According to the likes of Bob Ward, George Monbiot, Ben Goldacre and Steve Connor, it is a well established fact that the slump in global temperatures over three decades in the middle of the last century is the result of changes in the composition of atmospheric aerosols following various clean air acts in the western world.
Failure to acknowledge this fact is ‘straightforward scientific dishonesty’, according to Monbiot, and ‘a major misrepresentation of the scientific evidence’, in the words of Ward. Goldacre described the question of the post-war temperature slump as a prime example of a denialist ‘zombie argument’ (it ‘survive[s] to be raised again, for eternity, no matter how many times [it is] shot down’) and wrote that it has ‘been answered already, ages ago’. It’s the aerosols, stupid.
We have stated repeatedly that such certainty is not justified by the state of scientific understanding of atmospheric aerosols (see links above). So it’s good to see Quirin Schiermeier’s piece in today’s issue of Nature – The real holes in climate science – which identifies aerosols as one of four problematic areas of climate change research (the other three being Regional climate prediction, Precipitation, and The tree-ring controversy):
Atmospheric aerosols — airborne liquid or solid particles — are a source of great uncertainty in climate science. Despite decades of intense research, scientists must still resort to using huge error bars when assessing how particles such as sulphates, black carbon, sea salt and dust affect temperature and rainfall.
Overall, it is thought that aerosols cool climate by blocking sunlight, but the estimates of this effect vary by an order of magnitude, with the top end exceeding the warming power of all the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by humans.
One of the biggest problems is lack of data…
Schiermeier goes on to describe how little is understood about the relative contributions of white aerosols (eg, sulphates, which have a cooling effect) and black carbon (which has a warming effect); how we don’t know the atmospheric aerosol composition in the present, let alone the past; how little we know about the way in which aerosols interact with clouds and other atmospheric processes, etc.
He doesn’t go into the implications of this lack of knowledge for our understanding of the post-war temperature slump. But it goes without saying that, if ‘Scientists have yet to untangle the interplay between pollution, clouds, precipitation and temperature’, then the claims of Ward, Monbiot, Goldacre, Connor et al are wildly off the mark, if not examples of ‘straightforward scientific dishonesty’.
Thankfully, neither is the post-war temperature slump mentioned in the obligatory list of long-debunked denialist arguments (Enduring climate myths) that accompanies Schiermeier’s article – something of a first for the genre.
One event, seen by two environmental activists called George, produces two, contradicting stories in the Guardian.
George Marshall, suggests that CRU email hacking was ‘orchestrated smear campaign’, but one which yielded no evidence of anything questionable, but that ‘an application of dirty political tactics to climate change campaigning’ seeks to undermine the upcoming Copenhagen conference. Innocent scientists, who know little about communication, have unwittingly handled the affair badly, causing a PR disaster for themselves.
George Monbiot, on the other hand, is uncharacteristically reflective, and ‘dismayed and deeply shaken by’ the emails. ‘There are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad’, he says.
There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request. Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Monbiot then calls for head of the CRU, Phil Jones, to resign. Nonetheless, this doesn’t support the conspiracy-theories about the hockey stick and widespread scientific fraud, he concludes, before giving a ‘satirical’ example of what it would take to convince him that such a conspiracy did exist. Most notably, however, he answers a commenter to the site:
I apologise. I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely.
This is, of course, what we’ve been telling Monbiot for several years now.
The point here is that the two Georges seem to have very different takes on what the CRU hacking has revealed. Marshall believes that the attempt to prove a conspiracy reveals a conspiracy. Monbiot says that the hacking has not substantiated the conspiracy-theory, but that certain scientists are culpable. It’s worth pointing out that, although Marshall and Monbiot accuse sceptics of conspiracy-theorising, their own arguments about ‘deniers’ and ‘well funded denial machines’ are also conspiracy theories.
We have argued here on Climate Resistance that it is a mistake to see the ascendency of environmentalism’s influence as the fruit of a conspiracy. This, we have argued, credits the environmental movement with too much. What we have said is that environmentalism has become mainstream because of the failure of the political parties, individuals, organisations, and institutions to sustain coherent political ideas and to share them with the public. The environmentalist’s tendency to see scepticism as the expression of a conspiracy owes itself, we think, to this same symptom. Climate change denial is discussed in terms of secret deals between trans-national corporations and think-tanks to subvert the public’s understanding of ‘the science’. Whereas such networks that they do manage to ‘expose’ turn out to be barely funded at all (especially by contrast to green lobbying and PR efforts), not at all hidden from view, and entirely consistent with the way the business of politics is done in today’s world. The point is that it is because environmentalists start from a position of disorientation that they tend to see any political relationship or connection as evidence of a conspiracy. The 9/11 ‘truthers’ offer us a useful metaphor: it is what isn’t said that often counts for more than what is said.
But let’s be fair. It isn’t just environmental activists who are conspiracy-mongering. The increasingly prominent climate sceptic Christopher Monckton wrote yesterday:
This is what they did — these climate “scientists” on whose unsupported word the world’s classe politique proposes to set up an unelected global government this December in Copenhagen, with vast and unprecedented powers to control all formerly free markets, to tax wealthy nations and all of their financial transactions, to regulate the economic and environmental affairs of all nations, and to confiscate and extinguish all patent and intellectual property rights.
Monckton is right that this is a phenomenon relating to the ‘classe politique’, but he again makes the mistake of attributing to it far too much intentionality. The objectives of environmentalism are not deliberate, nor about purposively engineering a social order as such. They are not ‘about’ realising any political project. There is certainly a concerted effort to build supra-national institutions that will control, regulate and manage every level of public and private life. But the ‘classe politique’s’ desire for these institutions is unfocussed, and the result of its attempting to manage its own crises. What Monckton sees as an attempt to establish a ‘global government’ are the desperate attempts of governments to rescue themselves from their own failure of purpose. As we are fond of saying, ‘the crisis is in politics, not in the skies’. Politicians and political movements project their own failures – their loss of identity, and their inability to communicate with constituencies and to explain the world – out into the world. They respond to their own failure, by creating institutions that are ‘above’ them, to which they defer.
The unconscious logic is this… Politicians (and movements, etc) borrow authority from science, because they cannot create their own. As such, any political project that this process produces is necessarily negative – the avoidance of catastrophe, terrorism, epidemics, etc. In short, politicians borrow ‘objectivity’ from science because of a lack of faith in the inherently subjective nature of democratic politics – the need for political engagement and discussion. But the loan of credibility from science to politics is not sufficient to sustain the legitimacy of political institutions, because of the problem of democratic accountability and legitimacy. As we can see, this form of politics has failed to connect with the public. So, on the basis of the looming catastrophe, institutions are established above politics, which it putatively ‘answers to’. Contemporary politics (ie, politicians) cannot cope with accountability, and so defers sovereignty away from ‘the people’ (to whom they are accountable) to a higher agency, such that it can be made ‘necessary’ to meet ‘international obligations’ (and to avert catastrophe) before meeting demands ‘from below’. In short, this is about managing people’s expectations of politics and politicians.
Monckton’s criticism is expressed as concern about the vulnerability of ‘free trade’ to environmental institutions, taxation, and regulation. But it is during an era in which the idea of free markets have become orthodoxy that the conditions for environmentalism’s ascendancy have been created. In that same era, communism has virtually disappeared, socialism too. What remains of the ‘left’ – social democracy – has embraced market principles. Moreover, it is as much conservatives as ossified leftists who have attempted to reinvent themselves as ‘green’. The climate debate simply does not divide on either left/right or pro-market/anti-market lines. The UK conservatives have fully embraced the sustainability agenda, and its emphasis on localism. Moreover, schemes such as cap-and-trade, albeit while regulating a market, nonetheless use the market to provide putative solutions to putative climate problems. And it should not be forgotten that it was Monckton’s former boss, Thatcher, who was instrumental in bringing climate change to the attention of the world’s governments, and the creation of UK and international institutions to combat climate change. As the website of the exposed CRU itself explains:
The UK Government became a strong supporter of climate research in the mid-1980s, following a meeting between Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher and a small number of climate researchers, which included Tom Wigley, the CRU director at the time. This and other meetings eventually led to the setting up of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, within the Met Office. At the same time, other governments were also taking notice and wanted more information. As this need was not being met by international scientific bodies and institutions at the time, they set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This was under the United Nations Framework (later the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC) and led to assessments being produced in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007. CRU staff have been heavily involved in all four assessments, probably more than anywhere else relative to the size of an institution (see IPCC AR4 Authors).
The ‘classe politique’ began its greening, and its borrowing from scientific authority more than 25 years ago – during which time Monckton himself was an active member of that same ‘classe politique’ he now shouts at. Yet he spoke to it, and influenced it. He cannot have it both ways. The history of contemporary environmentalism is as much the history of contemporary conservatism as it is the history of the contemporary, yet now equally defunct, Left. That it has taken him this long to see what kind of monster has been created is surely something on which he needs to reflect a little more deeply than he has done. The sleep of reason brings forth monsters… It is not enough to say ‘environmentalism is communism’, because he must know it is not true – he was there at the former’s birth, if not its conception, and the latter’s comprehensive death. Such an ahistorical perspective is precisely the symptom of the Georges, and their paranoid conspiracy-mongering. Yet the Georges can be let off the hook – slightly – because it cannot be claimed that they were there, at number 10 Downing Street, as environmentalism’s seeds were being sown.
Our argument thus far, then, can be summarised as follows. It is disorientation that causes debate to be seen as consisting of good guys beset by political conspiracies. The loss of historical perspective causes attempts to give a coherent account of the opposing argument to fail. Both ‘sides’ lack the means to explain the other, and to positively express themselves. Thus each side becomes the side that wants to save the world, the other the one that intends to destroy it. Yet, no doubt, both sides act out of conviction, and in good faith, even if they would deny the other. Their problem is their inability to self-reflect.
Curiously, the responses to the ‘Climategate’ mess similarly do not divide according to ‘sides’ taken in the debate. Monbiot thinks that those involved need to be punished:
I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.
Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, believes that ‘only a thorough investigation could now clear [the CRU researchers'] names.’
The selective disclosure and dissemination of the messages has created the impression of impropriety, and the only way of clearing the air now would be through a rigorous investigation.
Nigel Lawson, another conservative-from-the-Thatcher-administration-turned-climate-sceptic similarly feels there is a need for such a process:
The integrity of the scientific evidence on which not merely the British government, but other countries, too, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claim to base far-reaching and hugely expensive policy decisions, has been called into question. And the reputation of British science has been seriously tarnished. A high-level independent inquiry must be set up without delay.
On each side of the debate, there are those for, and those against such an investigation, and those who think that the CRU researchers need to be either punished, or exonerated. No clear lines emerge.
Ward, characteristically, presupposes the findings of any such investigation. If it’s green, it’s right, in his view of the world. Monbiot and Lawson, to different extents, believe that clarity needs to be recovered. Marshall takes a different view, saying that:
Jones should speak to every journalist who calls, go on the offensive and defend his science.
Before we agree with Marshall, we shall point out that if Jones had taken this advice years ago, there would be no Climategate now. It’s a bit late to start being ‘transparent’, now that it is clear that he has gone out of his way to be opaque.
Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth’s executive director, also dismissed calls for an inquiry. He said: “Calls for an inquiry look suspiciously like an attempt to cast doubt on the science of climate change ahead of crucial UN negotiations. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists believe that climate change is happening, that it is man-made, and that it poses a major threat to people across the planet. We can’t afford to be distracted from the need for urgent action to combat global warming – rich countries must lead the way by agreeing to slash their emissions when they meet in Copenhagen next month.
… In other words, the stakes are too high to allow an investigation to create the idea in the public mind that there is any reason to doubt the certainty that the CRU have seemingly produced.
If there were such an inquiry, it would certainly not be the first of its kind.
Bjorn Lomborg’s book, The Skeptical Environmentalist attracted much angry attention earlier this decade, prompting an investigation by the Orwellian-sounding Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD). They found Lomborg guilty of ‘dishonesty’ in 2003, but later that year, the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation overturned the ruling, finding it dishonest itself.
After McCintyre and McKitrick’s efforts to replicate the methodology of the iconic ‘hockey-stick’ graph and subject it to the scrutiny it deserved, the US congress asked the National Research Council (NRC) of the United States National Academy of Sciences to investigate the plausibility of such historical reconstructions (the North Report). Simultaneously, another report was instigated by Congressman, Joe Barton, focusing more specifically on the work behind the Hockey Stick (the Wegman Report).
Speaking in the aftermath of the recent leak (but before the discussion of an inquiry), Bob Ward brings up what he presents as ‘attacks’ on the Hockey-stick’s authors.
The attacks on the hockey stick graph led the United States National Academy of Sciences to carry out an investigation, concluding in 2006 that although there had been no improper conduct by the researchers, they may have expressed higher levels of confidence in their main conclusions than was warranted by the evidence.
In fact, the reports and their meanings are far less easy to parse than Ward claims. For McIntrye’s perspective on the reports and their findings, read here.
The fact is that institutional modes of ‘clearing up’ controversies fail comprehensively. Critics of Lomborg will cite the initial DSCD finding, rather than its parent organisations retraction. Similarly, the reports that followed in the wake of McIntyre and McKitrick are not as conclusive as their detractors (or their supporters) often claim. Arguably these kind of reports merely muddy the waters, entrench positions, demonstrate the paucity of clear evidence, and, far from convincing the public of the stainless character of those implicated, such inquiries just generate suspicion about the execution of the process, and alienate the public from the debate. Lack of facts provoke an argument, and rather than drawing a line under sordid affairs, inquiries have a tendency to amplify them.
Moreover, an inquiry into Climategate would be truly Kafkaesque. Politicians, deferring the business of democratic politics to scientific and supra-national institutions, commissioning inquiries when that process generates controversy… It’s easy to imagine an infinite regress of deferments… commissions, inquiries, reports, organisations… none of which ever resolve the increasingly surreal problematic created by the previous layer of spin, intrigue, sleaze and abrogations of responsibility.
No, the problem begins with this. There is no need for an inquiry into the behaviour of the CRU staff, because what is really at issue is not ‘is the world really warming, and is it our fault?’. Creating institution after inquiry after organisation after report after commission after committee, after international treaty, after ‘science’ to answer this question is the reason this whole debacle stinks. The farce began with politics being deferred to ‘science’. Instead of a public contest of values and ideas, vapid and gutless politicians outsourced their responsibilities to scientific academies, hoping that it would rescue their own legitimacy. It failed. An inquiry will shed no light on the matter as much as it would extend the symptom, because, as we said in our previous post:
There is no need for sceptics to attempt to locate conspiracies, fraud, or deception. Because the reality is that environmentalism has thrived in an era in which any purposive political action – least of all the execution of a conspiracy – is impossible. Environmentalism has influenced public policy not because of fraud, but because of the intellectual vacuity of politicians. And it is beyond the ken of most commentators, journalists, and eco-PR bods such as Ward to deceive the public, because they don’t even reflect on the coherence, consequences, or political character of their own ideas. Fecklessness is rife, and that is why the world is greening.
Reading it is enough to make you want to stop breathing…
On the desk in front of me is a set of graphs. The horizontal axis of each represents the years 1750 to 2000. The graphs show, variously, population levels, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, exploitation of fisheries, destruction of tropical forests, paper consumption, number of motor vehicles, water use, the rate of species extinction and the totality of the human economy’s gross domestic product.
So writes writer, environmentalist and poet, former editor of The Ecologist, Paul Kingsnorth to his friend, ally, and comrade in misery, George Mon-and-on-and-on-biot. The two are discussing the question ‘Is there any point in fighting to stave off industrial apocalypse?’ Their exchange is printed in the Guardian.
The subtitle sets the terms of the debate between these two apocalyptic nutcases.
The collapse of civilisation will bring us a saner world, says Paul Kingsnorth. No, counters George Monbiot – we can’t let billions perish
Kingsnorth, who curiously shares his name with the site of the site of recent Climate Camp protests, recites a familiar litany – we are going to hell in a fossil-fuel-and-capitalism-powered handcart, and the human race is just to stupid to notice or care, and it will be a good thing when billions of us are dead, because those who remain will have learned a lesson. Like the Rapture, but for Gaia-worshippers.
What the graphs show, says Kingsnorth, is that ‘a rapacious human economy [is] bringing the world swiftly to the brink of chaos’. ‘…all of these trends continue to get rapidly worse… there is a serious crash on the way… the civilisation we are a part of is hitting the buffers at full speed, and it is too late to stop it…’ There is no way out of this, Kingsnorth believes.
[we are] wedded to a vision of the future as an upgraded version of the present. We still believe in “progress”, as lazily defined by western liberalism. We still believe that we will be able to continue living more or less the same comfortable lives (albeit with more windfarms and better lightbulbs) if we can only embrace “sustainable development” rapidly enough; and that we can then extend it to the extra 3 billion people who will shortly join us on this already gasping planet.
This is an illusion, he says, it is ‘denial’. It’s curious to see the word ‘denial’ being applied to our greenest greens: those who embrace wholeheartedly both the sustainability agenda, and the apocalyptic prophecies that underpin it.
The writing is on the wall for industrial society, and no amount of ethical shopping or determined protesting is going to change that now. Take a civilisation built on the myth of human exceptionalism and a deeply embedded cultural attitude to “nature”; add a blind belief in technological and material progress; then fuel the whole thing with a power source that is discovered to be disastrously destructive only after we have used it to inflate our numbers and appetites beyond the point of no return. What do you get? We are starting to find out.
It is also a surprise to find out that those who have so far embraced environmentalism are labouring under the ‘myth of human exceptionalism’. And if this naked catastrophism wasn’t so utterly dispiriting, it would be funny that Kingsnorth complains about a ‘deeply embedded cultural attitude to “nature”’. After all, what is it that Kingsnorth expresses, if it’s not a ‘deeply embedded attitude to nature’ of his own, and of the culture that environmentalism has created for itself? Indeed, the culture that he and Monbiot both want to create is precisely a culture in which nature is central to everything.
Here at Climate Resistance, we are fans of human exceptionalism. And we don’t think it’s a myth. Our ability even to consider the concept of human exceptionalism makes us distinct from all other things. Kingsnorth sees the world very, very differently:
… what we are really trying to save, as we scrabble around planting turbines on mountains and shouting at ministers, is not the planet but our attachment to the western material culture, which we cannot imagine living without.
The challenge is not how to shore up a crumbling empire with wave machines and global summits, but to start thinking about how we are going to live through its fall, and what we can learn from its collapse.
Human exceptionalism, in this view, is a notion which has been debunked. Debunked, that is, by the looming apocalypse. The inevitable apocalypse. The one that hasn’t happened yet, but it will, according to Kingsnorth. Soon. Ish. He hopes. And there’s no point hankering after it, because we’re doomed.
But abandoning a human-centric view of the world creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we reduce humanity to the moral equivalent of any bug, slug, mouse or microbe, we prevent ourselves from planning according to our own interests. We therefore submit to the whims of nature that have always killed humans through famine, drought, and disease, etc, etc. What makes Kingsnorth’s fantasy different to a UFO cultist’s is that he expects the whole world to join his suicide pact, not just a small band of ‘us’, the chosen ones, against the ‘them’.
Like you I have become ever gloomier about our chances of avoiding the crash you predict. For the past few years I have been almost professionally optimistic, exhorting people to keep fighting, knowing that to say there is no hope is to make it so. I still have some faith in our ability to make rational decisions based on evidence. But it is waning.
Here’s some news… George Monbiot thinks he has been ‘professionally optimistic’! When?! When has Monbiot been optimistic? Ever? As we have pointed out in many posts, George is incapable of optimism, because what he is responding to is not the external world, or rather anything that occurs in the real world, but his own confusion about his place in it. It fails to obey his will, and he doesn’t really understand why, and like a small child, cannot make a distinction between his failure to assert his will, and the end of the world. Environmentalism projects its own crises into the atmosphere. When, recently, supermarket giant, Tescos began the process of setting up in the town of Monbiot’s home, Machynlleth in Wales, he imagined himself in ‘the last small corner of Gaul still holding out against the Romans’. This was, in his view, a ‘struggle for democracy’. Nevermind that, in fact, it seems that more people are in favour of the supermarket, than against.
It get’s funnier, because Monbiot then scolds Kingsnorth for his apparent desire for apocalypse.
I detect in your writings, and in the conversations we have had, an attraction towards – almost a yearning for – this apocalypse, a sense that you see it as a cleansing fire that will rid the world of a diseased society. If this is your view, I do not share it.
But without the apocalypse, Monbiot’s entire view of the world crumbles. This he shares with Kingsnorth absolutely. Indeed, last year he gave the title ‘Bring on the Apocalypse’ to a collection of his writings. The message is the same as any other eco-poseur’s: if you don’t do what I say, the world will end, and your children will die. If there is no looming apocalypse, what would Monbiot write about? He says he wants to avoid the apocalypse, but anyone who says it might not be inevitable he calls a ‘denier’, or otherwise hypnotised by deniers. He says he wants to save people, but without the prospect of an imminent global catastrophe, how would he illustrate his unpleasant narrative? The difference between the roles that apocalypse plays in Monbiot’s and Kingsnorth’s account of the future is paper-thin, and academic. They are expressions of the same symptom. For all that their ‘debate’ matters, they might as well be arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Seemingly in an attempt to distance himself from Kingsnorth’s style of apocalyptic propheising, but failing comprehensively, Monbiot continues…
However hard we fall, we will recover sufficiently to land another hammer blow on the biosphere. We will continue to do so until there is so little left that even Homo sapiens can no longer survive. This is the ecological destiny of a species possessed of outstanding intelligence, opposable thumbs and an ability to interpret and exploit almost every possible resource – in the absence of political restraint.
And there’s the rub. Monbiot claims that it is objective fact, issued by an unchallengeable scientific consensus that demands ‘political restraint’, but in reality, it is the desire for some kind of political restraint which is prior to the search for any evidence that may putatively support it.
That is to say that the desire is to limit the expression of humanity, because it is an evil thing that will inevitably cause the destruction of the world. Here, again, Monbiot confuses his own disorientation with the entire human race’s. While it may be sensibly argued that politics throughout the world is suffering from a lack of direction (it is what we argue, after all), Monbiot only recognises this as a ‘lack of restraint’, rather than having some other cause. The purposelessness of today’s politics aims for nothing in particular, except for some kind of security: the War on Terror, pandemics, obesity and demographic time-bombs, climate change, and a raft of disasters await us, and become the issues around which our future is organised simply because today’s politicians cannot really conceive of any other basis for their functions. There is no better future. Monbiot sees environmentalism as a remedy to, rather than a symptom of this problem.
Contemplating the politics of the post-apocalyptic world, Monbiot foresees that
survivors of this collapse will be subject to the will of people seeking to monopolise remaining resources. This will is likely to be imposed through violence. Political accountability will be a distant memory.
Rather than preparing for the apocalypse, we ought to be trying to stop it
However faint the hopes of engineering a soft landing – an ordered and structured downsizing of the global economy – might be, we must keep this possibility alive.
If Monbiot recognises that the conditions of the post-apocalyptic world give rise to certain politics, why is it that he’s unable to recognise that creating a politics that anticipates the apocalypse equally gives rise to politics of the same order? Does Monbiot really believe that ‘downsizing the global economy’ won’t create brutal monopolies? Does he really believe that you can take just the excesses of contemporary life away from people, and that you can do so without force, violence, and oppression? Does he really think that people will embrace feudal modes of existence willingly? And as for political accountability, how does he think protests and the civil disobedience he is so fond of will be organised, and met by the authorities, in a world in which transport is denied, and political authority is legitimised on the basis that “the planet needs saving”? You wouldn’t be able to get to the protest. A green tyranny doesn’t need to oppress the population through violence. It just deprives them of the means to organise themselves. Things like petrol. But if it came to it, once you were there, protesters could be dealt with as any dangerous ‘denier’ – a heretic, no less – has been in history. There can be no ‘ordered and structured downsizing of the global economy’. It is not a machine.
Recognising that Monbiot’s vision of ordered retrogression is unlikely, but failing to recognise that Monbiot is talking about de-industrialisation, Kingsnorth says:
You have convinced yourself that there are only two possible futures available to humanity. One we might call Liberal Capitalist Democracy 2.0. Clearly your preferred option, this is much like the world we live in now, only with fossil fuels replaced by solar panels; governments and corporations held to account by active citizens; and growth somehow cast aside in favour of a “steady state economy”.
The other we might call McCarthy world, from Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road – which is set in an impossibly hideous post-apocalyptic world, where everything is dead but humans, who are reduced to eating children. Not long ago you suggested in a column that such a future could await us if we didn’t continue “the fight”.
We wrote about Monbiot’s reading of McCarthy’s novel back at the end of 2007. This story, said Monbiot, ‘shines a cold light on the dreadful consequences of our universal apathy’. Again, it was humanity’s shortcomings that created the necessity of controlling human impulses. He’d been at a road protest because apathetic humans were building a road. And it was all Jeremy Clarkson’s fault. The presenter of flagship BBC program Top Gear wasn’t taking his environmental responsibilities seriously. ‘Who will persuade us to act?’, he wondered. Not him. And not Kingsnorth, who seems to relish the coming end-of-days.
We face what John Michael Greer, in his book of the same name, calls a “long descent”: a series of ongoing crises brought about by the factors I talked of in my first letter that will bring an end to the all-consuming culture we have imposed upon the Earth. I’m sure “some good will come” from this, for that culture is a weapon of planetary mass destruction. [...] But what comes next doesn’t have to be McCarthyworld. Fear is a poor guide to the future.
That’s right, folks, the deaths of billions of people is nothing to be feared, it is just a necessary step to a better future. In a rare moment of sanity (only by contrast) Monbiot is outraged that Kingsnorth is suggesting that we might ‘do nothing to prevent the likely collapse of industrial civilisation’. The ‘macho assertion that we have nothing to fear from collapse mirrors the macho assertion that we have nothing to fear from endless growth’, he says. It’s a curious argument. Who could possibly be afraid of endless growth? It implies a distinctly non-terminal world. What he means by ‘endless growth’, however, is nothing of the kind, but anything which doesn’t resonate with the ‘downsizing of the global economy’ that he wishes for. This is, as we have observed in the past, based on the principle that any growth must ultimately be unsustainable, because the earth is finite, and at some point, growth will outgrow its environs. It’s a spurious argument that rests on many bogus claims, but principally states that because a problem may exist in the future, we ought not to continue. Best stay in the caves. Best remain as peasants. Best to not see what happens if we convert the production of steam into movement.
For a moment, it looks like Monbiot might say something sensible. But this is a competition to see who can hate humanity the most…
Anyone apprised of the palaeolithic massacre of the African and Eurasian megafauna, or the extermination of the great beasts of the Americas, or the massive carbon pulse produced by deforestation in the Neolithic must be able to see that the weapon of planetary mass destruction is not the current culture, but humankind.
Gosh. So what’s worth saving? At the same time as holding us to be equivalent to toxic weaponry, we are, paradoxically worth saving. And there’s only one way to do it.
[A] de-fanged, steady-state version of the current settlement might offer the best prospect humankind has ever had of avoiding collapse.
Only by neutering ourselves, and by enforcing restraint and environmental obedience can our species be locked into a sustainable pattern of behaviour, and saved.
The debate rages on. Kingsnorth replies, complaining that ‘my lack of fighting spirit sees me accused of complicity in mass death’, and that Monbiot’s argument is ‘designed to make me look like a heartless fascist’. Surely not…
Civilisations live and die by their founding myths. Our myths tell us that humanity is separate from something called “nature”, which is a “resource” for our use. They tell us there are no limits to human abilities, and that technology, science and our ineffable wisdom can fix everything. Above all, they tell us that we are in control. [...]
I think our task is to negotiate the coming descent as best we can, while creating new myths that put humanity in its proper place. Recently I co-founded a new initiative, the Dark Mountain Project, which aims to help do that. It won’t save the world, but it might help us think about how to live through a hard century. You’d be welcome to join us.
Where Monbiot wanted a human race tamed and forced into obedience by the prospect of Gaia’s waiting wrath, Kingsnorth wants to create a culture from the myths upwards, that puts it in its place while Mother Nature’s anger is visited upon us with poetry, art, singing and clapping. Seriously. Check out his site. It intends to create ‘a new literary movement for an age of global disruption’ as the project’s co-founder, Dougald Hine explains in this video.
So, Hine thinks his project is about ‘finding a new optimism’. The starting point for this ‘new optimism’ are their ‘eight principles of uncivilisation‘. Several of these ‘principles’ (they really ought to be ‘unprinciples’) stick out.
3. We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilisation: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
4. We will reassert the role of story-telling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.
5. Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will begin with the attempt to step outside the human bubble. By careful attention, we will reengage with the non-human world.
7. We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our ﬁngernails.
This is grandiose posturing. This is given away by the final (un)principle: ‘Together, we will ﬁnd the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.’ This ought to be seen as a rather frank statement of aimlessness; they don’t know where they are going, and they don’t know how to get there, other than by making up stories that ‘weave’ the ‘reality’ that they experience. They refuse to ‘lose ourselves in the elaboration of our theories’. Well, that’s convenient, because they are incoherent and inconsistent. They don’t even seem able to wash their hands. And why would you, if you didn’t believe in the centrality of humanity and progress?
What kind of optimism is this going to achieve? We don’t think it can find any. And, indeed, this search for optimism looks more like utter nihilism, these principles being so many self-indulgent whines about their authors’ sense of disorientation. Environmentalism projects its own anxieties onto the world.
Monbiot’s closing comments to their discussion are barely worth looking at, so underwhelming is his reply. There is no defence of progress. There is no defence of humanity. There is not even any defence of conventional optimism. Because, as ever, George’s vision is trapped between apocalypse and survival that means he can only make an argument that is premised on a belittling of humanity. This is the logic of miserable nihilism in search of meaning. It is just as incoherent as Kingsnorth’s. In both arguments, the catastrophes that the writers say we face are not simply the result of unforeseen consequences of our using our abilities, for instance, that industrial society has created a problem – climate change – that need to be addressed one way or another. Instead, climate change is held as conclusive proof of our lust, greed, and stupidity and that they need to be contained, either through legislation, or through mythology. The difference is steep. While on the one hand, Monbiot claims to have virtually the entire climate science community behind him and his argument (that is the basis on which he has agreed to debate climate sceptic, Prof. Ian Plimer) this ‘science’ isn’t being used by Monbiot to make a scientific argument about the necessity of changing our industrial practices – a view with which many scientists no doubt agree – but instead is being used to make arguments about human nature itself. This is the perspective which is prior to the science that is used to support it. It is the ethics and politics of environmentalism.
The very graphs on which Kingsnorth premised his arguments – the ones which spelled out the inevitability of the apocalypse to him – are the story which narrates his myths about human unexceptionalism and uncentrality, and his desire for uncivilisation. Yet if humans aren’t exceptional, these graphs cannot stand for anything. The science which produced them, right or wrong, produced the machines which caused the problem they have seemingly identified. Likewise, the same science which Monbiot claims has identified the inevitable catastrophe that looms over us was produced by the desire for better lives that Monbiot says we simply can’t have. Kingsnorth and Monbiot only want so much science. Science as the expression of human exceptionality is used to demonstrate the non-exceptionality of humans. Science as the means by which we made our lives better is used to demonstrate the dangerous folly of living better lives. The ethics, politics and science of Monbiot and the literature movement that Kingsnorth hopes to create, if they ever flourish, (as much as anything so negative can ‘flourish’) will create an era in human history that will be called ‘the redarkenment’, and the ‘unnaissance’.
On the Guardian’s environment site in particular, and to a lesser extent on threads across the Guardian’s output, considered discussion is being drowned in a tide of vituperative gibberish. A few hundred commenters appear to be engaged in a competition to reach the outer limits of stupidity. They post so often and shout so loudly that intelligent debate appears to have fled from many threads, as other posters have simply given up in disgust. I’ve now reached the point at which I can’t be bothered to read beyond the first page or so of comments. It is simply too depressing.
His problem is that lots of commenters don’t agree with him. And Monbiot flatters himself that there can be only reason for that – someone must be paying them to do so:
As I documented extensively in my book Heat, and as sites like DeSmogBlog and Exxonsecrets show, there is a large and well-funded campaign by oil, coal and electricity companies to insert their views into the media.
They have two main modes of operating: paying people to masquerade as independent experts, and paying people to masquerade as members of the public. These fake “concerned citizens” claim to be worried about a conspiracy by governments and scientists to raise taxes and restrict their freedoms in the name of tackling a non-existent issue. This tactic is called astroturfing. It’s a well-trodden technique, also deployed extensively by the tobacco industry. You pay a public relations company to create a fake grassroots (astroturf) movement, composed of people who are paid for their services. They lobby against government attempts to regulate the industry and seek to drown out and discredit people who draw attention to the issues the corporations want the public to ignore.
Considering the lengths to which these companies have gone to insert themselves into publications where there is a risk of exposure, it is inconceivable that they are not making use of the Guardian’s threads, where they are protected by the posters’ anonymity. Some of the commenters on these threads have been paid to disseminate their nonsense, but we have no means, under the current system, of knowing which ones they are.
Monbiot even once went as far as challenging one of the commenters, who ignored him. Which has got to prove something:
Two months ago I read some comments by a person using the moniker scunnered52, whose tone and content reminded me of material published by professional deniers. I called him out, asking “Is my suspicion correct? How about providing a verifiable identity to lay this concern to rest?” I repeated my challenge in another thread. He used distraction and avoidance in his replies, but would not answer or even address my question, which gave me the strong impression that my suspicion was correct.
As it happens, we’ve been making the odd venture into Comment is Free discussions recently, and the funny thing is that the vast majority of our time on there has been spent fending off accusations that we are paid deniers, astroturfers, corporate sock-puppets, and that we’ve been posting under multiple aliases as part of an orchestrated campaign.
Monbiot’s preoccupation with astroturfers and the like sits hilariously with the fact that it is environmentalism that claims to be the grassroots movement trying to be heard above the din of the well-funded denial machine. The truth is of course that environmental orthodoxy is being driven from the top down, and comprises a range of corporate interests, policy-makers, media types, academics, NGO’s and private-school activists. The group it has most spectacularly failed to win over is the electorate. There’s a whole lot of people out there who disagree vehemently with Monbiot – too many for any denial machine to be able to afford to pay.
This failure is explained by the Monbiots of this world as the result of the influence of ‘deniers’, of course. Deniers have accordingly become the key antagonists in environmental mythology. But rather than taking on the arguments of the deniers, George has a fantasy battle in his own head. These fantasy deniers say so much more about George than they say about the real world.
George Monbiot isn’t always entirely wrong. Writing in the Guardian yesterday:
Why is the Medical Research Council run by an arms manufacturer? Why is the Natural Environment Research Council run by the head of a construction company? Why is the chairman of a real estate firm in charge of higher education funding for England?
Because our universities are being turned into corporate research departments. No longer may they pursue knowledge for its own sake: the highest ambition to which they must aspire is finding better ways to make money.
Last month, unremarked by the media, a quiet intellectual revolution took place. The research councils, which provide 90% of the funding for academic research, introduced a requirement for those seeking grants: they must describe the economic impact of the work they want to conduct. The councils define impact as the “demonstrable contribution” research can make to society and the economy. But how do you demonstrate the impact of blue skies research before it has been conducted?
The increasingly cosy relationship between government, industry and the Academy (we’d throw activism in there, too) is certainly a problem. But that’s not to say Monbiot is entirely right.
First, his article is notable for what it leaves out. He could have added: Why is the Economic and Social Science Research Council’s Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP) chaired by the vice-president of a firm offering carbon-finance products? Or why is the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) chaired by a businessman and green activist?
Second, this linear model of research that Monbiot complains about is also remarkably attractive to those at the top of institutional environmentalism. We reported, for example, on Sir David King’s advocacy for just such a linear model of research funding when he argued that the money spent on the Large Hadron Collider would be better spent saving the climate.
Moreover, since Lord Stern’s report on the economics of climate change, the ‘economic impact’ part of the equation that Monbiot scoffs at is increasingly central to the environmentalist research agenda. And it is Lord Stern himself who heads up the CCCEP, of course. The CCCEP’s own model of research is itself linear, as demonstrated by its mission statement:
Climate change and its potential impacts are increasingly accepted, but economic, social and political systems have been slow to respond. There is a clear and urgent need to speed up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to unavoidable climate change.
The Centre’s mission is to respond to this need by advancing public and private action on climate change through innovative, rigorous research.
But more than that, we have argued repeatedly here that, on environmental matters, the interests of government, industry, academia and pressure groups are remarkably similar. The only contingent that begs to differ, in fact, is the electorate. Which is why the CCCEP’s own linear research model is directed towards the specific goal of changing behaviour.
Monbiot complains that NERC is run by the head of a construction company. And yet that hasn’t stopped it reframing its activities under the banner of climate change and the like. From the front page of NERC’s website:
NERC funds world-class science in universities and our own research centres that increases knowledge and understanding of the natural world. We are tackling the 21st century’s major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. We lead in providing independent research and training in the environmental sciences.
In the rather more crude version of Monbiot’s argument, he claims that a conspiracy of oil interests has paid for the ‘distortion’ of science. Yet it turns out that the cash available to the alarmists – who more often than not make arguments that are well out of kilter with the ‘consensus’ position without drawing Monbiot’s criticism – exceeds the denialists’ efforts by several orders of magnitude. In this case too, Monbiot’s critical eye has too narrow a perspective. It’s okay for there to be a relationship between academia, private interest, and the state when it suits him. As we have said before, when you wear green spectacles, you cannot see anything that is painted green – greenwashed.
The issue here is clearly not merely commercial, as George seems to imply. The fact that well-connected people are able to turn their social status into cash is no surprise – it was ever thus. What is interesting is that where once we imagined academia to speak truth to power, it is increasingly expected to speak Official Truth®™ for power.
>> UPDATE: Gore uses the flawed NYT article in his testimony to congress. READ MORE. <<
New York Times journalist, Andrew Revkin, generally writes thoughtfully in the paper, and on his Dot Earth blog, even if we generally disagree with him.
However, writing for the paper yesterday, he lowers himself to the level of debate we’re used to seeing from the likes of George Monbiot, who we frequently mention. Indeed, Revkin even quotes Monbiot.
George Monbiot, a British environmental activist and writer, said that by promoting doubt, industry had taken advantage of news media norms requiring neutral coverage of issues, just as the tobacco industry once had.
This is the ‘tobacco strategy’ thesis that Monbiot has taken from Naomi Oreskes. We’ve written about it on severaloccasions.
The thesis needs no exposition here – read the links. Suffice it to say that it attempts (but also fails comprehensively) to show exactly what Revkin aims to show.
For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.
That is – a conspiracy to subvert the truth according to environmentalism using those vicious weapons, argument and science within democratic debate! Bastards! How dare they?
The demonstration of the conspiracy’s weight rests on the ‘discovery’ of information (actually it was in the public domain) relating to its budget.
The coalition was financed by fees from large corporations and trade groups representing the oil, coal and auto industries, among others. In 1997, the year an international climate agreement that came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, its budget totaled $1.68 million, according to tax records obtained by environmental groups.
That’s right folks, this conspiracy was financed to the tune of a whopping great big massive huge giant vast $1.68 million dollars! A year! Wow, that’s nearly enough money for… erm… a couple of adverts!
As we’ve pointed out, $1.68 million is absolute peanuts in comparison to the spend on propaganda from environmental organisations. But these groups can’t even claim to be providing a useful service, like fuel.
As we’ve also pointed out, many times, the efforts of these organisations is usually well out of kilter with anything that emerges from the scientific literature.
Environmentalists have long maintained that industry knew early on that the scientific evidence supported a human influence on rising temperatures, but that the evidence was ignored for the sake of companies’ fight against curbs on greenhouse gas emissions.
We have also pointed out that the tobacco-strategy-conspiracy-theory as put forward by Oreskes substantially depends on a re-writing of scientific history: that it has long been ‘known’ as ‘fact’ that mankind is influencing the climate. In fact, the IPCC process did not produce any putative ‘certainty’ until TAR2001.
Similarly focussing on what was known by the conspiracy, and what it published, Revkin compares two statements, one public, distributed in the early 1990s, and the other private, produced in 1995:
[PUBLIC, early 1990s] “The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.
[PRIVATE, 1995] “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.
This is silly. Even if the private memo wasn’t written AFTER the first, the two statements are not incompatible. The role of greenhouse gasses in climate change ARE NOT well understood, even if the POTENTIAL impact of human emissions has been documented. That is why the Kyoto protocol was advanced, under the terms of the Rio Declaration, not on the basis of knowledge or of certainty, but according to the precautionary principle. The ‘potential impact’ of anthropogenic climate change has, since the dawn of climate alarmism, been understood as anything between slightly better conditions for agriculture, and total annihilation of life on Earth.
The Environmentalists’ case rests on the claim that the knowledge of the fact that CO2 can influence climate is equivalent to knowledge that it will produce widespread effects, not just to climate, but to society.
Moreover, Revkin, seemingly in search of a scoop, quotes selectively from the private document. In context, the apparent contradiction evaporates:
The potential for a human impact on climate is based on well-established scientific fact, and should not be denied. While, in theory, human activities have the potential to result in net cooling, a concern about 25 years ago, the current balance between greenhouse gas emissions and the emissions of particulates and particulate-formers is such that essentially all of today’s concern is about net warming. However, as will be discussed below, it is still not possible to accurately predict the magnitude (if any), timing or impact of climate change as a result of the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. Also, because of the complex, possibly chaotic, nature of the climate system, it may never be possible to accurately predict future climate or to estimate the impact of increased greenhouse gas concentrations.
The New York Times publish this comment attached to the documents.
The Public Message: Climate Uncertainty: In the early 1990s, the Global Climate Coalition was the leading voice for industries concerned that a prompt push to cut heat-trapping emissions could raise energy costs. It produced a series of “backgrounders” available to the press and policymakers. This flier appears to contradict what the coalition’s science and technology advisers were saying about the basic science pointing to substantial warming from a buildup of such gases.
Revkin has failed to notice the incoherence of the arguments made by environmentalists.
1. Environmentalists confuse the ‘fact’ of anthropogenic CO2′s unquantified influence with the range of nth-order effects that it may (or may not) cause. But the fact of the influence of anthropogenic CO2 on the climate is distinct to facts of the degree of that effect, which is again logically distinct from the facts relating to the effects produced as second, third, and fourth order effects on climate systems, ecosystems, species, primary industry and civil infrastructure, economy, and society.
2. The document contradicting the claims made in the briefing document was written after the briefing document was circulated. Therefore, no contradiction emerges from the evidence.
3. The documents only contradict each other when quoted from selectively.
4. The environmentalists’ case only exists by blurring distinctions between logically distinct categories of knowledge, by ignoring the order of events, by reducing matters of degree to binary true/false axioms, and by exaggerating the influence of the alleged conspiracy.
[ETA: We have been unclear in the above post. There are two sentences which appear in the document published by the NYT.
The first says "The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.”
The second says "The potential for a human impact on climate is based on well-established scientific fact, and should not be denied."
The first sentence appears ahead of the second in the document. The second paragraph is part of the larger paragraph, as quoted.
This changes nothing about the meaning, nor of the failure of the NYT to check their story but we thought we ought to draw people's attention to the two instances. - Editors]
George Monbiot is a very confused man. A few days ago, he announced his campaign against the Aga cooker (because it uses lots of energy). This, he said ‘is indeed a class war’ – the Aga is an expensive piece of kit, and therefore, you have to be rather wealthy to own one. We thought he wasn’t entirely serious about this campaign, it was just a rather childish attempt to prove to his detractors at Spiked-Online that the Green movement wasn’t dominated by the upper classes. He might just as well have shot himself in the foot to prove that he wasn’t lame.
I’ve lost count of the number of aspirational middle-class greens I know who own one of these monsters and believe that they are somehow compatible (perhaps because they look good in a country kitchen) with a green lifestyle. The campaign against Agas – which starts here – will divide rich greens down the middle.
George is trying to resist criticism that the environmental movement is dominated by the upper classes by committing himself to a campaign that will, according to him, divide them. In other words, it’s a nonsense that at best defeats itself. But this wasn’t a joke. Yesterday, George appeared on BBC Radio 2′s Jeremy Vine Show [Listen again] to talk about why the Aga is a bad thing:
there are lots and lots of ways to spread love and happiness, but starving out the people of the Horn of Africa because of repeated droughts caused by our use of Agas is not one of them
George’s commitment to class war gets even more bizarre and questionable. Shortly afterwards, the Guardian published a comment piece, in which he announces that,
A Labour government approves the expansion of Heathrow – why, it’s almost enough to make you vote Tory
This isn’t a joke, either.
So my guilty, monstrous thought is this: why shouldn’t we vote Conservative if it’s the only remaining hope of preventing this crazy scheme from being built? What else is there left to lose? I won’t act on this impulse, but I know that plenty of others will. When these invertebrates are booted out of office, they will have no one to blame but themselves.
Monbiot began the week calling for class war. He ends it by canvassing for the Conservatives. Eco-socialism on Monday; eco-conservatism by Friday. This reveals something we’ve been long arguing here on Climate-Resistance: that environmentalism doesn’t fit neatly into the Left-Right spectrum. Without commenting on the merits or demerits of Left over Right or vice-versa, if environmentalism’s fiercest proponents can switch ends of the political spectrum, then their claims to have put humans at the centre of their politics is entirely bogus; the fundamental principals are environmental, not human. George is willing to sell out the latter for the sake of the former.
It gets weirder. George’s Aga ga-ga phoney class war, which followed criticism from Spiked, came in an article which attacked the Editor of Spiked, Brendan O’Neill. At the beginning of the article, Monbiot makes an issue of O’Neil’s Marxism, but by the end, he places O’Neill on the other side.
Yes, this is a class war; and Brendan O’Neill and his fellow travellers have sided with the toffs. These Marxist proletarian firebrands are defending the class they profess to hate.
(O’Neil – who doesn’t ‘profess to hate’ any class – answers Monbiot here).
So not only does George demonstrate that much of Spiked’s criticism is correct by his calling for a ‘class war’ against the Aga, he switches from eco-Socialism to eco-Conservatism over the course of a working week, and then accuses others of being Right, where they had, according to him, assumed to be Left!
George emerges dizzy from his own spinning and thinks it is the world that’s confused about what direction it is moving in. And this is his fundamental problem. Everything he writes is a projection of his own inability to understand a world that fails to conform to his expectations. The ideas he uses to orientate himself fail to give him purchase on his own existential crisis; they crumble underfoot. The result is his capricious, vacillating, and incoherent column in the Guardian, with its frequent attacks on Spiked. This disorientation demonstrates beautifully, albeit unintentionally, Spiked’s broader criticism that the Left-Right axis isn’t sufficient to explain the world. Monbiot is a painful symptom of this disorientation, not a bright and leading advocate of an urgent cause.
He is a walking contradiction – as you’d expect from a man who, as James Heartfield has pointed out, is the son of Tory politicians descended from French aristocrats, went from a famous public school, through Oxbridge, to the BBC, yet fancies himself as a critic of the establishment. The very same establishment has mirrored George’s disorientation by redefining itself according to the tenets of environmentalism. The Government has gone Green. The Labour Party is Green. The Tory Party is even Greener. The media is dominated by the environmental message. Huge Corporations rush to demonstrate their Green credentials. This makes it harder and harder for Monbiot to style himself as an anti-establishment radical – he fails to realise it, but they’ve bought the message, in spite of environmentalism’s failure to interest the wider public. Thus the few occasions where environmentalism is challenged or fails to assert itself become the battlegrounds for George’s war with the imaginary anti-environmental ‘establishment’. Hence, Spiked, one of the few critics of environmentalism become the object of his anger and frustration, and the go-ahead for the new Heathrow runway moves him to join the Conservatives, and further towards the real establishment.
You can’t blame George for this confusion, however. It is a complicated world, made more complex by the Heathrow affair.
Later he told the BBC that he would not apologise for his actions because he was representing his constituents and their rights to have their voices heard.
By doing what he did, he said he was asserting the values of “democracy and the sovereignty of Parliament” stemming back “to the days of Cromwell”.
“This is about asserting the right of MPs to decide the policies of this country and not having them bulldozed through without a vote in the House of Commons.”
This is a bit rich. The concerns of residents likely to be displaced notwithstanding, environmental policies which will have adverse consequences for the entire UK population have, as we have long been arguing here, gone through the House of Commons almost entirely unopposed and without debate, yet environmental politics have never been tested by the UK democratic process. All of the parties have absorbed environmentalism, and made it the centre of their manifestos. Most recently, MPs voted for the Climate Change Bill, which became law, and allowed an unaccountable and unscrutinised Climate Change Committee to dictate what the UK’s climate targets ought to be.
In other words, the Greening of the UK establishment, has been entirely undemocratic.
Monbiot asks: “So where is the campaign against Agas? There isn’t one.” The reason for this is that there is nothing to attack.
There is nothing to attack, or rather, there is nothing that George can find to attack – so empty is his imagination – to sustain his image as a radical. In search of an enemy, he declares war on ovens, and gets burnt. He has only himself, and his infantile inability for self-reflection to blame.
So where is the campaign against Agas? There isn’t one. I’ve lost count of the number of aspirational middle-class greens I know who own one of these monsters and believe that they are somehow compatible (perhaps because they look good in a country kitchen) with a green lifestyle. The campaign against Agas – which starts here – will divide rich greens down the middle.
(For those readers hailing from lands without them, an Aga is a very large, solid and heavy cooker, which is ‘always on’, and was a much-coveted lifestyle/status symbol in the eighties.)
George is keen to demonstrate his readiness to split the green movement following criticism from Spiked-Online that its membership is almost exclusively or disproportionately people with middle and upper class backgrounds.
Edited by Brendan O’Neill, it concentrates on denying the existence of social and environmental problems, and attacking protest movements with a hatred so intense and disproportionate that it must contain an element of self-disgust.
Monbiot imagines that the failure of the UK’s environmental movement is the fault of Spiked and its associates. But what’s even weirder than this conspiracy-mongering is George’s plan to distance himself from Spiked’s criticism, and to reveal Spiked as the ‘real’ friend of the rich.
Yes, this is a class war; and Brendan O’Neill and his fellow travellers have sided with the toffs. These Marxist proletarian firebrands are defending the class they profess to hate. Bosses of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your planes.
So perhaps anti-environmental class warriors like the editors of Spiked need to find a new cause to champion. The working-class people who they claim “can’t afford to be concerned about climate change” actually care more about the future of the planet than the rich – and are doing a lot less damage to boot. So next time you hear someone defending motorway expansion or cheap flights on behalf of the British poor, ask yourself the question: whose side are they really on?
Stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim.
Which is curious, because just a few years ago, George himself was a staunch anti-capitalist, arguing in 2000 that
The struggle between people and corporations will be the defining battle of the twenty-first century. 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.
Monbiot accuses Spiked of ‘moving to the Right’. Yet Monbiot, 8 years after his attempt to mobilise the masses against global capitalism… gives up, and calls for people to abandon politics, or the world will end.
He and Lynas struggle hard to reply to the criticisms made by Spiked. And that is why they need to use words such as these…
[LM (prior to Spiked)] campaigned against bans on tobacco advertising, child pornography and the ownership of handguns. It denied that genocide had taken place in Rwanda, or ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. It provided a platform for writers from the hard-right Institute for Economic Affairs and Centre for the Defence of Free Enterprise. Frank Furedi started writing for the Centre for Policy Studies, which was founded by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher. He and the LM writer Tony Gilland wrote to the supermarket chains, offering – for £7,500 – to educate “consumers about complex scientific issues”.
… in an effort to throw muck at their critics. It is only by turning Spiked into advocates for genocide, child pornography, laissez-faire capitalism, Smoking, murders and evil-supermarkets that Monbiot can elevate himself and his fragile argument.
Is George Monbiot being a bit sensitive about being called a toff? But then his ancestors were French aristocrats, the Ducs de Coutard, his parents leading Tory Politicians who sent their little boy to Stowe Public school and Brasenose College, Oxford, before George got a job at the BBC, trolled around the anti-roads protests for a while, sponsored by career diplomat Sir Crispin Tickell, then landing his current job as Guardian columnist. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Monbiot)
George thinks air travel the equivalent of child abuse, except when he is doing it to ‘promote his book’. Climate changes gives George the intellectual justification for refusing to share his flights with the great unwashed.
How long has it been since we last mentioned George Monbiot? The truth is that we simply got bored of his predictable column in the Guardian. Furthermore, we aren’t convinced that anyone actually takes him at all seriously, apart from the people who book him for media appearances. After all, his earnestness excites the vapid newswaves with the prospect of the end of the world. And there’s nothing more exciting than the end of the world, especially when the rest of the news is so mundane. But this week, George has surprised us.
Hmm. Not a good start. At this point, it’s hard to tell if George is giving us some kind of excuse for losing a grip on the objective world… a kind of my-truth-is-as-valid-as-your-truth caveat to everything he’s about to say, so that when challenged, he can smugly refer you to this relativistic axiom. Or is it just an apology for being a nutcase?
George certainly does create his own reality. It’s one in which his failure to make his reality yours is explained as the malign influence of other people, paid for by dark forces, distorting your reality. The bastards! This is a good definition of denial: what George can’t reflect on is the idea that his failure is the consequence of the shallowness of his own argument – you must be deluded. George continues,
…and shut out the voices we do not want to hear.
Of course. We’re the mad ones, George. Keep shutting out those, erm, voices.
Only the Plane Stupid protesters who occupied part of Stansted airport yesterday appear to have understood the scale and speed of this crisis. In cyberspace, by contrast, the response spreading fastest and furthest is flat-out denial.
That’s right, the self-indulgent teenage eco-toffs at Stansted know more about ‘The Realty’ than us hoi-polloi. But what is the substance of this reality?
The most popular article on the Guardian’s website last week was the report showing that 2008 is likely to be the coolest year since 2000. As the Met Office predicted, global temperatures have been held down by the LaNiña event in the Pacific Ocean. This news prompted a race on the Guardian’s comment thread to reach the outer limits of idiocy.
George is constructing his own reality again here, and rewriting history. At the beginning of the year, the Met Office ‘predicted’ world-record higher temperatures for 2007, with an error margin of just 0.06C. At the time of the ‘prediction’, the El Nino/La Nina oscillation was positive, having been climbing from negative over the course of the preceding year, and seemed to be continuing on its trajectory (indicating that an El Nino event was underway, and getting stronger). But by August 2007, the El Nino/La Nina oscillation had changed direction, and gone negative again, and global temperatures had diminished. The Met Office issued a new ‘prediction’, temperatures wouldn’t rise. Except that it’s not a prediction: it was already happening, and it is known that a consequence of La Nina is cooler global temperatures. Anyone who knows this could have made the same ‘prediction’, and it says absolutely nothing about the Met Office’s ability to make statements about climate change which are consistent with reality.
We wrote recently about the Guardian article Monbiot refers to, and the problems with it. Here.
George forgets the Met Office’s wrong prediction, to focus on the other, non prediction, which is equivalent to backing every horse in a race to sell yourself as a master tipster by telling people how often and how much you’ve won without revealing your losses.
George uses his fraudulent claim to have ‘facts’ on his side to make statements about the quality of comments to Guardian articles on the newspaper’sCommentisfree pages. Monbiot sees this as ‘a race on the Guardian’s comment thread to reach the outer limits of idiocy’. But judging the human world on the basis of comments to blogs makes about as much sense as judging the physical world on the bogus (yes, bogus) predictions made by the Met Office.
The new figures have prompted similar observations all over the web. Until now, the “sceptics” have assured us that you can’t believe the temperature readings at all; that the scientists at the Met Office, who produced the latest figures, are all liars; and that even if it were true that temperatures have risen, it doesn’t mean anything. Now the temperature record – though only for 2008 – can suddenly be trusted, and the widest possible inferences be drawn from the latest figures, though not, of course, from the records of the preceding century. This is madness.
King George lectures us on madness? He ought to know, after all. He’s taken one of two, contradicting predictions to make it appear that he is armed with the facts, against an enemy whose position he has constructed from comments on the Guardian’s site, that in fact bear no resemblance to the arguments you will find here, for example, or (and we apologise for presuming to lump ourselves in with the them) William M Briggs’s excellent blog, or Steve McIntyre’s, or Anthony Watts’. Monbiot constructs a fictitious argument against which he battles. What a brave hero. But Saint George has not yet slayed the dragon in his fantasy.
Scrambled up in these comment threads are the memes planted in the public mind by the professional deniers employed by fossil fuel companies. On the Guardian’s forums, you’ll find endless claims that thehockeystick graph of global temperatures has been debunked; that sunspots are largely responsible for current temperature changes; that the world’s glaciers are advancing; that global warming theory depends entirely on computer models; that most climate scientists in the 1970s were predicting a new ice age. None of this is true, but it doesn’t matter. The professional deniers are paid not to win the argument but to cause as much confusion and delay as possible. To judge by the Comment threads, they have succeeded magnificently.
Memes, for readers who are not acquainted with the, erm, meme, were conceived of by Richard Dawkins. His theory, outlined as an afterthought in The Selfish Gene, was that ideas, or ‘units of cultural information’ are transmitted from host to host in a process that is analogous to genetics. An imperfect copying mechanism means that memes are subject to ‘transcription errors’ and so mutate, which according to this theory, might account for the creation of new ideas, or memes.
But the theory has an unavoidable and terrible consequence. If it is correct, it means that you – the thinking subject – are neither thinking, nor a subject. You are an unthinking object, merely responding to the memes that you are exposed to, like balls on a pool table. You might think that you’re thinking for yourself, but it’s just a clever illusion, perpetrated by complex systems of memes -memeplexes – for their own advantage in their competition to propagate themselves.
This theory – abandonded by many of its original proponents – has persisted in certain ‘rationalist’ circles (in spite of it being a wholly unfalsifiable theory that has made no progress in the 32 years since it was proffered), particularly amongst angry atheists and biologicaldeterminists who struggle to understand why their scientism hasn’t been absorbed into the political mainstream. Like Dawkins . It allows them to explain their own failure to create convincing arguments in pathological terms. Let us not mince our words about this theory, using it to explain anything about the social world is sheer pseudoscience. Ironically, it has greatest currency in the strange world of Internet conspiracy theorists, who are convinced that ‘the truth is out there’, but that ‘They’ don’t want you to know about it.
Monbiot is highly selective about what obstacles in his battle for the truth are ‘memes’. After all if the idea that ‘the hockeystick graph of global temperatures has been debunked’ is a ‘meme’, why isn’t the idea that it hasn’t been debunked a ‘meme’? The problem with memes is that you can never arrive at the truth, because you’ve undermined the very notion of ‘truth’ – it’s just a meme – andrelativised it into meaninglessness. Any application of ‘logic’ – which must be a meme – to the ‘facts’ – which must also be memes – simply reduces to a competition between memes for the resources in your head.
And what about the environmental ‘memes’ that we know to be false, or wildly exaggerated – for example the lie continually propagated by Monbiot that he’s absorbed from Greenpeace’s exxonsecrets.org website?
After consistent campaigning by Greenpeace through ExxonSecrets, ExxonMobil was forced, in 2006, to drop funding to some of its key allies in the campaign to deny climate science and delay policy action The Competitive Enterprise Institute was the key group dropped – it had received $2.2 million fromExxonMobil since 1998, more than any other thinktank. But the relationship continues as CEI’s climate operatives continue to work closely with the other think tanks funded by Exxon.
As we pointed out last year, if the biggest recipients of ‘fuel lobby’ funding was the CEI, which received just $2.2 million dollars over the course of 8 years ($275,000 a year – hardly big money), in return for generating ‘memes’, then it needs to be seen in the context of the environmental movement’s budget formemetic engineering. As we revealed, Greenpeace, the engineers of the exxonsecrets.org memes, had at their disposal over $2 billion over the same time frame. Conservation NGO, the WWF between 2003-7 recorded income of $2.5 billion. If cash buys you memes, then why are the poorly-funded sceptics so much better at creating them?
The idea that Exxon have ‘bought’ the debate does not stand up to scrutiny. Yet the lie persists. That’s not because it’s a successful ‘meme’, but because it’s a convenient way of moralising the debate, and robbing it of any nuance. Lying is the only way people likeMonbiot can clothe themselves in moral fibre.
Monbiot then explores a new idea about why his message hasn’t gone mainstream.
In his fascinating book Carbon Detox, George Marshall argues that people are not persuaded by information. Our views are formed by the views of the people with whom we mix.
Yeah? Where did you hear that, Georges?
According to this logic, then, it can be no accident that Marshall and Monbiot, and for that matter Mark Lynas and Oliver tickell all think alike, because they all lived very near to each other in Oxford – where Caroline Lucas, Green MEP rose to prominence. Their views must have homogenised as they smugly quaffed organic wine at eco-parties, and rubbed minds as they rubbed shoulders. Monbiot continues the nauseating double entendre of memetic procreation:
Of the narratives that might penetrate these circles, we are more likely to listen to those that offer us some reward. A story that tells us that the world is cooking and that we’ll have to make sacrifices for the sake of future generations is less likely to be accepted than the more rewarding idea that climate change is a conspiracy hatched by scheming governments and venal scientists, and that strong, independent-minded people should unite to defend their freedoms.
But again, this concept of our being the mindless vessels of ideas reduces our subjectivity, and leaves the Oxonian circle-penetrators with no greater claim to objectivity than the rest of us. Even if we seek ideas that yield a ‘reward’, it’s not hard to see what rewards have been sought byMonbiot and his circle, all of whom have elevated themselves into the limelight on the back of their ethical claims. They’ve sold many books. They are on TV. They have risen to positions of influence over the British establishment. They make money from the ‘ethical’ businesses they are involved in. And so on.
Monbiot seems to be making a claim that our weak wills leave us vulnerable to convenient conspiracy theories. And yet what argument has he been trying to sustain? Ah, yes, the idea that ‘planted deniers drive a blinkered fiction’.Monbiot’s theory is that there has been a conspiracy to create a conspiracy theory.
Marshall is right: we have to change the way we talk about this issue. You don’t believe me? Then just read the gibberish that follows when this article is published online.
Monbiot is frustrated that he has failed to convince people of his perspective. But rather than reflect on his own argument, which, as we can see is constructed out of sheer bullshit, he finds ways to show faults with people – ordinary, normal, everyday people, not just ‘bloggers’ – and damns the entire human race in the process. We are unthinking automata, objects, blindly obeying the forces that surround us. Only he knows the truth. But the truth that most people can sense is that Monbiot uses the status of scientific factoids, such as the Met Office’s dubious ‘prediction’ to convince people in the same way that a caveman seeks to persuade people with a club. Second, it is transparent to most people thatMonbiot is mischaracterising the arguments of the people he sets himself up in opposition to – he doesn’t answer objections, and he makes straw men out of the flame-war battlefield that is the comments section oncommentisfree instead of picking up on the arguments that are actually being made. Third, he clearly overstates the relationship between these messages and a conspiracy of vested interests. Fourth, he diminishes the moral character of anyone who takes a different perspective to him. Fifth, he diminishes the intelligence of anyone who sees things differently to him. But the biggest problem for Monbiot is that the second, third, fourth and fifth are, he seems to believe, logical and necessary consequences of the first. He seems to think that, because the Met Office ‘predicted’ the 2008 temperature record (and they didn’t), then he is right to characterise his opponents as he pleases, he is right to think that silly comments on blogs represent the influence of an oil-industry conspiracy, and so on.
And we can see why Monbiot fails to reflect on his own argument. Because if he could, he would realise what an embarrassing lunatic he has turned himself into.
A couple of our recent posts have looked unfavourably at the BBC’s coverage of the climate debate, in particular the three part series, Earth: the Climate Wars. But it’s not all bad at the Beeb, and it’s not fair to characterise their output as entirely biased in favour of environmental alarmists.
That’s the kind of thing George Monbiot does. A year ago, we wrote about his groundless complaints that BBC’s flagship program, Top Gear – just an hour of broadcasting a week – was somehow influencing the public’s understanding of climate change. It is ‘irresponsible’, Monbiot whinges, to allow programming that features people enjoying cars. Top Gear remains one of the most popular programmes produced by the BBC precisely because it resists the boring nonsense issued from the self-appointed environmental censors.
Top Gear presenter, James May has a new series running at the moment, James May’s Big Ideas, which is a positive look at the technologies which will shape the future. So far, flying machines, robots, and energy have been explored.
The series is not a look at the climate debate. In fact, apart from a few sharp quips, it entirely ignores the prevailing misanthropic, miserable and pessimistic view of the future. So why are we talking about it here, on the Climate Resistance blog?
Because May’s positive presentation is most likely the best way to challenge environmentalism’s negativity. In the latest episode, he introduces the film with the words, ‘Welcome to the twenty-first Century…’. Welcome! The twenty-first century is, according to many eco-prophets, a dark, nasty place, where your children’s children, and your children’s children’s children will suffer plague, pestilence, famine, flood, fire, and war because of your profligate use of fossil fuels. But May offers us a different 21st century; one in which we are welcome. May continues…
… where we have more of everything we need to make our lives longer, brighter and bolder than ever before. And this will only get better. But not without the most vital and civilising commodity on earth: energy.
May reveals a sophisticated understanding of humanity that the environmental movement simply just doesn’t have. Our use of energy is fundamental to all forms of development, not just our material wealth, but also political and social progress. Of course, cynics might (rightly) argue that at a time when we are using more energy than ever before, many aspects of consumer culture also happen to be particularly shallow. And it’s not as if all parts of the world enjoy both liberty and the excesses available to us in the West. The point is that abundant energy is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for progress. Without it – whether you’re a follower of anyone between or since Karl Marx and Adam Smith – you’re stuffed. And stuffed is exactly where environmentalists want you to be. Unable to move, locked into a ‘self-sufficient’, ‘low-impact’, ‘localised system of production’. In such a world, there is no need for political oppressors, because there is nothing with which to power a revolt – you’ll be too busy knitting your own lentils to organise against the ecocracy.
Some people say our insatiable appetite for energy will destroy the world. Rubbish. We’re never gonna give it up, and we can’t get enough of the stuff. In fact, we need more. Much more.
So here’s the big idea. I want enough energy to satisfy the world’s appetite. Not just for the next fifty, one hundred, or even two hundred years. I want it never to run out.
Not easy. But fortunately, there are people all over the planet with ideas that might just make it happen.
May goes off to explore just a few of the many energy technologies which are being developed, and that will, we hope, be allowed to create the abundance that May wishes for.
In contrast to his Top Gear co-host, Jeremy Clarkson, May’s confidence about the future is quiet and unconfrontational. The problems we face have solutions in his view: us. People. The very same things that the environmental movement tell you are the problem. We are creative, and we live in a universe of almost limitless energy. The only thing that’s standing in the way of us getting it are the likes of the erstwhile UK chief scientific advisor miserablist, Sir David King, who, as we reported recently, believes that cash spent on scientific progress in the form of the LHC would be better spent on ‘tackling climate change’.
Us environmental sceptics, deniers, realists – call us what you like – should regroup. May’s optimism is a better antidote to the environmentalist’s doomsaying than mere scepticism. Instead of challenging environmentalism on its own terms by saying that the future is not going to be a tragedy, we should start building more positive versions of the future, to make convincing arguments about what it could be like.
Environmentalism has thrived in an era where such visions are absent. As we have said before, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy; it would deny us the means to solve the problems we face, leaving us unable to cope with the climate. Similarly, it is only positive conceptions of the future that can drive progress.
To face retrogressive and mean-spirited environmentalism, there needs to be more than scepticism, and questions about the scientific integrity of the IPCC, the Hockey Stick, and computer models. Exposing the self-interest and corruption of greenwashed politicians also isn’t a sufficiently complete challenge to the circumstances that have given rise to environmental orthodoxy. May makes a good start. We should follow.