Pick a Number – Any Number

Worldwatch, which aims to ’empower decision makers to build an ecologically sustainable society that meets human needs’ have upped the stakes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – To avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, world carbon emissions will have to drop to near zero by 2050…

The increase now being demanded by Worldwatch pretends to have a rational, scientific basis…

“Global warming needs to be reduced from peak levels to 1 degree (Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) as fast as possible,” co-author William Hare said at a briefing on the “State of the World 2009” report. “At this level you can see some of the risks fade into the background.”

… but a far more likely explanation for the new figure is the need of huge eco-NGOs to have some kind of leverage over governments. After all, if Governments began to comply with the demands of these organisations, it would undermine their raison d’etre. What would be the point of a $multi-multi-multi million NGO, if its campaigning didn’t need to extend much beyond commissioning dark imaginations to draft its reports? 

Kyoto aimed for a 60% cut, apparently based on the IPCC’s reports. The UK Government has committed itself to an 80% cut. Obama has made noises about his intentions to see the USA meet the demands of environmentalists. With the USA and Australia now seemingly aboard the ship of carbon-reducing fools, the eco-NGOs have to move the goal posts, or fade into obscurity. 

This is the logic of crisis politics, which we pointed out right back when this blog began. Our second post – In Crisis Politics, the Only Way is UP – discussed the UK Conservatives trumping Labour’s commitment to a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, by announcing their plans to set a target of 80%. In response, the Liberal Democrats later said they thought the figure ought to be 100%. And here we see exactly the same thing happening: posturing by numbers. The world’s governments began to commit itself to 60%, some to 80%, and Worldwatch up the figure. 16 months ago, we speculated that the only next step would be for parties to start claiming that they would deliver a carbon negative Britain. And that’s pretty much what Worldwatch have done.

Hare said that global greenhouse gas emissions would need to hit their peak by 2020 and drop 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and keep dropping after that. He said carbon dioxide emissions would have to “go negative,” with more being absorbed than emitted, in the second half of this century.

The scare stories stay the same, while only the numbers change. 

“However this turns out, we still have some precious time and a clear shot at safely managing human-induced climate change,” Engelman said. “What’s at stake is not just nature as we’ve always known it, but quite possibly the survival of our civilization. It’s going to be a really interesting year.”

The survival Engelman is worried about is not the survival of civilisation, but the survival of the bizarre political structure – insitutions, NGOs, ethics, economics, ideology – that has established itself on the prospect of imminent global catastrophe. 

80% and the Climate Change Aristocracy

The Independent newspaper announced yesterday that

The UK should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by mid-century, the Government’s climate change committee recommended today.

The committee said a more stringent target than the 60 per cent cut currently in the Climate Change Bill was needed, because new information suggested the dangers of global warming were greater than previously thought.

The dangers of climate change were worse than previously thought? What possible worse scenario could there be, than the barrage of catastrophic visions we have been subjected to by activists, politicians, and the media, over the last few years?

When we started this blog in April 2007, we said:

Because of a perception that the public mood demands action to mitigate climate change, the UK government has used the IPCC findings to justify committing the country to a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Like much environmental policy, this has gone largely unchallenged by opposition parties.

Nobody in UK politics was challenging the often very tenuous claims that climate change would mean catastrophe. And even fewer people were challenging the even less credible idea that the only way to prevent catastrophe was to prevent CO2 emissions. And worst of all, everybody involved in UK politics seemed to be using the looming catastrophe to demand that people use less, expect less, and obey the tenets of environmentalism. There being no challenge to this orthodoxy, and no questions asked about either its effectiveness or its consequences, how could the process of the greening of the UK be seen as democratic?

In March last year, the government published a Draft Climate Change Bill, proposing that the UK reduces its CO2 emissions by 2050. This lead to criticism that it hadn’t gone far enough. The Conservatives said they would reduce emissions by 80%, and the Liberals 100% by 2050. The Government wasn’t taking the threat of climate change seriously enough, they said, and the 60% figure proved it. This shows that there is only one way that the politicians in the UK can respond to the perception of a crisis; they have to make it worse, and worse, and worse, and promise that they are the only party that can hope to solve this terrible mess, and that the other parties are so incompetent, that only a terrible catastrophe can follow their inevitable failure.

Following this game of politics-by-numbers, on October 2007, the Environment Secretary announced changes to the bill:

The changes to the draft Bill, set out in a Command Paper entitled ‘Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill’ published today, include:

  • As announced by the Prime Minister in September, asking the Committee on Climate Change to report on whether the Government’s target to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 should be strengthened further;
  • Asking the Committee to look at the implications of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in theUK’s targets as part of this review;
  • Strengthening the role and responsibilities of the Committee on Climate Change, including by requiring the Government to seek the Committee’s advice before amending the 2020 or 2050 targets in the Bill;
  • Strengthening the Committee’s independence from Government, by confirming that it will appoint its own chief executive and staff, and increasing its analytical resources;

It would no longer be the responsibility of politicians to determine the level of CO2 emissions that the UK would allow. It would instead be determined by an expert committee. This would end the silly squabbling between parties about which percentage cut in CO2 best reflected the ‘scientific’ advice. But it also removes the possibility that we or you might influence the environmental policies of the UK through the democratic process. As we’ve pointed out many times before, environmentalism is a political idea; it aims to reorganise society around its values and ethics. Yet this ideology has never been tested democratically. It hasn’t won any seats in the UK parliament, yet almost the entire house of commons has embraced environmentalism. Its as though, one morning, the House of Commons turned up for a debate, not as the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the independents, but as members of the Green Party. This is a failure of UK politics and democracy.

Today, as the changes to the Draft bill stipulated, Lord Adair Turner of Ecchinswell, the chair of the committee, wrote to the Environment secretary that, as the Independent reported, ‘The UK should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by mid-century’. What a surprise. So what lay behind the decision to increase the UK’s target from 60% to 80%? The letter said:

The Committee looked at whether the UK’s current target for a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 was likely to be sufficient given what we know about the latest developments in climate science. This target was recommended in the report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) published in 2000. Since the report, however, new information has become available. This suggests that the dangers of significant climate change are greater than previously assessed which argues for larger global, and thus UK, reductions.

This gives the impression that the scientific basis of the bill was the 2000 Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution(RCEP). But curiously, there is no mention of the RCEP in the March Draft Climate Change Bill. The report is, as you’d expect it to be, based principally on IPCC AR4, and the Stern report. The figure of 60%, it seems, stems from a 2003 White Paper.

The Government would therefore like to enshrine the commitments in the Energy White Paper 2003 to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% on 1990 levels by 2050; and to achieve “real progress” by 2020 (which would equate to reductions of 26-32%) towards the long-term goal within a new legal carbon management framework (outlined in Section 5).

This White Paper does mention the RCEP2000 report.

We therefore accept the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s (RCEP’s) recommendation that the UK should put itself on a path towards a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of some 60% from current levels by about 2050.

The October ’07, amendments to the bill called Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill gave the CCC its responsibilities to check the 60% figure:

Bearing in mind however the weight of scientific evidence before the Committee that a target of more than 60% is likely to be necessary, we believe that as soon as possible after it is established, the Committee on Climate Change should review the most recent scientific research available and consider to what extent the target should be higher than 60%, with a view to making recommendations on the appropriate amendment to the long term target.

The very next paragraph mentions the RCEP:

The figure of 60% was arrived at by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) in 2000, following extensive research and analysis. We recognise the significant recent advances in scientific understanding, but also note that no comparable crosscutting research and analysis has been done since the RCEP report and there is no broad consensus around what the figure should be, if it is not 60%.

If the figure of 60% was based on the 2000 RCEP report, why was it not mentioned in the March Draft Bill? And if there has been no process since 2000 to determine what the level of CO2 emissions reduction should be, how can any figure be determined as appropriate?

It is clear that the October ’07 document created an opportunity for the CCC to reject 60% in favour of 80%. It might as well have said ‘the figure of 60% has given the opposition an opportunity to embarrass us, therefore, we have set up the CCC to report back in one year that the figure ought to be 80%’.

Last month, Lord Adair Turner was appointed chair of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the body which regulates the financial sector. It seems that the world’s problems are on his shoulders. But wouldn’t it be better to make the economic and ecological crises that we face the subject of political debate, rather than appoint people like Turner to make ‘expert’ decisions. After all, the FSA was unable to prevent today’s current economic problems from manifesting.

It is also interesting to note that Turner was until recently, a trustee of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and a member of the Advisory Board of Climate Change Capital, a firm offering services as an ‘investment manager and advisor specialising in the opportunities created by the transition to the low carbon economy’. As a member of the Advisory Board, he ‘assist[ed] senior management to develop the group’s medium-term strategy, extend the company’s network and evaluate opportunities’.

Had Turner emerged from an advisory role at a company lacking such spotless ethical credentials – let’s say, for example, one such as Exxonmobil – and had he suggested that 60% was a bit too strong a figure, and perhaps 40% was a better one, would there ever be an end to claims that this process was corrupt and undemocratic?

Yet here we see a man, with associations to commercial interests in the implementation of environmental policy (contrast with the speculation that surrounds sceptics who have worked with the oil industry), with a clear commitment to the environmental ethics espoused WWF, who is responsible for determining the UK’s policy over the next 45 years.

Working alongside Lord Turner on the CCC are:

Sir Brian Hoskins – a dynamical meteorologist and climatologist at the University of Reading and Imperial College London. He worked on the Stern review of climate change, and Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, which aims ‘To be a world-leading institute generating and communicating the highest quality research on climate-driven change and translating this into sustainable technological, political and socio-economic responses’. 

Lord Robert May – erstwhile President of the Royal Society, and a climate change alarmist second to none. As we have reported many times, Lord May’s involvement in the climate change debate has generated more heat than light.

Professor Jim Skea – Research Director at the UK Energy Research Centre and former Director at the Policy Studies Institute and the Economic and Social Research Council Global Environmental Change Programme, and contributor to the Stern Review.

Dr Samuel Fankhauser a visiting fellow in climate change economics at LSE, and Managing Director of IDEAcarbon, the parent company of which Sir Nicholas Stern is Vice-Chairman, and ‘an independent and professional provider of ratings, research and strategic advice on carbon finance. Our services are designed to provide leading financial institutions, corporations, governments, traders and developers with unbiased intelligence and analysis of the factors that affect the pricing of carbon market assets.’

Professor Michael Grubb – Chief Economist at the Carbon Trust, a Government-funded private company, and a Senior Research Associate, Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge.

Amongst these men are very clear interests in climate change policy, with lots to gain, both professionally, and economically from climate change policies. In other words, just as the political process failed to subject environmental ideas to scrutiny, so too does the outsourced task of determining our future.

This is not to say there is a conspiracy here, nor that this is corrupt. Yet having such an interested old boys club is clearly corrupting of the process by which policies that affect all our lives are determined. Lord May has made a hell of a lot of noise in recent times about the existence of a ‘well funded denial machine’ doing the work of the oil industry. Yet as we have shown, this ‘well funded’ effort is the beneficiary of a tiny fraction of the quantity of cash available to, for example, the Carbon Trust (£70+ million / year), whose aim is ‘to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy by working with organisations to reduce carbon emissions and develop commercial low carbon technologies’. And it is likely to be a lot less than the returns seen by IDEAcarbon and Climate Change Capital, when their services are made more profitable by climate change policies.

The problem is simply that there is no opposition allowed into this process, either to question the science, or the way the science informs the policy decision, nor to ask whether emissions reductions is the best solution in terms of the interests of the UK population, or throughout the world. Worst still, the shrill complaints made about people who challenge climate orthodoxy by Bob May effectively close down any possibility of debate. Indeed, on at least one occasion, we have found Bob May making stuff up about ‘deniers’. No, let’s call it what it is… Bob May is a liar. And he lies – while accusing others of lies, and conspiring – seemingly in order to secure his position in what is clearly a climate change aristocracy, not only in name.

So what is behind the decision made by the group that 80% is the right target? What ‘new information has become available’ which makes ‘the dangers of significant climate change greater than previously assessed’?

The CCC’s letter to the Environment Secretary says,

Firstly, we know more about how rising temperatures will reduce the effectiveness of carbon sinks: the science now tells us that for any given level of emissions, concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and temperatures will increase by more than the RCEP report anticipated.

The principal basis of climate change alarmism has always been that positive feedback mechanisms will produce ‘runaway climate change’. As the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC), to which the UK is committed, says, lack of understanding should not be used as a reason not to act. This embodiment of the precautionary principal means that, regardless of the state of knowledge in an area of climate science, the response is the same. It makes no difference how much is understood. The effect of new research emerging since the 2000 RCEP recommendation therefore ought to make no difference to policy. What matters is the ‘what if…’, not the ‘what’.

Pedantry aside, it is hard to work out what this ‘new understanding’ is, and what its effect on the outcome of global warming actually is. No new research is cited. Although we know more about carbon sinks, maybe, that they will respond to increases in global temperature in a way which is worse than previously thought should only be understood to inform a policy decision in the context of the total effect of climate change and society’s vulnerability to it.

The chapter relating to global temperature and sinks in the RCEP 2000 report uses a graph to consider the effect of CO2 on the atmosphere, under several different scenarios relating to CO2 emissions policies (left figure). The IPCC do the same thing in their Assessment Reports, the most recent (AR4, 2007) is also shown below, for comparison (right).

As the graphs show, if the RCEP 2000 report reflected the best available knowledge, then the understanding which has emerged since then does not, as has been reported, indicate that the situation is ‘worse than previously thought’. In fact, the IPCC 2007 graphic is far more optimistic than RCEP2000. So what basis is there for extending the 60% figure?

Secondly, unlike the authors of the RCEP report we had the benefit of models that included the warming effects of gases other than CO2. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC AR4) shows that, for the stabilisation level outlined by RCEP, non-CO2 gases will increase the equivalent CO2 concentration in the atmosphere by approximately 100ppm.

This is not true. The RCEP report said ‘The concentration of methane has also been increased by human activities, more than doubling over the last 200 years. It is thought to contribute about one-fifth of the current enhancement in the greenhouse effect.’ This claim was cited to
IPCC (1996b) The Science of Climate Change 1995. Summary for Policymakers, page 8. Curiously, the SPM referred has only 5 pages, as far as we can tell, so it is hard to establish what the basis was.

Whatever it was, clearly methane at least was part of the RCEP’s calculations, and the IPCC AR4 gives a good indication that in 2000, we had a fairly good understanding of the contribution other gasses make to global warming. The IPCC’s 1995 report (SAR) gives methane (CH4) a 100 year ‘global warming potential’ (GWP ) figure of 21 (relative to carbon dioxide = 1). The 2007 report gives CH4 a global warming potential of 25. Not a massive increase, especially as the SAR gave Nitrous Oxide a GWP of 310, downgraded in 2007 to 298. As the basis for RCEP, IPCC SAR includes nearly all the greenhouse gasses included in AR4, and upgrades some, and downgrades others.

But this is pretty meaningless anyway. A DEFRA report published earlier this year showed that by 2006, ‘Methane emissions, excluding those from natural sources, were 53 per cent below 1990 levels’ and that ‘Nitrous oxide emissions fell by 40 per cent between 1990 and 2006.’

The UK clearly has reduced its CH4 and N2O levels substantially. What is more, the claim that new evidence has emerged with respect to the global warming potential of other greenhouses gasses is barely credible. The RCEP had access to the data relating to non-CO2 GHG’s GWP in 2000, which is almost identical to today’s. Therefore, there is no good reason to make this ‘new information’ the basis for increasing the target to 80%.

Thirdly, the reduction in the summer Arctic sea ice in recent years has been greater than predicted by any of the models. Also the summer melt of the Greenland ice sheet has accelerated. These observations have led to new concerns about the pace of global warming, particularly as it affects the Arctic and possible rates of sea level rise.

Presumably, this statement is based on the single paper published last year by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC). And let’s remember that such evidence does not bolster the claim that global warming is worse than previously thought, just that Arctic summer ice melt has been greater than the models predicted. If the models used to base policy on are wrong, then they are just wrong, and no further conclusion can be safely drawn. Wrong is wrong. It does not mean that things are ‘worse’ than expected’, it just means that the expectations and assumptions were wrong. And they still are wrong. Furthermore, there are only 30 years worth of data on which to base these models, from an area which is necessarily one of the most changeable and dynamic regions on earth. We know for example, that parts of the Arctic in the early C20th saw rates of change not dissimilar to, and possibly greater than today’s.

This argument clearly also rests on the news story of the year. But as the NSIDC told us, the record low 2007 ice extent was not the result of global warming, but principally a ‘perfect storm’, as part of natural variation. In much the same way, the unusually hot 1998 has not been attributed by scientists to anthropogenic climate change, but to natural variation. This is the same natural variation which was used by the Hadley Centre to explain its failure to accurately predict the temperatures of 2007, and the cold weather which has followed the La Nina event.

The ‘possible rate of sea level rise’ referred to has been substantially reduced by the IPCC from their previous estimates, and the range between upper and lower estimates narrowed. This has caused something of a split in the climate change community, with the increasingly lunatic James Hansen claiming that the IPCC estimate is dangerously conservative. This surely makes Hansen as remote from the ‘consensus’ as any ‘denier’, yet he is still celebrated by environmental activists, and we can assume, the CCC.

Again, the reasons given by the CCC for increasing the target to 80% lack substance.

Fourthly, it is now realised that atmospheric pollution has probably masked some of the greenhouse gas warming that would have occurred. As air quality improvements continue to be achieved, so even more warming can be expected.

We look forward to seeing the evidence for this statement presented in the report proper. It was only this year, for example, that a major and well-publicised (albeit for the wrong reasons) study found that components of atmospheric pollution are responsible for up to 60% as much warming compared to CO2. That’s not to say that other components (eg, sulphates) don’t have a cooling effect – they do – but the net effect of all these pollutants remains very poorly understood.

Fifthly, there is now a greater understanding of the range of potential climate change impacts, their regional variation and the possibility of abrupt or irreversible changes. These analyses also suggest greater damages once temperature increases become significant.

Ah yes, it’s always a good idea to squeeze ‘abrupt and irreversible’ into alarmist reports on climate change. But, as we’ve shown before, the phrase’s currency owes more to silly newspaper articles about AR4 than it does to AR4 itself.

Finally, latest global emission trends are higher than those anticipated in most IPCC scenarios, largely because of higher economic growth and a shift towards more carbon intensive sources of energy.

Higher economic growth? How can a man who chairs the Financial Services Authority claim that we are experiencing ‘higher economic growth’? Secondly, ‘higher economic growth’ than anticipated means greater resilience to climate change, as is shown by the difference in outcomes between ‘natural’ disasters experienced in the industrialised world, and those in the developing world. Thirdly, a ‘shift towards more carbon intensive sources of energy’ means not burning wood, and dung, which contribute to deforestation and poor health. In other words, it represents progress. As a reason for increasing the UK’s cut of CO2 emissions it’s also rather poor, because the 60% figure and the targets outlined by Stern and Kyoto, for example, are predicated on the principle that emissions from developing nations will increase. These factors could therefore equally be given as reasons not to increase the UK’s target.

It seems that the CCC’s recommendation owes less to climate science than it does to climate headlines from the last 18 months. Headlines which, almost without fail, have painted a far more drastic and alarming story than the science warrants. ‘Sceptics’ are often criticised for placing emphasis on single studies whose findings fall outside of the opinion of the consensus, represented by the IPCC reports. Yet the CCC seem to have based their recommendation on whatever alarmist literature they can find.

The broader view of future climate in 2007 is arguably more positive than it was in 2000. Yet the CCC want us to believe that things are ‘worse than previously thought’ in order to justify an increase of the UK’s emissions reduction target. To do this, it waves scientific factoids around in a process which owes more to some kind of pagan ritual than to good science. Like the protesters at last year’s Climate Camp who turned pages from a climate change study into gloves, and marched under the slogan ‘we are armed: only with peer-reviewed science‘, the CCC seemingly wave science around to legitimise policies which will have far-reaching effects on society, and to justify the existence of a political elite which is increasingly estranged from the public.

This voodoo science ritual is being used to arm politicians with something that they desperately lack: direction. The climate change aristocracy now sit and dictate what the terms, values, and principles of UK politics ought to be. And as their influence increases no doubt, so do their cash returns. While their influence extends, so the opportunities to challenge environmentalism through the political process diminishes. Now all a politician has to do to answer critics of environmental policy is say that an ‘independent’ committee has produced its findings.

Politics: available in any colour, as long as it’s green.

It's All About Ethanol

Poor old Gordon Brown:

More than 80 Labour MPs have signed an amendment to the Climate Change Bill, which would force ministers to promise greater cuts in carbon emissions.

The Climate Change Bill commits the government to make at least a 60% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050. The MPs want that figure to rise to 80%.

The rebels say the 60% goal will not do enough to control global warming.

This is the latest installment not only in Brown’s Prime Ministerial nightmare, but also in the razor wars that masquerade as environmental politics in the UK. Looking on the bright side, we’re right on course to collect on our prediction that somebody, sometime soon, is going to pledge that the country will be carbon negative by 2050.

Even more predictable is the excuse that the backbenchers offer for their rebellion:

[The rebels] also claim it is based on out-of-date science.

These figures aren’t based on science at all. They are plucked from the thin air of our ailing stratosphere and given authority merely by the use of the word ‘science’ in close proximity.

It all makes the negotiators at the G8 summit seem so last week:

World leaders say they will aim to set a global target of cutting carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2050 in an effort to tackle global warming.

Only 50%! Ach, they’ll get the hang of it. Especially with the G5 developing nations snapping at their heels:

Mexico, Brazil, China, India and South Africa challenged the Group of Eight countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80% by 2050.

Not to mention that bastion of objective, detached scientific investigation, the IPCC’s chairman Dr Rajendra Pachauri, who complains that the developed countries should be showing leadership on such matters:

“They should get off the backs of India and China,” he told reporters in the Indian capital, Delhi.

“They should say: ‘We’ll assist you to move to a pattern of development which is sustainable, low in terms of emissions intensity. But we as the richest nations are willing to take the lead and we affirm our commitment to do so.'”

But the G8 statements on carbon emissions have been eclipsed by discussions of the global food crisis and biofuels, and the supposed causal connection between the two. The G8 pledge to ensure that biofuel policies are compatible with food security comes in the wake of the leaked World Bank report that the push for biofuels accounts for 75% of the food crisis by competing with food crops for agricultural land. Suddenly, it seems, all the world’s problems are less about oil than they are about ethanol.

But, in Food price rises: are biofuels to blame?, James Heartfield provides such anaemic thinking with a healthy dose of red-blooded realism:

For more than 20 years now, both the US and the European Union have pursued policies designed to reduce food output. They have introduced policies that reward farmers for retiring land from production (such as the EU’s set-aside and wilderness schemes). At the same time, the United Nations has used its aid programmes to penalise African farmers who try to increase yields with modern fertilisers or mechanisation […]

The programmes of land retirement and reservation have been so successful worldwide that between 1982 and 2003, national parks grew from nine million square kilometres to 19million, 12.5 per cent of the earth’s surface – or more than the combined land of China and South-East Asia. In the US more than one billion acres of agricultural land is lying fallow. So the idea that land has been lost from ordinary crops to biofuels is not really true; rather, it has been lost from agricultural production altogether.

For the environmentalist critics, blaming biofuels is a desperate act of scapegoating. For years now, they have been propagandising against mass food production, favouring a return to less efficient farming methods, and for the return of farmland to its natural state. It was environmentalists who lobbied for the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, that biased UN programmes against modern farming techniques in Africa (in favour of ‘appropriate’, which is to say poor ‘technologies’). Just when it suited large-scale agriculture to wind down output to protect prices, the environmentalists were on hand to support land retirement schemes. Farmers, according to Britain’s Countryside Agency, would no longer farm, but become stewards of the countryside.

It’s interesting, then, that the G8 summit has also committed to fulfil a pledge to raise annual foreign aid levels by $50bn by 2010, of which $25bn is intended for Africa. Not that that is a Bad Thing in and of itself, of course; it just depends how it is used. If it’s spent on more of the same, and if similar strings are attached, we can expect more land to be taken out of agricultural production in the name of the saving the planet, more food shortages, more scapegoating, and more tin-pot explanations for why the world is screwed and we’re all going to die. As we keep saying, Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A major question remains regarding the green U-turn on biofuels. Why did Environmentalists ever push the bloody things in the first place? OK, so they are, theoretically, a carbon-neutral source of energy. So far, so green. But the fact remains that it was hardly rocket science to work out that they would necessarily jostle for space with agricultural land and wilderness areas.

So please indulge us while we speculate wildly, and quite possibly wrongly… Could it be that those who were pushing biofuels at the start of the century were figuring that, come 2008, primed by the Green Great-and-Good, the world would have moved on to debating how best to go about reducing the human population to more ‘sustainable’ levels? And let’s face it, if there’s one thing that Environmentalism doesn’t like it’s humans – especially lots of them. And you can bet that, while Environmentalism is not the conspiracy that many of its critics accuse it of being, its adherents do have some sort of long-term strategy. While Gordon Brown, his backbenchers, Tory leader David Cameron and pretty much everybody else in parliamentary politics grasp desperately and opportunistically at Green policies in the absence of any other, better ideas, we at least know where we stand with environmental idealogues such as Jonathon Porritt and Paul Ehrlich (who are both, as it happens, trustees of the Optimum Population Trust, a group for whom ‘optimum’ means – in case you hadn’t guessed – ‘much smaller’).

The trouble is that they underestimated the humanity of, well, humanity. The fact is that in 2008, and despite the efforts of Porritt, Ehrlich et al, the vast majority of us remain repulsed – and may we remain so for ever more – at the thought of population control, just as we remain repulsed by the notion a moral equivalence between nature and civilisation. The result is that they have had to think again.

That said, we are keen not to fall into the trap of painting a simplistic, one-dimensional picture of Environmentalism. There has always been a significant element of the movement that is against the dealings of big-business – especially big agri-business – as a matter of principle. But at the same time, other greens have appealed to market forces in the fight against ecological meltdown. (To repeat ourselves again, Environmentalism transcends traditional Left-Right distinctions.) In which case, the whole messy business might be the product of the push-and-pull between these various Green factions. A bit like the Labour Party, perhaps.

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.

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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.

Emissions Policy Policy Omission

Hilary Benn, Environment Secretary, son of Tony, successor to David Miliband, announced on Monday that the target of 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 set by his predecessor may not be enough. This comes in the wake of the Tories trumping the 60% figure, with 80%. This has been trumped in turn by the Liberal Democrats, who announced their plans for a zero carbon Britain.

This latest development isn’t yet the promise of a carbon negative Britain we have predicted, and there’s not much wriggle room after the Lib’s 100%. So how does Benn answer the other parties’ offers?

The changes to the draft Bill, set out in a Command Paper entitled ‘Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill’ published today, include:

  • As announced by the Prime Minister in September, asking the Committee on Climate Change to report on whether the Government’s target to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 should be strengthened further;
  • Asking the Committee to look at the implications of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in the UK’s targets as part of this review;
  • Strengthening the role and responsibilities of the Committee on Climate Change, including by requiring the Government to seek the Committee’s advice before amending the 2020 or 2050 targets in the Bill;
  • Strengthening the Committee’s independence from Government, by confirming that it will appoint its own chief executive and staff, and increasing its analytical resources;

… (our emphasis).

In other words, the latest policy is that there is no policy. Emissions targets in the future will be determined not by politicians (you know, those people we elect once every few years to make decisions), but deferred from politics, to a committee. According to the DEFRA website,

The Committee will be comprised of 5-8 members including the Chair, supported by a standing secretariat of staff to conduct in-depth analysis into the issues being considered.

To ensure its credibility, it is important that the Committee is able to clearly and rationally present the economics of the costs, benefits and risks of abatement decisions. This means that the Committee’s members should be experts in their field, rather than representing specific stakeholder groups. The following list provides an indication of the types of expertise that will be desirable in the overall composition of the Committee:

  • business competitiveness;
  • climate change policy in particular its social impacts.
  • climate science;
  • economic analysis and forecasting;
  • emissions trading;
  • energy production and supply;
  • financial investment; and
  • technology development and diffusion.

If passed, the Climate Change bill will force the government to “explain its reasons to Parliament if it does not accept the Committee’s advice on the level of the carbon budget, or if it does not meet a budget or target”, but won’t let us challenge the decisions made by this committee democratically. This is because, according to DEFRA:

The debate on climate change has shifted, from whether we need to act towards how much we need to do by when, and the economic implications of doing so. The time is therefore right for the introduction of a strong legal framework in the UK for tackling climate change.

When did the UK ever have a debate about “whether we need to act”? And when was it settled? Over the last ten or twenty years, the “debate” has been dominated by climate orthodoxy, not by differences of opinion. Political environmentalism has never been challenged by any UK party, let alone the climate science questioned. But this is because dissenting views have been excluded from debate far more than they have been invited, not because a debate has been had. We can tell this is the case because of the disparity between statements made by politicians, and statements made by scientists. Furthermore, this orthodoxy has thrived and gone mostly unchallenged because of a profound lack of defining political ideas across the political parties. As we have pointed out before, fears about climate change serve to provide a direction for directionless politics, and the sense of crisis evoked by alarmism provides political parties with legitimacy. With no crisis to manage, politicians face an existential crisis – “why am I here? What is my purpose?”. That is why we see this policy which misses something… politics. Even though what we decide to do with scientific evidence is ALL about politics.

But this move to put decisions which affect us outside of politics is not new. One of Gordon Brown’s first acts as Chancellor of the Exchequer was to put the Bank of England outside of political control, giving it responsibility for setting interest rates. As soon as a “debate” or an issue becomes inconvenient or just difficult for the government, it simply prevents it from being a political matter. So why not simply manage the country by committee? What is the point of politics? Don’t ask Mr Benn.

Tories on Standby for Labour-Saving Policy Action

Today’s Observer editorial carries the following analysis of the “Phoney War” of policy battles between Brown and Cameron, amidst rumours of an early election:

The Conservative leader is not short of policy ideas. If anything, he has too many of them and they are not marshalled into a clear political vision. 

David Cameron is not short of policy ideas? Over on page 7, there’s a different story:

In an attempt to burnish his green credentials – weeks after being accused of lurching to the right – David Cameron will offer strong support for the report that would herald a major redesign of many of today’s electrical goods. 

Policy, policy, everywhere…

In a sign of the depth of the change of thinking at the highest levels of the Tory party, whose leaders once regarded the home as beyond the reach of the state, the report will warn that many electrical goods will have to be scrapped unless they are made more environmentally friendly. The report will single out hugely popular plasma television screens – they even adorn the walls of Downing Street – as a product that consumes too much electricity. The report will say that ‘high consumption technologies’ will be banned unless they meet new standards for lower electricity consumption. 

The issue here is that the standby modes of electrical appliances are (allegedly) the cause of 2% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. But policies about the buttons on our TVs really ought to be at the bottom of the policy ideas barrel – banning them is not going to change the planet. This policy is certainly a sign of the “depth” of “thinking” going on in Westminster, but not a change.

Cameron regards the Quality of Life report – the last of six semi-autonomous commissions to report to the Tory leadership – as a key moment in demonstrating his determination to modernise his party by adopting radical green proposals. 

Expanding the matter in the same issue of the paper, John Gummer, former Conservative Environment Minister invites us to “Turn Off the TV and Join the Tory Green Revolution”… ‘Individuals as much as governments must help in sustaining our increasingly beleaguered planet’, he says. And how are we going to save the planet? Localism…

Localism is also about local food and local provision, it’s about post offices and farm shops, it’s about food miles and local amenities. Climate change puts a new cost on carbon and therefore changes the economic balance that, for too long, has driven us away from localism towards central control. 

It’s a funny kind of “modernisation” that bans the benefits of modern society. It’s also interesting how the political equivalent of the razor wars seems intent on punishing the public for their naughty indulgences in the fruits of industrial society – big tellys, flying, driving, and labour-saving (pun intended) devices – and for wanting life to be about more than what’s happening locally (whatever that means). Not only is today’s politics about limiting the size of our television screens, it is also about lowering our horizons in the real world too. It is the political parties which are beleaguered, not the planet.

Who are these policies supposed to be speaking to – apart from other political parties, that is? It can’t be the TV watching masses. And apparently it’s not even the readership of the Observer. Of the 48 pages in the main section of one of the most green-leaning papers today, 9 contained car adverts, 3 of them full page, and 5 half pages.

Carbon Neutral Policy Surfeit

Apologies for being off-line recently. It’s been summer, we’ve been busy, and there’s been less news around. Now that the Summer is over (did it ever really begin?), we’ll be back with more regular postings.

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The Liberal Democrats announced last week their plans for a ‘zero carbon Britain‘ – including banning all petrol cars from UK roads by 2040, and the end of atomic power. As they tell us,

The measures, which will be debated at the party’s conference in Brighton next month, strengthen the Liberal Democrats’ position as the only major political party with specific proposals designed to face the challenge of climate change.

This indeed trumps the Labour Party’s 60% cut of CO2 by 2050, and the Tory’s 80%, and even the Climate Camp protesters’ 90%. All you need to be radical these days is to add a few percentage points more than you opponents. But this is politics by numbers, and is better explained not by some new-found commitment to environmental politics or even the consequence of scientific research, but a need to find a new niche in the face of poor ratings. There are no ideas, no principles, no philosophy, and no matters of substance separating these parties. And there are barely any differences of approach to what the Lib-Dems are calling ‘the number one challenge facing the world today‘.

If the parties only offer differences of degree, all citing the same “science” (Stern, IPCC, Tyndall – none of which are “the science”), what science can they possibly be deferring to? Where is the science which tells us what percentage cut of CO2 will save the planet? How can four readings of the same research produce such “different” policies?

The answer is, of course, that the science has little to do with it. And in spite of this being ‘the number one challenge facing the world’, as we reported before, 56% of the UK public don’t seem to see things the same way. Perhaps that’s because, in spite of the poll’s authors’ contempt for them, the public are fairly good at spotting nonsense. Which is a problem for the Lib Dems, and the political parties generally, because in their bids to out-do each other, none dare to challenge the consensus or the political orthodoxy , but attempt to demonstrate that they better represent it. What appears to be the most radical figure – the 100% – is in fact the most cowardly. The Lib-Dems are, after all, yellow.

Which party will be the first to offer a carbon negative UK? Place your bets, it’s only a matter of time, and it’s the only way to go for the exhausted party politics of “the mother of all democracies”.

Runaway Climate Runway Capers

The “Camp for Climate Action” has opened near Heathrow Airport. Announcing the event, and commenting on some of the legal problems the organisers have faced, the campaign website said:

Unfortunately the police have stopped and searched some people coming to the camp, under anti-terrorism legislation. This is clearly an abuse of this legislation as the Climate Camp is organised openly, and we are clearly not a terrorist group!

We’d agree that anti-terror legislation is the wrong sledgehammer for this bunch of nuts, and however much we disagree with Climate Camp, their right to protest is worth defending.

However, Climate Camp are not against playing the terror card to further their own political messages:

The science is clear: global emissions of carbon dioxide must go into rapid decline within the next decade. If they don’t, humanity faces a bleak future.

The science says nothing of the sort, of course. The science just says that the world has been getting warmer recently and that that is probably largely due to CO2 emissions. And their political message?

To achieve this in a way that respects global justice means 90% cuts in developed countries like the UK

Hey, that’s a radical 10% more than the UK Conservative Party is calling for. (Perhaps the extra 10% covers the ‘global justice’ bit.)

As we say in our introduction:

15. Widespread disengagement from politics means that politicians pander only to the loudest, shrillest voices.

16. Science is increasingly expected to provide moral certainty in morally uncertain times.

17. Environmental concerns are serving to provide direction for directionless politics.

Success in politics today is achieved through painting a darker vision of the future than one’s adversaries. A cursory look at the environmental movement, and those behind the War on Terror, for example, would give the impression that the two were politically opposed, but a closer inspection reveals that they are cut from the same cloth. Take away the terror, and there is nothing left; no positive view of what society can achieve, no sense of shared purpose, no vision of a better life – just a vague promise of ‘security’.

Fear-mongers need media coverage. But only the right sort of media coverage. Previous Climate Camp actions have banned the media from their sites. Last year, the Camp was organised around the aim of shutting down the Drax power plant, and causing widespread inconvenience so that we all heard about the stunt, and “got the message”, but it doesn’t want the media to intrude on the precious lives of its own activists. This year, that policy received criticism from journalists:

Camp for Climate Action has stated that media will only be permitted on site between 11 am and noon; that they must be accompanied and identified with a flag; must stick with the tour; that some journalists will not be allowed on site and that a “black-list” will be operated. Sympathetic journalists will be given longer access.

After this protest from the NUJ, the campaign’s website announced that it had changed its policy, and explained:

This policy is a compromise that attempts to provide reasonable media access whilst respecting camp participants’ right to privacy. Past protest events similar to the camp have had a no-access policy, and last year’s media hour, which worked well for all concerned, was, we thought, a major step forward. The proposed addition this year of longer access for some journalists was intended as yet another step toward fuller media access and more in-depth coverage. However, this year’s experiment in providing greater access has not worked for anyone. The media team does not have enough people to do the job, journalists saw a tiered system as unfair and many camp participants have declined the offer of living for a few days with the press. So, we have revised and simplified the policy, with fairness, equal treatment of all, and ensuring that we have the capacity to deliver what we offer as our key principles.

Climate Camp is so anxious about its image that its organisers have cordoned off those who might be on-site, but off-message – it doesn’t even trust its own membership to speak freely. It’s a funny kind of protest movement that has to ban the media from observing it on the squatted land it occupies. The pretence of ‘protecting privacy’ is as spurious as the overzealous application of anti-terrorism legislation by the police. In excluding the critical eye of the media, and favouring those who would paint the protest in a good light, it reveals exactly the same Orwellian tendencies it claims to be the victim of. It wants a public image on its own terms, to pull a loud, irritating, inconvenient stunt, and then run away to hide behind it’s ‘rights’ when challenged. ‘Postman’s knock’ politics. A big noise, but no message.

In Crisis Politics, the Only Way Is Up

UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron has announced his commitment to an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. This move ‘beats’ Labour’s promise of a 60% reduction by the same date.

Cameron’s announcement follows statements by the Conservative Party’s Quality of Life Challenge policy group, whose website announced last weekend that they had ‘publised [sic] an important update to the Quality of Life Group’s recent report on acceptable climate change and CO2 emmission [sic] targets‘. The policy group challenge the Stern report, drawing on the IPCC’s WGII summary for policymakers, and others, to conclude that ‘the existing 60% goal is likely to prove inadequate […] UK emissions will have to be reduced by at least 80% by 2050’.

The statement is justified on the basis that ‘the politics must fit the science and not the other way round’ (‘Don’t give up on 2°C [PDF -NO LONGER AVAILABLE]‘). On the face of it, this seems a perfectly sensible approach. The trouble is that the science doesn’t actually say that mitigation is a better strategy than adaptation, let alone whether an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 is better than a 60% reduction. Mitigation, far from being a no-brainer is a complicated and controversial field scientifically. By claiming that their 80% figure is derived from the science, the Tories are hoisted by their own petard – this is a clear case of the science being stretched to fit the politics.

Moreover, mitigation policies cannot be a matter for science alone; they must also be informed by moral and political considerations. And yet when parties hide behind claims that their policies are derived from the science, these are necessarily excluded from the discussion. For example, in a recent article in Nature called ‘Lifting the taboo on adaptation‘, Roger Pielke Jr, Gwyn Prins, Steve Rayner and Daniel Sarewitz argued that the case for adaptation had not been sufficiently heard.

Yet policy-makers need to understand the limitations of mitigation for reducing vulnerabilities, and give more urgent consideration to broader adaptation policies — such as improved management of coastal zones and water resources — that will enhance societal resilience to future climate impacts regardless of their cause. To define adaptation as a cost of failed mitigation is to expose millions of poor people in compromised ecosystems to the very dangers that climate policy seeks to avoid.

So why would the Tories wish to exclude discussion of alternative strategies? Why would they claim that alternatives would contradict the science, that they are ‘at the margin of the debate’, and that ‘we cannot risk them being wrong’? The answer is simple: lacking a framework of political principles, they have such little scope to set themselves apart from their Labour and Liberal (and for that matter, Green) counterparts that their only option for demonstrating their fitness for leadership is to appear to be taking the issue more seriously. And that’s the only option open to their counterparts, too. The result is an escalation of the ‘crisis’ that ends up looking more like the razor wars than politics.

Cynics on both sides of the issue may dismiss Cameron’s words as empty rhetoric, as mere postures assumed to embarrass the Labour Party, and to rob the liberals and the Greens of their environmentalist edge. They may well be right, but what is important here is to recognise how dramatically environmental thinking is narrowing political discussion about the future. Crisis politics dominates thinking right across the political spectrum and hides politics behind scientific absolutes which simply do not exist, and cannot be interrogated. Even the Socialist Workers Party is getting in on the act, calling for cuts of ‘at least 80 percent […] by 2030‘.

That all parties are pushing in the same direction on this one might lead some to argue that they can’t all be wrong. But it would be more true to say that they can’t all be correct. Discussions about the future are being reduced to an arms race of gimmicks that appeal to the very same fear that they generate. It’s enough to make five blades in a disposable razor seem like a positively radical, world-changing idea.

Challenging Climate Orthodoxy…

April 2007. Since its release in February, the IPCC’s AR4 (Working Group I) Summary for Policymakers has been uncritically reported in the mainstream media, and its findings often exaggerated. Because of a perception that the public mood demands action to mitigate climate change, the UK government has used the IPCC findings to justify committing the country to a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Like much environmental policy, this has gone largely unchallenged by opposition parties.

We believe that an unfounded sense of crisis – and therefore urgency – dominates public discussion of environmental issues. Thus, demands for urgent action to mitigate climate change thrive at the expense of genuine, illuminating, nuanced debate.

Neither the science nor the politics of climate change should be exempt from scrutiny. Our intention is to provide some decent commentary on how science, politics and the media handle environmental matters, for anyone interested in challenging this dangerous new orthodoxy. And for anyone just interested.

Where we’re starting from…

  1. There is good scientific evidence that human activities are influencing the climate.
  2. The evidence for anthropogenic climate change is neither as strong nor as demanding of action as is widely claimed.
  3. Our ability to mitigate, let alone reverse any such change through reductions in CO2 emissions is even less certain.
  4. The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported inaccurately reflects the true scientific consensus.
  5. There is no scientific consensus on how society should proceed in the face of a changing climate.
  6. How society should proceed in the face of a changing climate is the business of politics.
  7. Science does not and should not proceed by consensus.
  8. Political arguments about climate change are routinely mistaken for scientific ones.
  9. The IPCC is principally a political organisation.
  10. Environmentalism is principally a political phenomenon.
  11. And yet climate change policies go unchallenged by opposition parties.
  12. The goals/aspirations/values of society are/should be matters of politics, not science.
  13. The current emphasis on mitigation strategies is impeding society’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, whatever its cause.
  14. The public remain unconvinced that mitigation is in their best interests.
  15. Widespread disengagement from politics means that politicians pander only to the loudest, shrillest voices.
  16. Science is increasingly expected to provide moral certainty in morally uncertain times.
  17. Environmental concerns are serving to provide direction for directionless politics.