Genetically Modified Climate 'Science'

Someone else who isn’t entirely wrong this week is Lord Bob May of Oxford. It’s quite refreshing to hear the former Royal Society president and government chief-scientific adviser having a go at Big Environment for a change instead of Big Oil:

Parts of the green movement have become hijacked by a political agenda and now operate like multinational corporations, according to two senior scientists and members of the House of Lords.

The peers, who were speaking at an event in parliament on science policy, said they felt that in some areas green campaign groups were a hindrance to environmental causes.

“Much of the green movement isn’t a green movement at all, it’s a political movement,” said Lord May

He’s certainly right that the green movement is a political movement. But it’s an observation from the realm of the startlingly obvious. It’s a movement. Take away the politics and it ceases to exist. May and his fellow peer Lord Krebs seem to be imagining some sort of ideal politics-free… erm… politics.

May [added] that he used to be involved with Greenpeace in the 1970s

What on Earth did they think the green movement was, back in the good-old days, before it got all ‘political’? They don’t say.

May might be a great scientist, but he’s a bad Scientist. As a Scientist – by which we mean, someone who practises Scientism – May is under the impression that his views are merely an extension of ‘the science’ – as if he were the vessel for pure scientific objectivity, and above mere politics. Politics by simultaneous equation. Trouble is, not only are May’s facts often spectacularly wrong, so too is his habit of hiding orthodox environmental politics behind them.

Through his criticism of his fellow Scientists, Greenpeace, May betrays the folly of Scientism. When Scientists disagree, they can only resort to accusing each other of politics. Because politics is what people who are wrong do. After all, you can’t have different views among people who are guided only by the science. And the way you show people are guilty of politics is to show they’ve got their facts wrong. Greenpeace went wrong, it seems, when they let their politics get in the way of May’s version of the facts.

May also criticised green groups who campaign against initiatives such as wind farms and the Severn tidal barrage scheme, while also proclaiming the need to tackle climate change. He said such groups were “failing to recognise the landscape is human-created”.

He might be right that greens harbour an aversion to anything ‘unnatural’. But he is wrong to think that, to see the light over alternative energy, they just need a few facts pointing out to them. After all, if the landscape is human-created, what could be wrong with a human-created atmosphere?

Moreover, the bulk of the opposition to alternative energy comes not from green groups, but from run-of-the-mill objections that just happen to make use of the very environmental language in currency – ‘ecosystems’, ‘biodiversity’, ‘sustainability’ – that May himself has been promoting. This language has, as we have pointed out here on Climate Resistance, been used to reorganise many and varied aspects of public life. Local government services and plans have all been adjusted to meet the demands of ‘sustainability’ and climate change anxiety. Property developers have painted themselves green. What’s left of British industry has been painted green. So it should be no surprise then that the objections to them are also framed in the same terms. They aren’t green enough. They aren’t sustainable. They will damage fragile ecosystems.

May complains that Greenpeace should be more honest about their political agenda:

“I wish they would wear the uniform of the army they are fighting [under],” said May

But May himself wears several layers of different uniform underneath his tightly-buttoned ‘senior-scientist’ regalia. As self-appointed custodian of the facts, May demands respect for them, and uses them as a stick to beat down insubordination, within and without the ranks, as this interview revealed:

We have to confront this threat,’ says May. ‘Unfortunately the media all too often does this in a way that relegates the most important issue facing our species as if it was a soccer match between two competing sides of equal strength. It’s not. If you want to compare it [the debate over the existence of global warming] to a football match, it is more like Manchester United taking on three primary school children. It is as ridiculous as that.

On one hand, you have the entire scientific community and on the other you have a handful of people, half of them crackpots. Nevertheless, this is still presented as an unresolved battle. That is simply not true. It has been resolved. Only the details of climatic change’s impact have still to be worked out.’

May has lost count of the players in his war/football fantasy. This isn’t a game of two sides, because, for a long time, May has been fighting his own war with deeper Greens. The battle line was drawn across England’s fields – not football fields, but fields where genetically modified crops were being trialled and trashed.

Before his stint as President of the Royal Society, May was appointed by the UK government to lead an investigation into the safety of GM food. But, according to the Guardian, he was also…

… being paid by a leading GM company, it emerged last night.

Bob May and Alan Dewar of the Institute of Arable Crops Research, an organisation subsidised by the government, were appointed in June to help lead a team of “world-class scientists” to look at the potential adverse impacts of the farm trials.

…Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace called for the scientists’ resignation and the winding up of the farm-scale trials, several of which have been partly destroyed by anti-GM activists and one of which was abandoned by the farmer.

Things got worse for May when scientists broke ranks:

… the British Medical Association (BMA) announced it believed gene foods were a potential danger to health, particularly those involving the use of antibiotic-resistant genes. ‘On the basis of no evidence any actual harm,’ as New Scientist noted, the BMA then called for a ban on such crops because they could increase antibiotic resistance in humans.

It was this notion that began Bob May’s lachrymous uncertainties. ‘Christ, we have rising antibiotic resistance because the bloody members of the BMA have been oversubcribing penicillin for every damn illness you can think of. It’s got nothing to do with GM food.’

This was a PR disaster, exacerbated by May’s anger and impatience.

In vain, do scientists such as Sir Robert point out that modified crops actually reduce [pesticide] use. ‘It is simple common sense. Modified seeds cost more than normal seeds. So why the fuck would farmers want to have them if they also used up more pesticides which also cost money?’

He had tried to sell the potential of GM positively, but failed comprehensively, telling MPs in 1999 that:

there are real social and environmental choices to be made… They are not about safety as such, but about much larger questions of what kind of world we want to live in…. There is a huge potential market for new GM ‘agrifood’ in Europe.

This kind of world, argued George Monbiot, was one in which scientists were instrumental in an an ‘economic war against the poor’ – good science wasn’t necessarily ‘good’.

The physics labs in which some of the best scientific brains in Britain design grenades which maim without killing, or bombs which destroy people but not the infrastructure, practice “good” science, subjected to peer review. They are also saturated with values. They place a higher value on their research grants than on the lives with which they toy. Precisely the same approach appears to govern many of the nation’s biology labs.

For the war now being waged across the planet is an economic one, as big corporations attempt to seize the resources upon which some of the poorest people on earth depend. And many of the best biologists in Britain are fighting on the wrong side.

But Monbiot’s distance from Scientism diminished substantially over the next decade, as Spiked’s Brendan O’Neill noted last year:

Some time during the past five years he went to bed an hysteric, the closest thing Britain had to a nutty Nostradamus, and awoke to find himself labelled a man of reason, a ‘defender of truth’ no less, who is praised on the dust-jacket of his latest book for possessing a ‘dazzling command of science’ (only by Naomi Klein, admittedly, but still).

May lost the battle over GM crops. But he learned a valuable lesson. The potential benefits that science offered weren’t persuasive in the face of the fear that the environmental movement was capable of generating. It was too easy to turn any argument about the potential of science into an argument that favoured business interests. As the saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Science would assert its influence, not by constructing positive visions of the future, but by selling itself as the only insurance policy against certain doom. ‘The kind of world we want to live in’ ceased to be a matter of choice, or even about ‘safety as such’. There was now only one course – survival, and its terms were to be dictated by science. Monbiot and May seemed to agree.

Now, of course, even Greenpeace are likely to cite Bob May’s views on the climate debate:

Last year the UK’s prestigious scientific body, the Royal Society, wrote to Exxon asking them to stop funding the groups who were “misinforming the public about the science of climate change”. Exxon indicated to the Royal Society that they had – and they would. In February this year Exxon did a big public relations round of the media, saying it had been “misunderstood” on climate change and gave the clear indication that it had dropped its funding of the climate sceptic industry.

And more curiously, May uses the very same argument about industry funding that Greenpeace was throwing at him in the late 1990s, citing their efforts to ‘expose Exxon’. Greenpeace quotes May quoting Greenpeace on Exxon.

The scientific establishment and grubby eco-warriors converged, speaking each others’ language: science gave plausibility to the environmental movement’s darkest fantasies, and the environmentalists’ nightmares gave science a legitimising raison d’etre. But as May’s confusion about which army’s colours Greenpeace are wearing reveal, the convenience of this entente is not lasting. The side/football team/army that May found himself on is itself at least two, with different interests, and different ambitions that no longer appear to be mutually expedient.

Catastrophism is not the only argumentative tack that Bob May, and the Royal Society in general, have borrowed from the greens. In the days of the GM Wars, when environmental groups were hailing Arpad Pusztai’s infamous study on toxic potatoes as proof that GM food was harmful to health, the Royal Society, under May’s leadership, was bending over backwards to dismiss it as a single, unreplicated piece of evidence. And it was. But ten years later, in his desperation to drive home the prospect of climate catastrophe to unbelievers, he cites single, unrepresentative, worst-case studies with abandon – re-framing them along the way in order to remove any suggestion that they might not be the last word on the matter. In fact, he cites with abandon Lord Stern citing with abandon a single, unrepresentative, worst-case study of climate-change threats to biodiversity. No, worse, he mis-cites Stern with abandon – surreptitiously and wholly dishonestly chopping the middle out of the quoted section to achieve the full effect.

The shifting positions of scientists and pressure groups in environmental debates is illustrated further by comments by May and Krebs in the parliamentary event we started with. Krebs, for example, is happy to denigrate Greenpeace as scaremongers:

Lord Krebs, the former chairman of the Food Standards Agency and current principal of Jesus College Oxford also criticised Greenpeace, saying that it had been set up to peddle fear on environmental issues. “Greenpeace is a multinational corporation just like Monsanto or Tesco. They have very effective marketing departments… Their product is worry because worry is what recruits members,” he said.

But some scaremongering is more equal than others:

He added that in some areas, such as warning about the effects of climate change, such an approach was justified, but that Greenpeace sometimes chose the wrong issues – for example, nuclear power and GM crops.

May echoes these sentiments:

May said parliamentarians had not done enough to prepare the public for the effect climate change would have on their lives in terms of efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to climate changes.

“I think there has been a problem of communication,” he said. “For some, I think it’s the desire not to confront the issue.” But, he said, the smoking ban had showed, for example, that public attitudes could change rapidly.

The smoking ban did not change attitudes. All it did was to prevent the expression of attitudes – there is no choice. It hasn’t made people less tolerant of smoking, it’s just made smoking illegal in public spaces. It is a deeply confused lawmaker who cannot tell the difference between a law and an attitude.

This confusion represents the heart of the problem of May’s scientism. If you merely view ‘attitudes’ as equivalent to holding so many wrong or right ‘facts’, then it stands to reason that winning the argument consists of no more than barking right facts at the wrong. This harks back to a prehistoric view of science communication that the Royal Society itself has played no small part in dispelling. It is a return to the deficit model, whereby the unenlightened masses just need to know more about the science in order to come to the ‘correct’ conclusions. The last couple of decades have seen a shift away from this unidirectional Public Understanding of Science to a more conversational Public Engagement with Science model. And yet it is striking that, while the Royal Society has embraced public engagement exercises over nanotechnology and, to an extent, genetic modification (although only after the horse had bolted), when it comes to climate change, conversations are conspicuous by their absence. The only conversations that the Royal Society takes part in on climate change are with those who already agree. It’s little surprise that there has been no formal attempt to engage the public in conversation when the majority of the electorate remain unconvinced by climate change rhetoric.

May attempts to side-step this particular pitfall by claiming that wrong facts about climate change are only held because they were put there by the wrong people – conspiracies of ‘an active and well-funded “denial lobby”‘, in May’s words.

‘Politics’ is thus reduced to the expression of wrong ‘facts’, resulting in the highly polarised battle between armies – or football teams – representing true (science) and false (politics). The whole business of politics is therefore a deviation from ‘the right facts’. Concomitant with such scientism is the view that being right is equivalent to being legitimate: the ‘consensus’/football team/truth-army legitimises the reorganisation of the world according to the demands of the environmentalists that are consistent with the Scientists’ own ambitions. What makes this necessary are the dire consequences of climate change, as dictated by ‘climate science’

Whatever the scientific truth of the claim, scientism’s argument amounts to an organising principle, the same as any other political ideology. Any normative proposition that demands that we change our lives must be treated as any other. That is to say, it needs to win its way to influence by persuasive and careful argument, and must endure hostile criticism. But that is not how the environmental movement has won its influence. Instead, men like May have captured the catastrophic drama that has been generated by the likes of Greenpeace and used it to legitimise new international and national political institutions and legal frameworks. Where political philosophies used to gain momentum – movement – through capturing the public’s imagination, and would assert ideas through such weight of numbers, today’s political players legitimise themselves with terrifying images.

Bob May might be unaware of his own contributions to the politicisation of science, but it is not lost on Patrick Moore, Director of Greenpeace International for seven years during the 1970s, the period of Bob May’s involvement with the group:

“It appears to be the policy of the Royal Society to stifle dissent and silence anyone who may have doubts about the connection between global warming and human activity,” said Dr. Moore, Chairman and Chief Scientist of Vancouver, Canada-based Greenspirit Strategies Ltd.

“That kind of repression seems more suited to the Inquisition than to a modern, respected scientific body,” said Moore.

May would no doubt argue that these shifting allegiances reflect no more than the ‘truth’ of ‘the science’ on offer from Greenpeace et al regarding these various areas.

Indeed, May’s erstwhile right-hand-man Bob Ward has argued just that:

during my early days at the Royal Society in 1999, the Society became involved in a major debate over GM foodstuffs, when it challenged a number of statements about their safety that were based on studies that had not been submitted to peer-reviewed journals. This made the Society the subject of much criticism from NGOs such as Greenpeace, which I think demonstrates that the Society is not partisan to particular interest groups.

That the Royal Society doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with businesses and Greenpeace may make it hard to identify the Royal Society’s sympathy with an existing interest group. But that doesn’t mean that interests and politics aren’t operating beneath the crusader-for-science costume. Even having the best scientific facts doesn’t guarantee the stainless moral fibre of their possessor. The curious thing about the last few decades’ eco-wars has been the way that all sides have attempted to portray themselves as being in possession of the best, least interested facts, and that the opposing viewpoints are tainted – perverted, even – by financial and political interest. But paradoxically, this has happened in an era characterised by a dearth of influence by political perspectives in debate. Since the late eighties, for example, it has been hard to identify the functioning of Left or Right arguments operating in the public sphere that owe anything to their traditions. Where once, such movements would have achieved prominence for their ideas precisely because they were political, and because they represented interests, today’s movements instead appeal to ‘science’ for legitimacy.

But as the GM wars showed, science hasn’t solved anything: the debate continues its descent. The arguments May produces, like Frankenstein’s own monster, escape his control. The interminable issue of funding, rather than demonstrating the purity of scientific objectivity, demonstrates the impossibility of such a perspective ever being achieved – even Lord May is ‘industry funded’. Scientific terminology – ‘sustainability’, ‘ecosystems’, ‘biodiversity’ – escape scientific context, to allow anyone to speculate what might happen ‘if trends continue’. The notion of ‘consensus’ becomes detached from its object, and allows anyone with a broadly sympathetic agenda to cite facts about opinion about facts as evidence of facts themselves.

This is no reflection on the usefulness of science itself. But that usefulness diminishes when it is puffed up for political purposes – ultimately to fill the void left by politics itself.

So, May might be giving a few sections of the green movement a bit of stick, but when it comes down to it, that Greenpeace et al have got their facts wrong has little to do with it. He pounces on them when their interests and politics diverge from his own. Which is why environmentalists can rest assured that they can keep on making up the facts about the climatastrophe as they go along without incurring the wrath of May or the Royal Society. In fact, the Royal Society gives out prizes for that sort of thing.

May has lost one battle against the forces of unreason. He doesn’t want to lose another one. He’s going to win on climate change, even if he has to lower himself and scientific institutions to the level of Greenpeace to do so. But in today’s world, neither are causes; they are both just symptoms.

activism.plc@gov.ac.uk

At the risk of getting all Exxon-Secrets ‘on yo asses’… Thanks to the reader who let us know about Bob Ward‘s latest career move. Ward, if you remember, left his post of director of communications at the Royal Society to join global risk analysis firm RMS as Director of Global Science Networks. It was a perfectly natural progression that allowed him to continue both his pseudo-scientific catastrophe-mongering and his crusade against Exxon and Martin Durkin. Which he did.

Ward now pops up at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, where he has taken on the post of Policy and Communications Director. The Grantham is chaired by Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern of Brentford, author of a rather influential report on the economics of climate change, and who stands to profit admirably from institutional environmentalism via his carbon credit reference agency. It is no surprise that Ward and Sir Nicholas find themselves in the same company department, given their shared interests. Stern is also Chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP), which is funded by the UK government’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and which acknowledges that ‘Generous support for the Centre’s work is also provided by Munich Re’. Munich Re is the insurance giant that claims to know what the IPCC does not when it comes to the reality of climate change in the present.

Glancing down the profiles of Grantham’s management team, we spot another corporate Green to have found a new home among academic foliage. The last time we looked, Sam Fankhauser was Managing Director of IDEAcarbon:

IDEAcarbon is 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.

IDEAcarbon’s parent company is IDEAglobal, where Stern is Vice President.

Fankhauser doubles up as a member of the Climate Change Committee, the ‘independent’ body set up by the UK government to advise the UK government on climate policies.

The CCC is chaired by Lord Adair Turner of Ecchinswell, a man whose CV includes stints of environmental activism as a trustee for WWF and membership 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’.

After all this, we were slightly disappointed to gather that the Grantham Research Institute is not named after the birthplace of green pioneer Margaret Thatcher. That it’s named in honour of multi-millionaire sponsors Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham, whose Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment also supports such green multi-nationals as GreenpeaceOxfamWWF and the Union of Concerned Scientists, is no less appropriate, however.

Grantham’s raison d’être is, according to its Chair:

Professor Stern said: ’As scientists continue to play their role in analysing the causes and effects of climate change, it is crucial that social scientists take a lead in the building of policy. The Grantham Institute will produce high-quality, policy-relevant research, alongside a range of outputs designed to support policy development, raise public awareness and contribute to private-sector strategy formation.’

Climate Resistance would not stoop to suggest that the corporate and ideological interests of the Grantham Research Institute’s staff could conceivably influence the direction or quality of its research output.

In fact, it’s worth re-stating that we wouldn’t make so much of the financial interests of these folk were it not for the fact that Bob Ward and his cronies make so much about links with dirty oil money, as exemplified by Ward’s former boss at the Royal Society, Bob May, writing in the TLS:

Despite the growing weight of evidence of climate change, along with growing awareness of the manifold adverse consequences, there remains an active and well-funded “denial lobby”. It shares many features with the lobby that for so long denied that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. […] Whoever got things started, this is a ball which ExxonMobile picked up and ran with, shuttling lobbyists in and out of the White House as it did so. Following earlier talks and seeking to exemplify its centuries-old motto – Nullius in Verba (which roughly translates as “respect the facts”) – the Royal Society recently and unprecedentedly wrote to ExxonMobile, complaining about its funding for “organisations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change”, and more generally for promoting inaccurate and misleading views – specifically that scientists do not agree about the influence of human activity on rising temperatures.

Likewise, we would be less interested in such dodgy dealings if it weren’t for the mainstream media’s tendency to decry Exxon funding as corrupting of the scientific method while deeming Munich Re’s pronouncements – let alone the pronouncements of those they sponsor – as above scrutiny. It’s also worth re-stating at this point that fear is to the insurance industry what oil is to Exxon.

The ESRC’s CCCEP is worthy of further comment. According to its home page:

Human-induced climate change could have enormous impacts on economies and societies if we persist with ‘business as usual’. This is the consensus view of climate scientists and one with which economists are increasingly finding agreement (eg The Stern Review). It is much less certain, however, that our economic, social and political systems can respond to the challenge. Will public, private and civic actors take action to create low-carbon economies? What emission reduction strategies will be efficient, equitable and acceptable? How much should we invest, and when, on measures to reduce vulnerability to climate change? Who will bear the costs and enjoy the benefits? […] The Centre is chaired by Professor Lord Stern of Brentford

So, Lord Professor Sir Nicholas Stern’s report on the economics of climate change is somehow representative of the ‘scientific consensus’, and he shall, therefore, chair the ESRC’s climate change body.

There was a time when the social sciences felt it necessary to scrutinise the natural sciences, on the basis that scientists weren’t quite as objective as they liked to think they were. They had a point, even if the scientists were probably more objective than the sociologists thought they were. It was a good fight. Now, however, the starting point of centrally-funded social science is that it accepts unconditionally that not only is there is a scientific consensus on climate change, but there is an economic one, too. Aren’t new-fangled scientific practices like consensuses and peudo-scientific creations like ‘sustainability’ precisely what the social sciences should be scrutinising?

The CCCEP assumes from the outset that it follows necessarily that something must be done – and, indeed, that is the duty of each of us to do something. From its mission statement:

Climate change and its potential impacts are increasingly accepted, but economic, social and political systems have been slow to respond. There is a clear and urgent need to speed up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to unavoidable climate change.

The Centre’s mission is to respond to this need by advancing public and private action on climate change through innovative, rigorous research.

This is not sociology as the study of social institutions. It is sociology as government department, scholarly discipline and activist group all rolled into one. As if the Science Wars never happened, ‘climate science’ is free once again to speak ‘Truth to Power’ unfettered. Except that now it is aided and abetted by those who would be scrutinising it were it not for the fact that sociology has lost any sense of mission, just as political parties, the media, environmentalist activists and a host of scholarly disciplines attempting to justify themselves in terms of ‘relevance’ have lost sense of their mission.

The environmental orthodoxy is a tangled web of corporate interests, policy-makers, -movers and -shakers, academics, NGO’s and activists – all pushing in the same direction. Which would be just fine if the idea had been tested democratically. But it hasn’t. We’ve said it many times… environmentalism has not risen to prominence through its own energies: it has not developed from a mass movement; it isn’t representative of popular interests. It is useful only to various organisations that have otherwise struggled to justify themselves over the last few decades. The political parties have bought it. Various ‘radical’ organisations have bought it. Large sections of the media have bought it. Academic departments and funding agencies have bought it. Little wonder that corporate interests have been able to jump upon the bandwagon and play their hearts out for personal financial gain.

Forget speaking ‘Truth to Power’. Today it’s all about speaking ‘Official Truth™ for Official Power©’.

Identity Crisis Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Are Armed Only With Rumour, Hyperbole And Friends In High Places

The Climate Camp protestors have been complaining about the way they have been treated by the police. Again. Caroline Lucas explains, on commentisrubbish,

Everyone who enters the site is being searched. Police officers are taking anything away that “could be used for illegal activity”, with efforts being made to strip protesters of such hardcore weapons of choice as bits of carpet, biodegradable soap and toilet paper. In the absence of any serious threat, the police clearly found it necessary to justify their presence with an unprovoked attack on personal hygiene.

As we said recently, the police are complicit in the camp’s PR. Heavy handedness just appears to lend the protest some drama, and sympathy for the silly protest. Worse still, it makes the protestors look like they are on the opposing side to the Government, when in fact, they have a lot in common.

But further North from the camp, near the site of the 2006 Climate Camp, another group of protestors in June halted a train bound for the Drax power plant, [video], attached ropes from the train to a bridge, and emptied coal from the train onto adjacent tracks.

It is hardly a surprise that the police therefore take the threat a little bit more seriously than the likes of Lucas claim it warrants. Indeed, the camp’s organisers boast of their intention to cause problems for the rest of the country:

On Saturday August 9th, the climate camp will go beyond talk and culminate in a spectacular mass action to shut down Kingsnorth. Permanently!

How can the police not take seriously the open threat made by the protestors – clearly no strangers to dangerous acts of sabotage – to sabotage an installation that serves hundreds of thousands of homes, businesses, schools and hospitals with power? We take very seriously the right of the camp to protest, and even to get up people’s noses by inconveniencing them. That is the stuff of democracy, after all. But you can’t expect the police to treat you all nice and fluffy while you are issuing threats that they are duty-bound to prevent you from carrying out.

The small group of self-important protestors have convinced themselves that they are beyond any kind of reproach, and are faultless. Reason does not apply to them. They have Gaia on their side.

Yet their arguments are too easily defeated. Last Friday, just eight Climate Camp protestors chained themselves to the gates of argibusiness giant, Cargill, on the basis that they are ‘profiting from hunger’ during global food price rises. This is simply crazy. The environmental movement has long campaigned for HIGHER food prices, arguing that industrial agriculture and distribution, in its search for lower prices and efficiencies is bad for the environment. If Cargill are profiting from higher prices, it is thanks to Environmentalism, as James Heartfield put it in Spiked recently:

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. […] 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.

The leitmotif of the environmental movement is ‘the science says’. The camp’s slogan last year was ‘We are armed… only with peer-reviewed science’ . As we have said before, science is Environmentalism’s fig leaf. Behind the idea that ‘the science’ has promised catastrophe is the shameful illogic, unreason and plain untruths that Environmentalists don’t want us to see.

Writing in the Guardian, for example, Climate Camp protesters Ellen Potts, Oli Rodker, Johnathan Stevensen, Paul Morozzo and Mel Evans specify just how long all that ‘peer-reviewed science’ tells we have to save the planet:

Scientists tell us that from this week we have just 100 months to solve climate change.

Which scientists would that be then? Well, it seems it would be the Green New Deal Group, which comprises Larry Elliott (Economics Editor of the Guardian), Colin Hines (Co-Director of Finance for the Future; former head of Greenpeace International’s Economics Unit), Tony Juniper (former Director of Friends of the Earth), Jeremy Leggett (founder and Chairman of Solarcentury and SolarAid), Caroline Lucas (Green Party MEP), Richard Murphy (Co-Director of Finance for the Future and Director, Tax Research LLP), Ann Pettifor (former head of the Jubilee 2000 debt relief campaign, Campaign Director of Operation Noah), Charles Secrett (Advisor on Sustainable Development; former Director of Friends of the Earth) and Andrew Simms (Policy Director, the new economics foundation).

Spot the scientists, anyone?

Slightly more sobre – surprisingly – is the Camp’s very own ‘climate science’ page. It doesn’t talk of ‘just 100 weeks to save the planet’, but it does talk of 4°C temperature rise by 2100, giving rise to

reduced crop yields in the tropics, sea level rises and increases in flooding, more extreme weather events and at least a third of all species destined for extinction

These are, of course, factoids leeched from IPCC reports, and give the upper ranges of projections as predictions, and cite, third hand, worst-case scenarios from single-studies of very small sample groups taken from highly vulnerable species. There is, as yet, no clear evidence of ‘more extreme weather events’.

The reason for the camp’s relatively sobre – albeit still rather shrill – presentation of the ‘science’ might have something to do with its being written by a scientist.

Dr Simon L. Lewis, Earth & Biosphere Institute, School of Geography, University of Leeds. The author is a specialist on the interactions of tropical forests and climate change and a member of the Royal Society’s Climate Change Advisory Group. All the scientific information included here appears in the IPCC Fourth Assesment Reports, available at www.ipcc.ch

Climate Camp must be over the moon at having Lewis on board to write the sciencey bits. Unfortunately for them, however, what is striking is that the actions of the Climate Camp protesters is not justifiable on the basis of the Lewis’s summary. Which is why in interviews and letters to the Guardian, the protesters have to resort to the language of catastrophe.

Lewis’s thoughts on the matter of catastrophe, published on the Royal Society’s website are even more circumspect:

Are we heading for catastrophe? Possibly. It is currently impossible to make robust predictions concerning how future climatic changes will interact with social factors and non-climatic environmental problems in an increasingly globalised world, but it is straightforward to conceive of plausible and socially explosive scenarios (e.g. mixing a future economic recession and geopolitical tensions over resources, with extreme weather events causing a a key crop failure and resulting mass human migrations could overload political institutions). However, regarding climate change per se, it is physically possible to avoid the worst of climate change depending upon political choices now.

Nonetheless, we see here less climate science, and more speculation that is far closer to social science. And it gets worse:

The basic solution to climate change is obvious but rarely articulated forcefully: most fossil carbon must not get into the atmosphere. Currently the only proven way to do this is to leave most fossil fuels in the ground. That is no new oil fields, no new coal mines. But such apparently drastic measures are not on the mainstream agenda. Why? In my view this is because individuals, governments and companies all operate within a socio-economic system, capitalism, which, whether we like it or not, means it is difficult not to abide by the rules of this system.

This isn’t even social science – it’s political ideology. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with holding anti-capitalist views. Capitalism – like social science, and like climate science – needs to be challenged. But it’s clear that the boundaries between Lewis’s study of forests and his very shallow and fragile critique of capitalism are not as solid as they might be. If Lewis were a post-doctoral researcher specialising in tropical forest ecology who happened to be an anti-capitalist, that would be one thing. But instead, as is true of political discussions today, ‘science’ is the language in which ethical and political arguments are being made. In other words, Lewis, and the anti-capitalist environmental movement, cannot challenge capitalism in human, political, or on principled terms. If you aren’t sure about why that is wrong, consider what might be wrong with an argument attempting to ‘prove’ that theft and murder are wrong using Newtons laws of thermodynamics.

Writing on Commentisrubbish to explain the purpose of the camp, Lewis once again conflates science and politics:

A new high point of opposition starts this weekend as the Camp for Climate Action embarks on an eight-day protest to press the government and E.ON to abandon the scheme. This is no fringe issue: they will be taking action to stop a proposal potentially so destructive that increasing numbers of scientists are speaking out against it […]

The Climate Camp is creating space for serious debate about the kind of world we want to live in. More than that, the campers give shape to a force that can perhaps override the profits-now catastrophe-later logic of the government and E.ON: they form a broad-based movement of people committed to a socially just transition to a low-carbon society. I certainly don’t want to live in E.ON’s world, where business as usual trumps avoiding dangerous climate change. So I’ll be joining the campers in Kent. Anyone else with concerns about the future should do the same.

But he’s a scientist. So it must be true. Also no stranger to the language of catastrophe is Sir Martin “Our Final Century” Rees, president of the Royal Society, which funds Lewis’ research. Who said recently,

“Our main concerns are that coal fired powered stations are worse in terms of CO2 production even than oil or gas fired power stations.
“It would symbolically be very unfortunate if the UK were to approve a coal fired power station without imposing very strict requirements that some technology should be adopted that would allow it to capture the carbon dioxide it emits.”

So what have Rees and Lewis got to do with sabotage, police-brutality, and silly protests in Kent?

Quite a lot. We have described before the curious symbiosis between the Royal Society and activists such as Mark Lynas. What it reveals is that the establishment generates anxiety about the future, and are key to equipping the protestors with their arguments. The establishment is sympathetic to the protestors aims, as witnessed by the raft of environmental legislation on the cards and already in place. The establishment is involved in heavy policing of the protest. And the establishment is responsible for publicising the protest. This is not grass-roots activists, protesting about the state of things. This is anxiety within the establishment, expressing itself downwards. This process begins in the minds of those at the top, unsure of their roles, and of the future. It finds its way to a tiny number of individuals, who make a big noise and interesting pictures, which in turn creates the idea that this absurd protest has a point. But in truth, the entire spectacle owes itself to nothing more than the fact that Chicken Littles are running the roost, and that they depend on those prepared to flap about to make their positions more tenable, and legitimate.

The love-in between Climate Camp and the Royal Society is also evident in the protestors’ Guardian Letter:

The thought of going to prison even for a short period is daunting, but we cannot accept the logic of bail conditions that stop us attending a legal event at which Royal Society professors mix with families.

And which aims to shut down illegally a power station, by the way.

When the likes of Martin Durkin are deemed by the Royal Society to deviate from ‘the science’ of climate change, he is subject to the full wrath of the Royal Society. And yet it stands by as climate protesters and scientists take liberties with the truth and pass off opinion as science while hiding behind the Society’s very authority.

What the Royal Society ought to be doing – rather than running around like headless chickens – is providing sobre reflection, and scientific rationalism. It does exist, amongst the clucking. Take for example, the words of Carl Wunsch

…it is very difficult to separate human induced change from natural change, certainly not with the confidence we all seek. In these circumstances, it is essential to remember that the inability to prove human-induced change is not the same thing as a demonstration of its absence. It is probably true that most scientists would assign a very high probability that human-induced change is already strongly present in the climate system, while at the same time agreeing that clear-cut proof is not now available and may not be available for a long-time to come, if ever. Public policy has to be made on the basis of probabilities, not firm proof.

… and the words of Lewis in the same section of the RS website:

It is currently impossible to make robust predictions concerning how future climatic changes will interact with social factors and non-climatic environmental problems in an increasingly globalised world, but it is straightforward to conceive of plausible and socially explosive scenarios (e.g. mixing a future economic recession and geopolitical tensions over resources, with extreme weather events causing a a key crop failure and resulting mass human migrations could overload political institutions).

We can see firstly that there is no claim to certainty, or the science being ‘in’ on behalf of [ scientists, even those who make public, and very shrill statements about the need for action. Second, we can see that scientific arguments that we should act to mitigate climate change are founded on the precautionary principle – a controversial way of determining the best course of action in the face of unquantified risk. Third, what determines our vulnerability to climate is what Lewis refers to as ‘social factors’, therefore, concentration on the social factors would seem to be far more prudant than making attempts to control the weather. Unfortunately, though, he only considers ways in which we are vulnerable to climate, rather than resistant to it, and so concludes that we must act to change the weather. Fourth, then, climate change, given the right ‘social factors’ might not be a problem. But Lewis’s desire that we aim for changing the weather dimishes the ‘social factors’ which relate to our ability to resist the effects of climate. Fifth, it shows that the Royal Society and its associates are aware that social factors are more important than climatic ones, and yet they insist on alarming the public with terrifying stories and innuendo about those who dare to challenge it.

Perhaps the Royal Society simply doesn’t understand its role here. It too has become caught up in the political process, and its members seem to be as confused about what is politics and what is science as the circus-freak protestors. It too makes the mistake of believing that science can answer political questions about the future. It runs with it, because to say ‘we don’t really know’ would be to undermine its own position at a time when people – particularly the rest of the establishment – are turning to science for answers because politics isn’t providing them. The result is a loss of faith in both politics and science.

90 Minutes of TV; 16 Months of Handwaving…

…and counting…

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

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

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

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

Eddie Mair: What got you so cross?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Royal Society: From Science to Fiction

Eco-activist Mark Lynas, has won the Royal Society’s prize for popular science writing, for his book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.

Except that it isn’t science, it’s fiction. Science fiction; it takes a vaguely plausible scientific possibility, extrapolates it, and makes it the situation in which some form of drama plays out. For every one degree rise in temperature, Lynas considers what might happen to life on Earth.

Professor Jonathan Ashmore, Chair of the Judges said: “Lynas gives us a compelling and gripping view of how climate change could affect our world. It presents a series of scientifically plausible, worst case scenarios without tipping into hysteria. Six degrees is not just a great read, written in an original way, but also provides a good overview of the latest science on this highly topical issue. This is a book that will stimulate debate and that will, Lynas hopes, move us to action in the hope that this is a disaster movie that never happens. Everyone should read this book.”

‘Without tipping into hysteria’? Here are two versions of the front cover of the book,

The image on the left, like all clichéd science fiction, helps us to suspend disbelief by showing us an iconic landmark – Big Ben – ravaged by whatever the threat is supposed to be.

This is exactly what happened in the other global warming fantasy, The Day After Tomorrow (left). On the Right, we can see the Whitehouse being smashed by aliens. This kind image is used to inform us that the threat is to the order of the world. Our values, laws, institutions, organisations, and security are all threatened by whatever it is the science-fictionalist is writing about.

Of course, we should never judge a book by its cover. It would be unfair to claim that Jonathan Ashmore is wrong to claim that Lynas’s book isn’t ‘hysteria’, just on the basis of the book cover. Though, having said that, the cover does quote the Sunday Times, who say “… I tell you now, is terrifying”. We haven’t the time to review the book here. So here’s a couple of clips from the book, made into a film, featuring Lynas himself, to tell us what he imagines us to be facing.

Is this still ‘not hysteria’? We believe that it is, because, although Lynas appears to have ‘researched’ the ‘scientific evidence’, botching factoids leached from single-studies and worse case scenarios is not ‘sound science’, it is terrifying, and it hasn’t been subjected to any kind of scrutiny. Worse case scenarios are themselves necessarily science fiction – they have value not to science, but to prurient imaginations and politics. Detaching our treatment of them from the caveat that they are both worst-case, hypothetical treatments of very new, untested, unchecked, and unsubstantiated science is nothing but hysteria. Ashmore is highly misleading and dishonest in this regard. Merely saying that it is not hysteria doesn’t make it not so. Would he welcome, we wonder, a book which gave a best-case scenario treatment of the science, where humanity not only survives a 6 degree rise in temperatures, but positively thrives. No, he would not. Would it win any awards? The green movement would throw their toys out of the pram at such a book being published, let alone it being given such an accolade. They would call for it to be banned, claiming that it was ‘politically-motivated’, and misleading. There would be claims that its production had been paid for by Exxonmobil, by a scientist who had prostituted his intelligence and position for profit.

But this is not the first venture into fiction for the Royal Society and its members. It’s current president, Martin Rees wrote in 2004, Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future In This Century – On Earth and Beyond (sold in the UK as Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-first Century?) This is a bleak, miserable, pointless story about how our chances of surviving the next 100 years are just 50-50.

Also not against making things up is the previous president of the Royal Society, Lord May of Oxford. Last year, we caught him making things up about Martin Durkin, director of the Great Global Warming Swindle.

[youtube c2rSEayHQeg]

May told an audience in Oxford – where he shared a platform with Mark Lynas, interestingly – that Durkin had produced a series of 3 films denying the link between HIV and AIDS, for which Channel 4 were forced to apologise. That is untrue. Earlier last year, following an article reviewing 6 (also alarmist) books on the environment including Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Nicholas Stern’s report, and George Monbiot’s Heat, we discovered that, inconveniently, May had taken a few liberties with the facts himself, citing a single study, referenced in the Stern Report to make the claim that ’15–40 per cent of species‘ were vulnerable to extinction at just 2 degrees of warming, and that oil companies were responsible for a conspiracy to spread misinformation, and prevent action on climate change. This was a double irony, because in the same article, he had translated the Royal Society’s motto – Nullius in Verba – as ‘respect the facts’, rather than the traditional ‘on the word of no one’. Indeed, had May followed the Royal Society’s own advice, he wouldn’t have been taking Stern’s, Monbiot’s, and Gore’s words for it. But rather than being the incredulous scientist, and subjecting these fictions to the scrutiny we’d expect, May used the groundless alarmism found in these texts to arm ‘science’ – or rather, the Royal Society – with new authority.

As we said in a letter to the TLS,

Sir, – “Nullius in Verba”, the motto of the Royal Society, is usually translated as “on the word of no one”. That is a fine motto, the message being that knowledge about the material universe should be based on appeals to experimental evidence rather than authority…

It seems that, rather than basing knowledge about the material universe on experimental evidence, the Royal Society and its senior members instead seek authority in science fiction; the extrapolation of superficially plausible science, forward into the future, where a drama plays out.

Mark Lynas first drew significant attention to himself for his views on climate change in 2001, when he threw a custard-pie into the face of Bjorn Lomborg, during a book launch.

Pie-man Mark Lynas said he was unable to ignore Lomborg’s comments on climate change. “I wanted to put a Baked Alaska in his smug face,” said Lynas, “in solidarity with the native Indian and Eskimo people in Alaska who are reporting rising temperatures, shrinking sea ice and worsening effects on animal and bird life.”

Many countries in the Third World are also experiencing the effects of climate change. In Africa, Lake Chad is now a twentieth of the size it was in the 1950s, leaving millions potentially without water. The Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is planning the evacuation of its entire population as sea levels continue to rise.

“And yet despite all this evidence,” comments Lynas, “Lomborg somehow contrives to argue that it is cheaper to go on burning fossil fuels than to switch to clean energy to prevent runaway global warming. This feeds right into the agenda of profiteering multinationals like
Esso.” He continued: “I don’t see why the environment should suffer every time some bored, obscure academic fancies an ego trip. This book is full of dangerous nonsense.

Now, however, Lynas the one-time circus-activist stuntman, has his childish perspective on the world given respectability by the establishment’s accolades, and has expensive films made about his dark fantasy.

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

Mark Lynas (left), with Bob May (right) at the Oxford is My World lectures, organised by Oxford City Council, to persuade its population to cut their CO2 emissions

Who'd've Discredited It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Well Funded World Wide Fund for Fear

We reported earlier in the year how claims that a ‘denial lobby’ had influenced public opinion on climate change were totally at odds with reality.

The UK’s Royal Society, for example wrote an open letter to Exxon in 2006, accusing it of funding these sceptics. The image of oil barons distorting the truth for pure profit was appealing to an environmental movement desperate to account for its own lack of popular appeal. Through their site ‘Exxon Secrets’, Greenpeace ‘exposed’ the millions of dollars that had allegedly been given to think tanks and other deniers to brainwash an unthinking, gullible public.

But as we pointed out, the $22 million that Exxon allegedly gave away between 1998 and 2008 is peanuts compared to Greenpeace’s $2.2 billion income over a similar period.

Following our post yesterday about the WWF’s use of a rather dodgy scientific measure to secure headlines and public attention, we thought we’d have a quick scan of their accounts, too.

Year
Income ($US)
URL
2003 370,245,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwffinancialrpt2004.pdf
2004 468,889,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwfintar005.pdf
2005 499,629,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwfannualreport.pdf
2006 549,827,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_ar06_final_28feb.pdf
2007 663,193,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_annual_review_07.pdf
TOTAL
2,551,783,000

The accounts prior to 2003 aren’t available online. (If you have access to them, we would be grateful if you would let us have a look). But the point stands. The WWF has an enormous amount of money behind it – far more than any dirty ‘denialist’ organisation has been able to get its hands on.

Even more surprising is the source of their funding. One thing that might be said in Greenpeace’s defence is that it apparently doesn’t accept money from Governments. But a closer look at WWF’s regional sites shows that a significant amount of funding does come from the state. For example, WWF USA:

And in the UK:

It is curious that the WWF, who are so sharply critical of the US, UK and EU Government, should take such a large amount of money from them.

For example, a headline from the site on the 15th May tells us that “US government: climate change threatens polar bears” And today, the site urges that “The government must act to ensure that no new coal-fired power stations are built in the UK until carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has been proven to work on a large scale and can be installed from the outset”.

This is especially curious, because the environmental movement has been telling us for somewhile that, apart from ‘manipulating’ public opinion with distorted science, the establishment is reluctant to act on climate change. Yet here we can see that the government is handing over cash to that same movement.

And it’s not just the WWF, which is just one of nine environmental NGOs that constitute a “Green Ten” that are beneficiaries of EU funding.

We work with the EU law-making institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers – to ensure that the environment is placed at the heart of policymaking. This includes working with our member organisations in the Member States to facilitate their input into the EU decision-making process.

Membership contributions are an important part of the finances of Green 10 organisations. We also receive core funding from the European Commission, except for Greenpeace. Furthermore, some member organisations of the Green 10 receive funding on a case-by-case basis for specific projects from governments and foundations. Some organisations also receive specific donations from industry. Greenpeace does not request or accept financial support from governments, the EU or industry. All Green 10 organisations are externally audited every year.

The members are:

What is stranger than Green lobby groups being happy to take significant wads of dosh from the very governments that they accuse of being climate criminals is that those governments should want to fund the enemy within to the tune of tens/hundreds/thousands of millions of dollars annually.

Could you imagine the fuss, if the sceptics had had nearly 5 billion dollars, to do ‘scientific research’, and were contracted by the government to ‘inform the public’?

Time and again, year after year, and in spite of the billions of dollars available to the environmental movement, polls show that US and UK publics are not interested in being eco-hectored. (And here’s another example courtesy of Philip Stott).

Governments, on the other hand, seem to enjoy being told what to do. Or, more accurately, to enjoy paying people to tell them what to tell other people to do – it saves them the trouble of having to work out for themselves what to tell people to do. Environmentalists might like to think they are part of some sort of grass-roots, popular, and radical movement. But what kind of grass roots movement needs such huge handouts to spend on PR? Environmentalism is rife at all levels of society except one – the electorate. It is anything but a popular, mass movement. The Environmentalist’s superficial radicalism, and the bogus urgency of calls to ‘save the planet’ have been attractive to politicians only because their endless and desperate search for popular policy ideas has consistently failed to engage the voters. But they are mistaken. Environmentalism is very much part of the establishment.

Fat People are Killing the Butterflies

Steve Connor, science editor at the Independent newspaper warns us that

Tropical insects rather than polar bears could be among the first species to become extinct as a result of global warming, a study has found. 

What does that even mean? Are the polar bears OK after all? Is the environmental movement looking for a new mascot for climate change? Is it out with the charismatic mega-fauna because of the environmental ethic that ‘small is beautiful’? But it’s nothing compared to the headline it appears under:

Insects ‘will be climate change’s first victims’ 

An image of a butterfly follows, with the caption…

Many tropical insect species, including butterflies, can only tolerate a narrow range of temperatures, and an average rise of 1C to 2C could be disastrous 

Contrast with the measured language of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences article on which Connor reports, and which the journal has kindly made available for free:

Our analyses imply that, in the absence of ameliorating factors such as migration and adaptation, the greatest extinction risks from global warming may be in the tropics, where biological diversity is also greatest. 

This is not the first time the Independent has gone on about butterflies as the harbinger of doom. Back in March – a particularly cold March, as it happens – Environment Editor Michael McCarthy hit us with:

Last month, [climate change] produced its most remarkable image yet – a photograph, taken in Dorset, of a red admiral, an archetypal British summer butterfly, feeding on a snowdrop, an archetypal British winter flower. 

But as we pointed out, the red admiral is far tougher that McCarthy gives it credit for, occasionally making an appearance in Winter, and is certainly not unusual in Spring and Autumn. Yet again, the Independent is making claims about the vulnerability of species that aren’t consistent with the state of knowledge.

The BBC is no more level-headed about the research…

The scientists predicted such species would struggle to cope with the 5.4C rise in tropical temperatures expected by 2100. 

5.4C expected by whom? Well, expected by the anonymous author of the BBC article, apparently. Certainly, the IPCC makes no specific prediction for temperature rise this century. And 5.4ºC is not mentioned in the PNAS study, nor in the accompanying press release. The only match we can find is in IPCC AR4 where it is the top-end prediction for SRES scenario A2 (Table SPM.3), the range of which is 2.0-5.4ºC. But why pick 5.4ºC? If you’re just looking for a big number to scare people with, then why not plump for the upper value for the A1 scenario (1.4-6.4°C)? Is this like buying the second cheapest bottle of wine in a restaurant to prove you are not a skinflint? Or like Josef Fritzl wondering why everyone hates him when he could have been so much more horrible? [EDIT: The BBC has now “corrected” this error.]

Call us pedantic if you like; but imagine the outcry had the BBC reported that global temperatures are expected to rise by only 1.4ºC by the end of the century (the second lowest low point among the four AR4 SRES scenarios). But then, of course, it’s not just journalists (and activists) who are happy to over-egg the ecopocalyptic pudding. When, for example, Bob May (erstwhile President of the Royal Society and former chief scientific advisor to the UK government) confidently asserted in the popular media that a global temperature of 2ºC will put 15-40% of all species at risk of extinction, it was on the basis of a single, worst-case study. He was no less unobjective when he announced that climate swindler du jour Martin Durkin was also some sort of whacko HIV/AIDS denialist. And then there are the science academies, who, while being suspicious of the industry move towards open access publishing, are happy to make papers of the the-world-is-screwed-and-we’re-all-going-to-die variety available to all and sundry for free. Which is what the US’s National Academy of Sciences have done with this paper. And last year the Royal Society did it, too, when they published a paper which they claimed proved once and for all that the sun has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with global warming. This wasn’t just any old paper; it was, in the words of the Royal Society itself, “the truth about global warming“. And for some strange reason, we are still expected to take these academies’ opinions on what we should do about climate change as the last word on truth and beauty – “respect the facts” as Bob May puts it.

Newspaper editors and headline writers could – possibly – be forgiven for not understanding quite how science works. It’s harder to see how science correspondents could. And it’s laughable that the science academies seem not to. Funnier is that scientists and science academies are only too happy to criticise journalists, newspapers and TV producers when they report the science ‘wrongly’ (and you can bet your house that none of them will be criticising the Independent or the BBC on this occasion). But what do they expect? What sort of example do they think are they setting?

As we keep saying, this is no conspiracy. It’s just that – as they’ve been trying to tell us for years – scientists are human, too. Being human and everything, scientists are as jittery about the future and unsure of their role in society as the rest of us. But just because it turns out that they are as anxious as the rest of the world, it doesn’t mean that there’s any reason to take the claims of environmentalists at face value, or any less reason to maintain objectivity. Just as global warming is convenient for local governments, directionless leaders and crisis politics, it is also convenient for scientists and science academies lacking raison d’être.

Science might never have been quite the objective producer of facts that we like to think it is. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t strive to be an objective seeker of facts. Because striving to be objective about the facts of the material universe is precisely what science is supposed to do. When it applies itself instead to arming political narratives with legitimacy and authority, it talks itself out of a job.

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.