I thought it might be worthwhile posting this presentation I gave in Edinburgh in Spring last year, following the first Climategate. It seems to me that the same is true of Climategate 2 as was true of the first: if there had been a more transparent debate, Climategate would not have have had the impact is has had. Some are calling for transparency in science, which I agree with, but I think it is a mistake to believe that even completely transparent science would answer the debate. It would make it harder to hide environmentalism’s political and ethical claims, perhaps, but it would be no guarantee, either of that or a bit more reflection on certain claims and why they exist, not just in the climate debate, but more widely also. For instance, the precautionary principle, and the deference to science, and the prostitution of its authority aren’t at all exclusive to the climate debate, but are almost ubiquitous in contemporary politics.
We often get comments on Climate Resistance that ask us what qualifications to speak about climate change I and my colleague, Stuart Blackman, have.
Neither of us are climate scientists.
To take issue with the moral and political arguments that emerge from the climate debate, is seen as equivalent to taking issue – to denying – climate science.
What I think this speaks most loudly about is the weight of expectations that climate science has to bear.
What makes climate science’s relationship with the social political sphere special and unusual, compared to other forms of science is that there is so much moral and political capital invested in the idea of a climate catastrophe.
It seems to me that that something like Climategate was bound to happen, and will continue to happen in the form of things like as Glaciergates and Africagates for instance as people start to see what climate science is and isn’t capable of producing for their moral and political arguments.
George Monbiot is one of my favourite writers, because you can always find something to say about what he says. And the thing I’ve chosen today is that George Monbiot believes that gay people are more moral than straight people, because they won’t produce any carbon-emitting babies.
I’m not pointing it out to say that gay people are immoral, but because I don’t see how they can be any more or less ‘moral’ than people who happen to be born straight. This is just a bizarre moral framework.
We also hear from the likes of the New economics foundation and the green party that there are just ten years left to save the planet. If you go to the NEF website, you can even hear the clock ticking, down from 100 months.
According to Susan Watts, the science… Science!… Editor of BBC Newsnight, ‘scientists have calculated that Obama has four years in which to save the planet
So these are the kind of arguments people are trying to support with climate science.
But it is not just journos and activists. This is academics from many different disciplines,
Ian Roberts of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tells us that fat people contribute more to climate change than thin people do. Because as they get fatter, they enter a positive feedback system, in which they increasingly use labour-saving devices to cart their increasingly fat bodies around, as they become less and less physically able. So they use escalators, lifts, cars, etc, pumping out CO2 all the while.
Using carbon is the equivalent of slavery, according to Jean-Francois Mouhot, a historian at the University of Birmingham. If we compare our current attitude to fossil fuels and climate change with the behaviour of the slave owners, there are more similarities than one might immediately perceive.
There are now special climate change ‘ethics’, that occupy the minds of philosophers. The scientific certainty that we are destroying the planet has made black and white the moral questions that have haunted moral thinkers since ancient times.
This cheap moral realism gives purpose to special climate change psychologists, who are employed to find out why the moral message isn’t getting through to the public.
They set about working out how to communicate climate change to people who don’t believe it, and try to locate the processes that may be going on in the heads of those who refuse to believe it… The deniers.
There doesn’t appear to be an area of public life that has not been framed in the terms of climate change. The idea of climate catastrophe has become the prism through which we see ourselves, the world, and our relationship to it. Everything is captured in this one idea that the world is about to be destroyed.
This is a political and ideological phenomenon, not something which has just emerged from climate science, to which conventional politics has simply responded after considering it carefully.
And yet, if you look at how the arguments within this system are constructed, they nonetheless all begin with the claim that “climate change is happening”. I think this is mistaken view. Not that climate change isn’t happening, but that it is a mistake to [allow] ‘climate change is happening’ [to be] the beginning of all these moral calculations.
What happens at UEA, then, appears to be the keystone of all the arguments that ensue.
And so it is no surprise that this is where people have been focussing their hacking efforts. And it is of no surprise that what has been found reveals that the source of all these moral and political arguments is not so clear cut.
I think sceptics have made a mistake here. And that a peak behind the firewall didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know.
Rather than a process of the science informing the political or otherwise social, the dynamic is the other way round. That is to say that the politics is prior.
Monbiot puts it best: It [the campaign against climate change] is a campaign not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but against ourselves.
Monbiot has had to make his apology, because he has invested his entire perspective on the world, in “The Science”.
David Attenborough is even less reflective. He says.
“Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it’s time to control the population to allow the survival of the environment”.
The President of the Royal Society – the organisation that promotes the scientific view of the world, Martin Rees, writes in “our Final Century” that our odds of surviving the next 100 years are just 50/50.
I mention Rees because he was on the Today program this morning, talking about the IPCC review — a review of the review by the reviewers — and it struck me more than ever that Rees’ role was once occupied by people who were proud to speak truth to power. Now, he, the Royal Society, and so many institutions that have attached themselves to the climate issue, instead speak Official Truth FOR official power. And I think that is a dangerous thing.
The sense of overwhelming crisis is being used to give authority to the kind of political ideas I think we ought to reject. These political ideas, since they make a virtue of being anti human, depend instead of our consent, on empirical substance for their moral authority. That substance comes from organisations like of the CRU.
So there are two sense in which the politics is prior to the science.
First, there are the ideological presuppositions that we are powerless to address the things produced by our sense of alarm and imminent doom. We passively accept our fate, and the fate of others.
For instance, the Global humanitarian Forum released a study last year which claimed that 300,000 people a year die from the effects of climate change. This doubles the WHO’s estimate from 2002. They project that half a million people will die, in 2030, they say, from the same malaria, malnutrition and diarrhoea, caused by climate change. This, they say makes climate change the biggest issue facing mankind.
Never mind the 10 million people who died according to the WHO in the very same report, from first order effects of poverty.
We feel so unable to understand the social world, that the only way we can conceive of its problems is by naturalising them through ideas about the environment and climate change.
Second, there are the searches for authority in the statistics and projections such as those produced at the CRU.
The academy, government, and the media each seem to have rooted themselves in this crisis, and define themselves by it.
The crisis gives orientation to journalists who are disoriented by a world that no longer divides into left and right, and East and West.
It breathes new life into dusty old academic departments who have had relevance and targets foisted upon them from above.
And it gives the government legitimacy in a time when no one can be ‘bovvered’.
Finally, then, in order to make productive sense of what the science ‘says’, we need to be sure that we know what science has been asked, and what it has been told, and what it is really studying.
The climate crisis — and all of its little debates and fights like Climategate– are a projection of much deeper problems and crises in society.