We are surprised that the media has paid such little attention to Caroline Lucas’s statements likening climate change scepticism to holocaust denial. Her comments expose much of what is rotten about the environmental movement: its lack of proportion, its religiosity, its inability to cope with change and challenge, its misanthropy, its failure to capture the public’s imagination and the fantasy it constructs to explain that failure.
What’s prompted me is real concern that a recent opinion poll showed that half the population still don’t think that there’s scientific certainty about climate change; they still think there’s a real debate to be had there. And it worries me enormously because if we don’t have a population that really understands that 99.999% of international scientists do believe that climate change is happening and do believe that it’s human caused, if people don’t understand that then they’re not going to put the pressure on the politicians that is so desperately needed and so urgently needed because we’re being told we’ve literally got between five and ten years in which to put in place a proper policy framework to address climate change. And unless people are really convinced that it’s a problem they’re not going to act to change it.
Lucas speaks as though a consensus on climate-change allows her to say whatever she likes about the future. Her 99.999% figure is, of course, entirely made up. If it were true, it would mean that 1 in 100,000 climate scientists were sceptical, and we can think of enough sceptics to put the number of climate scientists in the world well into the tens of millions. Lucas has absolutely no idea what proportion of climate scientists constitutes the consensus position because no poll of scientists has been taken.
IPCC reports are not a license for Caroline Lucas to say whatever she wants to say about science. They are hundreds and hundreds of pages long, and cannot be reduced to alarmist statements without losing all of their meaning.
Most scientists do believe that humans are influencing the climate. But ask them how much we are influencing it and you’ll get many different answers. And it certainly does not follow that they would agree with Lucas’s plans to mitigate change. Neither does it follow that they believe that climate change would be catastrophic. In fact, many leading climate scientists who represent the ‘consensus’ position can be found directly contradicting what Lucas says, in particular that ‘we’ve literally got between five and ten years…’
Professor Mike Hulme, for example – no climate sceptic by any stretch of the imagination – wrote last year in an article for the BBC website called Chaotic World of Climate Truth that ‘a new environmental phenomenon has been constructed in this country – the phenomenon of “catastrophic” climate change’, and explicitly cautions against Lucas’s form of language.
It seems that it is we, the professional climate scientists, who are now the (catastrophe) sceptics. How the wheel turns.
Some recent examples of the catastrophists include Tony Blair, who a few weeks back warned in an open letter to EU head of states: “We have a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing a catastrophic tipping point.”
There is no way that Lucas cannot be aware of Hulme’s comments about alarmism. Yet she has to maintain her version of scientific certainty because if the public realises that there is a debate about how to respond to climate change, and a debate about how reliable forecasts are, her political manifesto simply has no currency.
The Green Party has invested all of its political capital in a nightmare from which there is only one escape: to vote for them. Anyone who questions these self-appointed saviours of the planet is as bad as a holocaust denier: a Nazi, essentially. And arguments don’t come much cheaper than that. Dr Lucas is engaged in a programme of terrifying people into voting for her, and making statements about the morality of people who disagree. This is the worst kind of politics.
Lucas understands that her election depends on there being a public who are terrified into voting for her:
[M]y intention is to try to wake people up a bit about the catastrophe which I genuinely believe we are sleep-walking towards. What I’m saying here is that the way in which the media always insists on having somebody to deny climate change at the same time as they have someone talking about how climate change is real. That is neutralising the debate, it’s stifling the potential to move forward on this politically in just the same way as it would be if you had somebody who was constantly denying the holocaust every time someone spoke about the Second World War. Now the media doesn’t do that, and quite right too, but my point is they shouldn’t be giving so much airtime to the climate deniers either because although it may seem a dramatic comparison to make, in reality if you look at the implications of climate change, of runaway climate change, we are literally talking about millions and millions of people dying, we are literally talking about famines, and flooding, and migration and disease on an unprecedented scale. And so yes, I know these are sensitive words that I’ve used, but I feel so strongly that we urgently need to wake people up and stop this march towards catastrophe that I very much feel that we’re on.
Without fear, panic, and alarm about catastrophe – floods, epidemics, famines, and droughts – Lucas has no vision of the future to sell to the public. She is free to ‘genuinely believe’ whatever she likes, but what she is doing here is inventing a false scientific position in order to make her apocalyptic beliefs sound plausible. She is constructing a terrifying crisis which only she is capable of saving us from, but her valiant efforts to save mankind are thwarted by evil (fascist) sceptics, and the sheer stupidity of the gullible public, who believe what they say.
Where Lucas claims that scepticism is diminishing the potential for political progress and neutralising debate, what she is actually voicing is a tantrum that she is not winning. So she escalates the rhetoric. But Lucas’s claims about millions of deaths are not supported by scientific research.
What kills humans is not climate change, but inability to cope with climate. People survive and prosper in a vast range of climatic conditions, even where climate has also always been a problem for people, occasionally killing thousands of people in a stroke. But as society has developed, natural disasters have been mitigated by ingenuity. We have the means to cope with adverse conditions, and to adapt to new ones, opening up many new possibilities for better lives. Floods and drought and disease kill people in regions which are too poor to afford to adapt. Tsunamis and storms kill people because there is insufficient coastal development. Famines and drought kill people because conflict prevents settlement, development, and the transport of aid. There is no such thing as a ‘natural disaster’ – these problems always have political or economic causes. For humans, Nature is a disaster… Drought, famine, and disease are all ‘natural’, after all.
But Lucas rejects the idea that society’s relationship to the climate is defined by human development in favour of a kind of environmental determinism. In the past, ideas about development and infrastructure were realised because it was understood that that it would be a moral good to organise society to defend itself against the elements, and better the circumstances of even the poorest people. Now, doctrines like Lucas’s offer the poor the bogus pro
se of not making things worse for them, rather than bettering their lot. The technology that allows society to develop and prosper is exactly what Lucas seeks to deprive the world of. The kind of lifestyle that Lucas would celebrate as ‘sustainable’ in fact increases people’s susceptibility to climate. It puts them in the path of hurricanes, in areas prone to flooding, drought, and famine, because the idea that people should live within natural limits necessarily means that people will suffer the fluctuations of climate.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that there’s any reality behind holocaust denial, on the contrary, I’m saying that holocaust deniers are as outrageous as climate change deniers; both of them are outrageous, so it was very much a point I was trying to make in order to say that you know, both are completely unacceptable.
Lucas does not seem to understand the difference between the historical fact of the deliberate and systematic murder of millions of people, and a quasi-scientific theory that changes in climate might turn into human tragedy. She can invent any figure she likes to claim as deaths which make equivalents of genocide and climate change, but they are not equivalents, because the holocaust was an act of barbarism executed by people against people; people who suffer from the effects of climate are not acted against.
We reviewed Josie Appleton’s critique of Mark Lynas’s book Six Degrees a while ago, in which Appleton describes the way environmentalism explains the relationships between people:
Carbon dioxide becomes the nexus between individuals, the thing that connects us to other people and to the future of the planet
It is within this degraded moral framework that Lucas’s calculations take place. Her unsophisticated chain of reasoning posits that because Nazis killed millions of people and some scientists have speculated that climate change could kill millions of people, scepticism of climate change theory is the equivalent of denying the holocaust. Lucas finds it outrageous that anyone might question her view of the world because challenging it undermines it. It is not a view which is expanded or improved by being challenged, but is exposed as vapid posturing.
All the more ironic that Lucas should have been given the title ‘Politician of the Year’ at the Observer Ethical Awards. (What better indication of morally uncertain times could there be than a pageant in which people contest to prove their stainless character?)
I’m not saying we should somehow stifle debate, but I think at the moment we’ve got into a rather absurd way in which every time almost you have someone talking about the latest scientific facts on climate change it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction to have somebody from the other side to automatically deny it. And I’ve lost count of the number of debates I’ve done for example, where someone like BjornLomborg or Richard North are dragged out these two or three names of the people that continually deny that there’s any risk from climate change. And it just really does just stop the debate moving forward and stopping action happening more than anything. And it really does seem to me that we are on the edge of an abyss here, and you know, for anybody that’s really looked at some of the very measured language coming from the intergovernmental panel on climate change from NASA, and others, it’s measured language, but what they’re talking about here really is apocalyptic, so I really hope that I don’t cause offence with this, but what I do do is to wake up people a little bit and make them think that actually what we’re talking about here is something that is desperately serious.
Only a worldview as hollow as Lucas’s needs to defend itself by claiming that public debate is dangerous because the public are not sophisticated enough to make up their own minds about what they hear, and that exposure to counter arguments risks sending the human race to their doom. If Lucas really deserved the title of ‘politician of the year’ – that is to say, if she really had a positive and coherent political and ‘ethical’ perspective – she would welcome and encourage debate and criticism, not seek to reduce it in this way. She lacks the courage of her convictions, and hides the fact behind the horrors of the holocaust – a cowardly act which reduces any possibility of genuine debate to bogus claims about what percentage cut of CO2 emissions would put the most distance between a political party’s policies and fascism.
There is a real debate to be had. There’s a debate to be had about the science, there’s a debate to be had about the best way to approach the problem of climate change and how big that problem is, in the light of – but not as a consequence of – the best scientific information available. Most importantly, there is also a debate to be had about why it is that politics has sunk to the point where politicians have to use science fiction fantasy to convince us of their importance.