sentiments that ‘The struggle for equity within the human species must take second place to the struggle for the survival of an intact and functioning biosphere’.

The task of the saving of souls, it seems, must take precedence over the politics of soul-saving.

The logic of risk, precaution, necessity and pragmatism have seemingly been extended by Monbiot and Lynas, to undermine the foundations of environmental politics. The Green Party was established with the intention of being a new axis from which to challenge the Left and Right, to form a politics ‘as if nature mattered’, on the basis that it was the only way to save the human race from annihilating itself. But it seems that, now, even that axis is impeding the very job it was set up to achieve. Behind the Protestant Reformation lay political interests, as it was at least as much about politics as it was theology. The dominance of Rome (Club of Rome?) prevented European elites from expressing their power as they wished. Similarly, the establishment, whilst absorbing environmentalism to the extent that for them, ‘climate change is the defining issue of our time’ (Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the UK Government), cannot accommodate calls for social revolution. For example, while Conservatives such as Tory leader, David Cameron and his aristocratic, Etonite eco-chums are happy to agree that there is something wrong and environmentally destructive with capitalism, Jasiewicz’s anarcho-syndicalism just isn’t their cup of tea. And it’s certainly not cricket. The environmental movement has long shared the ambitions of the political establishment to dampen the masses’ expectations, but perhaps this unholy alliance of convenience between the establishment and the scruffy eco-warriors has served its purpose.

It is no surprise that Monbiot’s and Lynas’s conversions have happened as their relationship with the establishment has become more cosy. As we reported last year, former president of the Royal Society, Lord May of Oxford, favourably reviewed Monbiot’s book, Heat, in the TLS, and in the process reinvented his organisation’s motto, ‘nullius in verba’, from ‘on the words of no one’ to ‘respect the facts’. The Royal Socety’s creed, too, has undergone a transformation, it seems. Earlier this year, we reported that Lynas had won an award for science writing from the RS, now headed by Sir Martin Rees, who himself wrote Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-first Century? As 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.

The fact that eco-theologans such as Lynas and Monbiot are breaking away from the orthodoxy of the environmental movement to create their own, establishment-friendly orthodoxy should not be seen as progressive. As with the protestant reformation, it made little difference to ordinary people in the C16th whether they worshiped a Catholic god, or a Protestant one – they had no choice. Similarly, environmental politics is estranged from human values, it’s not as if people have any choice about what the new theologians decide for them, and Monbiot and Lynas do not put humans and their interests any closer to the establishment’s agenda. It’s all about the polar bears.

The potential of atomic energy should not be discussed in environmental terms. The predominance of nonsense about ‘solving climate change’ causes people to lose sight of what the purpose of power stations actually is: to enable people to live more comfortable and more fulfilling lives. Once this has been forgotten, providing energy is reduced to a balancing act between administrating sheer necessity – keeping the lights on – against a fictional catastrophe – the end of the world. There should be more power stations, atomic, coal-fired, gas, oil, geothermal, renewable… It really doesn’t matter. What matters is the potential they create for people to determine their own lives, rather than have it determined by eco-zealots.

The Relentless Morbidity of Environmentalism

It’s Caroline Lucas again.

Caroline Lucas MEP, who is expected to be elected as the Green Party’s first leader later this week, said: “People will be literally dying from cold this winter while companies like Shell and BP are making record profits – that outrages ordinary people and we need a party that is prepared to stand up about that … rather than having a Labour government that is cowering in a cave and scared of actually speaking out against people in the City.”

Nothing Caroline Lucas ever says is not about death.

Before we look at her morbidity, however, let’s get a couple of things out of the way… Hypothermia is a problem. So is expensive energy. But Lucas is not against expensive energy. Here she is, talking earlier in the year, on BBC Question Time, arguing for higher fuel prices.

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Curiously, she says we need higher fuel prices to modify our behaviour because ‘the end of cheap oil is over’. Could anything more stupid be said? Not only is the idea of taxing fuel redundant if it is becoming scarcer, the market gave Lucas the higher prices she was after, and now she calls it greedy! Whether it is green taxes, an inexplicable market phenomenon, or scarcity that pushes fuel prices up, it makes no difference. Higher prices mean we can do less, and poorer people bear the brunt. Higher fuel prices means more people dying. Fuel is really very useful stuff.

She is calling for energy companies to be forced to plough some of their profits back into “ensuring that some of the poorest people are able to keep warm”, and attacked Labour for presiding “over a period where we now have Victorian levels of social inequality”.

The Government has been resisting demands for a windfall tax to be levied against the energy companies, arguing that it would make Britain’s energy infrastructure unattractive to investors, just as it really needs upgrading. And who is standing in the way of that? That’s right… Caroline Lucas… who joined the Climate Campers this year, protesting at the proposed site of a new coal-fired power station, Kingsnorth.

Any government which commits to more coal fired power stations – and Kingsnorth is only the start – then claims to be aiming for a massive reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 is quite simply living in a fantasy land. … The Government should be showing real leadership in this debate, with measures to tackle rising energy costs and fuel poverty, as well as initiating major investment in energy efficiency, renewables and decentralised energy. According to its own figures, we could achieve a 30% reduction in energy use in the UK through existing efficiency measures alone.

Increasing efficiency and decentralising power generation is not going to make it more accessible to old people vulnerable to cold weather. Decentralising energy supply will make many people far more vulnerable to the climate. It will also make it vastly more expensive to produce, as the labour and maintenance costs increase. The idea that the market doesn’t exploit efficiency is just as absurd.

Let us put this bluntly, Lucas does not give a toss about old people. Unless, that is, they are dying. People who are dying, or are at risk of dying suddenly become political capital. This is the basis of Lucas’ morbidity. And it is the basis of environmental ethics. We compiled this video earlier in the year. Here is Lucas, in full doom mode, coming to a parliamentary constituency near you…

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Environmentalism exploits the vulnerable, because, even if we fail to connect with the idea of eco-apocalypse, we still might respond to the victims Greens claim to speak for. In the framework that the Greens have constructed, the environment is the mechanism through which moral acts are transmitted. The rise of fuel prices (which is a bad thing, unless they are demanding it), according to this thinking, reduces old people’s access to natural resources (partly by inflating the price, but also by standing in the way of renewable energy, which is imagined to be unfailingly equitable, just by itself), leaving them exposed to the cold climate, putting them at risk of hypothermia. Similarly, using fossil fuels is an act of violence against the poor further away, because they will bear the consequences of climate change. There is no room in this framework for a conception of ‘good’, which stands for the elevation of people in any way, such as reducing their vulnerability to climate by technological and economic development. A philosophy so fixated and premised on the idea of catastrophe can only think of things in terms of degrees of bad. Therefore environmentalism’s concern for the poor is predicated solely on their usefulness as victims. Everyone else is a culprit, the best they can achieve is neutrality.

The Green Party are the party of death. It’s all they can talk about, and it’s all they think about. Their unsophisticated reasoning reduces to a morbid fascination; an obsession with cancers, plagues, famines, epidemics, pandemics, chaos, destruction, doom. Political movements in the past have offered ways to overcome the challenges that society and individuals face from the natural world by way of ill-health, shortages, and the elements, but the Green Party represents something very different. Instead of challenging the inevitability of poverty’s consequences to generate support, environmentalism seeks to use the image of these consequences to discipline the public into accepting poverty as inevitable. The thinking is no deeper than “capitalism kills grannies”, “vote for me, or get cancer”, “car-drivers are baby killers” As George Monbiot once put it, “Global warming means that flying across the Atlantic is now as unacceptable as child abuse”. The objective of all this is a kind of ‘balance’ between poverty and somehow everything in the world being totally wonderful. Except that there is nothing positive about the environmentalist’s message. It has nothing to offer. And it is corrosive to any idea that life… and politics… can be about more than mere subsistence.

Identity Crisis Politics

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.

Split Over the Atom

George Monbiot’s recent conversion to atomic energy, on the basis that ‘I have now reached the point at which I no longer care whether or not the answer is nuclear. Let it happen’, continues to generate fallout.

The latest is that Arthur Scargill, the man who led the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in the 1980s against the Thatcher Government, has emerged from obscurity to argue the case for clean coal as the ‘solution’ to climate problems, and that atomic energy is dirty and dangerous

Has [Monbiot] not read the evidence presented by environmentalists such as Tony Benn and me at the Windscale, Sizewell and Hinckley Point public inquiries? Is he unaware that nuclear-power generated electricity is the most expensive form of energy – 400% more expensive than coal – or that it received £6bn in subsidies, with £70bn to be paid by taxpayers in decommissioning costs? Is he unaware that there is no known way of disposing of nuclear waste, which will contaminate the planet for thousands of years? Has he forgotten the nuclear disasters at Windscale, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?

Particularly interesting are the figures from the old Left who are the voices in this discussion. What is even more interesting is that they are framing their arguments around the issue of safety and risk.

I challenge George Monbiot to test out which is the most dangerous fuel – coal or nuclear power. I am prepared to go into a room full of CO2 for two minutes, if he is prepared to go into a room full of radiation for two minutes.

This is great idea. We wish them both good luck, and eagerly await the results of the experiment.

Atomic energy is a symbol of the Left’s decline during the eighties, as Thatcher undermined (if you’ll pardon the pun) its influence in a historical battle with the NUM, after which, the Left was never the same, if it was at all. Even more interesting is that Thatcher is alleged to have espoused environmental issues in order to create a basis for more atomic power stations, reducing the UK’s dependence on coal, and thus coal workers and their unions. Others claim that it was a ruse to develop Britain’s atomic weapons program. Whatever, the history of science being used to arm political arguments goes back a long way. Scargill has a score to settle. Lacking now the courage of his socialist convictions, he uses Thatcher’s argument. The man who, according to the slogans of the era, ‘walks on water’, now breathes pure CO2. A miracle, only matched by his resurrection from political death.

Tony Benn, socialist, animal rights activist, environmentalist, aristocrat (are you spotting a pattern yet) ought to know about the problems of the UK’s atomic energy network:

Then in 1955 President Eisenhower launched the ‘Atoms for Peace’ programme and many people, including me, saw this as a classic example of ‘beating swords into ploughshares’ and strongly supported civil nuclear power in Britain, a view I still held when, in 1966 I was appointed Minister of Technology with responsibility for the development of that programme.

Now, along with Scargill, Benn is against atomic energy.

I was told, believed and argued publicly that civil nuclear power was cheap, safe and peaceful and it was only later that I learned that this was all untrue since, if the full cost of development and the cost of storing long-term nuclear waste is included in the calculations nuclear power is three times the cost of coal when the pits were being closed on economic grounds. Nuclear power is certainly not safe as we know from accidents at Windscale (now renamed Sellafield), from Three Mile Island in America and Chernobyl in the Ukraine, dangers which the authorities have always been determined to downplay.

If Benn wants to know why atomic energy in the UK was expensive and messy, he might consult his own diaries. In France, they went with it, and now produces 80% of its own supply that way. When the UK’s infrastructure falls short, we buy electricity from France. In fact, France is the world’s top exporter of electricity, worth E3 billion a year. France is in this position because it invested in the development of the technology, which now produces cheap electricity. Britain’s atomic energy program, under the direction of, amongst others, Benn, was far less well organised, changing direction, and technologies, and failing to develop standards.

So should the UK go with atomic, or coal? (Leaving aside ‘renewables’).

To get the right answers, and to have a productive discussion, we need the right questions. Benn’s and Scargill’s arguments about safety are bogus. Mining is certainly no safer for miners than an atomic energy plant is for its workers. Miners are routinely exposed to radon, amongst many other risks. But as technology has developed, the risks to all sorts of workers – and the public – has diminished dramatically. So too has our vulnerability to the climate. The use of safety to arm the arguments about future energy supply – across the political spectrum – masks failing political perspectives. There is nothing ‘safe’ about energy. If there were, it would probably not be useful. And on the other hand, not having any energy is itself even more a risky business.

We have nothing against ‘renewables’ in and of themselves. On the contrary, newer, cleaner, more efficient forms of power generation might offer exciting opportunities. We do, however, object to the way that ‘renewable’ is a pretext for less energy. As we have said before, should renewables promise to provide us with more energy than we know what to do with, the environmental lobby would no doubt find good reasons to object to those, too.

Given that debates about coal, nuclear and renewables are never framed in terms of how best to generate more energy, they become no more meaningful than petty squabbles about health and safety, in which opposing sides only seek to influence the debate in order to score symbolic victories… Pissing contests.

Once the silly questions about safety are out of the way, and political capital is made out of something positive rather than by scare stories, we can focus once again on what we need energy for: for creating better lives, for enjoying our existences, for making things, and all of that stuff that has been forgotten in the paralysing nonsense that dominates the ‘debate’. Who really cares whether it is coal, atomic, or even renewables? The point is simply that the terms of today’s debate are stale, pointless, and depressing.

Camping It Up

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.

Any ideas?

Climate Change Delusion By Proxy

Since the first case of the psychiatric disorder ‘climate change delusion‘ was diagnosed in an Australian patient earlier this month, commentators have suggested that the symptoms expressed by Al Gore and the like point to the condition being a rather common one. Indeed, it seems that the medical profession itself is not immune. John Guillebaud, professor of family planning at University College London, confesses all to the Guardian:

I’m terrified about climate change

More accurately, perhaps, Prof Guillebaud’s case is better described as ‘climate change delusion by proxy’ because while the Australian patient was trying to save the planet by ceasing to drink, the voices in Guillebaud’s head tell him that the solution is for other people to stop reproducing.

Writing in the British Medical Journal with Pip Hayes, a GP based in Exeter (who hasn’t expressed publicly how completely terrified she is), the father of three and patron of the Optimum Population Trust calls on

schools and GPs to develop education programmes to explain how a rising population is environmentally unsustainable, and how families who have no more than two children will help ensure the population remains steady or even falls.

As they write in the BMJ:

doctors should help to bring family size into the arena of environmental ethics, analogous to avoiding patio heaters and high carbon cars.

Guillebaud’s adamance that this does not amount to coercion is wholly unconvincing, especially when he claims that

It’s people’s right to have the size of family they choose, but surely that should be balanced against the rights of future generations.

Not only is it coercive; it’s also deeply patronising:

an opportunity is missed when a doctor is talking to a young couple, in saying, you know, ‘have you thought about the family size you might choose? Have you thought about having one child less?’

And, of course, misanthropic:

It’s a fact that each new UK birth will be responsible for 160 times more greenhouse gas emission than, say, a new birth in Ethiopia. Now, there are two ways of looking at that – three ways really. One is to say that we rich people in the UK must enormously reduce our consumption of resources. But also there’s the fact that, if each of us is doing 160 times more damage, then not having a UK birth is more beneficial to the planet than there not being an Ethiopian birth.

He doesn’t say what the third way of looking at it is. Perhaps it’s that it’s OK for Ethiopians to keep reproducing just so long as they remain poor and don’t consume much. Except that he isn’t even happy with that. He seems to prefer that they remain poor and stop reproducing, as is evident in his justification for why Ethiopians should be encouraged to have fewer children: it would reduce the high rates of maternal mortality. As would proper medical facilities, of course. But, well, have you seen the electricity bill of a modern hospital? We can’t let all and sundry have access to one of those.

What we say in our organisation, The Optimum Population Trust, is the greenest energy is the energy you don’t use. And one way of not using it is to cut down your consumption by using a smaller car, or preferably by not using a car at all and going everywhere by bicycle or train like I do. But also, a really green thing to do is to have one child less than you normally would have had, because every additional child born in the UK produces in its lifetime three-million-miles-worth of carbon dioxide as driven in a Toyota Prius.

Any positives that ‘every additional child’ brings to the world don’t figure in Guillebaud’s calculations. Never mind that every additional child is a potential solution to problems – environmental or otherwise. Never mind that every additional child brings happiness, interest and love into the lives of others.

When babies are viewed as analogous to patio-heaters and big cars, you can bet that there is more to Environmentalism than an urge to save the planet. It reveals a deep-seated dislike of humanity. Children are polluters, energy-wasters, or in Guillebaud’s words:

the environment is being trashed partly by the number of environment-trashers

Frank Furedi puts Guillebaud’s Mathusianism into historical perspective over at spiked. Climate change is, he argues, just the latest in a string of tenuous justifications for Malthusian politics:

In the past, Malthusians warned that overpopulation would lead to famine. When that argument disintegrated, they said overpopulation would undermine economic development. Later they claimed that overpopulation might assist the spread of communism, and more recently they have argued that it aids terrorism (lots of poor young men with no jobs apparently leads to apocalyptic violence).

Now they have latched on to environmentalism and the widespread concern about humanity’s impact on the planet. What we have today is a new form of joined-up scaremongering, where the traditional fear of human fertility is linking up with anxieties about what humans are doing to the Earth.

It’s interesting, then, that Chris West, director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, told the Guardian that population control won’t have an impact on climate change anyway:

“If we had a way to reduce the population … it would be one way to address climate change, but in the current circumstances, it’s not a very effective way,” he said […] “it’s not going to deliver emission reductions on anything like the timescale we need.”

We have said before that it’s really just a few Environmentalist cranks who talk about population control in positive terms, and that most of us are repelled by the idea. Even the editorial pages of the green-thinking Guardian are unsympathetic:

The problem that the BMJ authors and others highlight is real; the solution they give, however, is plain wrong […] Population control has a terrible reputation: India’s forced-sterilisation programme was among the blackest points in its recent history. Just as there is a reason why prophets come back into fashion, so there is normally a reason why history turned its back on them. In Malthus’ case, he was simply wrong.

But while few can bring themselves to agree with Guillebaud and Hayes’ misanthropic vision, Environmentalism remains dependent on the notion of population control. In fact, the Environmentalist case falls apart without it. Take Caroline Lucas’s claim that

this planet has finite resources. You cannot go on growing indefinitely on a finite planet

Though she’s talking about economic growth, her argument extends unavoidably to population growth. And it’s equally flawed whichever one you apply it to. But given the green establishment’s reliance on the concept of sustainability, it’s strange perhaps that it keeps resoundingly schtum on matters of population. The only occasions that the ‘issue’ of over-population gets an airing is when some eco-warrior pitches into an internet forum with something along the lines of ‘when will we acknowledge the elephant in the room and face up to the fact that there’s just too many people?’, which is usually received with an embarrassed silence, or when one of the small cabal centred around the Optimum Population Trust manages to secure a few column inches. (Unless you count this.)

The Green Party, despite having supposedly discussed the matter at its spring conference this year, have no policy on population. All they have to say on the subject is embedded within a so-called ‘policy pointer‘:

a stable or slowly reducing population is also necessary to achieve a sustainable and equitable society

That’s not to say they don’t think there are too many people – they almost certainly do. Or that they are not not concerned that their lack of commitment on the subject undermines their political philosophy – they must be. It’s just that they know that coming out of the closet on over-population will make them even more unelectable than they already are.

Nothing humans have ever done has been sustainable; and nothing that is billed as ‘sustainable’ is sustainable in the sense that it can continue indefinitely. Likewise, nothing is renewable in the sense that Environmentalists mean ‘renewable’. Paving the Sahara with photo-voltaics would be neither renewable nor sustainable. It would be bound to affect local and even global climate. And yet it would be worth doing because of the vast amounts of energy it would provide. But Environmentalists only ever sell ‘renewables’ to us on the basis that it will allow us to keep the lights on given that we’re all going to have to batten down the hatches, scrimp and save, make do and mend. That is all Environmentalism has to offer us, as spelled out, as it happens, in the sub-title of Sir David King’s book, The Hot TopicHow to Tackle Global Warming and Still Keep the Lights On.

We suggest that greens are pro-‘renewables’ not because they are sustainable or renewable, but because they have not been expected to produce more energy than we have available to us at the moment. The test of that will be to watch and see as the green movement starts opposing large-scale solar projects such as this one.

Given that population control is so repulsive to so many, the only question we need to be discussing is this: How do we provide more energy and more resources for more people? And that’s a discussion that Environmentalists can take no part in. They’ll just have to settle for the voices in their heads for company.

BBC On Bad Acid Trip

The merest sniff of an environmental problem can go straight to the heads of the soberest of science reporters and leave them mumbling jibberish about the imminent end of the world as we know it.

Take last Thursday’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s normally excellent Material World, presented by the normally excellent Quentin Cooper, who introduced the programme thus:

Today: acid drop in the ocean. It’s predicted that within this century our oceans will be more acidic than they have been in 55 million years – the time of the last major mass global extinctions. So what will it mean for the denizens of the deep and for ourselves? We’ll examine the results of the first full-scale study of how acidification affects marine ecosystems.

If only they had examined the results, we might have been spared the spectacle of the station’s flagship science programme twisting an elegant, important, yet preliminary, study into a ‘portent of doom’ and concluding that the world’s coral reefs are screwed unless we stop burning fossil fuels.

Many computer models and lab experiments have investigated how oceanic absorption of CO2 reduces the pH of the water, and the effect of such changes on various marine species. As pH declines, so too do levels of dissolved calcium carbonate, with which corals build their skeletons and molluscs build their shells. It is estimated that 40% of anthropogenic CO2 has been absorbed by the oceans, resulting in a decline in ocean pH of 0.1 over the last century, which corresponds to a 30% increase in hydrogen ions (pH is measured on a logarithmic scale). Models suggest that mean pH might drop by up to 0.5 by 2100.

Jason Hall-Spencer‘s research, published a week earlier in Nature (subscription required), is the first to explore the effects of so-called ocean acidification on an ecosystem scale. It focuses on a site in the Bay of Naples in the Mediterranean where CO2 bubbles through the water from volcanic vents in the seabed. While the mean pH of the oceans is about 8.2, around the vents it can be as low as 7.4.

By recording the species composition of reefs along a pH gradient, Hall-Spencer et al found that, the lower the pH, the more impoverished the reef flora and fauna:

Along gradients of normal pH (8.1–8.2) to lowered pH (mean 7.8–7.9, minimum 7.4–7.5), typical rocky shore communities with abundant calcareous organisms shifted to communities lacking scleractinian corals with significant reductions in sea urchin and coralline algal abundance. To our knowledge, this is the first ecosystem-scale validation of predictions that these important groups of organisms are susceptible to elevated amounts of pCO2. Sea-grass production was highest in an area at mean pH 7.6 (1,827 matm pCO2) where coralline algal biomass was significantly reduced and gastropod shells were dissolving due to periods of carbonate sub-saturation. The species populating the vent sites comprise a suite of organisms that are resilient to naturally high concentrations of pCO2 and indicate that ocean acidification may benefit highly invasive non-native algal species. Our results provide the first in situ insights into how shallow water marine communities might change when susceptible organisms are removed owing to ocean acidification.

In an accompanying News & Views article (subscription required) in the same issue of Nature, biological oceanographer Ulf Riebesell, who was not involved in the research, describes the work as

a compelling demonstration of the usefulness of natural CO2 venting sites in assessing the long-term effects of ocean acidification on sea-floor ecosystems, an approach that undoubtedly needs to be further explored […] Our understanding of the processes that underlie its observed effects on ecosystems and biogeochemistry is still rudimentary, as is our ability to forecast its impacts. There is an urgent need to develop tools to assess and quantify such impacts across the entire range of biological responses, from subcellular regulation to ecosystem reorganization, and from short-term physiological acclimation to evolutionary adaptation.

For anyone after their next fix of ecotastrophe, however, a preliminary study can easily become a harbinger of disaster:

Quentin Cooper: So, Jason, if we’ve established that the ocean are becoming more acidic globally, and we’ve looked at these effects and seen that they have detrimental effects on sea creatures, and we also know the predictions are that we’re heading towards the same kind of conditions that we had 55 million years ago, at the time of the last mass extinctions, this all sounds like the key elements for a major portent of doom.

Hall-Spencer did not disagree:

Yes, it doesn’t look good for coral reefs, that’s for sure. Because even for relatively small drops in pH, the corals that we studied in the area dissolved really quickly at this site when we moved them in from outside the area. And so, I was a bit sceptical of some of the science that was coming out predicting these things, because they hadn’t tested it in the real world. But when you go to a place that has been acidified for thousands of years and see what’s been happening, it really does ring alarm bells.

Also in the studio was ocean biogeochemist Toby Tyrrell. He didn’t disagree either. Despite the programme’s promise to scrutinise the results, nobody thought to mention the fact that good reasons to doubt whether the experimental system is a representative model for future reductions in ocean pH had been raised by Riebesell in his Nature commentary:

But there are considerable differences between such systems and the situation arising from global-scale ocean acidification caused by rising atmospheric CO2.

For example, because the vent system effectively comprises an island of low pH, and because it occurs in shallow water, the site is subject to wildly fluctuating variations in pH. On very calm days the pH declines, but on very rough days it remains high. Those fluctuations could themselves be the cause of problems with organisms’ physiology rather than the low pH per se. It could hamper adaptation to low pH, which might otherwise be expected were conditions more constant. Adaptation might also be hindered by the fact that organisms will be migrating in and out of the vent system.

Fortunately there is scope for comparative work, because Hall-Spencer’s study site is not the only CO2 jacuzzi out there. Dive operator Bob Halstead provides pictures of a similar vent system in Papua New Guinea, where CO2 bubbles through what appears to be perfectly healthy coral reef. Of course, these pictures in themselves prove nothing. Indeed, Hall-Spencer told us:

I’ve got some pictures of corals that occur in the Mediterranean with bubbles going up straight past the colony. But when you measure the pH of the water, it’s not dramatically reduced because there’s only a few bubble streams.

He was nevertheless intrigued by Halstead’s example:

If those reefs are surviving low aragonite and low pH conditions then that is definitely cause for optimism about the world’s tropical coral reefs and would be an exciting scientific breakthrough. [But if] the pH is low there due to the CO2 bubbling, then that’s really important, and somebody should go and have a look, because that would refute what we’ve found […] We need to go out there and measure the chemistry of the water […] I’d love to check that out. If there are a lot of bubbles coming up, and there’s hard coral there, then it’s likely that my study is flawed.

As for the comparison with the state of the oceans 55 million years ago, it is true that the high-end projected rise in ocean pH within this century is in the same ball-park as that found during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), when many species were driven to extinction. But correlation and causation are, famously, not one and the same. The PETM extinctions cannot be attributed to the reductions in pH. It was also very hot at the time; the deep oceans were deprived of oxygen; and there was likely a reduction of deep sea turbulence. All of these factors have been implicated. It is not even known what triggered these various changes. The release of massive quantities of methane into the atmosphere as a result of volcanic activity over the space of a millennium is one possibility. And so is the ubiquitous asteroid impact. Intriguingly, the rate of carbon release (in the form of methane) into the atmosphere during the PETM was similar to the rate at which we are pumping it out today as CO2. But if we’re still emitting that much carbon in a hundred years, let alone 1000, we’ll eat our chuddies (which will be very dirty by then). And no, that’s not because the Environmentalists will have got their way, but because we will have found a new, improved alternatives for generating energy by then, despite the efforts of Environmentalists.

Anyway, the PETM is mentioned in neither Hall-Spencer’s paper nor Riebesell’s commentary. Hall-Spencer told us that the connection was Cooper’s own, in order to ‘prick people’s ears up.’

The agreement between the members of the Material World panel even extended to what needs to be done about the looming disaster:

QC: And if we are hearing those alarm bells, what do we do?

JHS: I think we need to use oil less quickly – so these price hikes are good in a way – and look towards wind, wave and tidal power.

QC: Any other suggestions to add, Toby, in terms of practical solutions? Because we’re already getting lots of people advising things along those lines and manage to ignore them. Is this something that people are going to pay more attention to?

TT: Yeah, unfortunately, in terms of avoiding ocean acidification consequences, we have to really look at curbing emissions. There have been some rather outlandish proposals such as taking the white cliffs of Dover and crumbling the chalk there – adding very large quantities of chalk to seawater to neutralise the acid, but really, they are not feasible to any practical degree, so I think we really need to look at stopping emitting CO2.

Less impractical than fiddling around with wind power and rationing energy? Now that’s impractical. Burn less fossil fuels and it’s gonna be harder to save the coral reefs if they really are in peril. Strangely, when we spoke to Hall-Spencer, he said that carbon capture was probably the most realistic option.

So what has happened here? How can a 15 minute feature on a dedicated science programme not only fail to consider problems with a study that have already been flagged up by an expert in the field, but also fail to scrutinise the results or even the politics of the scientists?

Coral biologists have long been pottering around working out how reefs work physiologically, ecologically and biochemically. Nice work if you can get it. Now, suddenly, they have a higher justification for their research. Coral biologists suddenly have an audience. When we suggested this to Hall-Spencer, he said:

I’m very pleased that it’s getting the attention it is, because it allows me to study something that I find fascinating and worrying. So I’m very glad that there’s this head of steam built up and that the funding is there.

He is also under the impression that when scientists get on the radio, they can can stop being scientists and let their hair down:

When you’re interviewed, you can give your own personal point of view, but when you publish a paper that goes up for rigorous peer review, then it’s got to have the caveats and everything else.

And they’re not even going to get challenged, apparently, even on BBC Radio 4. The result is that all the public gets to hear is the story without the caveats. It’s just too easy for all concerned to resort to trying to scare people into action. Much harder is to make your scare stories believable. It does, however, seem to work on opportunistic politicians and funding agencies. And that makes it all rather moreish.