'Fuel Poverty' or Fool's Poverty?

The recent high oil price created a lot of discussion about ‘fuel poverty’. A Guardian article reported yesterday that,

Campaigners failed today in a high court bid to force the government to spend more to end fuel poverty.

Mr Justice McCombe, sitting in London, dismissed an application for judicial review brought by Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged to force the government to meet its targets for helping millions of vulnerable citizens who cannot adequately heat their homes.

Friends of the Earth have been campaigning for higher fuel prices for years. When the market delivers it, they start taking the Government to court. How weird is that? It’s nearly as weird as their stance against biofuels, which they used to campaign for, until it became unfashionable because it hurts the polar bears.

Anyway, what exactly is ‘fuel poverty’? The Guardian explain it thusly:

Households in fuel poverty are defined as those in which more than 10% of income is spent on energy. But far from the numbers falling, the past year has seen a steep increase as gas and electricity bills have rocketed.

Do FoE really care about ‘fuel poverty’? They have been, for a long time, trying to persuade us to use less fuel, to consume less, to travel less, for more taxes on fuel, and for ‘strong climate law’. If FoE don’t want us to do anything with our money, why should it care what we spend on fuel?

This writer cannot currently afford a new desktop computer. Does that mean he is in ‘computer poverty’?

The latest official figures show that 3.5 million households in the UK were in fuel poverty in 2006, but that figure is though to have risen to around 5 million, and the charities argue that many of these people now face a stark choice of “heat or eat”.

Clearly the problem for people who spend 10%+ of their income on fuel is that they don’t have enough money. But to say so would leave FoE’s critique of ‘consumer society’ rather hollow.

‘Fuel poverty’ has been invented to create leverage in political arguments for environmental terms. We can’t speak about simple ‘poverty’ any more. The understanding of ‘justice’ has been displaced by ‘environmental justice’. FoE’s concern for the 5 million households is hollow. They aren’t campaigning for an increase in oil production, nor for people to have access to more energy.

The aims of FoE’s legal action were to highlight:

Government failure to provide a comprehensive and costed plan of action for meeting its targets;
•Government failure to set a minimum standard of energy efficiency to be applied to affected households;
•Repeated criticism of the Government from the independent Fuel Poverty Advisory Group;
•That the Government itself has admitted that targets to reduce and eventually eliminate fuel poverty will be missed.

The campain was intended to call

on the Government to develop a far more effective and comprehensive programme of domestic energy efficiency to simultaneously end suffering from fuel poverty and tackle climate change.

The answer to ‘fuel poverty’ in FoE’s case is for their homes to be better insulated, not for them to achieve economic independence. In other words, the issue is not that people are poor, it’s that there is insufficient legislation to regulate the design of their homes.

This is ‘environmental justice’. It cares not one jot for the poor. It doesn’t want them to be rich, it just wants them to be regulated properly. 

Slaves to Bad Analogies

Given the occasional inability of environmentalists to resist the temptation of equating those who challenge the political orthodoxy on climate change with those who opposed the end of slavery, it was only a matter of time before someone would liken the reduction of carbon emissions to the Abolition. That Someone, it turns out, is Robert F. Kennedy Jr, who wants to de-carbonise the world entirely. Weeeeeeeell, it can’t do any harm can it? But more than that, it would be a positive kick up the arse for the economy, apparently. After all, says RFK, the industrial revolution, and all the benefits that brought for humankind, was only possible because of the Abolition. The Business and Media Institute reports:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wants to ‘abolish’ carbon usage and sees a direct comparison to the end of slavery … According to Kennedy, “industry and government warnings” about avoiding “economic ruin” should not be heeded because abolishing slavery did not cripple the British economy as was predicted “Instead of collapsing, as slavery’s proponents had predicted, Britain’s economy accelerated,” he argued.

OK, so the Business and Media Institute is hardly likely to be a bastion of objective, detached journalism, and you are welcome to make your own minds about how low Kennedy was actually stooping with his analogy, by reading his piece for Vanity Fair on which the above report reports.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a crap analogy. Slavery, carbon. Carbon, slavery. If carbon reduction were expected to damage the economy, would it be not worth saving the planet after all? Should we regret ending slavery had the Abolition led to economic problems? Are those who merely want to reduce CO2 emissions – James Hansen, say – akin to those who argued for having fewer slaves?

And even if you give Kennedy the benefit of the doubt on his intentions, his wider argument is preposterous. He might as well be advocating that we go around throwing bricks through windows on the basis that the economy would be stimulated by all the extra work it created for glaziers. Sorry Mr Kennedy, but the Abolition was the right thing to do purely and solely because slavery is immoral. And anyway, wasn’t the industrial revolution well under way before slavery was prohibited?

History, eh?

It’s funny how this whole climate change debate thing seems so contemporary. And yet denialism, scepticism, certainty, doubt and liberty, and the tensions between them, were hot topics well over a century ago, as the following passage from Mill’s essay On Liberty shows. Of course, warmers might argue that the urgency demanded by the danger posed by climate change means that we need to revise our understanding of liberty. But weren’t opponents of Mill also arguing the case for a less liberal sort of liberty? Warmers who read this blog might also observe the short shrift we’ve given to casual claims of geometrical congruence between immoral arguments of the past and climate change scepticism, and decide that we are hypocrites. But our point is simply that debates of the past really can inform contemporary ones. And not in a “you disagree with how we want to change things, just like those horrible slave-traders disagreed with how the Abolitionists wanted to change things, therefore you’re as bad as they were” sort of way.

Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being “pushed to an extreme;” not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case. Strange that they should imagine that they are not assuming infallibility, when they acknowledge that there should be free discussion on all subjects which can possibly be doubtful, but think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden to be questioned because it is so certain, that is, because they are certain that it is certain. To call any proposition certain, while there is any one who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other side.

In the present age — which has been described as “destitute of faith, but terrified at scepticism,” — in which people feel sure, not so much that their opinions are true, as that they should not know what to do without them — the claims of an opinion to be protected from public attack are rested not so much on its truth, as on its importance to society. There are, it is alleged, certain beliefs, so useful, not to say indispensable to well-being, that it is as much the duty of governments to uphold those beliefs, as to protect any other of the interests of society. In a case of such necessity, and so directly in the line of their duty, something less than infallibility may, it is maintained, warrant, and even bind, governments, to act on their own opinion, confirmed by the general opinion of mankind. It is also often argued, and still oftener thought, that none but bad men would desire to weaken these salutary beliefs; and there can be nothing wrong, it is thought, in restraining bad men, and prohibiting what only such men would wish to practise. This mode of thinking makes the justification of restraints on discussion not a question of the truth of doctrines, but of their usefulness; and flatters itself by that means to escape the responsibility of claiming to be an infallible judge of opinions. But those who thus satisfy themselves, do not perceive that the assumption of infallibility is merely shifted from one point to another. The usefulness of an opinion is itself matter of opinion: as disputable, as open to discussion and requiring discussion as much, as the opinion itself. There is the same need of an infallible judge of opinions to decide an opinion to be noxious, as to decide it to be false, unless the opinion condemned has full opportunity of defending itself. And it will not do to say that the heretic may be allowed to maintain the utility or harmlessness of his opinion, though forbidden to maintain its truth. The truth of an opinion is part of its utility. If we would know whether or not it is desirable that a proposition should be believed, is it possible to exclude the consideration of whether or not it is true? In the opinion, not of bad men, but of the best men, no belief which is contrary to truth can be really useful: and can you prevent such men from urging that plea, when they are charged with culpability for denying some doctrine which they are told is useful, but which they believe to be false? Those who are on the side of received opinions, never fail to take all possible advantage of this plea; you do not find them handling the question of utility as if it could be completely abstracted from that of truth: on the contrary, it is, above all, because their doctrine is “the truth,” that the knowledge or the belief of it is held to be so indispensable. There can be no fair discussion of the question of usefulness, when an argument so vital may be employed on one side, but not on the other. And in point of fact, when law or public feeling do not permit the truth of an opinion to be disputed, they are just as little tolerant of a denial of its usefulness. The utmost they allow is an extenuation of its absolute necessity, or of the positi

guilt of rejecting it.

In order more fully to illustrate the mischief of denying a hearing to opinions because we, in our own judgment, have condemned them, it will be desirable to fix down the discussion to a concrete case; and I choose, by preference, the cases which are least favorable to me — in which the argument against freedom of opinion, both on the score of truth and on that of utility, is considered the strongest. Let the opinions impugned be the belief in a God and in a future state, or any of the commonly received doctrines of morality. To fight the battle on such ground, gives a great advantage to an unfair antagonist; since he will be sure to say (and many who have no desire to be unfair will say it internally), Are these the doctrines which you do not deem sufficiently certain to be taken under the protection of law? Is the belief in a God one of the opinions, to feel sure of which, you hold to be assuming infallibility? But I must be permitted to observe, that it is not the feeling sure of a doctrine (be it what it may) which I call an as sumption of infallibility. It is the undertaking to decide that question for others, without allowing them to hear what can be said on the contrary side. And I denounce and reprobate this pretension not the less, if put forth on the side of my most solemn convictions. How ever positive any one’s persuasion may be, not only of the falsity, but of the pernicious consequences — not only of the pernicious consequences, but (to adopt expressions which I altogether condemn) the immorality and impiety of an opinion; yet if, in pursuance of that private judgment, though backed by the public judgment of his country or his cotemporaries, he prevents the opinion from being heard in its defence, he assumes infallibility. And so far from the assumption being less objectionable or less dangerous because the opinion is called immoral or impious, this is the case of all others in which it is most fatal. These are exactly the occasions on which the men of one generation commit those dreadful mistakes, which excite the astonishment and horror of posterity. It is among such that we find the instances memorable in history, when the arm of the law has been employed to root out the best men and the noblest doctrines; with deplorable success as to the men, though some of the doctrines have survived to be (as if in mockery) invoked, in defence of similar conduct towards those who dissent from them, or from their received interpretation.

Now we come to think of it, this post could have been addressed to Paul LaClair. Because Matthew needs to be able to recognise a good argument when he sees one; not to pick factual holes in arguments he already disagrees with because his parents do.

Let James Hansen and FoE USA Know What You Think of Eco-Censorship

Don’t believe the rumours of well-funded climate change denialism. We at Climate Resistance lack the hi-tech equipment and web infrastructure to offer the kind of webform that Friends of the Earth USA has at its disposal. Maurizio Morabito suggests we use the FoE form to send an alternative message to the Publishers of American Government, offering support, rather than harassment. We think that’s a good idea. But we should also let Prof Hansen and FoE know what we think of their silly campaign.

We wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to expect you to agree with the following, but if you do, then please send it to the following email addresses by copying it into your mail application. Or write your own. Either way, let them know.

TO: James.E.Hansen@nasa.gov ; nberning@foe.org
CC: trade_publicity@hmco.com

Professor Hansen and FoE USA,

I am writing to urge you to immediately publish a corrective addendum to your recent efforts to encourage members of the public to be outraged by text in American Government, 11th edition, by Professors James Q. Wilson and John J. DiIulio, Jr, published by Houghton Mifflin. Your calls for pressure to be applied to the publishers to withdraw or amend the book to suit your own political biases are factually inaccurate and misleading, and undemocratic.

Wilson and DiIulio are correct to describe the scientific understanding of climate change as “enmeshed in scientific uncertainty”, especially with respect to the political response to climate change. Although the IPCC has provided projections from various scenarios to inform the political process, none of these projections have been offered as forecasts, but ‘what ifs’. The international political response to climate change science to date has been precautionary, not based on scientific certainty. The extent to which certainty is absent from climate science is epitomized by the contrast between Professor Hansen’s projections for sea-level rise, and the IPCC’s, which differ by an order of magnitude. Professor Hansen would have us believe that the IPCC is wrong, and has gone on public record to that effect. Why should others not be allowed to challenge mainstream scientific and political orthodoxy without attracting accusations of dishonesty?

The application of the precautionary principle in response to fears about ecological catastrophe is not the result of politically-neutral, objective calculation. In recent years, the political environmental movement has been successful in presenting the precautionary principle as a ‘scientific’ response to uncertainty, while greatly exaggerating the scientific plausibility of imaginary apocalyptic scenarios to elicit a response in their favor from a terrified public. In other words, the environmental movement has hidden its politics behind science. And unfortunately, some high-profile scientists have been content to go along with this deception – with the best of intentions, no doubt, but at the expense of democratic debate that draws on the best available scientific evidence.

Allowing alternative perspectives to enter the climate change debate would deprive the political environmental movement of its oxygen, and in turn undermine its political leverage and public profile. I suggest that your demands for statements of correction to American Government in the interests of “the facts” belie a desire for political censorship to silence your detractors and opponents.

Thank you for your attention in this matter.



On Friday, we wrote about the US ‘Friends of the Earth’, who have enlisted James Hansen in their campaign to censor a book on American politics because it might give the impression that there’s something to discuss. Somehow we managed to miss this gem of a page on the campaign’s website…

Tell Houghton Mifflin global warming isn’t a matter of debate
Friends of the Earth has received a copy of American Government, published by mammoth Houghton Mifflin, which is used in AP government classes in high schools nationwide. The latest edition’s chapter on “Environmental Policy” contains a discussion of global warming so biased and misleading it would humble a tobacco industry PR man:

These are not quotes from oil company press releases. These and other such statements are made by the authors of American Government in the same omnipotent, textbook tone with which we are all familiar.

Please join us in writing Houghton Mifflin right now! We will copy your governor to make sure every state is aware of the problem with this textbook.

There follows an electronic form for activists to fill in, which gets sent to Houghton Mifflin (and your governor), to tell them not to allow debate on global warming, to harass them not to allow debate to happen in American classrooms.

We have written before about FoE’s contempt for democracy. And this is one more example of how Environmentalists regard the “ethics” of climate change as trumping fundamentals of democratic society. FoE’s shame is unlikely to be forthcoming, however, because the self-importance of the Environmental movement is growing, and its latest action needs to be viewed with some perspective. And what better perspective than a quick recap of Environmentalism in all its misanthropic glory, as reported by wonderful us during our first year on the job? So…

  • In April last year, we wrote about how UK FoE director Tony Juniper dropped his enthusiasm for consensus science when it challenged his desire to return to pre-industrial society.
  • Later that month we criticised former media officer of the Royal Society Bob Ward’s campaign to have the DVD version of The Great Global Warming Swindle censored.
  • Following an article in the TLS, we wondered how interested in science former president of the Royal Society Bob May actually is when he orders us to ‘respect the facts’.
  • In May we reported on the work of German psychologist Andreas Ernst, who claimed to have identified similarities between the psychology of climate change denialists and rats.
  • Following that, we looked at the UK Government’s plans to distribute An Inconvenient Truth to every school in the country in order to manufacture an environmentally-obedient generation.
  • In July, we reported on a UK poll by Ipsos Mori about attitudes to global warming in the UK and how Green MEP, Caroline Lucas blames the media for present climate scepticism, which she equates to holocaust denial.
  • Then we caught former president of the Royal Society telling blatant fibs about Martin Durkin (director of the Great Global Warming Swindle) to an audience in Oxford.
  • In August, futurologist Jamais Casico joined others in fantasising about trying climate sceptics in criminal courts.
  • In October we reported on the UK Government’s plans to put CO2 targets for the country out of political – ie, democratic – control.
  • In November we showed how miserable George Monbiot was complaining about the only hour on television where scepticism of climate alarmism ever got an airing – Top Gear – as though people were forced to watch it.
  • We also pointed out FoE’s two-facedness on matters of democracy.
  • In December, Andrew Dessler tried to persuade us not to listen to climate sceptics by using the image of a sick child.
  • In January, we showed how claims that dissenting views on climate change have been financed by big oil interests lack any sense of proportion, and that green organisations have much more cash available to them.
  • Later that month we showed how Marc D. Davidson was attempting to diminish the moral character of Kyoto sceptics by ‘comparing’ their argument tothat made against the abolition of the slave trade.
  • The next day, David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith exhibit their utter contempt for democracy… It destroys the Environment, you see.
  • In February, OilChange International tried to claim that the oil companies had bought your vote.
  • Later that month, Caroline Lucas terrified people into voting Green by claiming that 70% of cancers are caused by environmental pollution.
  • Later still, we showed how David Roberts’ claim that climate-scepticism is ideological is incorrect, and how he in fact reveals his own nasty ideology, which he hides behind ‘science’.
  • And in March, we showed how Naomi Oreskes’ dismissal of climate scepticism as “the tobacco strategy” itself suffered from being a rather desperate strategy, devoid of reason.

What emerges from this list (and there’s plenty more) is the nasty, anti-democratic, anti-human fundamentals of Environmentalism. These examples show how the self-important urgency of Environmentalists allows them to diminish humans, to portray us as too stupid to engage with the decision making process,

too stupid to understand the issues, let alone hear the full range of arguments, lest they corrupt us. The irony is that of all the Environmentalists’ attempts to diminish the moral character of climate sceptics, to banish them, to compare them to fascists, or to reduce the public to unthinking morons undeserving of democracy, none are actually attempts to win the debate – they are just new ways of avoiding it.

A Textbook Case of Politics

You can say whatever you like about climate change, just as long as it doesn’t appear to undermine political action to ‘save the planet’.

You can, for example, be the billionaire founder of the world’s first international, 24-hour TV news channel, and claim that in just 30 or 40 years humans will be cannibals, forced to eat each other’s flesh because all the crops will have died, without people making much of a deal about it. (Into the bargain, you can use your money and influence to advance the political idea that too many people inhabit the planet, and still be called a ‘philanthropist’, without a hint of irony).

[youtube LZuC1xLHXRc]

But threaten the fragile minds of the young with just the faintest whiff of an idea that there might be more than one side to the global warming story, and Friends of the Earth, armed with a NASA headed letter from James Hansen, will want to have words with you:

A textbook used in high school government courses across the country has come under fire from scientists and environmentalists for its misleading approach to global warming. The textbook, “American Government,” presents basic facts as matters of debate—leaving students with the misconception that there is no scientific consensus about human contributions to global warming when in fact a strong consensus exists. The textbook also dramatically downplays the threats global warming poses.
Friends of the Earth and the other involved groups are calling on Houghton Mifflin to immediately send a corrective addendum to schools, and ensure that the corrections are included in the next edition of the textbook when it’s published.

The complaint relates to the following text:

1. “It is a foolish politician who today opposes environmentalism. And that creates a problem, because not all environmental issues are equally deserving of support. Take the case of global warming.” (p. 559)
2. “The earth has become warmer, but is this mostly the result of natural climate changes, or is it heavily influenced by humans putting greenhouse gases into the air?” (p.559)
3. “On the one hand, a warmer globe will cause sea levels to rise, threatening coastal communities; on the other hand, greater warmth will make it easier and cheaper to grow crops and avoid high heating bills.” (p. 559)
4. “But many other problems are much less clear-cut. Science doesn’t know how bad the green-house effect is.” (p. 566)

None of these statements are factually incorrect, because they are not simply matters of fact. Passage 1 highlights a very important problem with Environmentalism in political science. How do we determine the best course of action when human interests are at odds with what are perceived to be ‘natural’ interests? Environmentalism is problematic because it cannot negotiate this conflict, tending – at best – to apply the precautionary principle in the environment’s favour, claiming (untestably) that ultimately those whose interests are displaced by eco-policies will be better off in the long-run because they wont have to suffer the consequences of environmental degradation. Take Ted Turner, or Sir Crispin Tickell’s view that too many people inhabit the planet, for example. This is ultimately an expression of the idea that people shouldn’t have rights to their own reproductive functions – for the sake of the planet, and it is the state’s role to either regulate reproduction through laws or disincentives, or to engineer values to achieve the same effect. This Malthusian perspective is at odds with other political philosophies which claim that mankind is able to adapt to new circumstances, and to create new technologies through science and politics. And it is indeed a ‘foolish’ politician who challenges this thinking in today’s political climate (unless he isn’t a coward) because he will earn the wrath of the likes of FoE, who position themselves as judges over politicians and policy. That order needs to be challenged if democracy is important.

Passage 2 doesn’t even make a statement, but asks a question. It doesn’t even challenge the premise that ‘the earth has become warmer’. As such, it is hard to see why the questions about what to do about it, and the relationship between science and politics aren’t important to political science students. FoE apparently would rather students learn that one side is right, and the other simply wrong, without any appreciation for how the facts of the matter are interpreted by different perspectives. That might be a worthwhile approach if it is desirable to create students without analytical skills.

Passage 3 isn’t even controversial. It is an acknowledged fact – by the IPCC themselves – that global warming would create benefits and open up areas to agriculture that were previously inaccessible, or simply too cold. Everyone knows that it’s not simply a case of climate change being all bad effects. The difference between the two perspectives is less about matters of scientific fact, and more to do with how problems are considered in relation to benefits. For example, the Environmentalist’s claim to humanitarianism is that “climate change will be worse for the poor”. Yet this principle assumes that there will always be poor people, and so creates an ‘ethic’ out of avoiding making life worse for the poor by minimising our environmental ‘impact’, rather than expressing genuine solidarity by lending a hand in ending the poverty which prevents development. But this ‘ethic’ is counter-productive. Similarly, the problems that people face in a warmer future are contingent on there being no political, economic or technological developments. And it is worth remembering here that the objectives of political Environmentalism are to divert our ambitions away from economic development, to end our ‘dependence’ on technological solutions to our day-to-day problems, and to reorganise society around small-scale, localised systems of production. Environmentalists seek undevelopment – sheer retrogression – in the face of climate change! Under the political conditions that Environmentalists want to create, our environmental conditions will necessarily cause the problems that they predict. As we have said before, Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Passage 4 – “Science doesn’t know how bad the green-house effect is” is not a controversial statement either. We recently quoted scientific historian, Naomi Oreskes – no climate change denier:

Agreeing about the reality and causes of current global warming is not the same as agreeing about what will happen in the future. There is continuing debate in the scientific community over the likely rate of future change: not “whether” but “how much” and “how soon.” And this is precisely why we need to act today: because the longer we wait, the worse the problem will become, and the harder it will be to solve.

And as we pointed out at the time, what exists in the future as far as the majority of climate scientists are concerned is not fact, but doubt.

Doubt is the very essence of the precautionary principle. And the precautionary principle is at the heart of international agreements and domestic policies on the environment. It was not scientific certainty that drove efforts to mitigate climate change, but th
e same doubt that Oreskes claims is generated by the “tobacco strategy”. … The Environmentalist narrative of catastrophe, doom, and apocalypse, once given superficial scientific plausibility (in that science cannot exclude the possibility of such things happening – which it never could),
provides doubt and uncertainty about the security of the future, which in turn provides political momentum and legitimacy for environmental policies.

What is important to Environmentalists is not that we know what will happen in the future – indeed, knowing what will happen in the future would undermine the doubt that Environmentalism thrives in. What is important to Environmentalism is that there is a vaguely plausible argument that it might be bad, and that humans might not be able to cope. Their energies are not focused on developing strategies to overcome the problems they anticipate, but to attacking any approach to them which in turn undermines the culture of doom that gives them political currency.

This news comes in the wake of climate activist Jo Abbess’s demands that the text of an article relating to the recent decline in world temperatures by BBC journalist Roger Harrabin be altered to reflect not the scientific reality, but to emphasise the catastrophic narrative. Harrabin did as Abbess asked (probably just to get the shrieking lunatic off of his back… time will tell) and changed the text of his article.

Harrabin’s article related to the fact that global average temperature appears to be declining, attributed by scientists throughout the world to ‘natural variability’. All this talk of natural variability follows a decade of no warming, and subsequent to a variety of claims that we have been about to experience warmer and warmer weather, which have been contradicted later by revised projections, and climate reality, as we reported on Monday.

Whether or not this means that global warming is or isn’t happening is not the point. What it does show, however, is that scientists have significant problems in accounting for the climate – especially the anthropogenic component – in spite of the ‘scientific facts’. Clearly, those facts are not quite as meaningful as Friends of the Earth maintain:

The book was authored by a prominent conservative, James Q. Wilson, who is affiliated with the right-wing American Enterprise Institute—which has received oil industry funding, and by John DiIulio, who served as director of faith-based initiatives in the George W. Bush White House.

Ahh, it’s not about science, its the ‘it’s all about the funding’ argument again. We like to think we’ve covered this argument in some depth . According to Greenpeace’s exxonsecrets website (even though the accounts of the organisations they intend to expose appear to be matters of public record)…

Total funding to American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research from Exxon corporations since 1998: $US 1,870,000

Well, that’s certainly a lot of money as far as you or I are concerned. But it’s only enough to supply multi-multi-multi-millionaire Al Gore’s house with energy for 60 years, not to mention his travel expenses. It’s nothing in comparison to the billions that Greenpeace has had in its coffers, and nothing in comparison to the hundreds of millions Gore has raised for his eco-army, and nothing next to the billion that Ted Turner has been able to give away, or the influence he is able to achieve. Al Gore’s film was intended to be sent to every classroom in the UK, yet as has been well established, it too is littered with inaccuracies, catastrophism, and outright untruths. Where were the FoE’s demands for scientific integrity then?

FoE draws on the support of James Hansen, who contradicts the IPCC ‘consensus’ with alarmist statements about meters of sea-level rise, yet escapes being called a ‘denier’ on the basis that he differs from the mainstream in a more apocalyptic direction. Hansen is no stranger to the political debate on climate science, and enters this affair on NASA-headed notepaper

The textbook’s authors repeatedly attempt to cast doubt on the accepted science of global warming. Among other things, the authors state that [1]“scientists do not know how large the greenhouse effect is, whether it will lead to a harmful amount of global warming, or (if it will) what should be done about it” (p. 560); [2]that “profound disagreements” about global warming exist within the scientific community (p. 560); [3] that so-called “activist scientists” say that the earth’s climate is warming (p. 560); [4] that “science doesn’t know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect Is, if it exists at all” (p.569); [5] and that global warming is “enmeshed in scientific uncertainty” (p. 573). [our numbering]

None of the claims about which Hansen complains are controversial. Points 1, 4, and 5 are well established. The advice given by the IPCC and science academies throughout the world is precaution. We have discussed this above, and recently and in posts about the precautionary principle.

Point #2 is certainly true. As Oreskes explains above. Point #3 is self-evidently true, and in the context of point #4, we would remind Hansen of the words of Mike Hulme while he was director of the Tyndall Centre:

The language of catastrophe is not the language of science. It will not be visible in next year’s global assessment from the world authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[Note: AR4]. To state that climate change will be “catastrophic” hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science. Is any amount of climate change catastrophic? Catastrophic for whom, for where, and by when? What index is being used to measure the catastrophe? The language of fear and terror operates as an ever-weakening vehicle for effective communication or inducement for behavioural change.

Clearly there is fundamental controversy within the scientific community. (Indeed, a letter written on NASA-headed notepaper by Hansen’s boss, Michael Griffin, would make for very different reading.) So what is Hansen really complaining about?

Each of these statements is profoundly mistaken in ways t
hat will mislead students about the facts and science of global warming. In recent decades the scientific community has gathered overwhelming evidence that the earth’s climate is undergoing a period of significant heating, of which human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause. The scientific community no longer doubts whether global warming is happening. Scientific academies from across the globe, including the National Academy of Sciences, have stated unambiguously that human generated greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are the primary cause of well-documented global warming.

His concern that students will be mislead by the idea that there is no scientific certainty about the best way to proceed politically does not credit those students with the ability to understand that political direction has been achieved through the application of the precautionary principle. He knows that precaution is a vulnerable subject for the environmental movement, because it creates different responses to doubt, and so he protects the uncertainty with what certainty can be mustered. It is not controversial that we do not know what the future climate will be. It is not controversial in the scientific community that ‘global warming does exist’. But that statement has no necessary consequences. The consequences are the subject of controversy. And the mainstream response to those consequences is precaution. If we buy into the precautionary principle, we buy into a political, not a scientific perspective. That perspective holds that we might not be able to respond to climate change by adaptation, through political, economic, and technological creativity. If students were to understand that what determines the response to climate change is our political, rather than scientific perspective, then the argument about what to do has been lost. In other words, it is an orthodoxy – not good science – which Hansen is nervously protecting, an orthodoxy which he is determined will not be challenged, and he will use NASA-headed paper to make his point.

There may be many reasons to challenge the perspective offered in ‘American Government’. But this is not one of them. No doubt, John Dilulio, a University of Pennsylvania professor, and James Wilson, Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, are more conservative than most. But then, most sociology texts are written by people with political perspectives. In the UK, for example, Tony Blair had an intellectual relationship with sociologist Anthony Giddens – the author of many textbooks and ‘third-way’, communitarian and multiculturalist policy ideas. Thatcher similarly with Karl Popper – who needs no introduction. Asking political theorists or social scientists not to have political perspectives is like asking physicists not to have views – or even ideas – about wave-particle duality. And here is the problem. Nervousness about the future precedes and extends well beyond what science can or cannot determine. What looks like an objection to politically-motivated scientific inaccuracy in a textbook brings into relief the fact that people’s minds and the way they see the world are the source of the greatest uncertainty in the world. A political perspective causing such a moral panic reveals only the political exhaustion of the Environmentalists, and, by extension, the movement which considers itself an alternative to conservative thinking – the only way it can think of to challenge conservatism (even though climate scepticism is not conservatism) is to hide behind science, and to call for censorship. No wonder then, that they are against political perspectives in the political science classroom. No wonder they have no confidence in students to make up their own minds about what they read in politics textbooks. Never mind that it was a student – Matthew LaClair – responding critically to the text who started the fuss in the first place. The whole point – now forgotten – of political and social sciences is to challenge, negotiate and explain different perspectives on the world, and to convincingly develop newer and better ones.

But that would mean progress. And progress is exactly what Environmentalism stands in the way of. It would rather we unquestioningly adopted simple lives, didn’t demand better living conditions, didn’t ask questions about whose interests the ‘ethics’ of austerity are working in favour of, and didn’t ask why people should have to endure the hardships that lack of material wealth creates. Letting political (forget ‘scientific’) orthodoxy get challenged in the classroom is a sure fire way of allowing a generation of people to grow up disobedient, and worst still… aspirant. How dare they?

It used to be conservatives who stood for orthodoxies; traditions, and ‘knowing one’s place’ in natural and social orders. Now, those things seem to be what ‘progressives’ and ‘liberals’ campaign for. But these new radicals are radical in the same way the Taliban are. They want to change the world, but will brook no dissent. They will bring ‘ethics’ to bear on political matters, but deny political perspectives the right of expression. They will claim that a higher purpose legitimises their campaign, but not allow objections to that purpose.

As we are fond of saying, Environmentalism has thrived in an era of political exhaustion. Now that Environmentalism is at last beginning to face challenges from political science, climate science, and the results of thermometer readings, it’s time for Environmentalists to grow some balls, and stand up to these challenges, or push off.

Friend (of Democracy) or FoE?

A single press release; double standards. Yesterday, in response to the UK’s proposed climate change bill, Friends of the Earth UK director, Tony Juniper said:

We’re delighted that the UK is set to become the first nation to introduce legislation to cut its contribution to climate change. But the Government must strengthen its proposed legislation if it is to be truly effective and deliver the scale of action that scientists are now calling for. This means setting annual milestones that will deliver at least an 80 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, and including Britain’s share of emissions from international aviation and shipping. If Gordon Brown toughens up this legislation, his visions of becoming a world-leader in developing a low carbon future can become a reality.

But responding to proposed changes in planning law, also outlined in the Queen’s Speech, in the same press release, Friends of the Earth’s Planning coordinator, Naomi Luhde Thompson said:

Government plans to overhaul the planning system are bad news for democracy and bad news for the environment. Its proposals will strip away one of the public’s key democratic rights to have a say on how their area is developed, easing the way for a whole range of climate-damaging developments. These proposals are undemocratic, environmentally-damaging and – according to recent legal advice – likely to be unlawful.

So, it’s a Good Thing for political decisions to be made by unaccountable bodies, without either debate or due democratic process, if it will lead to a reduction in CO2 – because “scientists say so” – but it’s “undemocratic” to loosen planning law (if that is what is being proposed) so that new houses and civil infrastructure can be built without interruption from organisations such as itself.

As we pointed out last week, environmentalism has never been tested by UK politics, and there has not been a debate about how best to respond to scientific evidence. Juniper conjures scientific opinion out of his hat in order to close down the possibility of debate by saying “scientists are now calling for” 80% cuts in emissions by 2050, but where do scientists actually say that? Where has this figure come from? Many scientists challenge the idea that the only way to face climate change is to reduce CO2 emissions, arguing instead for adaptation.

If there were to be a proper debate, it would reveal that our interests are frequently not the same as the “environment’s”. FoE don’t want development to happen, yet most people acknowledge the need for more houses, and better transport and energy infrastructure. It may well be that people don’t want these developments in their backyard, but that is quite a different thing to not wanting the development to happen because of the damage it might do the the environment – the enemy of my enemy is the FoE.

Is Juniper on the Gin?

When environmentalists aren’t aping the war on terror (‘you’re either with us or against us‘, not to mention sexing up documents to generate an unwarranted sense of urgency) they can sometimes sound uncannily like the lunatic extremists that the war on terror is supposed to be against.

Take Tony Juniper’s (Executive Director of Friends of the Earth UK) comments in today’s Observer, in an article reporting on a leaked draft of the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers:

Last night Tony Juniper, executive director of the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth, said far more fundamental lifestyle changes were needed than had been considered by the UN group. ‘Simply replacing one set of technologies with another set of technologies won’t work, especially when there are such big downsides with some of them,’ he said. Nuclear reactors are dangerous and land clearance and chemical pesticides and fertilisers used to grow fuel crops can cause huge environmental damage, he added. ‘Structural change to the economy, behaviour change and culture change – those have to be elements in a world of decarbonisation,’ said Juniper.

What is striking about Juniper’s reaction is that he seems happy to welcome the IPCC’s ‘scientific consensus’ when it suits him, but when the IPCC starts developing technological solutions to the problem of climate change, it doesn’t suit him. For Juniper, technology is the cause of the world’s problems. In which case, how could he possibly see it as a solution to them? He doesn’t want technological fixes. After all, they only encourage the root causes of the problem – our decadence. The problem, according to Juniper, is not technical, it is ethical, so it is a point of principle that only ‘fundamental lifestyle changes’ are good enough. In fact, environmentalists are prone to argue this line to the extent that one can be left wondering whether changing the economy, behaviour and culture is a higher priority than actually ‘saving the planet’.

Compare Juniper’s view of the industrial world to that of Theodore Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber)…

The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation… But we do outline in a very general way the measures that those who hate the industrial system should take in order to prepare the way for a revolution against that form of society. This is not to be a POLITICAL revolution. Its object will be to overthrow not governments but the economic and technological basis of the present society

There are, of course, still important differences between Juniper and Kaczynski. First, Friends of the Earth aren’t trying to bomb us into submission. Also, in stark contrast to Kaczynski, Juniper calls for the government to implement the regulation of lifestyle, economics and culture that he demands. In this respect, Juniper is apparently advocating a return not only to a pre-technological society, but to political medievalism. Juniper is apparently more Taliban than Unabomber.

Just as the Taliban arrested people in possession of music, televisions and radios for their corrupting influence on society’s relationship with God, Juniper imagines engineered solutions to climate change to be corrupting our relationship with nature. This isn’t a view of humanity that can be sustained by science. Indeed, it is inherently anti-science, which is why Juniper has to drop the ‘science’ as soon as starts to challenge his ‘ethical’ perspective. In his vision, the state monitors our behaviour, regulates consumption and oversees material sacrifice.

Given that the environmentalists oscillate so easily between the rhetoric of the White House and cave-dwelling Luddites, perhaps they should go off and have a war with themselves and leave the rest of us to work out how best to proceed toward an uncertain future.