Road to an Atomic Damascus or the Green Reformation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We wrote at the time that the Green’s were ‘Split Over the Atom‘, a situation that was made all the more absurd by the presence of Arthur Scargill at the Climate Camp. This rift deepened, a few days later when Ewa Jasiewicz, a ‘writer, journalist, human rights activist and union organiser’ took issue with Monbiot’s pragmatism about the possibility of ‘solving climate change’ within the framework of conventional politics. ‘Changing our sources of energy without changing our sources of economic and political power will not make a difference. Neither coal nor nuclear are the “solution”, we need a revolution.’, She said, and called for something resembling an anarchist revolution.

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

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

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

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

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

There is a peculiar symbiosis, in which, Lynas and his ilk give the scientific establishment authority by constructing nightmare visions of the future, which are given credibility by figures such as Sir Martin Rees and Lord May. The service that Lynas does for the Royal Society is to connect this institution to our everyday fears and anxieties, to give it relevance at a time when, as with politicians, it struggles to define its purpose.

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

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

Identity Crisis Politics

According to commentisfree, Ewa Jasiewicz is a writer, journalist, human rights activist and union organiser. In a recent post to the site, she identifies a split in the environmental movement between those who aim to stop climate change through ‘the system’, so to speak, i.e. through market solutions and state regulation, and those, such as her, who believe that nothing short of an anarchist revolution can solve the ‘climate crisis’.

How do we bring about a transformation which empowers us all? Grassroots organising in cooperative, low-impact, sustainable ways, glimpsed at the Climate Camp, and practised daily by millions, is one way towards this. Another is to live at the sharpest end of climate chaos today. … Changing our sources of energy without changing our sources of economic and political power will not make a difference. Neither coal nor nuclear are the “solution”, we need a revolution.

An interesting point to notice here is that anarchism, which, whether you had any sympathy with it or not, once had at its core some sophisticated ideas and principles, but is today framed in language relating to biospheres, ecosystems, and carbon budgets. It is by appealing to ‘science’ and anxieties about climate catastrophe — rather than our consciences — that today’s ‘revolutionary’ political arguments are made.

Jasiewicz was responding to comments made by George Monbiot at the climate camp, where he apparently ‘endorsed the use of the state as a partner in resolving the climate crisis’.

George is having something of an epiphany. Again. He recently conceded that atomic energy might be worth considering, a position he has rejected in the past. Jasiewicz claims that the climate camp represents the latest expression of a radical English tradition, which ‘stretches back to the Diggers, Levellers and the Luddites’ – movements which were once highly regarded by Monbiot, who helped to establish the Land is Ours, a group which also models itself on the Diggers. And as Jasiewicz points out, the camps’ members ‘honed their skills in the anti-roads movement of the mid-1990s’ – which Monbiot was also instrumental in establishing and publicising. But now he seems less certain of the radical positions he espoused less than a decade ago. In his introduction to his book Captive State: the Corporate Takeover of Britain, Monbiot said in 2000,

The struggle between people and corporations will be the defining battle of the twenty-first century.

Reading that passage from just 8 years ago, you would have thought that Monbiot might have more sympathy with Jasiewicz’s appeal for a revolution today. Now, however, in reply to Jasiewicz, he tells us on commentisfree that,

Stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim.

This is all the more surprising, given that, in 2000, following the passage above, Mobiot was sure that,

If the corporations win, liberal democracy will come to an end. The great social institutions which have defended the weak against the strong – equality before the law, representative government, democratic accountability and the sovereignty of parliament – will be toppled.

This conversion from radical politics, mirrors a sentiment expressed by climate change activist Mark Lynas in 2004, to Red Pepper,

I think inter-human squabbles about wealth distribution are now taking place within the context of a major destruction of the ecosystems which all of us depend on: rich, poor, black, white, homo sapiens or any other species. Therefore my argument is that the left-right political divide should no longer be the defining key priority. The struggle for equity within the human species must take second place to the struggle for the survival of an intact and functioning biosphere.

Equality is out, and the corporate takeover of the world is okay, just so long as it sorts out the climate. Lynas’ and Monbiot’s convergence on climate change as the ultimate issue in the future represents the final collapse of ideas that they have espoused in the past. It is intellectual exhaustion which takes them to where they stand. In spite of his epiphany, Monbiot has little light to shed on the world. Speaking about the young people on the Climate Camp, Monbiot continues his reply to Jasiewicz ( called ‘Identity Politics in Climate Change Hell’ on his website)

[Jasiewicz’s article] is a fine example of the identity politics that plagued direct action movements during the 1990s, and from which the new generation of activists has so far been mercifully free.It would be a tragedy if, through the efforts of people like Ewa, they were to be diverted from this urgent task into the identity politics that have wrecked so many movements.

Yet Jasiewicz does not mention race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability. So it is curious that Monbiot – who claims to have held a professorship in politics at a UK university – should be so confused about what identity politics actually is. The subtitle of his article gives the game away:

In seeking to put politics ahead of action, Ewa Jasiewicz is engaging in magical thinking of the most desperate kind.

Monbiot confuses political identity with identity politics. In other words, what beset the movements he was involved with in the past were political ideas themselves. Jasiewicz, who embraces the ideas that made Monbiot the poster-boy of the disoriented Guardian-reading Liberal-Left of the 1990s for standing in the way of roads, housing developments, and corporate expansion, is now doing ‘magical thinking’. Where Monbiot once stood bravely in front of bulldozers (in front of the media) in order to resist ‘the corporate takeover of Britain’, he now thinks that such politics is ‘magical thinking’. That is indeed a change of heart. We have written before about Monbiot’s epiphanies. And last month, Spiked-Online editor, Brendan O’Neill reviewed his latest book, Bring on the Apocalypse: Six Arguments for Global Justice.

Monbiot, who once harried tourists, workers and shoppers over their bad habits but who now writes endlessly of science and sums, personifies an important shift that has taken place under the tyranny of environmentalism: the scientisation of elite fear and prejudice. And what of the science of climate change itself? No doubt there is research that shows the planet has warmed, and that man may have played a role in its warming; yet this science, too, has conveniently metamorphosed into a political and moral campaign to lower people’s horizons and keep them in their place. Call me a cynic, a doubter, even a denier if you like, I don’t care; but when scientific research continually and conveniently, almost magically, ‘proves’ that people are disgusting and must rein in their desires and change their habits – just as the elite caste, from priests to politicians, have been arguing for decades! – then I get suspicious.

(As an interesting aside, given Monbiot’s and Lynas’ rejection of Left politics, it is funny that in their criticism, they have accused of Spiked, and O’Neill of being ‘far-right’ ‘reactionary’, and ‘pro-corporate’.  )

O’Neill notes the ‘metamorphosis of Monbiot’ from fringe but media-friendly weirdo, to member of the establishment, legitimised by ‘science’. Mark Lynas, who, just a decade ago was pushing custard pies into the face of Bjorn Lomborg, has undergone a similar transformation. His work of fiction, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet recently won an accolade from the Royal Society – its award for ‘science’ writing, worth £10,000. We said at the time,

There is a peculiar symbiosis, in which, Lynas and his ilk give the scientific establishment authority by constructing nightmare visions of the future, which are given credibility by figures such as Sir Martin Rees and Lord May. The service that Lynas does for the Royal Society is to connect this institution to our everyday fears and anxieties, to give it relevance at a time when, as with politicians, it struggles to define its purpose.

What Jasiewicz, Monbiot, and Lynas have in common is that the philosophies they have attached themselves have grown increasingly feeble. In response, the urgency of climate change alarmism is used to prop up their ailing arguments – ‘if you don’t do as we say, the world will end’. As we say above, Jasiewic frames her anarchism principally in terms of anthropogenic climate change. Monbiot used to share similar radical views, but as knee-jerk anti-capitalist, anti-road and land-rights movements failed to get off the ground, he turned up the catastrophic rhetoric, swapping the banner under which he marched for an end-is-nigh sandwich board. As his misconception of identity politics shows, he always lacked a thorough grasp of politics anyway. So it is no surprise that he has failed to create a consistent, coherent and robust understanding of what’s going on in the world, and looks to the skies to arm him with ways to appear radical.

This collapse shows us that environmentalism has not emerged from climate science, but has resorted to it. It is all that is propping up hacks such as Monbiot and Lynas, and the ossified political movements they claim to represent. Similarly, their new friends in the establishment, such as the Royal Society, like the political parties they advise are crumbling, not, as Monbiot worried in 200, because of the influence of corporations, but because of their own internal weaknesses. The Labour Party, the Tories, and the Liberals, and even the BNP join the anarchists, the socialists, and, of course, the Greens, in claiming that theirs are the only party which can save the planet. And all use ‘science’ to make their point.

The crisis is in politics, not in the skies. Monbiot – who, for some reason is regarded as one of the intellectual lights of the environmental movement – misconceives any form of politics as ‘identity politics’ because he struggles to identify himself. Therefore he becomes terrified of any political ‘identity’ or idea which threatens to undermine or usurp his fragile grip, expressed as his fears that ideas themselves will lead to the inevitable destruction of the biosphere by distracting people from their religious commitment to carbon reduction. Similarly, as more mainstream members of the establishment loose confidence in themselves and their functions, their claims to be engaged in ‘saving the planet’ is straightforward self-aggrandizement in the face of nervousness. We can say then, that the wasteland that is the intellectual landscape of contemporary mainstream and radical politics represents its thinkers’ own identity crises. The result is crisis politics – politicians, journalists, and activists who sustain themselves by creating panic, fear, alarm, and tragically, public policy.

Split Over the Atom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hypocritic Oaf

There was a lively little exchange on the Today programme this morning between class-warrior Julie Burchill and posh eco-activist George Monbiot. Burchill was there to promote her new book Not In My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, in which she accuses high-profile Green activists of being hypocritical, authoritarian elitists:

In every other political movement, you will have people from the working classes. Even the Suffragettes, who were really posh, there were, like, some northern mill girls involved. Every green involved is from a rich, inherited-wealth family, and I think they just have a great contempt for the mass of people. It’s always cheap food, cheap travel that they say is such a terrible thing, as if it’s dreadful for the working class to have access to things they’ve always had, and I find this quite morally repugnant […]

Greenery is a great way now for posh, useless people to lecture the working classes about what they should be doing, and how they shouldn’t be having cheap food or cheap holidays, and it’s just so disgusting and hypocritical tomfoolery

George Monbiot was there to disagree:

It’s a concatenation of every lazy and ridiculous stereotype about the greens. And it seems to me that she knows nothing about Environmentalism, hasn’t bothered to do any research, and yet still feels able to mouth off about it at some length. And as for this idea that we’re all po-faced, hair-shirt posh people, it’s just complete nonsense.

He even had some research to prove it:

There was a recent ICM poll which showed that people in social classes D and E are far more concerned about environment and far more concerned that the government does something about it than people in social classes A and B. [His emphasis]

This is an argument he borrowed from his posh mate Mark Lynas, who had himself cobbled it together after a cursory rummage in the poll’s small print. But what Lynas actually said was this:

The number of people who thought that environment should be the government’s priority rather than the economy was substantially higher (56%) among the lower income, less well-educated DE demographic than among the better-off ABs (47%).

And even that was a highly optimistic interpretation. Yes, 56% of DEs thought that environment should have priority over economy compared to 47% of ABs, but that difference was balanced out by the 33% of DEs (compared to 26% of ABs) who thought green taxes should never be introduced. The responses of ABs and DEs to the remaining two questions were the same. And as we pointed out at the time, closer scrutiny of the small print reveals that the demographics of the poll’s respondents were such that a much higher proportion of DE respondents were unlikely to be affected by environmental tax hikes.

But once the poll has been filtered by Monbiot, via Lynas, the emergent truth is that

people in social classes D and E are far more concerned about environment and far more concerned that the government does something about it than people in social classes A and B.

Which is kind of funny when the subject of the interview is green hypocrisy and the person concerned is a strident Environmentalist with a penchant for writing stroppy articles at the merest whiff of a dodgy ‘fact’ from anybody who doesn’t conform to the climate orthodoxy. Here and here, for example.

Monbiot kept digging:

It’s true that upper-middle class people like me get far too much airtime by comparison to everybody else, but […] this doesn’t distinguish Environmentalism from any other aspect of public life. If you look at journalism, if you look at the arts, if you look at politics – even, for God’s sake, the Labour party is partly dominated now by relatively posh people. Why single out Environmentalism for this?

Monbiot might well be right that Environmentalists are no more hypocritical than various other opportunistic professionals, but is that really something to shout about? And it’s still worth singling out the Greens because they are the only ones claiming to be a grass-roots popular movement.

Talking of which, George was conducting his interview live from the Climate Camp protest in Kent. Which is about as grass-roots as it gets if you listen to the likes of Monbiot. Which makes the following comment made to a message board by a disgruntled eco-activist particularly hilarious:

i took time out of my life to attend both Drax and Heathrow camps… (costing me a huge chunk out of my monthly budget)
but have decided against coming to the camp in Kent this year.
reasons being, i feel the camp has an arrogant, middle class clique of “organisers”- who claim the camp has no leaders (but aggressively shout at you if ur not in bed by 11pm) and claim the camp has anarchist roots, whilst appearing (to me) as a bunch of george mombiet arse licks….
yes, i support the camp…
but no, i am not going out of my way to support it, as i do not wish to be judged/looked down on/be bossed around by a bunch of snobs posing as protestors

Smoking Out Unreasonable Certainty

In conversations with our exasperated green friends, we are often asked what we would accept as ‘proof’ that global warming ‘is real, and is happening’. This is a fairly typical misunderstanding of the sceptical position. Well, ours anyway. We do not argue that humans have not caused global warming. Our position is that even scientific proof of mankind’s influence on the climate is not sufficient to legitimise Environmentalism, or the environmental policies being created by governments in response to pressure from Environmentalists. It is possible to decide that even 10 metres of sea level rise is a price worth paying for constantly increasing living standards; the problem would be in extending the benefits of that increase to those who, in the short term, might lose out. But too often, environmental policies and rhetoric bear no relation to science whatsoever, let alone ‘proof’.

What we believe is happening when people mistake political arguments for scientific ones is that people have lost confidence in making calculations about human values, and so turn to ‘science’ to provide them. Thus we see a mad rush to derive ‘ethics’ from the issue of climate change. It is much easier to create a direction for your otherwise defunct moral compass with a crisis on the horizon. It gives purpose to otherwise purposeless politics. That huge looming catastrophe overwhelms any other considerations that might get in the way. Environmentalism epitomises the widespread loss of moral reasoning. Its desire to possess an unchallengeable moral imperative – as though it were the unmitigated word of God – doesn’t reflect its actually possessing it, but the disorientation of its constituency. When you are lost, you do not look for detail, you look for the biggest thing to orientate you. So it is for Environmentalism. And what could be bigger than the end of the world?

Accordingly, Environmentalists have had to defend the idea that catastrophe is just around the corner. It is where their entire political capital is invested. Without it, they are disoriented; disaster avoidance is a poor substitute for goal-seeking. In lieu of a definitive scientific proposition linking anthropogenic CO2 to the imminent end of the world, the idea of a ‘consensus’ was forged out of necessity (not through scientific discovery), allegedly consisting of ‘the vast majority of the world’s top climate scientists’. These scientists agree, we are told, that ‘something must be done’, even if they don’t agree about why, or how they know. It turns out, in fact, that ‘certainty’ relates not to the scientific understanding of the influence of CO2 on natural processes, but the application of the precautionary principle.

This fragile and nebulous consensus is protected by a variety of myths about anybody who wishes and dares to challenge it: they have vested interests; they have prostituted themselves; they belong to an organised conspiracy; they stand lonely against a vast and entirely unanimous scientific body. One of the most prominent myths is that sceptics employ a ‘tactic’ to subvert the public’s trust in the consensus by challenging the integrity of the scientific theories it is assumed to consist of (even though these theories have not been identified, let alone confidence in them measured). Along these lines, Naomi Oreskes’ thesis gives it the title ‘the tobacco strategy’, which itself owes much to George Monbiot’s book, Heat, which in turn draws on the Exxonsecrets.org website run by Greenpeace. We have written about the ‘tobacco strategy‘ and its variants before. But it hasn’t gone away, and so, reading an article by custard-pie-thrower-turned-respectable-‘science’-writer, and shrill Gaia-botherer, Mark Lynas, we thought it deserved some further attention.

Like the tobacco lobbyists who spent years denying the links between smoking and cancer, global warming denialists don’t have to win the debate – they simply have to confuse the public indefinitely to successfully undermine any political action which might hit the interests of their backers in the fossil fuel industries

The tactic is, according to Lynas, Oreskes, and Monbiot, to generate doubt about the certainty of the science being presented by climate activists, in order to win public opinion.

It is interesting that all Lynas believes he has to win the debate is to claim that the sceptics don’t have to win the debate, and to somehow link ‘denial’ of one form to another, rather than actually have it. He excuses himself from the debate by saying that all that his would-be counterparts would have to do to win it would be to show that doubt exists. Environmentalists generally, and Lynas particularly, don’t like debate, and avoid it. He doesn’t think he needs to have one; ‘the science’ is settled. And from ‘the science’ flow all of the imperatives and moral absolutes, as if from the mouth of God. Instead of making the case, he insists that it is made. Done. Finished. Over. Settled. ‘In’. Won.

So, what of the link between the denial of the link between cancer and smoking on the one hand, and the denial of the end of the world on the other? What function is it serving, other than to divert attention from the substance of the case for mitigation, which has not in fact been made?

In the case of smoking, ‘denial’ had very little to do with convincing the public that it was safe. Instead, tobacco companies were forced to establish doubt about the link between smoking and cancer because they faced litigation. Whatever the wrongs of ‘denying’ the scientific evidence generally, in the face of litigation it is entirely reasonable to cast doubt on whatever case is being bought against you. That’s the whole point of the legal process; no matter how grievous the crime you are accused of is, and no matter what the strength of the moral case for damages is, you are entitled to a defence. No matter how culpable you are in actual fact, you are entitled to have your defence heard. Courts of law are established on this principle.

In the simple black and white moral universe, anti smoking activists and lawyers set to make many millions of dollars are the goodies, and those profiting from the sale of cancer-causing cigarettes are the baddies. But in the real world, things aren’t like that. Yes, smoking is ‘bad’, and the world would possibly be a better place if no one damaged themselves by smoking. But the anti-smokers ought to have considered the consequences of challenging the tobacco industry in the courts. Would it ever make the world a better place? How would it be effective? In the end, it opened the door to lawyers in search of a huge payoff. That is why and how the ‘denial’ industry – if it exists – began. If this ‘denial machine’ is a monster, the part of Frankenstein is played by those who sought to close down the tobacco industry – and free all those slaves to tobacco – in the courts.

Nonetheless, prominent environmental activists like Monbiot and Oreskes – who, given their academic positions, ought to know better – maintain the image of the evil tobacco lobby in order to ‘link’ its modus operandi to climate sceptics. It’s a cheap shot. And it makes very little sense, not least because, as has been discussed, such ‘denial’ constitutes a legitimate legal defence in the face of litigation bought about by the ‘goodies’, but also because there is no real substance between the two strategies that we wouldn’t find between any form of positive claim about the material universe, and any scepticism of that claim. That is to say that anyone challenging any form of assertion can only go about challenging that claim by casting doubt over it. Monbiot, according to his own website, held a position (fellow, or professorship) in the philosophy department at Bristol University. The mind boggles. Let’s hope that it was not logic which Mobiot ‘taught’. Lynas – not an academic – also objects to challenges to ‘consensus’ science from sceptics.

The arguments change all the time: this year it is “global warming has stopped”, while last year it was “hurricanes aren’t linked with warming”, and the year before “satellites don’t show any warming of the atmosphere”. As each argument is laboriously refuted by scientists, the deniers simply drop it and skip onto the next one.

In fact, there is some fairly compelling evidence that global warming has stopped since 1998, such as it has not actually got any warmer over the last decade. That’s not to say that anthropogenic global warming has ‘gone away’, of course. And there is some even more compelling evidence that neither hurricane frequency nor intensity have increased with global warming. While IPCC AR4 WGI states that there is a ‘slight’ increase in activity and intensity, they also admit that there is a great deal of ‘natural variability’ masking it. It is, of course, always ‘natural variability’ which is used to wave away evidence that is not consistent with the theory. Never mind that ‘natural variability’ indicates a substantial unknown which needs to be isolated before any guilt can be attributed to humans for changing the atmosphere. And never mind that, as Roger Pielke Jr has shown, normalising storm damage against inflation, population, and wealth yields no signal which would excite warmers. Regardless of whether or not hurricane frequency and intensity have increased, the effect of that increase has been more than mediated by our increasing wealth and population. But that doesn’t stop Lynas using the ‘fact’ (it may well not be one) of increasing intensity and frequency to argue in favour of reducing the very wealth that buffers us against environmental problems! Shooting himself in the foot to mediate the effects of shooting himself in the foot would be less stupid. At least that way, he might still have a leg to stand on.

No surprise, then, that Lynas – clearly no friend of logic – refuses to recognise the legitimacy of debate and challenges to the orthodoxy on which his argument is constructed. No prizes for guessing what he fears debate might reveal. Yet sceptics have helped the scientific process produce some notable shifts in the argument coming from the side Lynas believes to be beyond reproach. For example, Steve McIntyre’s continuing work looking at the way global temperatures are derived from proxies has prompted NASA GISS to adjust their methodology, and the temperature record was adjusted as a consequence. Also thanks to McIntyre, the IPCC no longer uses Mann’s famous ‘Hockey Stick’ graph which was the source of so much panic in 2001, when it appeared as a key graphic. This case should tell us about the value of scepticism to the scientific process. Of course, NASA GISS, like many others, constantly appraise their own work. But this process should be open and transparent, particularly as the research is used to inform policy-making decisions throughout the world, affecting the lives – and possibly even the deaths – of billions of people.

As it happens, it is very difficult for sceptics to challenge climate science, because those engaged in creating models of past and future climate do not cooperate with challenges to their methodology, and refuse to release their working. Like Lynas, they too seem to feel that the moral high-ground belongs to them. Climatologist and Professor at the UK’s UEA, Phil Jones – who worked with Mann on the infamous ‘hockey stick’ – for example, told climate-realist, Warwick Hughes, who had asked for details about his methodology,

We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.

Why indeed? So much for ‘the science’ then. The ‘settled science’. The science which is ‘in’. The science which ‘won’ the ‘debate’. The science to which the ‘vast majority’ of ‘the world’s top scientists’ all subscribe, yet which they have not seen, they cannot see, and can only have access to if they will not subject it to scrutiny.

And there’s the rub. Oreskes, Monbiot, and Lynas – none of them climate scientists, incidentally – make shrill noises about ‘manufacturing doubt’. But in maintaining that the ‘tobacco strategy’ acts against the public interest, they must reject the idea that debate is in keeping with the spirit of the scientific method. Ditto, debate – the fundamental essence of democracy – must also be against the public interest. Who’d have thought that transparent scientific processes and debate are against the public interest? So much for the Enlightenment, too; the age of reason must be over. We must take it on faith that Lynas, Monbiot, Oreskes, and Jones are acting not their own interests but in ours. We have no way of testing that. And they have no way of proving it. We cannot engage in the discussion, we must just accept it. Yet they want the entire world to reorganise its political, social, and economic structures; for the entire world to live different lifestyles; and for our ambitions to be diminished, lest they cause us to behave ‘unsustainably’. That’s easy for them to say. No wonder that all this stuff about doubt and uncertainty becomes so important. Smoke and mirrors.

As we have said, the ‘manufacture of doubt’, or ‘the tobacco strategy’ has been presented by various environmental activists as the work of nefarious conspiracy. The story tells that interests within the oil industry have simply re-run the same script to achieve the same effect on public opinion, for the same ends: continued profit. The oil companies, the tobacco companies, and the hired scientific opinion are the ‘baddies’, and the climate change activists, IPCC scientists, and the class-action lawyers are the good guys. That’s all you need to know.

But think a little deeper, and a different picture emerges. If the tobacco strategy has its roots in a defence against litigation, it follows that the ‘standard of proof’ set by Oreskes, Lynas and Monbiot to legitimise political action to mitigate climate change is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Our exasperated Environmentalist friends, who asked us what ‘proof’ would change our mind, set the bar (pardon the pun) and invite the legal defence. All that needs to be provided to challenge unreasonable certainty is reasonable doubt. It is entirely legitimate, therefore, for sceptics to cast doubt over the scientific case, because the narrative with which Lynas, Oreskes, and Monbiot chose to advance their cause is a courtroom drama. But not only did they invite the legal defence, they also honed the tactics that are now being turned against them by the opposition – they are now on the receiving end of the very precautionary principle that has served them so well for so long.

However, what is being sought by this court is not ‘truth’, but guilt. In spite of green claims to possess scientific truth, the emphasis of this process is not establishing material fact, but the elevation of Environmentalism by diminishing the moral character of its detractors. Environmentalists have failed to make the political argument for Environmentalism using science. Instead of achieving momentum for their political ambitions through mass politics (ie, winning the debate, and getting people to join up), the rhetoric instead takes the form of a kangaroo courtroom drama. The guilt is already established: we, the audience, have already seen the ‘crime’: the ‘denial’ of the link between smoking and cancer. Now, we watch the morality play unfold, just as it did during the tobacco wars.

If a parallel is to be drawn between then and now, it’s that in both cases the ‘denialists’ were created by the ‘good guys’. Neither the case against smoking nor the case for immediate mitigative action on climate change is justified by the science alone. There are the pesky matters of personal sovereignty and responsibility, political legitimacy, democratic process, and other costs/benefits to consider. Being right and being righteous are different things. Which is why Environmentalists have had to resort to consensuses, to legal action, to judgements by unelected bodies, and to denying the very legitimacy of opposition, in order to advance its arguments.

90 Minutes of TV; 16 Months of Handwaving…

…and counting…

Every day in the UK, £millions are spent on making sure that national and local government departments do not produce too much CO2. Business, schools and hospitals have to make sure they are complying with regulations that require them to reduce their environmental impact – rather than doing business, teaching, and making people well. Commuters across the country face increasing fuel taxes and rising costs of public and private transport. Children are taught to fear for the security of their future, and their parents are scolded for the selfish act of reproducing in the face of over-population. House-builders are forced to meet new ‘environmental standards’, and architects design homes not for their intended occupants’ comfort and quality of life, but to make sure that their living standards are not ‘unsustainable’. Across the media, countless programs, news items, articles, and lifestyle guides instruct us on how we can – and must – change the way we live our lives in a constant barrage of environmental propaganda. Politicians battle about what percentage cuts of CO2 emissions by when will save the planet, and whether the carrot or the stick is the best way to induce behavioural change. NGOs and supra-national organisations dictate policy to democratic governments. ‘Environmental psychologists’ theorise as to what it is about ‘human nature’ which prevents us from obeying environmental diktats. Climate change is the defining issue of our time – not because of incontrovertible scientific fact, but because it has become the organising principle of public and private life.

A mere 90 minutes of programming on Channel 4, nearly a year and half ago, challenged this orthodoxy’s influence. And those behind the orthodoxy have been spitting feathers ever since. It has raised more green bile than almost any other commentary, and has become the scapegoat for the environmental movement’s failure to connect with the public. Accordingly, the environmentalists’ fragile claim to legitimacy means that its first response is to spit invective at its detractors, the second is to run to the censor. What it has not tried is to engage in debate. To do so would be to appear to concede that, in fact, the debate is not over, the science is not ‘in’, and there are various approaches that can be taken in response to climate change, regardless of whether or not humans are causing it.

“It’s not fair!” scream the complaints to OFCOM, that just 90 minutes of program have been so influential, amidst, literally, months of airtime given over to proclaiming that we are doomed, that we face imminent destruction, that unless we change our lifestyles, millions, maybe billions of people will die from plague, pestilence, drought and famine. Never mind that these prophecies themselves lack a scientific basis; you can say whatever you like about the future, just so long as you don’t make the claim that it is not dominated by catastrophe. The most lurid imaginations can project into the future to paint the kind of picture that would have Hieronymus Bosch screaming for mercy, without ever risking OFCOM’s censure. You can make stuff up, providing it will contribute to the legitimacy of this new form of authoritarianism.

The OFCOM ruling on Martin Durkin’s polemic, The Great Global Warming Swindle, was published yesterday. Its findings are that there were problems; that comments attributed to David King – the UK’s chief scientific advisor at the time – were not made by him, even though they were; that the IPCC had not been given sufficient time to respond to comments made about it, even though it had been; and that Professor Carl Wunsch had been misled as to the nature of the program, even though he hadn’t (and isn’t that what investigative journalists are supposed to do?). On the matter of misleading the public, Ofcom found that it had not been offended, harmed, nor materially misled. A mixed review, then, saying, in summary, that Channel 4 were right to broadcast the polemic, but should have paid more attention to the rights of the injured parties. You’d have thought that would be the end of it. But now Ofcom itself is facing criticism from the eco-inquisition, and their decision is to be appealed by Bob Ward, former communications director of the UK’s Royal Society, on the basis that inaccuracies in the program were harmful to the public. Here he is on BBC Radio 4’s PM show:

Eddie Mair: What got you so cross?

Bob Ward: Well, what’s made me angry is the suggestion by Channel 4 that they have been found by the OFCOM ruling not to have misled the audience. And that is not what the ruling says. The ruling says that there were clearly inaccuracies in the programme and that these were admitted by Channel 4, many of them, but, in the opinion of OFCOM, these did not cause harm or offence to the public. Now, I’m afraid that there is no real justification in the ruling that OFCOM have tested whether it caused harm and offence, and actually, there’s quite a lot of evidence out there that it has caused harm, because people have changed their views, I think, about whether greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change.

EM: And you think that’s down to one programme?

BW: Well, it’s certainly contributed to it, and as Hamish Mykura [Channel 4 Commissioning Editor] was saying, he believes that it’s acted as a lightning rod. It certainly, I mean, people I’ve talked to professionally within the insurance industry with whom I work, some of them have been swayed, and that’s quite damaging. So, as a result, I think it’s certainly true that I and many of the other complainants are now going to appeal against the OFCOM decision on the grounds that there is clear evidence of harm.

EM: Do you think perhaps that some of the complaints that went to OFCOM were too detailed and too technical?

BW: Well, OFCOM did say that they are not there to rule on scientific accuracy, so it’s certainly been a challenge, which is why it’s taken them 16 months to rule. But it’s disappointing that they have reached the conclusions that they have – that although they recognise there are inaccuracies, it didn’t cause harm. They don’t appear to have investigated whether there is harm and how you would justify this. In fact, the OFCOM process is not very transparent itself; it’s not clear how they went about assessing the accuracy of these claims.

EM: Isn’t it true though – and this came over in the interview on The World At One – that while Channel Four obviously broadcast this programme, it intends to broadcast Al Gore’s documentary when it becomes available for television, so a range of views are being represented?

BW: That’s true. And one doesn’t object to a range of views. But there has to be a responsibility among broadcasters not to broadcast factually inaccurate information. That must be against the public interest. And I just don’t accept that broadcasting a programme like this, which was inaccurate about a subject as important as climate change, does not harm the public interest. And that unfortunately is what OFCOM said.

We have argued before that what emerges from the hand-wringing about the few moments of broadcasting that challenge environmentalism is not the exposure of the conspiratorial network of ‘well-funded denialists that environmentalists and the likes of David King and Bob Ward want us to believe exists. Indeed, such shrill hectoring better serves to show the environmental movement in its true colours. The fact that Environmentalists have been unable to laugh off or ignore what they regard as inaccurate tosh speaks volumes about the confidence in their own flimsy arguments. Without the argumentative ammunition to make their case politically, they need to make it into a morality tale. Environmentalists need Durkin and the Swindle like a pantomime needs a villain. They’ve written him into the script. If he didn’t exist, they’d have to invent him.

The Swindle has been made a scapegoat by pollsters Ipsos Mori, Bob Ward and his former boss Bob May, George Monbiot and many others desperate to explain the failure of Environmentalism to capture public hearts and minds. One has to wonder, then, what they hope to achieve by raising the profile of the film. The history of censorship shows that the more noise you make about something you regard as an abomination, the more interesting you make it, and the further you undermine your own position. The reaction to the Swindle has, since we began the blog, led us to look more closely at the activities of the Royal Society, and Bob Ward and co themselves. It turns out that his own position is not so spotless.

In June last year, we recorded Bob May, erstwhile president of the Royal Society, lying to an audience in Oxford about the Swindle‘s director, Martin Durkin. May told the audience that Durkin was responsible for a three part series denying the link between HIV and AIDS, and that this form of climate scepticism was equivalent to denying the link between passive smoking and lung disease. Where were Bob Ward’s complaints about mispresentation and calls for accuracy? It’s hard to believe that May would have made such an error of fact in public, when he publicly demands that we ‘respect the facts‘. All the more ironic is that in counseling us to ‘respect the facts’, he should made several further errors of fact, not least in his translation of ‘Nullius in Verba’, but also in his statement of fact that ’15–40 per cent of species potentially facing extinction after only 2°C of warming’, omitting the fact that this is aworst-case scenario predicted by just a single study. Again, where was Bob Ward and his calls for accuracy? He was busy penning inaccuracies of his own, perhaps. In his open letter to Martin Durkin’s Wag TV, one of Five major misrepresentations of the scientific evidence in the film concerned Durkin’s suggestion that the global temperature slump in the 1950s and ’60s, which was concurrent with rising emissions of greenhouse gases, was problematic for orthodox global warming arguments. Ward asserted that it is established that this is the result of white aerosols masking the greenhouse effect, and yet mainstream climate scientists we spoke to described the evidence for that as flimsy, and said that the debate continues. Another of the ‘five misrepresentations’ concerned Durkin’s argument that solar activity is a major driver of rising temperatures. The science has long been settled, said Ward. So why did the Royal Society find it necessary to publish new research based on a new dataset to demonstrate that the sun was not responsible for global warming after all? And just to make sure we got the message, they even launched the research with the strapline ‘the truth about global warming!

All this is not to suggest that the weight of evidence points to the sun rather than anthropogenic CO2 as the culprit. We are more concerned with the double standards employed by the Royal Society and its associates, a body that should surely be standing back from the squabbling and providing cool, calm information about the science in all its glorious complexity. A body that deals in a currency of facts needs to be especially careful about how it wields them. Like a body that bangs on about the dodgy financial interests of ‘deniers’ looks rather silly when its own dealings are on the grubby side of squeaky clean.

So, 16 months after the event, we have a report that says Durkin might have stretched the facts a tad, might have been a bit less than entirely honest with his contributors, might not have been quite as balanced as he could have been. And we are supposed to be surprised? It’s a TV programme. We could have got the same answer from a taxi driver as from a shiny report from an unelected quango. Meanwhile a browse through the pretty pie charts in OFCOM’s carbon audit suggests that the number of plastic coffee cups and notepaper used by OFCOM over those 16 months might have had a bigger negative impact on the planet than any seeds of doubt cast by Durkin’s film. If you think that’s a trivial point, then read George Monbiot’s recent comment on the silly affair, where he asks ‘why does Channel 4 seem to be waging a war against the greens?’.

This ‘War against the Greens’ consists of Durkin’s Swindle, his 2000 film about GM technology (an issue which Monbiot cannot claim the scientific establishment in the form of the Royal Society was with him on) and three-part series in 1997 called Against Nature, and a film by a different producer in 1990. And… errr… that’s it. That’s the extent of this ‘war’. Channel 4 broadcasts 24 hours a day, and has done for most of the past 18 years. Of nearly 160,000 hours of programming, this ‘war’ makes up around five hours; just 300 minutes. Monbiot continues:

It is arguable that no organisation in the United Kingdom has done more to damage the effort to protect the environment

If he’s right, then he’s got absolutely nothing to worry about.

Sceptics and critics of Environmentalism have been portrayed as cranks, weirdos and outsiders. You can make your own mind up about the truth of that. What the reaction to them shows, however, is a deep-seated anxiety which is totally disproportionate to reality. Monbiot and Ward’s paranoid hystrionics about the audacity of Channel 4 and Martin Durkin is nothing short of sheer lunacy. Their hypocrisy and unfounded outrage is breath-taking to an extent that it’s hard to actually conceive of an historical, or even pathological precedent. You would have to be seriously off your rocker to imagine that 5 hours of broadcasting over the course of two decades constituted a war, let alone even a mild threat. The real war – if there is a war, some might dare to suggest that it is simply debate about policy in a democratic society – is a war against journalistic freedom to present Greens such as George Monbiot and Bob Ward as the utter lunatics they really are. Fortunately it doesn’t take documentary films to show this; they do it all by themselves. You don’t need to portray Monbiot as a sinister purveyor of authoritarian misanthrophopy; you can just read his column.

Who'd've Discredited It?

‘Case against climate change discredited by study’ shrieked the Independent yesterday. That must be one hell of a study. Except that it isn’t:

A difference in the way British and American ships measured the temperature of the ocean during the 1940s may explain why the world appeared to undergo a period of sudden cooling immediately after the Second World War.

Scientists believe they can now explain an anomaly in the global temperature record for the twentieth century, which has been used by climate change sceptics to undermine the link between rising temperatures and increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Not only does the study (published this week in Nature) not claim to discredit what the Independent‘s headline claims it discredits, but it doesn’t even discredit what the scientists behind the study claim it discredits. Moreover, what the scientists claim their work does discredit was, according to prominent Environmentalists, discredited years ago. And finally, what everybody seems to be trying to discredit isn’t even something that sceptics seem to be crediting in the first place.

Yes, sceptics are concerned about the post-war temperature slump, but not because of the sudden steep drop around 1945; it is the downward trend in temperatures between about 1945 and 1975 that they suggest needs explaining (which is actually longer than the upward trend between 1975 and 1998, just so you know), given that greenhouse gas emissions were rising throughout that period.

And as the graph used by the Independent to bolster its case (supplied by CRU, apparently) demonstrates, the Nature study does absolutely nothing to address that concern:

In fact, the most striking thing about the graph is that, once the sampling errors identified by the study have been taken into account, the period of warming in the latter half of the twentieth century was shorter than previously thought, and that the ’45-’75 temperature slump is more pronounced.

According to Phil Jones, a co-author of the paper, the study

lends support to the idea that a period of global cooling occurred later during the mid-twentieth century as a result of sulphate aerosols being released during the 1950s with the rise of industrial output. These sulphates tended to cut sunlight, counteracting global warming caused by rising carbon dioxide.

“This finding supports the sulphates argument, because it was bit hard to explain how they could cause the period of cooling from 1945, when industrial production was still relatively low,” Professor Jones said.

That might be so. But the aerosols issue is supposed to have been done and dusted long ago. One of the central criticisms aimed at the infamous Great Global Warming Swindle, for example, is precisely that it failed to entertain the idea that the post-1940 decline in global temperatures was the result of increases in sulphurous emissions that masked the forcing effect of rising atmospheric CO2. George Monbiot described the omission as ‘straightforward scientific dishonesty‘. After all, he said, that ‘temperatures declined after the Second World War as a result of sulphate pollution from heavy industry, causing global dimming…is well-known to all climate scientists.’ And as we have reported before, this was also one of the main points raised by the Royal Society’s Bob Ward and 36 scientific experts in their open letter to Swindle producer Martin Durkin.

And yet, as we’ve reported elsewhere, other experts in the field just don’t agree. UC San Diego atmospheric physicist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, for example, told us that the empirical evidence for the sulphate masking of warming is ‘pretty flimsy’. We do not doubt that the Nature study is an important contribution to the field. (Although it’s interesting that Steve McIntyre seems to have produced a similar analysis more than a year ago.) What we do doubt is that the headlines, soundbites, and wild interpretations from newspapers and scientists alike bear much relevance to what is a dry, technical, scientific study, which, while increasing our ability to understand and predict climate trends, says little in itself about the truth or otherwise of global warming.

That said, the BBC’s Richard Black has demonstrated uncharacteristic reserve in his coverage of the paper, which includes the following quote from CRU’s Mike Hulme:

Corrections for this measurement switch have not yet been applied to produce a new graph of 20th Century temperatures – that work is ongoing at the UK Met Office – but as the land temperature record shows a flattening of the upwards trend from the 1940s to the 1970s, clearly something did change around the 1940s to ameliorate the warming.

“It perhaps suggests that the role of sulphate aerosols, that cooling effect, was less powerful than we thought,” said Mike Hulme from the University of East Anglia (UEA), who was not involved in the study.

George Monbiot and the Royal Society are just plain wrong – the science is plainly not ‘settled’. And so is Steve Connor, the author of the Independent article. As he wrote last year in response to the Swindle:

The programme failed to point out that scientists had now explained the period of “global cooling” between 1940 and 1970. It was caused by industrial emissions of sulphate pollutants, which tend to reflect sunlight. Subsequent clean-air laws have cleared up some of this pollution, revealing the true scale of global warming – a point that the film failed to mention.

‘Scientists’ have ‘explained’ nothing of the sort. As this case shows, the science is not settled. Indeed science is never settled. It is constantly re-evaluating what it understands about absolutely everything. And that’s especially crucial to bear in mind when the science in question has been bestowed with the kind of political significance that climate science has. To claim otherwise is to do a disservice to both science and politics. It reduces science to a flimsy fig leaf used simply to hide the embarrassing inadequacies of the latest political fad; and it reduces politics to an aimless exercise in number-crunching.

Monbiot's Partial Epiphany

George Monbiot took us by surprise last week. Reflecting on the housing problems facing many people in the UK, George appears to have realised that putting the environment first can be bad for humans, and that that is a bad thing.

Is the housing crisis as acute as some people have claimed? Or has it been whipped up by the House Builders’ Federation, hoping to get their claws into the countryside? To find out whether these homes are really needed, I asked the charity Shelter to take me to meet some of the people it works with in London. I had no idea. I simply had no idea.

Credit where credit is due, George has finally grasped the fact that human and environmental interests are at odds with one another, and that the consequences of putting humans second are squalor and misery.

I find myself, to my intense discomfort, supporting the preposterous housing target. There’s a legitimate debate to be had about where and how these homes are built. But – though it hooks in my green guts to admit it – built they must be.

The problem is that in order for Monbiot to do the moral arithmetic, he needs a crisis. In this way, environmentalism will defeat itself… We know that Monbiot isn’t in favour of localised power generation. We know that he is not in favour of biofuels. We know that he is not in favour of atomic power. And we certainly know that Monbiot is not in favour of fossil fuel use. This doesn’t leave us humans many options. We’ll have a real crisis on our hands – an energy crisis, which will certainly produce the squalor and misery and worse that will make the housing situation look like a picnic, and at which point, naturally, we’ll have to put our own interests first.

It is true that much more could be done to mobilise empty houses, help elderly people to move into smaller flats and stamp out Britain’s ugliest inequality: second homes.

But there is another way to look at the problems Monbiot imagines, without crisis. What if it is a moral good – rather than a necessary evil – to build houses? What if it is a moral good to build sufficient houses for everybody so that there are plenty, even if people want two houses? What if it is a moral good to have cheap, abundant energy? Don’t expect George to come round to that one quite so easily. Because if you can only see the future as a series of crises, then you cannot imagine the world ever being a good place.

Why Monbiot is so Miserable

In yesterdays Guardian, George Monbiot tells us that,

A powerful novel’s vision of a dystopian future shines a cold light on the dreadful consequences of our universal apathy

Oh, God! What is this novel that tells us about the dark, horrid abyss of the human condition?

It is not Silent Spring, Small Is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world. Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot.

We were equally worried about an attempt to overthrow democracy throughout the universe, and to install an evil emperor who practiced dark arts, until we realised that what we were watching was just a series of films by George Lucas, not a documentary.

Seriously, though. George tells us that apathy is going to destroy the biosphere – just like in the novel. But then he tells us that,

On Saturday … I went to a meeting of roads protesters in Birmingham. They had come from all over the country, and between them they were contesting 18 new schemes: a fraction of the road projects the British government is now planning.

He can relax, for if it is true that people are apathetic, then these roads will not get built.

Did we say seriously? Okay, maybe not. George continues…

Who will persuade us to act? However strong the opposition parties’ policies appear to be, they cannot be sustained unless the voters move behind them. We won’t be prompted by the media. The BBC drops Planet Relief for fear of breaching its impartiality guidelines: heaven forbid that it should come out against mass death. But it broadcasts a programme – Top Gear – that puts a match to its guidelines every week, and now looks about as pertinent as the Black and White Minstrel Show.

George needs to put the sci-fi back on the shelf, and get with the program. BBCTV 1 and 2 broadcast 24 hours a day. BBC3 and BBC4 for around 9 hours. On top of this, BBC radio 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7, and the world service, not to mention the vast web site. These all are dominated by exactly the environmental gloominess Monbiot wants us to see and hear; program after program, after program telling us that we must reduce our CO2 emissions, or we’re doomed. Top Gear is but an hour of broadcasting a week, and perhaps the only show from the network which does regularly challenge the cultural pessimism offered by environmentalism. And yet it remains one of the most popular programs ever conceived of, and often achieves an audience larger than the rest of the network combined.

George’s problem is not that people are apathetic. Nor is it that culture is dominated by messages which tell people to consume at the expense of the environment. Many corporations bombard the consuming masses about their green credentials; even ice cream and bottled drinks now come in packaging which urge people to consider their environmental impact. And even the most tabloid media – Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV for example – feature seasons of documentary films on “combating climate change”. There are Hollywood films about catastrophic climate change, there are plays, pop-songs, T-shirts, magazines, consumer and lifestyle guides, all of them ramming home the same message. So why isn’t this enough for George? Why is it that just one hour of broadcasting a week is so popular it leaves George feeling as though it’s just him and his sad novel in a mad, mad world?

George’s problem is that the culture he wants us to be part of is entirely negative. In contrast to this cultural pessimism, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May celebrate human achievements – however shallowly, and appear to risk their lives for their passions, while Monbiot considers us to be a destructive plague on the planet. Clarkson is a hero, and Monbiot is a chicken. Clarkson bumbles his own way into making history by doing dangerous things like driving to the North Pole, while Monbiot twitches behind his curtains, tutting about what other people are getting up to. Clarkson, for all his faults, is full of spirit, letting bad things bounce off of him. Monbiot dwells on the fantasy dystopia he’s read about. The irony here is that while the things that Top Gear represents are somewhat coarse, it is Monbiot’s dark dark narrative which creates apathy. The only reason he can think of for organising our collective efforts is that if we don’t, we will all drown. What George needs to realise is that people don’t drive cars because they watch Top Gear, they watch top Gear because they love cars and the positive things that cars represent. Environmentalism offers us nothing positive.

If things were better, Top Gear would be just another program. But they aren’t, and it’s not. If we want to know why Clarkson is the last bastion of resistance to dull orthodoxies such as environmentalism and political correctness, don’t watch Top Gear, read Monbiot – but don’t take his word for it. It is relentlessly bleak, shrill and hollow. The cultural norms that environmentalism wants to establish have been established within the political and cultural elite, yet he continues to whine that the masses will not march to his command. Monbiot will tell you that people don’t want it because they are influenced by the cultural dominance of Top Gear, but the truth is that people have a much better understanding of their own interests, and a better nose for bullshit than he gives them credit for. They are not blindly following the doctrine of Clarksonism, and shame on Monbiot that he thinks they are. People are resistant to Monbiotism precisely because they are not blindly obedient.

All Over the Place

More apologies. We are still busier than ever, which makes blogging difficult. We will be back up to speed in about three weeks. Meanwhile, here are a few things to check out.

Alexander Cockburn and George Monbiot have been battling it out for a while now over at Znet, and there’s a cameo from Micheal Mann, the creator of the ‘Hockey Stick‘, in there as well. And very entertaining it all is, too. It’s refreshing to see a figure from the left arguing with such passion against global warming orthodoxy.

It’s pitched as a debate, but it ends up as an eloquent slanging match, in which each side competes to prove that the other’s sources are more corrupt than their own. Monbiot’s efforts to distinguish between good and bad science by fishing around for links on the Internet that hint at conspiracies between energy companies, right wing think tanks and fundamentalist Christians are by far the most desperate.

Elsewhere, following some detective work by Anthony Watts, Steve McIntyre and Roger Pielke Sr have been doing some quality control on weather station data. It turns out that many climate monitoring installations are situated in the middle of car parks, next to buildings, heat-generating appliances such as air-conditioners, and even a barbecue – none of which were there when the stations were installed. The problem is that development around the devices since their installation can significantly alter the temperature – as anyone who has walked in the late evening from a non built up to a built up area during summertime will know. This rather fundamental problem throws into some doubt the instrument record of the northern hemisphere – the basis for arguments that humans are influencing the climate. To paraphrase a comment that we can’t find just now in one of those posts, it could turn out that the recorded temperature rise since the 1980s is even more anthropogenic than anyone suspected.

Finally, Michael Griffin, NASA Administrator has said that he’s not sure that global warming is a problem. Critics are already suggesting that Griffin was installed because of his views on global warming by the Bush administration. That may well be true. But this kind of argument – like George Monbiot’s – cuts both ways. If we want scientists to make statements to support political causes, we should not be upset when they don’t say what we want them to say.