Mass Murdering Environmentalists on Billboards?

by | May 6, 2012

A lot of hand-wringing is going on about those billboards which depict individuals known for their psychopathic tendency and their comments on the environment. The use of the image of Ted Kaczynski (AKA the Unabomber) seems to have caused particular offence to those who in fact seem to be delighting in taking offence, and relishing the opportunity to demand that climate change sceptics apologise for the billboard campaign, and condemn it and the Heartland Institute, even though they had nothing to do with it.

Take for instance, the words of Keith Kloor, who seems to be offering running commentary on the affair, as though it were an unfolding event with global significance…

5/6, 9:30am EST: At his blog, Andrew Montford says the ”reverberations are going to be felt for quite a while.” Then he proceeds, Anthony Watts style, to demonstrate his partisan tendencies by devoting the rest of his post to similar guilt-by-association tactics by climate advocacy blogs. As Leo Hickman lamented on Twitter [shorthand cleaned up] to Montford, “very sad that you, too, like Watts, couldn’t resist a ‘comparison’ drive-by rather than simply condemn.” After I seconded this, Montford tweeted: “I’m trying to understand why Heartland’s actions [are] considered so much worse than the others.”

I’m trying to understand how he can’t see the difference. Heartland’s posters were part of a public advertising campaign that included a detailed explanation for why Heartland believed they were appropriate. While Heartland has discontinued the billboards, it should be noted that they have not apologized or renounced the message they conveyed.

Montford had pointed out that the Guardian had published a number of articles online, which claimed that there was a significance in Anders Breivik’s comments on climate change, and his reference to climate sceptics in his manifesto:

If Leo thinks that Helmer should dissociate himself from Heartland, then presumably he thinks that the Guardian should remove Grist from its Environment Network?

The double standards are interesting. The implication of Kloor’s criticism is that Montford must unreservedly condemn the Heartland’s campaign, as though he were somehow implicated by it. In other words, that Montford isn’t entitled to ask questions about the standards being demanded of sceptics, by the likes of the Guardian’s environmental correspondents. In other other words, Montford isn’t allowed to ask questions about the putative connection between people of a certain belief and their actions in general.

And the comments about the link between Breivik and climate change from Grist are not the Guardian’s only attempts to link climate scepticism to violence.

Just over a year ago, following Jared Lee Loughner’s attempt to murder congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Damian Carrington asked the Guardian’s online readers…

I have received a handful of threats by email and phone myself, which given my low profile is a measure of the extent of the problem. My better-known colleagues George Monbiot and Leo Hickman receive more.

So it’s clear that even in issues such as climate change there is an active fringe of people deploying violent rhetoric and hate mail against those with whom they disagree. Could that tip the balance between thought and action in the mind of an unstable individual? It’s a worryingly plausible thought.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Carrington was evidently attempting to say that climate change scepticism and violence were somehow connected. I took Carrington up on his offer. And I made my own comparison between violence and the ideology which drove it. The comments were deleted from the Guardian’s website, and my account suspended, as I explain here.

The Guardian moderator clearly objected to my own linking of Kaczynski’s environmentalism with his violence. I had argued that environmentalism’s tendency to view humans in a variously negative light must be a factor in the violence which he went on to commit. In order to do violence to humans, one must have a degraded view of humanity. It is easier to pull the trigger or plant the bomb when you believe that humans are no better — and may even be worse — than bugs and beasts. The Guardian is the most prominent publication in the UK that is attached to such a view of humans. It routinely publishes articles that speak about humans in such terms. For e.g. Monbiot:

It 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.

Of course, once you take the view that the object of politics is to diminish humans in the scheme of things, you’re not necessarily committed to mass murder. But the point was to explain that a dim view of humanity must be a necessary condition for killing people. If there is a connection between ‘ideology’ and expressions of violence, as Carrington was suggesting, then Carrington ought to start looking at the anti-human ideology he and his colleagues were advancing and its possible consequences. Ideas matter.

But ideas only matter to the Guardians of the planet when the ideas under examination are not their own. Never mind the connection between ideology and violence, then, what is behind the double standards?

The Heartland Institute seems to have become something of a bogeyman for green hacks. However the HI remains a tiny organisation. Time was when journalists like Kloor, Carrington and Hickman would rant about Exxon and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, though the evidence linking energy companies to think tanks was — and still is — scant.

The trouble for journalists who campaign on green issues is in explaining why the world does not respond to their doomsaying, and rush out to get behind the cause. It’s a paradox, in their view, that they can be so convinced while the public remains at best divided on the issue, and at worst, completely indifferent to the possibility of Thermageddon. The only way it can be explained is by connecting the public’s indifference to any organised attempt to intervene in the public sphere.

This means amplifying any operation, no matter how small or poorly-funded, to the extent that it becomes an organisation with global reach, and control over the public’s perception of climate change. In other words, in order to sustain this view, it is necessary to abandon any sense of proportion. Furthermore, it is necessary to forget the extent of the institutional effort in the other direction: the enormous collaboration between national governments, supranational political organisations, NGOs, corporations and, of course, self-regarding hacks.

I am not all that bothered, either way, by the Heartland’s campaign. It’s not the way I would choose to intervene in the debate. It’s not all that offensive to point out that Kaczynski’s environmentalism and his violent campaign were not coincident, though any power that the argument has is lost by turning it into a slogan on a billboard. Those of us who are not involved have nothing to explain, apologise for, condemn or distance ourselves from, to the individuals who are making a song and dance about this affair, principally for their own, transparently ‘partisan’ ends.


  1. j ferguson

    There seems to be some asymmetry in the complaints that dissenters are not deploring the HI billboard and distancing themselves from its message. Why should we? I don’t see any more reason why i should disown the activities of other skeptics anymore than I see any obligation on the part of the warmistas to disown their lunatic fringe.

    Did any of them disown the Unabomber’s bombing activities? No-one should have expected them to.

  2. Ron C.

    Warmists were eager to point out that the Norwegian terrorist, Anders Breivik, is a climate change sceptic. So it didn’t take long for some sceptics to point out that the Unabomber is an articulate global warming alarmist. In fact, it is a challenge to distinguish excerpts of his writings from those of Al Gore.
    For some fun, you can take the test here:
    This is not to say that Kaczynski is VP material, or that Gore is unbalanced, only that they are strange bedfellows on this topic. So you can’t dismiss anyone’s views based on crazies who may share some of them.
    Let’s get back to the debate. The null hypothesis is that climate is nature at work. Those who believe otherwise must present proof of AGW above and beyond natural variability.

  3. Lewis Deane

    ‘Those of us who are not involved have nothing to explain, apologise for, condemn or distance ourselves from, to the individuals who are making a song and dance about this affair, principally for their own, transparently ‘partisan’ ends.’

    I have Kazcinky’s text – a long and absurd text. But what interested me was not what ‘he thought’, for that would assume ‘thought’, were it is not possible, but when and what ‘thought’ happens, before you plant a punch in my face, do you, are you, capable of thinking? Is my question. I’m sorry, Ben, but such foolishness is my normal condition. For hark, I hear the bells (the violent and idiot bells) of Morecambe ringing!

  4. Lewis Deane

    Sorry, what I mean is how does one explain murder? One can’t

  5. Graham Thompson

    This is interesting and relevant …

    An internal study by the U.S. EPA completed by Dr. Alan Carlin and John Davidson concluded the IPCC was wrong about global warming. One statement in the executive summary stated that a 2009 paper found that the crucial assumption in the Greenhouse Climate Models (GCM) used by the IPCC concerning a strong positive feedback from water vapor is not supported by empirical evidence and that the feedback is actually negative. Water vapor in the atmosphere causes a cooling effect, not a warming one. Carbon dioxide also causes a slight cooling effect but it so small it could never be measured by man’s instrumentation.

    EPA tried to bury the report. An email from Al McGartland, Office Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), to Dr. Alan Carlin, Senior Operations Research Analyst at NCEE, forbade him from speaking to anyone outside NCEE on endangerment issues. In a March 17 email from McGartland to Carlin, stated that he will not forward Carlin’s study. “The time for such discussion of fundamental issues has passed for this round. The administrator (Lisa Jackson) and the administration have decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. …. I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.” A second email from McGartland stated “I don’t want you to spend any additional EPA time on climate change.”

    McGartland’s emails demonstrate that he was rejecting Dr. Carlin’s study because its conclusions ran counter to the EPA’s current position. Yet this study had its basis in three prior reports by Carlin (two in 2007 and one in 2008) that were accepted. Another government cover-up, just what the United States does not need.

    Eliminate this regulation immediately. This is a scientific tragedy.

  6. George Carty

    @Ron C

    Ironically, although Anders Breivik is an AGW sceptic, he is still a Malthusian. From page 1202 of his manifesto:

    We should create population capacity guidelines for continents or countries. The guidelines should be based on a combination of the availability of resources and other factors in an attempt to limit overpopulation. Every country should abide by these guidelines. If starvation threatens the countries who have failed to follow our guidelines we should not support them by backing their corrupt leaders or send any form of aid. There is no general consensus to the carrying capacity of the planet. Our planet should not exceed 3 billion individuals so radical policies will have to be implemented (we are currently more than 6,8 billion).

    PCCTS, Knights Templar and a future European Federation must propagate a global population cap of 2,5 billion (1950-level)

  7. Roddy Campbell

    You make some fine points. But. I saw Leo’s tweet by chance immediately, looked through the link, and was happy to say to Leo ‘I condemn that unreservedly’ because it was a cretinous campaign and (pace your points) a cretinous link and a cretinous direct reverse implication that CAGW-ers might/must be barking mad. It holed HI below the waterline in being taken (at least) much less seriously on any of their climate or libertarian arguments, and exposed them as being, in this case and therefore possibly others, cretins, as the 10:10 video did.

    It seemed important to little (possibly craven) me to say ‘that is appalling crap’, and not have any type of equivalence or comparative discussion, we all know the smeary attempts of the environmentalists to equate scepticism with all types of immoral attitudes so putting blue water between this HI campaign and anything one might think or say is more effective than saying anything much that might be seen as a ‘defence’, or observing that Grist have sometimes done something that might be seen as similar.

    The McKitrick/McIntyre/Lamframboise response seems to me more the right one. McKitrick said he would attend IF they discontinued the campaign immediately, a more generous response, and also addressed his ability to be taken seriously, and therefore be effective, if he was not seen as condemning absolutely, which also addresses reality.

  8. Luis Dias

    And let’s not forget the 10:10 campaign.

    Let’s not forget when Pauchari compared Bjorn’s ideas with Hitler’s.

    Let’s not forget the continuous smearings of skeptics for condoning a “future Holocaust”.

    I think many people is very quick to forget their own appalling behaviours when it suits them.

  9. Jeremy Poynton

    Given the 10:10 exploding bodies video, Heartland’s billboard campaign was no more and no less offensive. It wash however profoundly stupid, and I can’t believe they did it – whose “cause” does it help? Certainly not the cause of climate truth. However, it is a drop in the ocean in the endless torrent of smears and ad homs that sceptics are subject to. It is strange. An acquaintance of mine was so rude to me when I pulled him on his warmer stance (he pulled the famous 79% of all climate scientists bollocks on me) that I gave him the bum’s rush and told him not to sully my doorstep again.

    I had offended his faith, it seems.

  10. Stewg Green

    – If Greenpeace put out a billboard saying “Do you still believe the polar bears are safe like Anders Breivik does ?” do you think anyone would bat an eyelid ?
    – I didn’t bother to read the debate on Heartland’s billboard cos people can get over-wrapped up in analysisng trivial stuff. – When I saw the ad, I just saw it as asking “TRUE BELIEVERS are you caught up in a grand conspiracy theory, (CAGW) just like the Unibomber was ?

  11. Stewg Green

    – Actually true believers care & get very passionate ..from Monbiot thru to Pachauri they have often said SKEPTICS are like supporters of mass murderers. But as ever their clever PR teams manage to create the meme that at the same time as they stoop so low the other side of the debate has to conform to a much higher standard.

    What’s the difference between supporters of CAGW & the Unibomber ? …. the Unibomber has killed less people

    … If governments hadn’t got so sidetracked into chasing the alternate reality of CAGW panic, they would have put more resources into securing the energy better & more economically so less peolple would have died in cold winters etc.


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