A Peak Peak-Oil-Theory Theory

Five months is a long time in climate politics. The arguments change with the seasons. Back in the hazy days of July and August, the eco-newswires were dominated by stories about ‘record-breaking’ arctic ice extent – even though it wasn’t record-breaking, and the record is only 30 years long. Now, they are more likely to be stories telling us that 2008 hasn’t been all that warm, but that global warming is still happening.

The other dominant story was the genuinely record-breaking oil prices. Every time you filled your car with petrol, the price had gone up by several per cent. The environmental movement was keen to interpret this as another harbinger of the beginning of the end, and used it to demand that we change our ways. It seemed to prove that we were in the grip of what they said peak-oil theory had predicted. Here is Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP on BBC TV, in June.

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‘The days of cheap oil are over’, she says. ‘A look at the figures’ (what ‘figures’?) would demonstrate that we’re past the ‘half way point of all oil’, meaning that it would get more and more expensive, she claims. Demand outstrips supply. Lucas must be disappointed then, that OPEC have announced that they are cutting production by 2.2 million barrels a day in an order to rescue the price from its current plunge. In July, a barrel cost $147. Today, it costs just $41.53. If ‘the days of cheap oil are over’, why is it so cheap? Why is it necessary to create the scarcity which Caroline Lucas said existed in order to create the higher prices she demanded?

It could still be argued that the price drop reflects the current economic climate. And indeed, there is some sense in the argument that as demand has dropped so too has the price. But this doesn’t explain the peak. Because, back in June and July, it’s not as if the world was experiencing an economic boom.  Another major story – you may have noticed – of the last two years has been the ‘credit crunch’ that began in early 2007. Yet these two years of worsening economic affairs saw the price of oil rocket upwards. Just as we know house prices can ‘bubble’, so too can commodity prices. The upward prices were driven, in part, not by imminent scarcity, but by the idea that they might continue. After all, many – not just Greens – were lining up to make this drama a crisis. And who wouldn’t invest in oil, if they thought it was running out? And here’s the funny thing… It’s not in oil producers’ interests for people to believe that there is an abundance of oil. The idea of scarcity makes their product more valuable. Who are these Greens working for? On this basis, too, there is no real incentive for companies to invest in new exploration. New extraction facilities are hugely expensive. Invest prematurely, and you alter the market, price, and of course, politics. Imagine that in July 2008 you had invested your capital on the basis of reports that…

Some analysts have raised the possibility of prices rising as high as $200 a barrel during the next 18 months. … “You really cannot forecast how much further the market will rally now,” said Tatsuo Kageyama from Kanetsu Asset Management in Tokyo. “All I can say is the market will continue to rise.

… you’d be feeling the pinch now.

Search the web for charts showing oil prices, and what they reveal is that upward surges in oil price reflect political events. Regional conflict in the Middle East, and Africa, the War on Terror, assassinations, strikes, and so on, litter the upward progress of curves. Yet environmental doom-sayers are quick to tell us that there is something fundamentally wrong about our relationship with the natural world, and that we stand on the brink of a precipice. Nothing could be more arse-about-face. Oil prices were high for very human reasons.

The ‘half way point’ between what was in the ground and its depletion has been given incredible significance by various alarmists. It is yet another ‘tipping point’ that is used to manufacture drama from dull statistics, in much the same way as Arctic ice progression is used to manufacture drama from dull statistics. Once this fictional point is passed, we are supposed to enter some dark new epoch, in which a society that has foolishly been predicated on some ‘unsustainable’ relationship with the natural world begins to collapse. The search for these points-of-no-return represent a religious mission to look for ‘signs’ from Gaia. So convinced are people that such algebraic maxima exist, which give mathematical identity to society’s relationship with nature, that anything and everything becomes a ‘tipping point’ at the expense of understanding the world more deeply; understanding the increasing price of oil as a shortcoming of the market in the face of events in the human – rather than geological – world, for example. The idea of the ‘tipping point’ then assumes political significance. Rarely a day goes by without it being applied to something – gun crime, obesity, you name it. Where there is a moral panic, you will find the ecological metaphor – the “tipping point” – being used to paint a picture of inevitable decline into social chaos.

The invocation of social chaos is a demand for social control. Like alienated weirdos who once stood in public places wearing ‘the end is nigh’ placards, the people making these statements cannot explain the world – it’s already chaotic for control freaks. For example, they can’t explain oil prices in terms of political events. Curves representing Arctic sea ice approach ‘tipping points’, which they argue represent movement towards ‘runaway climate change’. ‘We’ve got to change the way we live’, they say. While they so comprehensively fail to explain the social world, we should ignore them, just as we walked past those men in their placards. They deserve only a bit of sympathy, at arms length.

There is a problem for people making these statements. Their luck runs out. Nature takes a different course. So…

As the environmental movement emphasises our relationship with nature, how about we treat doom itself as a ‘natural resource’ which is exploited for political capital? It is a resource that is depleted in two ways. First, let’s assume that it is finite – nature cannot continue to provide alarmists with these resources forever, and so their jumping on everything as the sign of ‘the end’ is unsustainable. Second, the utility of these resources becomes diminished as an increasingly credulous public tire of them – demand for more and more doom grows. Hence, climate change alarmists leap on sea ice extent one year, floods the next, heatwaves the next… and so on. Each new trend constitutes a new deposit of resource, that will be depleted, flogged to death, over the season.

Let’s call this theory the peak peak-oil-theory theory. So far, environmental alarmists have been able to avoid reaching the peak because they have been able to locate new trends, and invent new ways of telling stories about the progress of little blue lines which, for that season, appear to make sense. But now, there is clear evidence emerging that the tipping points have been passed.

Doom does not carry over from one season to the next. Arctic sea ice recovers from its ‘historic low’ in a year that climate-activist-meteorologists admit that global warming is postponed. The commodity price bubble of doom bursts. In order to prevent a crisis, alarmists pump ever more doom into the market, promising a bleaker future, but it just makes them look sillier and sillier. Confidence in the doom market crumbles still further, as the value of doom approaches nil.

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The world’s doom-shale deposits, previously thought to contain enough pessimism to fuel the green project for centuries to come, don’t. The idea that technological developments will allow these reserves to be tapped is mere propaganda. The days of cheap doom are over.

Oiling the Wheel of Despair at the Edge of Scare City

The future is bleak. That seems to be the message that everybody wheeled into the public spotlight is keen to tell us. Indeed, if you can’t say that the future is bleak, you have no business being on the news. 

Other than the current comparisons to today’s economic climate with the Great Depression, there seems to be two main categories of doom saying; the first tells us that the stuff we do will cause irreversible damage to the planet. The second tells us that we’re running out of stuff to do stuff with anyway. Either way, we’re up a certain creek without a paddle. It’s a ticking time bomb. A disaster waiting to happen. Not if, but when. The disaster B-movie has mutated, grown limbs, escaped its fantasy celluloid landscape, and found a new home in the imaginations of the people whose expertise we might have thought would protect them – and us – from such silliness. But embracing disaster movie clichés is now part of the expert commentators’ routine.  

Matthew Simmons, CEO, Energy Investment bank Simmons & Co joined Richard Heinberg – Senior fellow, Post Carbon Institute, and Liberal-Democrat, John Hemming MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary group on Peak Oil and Gas for a recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s consumer affairs programme, You and Yours, for some lunch time fear-mongery.

You can listen again, here.

This kind of thinking is straight out of the environmentalists’ cookbook. But it is not unique to environmentalists. 

PRESENTER: And when you’ve been asked before if it’s time, you know, for this whole idea of peak oil and gas to be part of the public policy you’ve said, ‘it’s passed time, and in fact the solution now is to pray’. Is it really as dire as that?   

MATTHEW SIMMONS: I beleive so, and I beleive the data is overwhelmingly… it’s not perfect yet… it won’t be until we look back with, you know,  the benefit of two or three year hindsight… But I think the data is pretty clear that basically we reached, the sustainable top oil production in 2005. So we’re now three years beyond the tipping point. 

Amongst many critics of environmentalism on the right, environmentalism is regarded as the continuation of the Left. Environmentalists are ‘watermelons’, they say; green on the outside, red in the middle. Various eco-warriors haven’t been keen to challenge this perception, arguing that climate scepticism was a front for the interests of oil companies, who face a reduction in their profits. This was also the claim of a former director of media relations of the UK’s Royal Society, Bob Ward. Ward sent angry open letters to Exxonmobil and the media, demanding that they stop funding sceptics, which he continued even after he left the RS to work at insurance products firm, Risk Management Solutions (RMS). But as we pointed out, if Ward is criticising oil companies for having an interest in the public’s doubt about global warming, then Ward, now working for RMS, which sells products relating to the effects of climate change, has an interest in the public’s undue fear of catastrophe. If nobody feared climate change, there would be no market for the products created by Ward’s new employers. Fear is to RMS as oil is to Exxonmobil. 

Similarly, Matthew Simmons has something to gain by promoting the idea that the oil is about to run out, and we’re all going to die. Scarcity, or the belief that something is scarce, makes his commodity more valuable. It pushes the price up. It means that, as a CEO of an energy investment bank, he has to do less investing for each dollar of return, than he would, were prices lower than they have been in the past. The urgency with which he presents his case also creates the drive to subsidise ‘renewable’ energy installations, which he will no doubt benefit from. 

The company’s website announces itself, 

Simmons & Company is the only independent investment bank specializing in the entire spectrum of the energy industry. Founded in 1974, the firm has acted as financial advisor in over $134* billion of transactions, including 535 merger and acquisitions worth over $93 billion. Simmons has served as co-manager on over $35 billion in public debt and equity offerings. During 2007 Simmons closed 49 M&A transactions worth $26 billion and co-managed 10 offerings worth $4.9 billion. The firm’s clients range from small, privately held companies to multi-billion dollar public entities.

Does that sound to anyone like workings of a secret socialist conspiracy? 

Richard Heinberg lightens the mood of the conversation. ‘We’re going to have to re-think just about everything we do’, he says. 

PRESENTER: Are we talking about population control at some point? 

RICHARD HIENBERG: Well, certainly we’re going to have to look at how to reduce population increase and perhaps even contemplate ways to reduce fertility so that gradually the human population can contract back to a level that we can sustain. Obviously we want to do this in the most humane way, without disregarding human rights, but at the same time, the ecological reality is we may not be able to support seven, eight, or nine-billion people. 

And here we see the ecological and depletion arguments converge. Humans must balance not merely their lifestyles, but their lives, and the lives of the families they want to have, and their rights against ‘ecological reality’. All that is necessary to demand people lower their horizons, aspirations, and expectations is to invoke ‘ecological reality’. Gone are the days when nature was studied in order to be harnessed for the benefit of humanity. Today’s study of nature is a political exercise that is undertaken in order to discover ways of legitimising social control. You want liberty? Well, tough, ecological reality dictates that it’s not possible. Start digging. 

And don’t expect capitalists to rush to the rescue. 

PRESENTER: Matt Simmons, do you really think we’re going to have to have population control as a result of your fears over peak oil?

MATTHEW SIMMONS: I think population control is like introducing a new car. It’s a great concept, but basically it just takes too long. We don’t have the time for these. We would have had the time if we started thinking about this in the ’70s or ’80s, but again, population control, unless we’re talking about genocide, it takes decades to implement so… Liberating the workforce, and allowing people to work when they want and where they want, growing food locally, ending globalisation, ?[making things we’re using]? can be implemented in three to four years, so. That’s the draconian measures we need to do. And long-term we need to think about these other things, but they’re very long-term implementations, and we don’t have that time, we ran out the clock. 

‘Liberating the workforce’ in Simmons’ argument is not really about liberation at all. He’s principally talking about telecommuting. Which is fine if you happen to be in his line of work (not to mention if you have a nice big house, with plenty of room for working in). If you happen to be one of those people doing the ‘growing food locally’, it means hard work, and low pay. Allowing people to work ‘where they want and when they want’ is also a neat idea. But Simmons doesn’t mean freedom. It doesn’t mean allowing people to work 100 miles away from where they live. It doesn’t mean letting people drive, or, heaven forfend, flying to new opportunities. Industry with a ‘low ecological impact’ isn’t liberating. It’s back-breaking, manual labour. And what to make of a CEO of an investment back calling for an end to globalisation?! 

Once upon a time, capitalists sought to find new ways of meeting human needs and desires. Even if that meant, sometimes, creating things we didn’t really want, or didn’t really need. It is curious, then, that Simmons should be using ‘ecological reality’ as the basis for an argument against globalisation, and for a radical change in our lifestyles. 

This pessimism has found a home in the establishment as much as it has amongst the self-proclaimed revolutionary activists. Anti-globalisation protesters clash with the authorities at G8 meetings, but if CEOs of energy investment banks are saying the same things, then it’s not clear what either are asking for. Between the demonstrators and the companies, the Government, and the political parties, there is very little difference of perspective on the problem. 

‘I think we need to recognise that there is a link between food and energy.’ Says Lib-Dem MP, John Hemming. Well, you’d have hoped so, wouldn’t you? 

JOHN HEMMING: Fertilisers are generally… the feedstock is from oil. So you will always have a link between the two. And the policy changes that are needed are the same, whether you agree with the doomsday scenario or not, we still need to be much more orientated towards controlling the use of fossil fuels.

PRESENTER: And is the Government currently doing that? Is it doing as much as it not only could but should, desperately should according to Matt and Richard? Do you think it is? 

JOHN HEMMING: I think the Government’s not even doing as much as it intends to. The first problem from the Government is denial. They estimate the peak, global peak for hydro-carbon production to be in 2030. They explain that’s based on the IEA figures, and the IEA perhaps indicate a figre of 2011 2012. If you start by denying there is a problem then it’s not suprising they’re not doing anything about it. 

PRESENTER: So what should they be doing?

JOHN HEMMING: There’s a wide range of things. We’re producing a number of reports. But the fact that you cannot for instance, have a third runway at Heathrow Airport is a very obvious thing. They plan for a growth in air transport. It’s a farce to plan for a growth in air transport when there isn’t actually the fuel to power it. 

If there really is no fuel to power aircraft at Heathrow, then there’s no real problem about it being built. So it is odd that Hemming makes a point of it. 

It is telling that the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary group on Peak Oil and Gas does not focus his responsibilities to finding new ways to power the country, were his fears about peak oil to be correct. He recognises that energy is essential – he tells us that it takes ten calories of fuel energy to make one calorie of food energy. This is a good thing, because the more fuel energy that has gone into producing food, the less human labour has gone into producing it. He doesn’t recognise that, and wants instead to control the use of fossil fuels. Hemming continues:

Energy is going to be rationed, by the price, or by tradable energy quotas. If it’s rationed by price, poorer people will suffer to a far greater extent than aiming… and it require international action, there’s no question about it. One country can’t resolve this on their own. But you have a limited numbers of ways of dealing with it. When you look at the numbers game in terms of alternative energies, they’re all various partial solutions, it’s not clear that they add up to a complete solution, therefore, you have to look at how you equitably deal with the fossil fuel provision that we have. And the tradable energy quotas is one way forward, the other one is pricing the poor people out of the market, which isn’t very fair. 

Hemming has ignored coal, and he has ignored nuclear, and the other fossil alternatives. The ‘peak oil’ crisis relates only to a relative depletion of crude oil reserves, not of fossil fuels. Much of South Africa’s petrol is produced from coal. Alternatives such as oil shale and sands exist in much greater quantities than crude ever has, but what stops these from being exploited has been the low price of crude until relatively recently. While there is uncertainty about the future of the global economy, and the way in which oil prices will respond, there is little incentive in investing in alternatives which may not, in the medium term, compete with crude. But plenty of alternatives – some of them renewable – exist, and in abundance. The problems are, firstly that these alternatives are incompatible with environmental anxieties. The second is that they are incompatible with the intellectual vacuum driving the thoughts of men such as Hemming, Simmons, and Heinberg. 

PRESENTER: Matt Simmons, you’re an expert on the impact that this could have on the, as it were, the global economy, it seems that pretty well every and any solution is going to have an impact on those at the bottom end of the scale.

MATT SIMMONS: That’s one of the reasons we basically can’t let the market sort this out. Because the market sorting it out is going to last for a few weeks and then we have social chaos, and then we’re into a resource war. What we really need to realise is this is a global problem, it’s not a UK problem, it’s not a United States problem, it’s not a California problem or a Texas problem. And we’re basically on the edge of scarcity of oil which means we basically have to do a fast retreat from our heavy addiction to using oil. As Richard said, this is transportation. All the other forms of energy relate to electricity and heat. But this is transportation, so it’s pretty simple, we have to travel less, and that means liberating the work force, paying by productivity, any long-distance commuting… luckily we have a tool kit we’ve already developed to do that… But we now need to implement something which has the intensity of a war effort of world war 2, or the Manhatten Project, or rebuilding Europe, and do this all very fast in the next two or three years, or we’ve really lost the battle. 

Turning a restriction on travel and ‘payment by productivity’ into ‘liberating the work force’ is an impressive example of Orwellian spin. One might say ‘freedom from freedom’, and make as much sense. ‘Payment by productivity’ might be a great idea if you’re a CEO of an investment bank. But if you’re working in ‘localised food production’, it means little more than a few pence from the gang master if you shove more dirt. One of the best things about the ability to move is that it freed people to move to find work on better terms. Reducing the opportunity to travel means reducing opportunities to work. John Hemming’s perspective is no deeper. 

Well I think we need to focus more on quality of life rather than standard of living, and the evidence is that people aren’t necessarily happier in an environment where they commute for two hours each day. Those factors need to be taken into account. And what is critical is we need to look at an equitable way of dealing with scarcity and to just price the poor people out of the market, which is what the Government are doing isn’t an equitable way of dealing with it. 

Perhaps here we begin to see what’s at the heart of the nonsense emerging from these three men. Hemming has nothing to offer us at all. Scarcity is an inevitability as far as he is concerned, because without the prospect of doom hanging over us, he is, as was the Emperor, without clothes. He can’t raise people’s expectations with a positive vision because he lacks one. Instead, he exploits the story created by ‘ecological reality’, to cast himself as the saviour. He can’t make any claims to make us any richer, but he tells us that he can make us happier, if only we’d abandon our attachment to our materialist ‘standard of living’. This isn’t politics, it’s Buddhism. His concern for the poor is quite moving. But rather than worrying about their happiness, we’re pretty sure they’d rather he got on with the business of raising standards of living, so that they can get on with their emotional lives, by themselves, thank you very much. Just who does he think he is? 

We’re realy are at the stage where Government needs to move on from denial. The people can adjust their own lifestyle to be less energy-dependant, and that’s strongly advisable thing to do because we’re not going to see over time a massive reduction in prices, whatever happens. So it’s in everybody’s interests to adjust their lifesytle to minimise their use of energy.

We have noted before the tendency of political parties not in power to escalate the scale of the problem faced, and to say that only their policies reflect what the ‘science says’, and that the other parties are therefore ‘in denial’. When we began this blog, the Labour government had announced their commitment to a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Shortly after, the Conservatives announced that they would see an 80% reduction by the same time. The Liberal Democrats – Hemming’s party – announced that by 2050, they would make Britain carbon neutral by measures including banning the petrol engine, and, curiously, banning nuclear power. This process owes nothing to science, and is merely posturing by percentage points like boys boasting about their physical strength. In the past, politicians would try to attract your vote by arguing that the political philosophy and economic theories they espoused would make a better life either for you, or for everyone. Now, people like Hemming argue that you need to make lifestyle changes, and get used to less. ‘Ecological realities’ are invoked in place of principles and values. Statistics that bear no relation to human experience underpin stories of terrible ecological consequences and social collapse. 

Similarly, investment capitalists once sought to innovate ways to achieve an edge over their competitors, and passed on some of the savings made by economies of scale, efficiency, and industrial processes to the consumer. Like the politicians embracing environmental tenets, today’s CEOs of energy investment banks suffer from a scarcity, not of natural resources, but the ideas and imagination required to continue providing the world with the services it needs. Instead of innovating, Matthew Simmons appears to be protecting his commercial position by lobbying for regulation, and protecting the value of his commodity by creating the illusion of scarcity. 

Environmentalism is not unique to the Left. It is being absorbed by parties and individuals positioned across the political spectrum; Conservative, Liberal and Left, and by capitalists and anti-capitalists, radicals and establishmentarians alike. Intellectually exhausted political parties and their members and zombified corporate CEOs try to breathe life into their collapsing organisations by wrapping themselves in green. But this reinvention brings them ever closer to ‘end-is-nigh’ sandwich board lunatics like Richard Heinberg, and further and further away from the public. The tragedy is that their limited vision is the basis on which the future is being constructed. Politicians should be engaged by the task of enabling the exploration of new, cheaper and more abundant sources of energy, and investment capitalists should be finding ways of making them commercially viable. Instead, we seem to be facing an economic crisis, with rows upon rows upon rows of public figures telling us to expect less and less. With people like that at the helm, it is no wonder this ship is sinking. Down is the only direction these people know.

Rewriting Slavery

In the August edition of History Today, Jean-Francois Mouhot argues that ‘reliance on fossil fuels has made slave owners of us all’.

Hmm.

Most of us approach slavery with the underlying assumption that our modern civilization is morally far superior to the barbaric slave-owning societies of the past. But are we really so different? If we compare our current attitude to fossil fuels and climate change with the behaviour of the slave owners, there are more similarities than one might immediately perceive.

Mouhot begins his article by drawing some links between the industrial revolution and the slave trade. Goods such as weapons, chains, and locks were made in Britain, to keep slaves in bondage, and their labour created the goods that flowed back; sugar, cotton, tobacco.

Slave traders therefore played a significant – if perhaps indirect – role in the establishment of the industrialist system at the core of our contemporary societies.

Industrial society, it seems, only owes itself indirectly to slavery. And he continues to say that there are also links between industrialisation and the end of slavery. There seems to be no coherent basis for Mouhot to continue, yet he carries on with this tired comparison, seemingly only on the basis that steam power was unable to make slavery redundant in the cotton-fields. Mouhot turns to human nature itself to explain why this might have been.

The comparison starts with a hypothesis that it is a feature of human nature that whenever humans have had the possibility to find someone or something else to work for them for free or for a small cost, they have almost always taken advantage of it, even if it came at a high moral cost.

This is a very cynical conception of human nature and a particularly flawed hypothesis. What is more, it is an ahistorical hypothesis. History shows that slavery was rejected to the point that it is now considered to be disgusting. The transformation to the contemporary view of slavery from its general acceptance centuries ago shows how our moral sense, and our conception of humanity has changed. The difference between getting ‘someone else’, and ‘something else’ to work for us for free is stark. It is only by assuming this ahistorical position, and in fact degrading that developed sense of humanity, that Mouhot can substantiate his argument for a moral equivalence between using labour-saving devices and being a slave-owner.

Mouhot shows that to maintain the same standard of living, without fossil fuels, we would need about a hundred people working for us, full time. (Surely this is a good thing? After all, given that he has argued that humans ‘will always take advantage of the possibility of cheaper ways of doing things’, then the alternative to using oil is that humans are put to work as slaves. There could not be a more compelling argument for the continued use of fossil fuel). In fact, Mouhot misses an even deeper historical lesson. Industrialisation created the conditions in which the poor of the world were able to challenge their conditions. As poor people were widely distributed, and lacked the means to organise themselves, and had nothing to bargain with, they had no political capital. When the industrial revolution concentrated labour in towns, and created the possibility of the exchange of labour for wages, it made labour a political force. Industrialisation and capitalism toppled feudalism. This process happened as progressive theories were developing about the way in which people related to one another, and how they ought to relate to one another. In 1762, Rousseau, whose thoughts have shaped today’s world, wondered, in The Social Contract:

Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer.

Of course, Rousseau was speaking generally about slavery. But then, Mouhot himself uses the term very loosely in order to make his point. Mouhot is simply wrong to imagine that ‘high moral cost’ was a consideration in the exploitation of slave labour. It happened in a different age, where different ideas about what constitutes a human influenced the way people related to each other. We haven’t merely developed industrially, our morals, ethics and values have been transformed by the political ideas and struggles that have taken place over the last few centuries. In that time, the prevailing view has changed from one in which people were the property of Kings by Divine Right, to today, where people are (or ought to be) entitled to inalienable human rights. Nonetheless, Mouhot’s poor reasoning and ahistorical thinking continues:

Second, slavery caused harm to human beings, as does our current large-scale burning of fossil fuel. Some might argue that it is not possible to compare pain triggered by the use of slaves and pain caused by the use of oil, gas or coal, as in the latter case we are dealing with inanimate objects. However, when we burn oil or gas above what the eco-system can absorb, we are causing pain and suffering to other human beings. The release of carbon dioxide is already causing harm and human suffering and is forecast to produce much more, by increasing droughts and flooding, threatening crop yields and displacing large numbers of people.

Mouhot is simply wrong to claim that CO2 is ‘already causing harm and human suffering’. It cannot be shown, and it has not been shown by any sound method. He certainly hasn’t subjected the claim to any scrutiny. What is clear, and what we have pointed out on many occasions, is that the victims this kind of argument exploits for moral capital – the poor – would not be vulnerable to climate were they as wealthy as we are. The ethical case for equality is distorted by arguments such as Mouhot’s, which replace it with an ethic to stabilise the weather. What is missing from this process is the voices of the people on whose behalf Mouhot seems to be speaking. Let us imagine they have been asked, ‘what would you prefer, a stable climate, or Western levels of wealth?’ What do we think their reply would be? Of course, this would liberate Mouhot’s eco-slaves, and turn them into the climate criminals that he compares to slave owners. In other words, liberating the world’s poor who are vulnerable to climate by making them voices, rather than victims means that he can no longer turn to them for moral capital. So who is the slave owner? Mouhot has an answer to these points…

It is argued that there are some long-term benefits from the carbon economy: the hospitals, schools and roads we build today through the use of fossil fuels will benefit future generations. What is more, not all of the consequences of climate change are negative: a rise in temperature by a few degrees will have some beneficial aspects. However, these arguments are erroneous as the predicted overall damage, according to the IPCC, far outweighs any positive impacts climate change may have.

What predictions? The IPCC does not make any predictions. What Mouhot believes are ‘predictions’, are in fact ‘projections’, which consider what might happen under a range of possible scenarios, as assumptions. For example, The Technical Summary of IPCC AR4 Impacts and Vulnerability Group states:

Future vulnerability depends not only on climate change but also on development pathway.
An important advance since the Third Assessment has been the completion of impacts studies for a range of different development pathways, taking into account not only projected climate change but also projected social and economic changes. Most have been based on characterisations of population and income levels drawn from the SRES scenarios [2.4]. These studies show that the projected impacts of climate change can vary greatly due to the development pathway assumed. For example, there may be large differences in regional population, income and technological development under alternative scenarios, which are often a strong determinant of the level of vulnerability to climate change [2.4]. [OUR EMPHASIS]

The report also pointed out that more research was needed:

[TS 6.2] there has been little advance on:

• impacts under different assumptions about how the world will evolve in future – societies, governance, technology and economic development;

• the costs of climate change, both of the impacts and of response (adaptation and mitigation)

If that is not sufficient to convince anyone that development is a key determinant of vulnerability to climate, then there is plenty more. For example:

Vulnerability to climate change can be exacerbated by the presence of other stresses.

…Vulnerable regions face multiple stresses that affect their exposure and sensitivity as well as their capacity to adapt. These stresses arise from, for example, current climate hazards, poverty and unequal access to resources, food insecurity, trends in economic globalisation, conflict, and incidence of disease such as HIV/AIDS [7.4, 8.3, 17.3, 20.3].

Finally, what the IPCC do here is barely science at all, but the construction of stories by social scientists and economists, based on scientific projections given by climate scientists. And it is far from unchallengable. Nevertheless, it is clear that the claim Mouhot makes is not substantiated by the IPCC. It depends on a very subjective interpretation of its work, which combines a huge number of highly significant assumptions, complete with caveats – all of which are ignored. The IPCC is cited by Mouhot, not in order to point readers towards supporting information… it doesn’t exist. The purpose is to invoke scientific authority to support his specious moral reasoning. All Mouhot has done is to make something up, and attribute it to the IPCC. And anyway, anyone who disagrees is a ‘denier’.

But let’s not single Mouhot out. This is the standard to which even academics writing about climate change aspire. This is not an unusual case.

The claims made by Mouhot, that ‘predictions’ show that negative impacts will outweigh the positives, are not science. They are not made by scientists, and they fail to take into account what is possible through increased wealth. Indeed, the IPCC is wedded to the anti-wealth, sustainability agenda, which takes the view that wealth itself is environmentally destructive. In other words, the IPCC, through the sustainability agenda, is attached to a particular political idea that will influence the direction of development throughout the world over the coming decades. This is the counterpart political orthodoxy to the ‘scientific consensus’. And it is this political idea which is reflected as Mouhot considers a challenge to his argument, on the basis that slavery implies a relationship between slave and master, which does not exist in our reliance on fossil fuels.

…comparatively cheap energy is a required condition for the transport of foreign goods on a massive scale and over large distances. As it is inexpensive to transport those goods from the Far East to Europe or America, it is possible to import products often made in slave-like conditions for a fraction of the cost of producing them in our countries. We have delocalized slavery and put it far from view, but it still exists and we benefit from it. Secondly, the harm caused by climate change often amounts to violence or force against a large number of people. Global warming, like slavery, is already limiting the possibilities they have for living a good life. Floods, droughts and rising sea levels will force millions of people to become refugees; their land will be taken away from them and they may have to work in slave-like conditions instead of growing their own crops. Even if they do not become refugees, in the ‘developing world’ many poor peasants have to contract debts to survive. Any crop failure, which can be caused or worsened by climate change, put these peasants at the mercy of debt bondage. It is even possible that the consequences of climate change will be far worse and longer lasting, and affect a much larger number of people, than slavery ever did.

First, Mouhot’s imaginations are predicated on the principle of zero economic, political and social development in the developing world. Not only is this ahistorical, again, it is also counter-factual. Of course, working life in the developing world is not something that we would tolerate in the West, but it is still an improvement upon the conditions endured by people living in subsistence economies. That is why we see mass migration towards cities throughout the world, and in particular why people in China have abandoned rural lifestyles to work in factories in cities. And that is why we see development in China on an unprecedented scale. And of course we benefit from cheaper labour and production, and there is an element of ‘unfairness’ to this relationship. But this relationship is a transformation from no relationship. Equality cannot be achieved where there is no relationship.

Second, the claim that global warming is ‘already’ causing pain and suffering to the poor, or will in the future, also imagines that development does not offer protection against the elements. But why does Mouhot not imagine that governments in the developing world invest in infrastructure that will protect it from the climate, changing or not? After all, at the very least, even if the plight of humans isn’t worth a stuff, factories and other installations are worth protecting. Whereas, self-evidently, subsistence economies cannot afford to build protection for themselves against the elements.

Third, the lifestyle that Mouhot seems to want people in the developing world to continue living precludes the possibility of industrial development and economic growth. That in turn precludes the possibility of political transformation of the unequal relationships they are on the bad end of. In other words, Mouhot argues for the slave-master relationship to be sustained, lest it ‘damages the environment’. Mouhot cares not a hoot for these ‘slaves’.

What Mouhot writes is unmitigated nonsense. It is ahistorical, it is counter-factual, and it is ultimately an argument which can be used to sustain the conditions which are endured by the very people he claims to wish to save.

That ought to be the end of this already long post. But there is more to this story. At the bottom of the article is a very revealing profile of Mouhot.

* Jean-François Mouhot is project research officer at the University of Birmingham. He worked until recently for an environmental NGO campaigning against climate change. He is a member of the Rescue!History network: www.rescue-history.org.uk

The environmental movement makes a lot of noise about the interference of political interests in the public presentation of issues relating to climate change. It is constantly surprising to see that you can be an ecological activist without having your integrity challenged. But the slightest whiff of a connection to the oil industry is enough to ignite furious letters to the censor. So let’s allow Mouhot his biased influence on research which continues to sustain inequality in the world.

Rescue! History is an organisation that intends to connect the issue of climate change with the social sciences and humanities.

We therefore propose that as teachers, researchers and students of complex human societies of the past and present, whether as historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, human geographers, demographers, philosophers, writers, students of politics, economics, international relations, religion, literature and culture, or of other related fields, that our role and responsibility must be directed increasingly towards an understanding of how we arrived at this point of crisis. By the same token, we must seek to understand not only how societies, polities and cultures have previously, or currently, sustained themselves in conditions of scarcity and adversity but through our own actions also take some personal responsibility by reducing our carbon footprints if not to remedy then at least to help mitigate the consequences of climate change.

There are three things to consider here.

The first is that academics from these disciplines are being asked to take at face value ‘what science says’, rather than, as has been the case since positivism, for social scientists to challenge scientism – the idea that society can be understood and controlled in strict, scientific terms.

The second is that this statement of intent seems to use urgency to arm political, environmental orthodoxy with moral purpose, and to exclude dissent from academia.

Third, we ought to ask what it is that Rescue! History really aims to rescue. Is it humanity, or is it the humanities? Just as fears about climate change have armed flailing political parties with new purpose, as we have observed, it has breathed new life into academia; it has brought to the fore dusty old geography departments, and made them highly relevant to today’s world, and has reconnected moral philosophy to matters of the survival of the human race through ‘the ethics of climate change’. This is about more than simply capturing research budgets by making History relevant to climate change. This is about redefining History as a discipline, when, perhaps, it is a bit unsure of itself, in much the same way that directionless politicians from the old left and right alike are redefining their core values in environmental terms.

The consequence of all this is that slavery also gets re-written, backwards. If Mouhot’s argument actually emerged from a careful study of history, that would be one thing. But instead, he looks to History for ways of making moral arguments in the present, in favour of Environmentalism. He wants to use History to show that we’re the moral equivalent of 18th Century slave owners, not to advance our understanding of humanity’s transformation through time. In the process, he ignores our political, social, and cultural development, which must be against the very principles of History. These are the things that Environmentalism wants us to discard. Environmentalism’s political objectives, given legitimacy by a re-writing of history makes us all either victims or culprits, are achieved not through broadening and deepening our understanding of history, culture, and society, but by narrowing it in order to make crass, obscene, and bogus moral calculations.

Environmentalism According to Lucas

Over the last year, we have looked at some of the words and ideas coming from the environmental movement through the Green Party’s MEP for SE England, Caroline Lucas. With her breathless, urgent catastrophism, Lucas epitomises Environmentalism and its hollow vision, shallow intellect, and deep misanthropy. In these respects, Lucas never disappoints us.

However, we are never very successful at getting Lucas or her press office to account for anything she has said. Luckily, she was on BBC TV’s Question Time last week, and has been appearing at a number of public events of late. So here is another opportunity to subject Lucas’s political ideas to some scrutiny.

The Question Time panel were asked if the Labour Party were suffering from a leadership crisis, to which Caroline Lucas replied that Labour’s problem is that it lacks values, that it no longer knows what it stands for, that it has abandoned its traditional values such as equality, and that Gordon Brown is a man who doesn’t know what he wants.

[youtube j8t-0mynExg]

We agree with Lucas that the Labour Party is in crisis because it doesn’t know what it stands for. As we say in our first ever post, “Environmental concerns are serving to provide direction for directionless politics”. That is why Blair and Brown were keen to be seen to be acting on climate change, and that is why, in response to that action, the Tories committed themselves to a policy of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, against Labour’s 60%. And that is why, not to be out-done, the Liberal Democrats upped their bidding to a 100% reduction by 2050. But are Lucas and the Green Party offering anything so different?

As we have also pointed out, Environmentalism thrives in this atmosphere of political vapidity, not because it represents an alternative, but because it captures the nervousness caused by a lack of political direction. Environmentalism nurtures a general sense of doom with ideas about societal and ecological collapse. Without that sense of doom, environmentalism would be nothing.

As political movements across the political spectrum have increasingly found it difficult to generate ideas through which to connect to the public, so they have had to turn to other ways to achieve their legitimacy and authority. As Lucas points out, the Labour Party is suffering from a ‘crisis of direction’. But Lucas and the Greens have not found a direction by locating a new political vision to steer towards, but a nightmare to claim to be steering away from. Lucas attacks Brown for having no values, yet her arguments for social and economic change are not formed out of her principled objections to the way in which people relate to one another through social and economic structures. Instead, Lucas’s philosophy depends on a conception of humanity’s relationship with nature. She is, in terms of values, as poverty-stricken as any of those she attacks. Lucas doesn’t have some great store of values, with which she can create a positive view of how the world could be. Here is Lucas, speaking at a recent debate held by the World Development Movement, setting out her case for carbon rationing, trading and ‘equality’ and selling her argument for ‘equality’ in such (pseudo) scientific terms.

[youtube htTOxudmjvY]

Notice that, in that speech, Lucas is using the word ‘resources’, not in the sense of stuff that we have, but in terms of the biosphere’s ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

It seems that, in order to make a case for equality, Lucas needs there to be a finite world, as if, were there no such limits (to the absorption of CO2 by natural processes), there would be no case for equality. This prevents her from conceiving of a world in which equality is achieved, not by rationing and people having less, but by people having more, and having their expectations raised. Lucas doesn’t have ‘values’, and hides the fact behind science. ‘Science’ is being used in place of values. ‘Science’ is Environmentalism’s fig leaf. It is being used to create the idea of limits, so that Environmentalism doesn’t have to commit itself to providing anything more than less and less. And just as science is used instead of values, doom is a stand in for political vision. If we don’t do as ‘science’ (environmentalism) says, then catastrophe awaits. Here, for example, Lucas tells us that unless we put up with high fuel prices and tax, we wont adjust our behaviour, and society will collapse.

[youtube mBTE4w3qIaw]

It is an ‘interesting’ argument that says we need to artificially keep oil prices high because… err… the days of cheap oil are over because… err… of peak oil. For someone who lectures us about ‘science’, the logic of the causal world seems to have escaped Lucas’s understanding. Scarcity would do Lucas’s work for her. Obviously, what is at issue is not rescuing humanity from a looming catastrophe, but the legitimacy of a political movement bent on creating a behavioural and cultural change for its own benefit, on the premise that only it can save us from the terrible chaos that awaits us.

[youtube XsCfzjqeTPE]

As much as Lucas tries to make her ideas sound positive, they are underscored and sold by a vision of catastrophe. She may talk of progressive ideas such as ‘equality’, ‘justice’, and ‘liberty’, but all of these ideas are mediated by, and through the environment. Our freedom is limited, not guaranteed by the environment. Equality is measured in environmental, pseudo-scientific terms of resource distribution. Social justice, according to Lucas, is equivalent to ‘environmental justice’. But what a pale imitation of justice that is; it doesn’t right any wrongs, or create the possibility of a better standard of living. And where Lucas promises that there will be less unemployment under a Green Government, it is because a ‘zero carbon economy’ is far more labour-intensive than its fully-powered counterpart. In such an economy, the job that oil did will be done by people. Fancy a job as a serf? How about a career as a treadmill operative? This will be the ‘equality’ and the ‘social justice’ that Lucas has designed for us.

The use of science to limit political possibilities, and lower our horizons by constructing plausible catastrophic scenarios is the everyday language of environmentalism. But, surprisingly, the failure of this unremittingly negative view of the world hasn’t escaped Lucas’ attention.

[youtube -JfDb4K4GUU]

What? Caroline Lucas is against climate alarmism? The same Caroline Lucas who, in July last year, compared climate scepticism to holocaust denial? The same Caroline Lucas who said in July last year that,

… if you look at the implications of climate change, of runaway climate change, we are literally talking about millions and millions of people dying, we are literally talking about famines, and flooding, and migration and disease on an unprecedented scale. And so yes, I know these are sensitive words that I’ve used, but I feel so strongly that we urgently need to wake people up and stop this march towards catastrophe that I very much feel that we’re on.

Is the Caroline Lucas who is now against catastrophism the same Caroline Lucas who said in November,

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

Is it the same Caroline Lucas who said in February,

Around 75 per cent of all cancers are caused by environmental factors, mainly chemicals…

Is the Caroline Lucas who doesn’t believe that alarmism works, the same Caroline Lucas in this video?

[youtube Higin1kY3PM]

Lucas appears to be very confused about what she is selling, and how she is selling it. She claims that we must change the way we live, to expect less, and to make do and mend, but that, somehow, this will make us all happier. She claims that she doesn’t depend on catastrophic visions to connect with the public, yet without it, there is no imperative to give her ideas a second thought. She claims to be part of a democratic movement, yet demands that the state regulate our behaviour. She claims to speak on behalf of the poor, yet would deprive the poor of the material means to change their lives; cheap goods, fuel, and mobility. She claims to have science on her side, yet she campaigns against the benefits of science; she is against animal research, and against evidence based medicine, favouring instead ‘alternative’ therapies; she campaigns against the use of agricultural and industrial chemicals; and she campaigns against anything which might have the charge of ‘unsustainable’ thrown at it. She claims to be against the coercive influence of big business, but in its place, she would put an authoritarian government that would regulate your freedom to travel, to buy things, and coerce you into observing an ‘environmentally friendly’ lifestyle.

A loss of values in politics is a bad thing. But the Green Party is far far worse. Give us disorientation over deeply confused misanthropy, any day.

US Presidential Candidates in "Ties to Industry" Shock

Catherine Brahic, “New” “Scientist”‘s online environment reporter continues to reflect the magazine’s confusion between environmental science and environmental politics.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say “so much for the pulling power of oil money”. Reports suggested that it played a big role in George W Bush’s two terms in office, but according to this stunning online interactive graphic, it was powerless to save Rudolph Giuliani in the 2008 primaries.

The graphic is from OilChange International, who have made an online toy showing the relationships between past US presidential candidates and oil industry donors.

But what is the significance of oil money? Is it really surprising that corporations and businessmen donate to presidential candidates? Not a lot, and no. US presidential candidates are not going to have got to where they are by not taking donations and by refusing to be friends with rich people. You might find something equally scurrilous by looking at donations from any industry sector – toys, for example – and their donations. Even greener-than-though, pledge-making eco-warrior Al Gore took $142,014 in 2000, according to this silly database. (Only enough to pay his gas bills for just a couple of months though.) Rich people hang out with each other. It’s what they do. Companies (and individuals) make donations to US politicians. It’s how it is done.

Corruption? Hardly. Right or wrong? That’s a very different question. There are many discussions to be had about whether what goes on in Western democracies is ‘right’. But that it it ‘all about oil’ is an argument which comes up again and again, and again, in the climate debate. Why?

It reveals an awful lot about the Green movement (as well as a large part of the liberal left) that it can’t actually challenge its counterpart, or call for a new form of politics which doesn’t require such vast sums of capital. It’s easier to say, for example, that John Kerry ($184,037) lost the election to George Bush ($2,649,725) because of oil money, or because people are stupid, or like rats, and republicans appeal to stupid people. Instead of reflecting on why their ideas have failed to find a home in the public imagination, increasingly commentators have looked for other reasons to explain the failure of the self-proclaimed good guys. If politicians eager to identify with progressive movements were to try to challenge the politics by which powerful interests gain influence, they would undermine themselves. This is perhaps more evident in UK politics. We’ve linked to this video before… David Cameron, standing on top of Greenpeace’s HQ in London, showing off his ethical credentials, and announcing a new policy.

Is it any less dodgy to be in bed with Greenpeace (a multi-national player if ever there was one) than with an oil Baron? Who is Cameron trying to appeal to here? His plans for micro-generation will be appealing to about 0.001% of the UK population – mostly his landed school chums. Meanwhile, micro-generation is likely to serve only as a colossal pain in the arse to anyone who has to depend on it – everyone else. His policy has not emerged from a well-developed political philosophy that he wants to share, but just the immediate need to appear to be in bed with the “right people” in the mistaken belief that it will appeal to “the people”. Greenpeace are only too happy to be the powerful corporate interest in that relationship. All it has to complain about is that it’s own vast spending power hasn’t had the effect on the electorate that it imagines the oil money has.

If $2 million were enough to buy a US president, the US wouldn’t be quite the superpower it is. Like the shrill cries about ExxonMobil-funded sceptical scientists, the claim lacks any sense of proportion.

The oil argument is a big, black…er… red-herring tossed out by a movement that thrives on the exhaustion of political elites, but finds itself the object of just as much cynicism from the public. Naturally, then, the movement finds faults with both. The former is corrupt, and the latter is stupid. Tired politicians are turning to the environmental movement as a PR move for empty campaigns.

Back to the New Scientist blog… Brahic is, of course, not reporting science, but politics. We certainly don’t dissapprove of coverage of the politics of the environmental debate. But Brahic and the New Scientist’s agenda don’t actually bring a fresh perspective on the debate more than they epitomise it. You could hear the same old stories and tired rhetoric from any mouldy old hairshirt ecowarrior. Recycling internet innuendo, conspiracy theories and doom-mongery is not ‘news’. There is an interesting debate to be had about the relationship between science and politics, but New Scientist is not fuelling it.

The Well-Funded "Well-Funded Denial Machine" Denial Machine

One of the arguments which frequently emerge from the warmers in climate change debates is that the scientific expertise of sceptics has been bought – literally – by oil companies. We see this tired argument again wheeled out in the aftermath of the Inhofe 400 list. For example, James Wang of non-profit organisation Environmental Defense tells us,

The aim of the report is to refute that only a handful of scientists – mostly in the pocket of oil companies – still dispute that global warming is happening, and that it’s caused by human activities.

The logic of the “industry funded sceptics” argument seems to be that scientists can’t possibly have an honestly held position which contradicts the “consensus” because the consensus cannot possibly be mistaken, so their opinion must have been paid for. These scientists (and, for that matter, anyone with a public profile who has anything critical to say about global warming) are whores – “industry shills” , “corporate toadies”, or part of the “well funded denial machine – who not only prostitute themselves, but also sell us all out to an apocalypse for dirty, dirty dollars… Those who “deny” climate change are in fact, denying a “holocaust. As ecowarrior Mark Lynas puts it,

I wonder what sentences judges might hand down at future international criminal tribunals on those who will be partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths from starvation, famine and disease in decades ahead. I put this in a similar moral category to Holocaust denial – except that this time the Holocaust is yet to come, and we still have time to avoid it. Those who try to ensure we don’t will one day have to answer for their crimes.

It would be hard for the warmers to escalate the rhetoric against their detractors and for the tone to sink any lower. Yet still, the inclination of those using this argument is not to engage their sceptical counterparts in scientific discussion, or even to allow their political opinions on the best way to act on the available evidence to be challenged in an open and democratic way. Meanwhile, the scientific and political debates go unheard, and are overwhelmed or shut down by the shallow rhetoric of ‘consensus science versus industry-funded sceptics’.

This is not merely the language of hairshirt lunatics and fringe activists operating in the blogosphere and Internet forums, but even the “considered” opinion of “experts”. But far from lending the argument credibility, this expert opinion only reveals its own shallow, fragile and nervous claim to objectivity and the hollowness of the political environment that it thrives in. The truth of the matter appears to be that few people recognise environmentalism as a political ideology. We’ve reported before how the Royal Society – the UKs leading “science academy” – make bigger noises about “funding” than they shed any light on the science.

There are some individuals and organisations, some of which are funded by the US oil industry, that seek to undermine the science of climate change and the work of the IPCC. They appear motivated in their arguments by opposition to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, which seek urgent action to tackle climate change through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions… Often all these individuals and organisations have in common is their opposition to the growing consensus of the scientific community that urgent action is required through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. But the opponents are well-organised and well-funded…

The Royal Society’s statements that sceptics aren’t interested in debate but seek to distort and undermine the science of climate change and deny the seriousness of the potential consequences of global warming” are unequivocal. According to them [PDF] (and pretty much any activist), at the centre of this conspiracy to pervert the course of science are “climate criminals” ExxonMobil, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. And at the centre of the attempt to expose this devious master plan, and dishing the dirt on the backroom negotiations is the website Exxonsecrets, a database of rumour, innuendo, and leaked documents, which sells itself as:

a Greenpeace research project highlighting the more than a decade-long campaign by Exxon-funded front groups – and the scientists they work with – to deny the urgency of the scientific consensus on global warming and delay action to fix the problem.

And the reason Greenpeace have targeted ExxonMobil is that,

For over a decade, it has tried to sabotage international climate change negotiations and block agreements that would lead to greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

A report by the campaign [PDF] in May last year concluded that

ExxonMobil’s campaign to fund “think tanks” and organizations that spread misinformation about the science and policies of global warming is now widely known. The company’s multimillion dollar campaign has undoubtedly contributed to public confusion and government inaction on global warming over the past decade.

and suggested that ExxonMobil should

Apologize to the world for the damage delay caused by the company’s actions to confuse the public understanding and slow political response to this global crisis.

And the sums we are talking about, which have been spent on comissioning these “climate criminals”…

TABLE 1. EXXONMOBIL’S “HANDFUL” OF 2006 FUNDING CUTS

Organization 2005
ExxonMobil
Funding
Total funding
1998-2005
Center for a New Europe USA $50,000 $170,000
Center for Defense of Free
Enterprise
$60,000 $230,000
Competitive Enterprise Institute
$270,000 $2,005,000
Environmental Literacy Council $50,000 $50,000
Free Enterprise Education Institute. $70,000 $130,000
TOTAL $500,000 $2,585,000

( page 5 http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/assets/binaries/exxon-secrets-analysis-of-fun )

So, according to Greenpeace and co, the $2,005,000 given to the CEI between ’98 and ’05 was enough to stall worldwide action on climate change.

But hang on a minute. Don’t Greenpeace also seek to influence the debate by lobbying politicians, and making public statements to “inform” the public?

Gosh, looking back over some of our recent posts, it seems as they do. Just last month, we reported on how Conservative leader (and quite possibly the UK’s next Prime Minister) David Cameron was so impressed by Greenpeace’s views on micro-generation that he was virtually singing about it from the rooftops.

Here he is, actually on Greenpeace’s rooftop, at their expensive headquarters in London. Not quite singing, but policy-making and webcasting, nonetheless.

In a BBC article last year, a Greenpeace representative summed up the way they like to be perceived…

“But it is not enough for green campaigners just to be seen as “nice people”, argues Greenpeace’s Jean McSorely – they must also have the stronger arguments. The pro-nuclear lobby has been clever in using environmental arguments, on climate change, and the security of supply issue, to push its case, she says. She believes Greenpeace has a stronger scientific case, but, she argues, it does not always get a fair chance to make it. “The access industry gets is just phenomenal compared to green groups,” she tells the BBC News website. “Labour has often castigated the old boy network, the public school tie and so on, but they have a similar network. It depends who you know in the unions or ex-Labour ministers. “People may accept that as the way things are, but there needs to be more transparency.”

Greenpeace… Always the victim, the underdog, the oppressed. Never mind its access to teams of lawyers, opposition parties and its favourable media image as heroic planet savers, and their proximity to the old-boy, public school tie network in the forms of David Cameron, and the billionaire Goldsmiths, among many others.

But if it is true that poor little Greenpeace doesn’t always have a fair chance to make its case, (which is news to us) how much smaller is this David, than the Goliath? If it’s true, as Greenpeace say, that “You Get What You Pay For”, how much cash has it had to spent on PR, and to influence the global dialogue on climate change?

Year
Income (US$)
Income (Euros)
Source URL
1994 137,358,000
LINK
1995 152,805,000
LINK
1996 139,895,000
LINK
1997 125,648,000
LINK
1998 110,833,000
LINK
1999 126,023,000
LINK
2000 143,646,000
LINK
2001 157,730,000
LINK
2005 173,464,000
LINK
Total $418,348,000 E1,202,527,000

(Speaking very roughly, Euros 1,202,527,000 = US$1,772,404,550. @ todays exchange rate = $2,190,752,550 total)

That is a lot of money.

Let us recap. Of all the oil companies, according to Greenpeace, the Royal Society, and campaigning organisations, journalists, and scientists, ExxonMobil is the worst. And of all the wrong things it does, the worst has been to give $2 million to the CEI over the course of a decade. This funding has been sufficient to significantly stall international action on climate change on the global political agenda. Allegedly.

Yet as we can see, since 1994, Greenpeace have been the lucky recipients of well over $2 billion in roughly the same time. A difference of three orders of magnitude.

And what have they done with it? Lobbied. And pulled high-profile stunts to gain media attention. And lobbied. And run expensive PR and media campaigns. And lobbied. And interrupted democratic processes and the generation of electricity and sabotaged crops. And lobbied. And picketed the forecourts of privately run ESSO garages. And lobbied. And lobbied. And lobbied. And, of course, terrified the public about cancers, apocaplyses, armageddons, catastrophes, too often and too many to begin to list here. You can do a lot of lobbying and PR work with 2.2 billion dollars. And don’t forget that a vast amount of work done is done for Greenpeace for free by activists, journalists, campaigning celebrities, and politicians who are keen to appear to be up-to-speed with the climate bandwagon, and therefore ‘in-tune’ with today’s concerns. Nothing epitomises this state of affairs better than the image of an MP or prospective Prime Minister in bed with an NGO. Because politics is regarded as sinister, whereas NGOs, in today’s world, are seen to be above that kind of stuff – “ethical”, rather than political. By achieving the ethical seal-of-approval of vociferous and high-profile NGOs, politicians can claim to have a stainless character. Environmental NGOs foster suspicion of politics, which is corruptible, claiming that their vision of “the good life” isn’t subject to contest, criticism or influence because “the science is in”.

Greenpeace want to claim that the corrupting influence of money has distorted the public perception of climate science. Given the scale of their funding and the extent of their influence, shouldn’t we agree with them? Couldn’t we say that Greenpeace have been engaged in exactly the propaganda exercise they accuse ExxonMobil and the CEI of? It accuses other organisations of sabotage, yet sabotaging and interrupting legal and democratic processes and stopping industrial operations is precisely how Greenpeace has risen to prominence. It terrifies people into donating and believing, and in doing so, over the last few decades, Greenpeace has successfully influenced politics throughout the world. But it is right and proper that they have been able to do so. What is a terrible, terrible shame is that opposition to them has been insufficient, and that, their own shrill complaints have gone largely unchallenged. There have not been enough Exxon-funded CEIs. If Greenpeace really had “science” on its side, and really had our interests in mind, it would welcome challenge, and debate – like all good political campaigns, it would shout “BRING IT ON!“. It would be through this process that Greenpeace would influence the debate. Instead, Greenpeace, the scientists at the Royal Society, and anyone using the cheap language of rumour, conspiracy, and innuendo avoid debate. This argument has been successful only because of the mass withdrawal from politics, and the political elite’s desperate need to find ways to justify itself. The ‘scientific consensus’ is a stand-in for political legitimacy, and the terrifying images of Armageddon constructed by environmentalists are a surrogate ‘purpose’ or vision. To challenge the consensus is to undermine that legitimacy, and to challenge the terrifying images is to undermine that purpose. It is far easier to shift the debate away from such potential damaging and revealing matters, to focus on ‘interests’, and to say that such challenges are the obfuscations of profit-seeking oil-barons. The most peculiar thing about this is that in this strange way of thinking, those who claim to have the least interests get to have the loudest voice, and it is up to the sceptics to prove the argument false.

Greenpeace should be free to make its political arguments, as should the CEI – wherever they each get their money from. But if Greenpeace want to continue to appeal to victimhood, as the hard-done-by truth-seekers, oppressed by the nefarious influence of cash, they should consider that their billions of dollars make their claims look not too dissimilar to those of the old church, which preached the virtues of poverty while raking in a vast wealth, using it to expand its influence, and to coerce and harass disbelievers. Such is the nature of orthodoxies.

The only real value in pointing out Greenpeace’s billions is to show how exhausted the political environment has become. People who clothe themselves in terms such as “progressive” and “liberal” yet get behind Greenpeace’s arguments about “scientific consensus” and “industry funding” should therefore take stock of the fact that, if it is true that alternative voices are being funded by corporate interests, it is big business which has created a challenge to powerful, well-funded and well-connected quasi-corporate interests and orthodoxies. No doubt it is confusing for such liberals to learn that they are in fact, engaged in undemocratic, and elitist argument.

The irony of “the well-funded well-funded-denial-machine denial machine” is not simply that it is well funded, and denies critics of its political agenda, whilst complaining about funding and political distortion of science. But that the angry accusations thrown at sceptics – both scientists and ‘ideological’ sceptics – are the product of a deeply illiberal form of politics, which seeks to deny opposition its right to expression, avoids debate, and hides behind the distorted conception of science that comittees can determine scientific truth which politicians and individuals should obey, and damn anybody who disagrees.

Black Stuff Turns Grayling Green

On Commentisfree, A.C. Grayling, Professor of Philosphy at Birkbeck College London, writes in “An antidote to the black poison

Over-determination is a particularly interesting phenomenon as it besets efforts to arrive at explanations in the social sciences. […] And yet: in the heaving crowd of causes one can pick out a few tall malefactors, ubiquitous and malevolent, diffusing noxious, maddening, riot-provoking odours as they dart about to spread their evil. One is mentioned so often here by me and others that the curse of its name can be given momentary rest. Another is mentioned far too infrequently, though frequently still. It is the black, toxic, planet-sickening ooze on which the world is so utterly drunk that it has become insane – lusting for the ghastly poison because burning it belches out wealth, and wealth means power and influence.

In other words: oil is the evil which explains the evil of Middle Eastern human rights atrocities, that nasty man, Putin, that nasty man, Bush, and his nasty father, and that nasty man Osama bin Laden.

In defence of oil – and nasty men aside for a moment – we can think of a number of positives which would struggle to survive without the energy and convenience that the ‘ghastly poison’ provides:

Hospitals
Schools
Ambulances
Central heating
Cheap, abundant food
Freedom and means to travel
The Department of philosophy, Birkbeck College London
etc.

In spite of his lyrical prowess, Grayling doesn’t offer us a very detailed account of the mechanism by which oil makes men evil, other than to say that oil creates wealth, which creates power, which creates corruption. Give the professor of philosophy a Nobel prize for something.

Finally, Grayling wonders…

…what the cost of the Iraq war to date would have funded in the way of research into alternative energy sources?

The question here seems to suppose that, if only people didn’t ‘lust’ for oil, we would have an alternative. It is as though the oil itself were a narcotic that interfered in the process of rational judgement. Naturally, we would agree with Grayling if he were simply suggesting that the budget for the Iraq war were better spent on developing alternatives such as atomic or fusion energy. But what Grayling is saying is that the Iraq war was about oil, because of oil, and commissioned by junkies in search of another fix.

In this shallow view, Grayling mystifies oil. He turns it into a monster, a devil, an evil, malign spirit which possesses men. He himself ‘besets efforts to arrive at explanations in the social sciences’ rather than explains carefully why oil is a thing which adequately accounts for the current state of geopolitics, all by itself. He imagines that were there simply an alternative to oil, it would entail world peace. It’s as if politics, the desire for power, and the influence of powerful interests would each suddenly disappear were only we to spend enough dollars on wind technology as a ‘white’ alternative to the black magic of oil. In doing so, he looks for external reasons to explain human conflicts. (This environmental orthodoxy is just the sort of determinism Grayling seeks to avoid.) But arguably, fuel such as oil has given people the means to escape the mundane existence of subsistence living and to confront tyranny. The reason that it hasn’t in all cases is because such determinism as inherent in ‘oil = political freedom’ is equally wrong.

If wars can be fought for oil, wars can be fought for territories that provide better conditions for wind, solar, biomass, or tidal power generation. As green commentators have pointed out recently, the push for bio-fuels has caused problems for poor people as fertile land is given over to fuel crops, rather than food. Depriving the world of the means to create wealth does not remove from the world people with an advantage inclined to seek a greater share of it. On the contrary, it is poorer populations who are less able to resist powerful interests. And in a world where the production of fuel is limited to what ‘nature’ can provide on a moment-by-moment basis – such are the limits and demands of environmentalism – so the potential for conflict between tyrannies might escalate. But of course, that’s not going to happen, because oil offers an alternative way of life which is better than bondage to the land and feudal landlords. Environmentalism’s proximity to the anti-wealth, anti-development agenda should offend Grayling’s humanist perspective. It’s a real pity that it doesn’t. The result is an anti-human determinism: environmentalist orthodoxy, taken for granted, masquerading as humanism.

Scientific Consenseless

Writing in New Scientist this week, James Hansen tells us that the scientific community (you know, those ‘thousands’ of specialised scientists at the IPCC) are wrong, and have massively underestimated the extent of polar ice melting as a consequence of anthropogenic global warming.

I find it almost inconceivable that “business as usual” climate change will not result in a rise in sea level measured in metres within a century. Am I the only scientist who thinks so?

Apparently he is. And the reason? All the other scientists are being too cautious.

I believe there is pressure on scientists to be conservative. Caveats are essential to science. They are born in scepticism, and scepticism is at the heart of the scientific method and discovery. However, in a case such as ice sheet instability and sea level rise, excessive caution also holds dangers. “Scientific reticence” can hinder communication with the public about the dangers of global warming. We may rue reticence if it means no action is taken until it is too late to prevent future disasters.

Scientists, in other words, should adhere to the scientific method except when it’s politically inconvenient. (And only, presumably, when it’s Hansen’s politics that are inconvenienced.)

Most scientists who go against ‘the consensus’ get labelled as mavericks, sceptics or denialists. New Scientist covers their work only to show it up as scientifically flawed, politically motivated, the result of industry-funded misinformation and bad moral fibre, just as they did when they reported on Willie Soon’s paper challenging received wisdom that climate change is imperiling polar bears. Or just as Michael Le Page did in May this year when he wrote:

Indeed, those campaigning for action to prevent further warming have had to battle against huge vested interests, including the fossil-fuel industry and its many political allies. Many of the individuals and organisations challenging the idea of global warming have received funding from companies such as ExxonMobil.

Hansen, however, gets a 3000-word feature all to himself. Even though it doesn’t take much digging around to find that Hansen himself has more than his fair share of dodgy financial interests.

The consensus, it seems, may only be challenged from one direction.