I was on BBC Radio Newcastle this morning, discussing what some are calling the North East region’s ‘energy revolution’. Some.
It’s a funny kind of ‘energy revolution’, when the outcome is a reduction of living standards.
I wish I’d said that, but the fact is that I can barely register sights and sounds at 8.30 on a Monday morning, and frankly, I was astonished by Professor Richard Davies’ arrogance. Enough excuses.
Davies was asked, why he thought the things going on around Newcastle — the dimming of streetlights and the switching off of escalators in the city’s underground train network — represents a ‘quiet revolution’? He replied,
Well this is just a sign of what’s taking place around the UK, around Europe. There are big targets which have been set by the EU and by the UK and even by Newcastle City Council to reduce our carbon footprint. And so it’s not surprising we’re starting to see evidence of measures to reduce demand, to switching off escalators, also measures to create more renewable energy. This is an absolutely sensible way of proceeding in order to reduce our carbon footprints and also to develop and change with what is clearly an evolving situation across the globe and in the EU and in the UK.
Yeah… it’s no surprise that when you make energy more expensive, people start turning things off. Things like public goods: street lighting intended to make possible for pedestrians to navigate the streets at night without colliding with street furniture. And things like escalators which help people who might otherwise struggle with poor health and shopping. You don’t have to be a professor to understand it. If there’s less money, fewer things can be done with it. The reason this ‘revolution’ is quiet is that it causes things to be shut down. But it isn’t a revolution, any more than an existing tyranny exercising its power more forcefully is a ‘revolution’. It’s not even an industrial revolution. There is no transformation; there is just a reduction in the quality of public goods, and increased costs, spun as ‘progress’.
Davies was then asked, ‘So are you surprised that not everyone is happy about these changes?’.
I’m not entirely surprised because I think it’s human nature that we tend to, you know, switch on our light and expect it to work. And I think most of my generation have become… it becomes absolutely common that… er, you know assumed that electricity is at our fingertips. But I think we’ve got to be far more aware of the cost of energy. We’ve effectively had energy far too cheaply beleive it or not, because we’ve had fossil fuels, coal and oil and gas, we’ve effectively had it far too cheap. We’ve taken it for granted and I think that has to change. And that’s a big cultural and behavioural change we need to start to see.
In other words, people object to his plans because they have unreasonable expectations of light, heat and power on demand.
Except they don’t. And this was the point I was trying to emphasise. The phenomenon of ‘fuel poverty’ almost tripled between 2004-9.
|year||Millions households in ‘energy poverty’|
And there’s no reason to beleive that, given the recent increases in UK energy bills, there are fewer households in fuel poverty today than in 2009. This means that there are tens of millions of people in the UK who are unable to pay their electricity and gas bills, and unable, consequently to pay for other things, including transport, clothing, food, and so on. We might as well just call it ‘poverty’.
Struggling to afford to pay for something is not the same thing as ‘taking it for granted’. Energy that one-in-five homes cannot afford is not ‘far too cheap’. There is no ‘behavioural’ or ‘cultural’ change that could make people who can’t afford to pay to keep their families warm more ‘aware of the cost of energy’.
The other thing I was hoping to emphasise was that, just as higher energy costs means a harder time for homes, it means that jobs in the energy-intensive sector are also vulnerable. The North East of England is particularly vulnerable to rising energy prices, because there is a great deal of energy-intensive industry there, such as steel manufacturing. Rising energy costs, and uncertainty about the effects of the UK’s climate policies were cited by steel manufacturers, Tata as reasons for the closure of several of their plants. Showing just as much indifference to the plight of the less fortunate, Baroness Bryony Worthington — who, as Barry Woods points out, was instrumental in the design of the UK’s energy policies — tweeted,
@sandbagorguk RT @BBCBreaking Steel giant Tata believed to be planning to cut around 1,500 jobs at three sites << revenge for the c[arbon] budgets?
So limited is Worthington’s grasp of the real world, she could only see the redundancies of hundreds of individuals as a simple act of revenge, rather than the inevitable consequence of a large firm seeking to protect its bottom line in the wake of policies — carbon budgets — she herself had crafted. It’s not unlike robbing someone, and then calling them mean for not buying you a Christmas present. What did she expect — for Tata, an energy-intensive company, to take staff on? Did she really not expect energy policies to have material effects?
One man whose industrial sector and whose job is not at risk, of course, is Professor Richard Davies himself. A look at his profile page at the University of Durham website reveals that his department is the beneficiary of many £millions of money from renewable energy companies, and the UK government…
Richard Davies’ main role at Durham University has been in building cross-department and cross faculty research research in energy. This started in the field of geo-energy (e.g. fossil fuels, carbon capture and storage) and more recently has been across a spectrum of energy research, with the development of Durham Energy Institute (DEI). Davies’ remit has been to build DEI from concept to a fully functioning and high achieving energy institute which is Nationally and Internationally significant. This has included development and roll out of effective governance, raising internal and external profile, attracting significant new funding for posts, getting recognition in UK government and enabling and triggering new research opportunities.
Sicne 2008 DEI has undergone spectacular growth and now involves 107 researchers across 12 departments. Research income for 2010 was almost £9M. Highlights in 2010 were collaborating on winning a £54M grant on Low Carbon Networks (DEI lead – Phil Taylor); £1M funding from DONG Energy for a Prof of Renewable Energy and £0.6M from Eaga for a Prof of Low Carbon Communities. DEI works closely with UK Research Councils and the private sector. It was officially launched by the Rt. Hon. Chris Huhne, Secretary of State, Energy & Climate Change on 28th March 2011.
Lucky Professor Davies and his colleagues! While thousands of his neighbours have lost their jobs, tens of thousands more have had their jobs put at risk, and hundreds of thousands of them cannot afford to heat their homes, Davies and his team have gone from strength-to-strength. Hooray! Hurrah! This must be what is meant by ‘green growth’: it is the hue of a fungus that colonises a decaying carcass. It’s Nature’s way, after all.
Davies and the Durham energy Institute are not involved in energy research. They are political tools. They lend the credibility of independent academic expertise to the UK and EU’s political environmental agenda. And in return, state department’s such as DECC give them generous research grants. (The £54 million grant from Low Carbon Networks is a grant from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.) As observed previously on this blog, the academy no longer speaks truth to power, but speaks official truth on behalf of official power.
If there is a ‘revolution’, it is one in which the likes of Professor Richard Davies, Baroness Bryony Worthington, and Chris Huhne (and the rest) have completely closed themselves off from accountability and criticism. This is neither an energy revolution, nor an industrial revolution, but a political revolution. This undemocratic move takes power — literally, and in the political sense — away from the public, only to go on to lecture the poor about their opulent lifestyles… ‘Let them eat cake’.
Remarkable really. All this brazen advocacy and misrepresentation from a British academic! Meanwhile the actual experts – Pielke, Hulme and so on – are quietly explaining how reducing energy usage is not only bad for people, but also counterproductive if the objective is to reduce CO2 emissions. Perhaps Prof Davies has been too busy empire building to have time to keep up with his reading?
Excellent post. Prof. Davies’s remarks are reminiscent of a BBC interview earlier this year with Steve Holliday, CEO of the National Grid:
“The grid’s going to be a very different system in 2020, 2030. We keep thinking about: we want it to be there and provide power when we need it. It’s going to be a much smarter system, then. We’re going to have to change our own behaviour and consume it when it’s available, and available cheaply.”
These men worked for the same company at earlier stages of their careers, as a matter of fact (Prof. Davies as a Senior Exploration Geologist until 2003, Steve Holliday in senior management positions up until 1997) – Exxon, not an organisation normally associated with greenery. It’s a funny old world.
On the subject of academics figuring out strategies to curb our wicked unsustainable ways, here’s some interesting reading matter, courtesy of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, motto: “Shaping Society”):
I especially liked a certain paragraph in this piece by University of Lancaster academic Elizabeth Shove (appropriate name, one step on from “nudge”):
“In contemporary Western cultures, reproducing practices required for effective participation in society routinely involves consumption – of energy, of hot water, of material resources – demand for which constitutes the collective ‘carbon burden’ of everyday life (Wilk 2002). The really significant question is therefore not ‘how to persuade isolated individuals to modify behaviour?’ or ‘how to deliver existing services more efficiently?’ but – following Giddens – how might the complex of practices that constitutes daily life be reconfigured on a massive scale?”
Those are some powerful quotes, Alex. I was going to try to drop Holliday’s remarks into the conversation, as I had expected a longer debate. But Shove’s quite is new on me.
Academics are really on the policy-relevant … well what is it… ‘gravy train’… bandwagon…? It’s so hard to tell. How can one write about ‘reconfiguring life on a massive scale’ without stopping, and thinking to oneself, ‘oh, no! I sound like an out-and-out fascist’?
I think we ought to be careful about giving too much emphasis to the climate angle here, though. (Not that you were.) The academy is a victim of policy-relevance, too.
They’re right,though.We must curb unnecessary energy consumption.We must get back to the grassroots of human existence,literally;a return to a less industrialised more agrarian society where the simple tending of the land is our prime activity.
So,being as we have more need for human energy and less for activities that feed off the criminal wealth of developed society,in our new world,our year zero,all these academia will be closed down.Would MR Davies please report for work at the nearest low-carbon wheat fields -sickles will be provided.
How did left-wingers of all people end up embracing this reactionary shit?
Expensive energy is deeply regressive: if the price of (for example) aviation fuel increased threefold, it would put Ryanair and Easyjet straight out of business, but it wouldn’t even faze the millionaires flying around in their luxurious corporate jets.
Alex has a good point about Professor Davies and Steve Holliday being former Exxon employees. Many people seem to view climate activists and Big Oil as being enemies, but it’s more complicated than that*.
The major oil companies also produce natural gas, which competes in the electricity generation market against coal and nuclear. Environmentalist hostility to coal (rational) and nuclear (irrational) benefit the market prospects of gas-fired power stations (and therefore of Big Oil).
In addition, gas-fired power stations can ramp their power output up and down far more quickly than coal-fired or nuclear power stations (think jet engines, rather than steam engines) which makes them the backup of choice for unreliable wind and solar power. Check out this speech by Robert F Kennedy Jr to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which ends with “the plants that we’re building, the wind plants and the solar plants, are gas plants.”
*At least in Britain and Europe. In the States climate activists directly threaten Big Oil’s profits (because they can induce people to dump their oversized gas-guzzlers in favour of more fuel-efficient cars) while they don’t over here because high fuel taxes mean that hardly anyone drives grossly inefficient vehicles anyway. Perhaps that’s why organized AGW scepticism (which is largely just an astroturf movement funded by fossil fuel interests) is so much stronger in America than it is on this side of the Atlantic.
Incidentally, does anyone here have any idea why ExxonMobil funds climate sceptics, while other big oil companies like BP and Shell do not?
As part of my self-imposed holiday job, ploughing through 10,000 Guardian articles listed under the “climate change” heading, while humming “How long has this been going on?”, I’ve just come across this, from 21 Feb 2006:
Polly Toynbee: Good news: gas prices up. Bad news: they’ll fall again
“This increase is minute for the average household, increasing bills from 3% of their overall income to 4%”
Ben: “How can one write about ‘reconfiguring life on a massive scale’ without stopping, and thinking to oneself, ‘oh, no! I sound like an out-and-out fascist’?”
Well, if you’re Giddens, and you’ve already reconfigured the Labour Party, tackling the rest of the human race might seem like the easy part.
George, I’m not well versed on Exxon and the other oil giants, but wonder how much of their overall strategy (e.g., the overt AGW scepticism and increasing focus on natural gas rather than renewables) might be influenced by the personal philosophies of the people at the top, for example in the case of ExxonMobil, Lee Raymond (CEO up to 2996) and Rex Tillerson? Incidentally, there’s a Guardian article from peak-AGW year 2007 touching on this general subject (Geoff, you will probably encounter this one in the course of your holiday job!):
Ben, I think part of the answer to your question might lie in the Common Cause Report produced by the WWF’s Tom Crompton in 2010, well worth reading. I think, for an insight into the mindset of Professors Davies and Shove, and their fellows:
There is far too much in it for me to do justice to it here. Crompton talks much about “frames” and criticises “dissonant communications” such as the Stern Review, which simultaneously appeal to altruism (nations agreeing to limit CO2 emissions) and to self-interest (national competitiveness):
p51: “Activation of the common-interest frame – which the Review needs to achieve if the recommendations for international cooperation are to be compelling – would have been better attempted through appeal not to economic cost-benefit analysis, but rather the moral imperative to avert dangerous climate change because of its wider impacts on humans and non-human nature.”
He also emphasises “intrinsic” (or self-transcendent values) over “extrinsic” (or self-enhancing values). My interpretation is that Crompton takes the view that saving the planet should not be couched in terms of “extrinsic” values, e.g., material prosperity and economic growth, as these will be inappropriate (i.e., we may well actually become poorer if we want to do what needs to be done, and hopes of a cake-and-eat-it “sizzle”-type outcome – as championed by agencies such as Futerra – are delusory.) Saving the planet should be couched in terms of “intrinsic” values, i.e., emphasising the joys of altruism, co-operation, sharing, fairness, etc. , i.e., we will be poorer but happier, as we will be doing the right thing.
p67: “Civil society organisations should also campaign for policy that is inspiring, and communicate this inspiring nature through appeal to intrinsic values. Campaigns should promote the public belief that government policy can become something of which citizens should be proud. Campaign managers should give consideration to advocating against policy initiatives that assume citizens will behave in self interested ways, even if the material impacts of such policies are potentially positive: such policies are likely to help elicit, and therefore embed, those values that they presuppose.”
I found the following passage very telling:
“Brendan O’Neill, editor of online magazine Spiked, has written of the ‘politics of the brain’: “[The] idea that people can be ‘nudged’ into new forms of behaviour by having their brains massaged in a certain way, is built on the premise that we are not rational beings to be engaged with. Its very foundation is the elite’s view of us, not as people to be talked to, argued with and potentially won over, but problematic beings to be remade” (O’Neill, 2010; emphasis in original).
The concerns that O’Neill raises are real and pressing. The idea that political elites can mould our minds – for which is there far more evidence than O’Neill allows – raises profound ethical questions. But O’Neill’s response to this is to insist on the possibility of Enlightenment reason safeguarding against such manipulation. “We should [tell the political elites] that the grey matter inside our heads is off-limits,” he continues. Unfortunately, the grey matter cannot be ruled off-limits. It is inevitable that all communications, campaigns and policies effect how we think as well as what we think.
We can bury our heads in the sand, and insist on the sanctity of Enlightenment reason. Or we can respond to the new understanding of how decision-making processes work, by demanding that there is public scrutiny of the effect that particular communications, campaigns, institutions and policies have on cultural values, and the impact that values, in turn, have on our collective responses to social and environmental challenges.
Working in the public interest, civil society organisations must lead the debate about how to respond to this new understanding of human cognition. In doing so, they must begin to open up debate about how cultural values are shaped, and by whom, and how values influence public responses to the issues that science tells us are of most pressing concern – such as global poverty, climate change, and biodiversity loss.”
So part of an answer to the question of how an academic can write so unselfconsciously about “reconfiguring life on a massive scale”, might possibly go something like: “We the NGOs and academics are rational creatures, and when “science tells us” something must be done, we know we (and everyone) must act on this knowledge. You the public, however, are not rational creatures and do not know what your best interests are. You need us to inform and direct you, and even though this might be manipulative, our actions are justified by the enormity of the problems science has told us about. Besides, we’re being open about it – look, we’re talking about opening up debate – which makes it all right. In fact, you won’t mind being manipulated, because once we have activated the common-interest frame, you’ll be busily and happily saving the planet. The fact that you will probably be growing poorer and experiencing material inconveniences, like the lack of street lights, just won’t matter so much to you. Also, quite incidentally, we will have justified our continued existence and funding.”
George/Alex, on the point about Exxon… I’m not convinced there ever has been a strategy as such. Greenpeace’s efforts to measure the size of Exxon’s spend on lobbying organisations and think tanks was pretty thin — in the order of $30 million over the course of more than a decade, if memory serves.
Environmentalists claim that AGW policies will cause big energy companies to lose profits. If this were true, shouldn’t we expect to see oil companies spend much more money — $billions, even — on defending themselves?
Alex, that comment from the WWF on ‘nudge’ is remarkable. I keep coming across these kind of reports — more than I have time to read. I half wonder if the point is to so completely overwhelm the debate with volume that it drowns out any criticism, and any hope of formulating a response to them. They’re often many hundreds of pages long, and so obviously cannot have been produced by someone with a grasp of what they’re doing, but seem to be written by many individuals. All very well-funded, of course. By the time any kind of response to this nonsense could be organised, the next report is already published. Still, it is snippets such as this which say the most.
Are you keeping track of these reports in some way, as Geoff is with the Guardian articles?
Indeed the amount of money which ExxonMobil spends on funding climate sceptics is peanuts, considering how much money ExxonMobil has. My query is why ExxonMobil is funding climate sceptics at all, while other oil companies are not. I am even led to believe (although I don’t have a source) that Greenpeace’s “Stop Esso” campaign received funding from BP.
My comment on how Big Oil profits from environmentalist activism against coal and nuclear (through demand being driven increasingly towards natural gas) was in part to explain why Big Oil hasn’t fought the Greens far more fiercely than it has.
The eco-spamming you seem to be describing seems in some ways like an offline version of the “sporgery” campaign used against alt.religion.scientology.
Ben, yes I’ve been thinking about tracking or somehow indexing these kinds of reports and the people who write them, the only problem being, as you say, that these things are so prolific. What helps to make the subject so fascinating is that in each case, the implementation stage is still a bit of a mystery; if it doesn’t involve coercion on the one hand, or “selling the sizzle”, on the other, what is left but to try to make something inherently unpalatable seem palatable?
Your summary of the meaning of the WWF/Oxfam/COIN/FotE/CPRE Common Cause report is excellent. You must be one of those professional experts in linguistic analysis the report talks about, who are the only people capable of interpreting our complex world.
This kind of study is surely a form of vanity publishing. The authors – obscure social science academics – get their names associated with prestigious backers like Oxfam and WWF. The NGOs get an academic-sounding document to quote in favour of their political doctrine, and the scores of post-graduate dogsbodies who write the thing get something nice to put on their CVs. There’s something in it from everyone.
The quote from Brendan O’Neill at least shows that they are aware of the Orwellian nature of their programme. It’s interesting that they had to go outside academia to find it. The only other non-academic reference I could see was Peter Tatchell – also from Spiked.
Otherwise, the bibliography confirms the usual mindset of these people:- the dawn of rational thought was in the English-speaking world, circa 1975.
Given that the whole thrust of the document is that we are more affected by unconscious values than we think, it’s amazing how unaware the authors are of their own unconscious values, which are visible in every sentence. Where is the empirical evidence that caring about the third world or unborn generations is selfless? My own empirical research based on measurement of egotistical affect using the Eyegleam Intensity Index demonstrates that Deep Greens are right at the top of the selfishess scale, alongside hedge fund managers and serial seducers. Self-effacing Buddhists don’t hack it, and that applies equally to the WWF or university social science faculties as to banks and media outlets.
On how they are going to implement their programme, there is an interesting hint in a discussion of German unification, which quotes one Svallfors as saying:
“New institutions create new normative expectations that lead to new attitudes
towards public policies. New generations are particularly susceptible to new
institutional conditions, as they have no previous formative experiences that need
to be reconsidered”
The example of German unification is interesting, since it is one of the rare cases of popular acceptance of sacrifice (on the part of the West German taxpayer) in pursuit of a Greater Good. The “new institutions” which the report has in mind are presumably those who financed the report – WWF, Oxfam, etc – and the “new generations” are those who are too young to know that social science, human values, and rational thought were not invented in the 70s by Oxfam’s executives and their friends in academia.
Geoff, this line is the most interesting, I think: “New institutions create new normative expectations that lead to new attitudes…”
Perhaps I am being naive… This idea of creating institutions which in turn create ‘new attitudes’ seems to get politics upside down. This reminds me of Miliband’s attempts to get into bed with the climate activists, asking them to produce a popular movement after he’d decided what the policies were. Surely in a democratic world, the ‘popular mobilisation’ comes before the institution-building. Not so in 21st century Europe. This speaks to the disconnection between the public and the insular world inhabited by politicians and NGOs.
Geoff/Alex, about where this all comes from, and whether there was a theoretical basis to it…
I was surprised to see some climate sceptics passing this around recently: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110725190044.htm
I don’t like this mechanistic view of ‘ideas’, as has been discussed previously here. Ideas aren’t like influenza. But some sceptics seem to beleive that this is a good sign, and that we ‘only need to convince 10% of the population…’. This seems to forget that the population didn’t really have anything to say about the matter in the first place.
I mentioned the above discussion with a friend of mine involved in the study of international relations, who suggests that the discussion of engineering norms through institutions, may be owed in part to a 1998 paper by some social constructivists, which is summarised at
http://wikisum.com/w/Finnemore_and_Sikkink:_International_norm_dynamics_and_political_change. Here’s a passage from the summary.
The comments in square braces belong to the author. The full paper seems to be available at http://tigger.uic.edu/~bvaler/Finnemore%20Norms.pdf
I’ve made the point about legitimacy here a number of times, though I hope not from the same ground as the constructivists.
Exactly. It was your line about upside down politics which made me spot this. The idea that the very existence of an institution (and the aura of beliefs and attitudes which surround it) can change attitudes is very Orwellian (“Oxfam good, Big Oil bad”) and the statement that “New generations are particularly susceptible to new
institutional conditions, as they have no previous formative experiences that need
to be reconsidered” is pure Jesuit, or something worse.
Among the institututions which funded this document, and which are expected to form the attitudes of the susceptible young, alongside the well-known WWF, Oxfam, and Friends of the Earth, is COIN – Climate Outreach and Information Network, which is a government-sponsored propaganda outfit run by our old friend George Marshall of climatedenial.org, and Adam Corner – both frequent contributors to Guardian Environment. COIN is typical of the new kind of organisation spawned by the internet, which, unlike the first generation of NGOs, has no need of popular support to exist. Their simple presence on an incestuous network of interlinked websites justifies their importance.
Ben at 3.13pm
(my previous reply was to your 11.47am post)
I was very impressed by sound of the Szymanski research, which was reported at WUWT, which suggests that an “unshakeable” belief can come to be adopted generally if it is held by 10% of the population, independently of the content or method of dissemination. It sounds to me a possibly useful model for understanding of the acceptation of CAGW. 10% is roughly the proportion of people who regularly place “environment/climate change among their top worries, and it’s clearly difficult to understand how something that only worries a small minority gets translated into the top priority of all political parties and serious media outlets, without some kind of theoretical explanation from the social sciences. This approach must be more useful than constantly reiterating “brainwashing”, “mass-hysteria”, “conspiracy” and the like.
The extracts at WUWT and Science Daily didn’t explain how they define “unshakeable” belief. (They must have some kind of rigid definition to feed into their mathematical model). I’d think it would have to contain some element of being willing to suffer for your belief (i.e. resistance to being shaken) and this would fit e.g. Christianity in the late Roman Empire, and environmentalism, insofar as it demands sacrificing cheap energy, air travel etc.
You say that “ideas aren’t like influenza”, but in my limited experience, the idea of CAGW is held in the most irrational fashion by precisely the most “well-informed” people. It’s friends with science PhDs who look sideways at me, as if my scepticism was a bad smell, and who prove to have caught the green bug from casual reading of the Guardian, rather than from serious reflection.
Is that quote about norm creation typical of constructivist thought? I’m suspicious of any -isms later than Aristotle. Just thinking about trying to understand it , or about the “Framing Analysis” central to the “Common Cause” report, brings me out in a rash.
Geoff – It sounds to me a possibly useful model for understanding of the acceptation of CAGW.
What acceptance? And which bits? By whom?
The acceptance in the political sphere is surely more easily explained by the notion of CAGW being expedient, notwithstanding public indifference to the issue.
You say that “ideas aren’t like influenza”, but in my limited experience, the idea of CAGW is held in the most irrational fashion by precisely the most “well-informed” people.
Right, but they’re not catching the anti-CAGW ‘bug’ from you, are they. Ideas are more complex, therefore, than can be accounted for by simple theories about exposure to them.
Is that quote about norm creation typical of constructivist thought? I’m suspicious of any -isms later than Aristotle. Just thinking about trying to understand it , or about the “Framing Analysis” central to the “Common Cause” report, brings me out in a rash.
Well you really should be suspicious of constructivism — especially if it leads to the nonsense in the WWF report, and the ‘study’ conducted in new scientist. The point about crises of legitimacy causing a search for new ‘norms’ doesn’t depend on the rest of the nonsense.
Ben 4.36 and 4.35pm
The Szymanski research sounds to me a possibly useful model for understanding of the acceptation of CAGW by just about everyone. They’ve got the Royal Society, all three major parties, and the whole press including Private Eye and the Daily Mash. We’ve got Spiked Online, Melanie Phillips and Jeremy Clarkson, plus a few thousand ordinary people who’ve looked at the evidence. This situation can’t be explained in rational terms, and I’m in full agreement with “Common Cause” and in particular George Marshall of COIN that we need to look at what social sciences can tell us about belief formation. The problem is in finding a social scientist who hasn’t swallowed the CAGW story.
“The acceptance in the political sphere is surely more easily explained by the notion of CAGW being expedient, notwithstanding public indifference to the issue.”
It may be expedient in the short term to push a dodgy scientific hypothesis which provides an excuse to raise taxes and cut services. It is long term suicide to continue to push it in the face of strong popular opposition. How long can Cameron continue to pretend that Daily Mail readers don’t exist?
Of course ideas are more complex than the bug or “meme” theory allows for. The fact that no-one is catching the anti-CAGW ‘bug’ from me is an argument in favour of Szymanski, it seems to me. My beliefs are not unshakeable. I’m a sceptic for Gaia’s sake
Geoff — They’ve got the Royal Society, all three major parties, and the whole press including Private Eye and the Daily Mash.
Perhaps, but not necessarily for the same reasons. Moreover, they haven’t got everyone — it’s inability to transmit its values has been a problem for the establishment. Hence we see an escalation of ‘nudge’, not just under the environment issue, but under a whole range. It’s not useful to see the climate debate in isolation.
This situation can’t be explained in rational terms… … might be something the WWF report could say to Brendan O’Neill.
If it’s just about beliefs and belief-formation, then you maybe should sign up with the constructivists.
Of course it’s not JUST about belief construction. There are many converging groups with their own good reasons to push climate change. The ones that interest me are those that seem to go against their own interest. Why should Cameron choose to insult the readers of the Express and Mail? Why should Labour kick the steelworkers and coal miners? Why do stand-up comics not give Huhne and co the roasting they deserve? It’s counter-intuitive, if not plain daft. Maybe Szymanski’s counter-intuitive 10% theory holds an answer.
Incidentally, I’ve just watched George Marshall’s video presentation at
He’s an entertaining performer, and makes a good point when he says that an idea is transformed by the people who pick it up. In this case, global warming was picked up by environmentalists and used to save the polar bear. Marshall would have preferred it to be picked up by Amnesty International to bear a quite different narrative.
He talks a lot about social norms. I’d guess he’s the “brains” behind Common Cause, and I’m wondering what’s keeping him so busy that he hasn’t updated his website for eight months.
Why should Cameron choose to insult the readers of the Express and Mail?
I’m not sure which incident/s you’re referring to. If your point is that their readers are the natural Tory constituency, my point would be that, like the other parties, they have drifted from their bases in numerous respects. A better example is the Labour Party: Why should Labour kick the steelworkers and coal miners?… Quite simply because they don’t need to represent them. Hasn’t the Labour Party been attempting to distance itself from unions anyway, for, ohh, as long as I’ve been alive?
Why do stand-up comics not give Huhne and co the roasting they deserve?
Well, satire too is long since dead. All of this speaks to the fact that the climate issue and its politics is not unique in any respect.
Let’s leave aside the question of whether satire is dead, or Cameron needs Mail readers, or Labour still needs the unions. I gave them as examples of irrational, self-defeating pro-CAGW positions, simply in order to establish that much CAGW support is irrational, or counter-productive, and an explanation of its near unanimous acceptance among the élites needs to take this into account.
I understand your dislike of a mechanistic view of ideas. It leads inevitably to a “psychologising” of the debate, in which the content of the ideas is ignored in favour of analysing motives. Calling ideas “memes” is just a metaphor which adds little to the debate. (But we need to recognise that we reason metaphorically more often than we would care to admit. I’d guess many of us see ideas as being like votes, which take hold when accepted by 51% of the population, regardless of their”unshakeability”).
But the Szymanski paper has something more – a counter-intuitive prediction about the level at which an unshakeable idea takes hold. (I was wrong to suggest above that “unshakeable” ideas need defining. They are defined by the way they behave in the model. But I think the contingent fact that people are willing to suffer for an unshakeable idea is a useful way of identifying them in practice).
Where did you find “… some sceptics seem to believe that this is a good sign, and that we ‘only need to convince 10% of the population…’”? This is a misunderstanding of the implications of the research, it seems to me. You can’t create an “unshakeable” idea. You’ve got it or you haven’t. We haven’t. They have.
Geoff, an aside. Please include this story — http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/aug/18/aliens-destroy-humanity-protect-civilisations — in your review of the Guardian’s climate change articles. I’d be really grateful if you could let me know if there’s a sillier article in the collection. I don’t think there can be.
Geoff — I gave them as examples of irrational, self-defeating pro-CAGW positions, simply in order to establish that much CAGW support is irrational…
Well, this is what I think is a bit of a problem — saying this-or-that perspective is irrational. It’s not irrational as such to beleive that the CAGW story is plausible. And it’s not necessarily irrational to hold with the precautionary principle. Especially if you take a dim view of humanity, and a limited view of politics.
They are defined by the way they behave in the model.
Yes, and in computer models, the way people behave creates their own catastrophe. Models model assumptions. And the assumption these researchers have made is extraordinary — it bears little relation as far as I can tell, to the way people really relate, or absorb or reject ideas. 10% may be some magic threshold in some stripped-down understanding of humanity and society. But those ideas take or don’t for reason. The example given of the revolutions underway in the MENA countries is particularly disappointing.
A purely ideo-centric view of the events there would seem to hold that, until this year, nobody in Tunisia or Egypt had ever thought about challenging the regimes, and that there were no security forces attempting to stop them. It would have to presuppose that there was no process of weakening of state apparatus, and a collapse of its authority. There’s a mental component, of course, to this. But the model takes no account of intentionality. What might have weakened the state, for instance, would have been its acts, not its purely ideological justification: perhaps the security forces were made uncomfortable by having to confront civilians, etc. Ideas in the model aren’t about anything.
What will motivate people against CAGW, I think, will be much less the arguments of sceptics as such, but the reality of fuel bills doubling, jobs being lost, and life being dull.
Yes, I saw that Graun article. Maybe that’s why the Daily Mash won’t touch climate change. It’s beyond satire.
I wondered about NASA’s motivation in issuing this report. They’re under fire already for wasting tax money on aliens on the one had, and on climate science on the other. It looks like a fingers up to the Tea Party. (They’re probably right though. I bet someone wrote a story about it in “Astounding Science Fiction” back in the 30s).
I haven’t got as far as doing a review of Guardian articles. There’s 10,000 of them on climate change, 600 on scepticism alone, going back eleven years. So far I’m simply tidying them up to make them available in a searchable form.
The main interest is in the change in treatment over time. Until late 2006 they include every article on weather or natural disasters, including earthquakes and volcanoes – the perfect example of your point about the politics preceding the science, except that, for “politics” read “sloppy liberal sympathy for the suffering third world”. The advent of comments on articles seems to have made them tighten up on the criteria for inclusion, and turn the site into a proper propaganda weapon.
My fault for expressing myself badly. Agreed, belief in CAGW is not irrational. What’s – odd – to use a deliberately vague term, is to take up a position which is opposed by a significant proportion, possibly a majority, of one’s electors, when it’s obvious to the dullest Melanie Philips that the resulting “reality of fuel bills doubling, jobs being lost” will spell electoral suicide; even odder that no opposition arises on the fringes of the parties- from the Livingstones or Ken Clarks who are lifelong contrarians; and that the licensed buffoons of the system – the Private Eyes (and the Zizeks and Chomskys) – drop their buffoonery in the face of such evident daftness. So much oddity requires odd explanations.
I’m not impressed by the Tunisia/Egypt examples either. They seem pulled out of the hat a posteriori. A better explanation of the onset of revolutions is Todd’s which I’ve mentioned before – they happen when literacy reaches 90% among young males. (6 months ago, after Tunisia, when everyone was saying “Algeria and Morocco next”, Todd was saying “Syria next”. That’s proper social science – hypothesis, prediction, correction if necessary. )
“10% may be some magic threshold in some stripped-down understanding of humanity and society”. Right. A stripped-down understanding is all a modeller can claim. But that’s big.
I know nothing about “normal” modelling in social science. I imagine there’s lots of stuff involving game theory and the like which looks at how ideas “compete”. Introducing the idea of an “unshakeable” idea seems interesting in itself, and when it produces an interesting unpredictable result (like introducing a new piece in chess) I want to Iook closer.
“the assumption these researchers have made is extraordinary — it bears little relation as far as I can tell, to the way people really relate, or absorb or reject ideas”.
In my experience, the way people have adopted CAGW and absorbed it into their belief systems bears little relation to rational behaviour. I don’t believe Greens are fascists or leftwing loonies, but there’s something -Cambodian- about the looks I get when I point out that there’s no evidence that we’re in danger. The “10% finding” I find immensely suggestive. It would explain eg why, in my town, where about 10% of the population think that rugby is the most important thing in the world, and the other 90% is totally pissed off with the subject, the local rag puts it on the front page every single day. That’s not sensible.
And why far left parties (which must number less than 5% of the population) benefited not at all from the banking crisis, when 90% of the poulation could be heard spouting revolutionary slogans.
I could go on. No dobt I will. And on and on.
Ben, if someone has said this already, I apologise, but your quiet reasonableness gave you, metaphorically and in fact, the last word. Did they have a phone in after? I would have liked to have heard peoples reaction. It’s very ironic, historicly speaking, that Professor Davies’ has ‘created’ a Durham Energy Institute – I remember similiar sounding ‘Institutes’ in the fifties ans sixties whose modus’ , whatever their actuality, in places like Durham and Newcastle, was to make energy more efficient, ie cheaper! Now old gents and ladies are condemned to die of hyperthermia this winter because they can’t afford the gas or electricity. Is it to strong to put it this way, that some of these Profs and Messrs etc, have, inadverntly, to be sure, blood on their hands? Someone once said the old Gods died, not from pitty of mankind, but from side-splitting laughter at his folly!
Alex Cull – ‘Unfortunately, the grey matter cannot be ruled off-limits. It is inevitable that all communications, campaigns and pollicies effect how we think’ Specious logic, of course, ie, the second sentence is not a confirmation of the first but, rather, to put it politely, a projection on to it. Par for course. But what it illustrates is the sheer nihilism of these people. It isn’t, as some would have it, ‘we have lost the (rational) argument so let us use other means’ because our ’cause’ is good, sort of thing, nor, that they believe, rationally or irrationally, that mankind must go ‘forward’ (O irony of ironies!) in the way they envisage, rather it a matter of survival, their survival. ( And not that a cause should consecrate a good war, but that a war should consecrate a cause!) Having eruscupated themselves, what with, ‘Freud, Marx and Nietzsche’, with an incestuous and narcissistic relativism, the beoiguois(sic! My spelling is always atrocious!) nullity of their centuary and more old denuding of ‘Truth’, they can’t believe in their own existence. Thus, they need us to believe! Pah! We will not and like the Sybil of ancient times, they will, thankfully, just fade away!
August 18, 2011 at 4:26 pm
(They must have some kind of rigid definition to feed into their mathematical model.)
Isn’t this the non plus ultra of that oxymoron ‘social science’ (along with the report Ben quotes which is hysterical!). Christianity, by the way, was the religion of the minority (say 30%) when Constantine brutally imposed it (you want to know about real persecutions – read Gibbon on how the so called ‘heathen’ were treated after that!) Remind you of anything? A state imposed theodicy imposed by a state that had begun to disintegrate? As the old book says, ‘there is nothing new under the sun!
AGW sceptics are barking up the wrong tree.
Belief in CAGW is not a sufficient condition for the the current conservation/solar/wind agenda (why not replace fossil fuels with nuclear), nor is it a necessary condition (if nuclear isn’t an option, then isn’t Peak Oil by itself a strong argument to reduce our energy use?)
It is hostility to nuclear energy, not belief in CAGW, that is the real necessary and sufficient condition for the anti-energy agenda. The Kyoto Protocol explicitly ruled out nuclear power as a way of reducing CO2 emissions. This is probably the key reason why it failed, but even if it had succeeded, the resulting reduction in CO2 emissions would have been far less than that already achieved by the world’s 437 nuclear power stations.
The COP15 problem is not climate change skepticism, it is anti nuclear fanaticism
I know a good way to save energy and reduce our carbon footprint
How about switching off all the rubbish BBC local radio stations
They cant compete against the local commercial radio stations and hardley any one listens to them
So save electricity and the BBC license fee payer a few quid also
The tendency of skeptics to accuse any climate action of being politically motivated and economically unbalanced is often correct. Any biocentric view of ecological damage will run the risk of being labeled as a political tool to continue the oppression of the poor.
However, any attempted change on the part of industry or government will take place within the current economic structure. And within that structure, those inequalities already exist.
From an environmental justice perspective, it is reasonable to resist climate change action – such as switching off street lights and escalators – in the name of the poor who are badly impacted by having to burden concerns of increased electricity prices etc. However, these inequalities exist outside of the context of climate change action and it seems that only when action is taken against climate change that skeptics criticise those policies of economic discrimination.
Perhaps the negative reactions of people impacted by these small attempts at change are the result of un incomplete understanding, not only of climate change, but of how it impacts the human species? Even less understood or appreciated is the idea that damaging our environment beyond repair will endanger the existence of our species. There are of course the appeals to technology and innovation that will prevent this bleak possibility from ever becoming a reality. I argue the point that the eco-friendly technology – biomimicry for example – is not only seldomly used, but does not exist in the public’s understanding as a possible solution to climate change.
In light of the current degradation of the enviroment and the fact that the majority of the world population doesn’t recieve the benefits – food, electiricty, clean water etc – of this degradationa anyway, I would say that a little change is not an unreasonable request to make. After all, if individuals took it upon themselves to institute the change needed to fight against climate change, governments would not need to enforce that change by switching off street lights and escalators.
Natalie –…Perhaps the negative reactions of people impacted by these small attempts at change are the result of un incomplete understanding…
I love the implication here: the public’s knowledge deficit legitimises the democratic deficit — ‘we know best’.
It continues: “After all, if individuals took it upon themselves to institute the change needed to fight against climate change, governments would not need to enforce that change by switching off street lights and escalators.”
In other words, ‘if everybody else thought like me, we wouldn’t need to force, harass, coerce, bully or blackmail them into behaving as I want them to’.
Let me put it another way… You seem to be aware that you’ve lost the public argument.
As for ‘environmental justice’… It’s a nonsense which allows you to make a mockery of the concept of justice. Justice, in other words, on your own terms. That’s not justice.
After all, if individuals took it upon themselves to institute the change needed to fight against climate change, governments would not need to enforce that change by switching off street lights and escalators.
Politicians usually run with the tide, not against it. Or at least what they perceive to be the tide.
Millions lined up to volunteer to fight in WWI and WWII, but they introduced conscription anyway. People have started to cut back on smoking cigarettes, but governments continue to enact anti-smoking legislation.
In the current climate politicians would be emboldened by the public going all out to lower energy usage. Anything that is both popular and saves money is hard to resist.
Can you image a government standing by and being accused of doing nothing while the population was selflessly instituting sacrifices? Electoral suicide. That’s even less likely than the bulk of the population actually getting with the green plan in the first place. (Fortunately, because once started down that road economic ruin would approach quickly.)
Ben – “I love the implication here: the public’s knowledge deficit legitimises the democratic deficit — ‘we know best’.”
I am not arguing that public understanding “legitmises the democratic deficit” but rather that firstly, some change is better than no change and secondly, that occurences such as this create the opportunity for public education on the issue of climate change.
“In other words, ‘if everybody else thought like me, we wouldn’t need to force, harass, coerce, bully or blackmail them into behaving as I want them to’.”
I do not care for everyone to think like me – only that they act in such a way to support the change needed to curb the environmental degradation that is currently used to fuel our unsustainable way of life. For example, racism exists independent of my disagreement with it. However, any racists within the public are still expected to act in non-racist ways.
“Justice, in other words, on your own terms. That’s not justice.”
The way I see it, justice as a concept would support affording ALL people the LUXURY of electricity while still advocatig the education of the public on how to use and generate resources wisely and in such a way that is sustainable.
Mooloo – “That’s even less likely than the bulk of the population actually getting with the green plan in the first place. (Fortunately, because once started down that road economic ruin would approach quickly.)”
I agree – the majority of the planet has not hopped onto the green bandwagon. If they did, perhaps we wouldn’t be dealing with the likelihood of another global recession. So I feel that the economic ruin argument may be a little late.
Natalie – I am not arguing that public understanding “legitmises the democratic deficit” but rather that firstly, some change is better than no change and secondly, that occurences such as this create the opportunity for public education on the issue of climate change.
Again, you still seem to beleive that ‘the public’ need to be ‘educated’ into seeing the way you see the world. You continue…
I do not care for everyone to think like me – only that they act in such a way to support the change needed to curb the environmental degradation that is currently used to fuel our unsustainable way of life.
In other words, you don’t really care if they think like you; you just want them to act like they think like you. And if they don’t act like you, then they need ‘education’, which turns out to be about the way people think.
‘Sustainability’ — which is sold as a scientific concept — turns out pretty soon to be ideological, after all. It’s an entirely nebulous concept, anyway, yet demands obedience, conformity, and the suspension of normal democratic politics.
For example, racism exists independent of my disagreement with it. However, any racists within the public are still expected to act in non-racist ways.
That’s a bad example for you to use. Just the suspicion that there is a racial element to a crime changes the nature of the crime, and carries a stiffer sentence than an other non-racially-motivated crime. Thus the ‘crime’ is the thought, not the act. There have always been laws protecting the public sphere from things like blasphemy and indecency — is that the sort of thing you mean? What I’m trying to understand here, is where there is an equivalence of any kind, between acting in a way which is ‘unsustainable’, and acting in a way which is ‘racist’. I find the comparison spurious — a bit like saying I’m not allowed to drive my car to the seaside for a holiday, because there’s a law against gender-discrimination in the work place.
I love this: The way I see it, justice as a concept would support affording ALL people the LUXURY of electricity …. (your emphasis).
Electricity isn’t a luxury. Or at least, if it is a ‘luxury’, it’s on a par with running water and a roof over your head. It is a basic need that will be withdrawn from many poorer people in the UK, under the rubric of ‘sustainability’, not only as energy prices rise, but because they will be offered interpretable electricity supply contracts, such that, when there is insufficient wind, the ‘smart meter’ turns the supply off. And without the ‘luxury’ of electricity, many people will be left without the ‘luxury’ of warmth, warm water, the means to clean themselves, communications, and so on.
… while still advocatig the education of the public on how to use and generate resources wisely and in such a way that is sustainable.
You mean ‘educating the public’ to explain to them why there is a black out; why their energy bills have doubled; why they have lost their jobs?
… the majority of the planet has not hopped onto the green bandwagon. If they did, perhaps we wouldn’t be dealing with the likelihood of another global recession.
What has ‘sustainability’ got to do with recession? It’s another one of those things like ‘environmental justice’, isn’t it. The idea is that, if only we made everything ‘sustainable’, there would be no economic or social problems. World peace would suddenly break out. The idea is that there’s some kind of mystical intertwining of ecology and economy, as though GDP and biodiversity were somehow linked.
Renewable energy policies don’t seem to be doing much good for the Euro zone, or for the UK, for that matter.
Natalie, you must really be a cup-half-empty type of person. The world isn’t remotely heading towards global ruin because the economists call the current situation a recession. Japan has been in more or less permanent recession for twenty years now, and the people there live pretty well.
However if we try to cut our carbon emissions by the amount required to meet the targets of Kyoto, let alone what the loonies want, we will really know ruin. Maybe some day the alternatives will come along to do it, but for the moment dramatic cuts in consumption would be disastrous.
We’d get back to the “simple” days. When Westerners literally starved or died of insufficient heating. And without our markets, the rest of the world would decline too.
Mooloo — We’d get back to the “simple” days. When Westerners literally starved or died of insufficient heating. And without our markets, the rest of the world would decline too.
Funny how things turn out. Natalie is a student of Environmental Anthropology at the Uni of Johannesburg. We’re the subjects of her virtual field trip.
Natalie, I’ve known a number of anthropologists, and one thing that has struck me is, in general, just how cautious they are about anthropology. But another thing I’ve noticed is that, as they get greener, so they get more confident of the abilities of their social science; it becomes less about observing how the human world works, and more about how to intervene to produce a certain effect. Your discussion about ‘behaviour change’ and ‘educating the public’, for instance… It seems that you’re quite able to take Professor Richard Davies’ words at face value, or to make excuses for him, by using ideas such as ‘environmental justice’, and ‘sustainability’. But you must be aware that these are contested ideas, which hold little sway here. An environmental anthropologist ought to be able, I think, to see that the more interesting object of study is the phenomenon of environmental anthropology, also environmental psychology, and environmental philosophy — which are all discussed on this blog.
It’s interesting that the social sciences have to some extent, been reinvented as ‘green’, with a concomitantly revised sense of purpose and zeal amongst the department’s staff: the green-philosopher attempts to persuade us why we should respond to climate change; the climate-psychologist attempts to develop means to most effectively communicate the message, or to explain its failure. Both seem resistant to the idea that they should have to explain themselves, or should treat the objects of their study as agents capable of reason, who have reasoned themselves into a different perspective. In other words, the very premise of the social-sciences that are prefixed with ‘environmental-‘ is that ‘we are right and you are wrong’. If there was any sense that ecologism is a political idea, then the entire area of study ceases to have any ground.
Careful now, Natalie, too much time spent here, and you might end up going native.
Like the comment about “going native” — it’s a bit like I never expected John Dunne to come over here into bandit country. ;)