The 'Green Energy Revolution': Spinning Failure as Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Ben wrote in the Register back in April:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article continues:

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

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

The article continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only Four Years Left to Save Environmentalism

Another sure sign that environmentalists are struggling to sustain a rational basis for their influence emerged last week. The pages of the Observer featured the opinion of NASA activist/scientist James Hansen in two articles [1 , 2] and an editorial.

Barack Obama has only four years to save the world. That is the stark assessment of Nasa scientist and leading climate expert Jim Hansen who last week warned only urgent action by the new president could halt the devastating climate change that now threatens Earth. Crucially, that action will have to be taken within Obama’s first administration, he added.

Of all the hopes pinned on Obama, ‘saving the world’ has to be the most revealing of the hoper, be it the Observer Journalist, the Observer, or Hansen.

As we pointed out last Thursday, the environmental movement’s only leverage is the prospect of catastrophe. It has no popular appeal in any real sense. So when it appears that governments are ‘on-message’, or in any way sympathetic to its concerns, the only way to sustain its undemocratic and unaccountable influence is to escalate the sense of urgency, or their function will become redundant.

This suggests that the hoper’s nervousness is owed, not to material facts about the state of the world – obviously – but their inability to explain the world, and their tenuous grip on the public agenda.

As an apparently sympathetic Obama steps to the fold, so we see the environmental protagonists escalating the sense of crisis.

“We cannot now afford to put off change any longer. We have to get on a new path within this new administration. We have only four years left for Obama to set an example to the rest of the world. America must take the lead.”

After eight years of opposing moves to combat climate change, thanks to the policies of President George Bush, the US had given itself no time for manoeuvre, he said. Only drastic, immediate change can save the day and those changes proposed by Hansen – who appeared in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and is a winner of the World Wildlife Fund’s top conservation award – are certainly far-reaching.

So where did this ‘four years’ figure come from?

In 2006, the same Hansen had argued that

“I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change … no longer than a decade, at the most,” Hansen said Wednesday at the Climate Change Research Conference in California’s state capital.

Less than two and a half years later, the ten years is reduced to four years.

Shortly after Hansen made his ten year claim, UK and Dutch premiers Tony Blair and Jan Peter Balkenende wrote in a letter to the EU that

The science of climate change has never been clearer. Without further action, scientists now estimate we may be heading for temperature rises of at least 3-4C above pre-industrial levels. We have a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing catastrophic tipping points. These would have serious consequences for our economic growth prospects, the safety of our people and the supply of resources, most notably energy. So we must act quickly.

The fact that science hasn’t – indeed, cannot – identify ‘catastrophic tipping points’ doesn’t bother politicians who use science in this way. The concept of a tipping point is only useful to politicians – it has little scientific meaning. It is a gun to your head. Do you trust the authority of the man holding it, or do you challenge it? If you don’t do as he says and you’re wrong, you might trigger the tipping point. You lose. But if you’re right to challenge it, the trust we have in politicians, and politics built around the myth of catastrophe itself disintegrates. You lose. Either way, the threat is that society breaks down, because either the climate will change, destroying our ‘fragile relationship’ with nature, or the myths on which authority is established are ripped from beneath it. This is the politics of fear.

Greens have presented themselves as radical alternatives to mainstream politics. But they use exactly the same language. In November 2007, we reported Caroline Lucas’s attempts to use ‘catastrophic tipping points’ to elevate herself.

Well, when you hear scientists say that we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change, I don’t think what the public actually want is cautiousness, what they want is real leadership, and that is what the EU is promising to give, and yet that’s what we’re failing to do here.

This was the second time we had picked up on Lucas’s claim that the planet had a deadline. Justifying her claim that climate change denial was equivalent to holocaust denial, she had said previously that

What’s prompted me is real concern that a recent opinion poll showed that half the population still don’t think that there’s scientific certainty about climate change; they still think there’s a real debate to be had there. And it worries me enormously because if we don’t have a population that really understands that 99.999% of international scientists do believe that climate change is happening and do believe that it’s human caused, if people don’t understand that then they’re not going to put the pressure on the politicians that is so desperately needed and so urgently needed because we’re being told we’ve literally got between five and ten years in which to put in place a proper policy framework to address climate change. And unless people are really convinced that it’s a problem they’re not going to act to change it.

Last year, vulcanologist Bill McQuire announced that we had just ‘seven years to save the planet‘ in a book of the same name. Amazon describe it thus,

‘Bill McGuire succinctly tackles a series of green queries… the book is an excellent first stop for getting clued up about climate change. ‘ METRO ‘..author Bill McGuire points out that to salvage a civilisation capable of maintaining a semblance of organisation approximate to what we have now, we must achieve a near-zero carbon economy by 2050’. GREENEVENTS ‘McGuire makes telling points about the size of the challenge we face if we are to escape some of the nastier effects of climate change. And his sense of urgency is well-placed.’ FOCUS

(Where would McGuire be, if it weren’t for the end of the world? Certainly not making numerous appearances on TV shows, or selling books. Doom is big business.)

In August last year, policy director and head of the climate change programme at the New Economics Foundation, Andrew Simms announced that we had just ‘100 months to save the world‘.

So, how exactly do we arrive at the ticking clock of 100 months? It’s possible to estimate the length of time it will take to reach a tipping point. To do so you combine current greenhouse gas concentrations with the best estimates for the rates at which emissions are growing, the maximum concentration of greenhouse gases allowable to forestall potentially irreversible changes to the climate system, and the effect of those environmental feedbacks. We followed the latest data and trends for carbon dioxide, then made allowances for all human interferences that influence temperatures, both those with warming and cooling effects. We followed the judgments of the mainstream climate science community, represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on what it will take to retain a good chance of not crossing the critical threshold of the Earth’s average surface temperature rising by 2C above pre-industrial levels. We were cautious in several ways, optimistic even, and perhaps too much so. A rise of 2C may mask big problems that begin at a lower level of warming. For example, collapse of the Greenland ice sheet is more than likely to be triggered by a local warming of 2.7C, which could correspond to a global mean temperature increase of 2C or less. The disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet could correspond to a sea-level rise of up to 7 metres.

Is it four years or is it six? Or is it ten or fifteen? The tipping point is being used by everyone. The only thing that differs is when this tipping point is supposed to occur.

The idea of a ‘tipping point’ began as scientific speculation that climate systems ‘flip’ from one ‘state’ to another, rather than change as one variable – the concentration of greenhouses gasses in the atmosphere – changes. This idea armed environmentalists with the threat that a changing climate would suddenly – rather than over the course of millenia – reach a point where climate change was so rapid that natural processes on which human society depends would in turn collapse, leaving us starved of resources, and unable to cope with the new conditions.

The problem for environmentalists is that no such ‘tipping point’ has been identitifed by climate science, and the social consequences of moving past tipping points remain poorly defined. The NEF, for example, cannot point to any scientific literature which identifies tipping points. Instead, their 100 month calculation is formed from a variety of headline statements and studies taken from here, there, and everywhere. (They invent a tipping point).

Take for example, the figure of 2 degrees which Simms says is the point which must not be exceeded. The more technical document accompanying his article and campaign website says that this figure,

… is the maximum acceptable level of temperature rise agreed by the European Union and others as necessary to retain reasonable confidence of preventing uncontrollable and ultimately catastrophic warming.

The report doesn’t say where the rationale behind the figure of 2 degrees can be located, nor why we should take the EU’s word for it. Moreover, what is the ‘reasonable confidence’ that the NEF want to ‘retain’ about the future? It implies that what lies beyond 2 degrees is not ‘reasonable confidence’ of there being a catastrophe, but less certainty about there not being one. In other words, it says nothing about climate – 2 degrees is not a tipping point, but an arbitrary point, beyond which we can be less certain about the end of the world than before it. We might just as well observe that ‘catastrophe’ is less likely before a 1000 degree rise in global temperature than after it.

We’ve pointed out before that this is ‘politics by numbers’. In this game, all you need to do to elevate yourself over your opponents is add one to their offer. This done by commissioning someone with the appropriate letters after their name to do back-of-an-envelope calculations using the figures which have already been ‘established’ by other players in the game. It is voodoo science, and it only means anything if you already actually believe it.

Once you have performed the ritual which establishes the new magic numbers, you can present your manifesto. And so it is with the NEF. Their ‘Green New Deal‘ document is

Inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programme launched in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, this modernised version is designed to tackle our current crash: the interlinked crises of climate change, recession and energy depletion.

It goes on…

The global economy is facing a ‘triple crunch’: a combination of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and soaring energy prices underpinned by encroaching peak oil. It is increasingly clear that these three overlapping events threaten to develop into a perfect storm, the like of which has not been seen since the Great Depression, with potentially devastating consequences.

As we pointed out recently, one of those three crunch factors – high oil prices – is already a non fact. Like Hansen, the NEF and the Green New Deal Group elevate themselves with these kind of statements. But soon their forecasts will catch up with them.

Following Obama’s inauguration, and the NEF’s attempts to cast their ideas as the contemporary equivalent of Roosevelt’s New Deal it seems appropriate to answer Hansen’s demands to the new president with words from Roosevelt’s inuagural address.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Obama himself mentions fear:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

If Obama is really to choose ‘hope over fear’, he will have to challenge the influence of the likes of Hansen. Can he do it? Well, we hope so.

Under the Moon: Gore's Giant Limp for Mankind

Al Gore announced his strategy for powering the USA entirely from ‘renewable’ resources -a mixture of solar and wind – by a decade from now. (Are the sun and wind ‘renewable’? How?)

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The ten-year time-span, and the ‘big project’ are borrowed from JF Kennedy’s speech announcing the plan to put a man on the moon. Gore makes no secret of it, indeed, he is overtly trying to capture the same spirit, and sense of historical moment by paraphrasing Kennedy.

But there exist many differences between Gore and Kennedy, and their speeches.

The first is that Gore is not the president of the USA. He’s making grand speeches as though he were. But merely fancying himself as the president of the USA and flattering himself with allusions to Kennedy’s great speeches does not make him either. The question has to be asked; who does he think he is? He has left politics, yet appears to be setting the agenda that even McCain and now ‘Libertarian’ Bob Barr seem to be dancing to. It is a symptom of these times that it is pressure from outside the political process which sets the political agenda. Today’s Western politicians seem incapable of setting agendas, and instead merely respond to the world, hoping that crisis (environment, terror, pandemic, etc) and being in bed with NGOs will lend them legitimacy. Those who attach themselves to the word ‘progressive’ may see Gore’s and environmentalism’s influence on the political process as a Good Thing. But the truth is that, even if they are right about the destructive power of anthropogenic CO2, the political agenda being set so comprehensively by people without mandates is not what happens in a democracy. Gore’s is not an idea which will be contested democratically. It has not emerged from the kind of political activism which used to represent people’s interests, up from the ‘grass roots’. You will notice that Gore has not taken his environmental zeal to the ballot box. If climate change truly were the problem that the world faces, and if there truly were a grass roots mass movement to stop it, the ballot box would be a good place to start ‘saving the planet’. But as European Greens have shown, even weak environmentalism – never mind deep ecology – is simply not popular. What this reveals about politics in the West is that its elites suffer from an unmitigated disconnect with the public. Barr, McCain and Obama cannot challenge Gore, not because Gore has established a transformative political vision and a powerful following, but because they too lack both. In 2005, Gore, citing the disaster in New Orleans, gave a speech around the theme of the proverb ‘where there is no vision, the people perish’. Yet Gore thrives in these circumstances. It is only through being outside politics that he can influence it. It is only by exploiting the widespread cynicism towards politics – rather than by reinvigorating it – that Gore can position himself as a key player. By attaching themselves to this cause, which they sell as ‘above’ politics, presidential hopefuls imagine that they can escape the problems that that cynicism creates for them. His campaign slogan – ‘We Can Solve Climate Change’ – suggests that the impotent political process cannot. It says that ‘by working together, we can make it a priority for government and business’. This small constituency can make a bigger noise outside politics. With hundreds of millions of dollars, rather than people, at his disposal, Gore’s small movement can amplify his message, and achieve the effect of a mass political organisation, without ever actually achieving it.

Gore is not the first to make the claim that ‘climate change is our moon-landing’. In November, 2006, Tony Blair, citing the Stern Report’s findings, told the Royal Society in a speech titled Britain’s path to the future – lit by the brilliant light of science that,

The science of climate change is the moon landing of our day. This is idealism in a technical language. The scientists and the idealists will, once again, be the same people. The discoveries in the laboratory will be matters of life and death. Nothing could be more vital, nothing could be more exciting.

Of course, even Environmentalists do not regard Tony Blair as the saviour of the climate. Their rhetoric may be identical, yet he was not celebrated as an eco-hero by Environmentalists as Gore is. Like Gore, Blair hoped to create a place for himself in history, in spite of his being one of the emptiest voids ever to occupy 10 Downing Street. For example, in one of his most vain moments, following a peace deal made in Northern Ireland, he said ‘this is no time for soundbites, but I feel the hand of history on my shoulder’. Blair’s conceited determination to be remembered as a history-maker was well out of kilter with his ability to actually make it. Lacking the means and opportunities to make history then, Blair, like Gore, merely borrows from history. The subtext of ‘climate change is today’s moon-landing’ is ‘I am today’s Kennedy’. Gore’s and Blair’s speeches, seek not to change the world, but to elevate themselves to the stature of world-changing historical figures. But in Blair’s speech, there is no sign of an understanding of why Kennedy felt that science was key to transcending the political differences which defined the world at the time; he merely uses ‘science’ to create a (bogus) imperative to do so. In other words, science is being used to set, not achieve the agenda. Nor does he offer any explanation as to how and why such idealism had disappeared from the political landscape. Nor does he offer an argument as to how it might be injected back into public life. Blair, like Gore, thought that by presenting the ‘climate crisis’ in terms of the crisis precipitated by the cold war, and presenting the ‘scientific solution’ to that crisis as the means to achieve global cooperation, he would have, like Kennedy, a safe place in the history books. A giant leap. Except that what Gore and Blair have offered is not a political vision of the future powered by science, but merely cargo-cult politics. Like the islanders described by Richard Feynman, who believed that if you performed the rituals that they observed at an air force base, you would bring airplanes loaded with goods to your improvised airstrip, Blair and Gore appear to believe that, to be remembered as a great leader, you just have to go through the motions. But they are poseurs. They put Kennedy on a pedestal, merely so that they can pretend that they should take their place beside him. In much the same way, Blair also likened Saddam Hussain to Hitler, not because he was the leader of an emerging superpower, with the means to execute a global war – clearly Saddam lacked any such power. The purpose of the comparison was to make his part in the morality play – Winston Churchill – more convincing.

The science which Kennedy wished to use to liberate the world from the geopolitics of the time sits in contrast to the ambitions of those who embrace today’s ‘scientific’ conception of the future. It is not the same future. It is a future dominated by an ideology of restraint, of lowered expectations, and of dampened ambitions. Kennedy, on the other hand, had in mind a future of plenty. Today’s politicians instead use science to justify their instructions that we REDUCE! RE-USE! RECYCLE!’ They tell us we are not to use our cars, and that flying is ‘unethical’… unless it is them who are flying, of course. Kennedy wanted to transcend the problems of the age by appealing to interests that people across the world shared, in spite of their differences.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Now, however, that pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, commerce, and our common interests are perceived as the problem. Our increasing material liberty has, according to the likes of Blair and Gore, caused the problems that the world faces. Instead of science being used to liberate, it is now to be used to restrain our ambitions, to regulate our lifestyles, and to give a new authoritarianism political legitimacy. In fact, many Environmentalists today regard the moon landing as a wasteful folly, and an environmentally-destructive waste of space.

There is one further, very significant difference between Gore’s and Kennedy’s speeches. Gore’s vision of a ‘renewable’ USA is predicated on the imminent catastrophe which awaits if we do not follow his instructions. It is the gun to America’s head. Kennedy’s plan to send men to the moon had no such basis.

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Kennedy believed that humanity’s common interests and the pursuit of knowledge transcended geo-political differences. Thus, by advancing humanity though science and the arts, and trade, peace might be achieved. In contrast, the folly of trade, arts and commerce are, in Gore’s perspective, the problem. Kennedy’s speech is an appeal to human spirit; Gore’s is a rejection of it. Environmentalism seeks to control human spirit for the ‘higher’ goal of ecological stability. It claims that our interests are, by dint of our dependence on natural processes, second to nature’s. Kennedy asked us to understand nature to use it to our advantage and advancement. Gore asks us to submit to it.

History lends today’s political players crutches to prop themselves up by. Alluding to WWII, public figures demand that we get on a ‘war footing’ to limit our consumption by ‘make do and mend’, as one British public information slogan said. To question this is to demand to be judged by that historical absolute; holocaust denial. To be a denier is, according to the likes of Hansen, to be guilty of ‘crimes against humanity’. The need for such crutches stems from the fact that today’s politicians have no legs to stand on, and environmentalism cannot produce its own history.

POSTSCRIPT:

You could not make it up… Except that someone has… As the post above was being typed, this popped into our inbox from the BBC website:

A “Green New Deal” is needed to solve current problems of climate change, energy and finance, a report argues.

According to the Green New Deal Group, humanity only has 100 months to prevent dangerous global warming.

Its proposals include major investment in renewable energy and the creation of thousands of new “green collar” jobs.

The name is taken from President Franklin D Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, launched 75 years ago to bring the US out of the Great Depression.

The search for historical landmarks by which to give gravity to the climate issue reveals its total hollowness.