Paging Dr. Goldacre… Warmer Zombies on the Climate Ward

On BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions last night, and in his Bad Science column in the Guardian today, Dr Ben Goldacre lays into what he calls the ‘zombie arguments’ of climate sceptics:

…reigning supreme, is the “zombie argument”: arguments which survive to be raised again, for eternity, no matter how many times they are shot down[http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11462]. “Homeopathy worked for me”, and the rest.

Zombie arguments survive, they get up and live again, immortal and resistant to all refutation, because they do not live or die by the normal standards of mortal arguments. There’s a huge list of them at realclimate.org, with refutations. There are huge lists[http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2008/07/how_to_talk_to_a_sceptic.php] of them everywhere[http://scholarsandrogues.wordpress.com/2007/07/23/anti-global-heating-claims-a-reasonably-thorough-debunking/]. It makes no difference.

“CO2 isn’t an important greenhouse gas”, “Global warming is down to the sun”, “what about the cooling in the 1940s?” says your party bore. “Well,” you reply, “since the last time you raised this, I went and checked, and it turns out that there were loads of suphites [sic] in the air in the 1940s to block out the sun, made from the slightly different kind of industrial pollution we had back then, and the odd volcano, so that’s sort of been answered already, ages ago.”

Goldacre’s sulphites example is very poorly chosen, and for a professional sceptic, he appears remarkably willing to defer uncritically to zombie lists of zombie arguments. Moreover, if zombie arguments are what bothers him, what about those deployed by the living dead of the climate orthodoxy? Here are some of the claims repeated ad nauseam by and in support of the climate change orthodoxy, along with our responses:

1. Climate change will be worse for the poor.

Everything is worse for the poor. The issue is poverty and inequality, then, not climate. Small differences in climate that produce negative human effects do so because of a lack of wealth or otherwise a lack of civil infrastructure. The outcome of policies and international agreements to limit productive activity and development can therefore only increase inequality and decrease wealth, putting poorer people closer to their environment, for a marginal – if any – positive change in the weather. Environmentalism will be worse for the poor.

Painting Pictures of Poverty
Who’s the Basket-Case, Oxfam?
Backwards to the Future
Climate Science and Climate Scepticism
The Age of the Age of Stupid

2. An organised and well-funded network of climate change deniers has distorted the public debate.

The environmental message has been faithfully and sympathetically reproduced by the UK’s media. The BBC’s output is predominantly green, and its news rarely covers the climate debate critically. The few hours of programming that have been broadcast on UK television networks that have given an airing to scepticism have become the object of anger. But you can probably count the number of such programs broadcast in the last decade on one finger. Meanwhile, there are many hours of programming each week, reflecting the orthodox, consensus position, within lifestyle, current affairs, science, and ethics programming.

Print media is more divided, with all papers occasionally featuring sceptical perspectives. In the case of UK newspapers, the Guardian, Independent have clearly climate-orthodox editorial agendas – climate change is anthropogenic and a looming catastrophe, and we must all reduce emissions now. The Times and Telegraph are more sceptical, but not (Christopher Booker aside) of the idea that the planet is warming and much of that is anthropogenic. The Daily Mail does take a more sceptical view of the basic science, to the fury of environmental activists. The Sun, Mirror and Express are widely assumed to push a sceptical line, but they clearly do not – see herehere, and here.

The three main political parties embraced the green agenda comprehensively, each promising to take it more seriously than the last. Yet the principles these parties have taken up have not once been tested democratically. No party has dared to step out of line on the climate issue.

The public debate has been entirely dominated by the orthodox position. If there has been an attempt to distort the public debate it has been entirely ineffectual. It does not get airtime. It has not bought politicians. It has failed to establish an organised, institutional response. The media is dominated by the environmental message, companies go out of their way to demonstrate their environmental ethical credentials, politicians rarely ever dare to challenge environmental issues. The image of the climate sceptic remains one who speaks for himself rather than one who speaks from within the academy, party, corporation, and against the majority of his peers. Yet the public have not been convinced. This can’t be explained as the consequence of a new trust in mavericks, and the influence of a conspiracy to distort the debate.

As for the ubiquitous claim that the debate has been skewed by corporate funding – especially oil money – what tends to be forgotten are the much larger sums available to the likes of Greenpeace and WWF to push their own exaggerated alarmist line.

90 Minutes of TV; 16 Months of Handwaving…
The Well-Funded “Well-Funded Denial Machine” Denial Machine
The Well Funded World Wide Fund for Fear

3. There are just N years/months/days left to save the planet

Or in the words of Susan Watts, science editor of the BBC’s prestigious Newsnight, ‘In fact scientists calculate that Obama has four years in which to save the world.’ The argument for action to mitigate climate change has always depended on generating a sense of urgency to get itself heard above the background noise of apathy, disinterest and disengagement from contemporary politics. The comprehensive change in our political, economic, and industrial mode of existence that greens want to create will take some persuasion. Accordingly, those riding the climate change bandwagon have had to illustrate their narratives with claims about when climate change will reach its ‘tipping point’, when we can expect disaster to arrive, and at what point we will pass the deadline for creating the comprehensive legal and institutional response to climate change. As there is a perception that the public conceive of climate change as some far away distant prospect, this strategy is perhaps intended to bring the realities of climate change closer to our imaginations. Yet it depends on myth-making, and overstating the predictive abilities of climate science.

Has Climate Porn Already Tipped?
Tipping Point for the Climate Porn Industry
Folie à Deux
Only Four Years Left to Save Environmentalism

4. The vast majority of scientists agree that…

The ‘scientific consensus’ that late 20th century warming can be attributed to human activity is routinely confused with the putative consequences of climate change – particularly social effects – and the political arguments for climate change mitigation. But even if there exists a consensus about the temperature record and its cause, there remains less of a consensus about what the first, second, third, and Nth-order effects of climate change will be. There is, for instance, much less agreement about how global warming will turn into sea level rise, species extinction, and human effects. The consensus on attribution cannot reasonably extend to represent an agreement about what the effects of climate change are, and what is the best policy response is. The failure to delineate the principle cause and its effects, and the effect of its effects, is a mistake that leads to the unhelpful polarisation of the climate debate, opening up proponents of climate change mitigation policies to the criticism that they have hidden prejudice and bad faith behind ‘science’.

The Illusion and Politics of Necessity

5. The IPCC consists of N-thousand of the worlds top climate scientists who all agree…

It is frequently argued by scientist activists, politicians, and campaigners that the IPCC represents thousands of the worlds top climate scientists. This is a misconception of the IPCC, of its contributors, function, purpose, and process.

The IPCC does little science itself, and does not measure the opinions of the contributing authors. It is divided into three working groups, focusing respectively on the physical science basis (WGI), impacts, adaptation and vulnerability (WGII), and mitigation of climate change (WGIII), each reviewing the existing literature in their fields. Each of these working groups is further divided into chapters, and again into sections. A contributing author to chapter 3 of WGI may never enter a working relationship with a contributing author to chapter 4. They may have very little to say about each other’s work, and are not asked to agree or disagree with it.

WGII and WGIII cannot be characterised as populated entirely by scientists, as the zombie argument claims. Instead, these working groups consist of social scientists, economists, and other non-climate and social-scientific disciplines. Moreover, as their task is to understand the impact of climate change on human society, we have argued that this process requires political and subjective precepts which assume a relationship between society and the climate/environment. These precepts and assumptions are not necessarily well-grounded in science, and take as their premises the conclusion to their own study: environmental determinism, and the inevitability of catastrophe. Worst still, these prejudices are the tenets of political environmentalism. That is to say that the IPCC’s work is ‘institutionally environmentalist’, and has been established to fulfill a political need: not simply to provide the political process with evidence with which to make decisions, but to give moral authority to governments embracing the same environmental agenda.

Physician, Heal Thyself
WGIII – But is it Science?
People in Greenhouses Throwing Stones

7. The politics flows from the science

The implication of the argument that ‘the science’ attributing global warming to human activity is settled is that this creates imperatives to cease such activity, and to reorganise life around the principles of environmental sustainability. Frequently, politicians making arguments for mitigation express their adherence to ‘the science’, and that ‘the science is clear’. Creeping lines on charts representing the loss of Arctic sea ice return each summer, and are held each summer to speak for themselves as ‘canaries in the coal mine’ signaling our imminent demise.

But the environmental argument in fact posits a political claim prior to science. It holds that human society can only exist within unchanging environmental circumstances, and that the normal process of politics must therefore be suspended in order to balance the concentrations of gases in the atmosphere. ‘The science’ merely serves to confirm that the world is changing, rather than to substantiate the basis of environmental determinism. As we argue often here on CR, ‘the politics is prior to the science’ in the climate debate, and the emphasis both ‘sides’ in the debate place on science impedes any progress on understanding the political claims either side are making. As we also often say, in order to understand what ‘science says’, it is necessary to understand what it has been asked.

Hacking the Climate da Vinci Code
The Politics is Prior

As Goldacre observes, the same arguments return to the climate debate. But his perspective is too narrow, and he neglects to scan his critical eye over the substance of the claims made by the camp he seemingly attaches himself to. In the process, he has summoned up an inconvenient metaphor.

Environmentalism is zombie politics. It is oblivious to human ambitions, desires and development, other than it seeks to devour them as it turns humans into copies of itself: lifeless, purposeless, walking corpses that would be better off dead. Human life is reduced to meeting necessity and politics becomes the process of managing subsistence rather than contesting ideas about possible futures. It turns humans against humanity.

Iceberg Stories Are a Wet Lettuce

In the Guardian yesterday, the paper’s US Environmental correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg writes:

The world’s ocean surfaces had their warmest summer temperatures on record, the US national climatic data centre said today.

Climate change has been steadily raising the earth’s average temperature in recent decades, but climatologists expected additional warming this year and next due to the influence of El Niño.

However, as Bob Tisdale and Anthony Watts point out at the latter’s blog, there are many reasons to be cautious about taking the claim at face value. It is the product of one dataset, and is not supported with data from satellites. Indeed, according to the UAH satellite record, the average temperature of the world in August was just 0.23°C above the average.

But that’s not what really piqued our interest. Goldenburg’s story finishes,

The report also noted the continuing retreat in Arctic sea ice over the summer. Sea ice covered an average of 6.3m sq kilometres (2.42m sq miles) during August, according to the national snow and ice data centre. That was 18.4% the 1979-2000 average.

The press release from which Goldenburg lifts her story says

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), Arctic sea ice covered an average of 2.42 million square miles during August. This is 18.4 percent below the 1979-2000 average extent, and is generally consistent with a decline of August sea ice extent since 1979.

The difference between ‘18.4 percent’, and ‘18.4 percent below’ is 63.2 percent. But of course, it may well just be a typo than a reflection of Goldenberg’s misunderstanding of the science. But notice another interpretation. The original quote speaks of the 2009 ice extent representing the continuation of a general trend, ‘consistent with a decline of August sea ice extent since 1979’, ie, not as much ice as there was, once. But this is transformed in Goldenberg’s copy, and becomes ‘the continuing retreat in Arctic sea ice over the summer’, which is palpably not true.

Perhaps you think we’re nit-picking by pulling Goldenberg up for what might well be the result of an honest misunderstanding married to a slack rewording of the press release. But what is strange is her apparent complete lack of surprise at the notion that summer ice has declined by a factor of five in such a short time. And that’s after two years of recovery.

The minimum extent of Arctic sea ice in 2007 was 4.13 million Km2. in 2008 it was 4.67 million Km2. This year, it looks as though it is 5.25 million Km2. This represents an increase of 13% between 2007 and 2008, and an increase of 12% for 2008 to 2009, or an increase of 27% between 2007 and 2009. This is a substantial increase, yet Goldenberg puts emphasis on the loss, in spite of the rather more significant gain. As we have written previously, this is owed to the tendency of those who put much store in the progress of Arctic ice, hoping that it will add power to their alarmist narratives. When the ice doesn’t behave, the miserable story has to be told by a mathematical sleight of hand. Perhaps we should just be grateful that Goldenberg did not extrapolate back from her own made-up figure to discover that summer Arctic ice actually disappeared two years ago.

It’s not entirely Goldenberg’s fault. She has been primed by years of press releases from the likes of NOAA and NSIDC to believe that the ice is retreating on an almost daily basis. As we have noted before, in their attempts to maintain the excitement, these agencies are caught between the temptation to overplay the importance of new datapoints that reinforce the idea of a downward trend, and the need to downplay those that don’t fit easily with the catastrophe narrative. Regardless of where a new datapoint falls on the graph, it’s a portent of doom.

At its most ludicrous, this can result in statements about single datapoints that serve as a warning of both imminent disaster and the dangers of relying on single datapoints. For example:

Sea ice extent has fallen below the 2005 minimum, previously the second-lowest extent recorded since the dawn of the satellite era. We will know if the 2008 record will also fall in the next several weeks, when the melt season comes to a close. The bottom line, however, is that the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent characterizing the past decade continues.

But in bending over backwards to make sure that no one gets the silly idea, on the evidence of a single datapoint, that global warming has stopped, they open the door to alarmist nonsense every time they update their graphs.

This is not the first time Goldenberg has tried to lick an iceberg and got herself stuck. In July, she teamed up with Damian Carrington for a story in the Observer:

‘Revealed: the secret evidence of global warming Bush tried to hide’.

The writers tell us that images taken from a US spy satellite ‘reveal the devastating impact of global warming in the Arctic‘. The images, now declassified, were ‘kept secret by Washington during the presidency of George W Bush’. The saintly Obama, by contrast, ‘is currently trying to galvanise Congress and the American public to take action to halt catastrophic climate change’. What separates Bush, the evil denier, from Obama, the saintly prophet, is their treatment of a cold, hostile, uninhabited, tract of frozen sea.

Instead of being something which causes immediate concern in its own right, the real importance of images of open sea where there was once ice is that it gives seemingly geological scale to environmentalists’ claims about our influence over the planet and its likely consequences. Where scientific opinions and catastrophic story lines have failed to mobilise popular support for environmentalism, various greens appeal to our ability to register the difference between what once happened and what seems to be happening now. Accordingly, Goldenberg and Carrington present us with the before and after pictures.

This picture is, according to the article, part of a series that are ‘the first graphic images of how the polar ice sheets are retreating in the summer’. This is sheer nonsense. Archived and near real-time Images of polar ice have been available to the public via the internet for years. The Polar Research Group at the University of Illinois have, since 2004, run a website called The Cryosphere Today, which allows users to compare the ice cover of the Arctic on any two dates. Here, for example, is an image depicting the same information as the recently declassified spy-satellite pictures.

So keen are the ice researchers at the University of Illinois, there is even an application that can be run on web-enabled mobile phones. The iPod generation now have no excuse for being ignorant of the state of almost entirely uninhabited, entirely hostile, and least interesting regions of Earth.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center provide a similar means to staying in touch with the latest developments at the frozen North. (And who wouldn’t want to?) Using the Google Earth application, NSIDC aim to ‘help people better understand the cryosphere—where the world is frozen—by making our data more visible and interactive. What is available at the NSIDC is a vast array of images and data, none of which has been classified, all of which has been available for years. If you felt so inclined, you could even compare sea ice extent in July 2007 and 2008, to show just how remarkably quickly the Arctic recovered from its historic low.

Or if you prefer, you could just go to the NSIDC homepage for ‘daily image updates of Arctic sea ice’.

None of this is secret information. The only difference with the declassified images is the level of detail. Images in the public domain were only available at resolutions of 15 meters (each ‘dot’ in the picture represents an area of 15 meters square), whereas spy satellites create images at a resolution of one meter. Unless you are a climate specialist this makes no difference whatsoever. Prior to the release of these images, no researcher with an interest in the cryosphere would have been ignorant of the extent of sea ice off the coast of Alaska in 2007 as it stood in contrast to the previous year’s ice.

So what’s the big secret, and why all the fuss? On the 15th of July, the US National Research Council released a report called ‘Scientific Value of Arctic Sea Ice Imagery Derived Products’. According to a NASA press release, the authors of the report believe that the higher resolution images would significantly extend scientific understanding of the processes driving the annual cycle of melting and freezing. There already exists a relationship between science and the military in which images produced by surveillance hardware is shared. Declassified images have, for a number of years, been put into the public domain through a program called Literal Imagery Derived Products (LIDPs). The satellites that have produced these new images have, at the request of the same scientific community in 1999, been recording images from locations within the Arctic region since 2005. The report made an argument for the release of the images. Just a few hours later, the Interior Department declassified them.

Goldenberg and Carrington present the release of the images as, pardon the pun, a sea change in the attitude of the US government. But the satellites began recording the regions in 2005 – while Bush was president. If there had been no intention to make these images available to the scientists who requested them, why generate them in the first place? Moreover, the two writers seemingly make the case that an executive decision was made, by Bush in the first instance and Obama in the second, to respectively conceal, and reveal the images. Yet there is no evidence in the article, or on the web, that either president made any such decisions. It is only in the imaginations of bored journalists that the timing of the declassification of the images represents the termination of a conspiracy to deceive the public instigated by Bush. The facts are plain: nothing that wasn’t already widely known has been revealed by these images; the images are not useful to any political ends, either to inform the public, or to demonstrate the fact of global warming; there is no evidence presented that there was an attempt to conceal these images; there would have been no reason to keep the images secret; it was under Bush’s administration that spy satellites began recording images from the locations in question. There was no story.

There is, however, the story in the heads of Goldenberg and Carrington. Routinely in this kind of narrative, the plight of polar bears, summer sea ice melt, global warming, and anthropogenic CO2 are conflated as the one and same thing, as each other’s cause and effect, rather than treated as phenomena that have distinct and complex causes. In this story, polar bears are killed by increased ice melting, which is caused by global warming, both of which will continue to increase, and all of which is caused by anthropogenic CO2, which is caused by us. These causal relationships are presented as unassailable scientific facts with no questions of complexity, nuance, or degree permitted. To argue that the progress of Arctic ice melt may well have a cause that is independent of the Earth’s warming is to deny both. To argue that polar bear populations may be increasing, or may be suffering for reasons other than ice melt is to deny global warming. Because ultimately, at the end of this chain of reasoning is an argument that owes nothing whatsoever to science: George Bush tried to hide all of this from you.

All of which is to say that the story about the progress of ice escapes its scientific context to illustrate the political narrative that the likes of Goldenberg impose over it. It is the vehicle through which she can submit Bush-bashing copy, months after the end of his presidency, allowing her to stand Bush in ecological contrast to Obama. That Goldenberg gets the scientific facts wrong, and struggles to interpret them correctly, and fails to subject her own stark misapprehension to scrutiny, is only half the story – she then uses her own confusion to create a picture of political conspiracies against scientific truth. In no small way this demonstrates the extent to which the political story exists prior to the science, and needs it. If the ice wasn’t melting, Goldenberg would have to make it up… Oh…

Folie à Deux

Reading it is enough to make you want to stop breathing…

On the desk in front of me is a set of graphs. The horizontal axis of each represents the years 1750 to 2000. The graphs show, variously, population levels, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, exploitation of fisheries, destruction of tropical forests, paper consumption, number of motor vehicles, water use, the rate of species extinction and the totality of the human economy’s gross domestic product.

So writes writer, environmentalist and poet, former editor of The Ecologist, Paul Kingsnorth to his friend, ally, and comrade in misery, George Mon-and-on-and-on-biot. The two are discussing the question ‘Is there any point in fighting to stave off industrial apocalypse?’ Their exchange is printed in the Guardian.

The subtitle sets the terms of the debate between these two apocalyptic nutcases.

The collapse of civilisation will bring us a saner world, says Paul Kingsnorth. No, counters George Monbiot – we can’t let billions perish

Kingsnorth, who curiously shares his name with the site of the site of recent Climate Camp protests, recites a familiar litany – we are going to hell in a fossil-fuel-and-capitalism-powered handcart, and the human race is just to stupid to notice or care, and it will be a good thing when billions of us are dead, because those who remain will have learned a lesson. Like the Rapture, but for Gaia-worshippers.

What the graphs show, says Kingsnorth, is that ‘a rapacious human economy [is] bringing the world swiftly to the brink of chaos’. ‘…all of these trends continue to get rapidly worse… there is a serious crash on the way… the civilisation we are a part of is hitting the buffers at full speed, and it is too late to stop it…’ There is no way out of this, Kingsnorth believes.

[we are] wedded to a vision of the future as an upgraded version of the present. We still believe in “progress”, as lazily defined by western liberalism. We still believe that we will be able to continue living more or less the same comfortable lives (albeit with more windfarms and better lightbulbs) if we can only embrace “sustainable development” rapidly enough; and that we can then extend it to the extra 3 billion people who will shortly join us on this already gasping planet.

This is an illusion, he says, it is ‘denial’. It’s curious to see the word ‘denial’ being applied to our greenest greens: those who embrace wholeheartedly both the sustainability agenda, and the apocalyptic prophecies that underpin it.

The writing is on the wall for industrial society, and no amount of ethical shopping or determined protesting is going to change that now. Take a civilisation built on the myth of human exceptionalism and a deeply embedded cultural attitude to “nature”; add a blind belief in technological and material progress; then fuel the whole thing with a power source that is discovered to be disastrously destructive only after we have used it to inflate our numbers and appetites beyond the point of no return. What do you get? We are starting to find out.

It is also a surprise to find out that those who have so far embraced environmentalism are labouring under the ‘myth of human exceptionalism’. And if this naked catastrophism wasn’t so utterly dispiriting, it would be funny that Kingsnorth complains about a ‘deeply embedded cultural attitude to “nature”’. After all, what is it that Kingsnorth expresses, if it’s not a ‘deeply embedded attitude to nature’ of his own, and of the culture that environmentalism has created for itself? Indeed, the culture that he and Monbiot both want to create is precisely a culture in which nature is central to everything.

Here at Climate Resistance, we are fans of human exceptionalism. And we don’t think it’s a myth. Our ability even to consider the concept of human exceptionalism makes us distinct from all other things. Kingsnorth sees the world very, very differently:

… what we are really trying to save, as we scrabble around planting turbines on mountains and shouting at ministers, is not the planet but our attachment to the western material culture, which we cannot imagine living without.

The challenge is not how to shore up a crumbling empire with wave machines and global summits, but to start thinking about how we are going to live through its fall, and what we can learn from its collapse.

Human exceptionalism, in this view, is a notion which has been debunked. Debunked, that is, by the looming apocalypse. The inevitable apocalypse. The one that hasn’t happened yet, but it will, according to Kingsnorth. Soon. Ish. He hopes. And there’s no point hankering after it, because we’re doomed.

But abandoning a human-centric view of the world creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we reduce humanity to the moral equivalent of any bug, slug, mouse or microbe, we prevent ourselves from planning according to our own interests. We therefore submit to the whims of nature that have always killed humans through famine, drought, and disease, etc, etc. What makes Kingsnorth’s fantasy different to a UFO cultist’s is that he expects the whole world to join his suicide pact, not just a small band of ‘us’, the chosen ones, against the ‘them’.

George replies…

Like you I have become ever gloomier about our chances of avoiding the crash you predict. For the past few years I have been almost professionally optimistic, exhorting people to keep fighting, knowing that to say there is no hope is to make it so. I still have some faith in our ability to make rational decisions based on evidence. But it is waning.

Here’s some news… George Monbiot thinks he has been ‘professionally optimistic’! When?! When has Monbiot been optimistic? Ever? As we have pointed out in many posts, George is incapable of optimism, because what he is responding to is not the external world, or rather anything that occurs in the real world, but his own confusion about his place in it. It fails to obey his will, and he doesn’t really understand why, and like a small child, cannot make a distinction between his failure to assert his will, and the end of the world. Environmentalism projects its own crises into the atmosphere. When, recently, supermarket giant, Tescos began the process of setting up in the town of Monbiot’s home, Machynlleth in Wales, he imagined himself in ‘the last small corner of Gaul still holding out against the Romans’. This was, in his view, a ‘struggle for democracy’. Nevermind that, in fact, it seems that more people are in favour of the supermarket, than against.

It get’s funnier, because Monbiot then scolds Kingsnorth for his apparent desire for apocalypse.

I detect in your writings, and in the conversations we have had, an attraction towards – almost a yearning for – this apocalypse, a sense that you see it as a cleansing fire that will rid the world of a diseased society. If this is your view, I do not share it.

But without the apocalypse, Monbiot’s entire view of the world crumbles. This he shares with Kingsnorth absolutely. Indeed, last year he gave the title ‘Bring on the Apocalypse’ to a collection of his writings. The message is the same as any other eco-poseur’s: if you don’t do what I say, the world will end, and your children will die. If there is no looming apocalypse, what would Monbiot write about? He says he wants to avoid the apocalypse, but anyone who says it might not be inevitable he calls a ‘denier’, or otherwise hypnotised by deniers. He says he wants to save people, but without the prospect of an imminent global catastrophe, how would he illustrate his unpleasant narrative? The difference between the roles that apocalypse plays in Monbiot’s and Kingsnorth’s account of the future is paper-thin, and academic. They are expressions of the same symptom. For all that their ‘debate’ matters, they might as well be arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Seemingly in an attempt to distance himself from Kingsnorth’s style of apocalyptic propheising, but failing comprehensively, Monbiot continues…

However hard we fall, we will recover sufficiently to land another hammer blow on the biosphere. We will continue to do so until there is so little left that even Homo sapiens can no longer survive. This is the ecological destiny of a species possessed of outstanding intelligence, opposable thumbs and an ability to interpret and exploit almost every possible resource – in the absence of political restraint.

And there’s the rub. Monbiot claims that it is objective fact, issued by an unchallengeable scientific consensus that demands ‘political restraint’, but in reality, it is the desire for some kind of political restraint which is prior to the search for any evidence that may putatively support it.

That is to say that the desire is to limit the expression of humanity, because it is an evil thing that will inevitably cause the destruction of the world. Here, again, Monbiot confuses his own disorientation with the entire human race’s. While it may be sensibly argued that politics throughout the world is suffering from a lack of direction (it is what we argue, after all), Monbiot only recognises this as a ‘lack of restraint’, rather than having some other cause. The purposelessness of today’s politics aims for nothing in particular, except for some kind of security: the War on Terror, pandemics, obesity and demographic time-bombs, climate change, and a raft of disasters await us, and become the issues around which our future is organised simply because today’s politicians cannot really conceive of any other basis for their functions. There is no better future. Monbiot sees environmentalism as a remedy to, rather than a symptom of this problem.

Contemplating the politics of the post-apocalyptic world, Monbiot foresees that

survivors of this collapse will be subject to the will of people seeking to monopolise remaining resources. This will is likely to be imposed through violence. Political accountability will be a distant memory.

Rather than preparing for the apocalypse, we ought to be trying to stop it

However faint the hopes of engineering a soft landing – an ordered and structured downsizing of the global economy – might be, we must keep this possibility alive.

If Monbiot recognises that the conditions of the post-apocalyptic world give rise to certain politics, why is it that he’s unable to recognise that creating a politics that anticipates the apocalypse equally gives rise to politics of the same order? Does Monbiot really believe that ‘downsizing the global economy’ won’t create brutal monopolies? Does he really believe that you can take just the excesses of contemporary life away from people, and that you can do so without force, violence, and oppression? Does he really think that people will embrace feudal modes of existence willingly? And as for political accountability, how does he think protests and the civil disobedience he is so fond of will be organised, and met by the authorities, in a world in which transport is denied, and political authority is legitimised on the basis that “the planet needs saving”? You wouldn’t be able to get to the protest. A green tyranny doesn’t need to oppress the population through violence. It just deprives them of the means to organise themselves. Things like petrol. But if it came to it, once you were there, protesters could be dealt with as any dangerous ‘denier’ – a heretic, no less – has been in history. There can be no ‘ordered and structured downsizing of the global economy’. It is not a machine.

Recognising that Monbiot’s vision of ordered retrogression is unlikely, but failing to recognise that Monbiot is talking about de-industrialisation, Kingsnorth says:

You have convinced yourself that there are only two possible futures available to humanity. One we might call Liberal Capitalist Democracy 2.0. Clearly your preferred option, this is much like the world we live in now, only with fossil fuels replaced by solar panels; governments and corporations held to account by active citizens; and growth somehow cast aside in favour of a “steady state economy”.

The other we might call McCarthy world, from Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road – which is set in an impossibly hideous post-apocalyptic world, where everything is dead but humans, who are reduced to eating children. Not long ago you suggested in a column that such a future could await us if we didn’t continue “the fight”.

We wrote about Monbiot’s reading of McCarthy’s novel back at the end of 2007. This story, said Monbiot, ‘shines a cold light on the dreadful consequences of our universal apathy’. Again, it was humanity’s shortcomings that created the necessity of controlling human impulses. He’d been at a road protest because apathetic humans were building a road. And it was all Jeremy Clarkson’s fault. The presenter of flagship BBC program Top Gear wasn’t taking his environmental responsibilities seriously. ‘Who will persuade us to act?’, he wondered. Not him. And not Kingsnorth, who seems to relish the coming end-of-days.

We face what John Michael Greer, in his book of the same name, calls a “long descent”: a series of ongoing crises brought about by the factors I talked of in my first letter that will bring an end to the all-consuming culture we have imposed upon the Earth. I’m sure “some good will come” from this, for that culture is a weapon of planetary mass destruction. […] But what comes next doesn’t have to be McCarthyworld. Fear is a poor guide to the future.

That’s right, folks, the deaths of billions of people is nothing to be feared, it is just a necessary step to a better future. In a rare moment of sanity (only by contrast) Monbiot is outraged that Kingsnorth is suggesting that we might ‘do nothing to prevent the likely collapse of industrial civilisation’. The ‘macho assertion that we have nothing to fear from collapse mirrors the macho assertion that we have nothing to fear from endless growth’, he says. It’s a curious argument. Who could possibly be afraid of endless growth? It implies a distinctly non-terminal world. What he means by ‘endless growth’, however, is nothing of the kind, but anything which doesn’t resonate with the ‘downsizing of the global economy’ that he wishes for. This is, as we have observed in the past, based on the principle that any growth must ultimately be unsustainable, because the earth is finite, and at some point, growth will outgrow its environs. It’s a spurious argument that rests on many bogus claims, but principally states that because a problem may exist in the future, we ought not to continue. Best stay in the caves. Best remain as peasants. Best to not see what happens if we convert the production of steam into movement.

For a moment, it looks like Monbiot might say something sensible. But this is a competition to see who can hate humanity the most…

Anyone apprised of the palaeolithic massacre of the African and Eurasian megafauna, or the extermination of the great beasts of the Americas, or the massive carbon pulse produced by deforestation in the Neolithic must be able to see that the weapon of planetary mass destruction is not the current culture, but humankind.

Gosh. So what’s worth saving? At the same time as holding us to be equivalent to toxic weaponry, we are, paradoxically worth saving. And there’s only one way to do it.

[A] de-fanged, steady-state version of the current settlement might offer the best prospect humankind has ever had of avoiding collapse.

Only by neutering ourselves, and by enforcing restraint and environmental obedience can our species be locked into a sustainable pattern of behaviour, and saved.

The debate rages on. Kingsnorth replies, complaining that ‘my lack of fighting spirit sees me accused of complicity in mass death’, and that Monbiot’s argument is ‘designed to make me look like a heartless fascist’. Surely not…

Civilisations live and die by their founding myths. Our myths tell us that humanity is separate from something called “nature”, which is a “resource” for our use. They tell us there are no limits to human abilities, and that technology, science and our ineffable wisdom can fix everything. Above all, they tell us that we are in control. […]

I think our task is to negotiate the coming descent as best we can, while creating new myths that put humanity in its proper place. Recently I co-founded a new initiative, the Dark Mountain Project, which aims to help do that. It won’t save the world, but it might help us think about how to live through a hard century. You’d be welcome to join us.

Where Monbiot wanted a human race tamed and forced into obedience by the prospect of Gaia’s waiting wrath, Kingsnorth wants to create a culture from the myths upwards, that puts it in its place while Mother Nature’s anger is visited upon us with poetry, art, singing and clapping. Seriously. Check out his site.  It intends to create ‘a new literary movement for an age of global disruption’ as the project’s co-founder, Dougald Hine explains in this video.

So, Hine thinks his project is about ‘finding a new optimism’. The starting point for this ‘new optimism’ are their ‘eight principles of uncivilisation‘.  Several of these ‘principles’ (they really ought to be ‘unprinciples’) stick out.

3. We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilisation: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.

4. We will reassert the role of story-telling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.

5. Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will begin with the attempt to step outside the human bubble. By careful attention, we will reengage with the non-human world.

7. We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.

This is grandiose posturing. This is given away by the final (un)principle: ‘Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.’ This ought to be seen as a rather frank statement of aimlessness; they don’t know where they are going, and they don’t know how to get there, other than by making up stories that ‘weave’ the ‘reality’ that they experience. They refuse to ‘lose ourselves in the elaboration of our theories’. Well, that’s convenient, because they are incoherent and inconsistent. They don’t even seem able to wash their hands. And why would you, if you didn’t believe in the centrality of humanity and progress?

What kind of optimism is this going to achieve? We don’t think it can find any. And, indeed, this search for optimism looks more like utter nihilism, these principles being so many self-indulgent whines about their authors’ sense of disorientation. Environmentalism projects its own anxieties onto the world.

Monbiot’s closing comments to their discussion are barely worth looking at, so underwhelming is his reply. There is no defence of progress. There is no defence of humanity. There is not even any defence of conventional optimism. Because, as ever, George’s vision is trapped between apocalypse and survival that means he can only make an argument that is premised on a belittling of humanity. This is the logic of miserable nihilism in search of meaning. It is just as incoherent as Kingsnorth’s. In both arguments, the catastrophes that the writers say we face are not simply the result of unforeseen consequences of our using our abilities, for instance, that industrial society has created a problem – climate change – that need to be addressed one way or another. Instead, climate change is held as conclusive proof of our lust, greed, and stupidity and that they need to be contained, either through legislation, or through mythology. The difference is steep. While on the one hand, Monbiot claims to have virtually the entire climate science community behind him and his argument (that is the basis on which he has agreed to debate climate sceptic, Prof. Ian Plimer) this ‘science’ isn’t being used by Monbiot to make a scientific argument about the necessity of changing our industrial practices – a view with which many scientists no doubt agree – but instead is being used to make arguments about human nature itself. This is the perspective which is prior to the science that is used to support it. It is the ethics and politics of environmentalism.

The very graphs on which Kingsnorth premised his arguments – the ones which spelled out the inevitability of the apocalypse to him – are the story which narrates his myths about human unexceptionalism and uncentrality, and his desire for uncivilisation. Yet if humans aren’t exceptional, these graphs cannot stand for anything. The science which produced them, right or wrong, produced the machines which caused the problem they have seemingly identified. Likewise, the same science which Monbiot claims has identified the inevitable catastrophe that looms over us was produced by the desire for better lives that Monbiot says we simply can’t have. Kingsnorth and Monbiot only want so much science. Science as the expression of human exceptionality is used to demonstrate the non-exceptionality of humans. Science as the means by which we made our lives better is used to demonstrate the dangerous folly of living better lives. The ethics, politics and science of Monbiot and the literature movement that Kingsnorth hopes to create, if they ever flourish, (as much as anything so negative can ‘flourish’) will create an era in human history that will be called ‘the redarkenment’, and the ‘unnaissance’.

H/T: Rob L. and James H.

Arson About Face

At Climate Resistance, we are quite often to be found making connections between environmentalism and the War on Terror. So we were a little surprised to find an environmentalist (and it’s probably fairly safe to assume that an environment correspondent at the Guardian is an environmentalist) apparently doing the same today.

The line that Suzanne Goldenberg draws between the respective wars on terror and CO2 is, however, rather different from our own. The story’s headline gives it away:

Serving 22 years: the environmentalist who fell victim to US anti-terror laws

In fact, it gave away so much that the paper replaced the headline in the online edition with:

Activist or terrorist? Mild-mannered eco-militant serving 22 years for arson

The Guardian’s moral compass points only to melting ice caps. The title may have changed, but it is still clear that they can’t tell the difference between an ‘activist or terrorist’, or seem to think that being an ‘activist’ qualifies an arsonist for special treatment.

The explosive fire Mason and Ambrose set at Michigan State University on 31 December 1999 caused nearly $1m (£680,000) of damage to buildings and equipment, but no death or injuries. The target was the office of the director of a genetically modified crop research programme into moth-resistant food crops for Africa, funded by the US Agency for International Development and the biotechnology company Monsanto.

Marie Mason is clearly an activist, and probably a terrorist. The Guardian doesn’t seem to think that one can be both. It is is as though sympathy for the ends, if not the means, is enough to transform violence into mere protest.

The story hinges on the claim that the sentence is too stiff:

However, Mason’s lawyer, John Minock, who filed an appeal against the sentence last week, argues that 22 years is excessively harsh. Mason got a much longer sentence than several militants recently convicted of setting fire to logging camps and vehicles in Oregon and Washington states – including Stanislas Meyerhoff who received 13 years for setting 11 fires and causing $30m in damage.

And that the reason it is too stiff is that ‘the courts have used domestic terrorism laws to stiffen the punishment for politically inspired violence’.

Mason is a prime example. “We are definitely seeing more severe sentences post-9/11, no doubt about it,” said Heidi Boghosian, the director of the National Lawyers Guild. “We have seen a trend of using the terrorist label and federalising a lot of criminal activities that would have gotten a far less stringent sentence before.”

Lauren Regan, an Oregon lawyer who defends environmental militants, calls it the “green scare”.

We find it hard to find sympathy for Mason, however. And her complaints that her sentence is harsh need to be seen in the context, not of sentences passed on other ‘activists’, or ‘terrorists’, but to other people convicted of arson.

It was only last Thursday that the Guardian was reporting on a Californian jury’s recommendation of the death penalty for a man who started a series of wildfires that resulted in the deaths of five firefighters:

Of course, Mason didn’t cause any deaths, but that is owed to luck, not design. She may claim that she didn’t intend to hurt anybody, but the arsonist loses the right to make that claim when they strike their matches against the matchbox. Mason complains that the harsh sentence is owed to the fact that ‘the government is trying to send a message’. But isn’t that what she was trying to do when she was, harshly, trying to assert her message by burning stuff to the ground, and risking lives? Harsh messages are answered with harsh messages.

If this were any other violent criminal, Goldenburg would not have a story. It is because Goldenburg and her employers are sympathetic to the aims that these perpetrators of this mundane act of destruction claimed to have in mind. But what did they really have in mind?

No sooner was Mason’s partner, Ambrose, caught, than he confessed, and allowed the authorities to pursue her. Some kind of solidarity. Contrast that with perpetrators of political violence, or even just political prisoners elsewhere in the world. That such a lack of honour exists between these arsonists surely indicates the hollowness of their cause. Ambrose acts in his self interest, to reduce his sentence, and Mason appeals that the sentence was too harsh. Clearly, neither of them really have the courage of their convictions that political prisoners in the past have possessed. They don’t bravely face their sentences. They apologise, and ask to be treated nicely.

Such a lack of conviction surely emphasises the nihilism of deep ecologists. Behind bars, such nihilism loses all its potency. Apart from those hurt by their actions, few on the outside will remember them. There are no movements on the outside, waiting for their return, to rejoin the struggle for liberation. Mason and her ilk have not campaigned for liberation. The conflagrations they caused were nothing more than the selfish acts of people lost in the world, who have comprehensively failed to touch other people with their message, and to establish a movement. This is the philosophy that the Guardian believes muddies the distinction between an ‘activist’ and a ‘terrorist’.

Perhaps Mason is neither an activist or a terrorist. She is like any other sad criminal, whose confusion about the world is expressed as a desire to destroy it. Like Raymond Lee Oyler, her acts are hard to explain. It is bizarre then, that the Guardian thinks that it’s the harsh sentence that needs explaining.

To those in Mason’s home city of Detroit who know her, her elevation to the ranks of America’s most dangerous criminals came as a shock. A fixture in activist circles, she was bright and charming, but unfocused – a woman who had an advanced degree in chemistry but lived near the poverty line.

The Guardian’s reporting on this issue is, as ever, informed not by an understanding of why it is wrong to set fire to things to get your message heard, nor by coherent ideas about jurisprudence… It’s not ‘fair’, because Mason was ‘nice’. It is informed by the same nihilistic and disorientated philosophy that afflicts Ambrose and Mason.

We have argued previously that environmentalism is an ideology. Indeed it is, in the sense that it wants to reorganise the world around its principles, by force and coercion if necessary. But those principles are confused and arbitrary because at its heart, there exists a void.

CR commenter Robert Wood commented on our recent post about James Hansen’s understanding of ‘democracy’ that Hansen ‘thinks he is one of Plato’s philosopher kings’. But the strangest thing about Hansen’s rise is that he has been crowned by nihilists. The argument for the philosopher king is being made by ignorant philistines. It is their own empty outlook they are evincing, not their commitment to a particular philosophy, or even the supremacy of the philosophical method. They want to be told what to do, how the world should be organised, and what ‘science’ says is right. This is because they cannot work it out for themselves. Environmentalism, whether it is setting fire to laboratories (so much for science then) or campaigning for laws to restrict human freedom, is a desperate search for meaning, in the same way that setting fire to things is a desperate attempt to assert control over a confusing world.

So environmentalism, in both its extreme expression of igniting fires, and it’s more mundane expression of elevating climate scientists to moral and political heroes and saviours, and its downright banal defence of criminal insanity in the press, shares just one thing: nothing.

Hansen On ‘Democracy’

Our last post was about Guardian journalist, David Adam, and his inability to reflect critically and impartially on the climate debate. That’s not to say he’s biased… That would miss the point. Which is precisely what Adam does. Adam believes that ‘the science’ is instructive – it tells us what to do.

Adam now produces an article with the headline:

Leading climate scientist: ‘democratic process isn’t working’

Let’s not look at the article for a moment, but just consider the headline (which we accept is not necessarily Adam’s responsibility). It is a scientist’s view that the ‘democratic process isn’t working’. So what? What does a scientist know about democracy that anyone plucked off the street doesn’t know? You might be lucky and pluck a professor of political theory off the street, and he might be able to give you a detailed account of theories of democracy. But could he tell you that democracy was working? What would it mean?

Luckily, the next man walking down the street is a climate scientist. He can tell you whether democracy is working or not. He takes out his laptop, and shows you a Hockey-Stick graph. This proves that democracy is not working.

Or does it? The Penguin Dictionary of Politics begins its definition of ‘democracy’ like this:

Democracy is the most valued and also the vaguest of political terms in the modern world.

Useful, eh? The point here is that ‘democracy’ by itself isn’t a term that carries a lot of meaning, but that we’re all supposed to value. It can be weilded by someone ignorant of its many possible interpretations. Indeed, it can be an entirely meaningless concept. ‘Democracy is under attack’ is suposed to rush us to action, in the same way that the ‘cat is drowning’ is. But while we all know what a cat is, and we can all call a cat a cat, do we share the same understanding of ‘democracy’?

That is not to relativise the concept of democracy, but to point out that that its use in this case is desperately hollow. In this way, environmentalists have sought to hide their ideology behind the objectivity of ‘science’. For instance, according to many greens, climate change creates moral imperatives. Failure to act to prevent climate change by reducing your ‘carbon footprint’ makes you ‘unethical’. In this view, the morality of an action is calculated according to its consequences, not as they are experienced by humans, but to or through the ‘environment’. The environment is like a kind of karmic aether, through which moral acts are transmitted.

As with ‘democracy’, this is a much degraded form of ‘ethics’. For instance, if a person was to generally behave badly – let’s say they were inclined to assert their will violently – we can understand this ‘ethically’ in terms of the relationship that person has with others. We could say his actions prevented others from expressing themselves, or made them unhappy, or that there is something wrong in principle with violence. But we cannot do the same with CO2. A moral actor might use a gas guzzling 4×4 to make an ‘unnecessary journey’. On the other hand, he or she might use it to save a life. But both, according to the logic of environmental ethics, are as bad as the other. They leave a legacy, which will be visited on our children’s children’s children’s children. The moral actor is removed in space and time from his victim. The ghost of his action may strike thousands of miles away, hundreds of years into the future.

In other words, environmental ethics are utter bullshit.

The environmentalists’ need to naturalise ethics with climate science speaks about their inability to construct a coherent ethical perspective in human terms, with human values. It is a lack of self-confidence which forces them to seek authority in a greater force or power than humanity itself. It’s not enough to talk about how humans ought to relate to each other… the environmentalist wants to say how we should relate to the environment. That’s not because we understand how to relate to each other, it’s because the environmentalist believes that the environment exists between us as a moral fact.

What has this got to do with politics?

The same is true of ‘democracy’ as it is with ‘ethics’. Environmentalists simply don’t understand what they mean by the term. Just as the term ‘unethical’ is interchangeable with the word ‘wrong’ in environmental rhetoric, so too the term ‘democracy’ does not refer to a system of values and principles in which ideas are negotiated. It just means ‘my way’. To the article:

James Hansen, a climate modeller with Nasa, told the Guardian today that corporate lobbying has undermined democratic attempts to curb carbon pollution. “The democratic process doesn’t quite seem to be working,” he said.

What does James Hansen know about which corporate lobbying? Is it something that only the ‘other side’ do? Forget the vast lobbying power of dedicated green multinationals such as Greenpeace and WWF, do corporate interests – <cough>Enron</cough> – never lobby for environmental policies?

Speaking on the eve of joining a protest against the headquarters of power firm E.ON in Coventry, Hansen said: “The first action that people should take is to use the democratic process. What is frustrating people, me included, is that democratic action affects elections but what we get then from political leaders is greenwash.

“The democratic process is supposed to be one person one vote, but it turns out that money is talking louder than the votes. So, I’m not surprised that people are getting frustrated. I think that peaceful demonstration is not out of order, because we’re running out of time.”

What money is talking louder than which votes? Votes for whom? Votes for which party? Did someone launch a James Hansen Party, while we weren’t looking?

Hansen’s unsuitability for commenting on matters of democracy is reinforced throughout Adam’s article – even if the author himself doesn’t realise it:

“I think that peaceful actions that attempt to draw society’s attention to the issue are not inappropriate,” Hansen said.

So is it democracy that has failed the environment, or environmentalism that fails democratically? Hansen doesn’t seem to know. Why the need to draw attention to a problem that the electorate is supposedly pushing for? As we’ve argued at length on this site, there is no popular environmentalist movement, and the problem for democracy is that there is nobody for the non-environmentalist majority to vote for.

Hansen said: “What’s being talked about for Copenhagen is a strenghening of Kyoto [protocol] approach, a cap and trade with offsets and escape hatches which will be gauranteed to fail in terms of getting the required rapid reduction in emissions. They talk about goals which sound impressive, but when you see the actions are such that it will be impossible to reach those goals, then I can understand the informed public getting frustrated.”

That ‘informed public’ is perhaps the most telling of Hansen’s democratic ideals, especially when set against his complaint that corporate lobbying swamps the power of ‘one person one vote’.

Hansen’s understanding of democracy seems to be limited to the idea that a society that doesn’t get what he wants is undemocratic. And yet, Adam has again reported the mere opinion of one vociferous climate scientist, as though it automatically had authority – even on matters completely outwith his field of expertise. This is surely only possible in an arena such as climate change, where ‘the science’ not only determines policy, but also, apparently, the very definition of democracy.

Adam also simultaneously ignores the context in which that opinion is expressed. This is the same James Hansen who has, since 2007, publicly stated: A) that he has been muzzled by his superiors; B) that nobody listens to him; C) that he thinks he should perhaps try to refrain from spouting his mouth off so much in the media; D) that we have only four years left to save the planet; E) that everything is much much worse than anybody else seems to think. To name but a few. And who is now, in the popular media, calling for an (un)popular revolution.

Individually, each of these claims is silly enough. Taken together, they map a spectacular act of scientific and political self-destruction. We can only hope that he also takes those who uncritically report his pronouncements down with him.

The Great Danish Pastry Swindle

The climate conference in Copenhagen that ended this week produced a barrage of startling headlines, many of them from just one man.

On Tuesday, the Guardian’s junior climate alarmist, David Adam surprised us with an uncharacteristically non-doom-laden article:

Greenland ice tipping point ‘further off than thought’

The giant Greenland ice sheet may be more resistant to temperature rise than experts realised. The finding gives hope that the worst impacts of global warming, such as the devastating floods depicted in Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, could yet be avoided.

That evening, David’s mood soured:

Global warming may trigger carbon ‘time bomb’, scientist warns

Even modest amounts of global warming could trigger a carbon “time bomb” and release massive amounts of greenhouse gases from frozen Arctic soils, a new study has warned.

By Wednesday, David’s gloom reached unprecedented levels:

Caught on camera: The Greenland tunnels that could speed ice melt

The Greenland ice sheet is riddled with channels that could quicken ice loss and speed sea level rise, a new study has revealed.

That afternoon, David’s gloom was worse than previously thought:

Sea level could rise more than a metre by 2100, say experts

Global sea levels could rise much higher this century than previously projected, raising the threat level for millions of people who live in low-lying areas, new research suggests. Scientists at a climate change summit in Copenhagen say changes in the polar ice sheets could raise sea levels by a metre or more by 2100. The implications could be severe.

On Thursday, David’s gloom exceeded even the worst projections.

Severe global warming will render half of world’s inhabited areas unliveable, expert warns

Severe global warming could make half the world’s inhabited areas literally too hot to live in, a US scientist warned today.

By that afternoon, things had passed a tipping point:

Europe ‘will be hit by severe drought’ without urgent action on emissions

Europe will be struck by a series of severe droughts that will make life “hell” for hundreds of millions of people unless urgent action is taken to reduce carbon emissions, a new study shows. … Spain, Portugal, southern Italy, Greece and numerous other countries would be turned to semi-desert as climate change turned off their rainfall… Asked what life would be like there, Warren said: “Hell, I should think. It is incomprehensible to imagine adapting to that level of drought.”

Adam operates on the principal of one article per scientific paper. We’ve mentioned this ‘tyranny of the news peg’ before. It reduces the scientific process to a rolling news service devoid of context and analysis, allowing Adam to report, on consecutive days, that Greenland ice melt is, respectively, less and more imminent than previously thought. It is as if scientific truth equals the sum of all the papers produced on a scientific subject divided by their number, and that for truth and democracy to triumph, he just has to precis a sample of them, and distribute them between the categories of ‘worse…’ or ‘better than previously thought’, so that our minds can be made up by the law of averages. But if he does see his role as a passive conduit for information, he misunderstands both the workings and the function of both science and journalism.

A further caution that Adam throws to the wind is that much of the new research he reports on will not yet have been published in the peer-reviewed literature. Conferences are like that. They are a platform for scientists to present more tentative results, hypotheses and interpretations. We could find no sign in the literature of any of the studies Adam mentions. And many of them will not make it through the review process, or will only do so having been revised beyond recognition in terms of their scientific and/or political content.

Of the hundreds of papers that were presented at the conference – many of them in poster sessions [PDF] – Adam has selected just a tiny handful: the most salacious, sensational, and terrifying (or that can be billed as such) at the expense of investigating the nuances to the arguments about what is or isn’t true, and what to do about it, and presented this highly polarised perspective as an account of what ‘science says’.

To pluck just one of Adam’s stories from the pile, on the Thursday he was claiming that ‘severe global warming could make half the world’s inhabited areas literally too hot to live in’ and that ‘people will not be able to adapt to a much warmer climate as well as previously thought’. The story was based on a paper presented by Steven Sherwood of the University of New South Wales, who adds human physiology into the climate models to suggest that ‘physiological limits of the human body will begin to render places impossible to support human life if the average global temperature rises by 7C on pre-industrial levels’. While predictions about the physiological constraints on our ability to tolerate high temperatures might be very useful, in itself, it says nothing about our ability to inhabit these places – and even less about our ability to ‘adapt to a much warmer climate’. After all, here in Northern Europe we wouldn’t survive the winter if we didn’t have homes to go to. We don’t know whether Sherwood made these claims, or if they are Adam’s own original contribution to ‘the science’, but either way it demonstrates a complete failure to scrutinise and question what are preliminary research findings.

By Friday, David had decided to speak for scientists on the Guardian’s podcast.

Climate change warning: ‘We’re sick of having our messages lost in political noise’

The message might sound familiar is that we have to act, and that we have to act now. But I think the scientists, they have been saying it for a while, and we’ve been saying it in the media for a while… but I think the scientists have lost a little bit of patience almost. I mean one said to me here that we’re sick of having our carefully constructed messages lost in the political noise. You know this is the scientific community standing up and saying enough is enough, we’ve lost patience, get your act together.

We have to take David’s word for it that he wasn’t one of those people losing the ‘carefully constructed messages’ in the political noise. We’ve said it before, the likes of David Adam, who aren’t scientists and clearly have a lot of sympathy with environmentalism, like environmentalists, don’t recognise their own noise as political. It is curious that none of the 2,500 attendees – natural scientists, social scientists, activists, dignitaries, corporates and journalists – had lost sufficient patience to go on the record to evince their frustration and impatience, and the only people he can get to confirm his message are Nicholas Stern and Rajendra Pachauri – neither of them climate scientists.

One climate scientist who does make a distinction between science and political noise is Professor Mike Hulme. Writing on Roger Pielke Jr’s Prometheus blog, Hulme wonders about the kind of ‘action’ that Adam was calling for on behalf of scientists:

What exactly is the ‘action’ the conference statement is calling for? Are these messages expressing the findings of science or are they expressing political opinions? I have no problem with scientists offering clear political messages as long as they are clearly recognized as such.

David Adam might want to reflect on his own words more carefully. Perhaps the frustrated scientists he was taking evidence from were talking more about him, than to him. Hulme continues:

But then we need to be clear about what authority these political messages carry. They carry the authority of the people who drafted them – and no more. Not the authority of the 2,500 expert researchers gathered at the conference. And certainly not the authority of collective global science. Caught between summarizing scientific knowledge and offering political interpretations of such knowledge, the six key messages seem rather ambivalent in what they are saying. It is as if they are not sure how to combine the quite precise statements of science with a set of more contested political interpretations.

These six statements were issued after the conference by its organisers. Clearly they moved David Adam, but not Mike Hulme, who points out that the authors are not qualified to speak for the conference as a whole, and that no synthesis was produced, and nor was the conference capable of producing a synthesis.

It therefore seems problematic to me when such lively, well-informed and yet largely unresolved debates among a substantial cohort of the world’s climate change researchers gets reduced to six key messages, messages that on the one hand carry the aura of urgency, precision and scientific authority – ‘there is no excuse for inaction’ – and yet at the same time remain so imprecise as to resolve nothing in political terms.

It’s worth reading Mike Hulme’s post in full, rather than reading snippets that we’ve borrowed in order to illustrate David Adam’s ridiculous alarmism.

Hulme qualifies as neither a ‘sceptic’ nor a ‘denier’, and sensibly advises that science and politics are not the same thing. This nuanced argument is lost on David Adam. The problem is that throughout his prose is the theme that the images he presents and studies he cites are instructive… ‘we have to act, and we have to act now’. This urgency is also the theme of so many climate activists, politicians and commentators.

Adam’s alarm is premature, and it stems from an expectation of science that it simply cannot live up to. As Hulme puts it:

A gathering of scientists and researchers has resolved nothing of the politics of climate change. But then why should it? All that can be told – and certainly should be told – is that climate change brings new and changed risks, that these risks can have a range of significant implications under different conditions, that there is an array of political considerations to be taken into account when judging what needs to be done, and there are a portfolio of powerful, but somewhat untested, policy measures that could be tried.

The rest is all politics. And we should let politics decide without being ambushed by a chimera of political prescriptiveness dressed up as (false) scientific unanimity.

It is striking that while – judging by his podcast – Adam seems to have picked up on the frustrations expressed by certain scientists about the lack of nuance, he hasn’t the faintest clue what it means. He hears murmurings about the messy overlap between science and politics, and yet seems so immersed in his model of the world as one that will be the death of us all that he doesn’t know what to do with that information. He ends up interpreting the frustration about lack of nuances as a signal that everything should be blacker and whiter – as if the nuance that has been lost from the debate is that we are all going to die. Adam wants science to settle the political debate, and he wants it now

And here is where we think Hulme’s otherwise excellent observations stop short. He doesn’t attempt to explain why politicians, activists and journalists like Adam have such expectations of science.

As we have argued previously, the dynamic driving the climate debate is less about what has emerged from climate science, and more about what appear to be political agendas. As Hulme observes, in many instances, politics is prior to science in the debate. But it might be truer to say that it is a lack of politics that is prior to the science. Science – or rather images of catastrophe given scientific credibility – fills the void. It re-orientates the disoriented, gives moral purpose in a world beset far less by climate problems than moral relativism, and gives political significance to causes that have long lacked rebels.

No field of science is immune to being used to fill politics-shaped holes. Science is seen less as a valuable tool with which to improve humanity’s lot and open our minds, and becoming a blunt instrument with which to beat the opposition. Campaigners on all sides of abortion debates increasingly fall back on science to make their moral case. The fact of evolution by natural selection has become almost synonymous with atheism. Depending on who you talk to, genetic technologies will feed the world or turn it to grey sludge. But it is environmental science – and its resonance with our sense of futility – that has gained by far the most political purchase.

David Adam’s work typifies this symptom. Being able only to see the world through the prism of climate change represents a failure to sustain a coherent analysis and a lack of confidence in even his own subjectivity – hence appeals to scientific authority. For Adam, climate change distinguishes right from wrong, left from right, good from bad. Just as each major UK political party has absorbed environmentalism into its manifesto, so too have journalists used it to inform the entirety of their own perspective on the world. This limited form of discourse is not about engagement with or criticism of the decision-making processes and the direction of society, it is about causal inevitabilities and moral imperatives issued by ‘the science’. ‘Science says…’.

The result is politics, ethics, democracy stripped entirely of their human meaning. Climate change rescues mediocrity and intellectual poverty from obscurity, and puts them centre stage, dressed as a super-heroes. As Adam shows, writing ‘worse than previously thought’ often enough turns you into a full time employee of the Guardian, and turns climatology into ethical and political science. If climate change didn’t generate moral imperatives, it would leave room for debate. And debate is for the ‘deniers’, who want to profit from the end of the world, or something.

In his most recent article, Adam entirely uncritically quotes the economist (and not climate scientist) Nick Stern:

Speaking after giving a keynote speech, Stern said he feared that politicians had not grasped the seriousness of the crisis. “Do the politicians understand just how difficult it could be? Just how devastating four, five, six degrees centigrade would be? I think not yet. Looking back, the Stern review underestimated the risks and underestimated the damage from inaction.”

Just a few decades ago, World Bank economists, even ex-world bank economists (such as Stern) were just about the epitome of evil for radicals, liberals, and leftists. The World Bank served Western corporate interests at the expense of developing nations. Today, Stern is celebrated by radicals, liberals and lefties, while he advances the climate change cause, and positions himself to take financial advantage of the carbon markets created by the regulations that he was instrumental in devising, which foist ‘sustainability’ on both the developed and developing world. Stern knows full well that governments have not failed to act. His own government, for example, has committed the UK to an 80% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050, and the US is on course to do the same.

With all countries apparently committed to ‘action’ on climate change, the rhetorical escalation emerging at this conference is perhaps puzzling. What country is standing against an agreement at the next climate talks in Copenhagen?

We have previously speculated that the preparedness for an international deal on climate change presents campaigners with a problem. If everyone agrees, what role do you play, as an activist/scientist? By achieving an agreement, you undermine your role. Adam, who saw the world through the prism of climate change, no longer has a footing. Like Stern, he therefore has to reinvent his position. It’s ‘worse than previously thought’ and ‘governments don’t understand’. Because in a world defined by, and seen only through the climate change debate, once the principal debate is over, you also lose your orientation and perspective. If everyone is committed, you cannot tell good from bad, right from wrong, because the debate is no longer polarised. Eyes that are filtered green, cannot see anything in a world that is entirely green. They are blind.

It seems that the alarmism issued by the likes of Adam, Stern, and the conference organisers’ six statements represent a bizarre rear-guard action, not against prevailing forces of inaction, but their own blindness, and their own redundancy. They are fighting their own success.

There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches ? economic, technological, behavioural, management ? to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

Previously, Professor Hulme has spoken about ‘climate porn’ – the tendency of activists, journalists and politicians to use the most distressing images, worst-case scenarios, and single studies stripped of their caveats and cautions. But there is another sense in which this expression illuminates the climate debate. Climate porn is to debate what porn is to human relationships. It simulates drama and engagement by crudely satisfying base lusts and fantasies with explicit images without the danger of rejection. But it is principally an inconsequential solo pastime in which understanding and negotiation with anothers is avoided. It achieves no resolution or synthesis, and objectifies humans, their ambitions and desires. Worst still, to paraphrase what the adage warns, climate porn will make you blind.

Rhubarb-Rhubarb and Custard

First, the custard. Then, the rhubarb-rhubarb:

Direct action historically has been a major way that we’ve got change. I mean, you can look at, historically, through the Suffragettes, through the miners’ strikes, through all of the major changes. Yes, some of it is about putting yourselves in the way, as we have done, as Plane Stupid has done, putting ourselves on runways, directly reducing carbon emissions. And some of it is about debunking the lies and spin that some people have the opportunity to put across to the rest of the world. Yes, we are using the media. But Peter Mandelson is using the media. He’s not elected. He’s not working in the interest of the people and the planet. He doesn’t have science behind him. Ninety per cent of scientists now agree that climate change is a very real threat, that it’s already occurring, that it’s man-made, and that our last chance is going to run out within the next ten years. So I ask you: what else are we supposed to do when democracy is failing people in this country? You have to resort to any means necessary, as long as it’s peaceful, and as long as it doesn’t harm other human beings.

The only difference that custard-thrower Leila Deen can identify between herself and custard-recipient Peter Mandelson, UK Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (and, yes, he’s an unelected peer), is that she has science behind her and he does not. She has nothing else to cling to. By her own words: Just like Mandelson, her actions are undemocratic. Just like Mandelson, she lies and spins. And just like Mandelson, she has the opportunity to put those lies and spin out to the rest of the world. She also demonstrates perfectly why, just like Mandelson (and who wouldn’t quite like to throw custard in his face?), her organisation is deeply unpopular with the electorate.

Her problem is that the only way she can make it sound like she has science on her side is by twisting that science beyond recognition. Ninety per cent of scientists now agree what? Ten years? These are just random numbers plucked from the ether. What sort of consensus is it when ecotastrophists can’t even agree on what 90 per cent of scientists are saying? Hansen says four years, Lucas says eight, the Green New Deal Group gives us 100 months.

Given that Deen has no more science on her side than her nemesis, all that does separate them is that she’s not happy about the building of a single new runway. That runway might or might not increase aviation emissions and will have virtually no impact on UK Climate Change Act targets when aviation accounts for only six per cent of UK emissions. So she has to make up stuff about that, too:

[…rhubarb rhubarb…] the vast majority of people are against the third runway […rhubarb rhubarb…] a runway that will cause catastrophic climate change and ruin any chance that we have of stopping our carbon emissions […rhubarb rhubarb…] if we build a third runway, all other industries will have to reduce their carbon emissions to zero […rhubarb rhubarb…]

We have nothing against direct action per se. But what sort of direct action is it when the activists target those who are pushing in the same direction as themselves? And let’s not forget that the government quite likes the fact that a few silly protestors are lending some street cred to its own agenda. We recently quoted Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband on the runway protests:

When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilization. Maybe it’s an odd thing for someone in government to say, but I just think there’s a real opportunity and a need here.

The custard slinging came before Mandelson spoke at the UK’s Low Carbon Summit. Here’s a video of the event’s ‘highlights’, published on 10 Downing Street’s Youtube channel:

The media focused their attention on the custard-chucking, at the expense of criticising what was being said inside the summit. Take, for example, the words of Mandelson himself:

So the point we want to start at today is this… This transition to low carbon is an environmental and economic imperative and an opportunity for us. It is also inevitable. There is no high carbon future for us.

Here we see familiar lines in action. There are imperatives, and a low carbon economy is inevitable. That is to say that democracy has no say in determining what is or isn’t an imperative, or what the Government’s priorities ought to be. But as we have pointed out before, environmentalism has never been tested democratically in the UK. All the parties absorbed its ‘imperatives’ into their manifestos in a process that has never been challenged or really even debated. Mandelson has no authority to say that there exist environmental or economic imperatives – he isn’t an elected politician; he is held widely in contempt, being seen at best as a joke or a symptom of New Labour’s intransigence and corruption; and he does not have facts on his side.

He continues:

The huge industrial revolution that is unfolding in converting our economy to low carbon is going to present huge business and employment opportunities as well as enabling us to meet our climate change targets and reduce our energy consumption

We’d like to know from Mandelson precisely where this ‘industrial revolution’ is supposed to be unfolding, and where these opportunities actually are. During the last quarter of 2008, nearly a quarter of a million people lost their jobs in the UK. Unemployment is currently just shy of two million.

There is no unfolding revolution. A revolution implies spontaneity, dynamism and popular support to shake off an old order or system. Instead, this ‘revolution’ requires regulatory laws, massive subsidies, and the creation of targets and goals – the precise opposite of a revolution. The French revolution was not achieved by setting goals for the number of aristocratic heads it intended to remove from aristocratic shoulders by a given date. It just happened. The industrial revolution did not happen because people set targets for miles of train track laid over the next ten years, it produced its own momentum and possibilities, which were, in turn, demanded. Nobody is demanding green politics. It is being foisted on us from above.

Ed Miliband pipes in:

There’s been a huge growth in the green sector and it’s already a three-trillion-dollar industry set to grow by fifty per cent. Now the question isn’t is that industry going to happen; it is going to happen. The question is, can Britain take advantage of that? That’s what our strategy is designed to do. It covers a whole range of areas from waste to recycling to renewable to all… err… a whole range of sectors. Increasing numbers of people will be working in these areas and we want Britain to be a world leader.

Again, we see the ugly leitmotif of today’s bland politics – inevitability. ‘It is going to happen’.

Of course there has been a growth in the Green sector. It has been heavily subsidised. For instance, a report from the think tank Policy Exchange estimated that the (now abandoned) biofuel subsidy (that required diesel sold to be 5% bio-diesel) cost the UK over £500 million a year. The report cited by Miliband and Mandelson (more about that report later) says that the renewable and low carbon energy sector grew by ~6% in the year 2007/8. It also says that the size of the biomass market was £5billion. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what drove the biomass sector’s growth.

The other side of this sector’s growth is regulation. For example, In 2002, the UK’s Renewables Obligation order instructed electricity suppliers to source an increasing percentage of their fuel from renewable sources. In 2002 this figure was 3%. By 2008, it was 9%. Failing to meet this target means paying a price per unit of electricity generated, which is then redistributed to suppliers according to how they met the target. A 2004 report by energy watchdog Ofgem said that the Renewables Obligation scheme was ‘providing additional financial support of at least £485 million to the renewables industry this year alone.’

This ‘revolution’ is presented by the Government as something which ‘is happening’, rather than something which was caused by the Government. The worldwide growth in the renewable energy sector is manufactured, much less by spontaneous innovation opening up new opportunities than, as with Britain, new environmental laws and massive subsidies.

Premier Gordon Brown is top act of the night:

So let us set a challenge to our scientists to lead the world in this great human endeavour to create a clean environment for future generations. Let us each set a challenge to business. Let us compete to lead the world in new low carbon products. Let us set a challenge to our planners to build homes and buildings and business and then eco-towns and eco-cities around the vision of a low carbon environment. And let us set a challenge to our schools. Let us teach young people. Inspire them that a low carbon future is not only the best future we can have, but the best future they can have as young people too. And let me tell you, our low carbon future, to create the low carbon economy we need is now a national endeavour that gives us purpose for years to come.

None of Brown’s aspirations are shared by the public. They are his, and the political establishment’s aspirations. Very few people want to live in an eco-home in an eco-town or eco-city. Very few people want their children indoctrinated by eco-dogma. Brown pretends that he wants us to share his eco-centric eco-vision, but Mandelson and Miliband have already revealed that it is inevitable, and that we don’t have a choice. We are to be eco-proles, whether we like it or not.

This ‘let us…’ rhetoric in intended to be statesmanlike, imploring us to be part of some moment of change. But the moment of change has long since passed, and Brown’s vision is a hollow attempt to rescue it. After decades of decline in manufacturing output, and chronic underinvestment in housing and energy, it is a bit rich, and a bit late, for Brown to be telling us that we need eco-homes and eco-industry powered by eco-energy. We needed homes and industry as the conditions for the current economic climate were forming. His government, and previous ones, didn’t see the need then, and the need now owes less to the fact that the climate is changing, and much, much more to the fact that individuals in the Government want to use the climate change issue to generate moral authority for themselves, especially on the world stage. They can’t do that unless the UK is seen to be green, with green laws, green economy, green industry, and green people. Hence, over the last year, the UK has seen a raft of measures hurried through so that the UK contingent can arrive at the UN Climate Conference in Denmark later this year dressed as planet-saving super-heroes, not as a ship of foolish Chicken Littles, struggling to sustain their political legitimacy.

The Low Carbon Summit was, like the web page announcing it, hosted by RBS. Yes, that’s the same RBS that made a loss of £10 billion last year.

The Low Carbon Economy Summit is the only event this year to focus on the business opportunities in moving to a low carbon economy. Uniquely the Low Carbon Summit will explore what further action needs to be taken by government and business to create an environment which supports and promotes investment in low carbon solutions such as renewable power generation and carbon capture and storage as well as emissions trading.

This partnership knows far more about generating crises than stopping them. But then again, crises, real or imagined, are the bread and butter of politicians who otherwise fail to explain to the public what their ‘vision’ actually is. It isn’t until crunch time that Brown, Miliband and Mandelson unveil their ‘revolutionary’ ideas. The language about the inevitabilities and imperatives of environmental catastrophe are attempts to explain failures as success, decline as progress, and inactivity as activity. Politicians stand on their heads to complain that the world is upside down, and that all the trends actually show improvement.

Journalists, too, struggle to explain what’s going on in the world without the prospect of the catastrophe signposting right from wrong. A Guardian article on the event demonstrates its writers’ inability to subject the Government’s climate policies to any scrutiny:

In an interview with the Guardian, Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said there was a global race towards creating a low-carbon economy and that Britain must not get left behind. He set out the key elements required – from energy efficiency to a smart electricity grid – ahead of today’s low-carbon summit in London, with representatives from industry, unions and the environment movement.

Much is made of the alleged influence on the public mind of the odd hour of television here and there that does stand against climate orthodoxy. But the media’s failure to subject the terms of the climate debate to scrutiny has had a much more significant effect on the Government’s mind. It seems that they can do no wrong – and consequently can have their many failures overlooked – while they are being green. The only criticism they can expect from Guardian hacks is not being green enough, never mind what kind of outcome it will produce, or what kind of society it will create. There is very little question of the policies, only the echoes of mantras about ‘imperatives’, and ‘inevitability’. One of the lines in the Guardian, also picked up elsewhere was the headline that…

New jobs will be created in low-carbon industries for 400,000 people – from lagging lofts to nuclear power – the government will announce today.

This figure comes from a report by consulting firm, Innovas, commissioned by the Government. What the report said was not that ‘new jobs will be created’, and the Guardian omits the caveats attached to the report.

If the UK environmental employment baseline level grows in line with projected annual growth rates, then, potentially, an additional 400,000 jobs could be created over the next eight years ‐ representing a 45% increase on today’s level. This is a rough estimate based on the growth in market value, where employment levels are calculated on a pro rata basis. Some of this growth in employment might be due to displacement activity, as green goods and services become more acceptable than the alternatives, such as a shift from manufacturing traditional doors/windows to heat and energy efficient ones, or from carbon‐based fuels such as coal to renewable energies such as wind. However the majority of the growth in employment, particularly in the Renewable Energy industries, would represent additional economic growth to 2015.

The figure of 400,000 new jobs becomes even more dubious when it transpires that Innovas estimates that employees in the low carbon and environmental goods and services (LCEGS) sector number 881,000 people in the UK. There are roughly 30 million working people in the UK. That means 2.6% of the workforce are employed by the LCEGS. This sector has (according to Innovas) a market value of £106 billion. It seems hard to believe that such a large number of employment opportunities has been opened up by demand for green products. Yet the report projects, nonetheless:

The LCEGS sector, including supply chain, currently employs some 881,000 people in the UK, and this is forecast to increase to 1,289,000, or around 400,000 in the next eight years.

On what basis, though? The statistical summary accompanying the report claims that there are 6361 UK companies, employing 106,826 people in the ‘Alternative Fuel Vehicle’ sector. This turns out to mean ‘Alternative fuels (main Stream) for vehicles only’, and ambiguously, ‘other fuels and vehicles’. Does this lump together people who work on developing green cars and green fuel? According to www.autoindustry.co.uk, 210,000 people worked in manufacturing automobiles in 2005. Even assuming that there are still 210,000 people working in the UK’s ailing motor industry (which seems unlikely), can we really assume that half of these positions are in the LCEGS sector?

The report’s statistical summary goes on to say that 154,992 people work in ‘Alternative fuels’, 70,538 in the LCEGS ‘water and waste water’ sector, and 22,563 in the LCEGS ‘energy management’ sector. This gives us a total of 442,813 people in these LCEGS sectors. But according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), only 177,000 people worked in the energy and water sector at all. If we now include people that work in the LCEGS ‘hydro’, ‘wave and tidal’, biomass, wind, geothermal, photovoltaic, and ‘additional energy sources’ sectors, there are 626,557 people working in LCEGS energy sectors according to Innovas – many more people than the ONS claim.

It is plausible that the ONS and Innovas categorise jobs and businesses in different ways. But to claim that a greater number of people work in the LCEGS energy and water sector than work in the energy and water sector, when just a small percentage of Britain’s energy comes from renewable and alternative sources is just daft. We simply don’t believe it.

According to Eurostat, the UK produced 14,813,000 tons of oil equivalent (TOE) energy using renewables, against a total of 183,946,000 TOE. That process seems to have involved 533,455 people, according to Innovas’ statistics. If the UK’s total energy production was as efficient in terms of labour, it would have needed 6,624,378 people, or 22% of the workforce engaged in the production of energy. Perhaps this is what Brown and his fellows have in mind, when they are talking about the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs:

(image leaked from the UK government’s secret Low Carbon Industrial Strategy document)

Stupid custards.

A Notional Trust

Two articles in the Guardian/Observer this weekend seem to have stretched reports produced by conservationists to effect the maximum possible alarm.

On Saturday, the Guardian reported that the National Trust had produced an audit of climate change effects on wildlife in the UK. 

British wildlife may not survive third wet summer, warns National Trust

 A third miserable summer in parts of the UK could spell disaster for many species of insects, bird life and mammals, the National Trust warns today.

The charity says three wet summers in a row in many regions could mean that creatures – ranging from crane flies (often called daddy-long-legs) to species of butterflies, members of the tit family, puffins and bats – may struggle to survive in some places.

Matthew Oates, a nature conservation adviser for the trust, said: “After two very poor years in a row we desperately need a good summer in 2009 – otherwise it’s going to look increasingly grim for a wealth of wildlife in the UK.

“Climate change is not some future prediction of what might happen. It’s happening now and having a serious impact on our countryside every year.”

The warning comes in a yearly audit produced by the National Trust of how the weather in 2008 affected wildlife.

It was indeed a bad year – for humans. But was 2008 really an unusual year for climate and wildlife?

The year began curiously, according to the audit, with sightings of red admiral butterflies and white-tailed bumblebees in January and February. Many naturalists think it is probably a bad idea for such creatures to be out and about so early. The bees were badly hit by snow and frost in April.

As we reported at the time, it is not unusual to see red admiral butterflies in January. According to the audit “snowdrops and crocuses emerge earlier than normal” in January. But as we also reported, the timing of snowdrops is determined not by the prevailing conditions of the winter, but of the previous Autumn. As for bees, the Natural History Museum website informs us,

In towns and cities in the south [the white tailed bumble bee] commonly continues to forage through the winter where suitable flower resources are available.

The National Trust can say nothing about January or February that is unusual, or points to climate change, and a deleterious effect of climate change on wildlife.     

Heavy rain during mid-May meant hard times for early-summer insects, which in turn meant many blue tit and great tit nests failed. In June, coastal birds such as choughs, kittiwakes and razorbills bred late and reared few young. In July, puffin numbers on the Farne Islands were down 35% in five years.

The audit printed in the Guardian echoes the article:

May
• Heavy rain makes life hard for early-summer insects, such as the marsh fritillary butterfly.
 • Many nests fail, including those of great and blue tits […], due to the lack of insects and foul weather.

Heavy rain in May? Not according to the UK’s Met Office, who report that rainfall in May across the UK was just 73% of average. In England, it was higher at 109%, and Southern England it was up still at 145%. This was a local effect. And an increase of 45% is not what you’d call ‘heavy rain’.

Foul weather? Again, not according to the Met Office, who reported that the UK saw 114% of the sunshine it might have expected during May. In the South of England, this was 102%. The UK’s temperature was 2.3 degrees warmer than average, as was the rest of the country.     

The audit continues to say of June that it was a “poor summer for insects such as butterflies, moths, hoverflies, ladybirds and dragonflies”. But the Met Office says that June was 0.4 degrees warmer than average for Southern England, and similar throughout the rest of the UK. The month brought an entirely average amount of sunshine, and less than average rainfall for the South (78%), and slightly above average (110%) for the UK. How can an average month be a poor summer for insects?

On to August. The audit claims

• Few wasps around as the poor weather hinders nest building.
• Two types of cabbage white butterfly, the large white and small white, are unusually plentiful as their predators are depleted by poor weather.
• Crickets and grasshoppers scarcely sing all month. Bats’ staple food, insects, are seriously affected by the heavy rain.

August was a disappointing month. But the Met Office shows that the UK experienced just 54% more rainfall than ‘usual’. This might mean nothing more than it rained one day out of every two more than it would ‘normally’. The UK average rainfall for August is around 90mm. It got 140mm. That makes for a boring Summer, but it’s no torrent of biblical proportions. Hardly a harbinger of doom in a series which is just 31 days long. There were also significant regional differences. Northern Ireland, for example, saw 213% of the rain it ‘usually’ gets according to the MO’s climate statistics. The South of England saw 152%, but the South East (part of the South) saw 125%, while the South West (also part of the South) got 171%. Temperatures in all regions were above average. The only remarkable thing was that it was the ‘dullest’ August in the record, since 1929 at 67% of normal, or 115 hours of sunshine. It is fair to say then, that it was a cloudy August, but that’s not consistent with any observable trend, or change that can be attributed to ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’.

As a graph comparing the August sunshine, temperature and rainfall anomalies in England over the last century shows, August 2008 is generally unremarkable. In fact, looking at this graph, it’s hard to say anything about England’s climate that would be consistent with the claims that it is changing, or becoming hostile to wildlife – it is a very variable graph. So it’s even harder to know what Matthew Oates, a nature conservation adviser for the National Trust means when he says,

Climate change is not some future prediction of what might happen. It’s happening now and having a serious impact on our countryside every year.

In what way is climate change happening now? And how can it be having an effect on our countryside?

On Sunday, the Guardian’s Sunday paper, the Observer, ran a similar story. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/dec/28/wildlife-animals-conservation]

Third of Britain’s mammals ‘at risk’

Oh No! We’re mammals!

Climate change and habitat loss have led to a dramatic increase in the number of mammals whose future survival is a cause for concern among conservationists, the study commissioned by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species concludes. The Bechstein’s bat, one of the country’s rarest mammals, has shown a marked decline while the number of soprano pipistrelle bats has fallen by 46% in six years.

A visit to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) website doesn’t lead us to this study. They don’t seem to have published it yet. Which is odd, isn’t it, given the dramatic headlines it has generated. We’ll try and get hold of it. Meanwhile, the Observer article continues,

Unpredictable and extreme weather conditions, combined with hotter, drier summers and wetter winters, were causing changes in the distribution and behaviour of some species, such as the hazel dormouse, the study finds.

‘Unpredictable and extreme weather conditions’? Does this mean that the poor bats and mice have declined in numbers because they got caught in a rainstorm they weren’t ‘expecting’? What does ‘unpredictability’ have to do with population decline? And when was UK weather ever ‘predictable’? As the graph above shows, there is a great deal of variation in England’s weather. But ‘extreme’ it has not been.

We hear a lot about hotter, drier summers, and wetter winters. But how true are the claims made about them? We took the statistics generously supplied by the Met Office, and put them into Excel. The following graph compares temperatures for each season in England, between 1915 and 2007, with 10 year moving averages.

What strikes first is that it isn’t the Summer in England which shows the greatest change, but the other three seasons. There is a fairly substantial year-to-year variation of average temperature. If the moving average represents a trend, it doesn’t lead to anything we could safely regard as ‘extreme’.

Spring and Autumn exhibit much more significant recent warming trends, which might lead us to imagine that they could represent ‘extremes’. Except that, as transitions between states, they cannot be ‘extreme’ any more than a middle can be an end.

Winters look as though they may have been getting warmer recently, but by the standards of Winters in the 1920-30s, they look fairly normal, having gotten colder between 1930 and the 1970s, then warming up again.

Next, we looked at the amount of rainfall in the winter and summer.

Winters have been getting wetter, according to the moving average. But there is also a great deal of variation. So it is hard to imagine what recent ‘extremes’ would would consist of. It could be said that wetter summers were getting slightly more frequent, but again, in what sense does this constitute ‘extreme’ weather, rather than more frequently ‘slightly worse than mild’? And what does it say about the claim that summers have been getting drier? 

Summers since 1980 have not been getting any drier, according to the moving average. They did get drier in the ’70s and ’80s. Clearly, then, there is no substance to the claim that England is experiencing drier summers because of climate change. 

So, England’s climate is no less ‘predictable’ than it ever has been. It is no more ‘extreme’ than it ever has been. Winters have been getting slightly wetter, and the summers slightly warmer. But it would be an over statement to say they are getting ‘hotter’.

Back to the animals. We were wondering at this point: fluffy creatures don’t live in abstract climates such as ‘the south’ of England, so what sense does it make to use data about the whole of England, or large parts of it? If we want to know why, or how, animals have responded to climate in a given area, there is little point in looking at aggregate data – averages of averages of averages. Whether or not global warming is happening, the effects that local populations will experience are local. We ought to look at data from a single station. After all, the Guardian’s article explained…

The weather was not terrible across the country all year – some areas such as the north-west, Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland got some rather good conditions. But in places such as the Cotswolds and parts of the Thames Valley and south-east, Oates said there was an awful lot of very bad weather for wildlife.

It is the cumulative effect of bad weather that can be so damaging. If there is one poor summer a species might be lost from a parish here and there. If there are two, the loss is likely to be across two or three parishes. But if there are three consecutive washouts, whole counties could lose species.

(Notice that according to the article, Northern Ireland ‘got some rather good conditions’. But according to the Met Office, it got 213% of the rainfall it normally gets in August, while the Thames Valley was characterised as having ‘ awful lot of very bad weather’ and only got 125%. This makes no sense whatsoever.)

We decided to look at the data from one station near the locations mentioned in the quote above: Oxford. Oxford is just beyond the edge of the Cotswolds, in the Thames Valley, and in the South East. We should be able to see something in the data from this station, which might explain why things are getting hard for wild animals there.

First, rain. Have winters been getting either wetter or drier for animals in Oxford?

Not much. And certainly no where near as much as in the early part of the last century. But the bunny rabbits, the dormice, and all things great and small survived. So how about the summers – has there been any recent change in Oxford’s summer rain?

Curiously, it seems that ‘climate change’ has brought some stability to the levels of rain in Oxford since about 1980. 

So how about temperature. How has Oxford’s temperature changed in recent years, that might cause problems for its flora and fauna? We took the middle month (January, April, July, October) of each season to see what they said about how much climate has changed. First: maximum temperature.
There has been a recent warming trend for July. But it’s not yet any more extreme than it was at the beginning of the previous century, which saw far more dramatic changes. October has been getting warmer. But again, it has been since about 1900. And there is some significant variability in its history. Ditto April, which shows a warming trend since 1980 that mirrors a cooling trend since 1960, which follows a rather rapid warming. Winter shows a great deal of variability, with the current trend peaking at slightly greater than the trend in the mid 1900s. 
Next, minimum temperature. 
July’s minimum temperatures don’t quite seem as cold as they were in the 1800s, but all of the warming seems to have happened before 15 years ago, and from 1920. October minimums have been fairly variable since about 1970, but less so since, having been on an upward march since 1930 to 1970. April’s minimums do show a recent increase, but again, nothing like as variable as the trend between 1850 and 1944. Similarly, the January minimum temperature has been all over the place, never settling on any trend that reflects anything ‘stable’.  

Climate in Oxford has changed before… um… climate change… err… changed the climate. Oxford’s wildlife never existed in the ‘stable’ climate that reports about their demise seem to imply. Its history shows substantial variation. Yet animals survived here. Whether or not reports about the decline of animal populations or diversity have any truth to them, attributing population trends to ‘climate change’ is highly premature.  

Back to the articles. We’d spent many hours this weekend trying to work out how the National Trust and PTES had conducted their research. How big were the population studies? What areas and how many species did they focus on? How had they projected from this study to make a statement about the country more generally, and attributed it to climate change?  

This was a waste of time. We rang the National Trust on Monday afternoon, to ask them how they had carried out their ‘audit’. They told us that it was compiled from anecdotal (yes, that was their word) data, from staff at their various sites. There were no population studies. We rang the PTES to see if there was any more substance to their report, but they are still on their holidays.  

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last 18 months, it’s that stories about climate change may be wild and preposterous just as long as they encourage the idea that climate change is getting worse. You can pluck something out of thin air, and no one will call you a denier, nor challenge your sanity, motivation, or moral character. Lies are allowed, just as long as they are ‘good’ lies, and help people to believe that the world is on the brink of collapse, even if the facts don’t support the idea. 

But we’ll be charitable here, because we can’t know what happened between the National Trust and the journalists at the Guardian/Observer. What we can say is that their journalists aren’t being very critical about the ‘research’ they are reporting. The headlines of articles in the Guardian are not based on robust research, but on anecdotal data compiled by an organisation which has made clear its intentions to turn itself into a pressure group.  

In July last year, we reported on how the The National Trust, was reinventing itself as a campaigning organisation. The organisation, which owns 1.5% of England, Wales and N. Ireland, and has an income in excess of £1billion ($1.5billion) wasn’t just going to tell us how we used to live by preserving sites of national heritage, it would now tell people how they should live,     

From now on, said director-general Fiona Reynolds, the trust will advise people how to adapt their lifestyles to climate change and challenge government to be more ecologically aware. “If we think that public policy is not right, then we will say so.”

When we spoke to the National Trust about their ‘audit’, we were expecting to be pointed to a long dry, boring document of facts and figures. But no such research existed”It’s on our website” they said, and it was fairly similar to the one printed in the Guardian. It seems that there’s a reluctance to challenge statements issued by organisations such as the National Trust, and an inclination to turn them into dramatic headlines. 

This isn’t really a story about ‘bad science’, or bad journalism. Though it is worth asking what the point of journalists actually is if they can’t reflect critically on whatever it is they are reporting, to ask about the direction it will take us in, and what interests and agendas that are being served by the use of this kind of ‘research’. What is really curious about this all too common phenomenon is the gap between ‘research’ and the story lines it is used to construct.
 
We’ve called this process ‘Chinese whispers’ in the past: weak and rather inconsequential ‘research’ is stripped of caveats and caution removing it of any scientific meaning it had. The headlines of research are thereby amplified in the media, and the idea that the end of the world is approaching is assumed to have some authority: it came from scientists, rather than the short-sightedness of journalists. What is ‘abused’ in all of this is not ‘science’, but the trust that the public has in institutions. All the more an irony, then, that the ‘National Trust’, which is assuming to tell us how to live, should be at the centre of this story.
 
These whispers circulate, and the claim ‘climate change is happening’ can be used without any respect for proportion. Yes, clearly climate has changed. But it always has, and animals survived. There is little that is unusual about the change we can see in terms of magnitude, or direction, or its significance to wildlife. Yet because the maxim that ‘climate change is happening’ has such gravity, any context that the change exists within is forgotten, or ignored. This is true of virtually all of the stories we have covered over the last twenty months. Climate trends -which probably do have some scientific credibility – are observed, and reported, but then are attached to alarming stories that amount to little more than science fiction. They spell the end of the world in one shape or another, but they are all founded on mythology.  

At the heart of all this is the idea – the myth – that there exist narrow ‘optimal’ conditions for animal and human life, sudden changes to which will preclude any form of biological or societal adaptation. Of course we can see that mass extinctions followed traumatic events in Earth’s history. But what we’re seeing in the ‘extremely’ mild climate of rural Oxfordshire, the Cotsworlds, or the Thames Valley is not equivalent to meteors striking the planet’s surface, or super massive volcanoes filling the atmosphere with toxic ash, but changes in trends of less than one standard deviation. In this nervous state, anything north or south of mild becomes ‘extreme’. Anthropogenic climate change is assumed to be responsible for anything that it could by any stretch of the imagination be vaguely plausibly responsible for. Combined with the maxims that ‘climate change is happening’ and that it ‘will continue to happen’, the assumption allows any negative trend to be projected ad infinitum. So a species whose numbers have diminished are assumed to be on an inevitable path to imminent extinction, because climate change mythology (not science) makes it true. Trends are given so much significance that one could imagine that some kind of Copernican revolution had happened, identifying and determining the trajectory of all trends around the centre of a carbon universe. But this revolution is not the result of any observation of the real world, and the relationship between the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and the plight of dormice in the Thames Valley remains poorly understood, and very ill defined.  

And why would dormice – who’ve been around for a hell of a long time – be so vulnerable that 3 wet summers threatens them with extinction? Why wouldn’t populations of wild animals fluctuate considerably? Why should we assume that a healthy population maintains similar numbers year-to-year? More importantly, why should any of this assume such political and moral significance that conservationists feel that they can appoint themselves as some kind of authority on what our priorities ought to be, without being challenged?  

Climate Resistance wishes all our readers a happy and prosperous New Year, in spite of the doom-sayers’ attempts to render it as miserable as a Thames Valley Summer. 

Cold is the new warm

When is a short term trend not a short term trend? When it’s an upward anomaly.

James Randerson in the Guardian tells us that,

This year is set to be the coolest since 2000, according to a preliminary estimate of global average temperature that is due to be released next week by the Met Office. The global average for 2008 should come in close to 14.3C, which is 0.14C below the average temperature for 2001-07.

But just when you thought it was safe to rush out to buy a guilt-free 4×4… <scary music>

The relatively chilly temperatures compared with recent years are not evidence that global warming is slowing however, say climate scientists at the Met Office. “Absolutely not,” said Dr Peter Stott, the manager of understanding and attributing climate change at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre. “If we are going to understand climate change we need to look at long-term trends.”

Here’s a curious thing… Whether or not global warming ever existed, if ‘relatively chilly temperatures are not ‘evidence that global warming is slowing’, then what is?

That’s not to say that cooler temperatures ‘prove’ that there’s no global warming, but that cooler temperatures must be evidence that ‘global warming is slowing’. The difference is between ‘evidence’ on the one hand, and ‘proof’ on the other. Evidence can support contradictory hypotheses.

If this was mere journalistic oversight, that’s one thing – even though Randerson, one of the Guardian’s science correspondents, with a PhD in evolutionary genetics, really really ought to know the difference between evidence and proof, and what they stand for. But if the argument belongs to Peter Stott, then it surely raises questions about his partiality. ‘Absolutely not‘? Cooling temperatures absolutely are evidence for the hypothesis that there is no global warming underway, necessarily.

Prof Myles Allen at Oxford University who runs the climateprediction.net website, said he feared climate sceptics would overinterpret the figure. “You can bet your life there will be a lot of fuss about what a cold year it is. Actually no, its not been that cold a year, but the human memory is not very long, we are used to warm years,” he said, “Even in the 80s [this year] would have felt like a warm year.”

Allen is right to say that people have short memories, but he is wrong to think that it’s only sceptics who have them, and make a fuss about exceptional years. For example, Anderson continues,

The Met Office predicted at the beginning of the year that 2008 would be cooler than recent years because of a La Niña event – characterised by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. It is the mirror image of the El Niño climate cycle. The Met Office had forecast an annual global average of 14.37C.

Anderson has a short memory. So does Allen. Scientists at the Met office are so keen to make a big deal out of unexpected temperatures that they ‘overinterpret the figures’ before they have even happened.

At the begining of 2007, a BBC article informed the world that

“The world is likely to experience the warmest year on record in 2007, the UK’s Met Office says.”

Such ‘overinterpretation’…

The global surface temperature is projected to be 0.54C (0.97F) above the long-term average of 14C (57F), beating the current record of 0.52C (0.94F), which was set in 1998.

The annual projection was compiled by the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre, in conjunction with the University of East Anglia.

Such ‘a fuss about what a hot year it is’… (even though it hadn’t happened yet).

We have actually run this forecast three times, updating it every month… and it is completely stable.”

But didn’t the Hadley Centre’s own Peter Stott just tell us that we ought to be looking at long-term trends? And yet, a forecast of a short term trend is considered newsworthy. Double standards are rife in climate science activism.

The Hadley Centre has been issuing the annual forecast for the past seven years and says it has just a 0.06C margin of error.

Eight months later, and the Met Office’s confident prediction was shown to be utter bunk.  Temperatures were falling. They revised their predictions, saying that they had created a new, more powerful computer model for predicting the future.

Powerful computer simulations used to create the world’s first global warming forecast suggests temperature rises will stall in the next two years, before rising sharply at the end of the decade.

But as we suggested earlier in the year, the incautious statements issued by Met Office scientists looked less like the work of scientific enquiry, and more like post-hoc speculation about which way the weather would turn.

In January 2007, the Met Office backed the wrong horse – El Niño. When La Niña emerged as the favourite, they changed their bets. This wasn’t sophisticated computer modelling. This was gambling by gamblers posing in lab coats. It was a safe bet that La Niña’s effects would last until 2009.

In order to wrong-foot sceptics, activist climate scientists (for that is what they must be if they are not agnostic about global warming) have had to reinterpret the evidence. Any downward tendency is waved away as short-term ‘natural variation’, caused by La Niña. This creates a casuality for the alarmists – it means that the significance of the record temperature in 1998 is diminished – clearly it was caused by El Niño. But on the other hand, ruling out the ’98 El Niño as ‘natural variation’ allows the claim that temperatures have increased since 1998 to be made.

Such chopping-and-changing appears to be the stock-in-trade of climate scientists and Guardian hacks. But this is because so much political capital is invested in the direction of lines on graphs representing weather statistics. And this is particularly clear in the pages of the Guardian, who have, over the last 12 or so months been especially keen to remind us that cooling trends are ‘not evidence that global warming is slowing’. There’s Randerson’s article, for example. Then there’s an article by Ian Sample, also a science correspondent, who last year reported that

The forecast of a brief slump in global warming has already been seized upon by climate change sceptics as evidence that the world is not heating. Climate scientists say the new high-precision forecast predicts temperatures will stall because of natural climate effects that have seen the Southern Ocean and tropical Pacific cool over the past couple of years.

Then, earlier this year, Fred Pearce, environmental writer and author of The Last Generation: How nature will take her revenge for climate change, said

A Germany study published earlier this month predicts the world will cool over the coming decade. British climate modellers at the Met Office don’t go so far. They think nature’s cooling will be more than counterbalanced by the warming effect of man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

But nobody is sure. In any case, we can expect the deniers to make the most of this opportunity to pour cold water on the whole climate change narrative. No year has yet been hotter than 1998, they will say. True: it was a huge El Niño year. Now we are on the way back down, they will say. Nonsense. The underlying trend remains upwards; and as every decade passes, natural cycles can do less and less to counter the growing human influence on temperature.

As we pointed out about the dramatisation of the movement of Arctic ice extent recently, the progression of curves representing climate statistics are the dynamic driving political discourse. The unfolding, present-tense narrative of lines on charts fuels the commentary about the conflict between the bad-minded ‘deniers’, and the honest scientists, seeking to destroy or save the world respectively.

The twists and turns of little blue lines excite the audience, and provide superficially important news fodder. It fuels debates, but with wild speculation and utterly meaningless and inconsequential factoids that will be forgotten by the time the next climate record is set. Repeat ad nauseam. These artificial dramas are elevated to ludicrous heights by claims that our entire futures depend on them. Consequently, life imitates this art. The drama extends into our real lives. It becomes politics, ethics, laws. The more we look to little blue lines, the less we realise that whatever little blue lines do only determines what our existences will consist of if we believe that the direction of the little blue line is instructive. It isn’t.

As the comments supplied by scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) about sea ice extent and the Met Office’s scientists careless posturing demonstrate, they are complicit in the politicisation of the climate debate. That is to say they are not impartial. They are not agnostic about climate change. And they are not disinterested observers of nature. Climate science is not a value-free investigation of the material universe.

Climate scientists and science correspondents imbue statistics with undue political significance. Therefore, they have to resort to use combative rhetoric when the trends offer conflicting evidence they cannot yet explain. Rather than contradicting themselves about the significance of short term trends, and moving the goal posts constituting long terms trends, climate scientists ought to be distancing themselves from the political significance of their work. Because to do otherwise is to legitimise the very ‘deniers’ they seek to diminish. If ‘climate science’ is where politics happens, then it is not only reasonable to ask if changes in the direction of change do represent a weakness in the prevailing view, it is essential.

Of course, a trend of 0.14 below average does not represent a static climate, but neither does an anomaly of 0.54C represent the dawn of a new, hostile geological epoch. Fools rush in to make statements about what such small numbers mean about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Climate Change Delusion By Proxy

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

I’m terrified about climate change

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

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

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

As they write in the BMJ:

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

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

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

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

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

And, of course, misanthropic:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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