The Anti-Democratic Climate Assembly

I have written a report on the UK Climate Assembly for the Global Warming Policy Forum, published today. Here’s the press release.

London, 29 January: The UK Climate Assembly, which claimed to have delivered a mandate for a green revolution, could not have delivered a mandate of any kind, according to a new analysis published by the Global Warming Policy Forum.

According to the report’s author, Ben Pile, the Assembly was set up to deliver a preordained result:

“It was in no way a democratic process. Almost everyone involved with convening the assembly, and almost everyone who spoke to it, was involved with environmental campaigning to some extent. Most can be linked to a small group of wealthy environmental funders.”

Pile says that the Assembly was actually set up because the public were unpersuaded of the case for radical action.

“Politicians agreed the net zero target without debate and at best lukewarm public support. The Assembly was an attempt to provide a justification for strong policy measures, but it is ridiculous to suggest that a project like this could deliver some sort of a mandate. The assembly was an attempt to sidestep the democratic process.”

You can download the report here.

I wrote a fair bit more than is in the report. A few sections which didn’t make the final cut was some discussion about the background to the Climate Change Act. As I have long argued here, MPs have put all their horses before all their cars: they believed that they could generate public support for their policies after they had been turned into law, and they believed that the technology required to make their plans a reality required laws to make them viable. Here is a passage summarising that view.


The problem of public opinion vs cross-party consensus

Public opinion has long beset politicians’ climate policy ambitions. In December 2008, then Environment Secretary in the Labour government, Ed Miliband is quoted in the Telegraph,

“When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilization. Maybe it’s an odd thing for someone in government to say, but I just think there’s a real opportunity and a need here”[i].

Miliband’s frustration that climate policies lacked popular support was surprising first for its coincidence with climate activist group, Plane Stupid’s occupation of Stanstead Airport runway, which pitched green activists against the public. Second, it came just days after the Climate Change Act had received Royal Assent on the 26th November 2008. The Bill’s almost entirely unopposed passage through Parliament contrasted with the public’s lack of interest. But Miliband’s concern was pragmatic, rather than for the democratic deficit created by legislation with such far-reaching consequences. Government now faced the prospect either of having to persuade people to ‘Act on CO2’ – as  government campaigns to communicate “the seriousness of climate change to the public through TV, press, radio and online advertising” put it[ii], or enforcing draconian legislation on an unwilling population.

Celebratory accounts of the history of the Climate Change Act reveal that Friends of the Earth (FoE) had produced a draft Climate Change Bill in 2005, organised around the principle of a “top-down” carbon-emissions “budget”, reducing each year[iii] [iv]. The group had organised a campaign, the “Big Ask”, in which 200,000 people wrote to MPs asking them to support the bill. Consequently, an Early Day Motion in the next Parliamentary session drew the support of 412 MPs[v].

Though impressive, 200,000 letters are fewer in number than the votes won by Green Party candidates in that year’s general election. Moreover, by the standards of the era, this sum is dwarfed by other demonstrations of public will, such as the 2003 anti-war marches, which drew crowds estimated between 1 and 2 million[vi].

This contrast is significant to understanding the development of flagship policies of the era, which is characterised by a tendency towards voter apathy. From a relative high of 77.7 per cent in 1992, General Election turnout fell to 59.4 in 2001 rising only slightly to 61.4 in 2005. The candid history of the development of the Climate Change Act offered by its designers[vii] explains that a Labour Party under new leadership was keen to draw a line under its recent history. Similarly, the Conservative Party, also under new leadership, was keen to ‘detoxify’ its image. Parties competed to champion the seemingly safe ground of ‘saving the planet’, in an era regarded by many as politically sterile.

In this era, government and oppositions parties, and public bodies drew heavily from campaigning organisations to formulate policies and to promote them to the public. In 2006, then new leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron, held a press conference at Greenpeace’s London headquarters at which he told journalists, “I passionately believe that a greener world will actually be a safer world”[viii]. Nearly nine years later, the consensus between green organisations and political parties was cemented by Parliamentary lobbying campaign, the Green Alliance, which asked party leaders to sign a pledge, committing to “work together, across party lines, to agree carbon budgets in accordance with the Climate Change Act”[ix].

The political problem of this was identified in 2006 by Professor Mike Hulme of the UEA and Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. On Hulme’s view, campaigning organisations, politicians and scientists, “are openly confusing the language of fear, terror and disaster with the observable physical reality of climate change”, concluding that “The language of fear and terror operates as an ever-weakening vehicle for effective communication or inducement for behavioural change”[x]. And just as Hulme observed, climate alarmism failed to align the public with the political consensus.

To the extent that the 2005-2015 era can be characterised by the public’s political appetites, it was manifestly defined, not by the urgent cause of saving the planet, but on the question of Britain’s membership of the European Union. The 2008 Climate Change Act received almost unanimous support from MPs, but on the basis of little public pressure. Politicians, struggling with their parties’ images in an era of disaffection and disengagement, instead seem to have been persuaded by campaigning organisations to create far-reaching policies that now exist on the wrong side of a democratic deficit. With no sense of the public’s willingness to accept draconian policies, this deficit created a climate policy impasse, which was further eclipsed by Brexit, leading to green campaigning organisations’ impatience.

[i] Ed Miliband urges ‘popular mobilisation’ to tackle climate change. The Telegraph. 8 December 2008. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/3681149/Ed-Miliband-urges-popular-mobilisation-to-tackle-climate-change.html

[ii] About ACT ON CO2. https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20101006102515/http://actonco2.direct.gov.uk/home/about-us.html

[iii] The Big Ask: How you helped make climate change history. Friends of the Earth. 2017. https://friendsoftheearth.uk/climate-change/big-ask-how-you-helped-make-climate-change-history

[iv] The Climate Change Act (2008). Institute for Government. 2018. https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/climate_change_act.pdf

[v] CLIMATE CHANGE EDM #178. UK Parliament. May 2005. https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/28373

[vi] Iraq war 10 years on: mass protest that defined a generation. The Guardian. February 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/15/iraq-war-mass-protest

[vii] Bryony Worthington speaking at the CDKN Action Lab. Youtube. April 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3xseCcfMZY

[viii] David Cameron goes up on the roof at Greenpeace. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6V85RzlCvE

[ix] Cameron, Clegg and Miliband sign joint climate change agreement. The Green Alliance. February 2015. https://www.green-alliance.org.uk/leaders_joint_climate_change_agreement.php

[x] Chaotic world of climate truth. Mike Hulme. BBC. November 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6115644.stm

 

Who will police green Utopia? And how?

This post is adapted from a recent Twitter thread, based on a Telegraph article, in which it is suggested:

Police may have to enforce strict  environmental laws as part of Government’s ambitious Green agenda

Ambitious climate change targets set by the Government will see a raft of new lifestyle restrictions being imposed

Some have said the article is ‘clickbait’. I think it’s understatement. More on the article shortly.

It’s relevant to me, because I’ve had a a number of conversations with people recently, who are of the mind that, as soon as the government realise the Net Zero agenda has hit material and political reality, it will be withdrawn.

‘Material reality’ means blackouts and huge expense. ‘Political reality’ means the backlash that expense and scarcity cause, which could be anything, protests, riots, or new political movements taking the initiative. The last is a moot point, because there is almost zero possibility of a new party emerging, convincing a majority and taking power before the Net Zero agenda is all but fully implemented. The dominant Westminster parties are members of near-formal consensus on climate change, and are adamant that the public should have no say.

Another version of the argument goes something like, “you can take my car/boiler from my cold dead hands”, but from people who (presumably) have no gun with which to protect their property from policies. The fact is, nobody is going to physically take away your car or boiler. You can keep them. But they will be reduced to useless lumps of metal (or perhaps museum artefacts) by policies which will switch off fuel supplies, after making them ruinously expensive.

It’s going to take, from very many millions of people, that which is essential. And it will hand back only that which is necessary for subsistence, in return for compliance.

Climate technocrats, lobbyists and campaigners of all kinds know that this is the eventuality. They even have a term for what they believe will mitigate the political fallout. They call for a “just transition”.

The problem is that the definition of ‘just’ depends on the generosity of those who stand to gain. The consequence of ruling out democracy is that the principles and policy of “transition” are untested, and nothing holds any promise-maker to their promises — which been nothing but a cascade of unsubstantiated upsides. When the promises fail, it is, of course, going to make very many people very angry. I believe that it risks creating a division in society deeper and wider than anything we have ever seen before: deeper than the miners strikes of the ’70s and ’80s, and deeper than the 1930s, following the Great Depression.

Why? Because it is a draconian agenda, requiring an unprecedented expansion of the state, the reorganisation of the entire economy and of society, which is untested democratically, from which all opposition has been excluded from public debate, and because it relies on technology which does not exist — unicorns — and the green sector’s hollow promises. People are going to lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their homes, their pensions and savings, their stuff, and the things they had planned for their lives. (If such things have even survived government’s and Parliament grotesque Covid-19 failures.)

That’s not something which is going to be resolved in the way that the climate debate has hitherto been resolved: by shouting “DENIER!” at people. The question it will raise is ‘is climate change policy worse than climate change?’. It is going to set people against the state and against each other, not just on the blogosphere, and on the pages of the Guardian — in real life.

The agenda is explicit in requiring the surrender of political sovereignty — the same issue that Brexit was fought over. There will be no mechanism for addressing the inadequacies of green politics. And it is explicit in stating that it will have a material impact on people’s lives — that it will require ‘behaviour change’.

If you disagree, show me the mechanism by which we can, in the event that either the ‘science’ or political design for the post-carbon future turn out to be flawed, withdraw from what politicians who are intent on a ‘global agreement’ between governments call “our commitments”. There is no such exit. There will be no means to switch off *their* power.

The job of managing such differences within society falls to the police, and sometimes the army. Hence, as the Telegraph explains,

Police officers could have to enforce unpopular environmental laws as part of Britain’s increasingly radical Green agenda, a senior officer has suggested.

That is the future of democracy in Britain. The Police *know* it. It’s not an ‘if’. It’s not really a question.

… there are questions around who will enforce the measures with senior police leaders expressing concern that the burden may fall on their shoulders.

[…]

There are concerns that if enforcement by local authorities fails to change people’s behaviour sufficiently, the Government will turn to the police to act.

That’s the answer to people who say that nobody is taking your car/boiler/livelihood away. They are. They will take your stuff away, and charge you for doing so.

Paul Griffiths, the President of the Superintendents’ Association, said this had the potential to create a backlash from the public.

He said: “There are certainly questions around the role that the police will play in enforcing environmental laws in the future.

“We always see with governments and policies, that if they are not keeping pace with their own targets they will look at stricter ways to try and achieve them.

“And of course the police are always a potential avenue of enforcement that is all too easily and readily available.”

[…]

“Whenever we are asked to deal with an enforcement process that has an implication on individuals – as we have seen it in such a stark way this year with the infringements of people’s liberties and freedom of movement – there is a natural backlash.

“The police are the front face of the State in that sense and some of the ambitious green targets that have been set will involve a number of different state agencies in terms of driving environmental change, but at what point on that journey might the police be required to play a role in terms of enforcement? These are issues that should be being discussed now.”

Remember… NOBODY voted for this.

There are indications from the USA, that lawfare — the use of courts, rather than democratic politics, to secure the green agenda’s advance — is to take a new direction, as Anthony Watts reports:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) will be pushing the Biden administration, calling for prominent climate skeptics, and climate skeptical organizations to be put on investigations and “show trials” for daring to question the consensus. There may be worse than that coming, as he seems to genuinely believe we’ve committed some sort of crime and should be punished for it. Make no mistake, it’s coming.

Climate activists have long fantasised about criminalising their opponents. And these are no idle fantasies, either, from isolated green weirdos. They are academics’ fantasies, politicians fantasies, and extremely rich people’s fantasies. In 2011, they acted out their fantasies by hiring the UK Supreme Court, to hold a mock trial of oil executives charged with ‘ecocide’.

Others have called for the death penalty, for Nuerumberg trials. Professor of Political Theory at the University of Exeter, Catriona McKinnon, more recently argues:

Climate denial has increased the risk of catastrophic global change. Should international criminal law be used against those who promote this dangerous trend? Economic and political leaders can no longer pretend it is business as usual. Whether they actively induce environmental harm or just ignore the existential threat against the survival of the human species, states and corporations must be held accountable for their actions or inaction regarding climate change.

[…]

Climate denial has seriously impeded aggressive mitigation efforts that could have averted our present climate emergency. It has magnified the risk that humanity locks in to catastrophic global climate change. The people in positions of authority in states, or industrial groups whose lies have put us and our descendants in peril, should be held accountable. The damage that climate deniers do is heinous, and they have no excuses. The time has come to prosecute them for postericide.

The ambition behind this histrionic rhetoric has been given a trial run during the pandemic. Scientific voices that depart from the political consensus have been slandered, censored and fired. Tech giants have abolished all mention of alternative perspectives. Ordinary people who protest against the measures that have destroyed their lives have had their faces introduced to the pavement.

The ‘science’ proving itself to be so much bunk, scientific debate has been abolished. The institutions of ‘science’ revealing themselves to be entirely political organisations, criticism of scientific claims has been prohibited, by soft power, by harassment, by financial might, by weight, and by law. The government’s claims to be following the ‘science’ collapse in the face of fearmongering academics and self-aggrandizing TV news anchors, authority clutching to sustain itself by revoking longstanding freedoms and belittling the capacities and competences of ordinary people.

What is true of covid-19 is true of climate. If you can invent a projection to use as the basis to protect “half a million lives” by forcing millions of people out of work, then you can use any old hockey stick to justify smashing just as many heads into pavements. They are saving the planet, and they have the charts to prove it. Anyone who would say otherwise will be locked up, censored, fired, cancelled, deleted, fined and disappeared.

Do not underestimate the climate change agenda.

Happy Christmas and new year!

Climate Resistance vs. Extinction Rebellion

Earlier this month, I debated Extinction Rebellion co-founder, Roger Hallam on Darren Grimes‘ Youtube show, Reasoned.

If you don’t know Darren yet, you should. He started a Brexit campaign for young people and students, and drew the intense ire of the anti-Brexit establishment and media, including press smear campaigns that resulted in accusations of illegalities, resulting in several court cases. Big mistake. They lost. And he has fired back on all cylinders, making a name for himself as an independent journalist. They have never forgiven him.

Extinction Rebellion and Roger Hallam need no introduction here, of course.

Some were expecting fireworks. But I found Roger likable and reasonable, despite our being essentially political enemies. We discussed those differences, and Roger was accepting of much of the criticism. We even found some agreement, of sorts.

One point of agreement was our views of the state of democracy. I think Roger genuinely wants there to be a democracy. However, I think he hopelessly misconceives democracy and its problems. He believes citizens’ assemblies, or sortition — the random selection of members of the public to make political decisions — are solutions to what appears to be the terminal point of British representative democracy.

However, I try to argue that the establishment, too, would rather do away with representative democracy, and to appoint citizens’ assemblies that it controls — which is exactly what happened with the UK Climate Assembly (much more on which will be discussed here later). He thinks the government and MPs are reluctant to follow a radical climate agenda, whereas I argue that they would like nothing more, but have been held back by fear of a public backlash. He believes, not unlike the politicians, technocrats and ministers that organised the Assembly, that once you explain things to people, they simply agree with you.

The next few years will be the test of our debate. Net Zero is going to be imposed on the British public, and in the words of one outgoing civil servant, “they don’t know what they’re in for”.

Watch here.

 

 

Where were we…

It has been nearly five years since there was a new blog post at this site. And it was a pretty thin blog in the few years leading up to that.

At the time, it seemed that blogging, which is time-consuming, had little to offer to the ‘debate’. Everything that could be said had been said. It became repetitive. The sheer might of the green blob machinery allows it to regurgitate its own mess, endlessly. Climate Resistance is futile! Demonstrating that the cascade of bullshit that emerges from green quarters is nothing more than a cascade of bullshit is like chucking sausages at a gunboat. They will win any war of attrition, because they have very many $billions, to our near zero.

However, we are at a new juncture.

For many years — the entire lifetime of this blog, at least — climate policymaking has been a matter of setting abstract emissions-reduction targets that mean little to most people. Nobody really cared what promises were made by each of the parties that have occupied Number 10, because nobody believed anything would come of them, if they even knew anything about them. Urged on by the doom pixie and the Extinction Rebellion, the government and MPs have decided that these abstract proposals must become concrete reality. The UK Government won its bid to host the postponed COP 26 climate conference, and has used the opportunity to increase its diplomatic effort to be the world’s foremost champion of draconian policy.

The logic of being a ‘global leader’ was established by Ed Miliband (among others) is to impose on the home population a suite of draconian policies that nobody voted for. It was his claim that ‘showing leadership’ on domestic policy would impress all the other world leaders, who would immediately follow. Hence, the Climate Change Act 2008 was passed (with its abstract emissions-reduction targets), and Ed Miliband went to Copenhagen, full of hope that he would be received with fanfare. The British delegation was ignored, and the COP meeting produced nothing.

The Johson government has decided, per Miliband, to increase its level of domestic policy ‘ambition’ (that’s their word for it), hoping that the rest of the world will join the suicide pact. We will know in a year, whether or not they are successful.

But now they have decided that emissions-reduction targets really are going to be made concrete, and that, among other things, boilers and petrol and diesel cars will be abolished, and energy bills are going to rise and rise and rise, and rise some more. They call it ‘building back better’.

This creates a new opportunity for blogging about climate change. The era of abstract climate politics is over. Now they are betting the future on a herd of wild unicorns, the pain caused by fantastic green Utopianism is going to be felt, on top of the crushing blow that has been dealt to millions of people by the government’s absurd reactions to the covid19 pandemic.

To that end, then, I’ve revamped the site for easier navigation. It is divided into three: the old blog, a section where I’ll put videos from my new Youtube channel, and articles that have been published elsewhere.

I don’t plan on the long, essay-ish blog posts that I used to put here. Mostly, the plan is to produce short, informative videos, as I think these are the most direct, portable, and accessible format. Please help by subscribing to the channel on Youtube (and others, as I join them), and “liking” and, most of all, sharing the videos.

I’m very often asked “who funds you”. The answer to which is, as it always has been, nobody, though at the moment, a man called Rishi Sunak has been extraordinary generous, after having destroyed much of the economy, including most of the bit of it that involved me. I would quite like to go full time into this project. If you feel like helping me do that, I’ll be putting up a donation page in the near future. I will also be joining up with others, hopefully to make resistance viable again.

Meanwhile, Happy Christmas, or whatever this time of year means to you…

It’s the End of the World… As They Know it

One of the hypotheses posited on this blog is that the preoccupation with the end of the world is in reality a displaced existential, and altogether far more internal crisis. Where you can see climate alarmism, you can see a crisis afflicting the individual, organisation or institution which promotes alarm much more clearly — a decline that is far more vivid than any climate change signal. Today, we see the proof of that hypothesis, in the terminal decline of The Independent newspaper.

Back in 2014, the death of The Independent was half-jokingly forecast right here on this very blog, for a little earlier than it actually happened.

IndyGraunPolyTrend

But then again, perhaps it wasn’t premature — arguably The Independent has been dead for a while, it’s lifeless corpse kept twitching by desperate attempts to revive it…

Speaking of dead tree media attempts to flog dead horses

MillyAndGeorge

The failed leader of the ailing political party is to pow-wow with the failing newspaper’s prognosticator in chief, about the political failure of the attempt to rescue ailing governments from their failures..

Are we failing to grasp clear global consensus on how to tackle climate change? Join former leader of the Labour party Ed Miliband and best-selling author and Guardian leader writer George Monbiot as we debate the implications of the historic Paris agreement.

As has been observed here, the externalisation of internal existential crises as climate crisis is a phenomenon we can see in politics, as well as in newspaper circulation figures. Miliband represented the worst of political party machinery failing to ‘engage’ with the public… The more detached from ordinary people and ordinary life politicians and political parties become, so the more they seek legitimacy in ideas that are beyond the senses of ordinary people, and the more they locate power above democratic control on the basis of seemingly ‘global’ risks. The Guardian has hitched itself to that cause, because it too is incapable of making sense of the world — the thing that people turn towards newspapers for. Thus, the Guardian has tried to assert itself as more than a newspaper, such is the extent of its identity crisis, after such a question mark emerges over its status as such, its circulation figures dropping so violently.

Of course, the same could be said of other broadcasting and print media’s struggles to sustain their identity as they, too, struggle to make sense of the world. But the Guardian’s attempts to reinvent itself is, first, of more interest to us critics of such things as giant, undemocratic political projects, and second, perhaps the epitome of such a struggle. The futility of that struggle is reflected both in the fact of it putting forward such mediocre characters — abject, proven failures — as intellectual giants, and the raw numbers…

The Press Gazette reported last month:

Guardian News and Media to slash £54m from annual budget to curb losses
[…]
According to The Guardian, GNM is expected to lose more than £50m in the year to the end of March, more than double last year’s total.
[…]
As of April last year GNM parent company, Guardian Media Group, had £838.3m in the bank thanks largely to the sale of Trader Media Group.

According to The Guardian, this investment fund has been depleted by more than £100m and currently stands at £735m. At the current rate of spending GNM will run out of money within the next eight years.
[…]
Last month print sales of The Guardian fell 7 per cent year on year to an average of 165,672 and The Observer fell 6.2 per cent to 189,383.

If I understand the figures correctly, then, the Guardian lost approximately £1,000 per daily copy ‘circulated’ in the last year.

For a paper that lectures the world on economic and environmental sustainability, that is truly a remarkable loss.

Ask a Stupid Question

A premise of democracy that I believe is worth defending is that it is incumbent on those seeking either change or for the status quo to be sustained to define and defend their arguments, even against robust criticism, and even against seemingly stupid and evil opinion. Needless to say, I also believe that this principle is entirely absent from the green argument. Instead, the environment’s putative voices have preferred to question the intellectual capacity and moral character of their critics, no matter how big a question mark it puts over their own hearts and minds. The most significant development in this regard seems to be the recruitment of cognitive and behavioural sciences into the climate debate, with their own ‘standards’ of evidence. Yet more recent developments have shone more light on this dark tendency.

While I was putting together the previous post, I was interested in where David Grimes was taking his claims from. For example, Grimes wrote:

Conspiratorial beliefs, which attribute events to secret manipulative actions by powerful individuals, are widely held [1] by a broad-cross section of society.

The basis for this claim was a 2008 paper by Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, called simply ‘Conspiracy Theories‘. As was pointed out, Sunstein and Vermeule’s claim was itself second hand. More troubling, the second hand evidence had little academic rigour itself, and moreover tried to establish belief in conspiracy theories in an area that had seen a massive incident in its very recent history. Any traumatic private or public event is bound to seed the formation of such beliefs. The failure of any public institution to do what people expect of it will rightly raise questions about that failure, prompting hypotheses in lieu of convincing attempts to avoid responsibility. We should therefore be suspicious of research which looks at the phenomenon of ‘conspiracy theories’ which takes no account of their context. What is its motivation?

The abstract of Sunstein and Vermeule’s paper reads as follows,

Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law. The first challenge is to understand the mechanisms by which conspiracy theories prosper; the second challenge is to understand how such theories might be undermined.

I believe we have answered the question ‘why do conspiracy theories prosper’. One only needs to look as far as the caricature of the conspiracy theorist to understand that the condition of conspiracy theorising is a relationship of distrust.

The character played by Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory was the archetypal conspiracy theorist: able to accumulate lots of information, but inclined to over-associate and to marshal the facts accordingly. As the film shows, the conspiracy theorist’s paranoia, demeanor and distrust of all forms of official authority isolate him, further fuelling his alienation. The whack-job has no credibility.

But rather than probing the reasons for the phenomenon of distrust in society, the paper’s motivation is more interesting: ‘the second challenge is to understand how such theories might be undermined’. Why is this a challenge? What kind of threat is the lonely, isolated nutter?

I was wondering where I had heard Sunstein’s name before, but it didn’t occur to me to look until after the post. Amazon provided the answer…

We are all susceptible to biases that can lead us to make bad decisions that make us poorer, less healthy and less happy. And, as Thaler and Sunstein show, no choice is ever presented to us in a neutral way. By knowing how people think, we can make it easier for them to choose what is best for them, their families and society. Using dozens of eye-opening examples the authors demonstrate how to nudge us in the right directions, without restricting our freedom of choice. Nudge offers a unique new way of looking at the world for individuals and governments alike.

‘Nudge’ always sounds bland enough. But it always seemed to me to treat people as means, rather than as ends. Indeed, ‘nudge’ is always presented as making it easier for people to do the right things. But when was that really the responsibility of the state, and if the state assumes responsibility for making sure people do the right thing, what autonomy is the individual really left with? When does a ‘nudge’ become a shove?

Nudge became especially popular under the previous coalition government, which established a ‘Behavioral Insights Team‘ (BIT), also known as the ‘Nudge Unit’. BIT claim:

We use insights from behavioural science to encourage people to make better choices for themselves and society.

I believe that the right and proper rejoinder to such a mission statement is ‘Foxtrot Oscar’. While the interventions it proposes may seem trivial, it represents one of the concerns that his blog has highlighted, about the transformation of the relationship between individuals, the state, and increasingly, academia. Suffice it to say that the latter’s recruitment into matters of public policy is wholly regressive, anti-democratic and assumes far to much about its own rectitude, not to say about its ability to better understand the choices individuals make than they.

“Choice architects” thus became flavour of the month with governments throughout the Anglosphere. Sunstein himself was made a chief of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs by his personal friend, Obama, to nobody’s delight (not even greens’).

The psychologist-as-bureaucrat, then, isn’t a mere reflection of the increasing tendency towards official intrusion, not merely into the private sphere, but into the mind. And mirroring this is the academy’s increasingly unhealthy interest in mind-probing, too, as means to understanding what’s happening in society, and how to intervene.

The point here, which is made here often, is that the ‘politics is prior’ to a great deal of climate research — that the presuppositions of environmentalism are routinely passed off as the ‘finding’ of studies which invariably ‘show’ precisely what the green perspective already held with. The head-shrinking of the public by… let’s call them ‘psychocrats’… is the broader phenomenon which either encompasses, or at least overlaps with what we have seen in the climate debate, most notably from the likes of Lewandowsky.

That is to say that we can see the politics loading researchers’ questions. The cognitive scientists seeking roles for themselves in policy-making circles would, no doubt, see this as a conspiracy theory… But the questions should be asked, nonetheless, with or without the protection of a tin foil hat: is it just a coincidence that an otherwise not-particularly-remarkable academic has found such favour amongst policy-makers? Are the insights yielded by psychocrats’ research really a sound basis on which to reorganise public institutions? And are psychocrats not using their science as a vehicle for a particular form of politics?

The anxious psychocrat can relax; the point here is not to credit him or her with sufficient nous to have organised a conspiracy, but that they are the useful idiots of people who look up to them as intellectual giants. The point, then, is to put the psychocrat’s anxiety under the microscope — just as we would with any ideology or doctrine that governments embrace.

Grimes and Sunstein have both been bothered by the fact that people not believing the right things seem to present a problem for policymakers. The obvious problem here is that such a worry presumes their own infallibility. Grimes, for instance, as well as much other politically-motivated research into the phenomenon of ‘denial’ (the examples of Lewandowksy and Chris Mooney were given in the previous post) takes belief in climate science as a proxy for belief in science — that to take a sceptical view of climate science is to be ‘anti-science’. The is easily debunked: we can find seemingly respectable scientists and scientific institutions involved with, and fueling most conspiracy theories. The interesting point, however, is the corollary of presuming oneself right is to presume the other is stupid.

More trouble for the pscyhocrat has emerged (hat-tip to Paul Matthews) and is summarised over at Dan Kahan’s Cultural Cognition blog

First, as science comprehension goes up, people become more polarized on climate change.

Still not surprising; tha’s old, old, old, old news.

But second, as science comprehension goes up, so does the perception that there is scientific consensus on climate change—no matter what people’s political outlooks are!

Accordingly, as relatively “right-leaning” individuals become progressively more proficient in making sense of scientific information (a facility reflected in their scores on the Ordinary Science Intelligence assessment, which puts a heavy emphasis on critical reasoning skills), they become simultaneously more likely to believe there is “scientific consensus” on human-caused climate change but less likely to “believe” in it themselves!

[…]

One thing that is clear from these data is that it’s ridiculous to claim that “unfamiliarity” with scientific consensus on climate change “causes” non-acceptance of human-caused global warming.

But that shouldn’t surprise anyone. The idea that public conflict over climate change persists because, even after years and years of “messaging” (including a $300 million social-marketing campaign by Al Gore’s “Alliance for Climate Protection”), ordinary Americans still just “haven’t heard” yet that an overwhelming majority climate scientists believe in AGW is absurd.

[…]

These new data, though, show that acceptance of “scientific consensus” in fact has a weaker relationship to beliefs in climate change in right-leaning members of the public than it does in left-leaning ones.

I can come up w/ various “explanations,” but really, I don’t know what to make of this!

Kahan could save himself some head-scratching by reading this blog, of course. One can take the fact of the consensus for granted without committing to any of the imperatives greens would say it generates. The point being that there is a great deal between observing the effect of CO2 on the planet and claims about what it means — distance which has been obscured by many green advocates’ use of the consensus without regard for its actual substance. Kahan should have realised it, because he’s a relatively able critic of the 97% strategy. That is to say that the paradox is not that so many recalcitrant climate sceptics also hold with ‘the consensus’, but that researchers who aimed to measure the public’s understanding of climate have been largely ignorant to the nuances of the debate, if not extremely partial players in the debate.

Ask a stupid question, as they say…

… And you will get a stupid answer. Thus the psychocrat’s estimation of the public in fact measures only the mind that authored his own facile hypothesis. The more stupid the researcher, the lower his estimation of the public, and concomitantly, the greater utility his work has to psychocracy. This should remind us of Lewandowsky’s attempt to argue otherwise.

Back in 2014, Lewandowsky and Richard Pancost wrote

It is an unfortunate paradox: if you’re bad at something, you probably also lack the skills to assess your own performance. And if you don’t know much about a topic, you’re unlikely to be aware of the scope of your own ignorance.

[…]

Ignorance is associated with exaggerated confidence in one’s abilities, whereas experts are unduly tentative about their performance. This basic finding has been replicated numerous times in many different circumstances. There is very little doubt about its status as a fundamental aspect of human behaviour.

Lewandowsky was attempting to deploy the alledged Dunning-Kruger effect — which claims that people who do less well in tests of their knowledge over-estimate their performance — in his latest salvo in his war on climate scepticism. Sceptics, he argued, were stupid, and thus over-estimated themselves. But it was Lewandowsky who was claiming too much expertise, as was pointed out here.

The professor of psychology makes bold claims. He believes that he understands the entire world’s relationship to the natural world. He believes he understands the natural world, and professes expertise in climate science. And he believes he knows how society should be organised. Surely he is a true Renaissance Man… A polymath… A Renaissance Polymath… Or he is an epic blowhard?

The point of all this is that the pscyhocrat’s real project is to deny democracy. Not purposefully, and not out of some clearly defined malevolent intent, but through bad faith, nonetheless — hubris, at best — the aim is belittle ordinary people, and to elevate whichever university has been canny enough to establish a School of Psychocracy.

What that tendency costs us is the real dynamic that helps us to filter out good ideas and beliefs from the bad — the public contest of ideas. It fosters a condition of mutual cynicism between people and official institutions — the very thing that brings forth conspiracy theories. The upshot of which is that confidence in authorities that we turn to for knowledge — the academy — will be undermined. The slower that the academy responds to the bullshit from within its own corridors, the longer and deeper will be its decline in the public estimation.

I am under orders to make these posts shorter. To to save 3,000 words from what is essentially a bootnote… Sunstain has authored a number of books of interest here.

Mr. Sunstein is author of many articles and books, including Republic.com (2001), Risk and Reason (2002), Why Societies Need Dissent (2003), The Second Bill of Rights (2004), Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (2005), Worst-Case Scenarios (2001), Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (with Richard H. Thaler, 2008), Simpler: The Future of Government (2013) and most recently Why Nudge? (2014) and Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas (2014). He is now working on group decisionmaking and various projects on the idea of liberty

Chiefly amongst these is his attack on the precautionary principle. What I suspect, however, from reading the blurbs, is that rather than wanting to depart from the Precautionary Principle, Sunstein wants to own it more completely. ‘Risk’ being at the centre of his perspective, we can see Sunstein as a victim of Risk Society, and his work very much belonging to that movement, more of which can be read about here and here.

The Grimey "Science" of Conspiracy Theories

David Robert Grimes has emerged from Lewandowsky’s shadow, again, to go forth increase and multiply the bullshit/batshit/bad science quotient of the social and behavioural sciences — as if they needed it. Grimes’s new paper On the Viability of Conspiratorial Beliefs has caused quite a splash and a stink, both of which are clues as the quality of what caused them.

Briefly, Grimes believes that conspiracies and their exposure can be understood mathematically, thus, any enduring conspiracy theory must ergo be bunk. The more massive the conspiracy theory, the greater the chance of exposure. It follows, however, that any paper which proclaims to be “indebted to Profs. Stephan Lewandowsky…” must also contain a massive mathematical black hole. And so it was discovered by stats sleuths who are not known for sympathy with climate scepticism… At Little Atoms, Martin Robbins explained,

It’s a nice idea. Unfortunately the answer is a resounding “no”, and the resulting paper ends up being a sort of case study in how not to do statistics. Inevitably media outlets loved it, and so now news feeds are full of headlines like: “Most conspiracy theories are mathematically impossible,” “The maths equation threatening to disprove conspiracy theories”, “Maths study shows conspiracies ‘prone to unraveling’” and so on and on.

Most peculiarly of all, whereas Grimes’s intent was, in the mannar of Lewandowsky, to direct bad faith at climate sceptics, it was the faithful who first picked up on his work and ran with it, taking the principle as proof of the Resurrection.

Quantum mechanic, Jonathan Jones was amongst the first to point out the error, and submitted a comment to the Journal, PLOS One.

The easiest way to see that the result is nonsense is to look at the failure curves in figure (1). By definition these failure curves must be monotonic. This is most easily seen by plotting 1-L, the survival fraction, which MUST be monotonic downwards. In medical terms the non-monotonic curves correspond to a situation where dead patients spring back into life if you wait long enough.

I thank Adam Jacobs (@statsgukuk) for bringing this paper to my attention and pointing out the underlying flaw, and Ruth Dixon (@ruth_dixon) for helpful discussions,

But there was a deeper issue highlighted by Jones…

This has been made here before. Science — or more precisely, its institutions — demonstrably have failed to do what is expected of them, and what is claimed they do. In this case, to weed out error, bias, and that sort of thing… Things which in fact seem routine in a great deal of academic discussion of climate change — especially when it has emerged from the social, cognitive and behavioural sciences. But more broadly, the failure isn’t just one of process as such, but to sustain a debate.

In many respects, Lewandowsky’s and similar work, if not climate science, is the vindication of many sceptical criticisms of climate science, and the wider academic and scientific enterprise, as I pointed out on Spiked following the ‘recursive fury’ affair:

 Lewandowsky demonstrates that academic institutions do not produce dialogue that has any more merit than the petty exchanges — flame wars –that the internet is famous for. Dressing political arguments up in scientific terminology risks the value of science being lost to society — its potential squandered for an edge in a political fight. After all, if Lewandowsky’s work is representative of the quality of scientific research in general and the standards the academy expects of academics, what does that say about climate science and the quality of the scientific consensus on climate change? If the scientific argument about the link between anthropogenic CO2 and climate change is only as good as Lewandowsky’s claim that ‘Rejection of climate science [is] strongly associated with endorsement of a laissez-faire view of unregulated free markets’, then perhaps climate sceptics should be taken more seriously.

The difference of course, between internet flame wars and cod cognitive science (codnitive science?), is the mathematical apparatus Lewandowsky, and now Grimes, use to obscure, or even to manifest their own prejudices. They would no doubt claim that this is a conspiracy theory, but it seems obvious that the over-emphasis on exotic statistical techniques is the same kind of sophistry and obscurantism as the excessive use of Latin (or German expressions in sociology) in day-to-day speech and text. In the case of Lewandowsky, the use of structural equation modelling (SEM) dazzled any would-be critics, whereas the sample size (never mind the method by which the samples were obtained) really didn’t warrant such a method.

One Twitter assailant recently tried to make the point that, since I didn’t have a working understanding of SEM, I was not well placed to judge Lewandowsky’s work. It might be true, were the results of the SEM so transparently different from what a more straightforward analysis would tell us. But it was as if SEM were telling us that 2 + 2 = 999. Ditto, Lewandowsky’s earlier claim that “uncertainty is not your friend” and that “all other things being equal, greater uncertainty means that things could be worse than we thought” (amongst other statements) ‘arise from simple mathematics’, in fact ‘arose’ out of simple wordplay after the abuse of statistical methods. Lewandowksy was defended in comments and elsewhere on the basis that the term ‘expected’ has nuanced meaning in statistics, which were beyond my understanding. ‘Simple mathematics’ had nothing to do with it, and Lewandowsky’s adventures with methodologies continued…

… And that lax attitude towards method was borrowed by others hoping to intervene in the climate debate, to make statements about climate change ‘deniers’. It’s as though calculus could be used to show that ‘climate sceptics are pooh-pooh heads, nerr nerrr nerr nerrrr nerr’.

The question is, then, to what extent should those of us without the necessary technical expertise be intimidated or alienated by its use? The answer is surely how much the claim any paper makes requires an understanding of the method. Do we need an understanding of degree-level statistics to understand the claims being made in Grimes’s work on conspiracy theories?

No.

Grimes has been the subject of a post here before. In 2014, he claimed in the Guardian that “Denying climate change isn’t scepticism – it’s ‘motivated reasoning’“.

The grim findings of the IPCC last year reiterated what climatologists have long been telling us: the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate, and we’re to blame. Despite the clear scientific consensus, a veritable brigade of self-proclaimed, underinformed armchair experts lurk on comment threads the world over, eager to pour scorn on climate science. Barrages of ad hominem attacks all too often await both the scientists working in climate research and journalists who communicate the research findings.

And as was pointed out here, Grimes had not understood the consensus properly, and worse, not understood sceptics’ objections to the putative consensus at all.

The IPCC, of course, do not make quite such a claim. Grimes produces a grotesque and value-laden over-simplification. Of the thousands of lines of evidence evaluated by the IPCC, the response from the sceptics is not, as Grimes would have it, a simple negation of a single proposition, but instead consists of a range of criticisms and questions, about each of them.

Even if Grimes accurately presented the scientific consensus, he still doesn’t explain the debate, because he does not even attempt to explain the sceptic’s counter-position. There is no scientific debate in the world where this would be acceptable to the academic community. Yet this mythology persists, and is sustained, in large part by academics.

Grimes, in other words, was picking a battle with the climate sceptics in his head. The sum total of his attempts to understand the debate is as follows:

DRG

Grimes has no right to claim insight into the arguments of climate sceptics. A fitting analogy to Grimes shutting himself from the objects of his study would be a climate scientist smashing his own thermometers, satellite data, etc.

His new paper begins:

Conspiratorial beliefs, which attribute events to secret manipulative actions by powerful individuals, are widely held [1] by a broad-cross section of society.

Is this true? Moreover, is it the best way to begin to understand the phenomenon of ‘conspiratorial beliefs’? The authority of the claim seemingly lies in a paper from political theorists, Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, which can be downloaded here. The paper doesn’t in fact measure the breadth or depth of adherence to conspiracy theories, but does refer to them…

In August 2004, a poll by Zogby International showed that 49 per cent of New York City residents, with a margin of error of 3.5 percent, believed that officials of the U.S. government “knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and that they consciously failed to act.” [2] In a Scripps-Howard Poll in 2006, with an error margin of 4 percent, some 36 percent of respondents assented to the claim that “federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center or took no action to stop them.” [3] Sixteen percent said that it was either very likely or somewhat likely that “the collapse of the twin towers in New York was aided by explosives secretly planted in the two buildings.”

Grimes reports these already second hand figures Nth hand. There is deeper problem here, for the following understanding of ‘conspiracy theories’, and it should be very obvious. It should be as obvious as a pair of huge skyscrapers, aircraft crashing into them, igniting balls of flame, the murder of 3,000 people, followed by more than a decade of war, involving many countries, the descent of many countries into civil conflict, and the emergence of a brutal religious cult that posts videos of beheadings to the internet.

The least sensible place to begin polling people to measure the prevalence of ‘conspiracy ideation’ in society is at ground zero. People in New York likely had very good reason to ask whether agencies had done their job — doubts about which are the first condition of conspiracy ‘ideation’. That is not to say that there is any merit in ‘truther’ conspiracy theories, but that a massive, painful event, to which most people in the City would likely have some kind of personal connection, is going to skew any statistical test of what and how people to think — the very ground that reason existed on had been destroyed, just a few years earlier.

The enormity of such an event to people living near it fractures people’s understanding of the world, and tests their faith in government and its institutions, for obvious reasons.

Sunstein & Vermeule continue, with polls from elsewhere, but which are no less remarkable for their being distinctly troubled times or places…

Among sober-minded Canadians, a September 2006 poll found that 22 percent believe that “the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 had nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden and were actually a plot by influential Americans.” [5] In a poll conducted in seven Muslim countries, 78 percent of respondents said that they do not believe the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Arabs.[6] The most popular account, in these countries, is that 9/11 was the work of the U.S. or Israeli governments. [7]

The poll of Canadians is surprising, but there’s no way to see if Sunstein & Vermeule have accurately reported what they, too, only read in a newspaper. Again, they report second hand, and not necessarily from rigorous sources. Reference #5 links not to the poll but to a Reuters article. The poll, taken by Ipsos, is behind a paywall. But we can glean a bit more from the poll’s sponsors, the National Post, which also reported

More than one in four people — 28% — reported that in comparison to everything else that has taken place in their lives, the attacks were “life altering” and they have “never been the same since.”

Researchers purporting to investigate conspiracy theories — i.e. Grimes and Lewandowsky — claim that they emerge as clusters, and that political ideology ‘predicts’ conspiracy theory ideation. But a better predictor of people’s views of the world might be things that happen in the world, which demand but defeat explanation. Yes, the who and what of the 9/11 attacks are straightforward, but the why, and the response, and the rest of what followed are far from transparent.

By 2006, across the West — or at least the populations of the ‘coalition of the willing’ — the War on Terror had transformed people’s understanding of the world, and relationships between individuals and the state. Thousands of families had lost sons. Across the ‘Muslim world’, hundreds of thousands of civilians had been killed in conflict, and in several countries, social order had almost entirely collapsed, and what there was was sustained only by military occupation. Other countries were identified as belonging to an ‘axis of evil’. The notion, then that 9-11 was some kind of ‘inside job’ may well have been the vulgar form of the observation that terror had become, not only a pretext for war, but also a pretext for aggressive domestic policies and a new role for the state. The observation that politics in Britain, at least, became more remote from ordinary people in the post-911 world, is not a conspiracy theory.

That is to say that context is overlooked when making simplistic judgements about ‘conspiracy theories’. They do not form in vacuums, but in vacuums of power, and in chaos, where the world is hard to understand. To ignore this fundamental dynamic of ‘conspiracy ideation’ is to completely eschew reason, and to embrace something far more irrational than any conspiracy theory.

The fact that people in Muslim countries might not accept the official account of what happened on 9/11 either should be no surprise. The paper cited by Sunstein & Vermeule is here [PDF]. Here are the poll’s results in a table.

jOfEconomicPerspectives

The text under the table explains:

Roughly 80 percent of the overall sample don’t believe that Arabs committed the September 11 attacks, and the breakdown by country is shown in the second column of Table 1

Well, hold on a minute… 80% of respondents, perhaps. But there is some fairly radical difference between the individual countries where polling took place. Not to relativise the point about context too much, but the War on Terror spilled over into these countries, with far-reaching consequences for politics across the region, and there was a growing feeling that the Western allies were aggressors. Are we really talking about conspiracy theories here? It simply doesn’t seem to be a safe proposition to me, to report opinion near war zones as ‘conspiracy theory’.

Nonetheless, Grimes continues.

“Belief in one conspiracy theory is often correlated with belief in others, and some stripe of conspiratorial belief is ubiquitous across diverse social and racial groups [2].”

The basis for this claim is Ted Goertzel’s Belief in Conspiracy Theories, published in Political Psychology in 1994.

A survey of 348 residents of southwestern New Jersey showed that most believed that several of a list of 10 conspiracy theories were at least probably true. People who believed in one conspiracy were more likely to also believe in others. Belief in conspiracies was correlated with anomia, lack of interpersonal trust, and insecurity about employment. Black and hispanic respondents were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories than were white respondents. Young people were slightly more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, but there were few significant correlations with gender, educational level, or occupational category.

It is though Grimes cannot read.  The paper concludes:

Most respondents are inclined to believe that several of a list of conspiracies are probably or definitely true. The tendency to believe in conspiracies is correlated with anomia, with a lack of trust in other people, and with feelings of insecurity about unemployment. It is also more common among black and hispanic respondents than among white respondents, at least for this New Jersey sample. The correlations with minority status do not disappear when anomia, trust level and insecurity about unemployment are controlled, although it is true that minorities in the sample are more anomic, distrustful and insecure about their job opportunities.

The finding of Goertzel is almost the opposite of what Grimes claims — trust, insecurity and anomia are predictors of ‘conspiracy ideation’, and which are also prevalent amongst certain social classes and racial groups more than others.

Goertzel’s was a small study of just one place — New Jersey — decades ago. To draw from this conclusions about what is (or is not) ‘ubiquitous across diverse social and racial groups’ from this single study is simple bullshit of the first order. There are many reasons why ‘conspiracy ideation’ might have been especially common in New Jersey in the mid 1990s, the country’s recent history just one of them. One such factor considered by Goertzel was the resurgence of interest in the assassination of John Kennedy, presumably provoked by the declassification of certain documents.

We are barely half way through Grimes’s opening paragraph, yet we can already see that he has taken significant liberties with the research he is citing. He takes what the abstract admits is merely “A survey of 348 residents of southwestern New Jersey” to make claims about all society! He takes opinion at Ground Zero and from those on the receiving end of the War on Terror — all but a war zone, in fact, where there is massive social and political upheaval — as representative of of what is ‘ubiquitous’. And that is his starting point! Just two sentences into his paper, and Grimes has outright fibbed!

He continues…

We shall clarify the working definition of conspiracy theory here as being in line the characterisation of Sunstein et al [1] as “an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who attempt to conceal their role (at least until their aims are accomplished)”. While the modern usage of conspiracy theory is often derogatory (pertaining to an exceptionally paranoid and ill-founded world-view) the definition we will use does not a priori dismiss all such theories as inherently false.

Let’s go with the definition of ‘conspiracy theory’… And the intention not to make judgements about them sounds good, right… But it is immediately withdrawn:

However, even with this disclaimer, there are a disconcerting number of conspiracy theories which enjoy popular support and yet are demonstrably nonsensical.

The case which Grimes uses to illustrate the ‘demonstrable nonsense’ is the case of vaccinations…

This is particularly true of conspiracies over scientific and medical issues where conspiratorial ideation can lead to outright opposition to and rejection of the scientific method [3]. This can be exceptionally detrimental, not only to believers but to society in general; conspiratorial beliefs over medical interventions such as vaccination, for example, can have potentially lethal consequence [4]. Conspiratorial thinking is endemic in anti-vaccination groups, with those advocating the scientific and medical consensus often regarded as agents of some ominous interest group bent on concealing “the truth”.

Grimes is wrong to say that conspiracy theories about vaccines lead to either ‘opposition to’ or ‘rejection of’ the scientific method. And it demonstrates furthermore that Grimes simply hasn’t been following the debates he is seeking to shed light on. This is not to say that the anti-vaccine argument has any merit, but that it was not, as he frames it, anti science. In fact, the most prominent anti-vaccine controversy (in the UK, at least) was started by a scientist, promoted by scientific institutions, and then antagonised by their reactions to what they themselves had caused.

In 1998, the Lancet published an article by Andrew Wakefield which suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and developmental disorder. As Brendan O’Neill observed, Andrew Wakefield didn’t cause the MMR panic on his own — in fact the Lancet gave his paper legitimacy (just as PLOS now gives Grimes’s nonsense a platform) which was compounded by the witch hunt that the duped journal and scientific medical establishment then threw itself did as much to promote the conspiracy story as did any fraudulent claim by the researcher. The point here is not just about bad PR handling of a case like the MMR affair, it is that something about public and scientific institutions which makes them first prone to garbage, and then to over act in response to its own failing — like rather gracelessly trying to recover from an accidental trip, to save face.

Similarly, it was no less a scientifically-enlightened organisation than the British Medical Association (BMA) who wrote, in 2004 that, ‘of all the available research is that there is very little potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects’, but that ‘research is still needed in key areas to allay remaining concern about the potential risks to human health and the environment’.

The BMA’s stumbling around with the precautionary principle caused the then president of the Royal Society, Bob May’s blood to boil. But he was not against a little conspiracy theorising of his own. Writing in the TLS in 2007, May said,

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

Not only was the president of the Royal Society actively promoting a conspiracy theory, he was also revising the organisation’s motto, entirely inverting the scientific ethic of ‘on the word of no one’.

Just as it was the UK’s <i>leading</i> scientific institutions which most promotes conspiracy theories, it is its own members which most promote anti science. Bob May’s successor, in his own prognosticating, wrote an entire book about how the power unleashed by science means our chances of surviving the 21st century are just 50/50:

reesBook

 Amazon: For many technological debacles, Rees places much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the scientists who participate in perfecting environmental destruction, biological menaces, and ever-more powerful weapons. So is there any hope for humanity? Rees is vaguely optimistic on this point, offering solutions that would require a level of worldwide cooperation humans have yet to exhibit. If the daily news isn’t enough to make you want to crawl under a rock, this book will do the trick.

In other words, Britain’s leading scientific bureaucrats are the most ‘anti-science’, on Grimes’ own terms. Rees can think of more reasons not to do science than to allow it.

You will have seen that the provenance of Grimes’s claim that conspiracy theories reject the scientific method is of course… Lewandowsky. Grimes and Lewandowsky repeat the mistake made by fellow climate warrior, Chris Mooney, who believes that the structures of people’s brains can explain their political beliefs, and that nasty conservatives have something wrong with theirs. Back in 2011, Mooney believed that there was a ‘war on science’. It’s a shrill cry that has been made many times when there has been a debate with a scientific dimension: both sides accuse the other of ‘denying’, and the such like, not just within the climate wars.

But the claim that there are people who are ‘anti-science’ and that there is a ‘war on science’ simply doesn’t stand up to inspection. Whether the dispute is over vaccination, intelligent design, atomic energy, genetically-modified crops or climate change, the unfashionable camp’s complaints are rarely against science, and are indeed framed — at least superficially — in scientific terms. Right or wrong, intelligent design takes the form of an empirical argument, just as Grimes’s argument was used to prove the Resurrection. In other words, the language of science and numbers seems to have usurped the authority of the literal word of the Bible, the church, and so on. Hardly anti-science. Anti-vaccination and anti-GM groups, too, have their scientific heroes, as the Royal Society learned to its cost when it tried to fight a PR war against green organisations in the 1990s and 2000s, and as the Lancet discovered when it created one.

What lies behind Mooney’s, Lewandowsky’s and Grimes’s claim that there is an anti-science movement, is not in fact an argument for, or defence of the ‘scientific method’, but for the authority of scientific institutions which embody it. This was pointed out in my response to Mooney:

Mooney emphasises not simply the scientific method, but the institutional apparatus of scientific practice as its extension as the means to ruling out the subjective influences that may beset a ‘value-free investigation’. ‘Institutionalized skepticism’ (or ‘institutionalised scepticism’, this side of the Atlantic) serves as the filter of bad ideas, presumably by operating according to the principles that Bacon — and philosophers of science since — have laid down, but not merely those principles. Scientific authority, in other words, comes by virtue of some form of social organisation: institutional science. Mooney’s conception of scientific authority begins to look a lot more political now.

And it is now obvious that those lumped into the categories ‘anti-science’ and ‘conspiracy theorists’ in fact claim that the science supports their arguments — they claim the authority of science, not deny it. Moreover, the agents of those causes emerge from within scientific institutions. If Grimes is right then, that ‘there are a disconcerting number of conspiracy theories which enjoy popular support and yet are demonstrably nonsensical’, then at best, that phenomenon in general has nothing to do with pro-vs-anti science.

This speaks to the somewhat bizarre preoccupation those studying ‘conspiracy theories’ in relation to ‘science’ seem to have. Sunstein and Vermeule were at least concerned with political conspiracy theories:

Consider, for example, the beliefs that prolonged exposure to sunlight is actually healthy and that climate change is neither occurring nor likely to occur. These beliefs are (in our view) both false and dangerous, but as stated, they do not depend on, or posit, any kind of conspiracy theory.

Grimes presumably read that, but disagreed.

The logic of Grimes’s claim seems to be, then, that to “deny” what he believes to be the scientific consensus must be to embrace a conspiracy theory to account for its existence. He continues,

the framing of climate-change as a hoax creates needless uncertainty in public discourse, and increases the risk of damaging inertia instead of corrective action. The dismissal of scientific findings as a hoax also has a political element; a 2011 study found conservative white males in the US were far more likely than other Americans to deny climate change [6]. Similarly, a UK study found that climate-change denialism was more common among politically conservative individuals with traditional values [7]. The public acceptance of climate-change conspiracy transcends the typical wide-ranging domain of conspiratorial belief; a 2013 investigation by Lewandowsky et al [8] found that while subjects who subscribed to conspiracist thought tended to reject all scientific propositions they encountered, those with strong traits of conservatism or pronounced free-market world views only tended towards rejecting scientific findings with regulatory implications at odds with their ideological position.

[…]

Climate-change denial has a deep political dimension [7, 8]. Despite the overwhelming strength of evidence supporting the scientific consensus of anthropogenic global warming [17], there are many who reject this consensus. Of these, many claim that climate-change is a hoax staged by scientists and environmentalists [18–20], ostensibly to yield research income. Such beliefs are utterly negated by the sheer wealth of evidence against such a proposition, but remain popular due to an often-skewed false balance present in partisan media [20, 21], resulting in public confusion and inertia.

To argue that climate scientists merely seek to ‘yield research income’ is not a conspiracy theory. It may be blunt, but accusing researchers of grant-seeking is a judgement about individuals, not an organised attempt to grab political power through illegitimate means. After all, it is no more implausible that researchers research for money than oilmen pull oil out of the ground for the same.

Moreover, there is a more sophisticated argument that research grants necessarily encourage a positive view of the ‘consensus’. It is obviously true, for instance, that if you were to apply for a position at or research funding through a university department that specialises in climate research of one form or another, you’re likely to be sent packing. Two of those schools, of course are the School of Psychology and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, both at Cardiff University. Yet researchers from these schools were the authors of one of the articles (number 7) cited by Grimes…

Uncertain climate: An investigation into public scepticism about anthropogenic climate change

This study presents a detailed investigation of public scepticism about climate change in Britain using the trend, attribution, and impact scepticism framework of Rahmstorf (2004). The study found that climate scepticism is currently not widespread in Britain. Although uncertainty and scepticism about the potential impacts of climate change were fairly common, both trend and attribution scepticism were far less prevalent. It further showed that the different types of scepticism are strongly interrelated. Although this may suggest that the general public does not clearly distinguish between the different aspects of the climate debate, there is a clear gradation in prevalence along the Rahmstorf typology. Climate scepticism appeared particularly common among older individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds who are politically conservative and hold traditional values; while it is less common among younger individuals from higher socio-economic backgrounds who hold self-transcendence and environmental values. The finding that climate scepticism is rooted in people’s core values and worldviews may imply a coherent and encompassing sceptical outlook on climate change. However, attitudinal certainty appeared mainly concentrated in non-sceptical groups, suggesting that climate sceptical views are not held very firmly. Implications of the findings for climate change communication and engagement are discussed.

That last sentence is key. Whereas we imagine governments in liberal democracies largely to respond to people’s wishes, under the rubric of climate change and other issues, government and its agencies increasingly seek to change behaviour and modify attitudes towards policies that have already been determined. “Communication” means it’s opposite: not a two way street, or dialogue, but giving people the ‘messages’ they need to hear in order to do what the government wishes — an inversion of democratic government. “Communication” is to dialogue what shouting is to a nice friendly chat. And it is under this inverted system that academics’ roles have also been inverted as they have become ‘communicators’. One of the study’s authors, for example, is a director at the Cardiff School of Psychology:

I am Professor of Environmental Psychology and Director of the Understanding Risk Research Group within the School. I work on risk, risk perception, and risk communication and as such my research is interdisciplinary at the interface of social psychology, environmental sciences, and science and technology studies. I am currently researching public responses to energy technologies (e.g. nuclear power, renewable energy), climate change risks, and climate geoengineering. I have in the past led numerous policy oriented projects on issues of public responses to environmental risk issues and on ‘science in society’ for UK Government Departments, the Research Councils, the Royal Society, and Charities. I am currently a member of the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change’s Science Advisory Group (SAG), and theme leader for the Climate Change Consortium for Wales.

In more honest times, Nick Pidgeon would have been called a professor of propaganda. He also sits on the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s Science Advisory Group (SAG).

The point being made here is not a conspiracy theory. It does, however, claim that the relationships between individuals, the government, statutory bodies and the academy have transformed over the years. And it does claim that there is something unhealthy about this change, which is corrosive to democracy in society, and diversity of opinion within the campus, with consequences for science and for politics. Might it not be the case that what is being responded to is not as much the ‘science’ as such, but the process by which that science has been produced, and, as is observed here, the sheer volume of politics is smuggled out with it?

After all, consider Grimes’s claim that “Climate-change denial has a deep political dimension”. This surely works two ways. There demonstrably is a political dimension to climate change research. And there has been, since at least the early days of the United Nations environmental bodies and their summits, increasing political significance in the environment. That is to say that, whether or not any environmental concern was legitimate, global and powerful political institutions have been established to deal with them. As it happens, however, most of those claims, per Ehrlich, have been bunk. And yet academic researchers have been increasingly drawn into those claims — most latterly, the likes of Pidgeon are brought into government to consult on how best to ‘communicate’.

Consider, moreover, what vexes us climate change sceptics most. Is it, as Grimes claims, ‘the overwhelming strength of evidence supporting the scientific consensus of anthropogenic global warming’ or is it the bullshit passed off as science produced by himself and Lewandowsky, for such nakedly political ends?

To say that the planet has warmed is one thing. To say that the direct impacts of that warming on the world are another. To make claims that the social or economic consequences of those effects are such-and-such is yet another thing. To claim that those effects will be non-trivial is yet another order of claim. To say that those effects will be catastrophic, or even terminal is yet another. Each is a step further away from concrete foundations in science and towards increasingly value-laden and ideologically-loaded presuppositions — the imperatives of climate change. And to say that critics of any step betray their own prejudices doesn’t simply require another leap; it requires a total lack of self-awareness. The point then, is that the likes of Grimes hiding his own political motivations behind statistical methods and the ‘scientific consensus’ isn’t as much the work of a conspiracy as it is simply the expression of bad faith. We can see the transformation of politics and of the nature of ‘policy-oriented’ research. And we can see the bad faith at work in Grimes & Lewandowsky. So why is it not possible to say that political-motivations and bad faith exist in climate science?

If ambiguous concepts like ‘conspiracy theory’ can be the subject of academic investigations with consequence, then so too — and so should — academic bad faith become the subject of a much broader, and no less objective a discussion. There will be no need of elaborate statistical techniques, because it is so easy to demonstrate. If Lewandowskyites want to instead mend science’s authority by making the recalcitrant public the objects of their studies, and to seal themselves off from scrutiny, they could not follow a better course of action that would further demonstrate to the public the bad faith of academic institutions.

That is to say that academic bullshit is enduring, not because of a conspiracy which all academics are party to, but because, as Jonathan Jones pointed out, academic institutions aren’t auditing themselves. Academia is no longer the venue of an exchange of ideas. And academics are being revealed to have very normal, very human traits. Perhaps because of the expansion of universities, qualification inflation the quality of academic research seems to have diminished. Moreover, as there has been pressure on researchers to produce ‘relevant’ research, so the purpose of research has coincided with the policy — if not the political — agenda.

Grimes’s own palpable misapprehension of the climate debate, its players, context and history are an extremely good reason to question climate science.

Freedom to Invent ‘Information’

Back in June, chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) John Gummer, aka Lord Deben, appeared on BC Radio 4’s Today programme to talk about the CCC’s new report , ‘Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change: 2015 Progress Report to Parliament‘. The report purports to detail ‘progress towards meeting carbon budgets and progress on adaptation to climate change’, but the interview deviated from the report. In his reply to challenges from the interviewer, John Humpphys, Gummer made a number of statements about the consequences of climate change, and of critics of climate change policy, all of which struck me as entirely groundless to the point of being little more than Gummer’s fantasy.

In particular, note Gummer’s claims that the CCC’s analysis is not based on models, and that critics of his preferred policies – and even Humphrys himself – are the victims of a Big Oil conspiracy…

John Humphrys: The climate is changing and the world is getting hotter and that’s going to cause problems. But what problems? And what – if anything – should we be doing about it now? The Committee on Climate Change has just published a report and says this country must take urgent action. Its chairman is Lord Deben – good morning to you.

Lord Deben: Good morning.

John Humphrys: What action?

Lord Deben: Well, the government has a whole series of programmes in play, but they all come to a conclusion, an end, in 2020. The trouble is, people need to know what’s going to happen after 2020 if they’re going to put the investment in new arrangements for generation, low-carbon generation, for example, new arrangements for better heating for homes, doing something about our infrastructure and also doing something about the serious matter of the decline in the fertility of our soil. Those are the four major things, and the government has to act very quickly, otherwise we will lose the investment and all that we’ve done up to now will come to a stop.

John Humphrys: Can’t we wait and see?

Lord Deben: If we wait and see, it’ll be much more expensive and of course the climate will then become much more difficult to live in, even in this country, with much short – with much greater numbers of heatwaves one end and flooding at the other, and some parts of the country, like the east of England, with very little water and other parts with huge amounts of water. And we will be better off there than many of the countries of the world, and one of the most remarkable things, if you take the country you’ve just talked about – Bangladesh – Bangladesh will practically be unable to be lived in, if we do not halt the march of climate change, and we’ll have 170 million displaced people wandering around the world, looking for somewhere to live. We can’t wait for that – we have to put it right, now.

John Humphrys: And your critics will say: everything you’ve just said, pretty much, is based on computer modelling, and computer modelling is often wrong.

Lord Deben: No critic is taken seriously any longer. The science is not based on computer modelling – it’s based upon a whole range of intricate, very careful measuring of the situation, over 30 years, and we know that what we say is absolutely true. The only people who oppose it are people who have a very vested interest from the fossil fuel industry, who are spending billions of pounds, trying to get people like you to say that, in order to confuse people. The science is now stronger than the connection between smoking and health, so if you want to take the risk, you can smoke as much as you like but that would be your health – if you take the risk with the climate, it’s everyone else’s health.

John Humphrys: And of course you may be absolutely right about all of that – the problem is when you use the sort of language that you’ve just used, people will say “He makes it sound more like a religion than a science. You’re not allowed not to believe”.

Lord Deben: Well, I’m not saying that you’re not allowed not to believe – what you’re not allowed to do is to believe that there’s no risk. You don’t need to believe in climate change – what you have to say is: as every learned society in the world warns you of the risk, you’d be a very bad father of a family that said “I know best”. If even the Pope comes out and says “This is a serious risk”, you wouldn’t be a very sensible person to say “I know better than everyone else”. Even if you were right, you would have to take into account this very serious risk. It’s not a religion, it’s a fact of saying: this is what the science says, these are what the facts are, you can ignore them but if you do so, you take a very large risk, one which most people wouldn’t want to take.

John Humphrys: Lord Deben, many thanks.

Gummer has long struck me as the epitome of political environmentalism. Intransigent, insincere, mediocre and self-righteous, greens will brook no dissent. To dissent is to bring on the Apocalypse, and to voice dissent is to do the Devil’s own PR. As a peer, Gummer is not a democratically-appointed politician. As chair of the CCC, he is a technocrat. And as a man charged with overseeing the UK’s climate policies, but with interests in green companies – and an entourage of green ‘entrepreneurs’ – he is conflicted. It amazes me that any media take him seriously at all. This strikes me as a deeply problematic mixture of shortcomings.

The problem of taking Gummer at face value, as the chair of an ‘independent’ body with statutory responsibilities to provide clear advice to Parliament is that, as wonderful an idea as technocracies seem, they are rarely so unimpeachable. Gummer is as hostile to democratic debate about climate change as he is hostile to criticism. It seems to me that the shortcomings of environmentalists as individuals has been institutionalised, meaning that the CCC (and many other bodies) exist on the wrong side of a substantial democratic deficit and have no interest in closing. Gummer, like many green politicians and technocrats, defends that deficit with alarmism, conspiracy theories and slander.

If Gummer, appearing on the BBC as the chair of the CCC, makes the claim that we will see ‘much greater numbers of heatwaves one end and flooding at the other, and some parts of the country, like the east of England, with very little water and other parts with huge amounts of water’, and that ‘Bangladesh will practically be unable to be lived in’, and that these prognostications are not the result of computer modelling, and that those who say otherwise ‘are people who have a very vested interest from the fossil fuel industry’, with budgets of ‘billions of pounds’, can we believe that ‘we know that what [the CCC] say is absolutely true’? Can the CCC or its chair support his claims?

I sent an FOI to the CCC, asking them to provide the evidence for Deben’s statements. The long exchange is copied below this blog post.

What is revealed by the exchange is that the CCC cannot support Gummer’s claims. In their responses, they throw much in the way to obfuscate the reality that Gummer’s predictions were barely grounded even on computer modelling, and were far from uncontroversial, even within consensus climate science. The get-out clause, however, is that Gummer was speaking to the BBC in a ‘personal capacity’.

This is an excuse I have heard via FOI requests before, which is referred to in the FOI response from the CCC, in correspondence between CCC and DECC/BIS officials.

Back in 2013, I asked the DECC to explain comments by the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey:

From: Ben Pile Sent: 22 June 2013
To: deccfoi
Subject: Foi Request – Davey speech 18 June.

Dear Sir,

On 18 June, Ed Davey made a speech at at Residence Palace, Brussels, which is published on the DECC website at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/edward-davey-speech-ambitious-and-flexible-europes-2030-framework-for-emissions-reduction.

Davey: “The science is solid and accepted by pretty much every government on earth. Of course there will always be those with a vested interest in the status quo. Who seek to create doubt where there is certainty. And you will always get crackpots and conspiracy theorists who will deny they have a nose on their face if it suits them. But the truth is this: while forecasts of the future rate at which the world will warm differ, and while many accept we will see periods when warming temporarily plateaus, all the scientific evidence is in one direction.”

Davey’s comments — now published by DECC — seem to refer to arguments made by individuals or organisations in the wider debate about climate and energy policy. However, these parties were not named. Moreover, nor were any specific claims made by these parties addressed by Davey given any substance.

I am sure that the comments made by Davey in his speech reflect the best scientific advice and research, and an impartial view of the arguments for and against the policies he is advancing.

However, in the interests of clarity and an informed debate, I believe the Secretary of State should be more candid about who he is addressing his arguments to, and what the substance of their arguments is. I would like the following questions to be treated as a FOI request.

1. Who are the parties with ‘vested interests’ referred to by Davey?

2. By what means was Davey made aware of these ‘vested interests’?

3. Who are the ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’ referred to by Davey?

4. By what means was Davey made aware of these ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’?

5. What is the science, referred to by Davey, which is contradicted by the ‘vested interests’ and ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’?

6. How do the arguments advanced by ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’ and ‘vested interests’ contradict the science?

7. What is Davey’s (or the department’s) evidence that ‘vested interests’ and ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’ have had an impact on the wider debate?

8. Has the department had an internal discussion, or commissioned any research — internally or externally — that identifies these ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’ and ‘vested interests’, and evaluates their arguments? If such discussions or research exist, may I see them?

Many thanks,

Ben Pile.

The answer was as follows:

From: deccfoi Sent: 25 July 2013
To: Ben Pile
Subject: FOI reply

[…]

In answer to your questions 1-5, we do not hold recorded information within scope of these questions. As is made clear in the statement Edward Davey’s intent was not to point to any particular group or party, but to the practice of public relations and lobbying in all areas of public governance, some arguing for change, some arguing for no change, and how it can sometimes be reflected unchallenged in some sections of the media. His comments were informed by his personal experience, including as a member of Parliament. The scientific evidence that Edward Davey referred to in his speech comes from the published peer-reviewed work of many research groups in the UK and around the world and from the published assessments undertaken by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other organisations, including the Royal Society, the US National Academies of Science and the Committee on Climate Change. In answer to your questions 6 and 7, Edward Davey did not make the specific claims to which you refer in his speech, and we do not hold recorded information within scope of these questions.

[…]

If the conspiracy that Davey and Gummer believes exists, they would surely be able to produce the evidence of their existence. The only conspiracy that there is evidence of is the collaboration of civil servants to avoid answering difficult questions put to politicians about their unsupportable claims:

From: Witty, Hannah (CCC) [xxxxxxx@theccc.gsi.gov.uk] Sent: 09 July 2015 11:25 To: XXXXXXXXX (Strategy) Subject: FOI advice

Hi XXXXXXX

We have received an interesting FoI and I’d like to discuss it with an expert. Do you have contact details for anyone in DECC who can help me? I’ve attached the request.

Regards,

Hannah

From: XXXXXXXX ( (Strategy) [mailto:xxxxxxxxxx@decc.gsi.gov.uk] Sent: 09 July 2015 11:44 To: Witty, Hannah (CCC) Cc: XXXXXXXXX (Strategy); XXXXXXXX@bis.gsi.gov.uk Subject: FW: FOI advice

Hi Hannah,

Copying in XXXX who is our FOI adviser.

Thanks,

XXXXX

From: Witty, Hannah (CCC) [xxxxxxx@theccc.gsi.gov.uk] Sent: 09 July 2015 11:56 To: XXXXXXXXX (Strategy) Cc: XXXXXXXXXX (Strategy); XXXXXXXXX (ITD) Subject: RE: FOI advice

Thanks XXXXX

XXXX – would it be possible to have a quick chat about this one?

Thanks,

Hannah

From: XXXXXXXX (ITD) [mailto XXXXXXX@bis.gsi.gov.uk] Sent: 09 July 2015 13:03 To: Witty, Hannah (CCC) Subject: RE: FOI advice

Hannah

Thanks for calling about this request.

DECC have answered some similar requests. 13/0795 was from the same requester about evidence relating to a speech by Ed Davey. The reply includes the line:

His comments were informed by his personal experience, including as a member of Parliament.

EIR 2014-24122 is a reply from the DECC Climate Science team for a request about the evidence for global warming. It referred to a lot of published sources of scientific information – not all technically ‘held’ by DECC.

These may not exactly match your case but might be helpful in drafting the answer. If you want to send over the draft answer I can have a look at it.

Hope this helps

XXXXXXXX

Of course, it is not really a surprise that there is no way of getting senior politicians to account for the absurd claims they make. But it’s not good enough either, that there is a pretence that ministers and senior technocrats develop policy on the basis of evidence, and that such information is available to the public, and that ‘personal opinion’ is the get-out-FOI-free card for such individuals who make statements they cannot support. Neither Davey or Gummer were asked to speak in public for their ‘personal opinions’, but in their capacities as heads of public bodies, which are funded by the tax-payer, and which are responsible for important decisions, affecting millions of people’s lives and livelihoods. Radio 4’s Today programme is not some phone-in. And the Residence Palace, Brussels is not some bar where ordinary people drink and chew the fat, but was the location where Davey gave his speech, outlining the UK government’s proposals for a ‘European Union Energy and Climate framework’.

In particular, this problem seems pervasive in debates environmental and energy policy. Which is ironic, given the emphasis put on ‘evidence’, ‘consensus’ and ‘the science’.

The fact that statutory bodies and ministerial departments cannot support the claims and conspiracy theories that their top staff issue in public, in support of far-reaching policies and international agreements should prompt more reflection from them.

The public was able to make a choice about Ed Davey and his party. His constituents threw him out of Parliament at the General Election this year.

But the public has no freedom to do the same with Gummer, nor any member of the CCC, which was created by the Climate Change Act, 2008. A cross-party consensus prohibited debate on that act, which was passed by a huge majority. That consensus affords climate champions like Gummer and Davey some security – freedom, in other words, to make stuff up to advance their agenda. Until, that is, the public finally gets their say, as they have had their about Davey, and also his predecessor Miliband. (It was a judge and jury who decided Huhne’s fate).

Climate policy makers, then, have been unpopular, but secure, protected by cross-party political consensus, and by being established outside of proper democratic oversight. In a bubble, in other words.

In the cosy environs of such a bubble, there is no debate, no public to answer to. Political ambition can thrive – or rather, fester. Energy policies and international agreements have not been robustly challenged. When reality threatens to prick the bubble, the pricks within in get nervous.

That is why Gummer et al are forced to invent stories about climate change, and conspiracy theories to explain away criticism of their political agenda and the failure of their policies.

Neither Gummer nor the CCC are fit for purpose. It has not provided sensible advice to parliament, but has been a vehicle for its chairs’ political ambitions and its members and their cronies’ business interests.

If it were otherwise, Lord Deben – John Gummer – would not have needed to fib about the immediacy and extent of climate change, and and would not have fibbed about the critics of those policies. It cannot be said that John Gummer isn’t fibbing. He had the opportunity to explain what the basis of his claims are, but refused. And he can’t claim to be acting in good faith. He has denied the public the opportunity to hear an honest rebuttal to the criticism that has been made about his advice, and the direction of UK energy and climate policy — criticism which has at last begun to change the direction of policy, much to his annoyance. And he can’t claim to simply be ignorant of the facts, since he is appointed precisely to be informed about them.

 


FOI Correspondence:

 

FOI REQUEST TO CCC

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to request information under the Freedom of Information Act regarding Lord Deben’s comments during his interview on BBC Radio4’s Today Programme this morning.

Lord Deben was introduced by John Humphrys as Chair of the CCC, following the publication today of your report, ‘Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change: 2015 Progress Report to Parliament’.

Lord Deben claimed that climate change will cause “much greater numbers of heatwaves one end and flooding at the other, and some parts of the country, like the east of England, with very little water andother parts with huge amounts of water”, and that “Bangladesh will practically be unable to be lived in”, which will in turn cause “170million displaced people wandering around the world”.

John Humphries pointing out that “critics” would point to the problems of computer modelling: “everything you’ve just said, pretty much, is based on computer modelling, and computer modelling is often wrong”.

Lord Deben replied,

“No critic is taken seriously any longer. The science is not based on computer modelling – it’s based upon a whole range of intricate, very careful measuring of the situation, over 30 years, and we know that what we say is absolutely true.”

I have searched your site, but cannot find any reference to any “science” which supports the claims that climate change will cause the following, which is “not based on computer modelling”:

  1. “Heatwaves at one end of the country and flooding at the other”
  2. “Some parts of the country … with very little water and other parts with huge amounts of water”
  3. “Bangladesh will practically be unable to be lived in”
  4. 170 million Bangladeshi people will be “wandering around the world”

I would be grateful if you could supply me with the information that Lord Deben used to make these claims (1-4), which is “not based on computer model’s”, but “based upon a whole range of intricate, very careful measuring of the situation, over 30 years”, and which is “absolutely true”.

Lord Deben continued,

“The only people who oppose it are people who have a very vested interest from the fossil fuel industry, who are spending billions of pounds, trying to get people like you to say that, in order to confuse people. The science is now stronger than the connection between smoking and health…”

There seems to be no literature on your site which supports these claims. So I would be grateful if you could explain the basis for Lord Deben’s comments as follows:

  1. Which people “who oppose [Lord Deben’s claims]” are referred to?
  2. What are their “interests” — what companies are they invested in?
  3. What is the evidence that these interests “are spending billions of pounds”. Through which companies or organisations?
  4. What is the evidence that those “‘billions of pounds” are being spent on “trying to get people like [John Humphrys]” to ask critical questions “to confuse people”?
  5. Where is the evidence that the links between climate change and the effects referred to in questions 1-4 are “stronger than the connection between smoking and health”?

Finally, it seems to me that if Lord Deben is wrong to claim that his/the CCC’s critics “have a very vested interest from the fossil fuel industry” and that they are “spending billions of pounds”, then there may be a possibility that The CCC, under Lord Deben’s chairmanship, may have prematurely ruled out criticism, and on an erroneous basis.

  1. Please explain the extent to which the CCC has considered criticism, and what processes the CCC has in place to consider criticism in general.
  2. Please explain what criticism has been presented to and considered by the CCC from ‘fossil fuel interests’, and has been ruled out on the basis that it has come from fossil fuel interests.
  3. Please confirm that *all* the criticism that the CCC is aware of– i.e. “the only people” — has come from people who have a “very vested interest from the fossil fuel industry”.

A transcript of the interview is copied below for your convenience.

I look forward to your reply.

Ben Pile.

 

FOI Reply from the CCC. 28 July 2015.

Thank you for your request for information about Lord Deben’s comments on the BBC R4 Today Programme, 30 June 2015.

Your request has been considered under the terms of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000. However, some of the information which you have requested constitutes environmental information for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs). As such, to the extent that the information requested is environmental your request has also been considered under the EIRs.

Your specific request was:

{SEE ABOVE}

Our response:

Lord Deben’s comments were informed by his personal knowledge and experience, and wider sources of evidence than held by CCC.

The information we hold that relates to his comments is set out below.

In relation to questions 1-2, information we hold is listed at Annex A.

In relation to questions 3-9, the information that you have requested is not held by the CCC.

Questions 10-12 do not bear directly on the Today programme interview, and question 10 does not bear directly on information held by CCC. Nevertheless, the following may be of help to you.

In relation to question 10, Committee members meet regularly with parties interested in climate change issues, which will include individuals and bodies who may take a different view to the Committee. We have conducted a number of calls for evidence, most recently on the 5th carbon budget. The CCC also has a process for receipt of complaints and comments, the guidance for which is linked at this page on our website:  www.theccc.org.uk/contacts/ . No complaints have been received under this process.

In relation to question 11, no criticism to the CCC has been ruled out of consideration by the CCC “on the basis that it has come from fossil fuel interests”.

We do not hold information related to question 12.

I hope this reply is helpful. If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the right to ask for an internal review. If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner (ICO) for a decision.

In keeping our transparency policy, the information released to you will be published on www.theccc.org.uk. Please note that this will not include your personal data.

Annex A

In relation to questions 1-2, information we hold relating to preparedness for climate change includes our assessment of how vulnerability to climate-related hazards has been changing in the recent past, including over the past 30 years.  This analysis is largely based  on observations.  A summary of these vulnerability indicators is available with our latest progress report (see technical annexes at bottom of page): http://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/reducing-emissions-and-preparing-for-climate-change-2015-progress-report-to-parliament/

Key evidence sources we have used to consider how risks related to flooding, water scarcity and heatwaves may change in the future, which have informed and been referenced in our 2012, 2013 and 2014 adaptation progress reports, are set out below:

 

Request for internal review. 30 July 2015.

Dear Sir or Madam,

Thank you for your response.

Your explanation for the length of time taken to respond is not sufficient. The substance of your reply to the bulk of the questions is that Lord Deben was speaking in a personal capacity, not as Chair of The CCC. On that basis, no answer was given to eight out of twelve questions. The remaining four were questions which were neither complex, nor demanded answers that required 20 days to put together. The answer to question 10 was a single paragraph which would take just minutes for someone with knowledge of the CCC’s processes to answer. Question 11 was similarly undemanding and its answer was incomplete (discussed below). The only substantial answer to my questions — 1 & 2 — was given in your Appendix A, and contains a list of seemingly pertinent articles which have been cited in your own literature. Although that list itself is somewhat exhaustive, I don’t see how it required more than a copy-and-paste job that could have been completed in minutes.

Although it may be correct to say that you responded within the limit, the ICO’s guidance (discussed previously) is clear that public bodies have a duty to respond promptly not simply within the allowed 20 days, and that they must properly account for responses that are given as close to the time limit as your response. Moreover, given the number of questions that were explained as simply Lord Deben’s personal opinions, it cannot be argued that the ‘scope of the request’ was demanding. Only one information source was required to provide an answer: the footnotes to your own publication.

Please supply the internal emails and documents relating to my request to support your claim that it has taken 20 days to respond.

Regarding your response to question 11 — “Please explain what criticism has been presented to and considered by the CCC from ‘fossil fuel interests’, and has been ruled out on the basis that it has come from fossil fuel interests” — you replied:

‘In relation to question 11, no criticism to the CCC has been ruled out of consideration by the CCC “on the basis that it has come from fossil fuel interests”’

The question asks you to explain first “what criticism has been presented to and considered by the CCC from ‘fossil fuel interests'”. It then asks you to explain what has been ruled out on the basis of its origins. I apologise if this was not clear in my original email. Please supply a complete answer to this question.

On your refusal to answer questions 3 to 9 & 12, the argument that Lord Deben was speaking in a personal capacity cannot be sustained any more than, for example, a government Minister could claim to be speaking personally about the work of his or her department. Lord Deben made an appearance on the Today programme as Chair of the CCC, was introduced as such, and was asked to discuss the CCC’s work. Lord Deben was clearly and adamantly of the view that any criticism of the CCC’s report in question has origins in a fossil fuel industry-funded conspiracy, which had even influenced the editorial decisions of the Today Programme. Lord Deben is Chair of the CCC. As such, the CCC must be in possession of the information he used in his answers during the interview. If Lord Deben has that information, the CCC has that information. If that information does not exist, or cannot be supported by the CCC, Lord Deben had no business raising his own ‘personal knowledge and experience, and wider sources of evidence’ in an interview about the CCC’s work. In other words, the Chair of the CCC’s replies to John Humprys in an interview about the CCC’s report are as much the CCC’s product as the report itself was. The simple remedy is to ask the Chair of the CCC to provide the data to support the claims he has made.

I am therefore requesting an Internal Review of your decision not to respond to questions 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 12.

Regarding your response to questions 1 & 2, and for your information, the sources you cite contradict Lord Deben’s statements to John Humphys. I have not had time to completely review your many references, but the first of them give a much less confident assessment of the future than listeners to the Today Programme would have been left with.

In “Too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry: Drivers and impacts of seasonal weather in the UK”, the Met Office considered whether recent seasonal variations could be attributed to climate change, and to what extent this could be used to estimate likely future climate. Whereas Lord Deben claimed that “the climate will then become much more difficult to live in, even in this country, with much short – with much greater numbers of heatwaves one end and flooding at the other, and some parts of the country, like the east of England, with very little water and other parts with huge amounts of water”, and that “The science is not based on computer modelling” the Met Office advised that:

* “UK rainfall shows large year to year variability, making trends hard to detect” * “While connections can be made between climate change and dry seasons in some parts of the world, there is currently no clear evidence of such a link to recent dry periods in the UK” * “The attribution of these changes to anthropogenic global warming requires climate models of sufficient resolution to capture storms and their associated rainfall.”

The contradiction between these and Lord Deben’s statements needs no further discussion here.

If the CCC’s own sources of data suggest a very different story to the one presented by its Chairman to millions of listeners, then the CCC has a problem with its data. I have no shares or any kind of pecuniary interest in the fossil fuel sector or current commercial engagement to support that sector’s interest directly or indirectly. Yet I can find problems with the CCC’s reports and its Chair’s statements, without ever having received a penny from the oil, gas, or coal sectors. With the CCC being responsible for informing decisions with consequences for policy decades into the future, it reflects very badly on the CCC that its Chair routinely makes such uncompromising, and unfounded claims in public, which cannot be supported with evidence, apparently to defend the CCC’s advice to Parliament from criticism.

I look forward to your prompt reply.

Ben Pile.

 

Response to request for internal review. Part A. 13 August 2015.

Dear Mr. Pile,

Thank you for your further request of 30 July 2015 relating to Lord Deben’s comments on the BBC R4 Today Programme on 30 June 2015.

Please find our response attached.

Regards,

Committee on Climate Change

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST: Lord Deben comments on BBC R4 Today Programme, 30/06/2015

Thank you for your further request of 30 July relating to Lord Deben’s comments on the BBC R4 Today Programme, 30 June 2015.

Your request has been considered under the terms of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000. However, some of the information which you have requested constitutes environmental information for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs). As such, to the extent that the information requested is environmental, your request has also been considered under the EIRs.

Your request relates to your previous request of 30 June to which we replied on 28 July.

Specifically, there are three elements to your request:

{SEE ABOVE}

Our response:

In relation to your request for us to support the reasons it took 20 days to respond to your 30 June request, we note that you e-mailed CCC on 28 July, prior to receiving our reply, asking for an “explanation for the length of time it has taken for you to respond”.

We replied on 28 July to explain that, “We have responded within the limit for this case. It has taken the full 20 working days which reflects the scope of the request, number of questions raised and the need to search a range of information sources”.

To expand on that reply:

  • You raised 12 questions for consideration. Each needed consideration of potential information sources and how best to respond to meet your request.
  • For the first 2 of these we have provided a list of references. We were able to provide these within the limits for resources to be employed in answering requests, and are happy to have done so.
  • More generally, the request concerns comments made by Lord Deben. To respond fully we had to check with Lord Deben what CCC information sources that he was using. Lord Deben is only contracted to work 3 days a month for CCC. We therefore discussed your request with him on 17 July, when we knew that he would be in the CCC offices on CCC business.
  • We do not have a dedicated FOI resource within the CCC. We were concerned to check that we answered your request as fully as we could and in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. Following the discussion with Lord Deben we sought further advice from a dedicated FOI adviser within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). A request for discussion with that adviser was made on 21 July (attached, Annex A) and, reflecting his availability, took place on 24 July.
  • Following that discussion we provided Lord Deben with the text of the proposed reply, on 24 July, which he reviewed and agreed on 27 July. The response was then sent on 28 July.

Copies of the internal emails and documents “relating to my request to support your claim that it has taken 20 days to respond” are attached at Annex B.

In relation to question 11, thank you for clarifying your request.

We do not believe that there is a standard definition of “fossil fuel interests” on which we could search all CCC information sources; neither is it necessarily clear as to what might be considered “criticism” as opposed to comment. As noted in our reply of 28 July, no complaints have been received under the process set out on our website. But we have directly examined two further CCC information sources:

  • Responses to CCC calls for evidence. A number of fossil fuel companies have responded to these calls. We have reviewed responses received in relation to development of the Committee’s first report in 2008, for which there was a call for evidence ending in January 2008. None of those responses contained criticism of the CCC. You will find responses to the call for evidence in relation to the review of the fourth carbon budget at https://www.theccc.org.uk/call-for-evidence/. A call for evidence in relation to the fifth carbon budget closed in June 2015 and these responses will be published later this year.
  • We have searched our general CCC communications inbox for e-mails received from fossil fuel companies. Available records go back to 4 December 2012. None of these communications can be considered “criticism”.

CCC members and secretariat will have attended many meetings, and had e-mail exchanges, with individuals and companies who might be considered to have “fossil fuel interests”. We may therefore have further information relating to “criticism” from such interests stored in e-mails, or on our computers. We have determined that Regulation 12(4)(b) applies in this case. Namely, it would exceed the cost threshold for dealing with your request to go through all these documents to identify the relevant information. In applying this regulation, we have considered the public interest test in respect of your request and applied a presumption in favour of disclosure (as required by Regulation 12(2) of the EIRs). We believe that the information we have been able to provide meets your request at a cost that is proportional to the issues raised.

I hope this reply is helpful. If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the right to ask for an internal review. If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner (ICO) for a decision.

Your request for an Internal Review of our response in relation to your previous questions 3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and 12 is under separate consideration. You will receive a reply in due course.

In keeping with our transparency policy, the information released to you will be published on www.theccc.org.uk. Please note that this will not include your personal data.

 

ANNEX A {reordered}

From: Witty, Hannah (CCC) [mailto:Hannah.Witty@theccc.gsi.gov.uk] Sent: 09 July 2015 11:25 To: XXXXXXXXX (Strategy) Subject: FOI advice

Hi XXXXXXX

We have received an interesting FoI and I’d like to discuss it with an expert. Do you have contact details for anyone in DECC who can help me? I’ve attached the request.

Regards,

Hannah

 

From: XXXXXXXX ( (Strategy) [mailto:xxxxxxxxxx@decc.gsi.gov.uk] Sent: 09 July 2015 11:44 To: Witty, Hannah (CCC) Cc: XXXXXXXXX (Strategy); XXXXXXXX@bis.gsi.gov.uk Subject: FW: FOI advice

Hi Hannah,

Copying in XXXX who is our FOI adviser.

Thanks,

XXXXX

 

From: Witty, Hannah (CCC) [mailto:Hannah.Witty@theccc.gsi.gov.uk] Sent: 09 July 2015 11:56 To: XXXXXXXXX (Strategy) Cc: XXXXXXXXXX (Strategy); XXXXXXXXX (ITD) Subject: RE: FOI advice

Thanks XXXXX

XXXX – would it be possible to have a quick chat about this one?

Thanks,

Hannah

From: XXXXXXXX (ITD) [mailto XXXXXXX@bis.gsi.gov.uk] Sent: 09 July 2015 13:03 To: Witty, Hannah (CCC) Subject: RE: FOI advice

Hannah

Thanks for calling about this request.

DECC have answered some similar requests. 13/0795 was from the same requester about evidence relating to a speech by Ed Davey. The reply includes the line:

His comments were informed by his personal experience, including as a member of Parliament.

EIR 2014-24122 is a reply from the DECC Climate Science team for a request about the evidence for global warming. It referred to a lot of published sources of scientific information – not all technically ‘held’ by DECC.

These may not exactly match your case but might be helpful in drafting the answer. If you want to send over the draft answer I can have a look at it.

Hope this helps

XXXXXXXX

From: Witty, Hannah (CCC) [mailto:Hannah.Witty@theccc.gsi.gov.uk] Sent: 21 July 2015 13:04 To: XXXXXXXXX (ITD) Cc: Gault, Adrian (CCC) Subject: RE: FOI advice

I’ve attached a couple of draft responses to this request, one of which has been endorsed by Lord Deben. If possible, could we arrange a quick call to discuss these answers and whether there is a reasonable case not to answer the response, or to limit our answers to questions 1 and 2, or 1, 2, 3 and 4, or 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 and 11?

We can do 16:00 today, 11:30 – 13:00 on Thurs, or Friday morning?

Regards.

Hannah

From: XXXXXXXX (ITD) [mailto:XXXXXXX@bis.gsi.gov.uk] Sent: 21 July 2015 15:11 To: Witty, Hannah (CCC) Cc: Gault, Adrian (CCC) Subject: RE: FOI advice

Hannah

Thanks.

I just haven’t got time to look at this today. But I’ll be available Thr or Fri morning if you want to call then.

XXXXXXXX

ANNEX B {reordered}

From: Communications (CCC) Sent: 28 July 2015 14:47 To: Gault, Adrian (CCC) Cc: XXXXXXXXX (CCC) Subject: FW: FOI Request: Lord Deben comments on BBC R4 Today Programme, 30/06/2015

Hi Adrian,

We’ve just this minute sent the FOI response. The person requesting the response has emailed us 1 minute before our response went out asking for an explanation as to why we have taken the full 20 days to respond (see email below).

Hannah has suggested saying this is due the length and nature of the request and to speak to you about wording.

Is there any specific wording you would like us to use?

Thanks,

From: Gault, Adrian (CCC) Sent: 28 July 2015 15:07 To: Communications (CCC) Cc: XXXXXXXXX(CCC) Subject: RE: FOI Request: Lord Deben comments on BBC R4 Today Programme, 30/06/2015

Can we say,

“We have responded within the limit for this case, but it has taken us the full 20 working days reflecting the nature of the request, number of questions raised, and the need to search a range of information sources”.

Adrian

 

Response to request for internal review. Part B. 14 August 2015.

Dear Mr. Pile,

RE: FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST: Lord Deben comments on BBC R4 Today Programme, 30/06/2015

Internal Review of decision of Committee on Climate Change not to respond to questions 3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and 12 of the request.

Please find our response attached.

Regards,

Committee on Climate Change

Dear Mr Pile,

RE: FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST: Lord Deben comments on BBC R4 Today Programme, 30/06/2015 Internal Review of decision of Committee on Climate Change not to respond to questions 3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and 12 of the request.

I am writing in response to your request for an internal review of the above case. I have now reviewed the process we followed and the decisions that were made to respond to your original request. I set out my decision below.

Basis for Internal Review

You asked 12 questions in your Freedom of Information (FOI) request. In your subsequent request, you asked for a review of our responses to a subset of those questions: questions 3 to 9 (inclusive) and question 12.

The specific questions from your original Freedom of Information request asked for any information that we hold that is not based on computer modelling about the statements that:

  1. Bangladesh will practically be unable to be lived in
  2. 170 million Bangladeshi people will be ‘wandering around the world’
  3. People who oppose Lord Deben’s views that he was referring to
  4. The interest of those people, and the companies they are invested in
  5. Evidence that those interests are spending billions of pounds and through which companies or organisations
  6. Evidence that those billions of pounds are being spent to influence people like John Humphries to ask critical questions to confuse people
  7. Links between climate change and the effects referred to are stronger than the links between smoking and health

You also asked, in question 12, for evidence relating to the statement that “all” the criticism the CCC is aware of has come from people who have a vested interest from the fossil fuel industry.

The Committee on Climate Change responded that it did not hold any information in relation to questions 3 to 9, nor in relation to question 12 (while noting question 12 does not bear directly on the Today programme interview).

You requested an internal review of the “decision not to respond to” the above questions. My review has covered the conclusion that was reached by those responding to your original request that the Committee on Climate Change does not hold any information relevant to the above questions.

Process for Internal Review

As the Accounting Office responsible for the Committee on Climate Change I have undertaken the Internal Review. As part of my review I have:

  • Reviewed the guidance from the Information Commissioner on FOI requests and reviews of requests for Freedom of Information
  • Read your original Freedom of Information Request
  • Read the Committee on Climate Change’s reply to that request
  • Interviewed those involved in drafting the response and asked them questions including (but not limited to): what searches were carried out for information falling within the scope of the request and why would these searches have been likely to retrieve any relevant information? What was the scope of such searches (e.g. did it include emails, information held on individual computers, written documents?) What criteria were used for the searches? Whether the interviewee was aware of anything that could have been deleted from electronic records or thrown away from written records?
  • Read and reviewed documents relating to the search and its results
  • Drafted this response

Conclusions of Internal Review

Four people were directly involved in responding to your original request, and they requested information and discussed the questions you raised with others. They undertook the following activities:

  • Within 24 hours of receiving your request your questions were divided into two groups with a specific individual responsible for searching relevant documents, files and correspondence for each of the two groups of questions
  • Those two people were fully briefed at the time on what they needed to do to find relevant information
  • The searches that were conducted covered the emails of relevant people and reports and research we have published. The searches covered terms relevant to your questions (e.g. search for the word “Bangladesh”, “computer models” etc.). A full search of our computer files was not undertaken – I address that below
  • The team cross-checked their approach with an FOI expert in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
  • Following completion of the searches and checking with the FOI expert, a draft of the response was developed which included all items the searches had revealed that were relevant to your questions
  • Further internal discussions took place about specific questions to consider, and whether there could be other sources (including our network computer drive) that might contain further information of relevance to your questions
  • Discussed the draft response with Lord Deben as Chairman of the Committee
  • The final draft response was then reviewed by the two people originally charged with the search to ensure any edits or changes that had been made were in line with their findings

While we did not record the time taken for the process, I estimate that, in total, the development of the response took about 10 – 12 hours. I note that in your response you express concern that the nature of the response (e.g. “copy-and-paste job that could have been completed in a few minutes”) is such that it could have been sent to you more quickly. While that was not part of my review, one outcome of my review was to clarify that time is required to ensure searches are exhaustive. While it may be quick to draft a response once the information has been assembled, ensuring all relevant information has been assembled does take time. My review has not considered whether too much or too little time was taken in this case. It focuses on whether the searches were sufficiently exhaustive in respect to the specific questions you asked about (namely questions 3 through 9 and 12).

For the avoidance of doubt, my own review has taken approximately 4 hours of my time plus the time of those I interviewed and their time assembling the information that I requested to undertake this review.

On the basis of this Review I have concluded as follows:

First, that the process to answer the relevant questions did consider systematically the information and evidence that we hold within the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act and associated guidance. The search terms used were sensible and related to the questions asked. The people involved asked themselves whether they knew of anything that might be relevant over-and-above what formal searches revealed.

My review did reveal that they did not conduct a computerised search of our network drives (or the harddrives of individual computers used by staff) using specific search words. Those involved thought that would involve disproportionate amount of time. I agree with that conclusion.

Recognising the time involved in such a search, those involved did discuss amongst themselves, and with others who might know, whether such a search would be likely to turn up relevant information. Their view was that such a search was unlikely to turn up any relevant information. That provided a further check when considering whether such a search would be proportionate.

Second, in response to your questions 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 12 we did provide all the relevant information that resulted from the searches we undertook (subject to point three below). We answered each of the questions asked. The searches indicated that, for some of the questions, we do not hold any information.

Third, one of the search terms we used was “Bangladesh” in order to respond to questions 3 and 4. The searches undertaken in response to your request did reveal mentions of Bangladesh and wider impacts around the world in our documents and records. These mentions were not included in the response to your FOI request. Those involved in responding to your FOI request concluded that these mentions were not directly relevant to the questions you asked. For the sake of completeness I attach those in the Annex to this review.

Finally, if you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.

In keeping with our transparency policy, the information released to you will be published on www.theccc.org.uk. Please note that this will not include your personal data.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew Bell Chief Executive Officer Committee on Climate Change

Annex: Additional references to Bangladesh and wider international impacts

“Building a low carbon economy”: Chapter 1, particularly page 18 https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/building-a-low-carbon-economy-the-uks-contribution-to-tacklingclimate-change-2/

Non-model evidence for sea level rise comes from the geological record, and is discussed by the Royal Geological Society’s position paper on climate change to which there is a link on our website http://www.theccc.org.uk/tackling-climate-change/the-science-of-climate-change/ .

4th Carbon Budget Report, chapter 1 http://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/the-fourth-carbon-budgetreducing-emissions-through-the-2020s-2/ Discusses the range of evidence, beyond the models, for a warming world driven mainly by greenhouse gases.

 Response to CCC’s reply. 

Dear Mr Bell,

Thank you for your response to my request for an internal review. I have some questions about your reply.

You reiterate the point that the CCC ‘do not hold any information’ relating to a number of my questions. Yet it would seem from the replies I have had from The CCC that Lord Deben was party to the responses I have been sent — he approved them. Why then did Lord Deben not supply the evidence? After all, his appearance on R4 was as Chair of The CCC, and was speaking with the authority of that position, on matters relating to The CCC’s work. If what Lord Deben told John Humphrys was, to the best of his knowledge, truthful, he would surely have access to that information. To not respond to a request for that information would seem to be hiding behind the letter of FOIA rules (we shall see what the IC says), rather than responding in its spirit; if the information exists at all, it is surely in the public interest for it to be made public, to improve the quality of the debate about climate change policy. I refer in particular to Lord Deben’s statements about critics of climate policy or science, which he maintains belong to an oil industry-funded conspiracy.

You admit that the Annex is not relevant in your reply, though in the Annex, you provide comment that does relate to my questions. I agree that the Annex (and the evidence offered in the previous reply) fails to reply. Nonetheless, the problems with what you have offered serve to illustrate that the question Lord Deben was asked by Humphys did have a reasonable foundation, and that it was wrong of him to suggest that the origin of those questions was a £billion conspiracy.

The Annex to your reply contains a link and reference to ‘“Building a low carbon economy”: Chapter 1, particularly page 18’.

CH1: “Climate change is likely to amplify precipitation patterns around the world, so that wet regions will generally get wetter and dry regions drier. The combination of these changes with a growing world population will lead to more people suffering water shortages, with a projected 1 to 2 billion people at risk for a warming of around 2°C. In addition, precipitation is projected to become more variable so that longer droughts will be interspersed with heavier rainfall.”

The effects that climate change are “likely to amplify”, the growth of the world population, the *projection* of the people put at risk, and the *projection* of future precipitation are statements that are implicit references to models of and interactions with the climate. If there is another basis for probabilistic statements and projections than models as such, I would be grateful for your explanation as to what that basis is.

The next paragraph in CH1 seems to have been paraphrased from IPCC AR4:

“Extinctions of species are of particular concern because they are irreversible. Many ecosystems are facing a range of pressures due to human activity, with climate change a contributing factor [10]. However, as a direct result of climate change, 20% to 30% of plant and animal species assessed so far would face a ‘commitment to extinction’[11 ] for a temperature rise of 2°C to 3°C.”

The IPCC SPM it is taken from said,

“Climate change is likely to lead to some irreversible impacts. There is medium confidence that approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5-2.5oC (relative to 1980-1999). As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5oC, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe.

This was, on any fair analysis, a concatenation of increasingly vague statements: “likely… some… medium confidence… approximately… 20-30% of [how many?] species assessed so far… likely… increased risk… if…”, and the necessary caution should have been applied before The CCC presented IPCC work in this way. In AR4 4.4.11 we get more detail than was provided by the SPM, showing why it is dangerous to produce headlines from headlines:

“Based on all above findings and our compilation (Figure 4.4, Table 4.1”) we estimate that on average 20% to 30% of species assessed are likely to be at increasingly high risk of extinction from climate change impacts possibly within this century as global mean temperatures exceed 2°C to 3°C relative to pre-industrial levels (this chapter). The uncertainties remain large, however, since for about 2°C temperature increase the percentage may be as low as 10% or for about 3°C as high as 40% and, depending on biota, the range is between 1% and 80% (Table 4.1; Thomas et al., 2004a; Malcolm et al., 2006). As global average temperature exceeds 4°C above pre-industrial levels, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% species assessed) around the globe (Table 4.1).

Worse than being merely ‘based on models’, the statement was based on estimates based on models of extinction, based on a particular definition of ‘extinction’, which differs from its ordinary sense, and was based on studies which may be prone to bias (such as choosing species which are known to be vulnerable to extinction), and small sample sizes, neither of which are quantified. The substantial difference between IPCC AR4 and AR5 statements on extinction should also be noted:

AR5: “Changes in abundance, as measured by changes in the population size of individual species or shifts in community structure within existing range limits, have occurred in response to recent global warming (Thaxter et al., 2010; Bertrand et al., 2011; Naito and Cairns, 2011; Rubidge et al., 2011; Devictor et al., 2012; Tingley et al., 2012; Vadadi-Fülöp et al., 2012; Cahill et al., 2013; Ruiz-Labourdette et al., 2013), but owing to confounders,confidence in a major role of climate change is often low. Across the world, species extinctions are at or above the highest rates of species extinction in the fossil record (high confidence; Barnosky et al., 2011). However, only a small fraction of observed species extinctions have been attributed to climate change—most have been ascribed to non-climatic factors such as invasive species, overexploitation, or habitat loss(Cahill et al., 2013). For those species where climate change has been invoked as a causal factor in extinction (such as for the case of Central American amphibians), there is low agreement among investigators concerning the importance of climate variation in driving extinction and even less agreement that extinctions were caused by climate change (Pounds et al., 2006; Kiesecker, 2011). Confidence in the suggested attribution of extinctions across all species to climate change is very low.”

The second item in the Annex — “Non-model evidence for sea level rise comes from the geological record, and is discussed by the Royal Geological Society’s position paper on climate change” — contains a link to a link. However, I do not see the pertinence of this study at all. The fact of historic sea level rise is not in question; sea level rise is a problem with or without any amount of climate change. Moreover, the question of sea level rise is not addressed with respect to Bangladesh, which other studies — rather than position statements on political questions — suggest may be increasing in land area, in spite of climate change and sea level rise, by as much as 1000km^2 to 2008. See for example, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221209631300003X Moreover, in spite of claims that Bangladesh is increasingly vulnerable to climate change, it’s population, GDP and agricultural productivity have risen steadily over the past half century — a fact that is difficult to reconcile with the story of so many displaced Bangladeshis as heard by millions of listeners to Radio 4.

The third item in the Annex, which you claim ‘Discusses the range of evidence, beyond the models, for a warming world driven mainly by greenhouse gases’ in fact contains the passage:

“Despite this high level of certainty that warming is occurring due to human activity, projections about the exact future level of warming and its consequences are inherently uncertain. This uncertainty derives from the complexities involved in modelling the whole Earth system (including the strength of feedbacks from clouds, etc.) and also from predicting the future path of human activities. Scientists have developed models as best possible to capture these effects and produce projections. These are continually improving and provide us with the best estimate of the range on which we need to base policy.”

It is therefore puzzling to me that you have offered it as a discussion of the evidence ‘beyond the modelling’, or what that expression means, since it seems very clear that modelling entirely underpins every aspect of the discussion, contrary to Lord Deben’s claims in question. It would seem that it is only possible to move ‘beyond the modelling’ if the modelling can be taken for granted. Suffice it to say that that move does not seem safe to me.

The evidence offered in the documents linked to in the Annex is at best outdated, partial and questionable. I note your point that they were not included in the original reply because they were not relevant, in which case I wonder why they were sent at all. They do not do provide any depth to the extent that they have any particular focus on Bangladesh, or the UK, or the non-modelled basis for the claims in question. Therefore, I would ask you again to reconsider your replies, and for you to respond directly to the questions I have asked about Lord Deben’s statements.

I believe The CCC’s has a *statutory* responsibility to be able to respond to those questions properly, and to offer Parliament and the public debate accurate and complete evidence and information. Furthermore, it is surely incumbent on the Chair of The CCC to have in his possession the facts he uses to discuss The CCC’s work in public.

It may well be ‘time-consuming’ to find data to support Lord Deben’s statements, but it is surely in the public interest to either establish his claims that there exists a conspiracy to undermine The CCC (and his claims about the likely course of the climate being based in science), or to rule them out as groundless. Official estimates have it that R4’s Today programme can reach audiences above 7 million per week. The amount of time finding the basis for Lord Deben’s claims is therefore surely proportional to the impact and reach of his statements.

If you think that an exhaustive search of data in The CCC’s possession would be too time-consuming, I suggest that you ask Lord Deben to provide the answers or to publish a retraction of his statements, which seem to have dramatic implications, but have been made without evidence. The failure of either The CCC or Lord Deben to account for his claims will surely raise questions about the quality advice both have given to important and far-reaching policy discussions.

I look forward to hearing from you or Lord Deben.

Ben Pile.

The CCC declined to comment further.

 

 

 

The UK's Energy Policy Money Pit

Apologies for the long hiatus. Sadly, the rumoured millions that flow from evil oil capitalists to equally despicable bloggers does not exist (or has not reached this far), and I have had to focus on other things. More on that climate mythology coming here soon. Meanwhile, check out this post from Paul Matthews, on the new blog CliScep.com, brought to you by a team of excellent commentators.


Generating and distributing electricity was mastered in the UK many decades ago. Yet never before has it been so difficult. Whereas the political aspiration was, at one point, to electrify the entire country, and to provide ‘energy too cheap to meter’ to every home, today’s political ambition is to merely ‘keep the lights on’. A policy which, aside from diminishing horizons, even its proponents admit will raise prices. Somehow, not using energy turned into the ‘ethical’ thing to do — the less you use, the better person you are.

This is one of the things that has always puzzled me. Energy is a good thing. Few people would accept that scarcity and rising prices are a Good Thing — i.e. things that help or allow humans realise the full potential of humanity. We expect a level of development in most things: agriculture improves, giving us higher quality and cheaper food. Medicine improves — to the point that many diseases are now on the verge of complete cure. Electronics and communications have developed, for most of the last century on something like Moore’s law: a doubling of potential with respect to price every 18 months or so. The two most prominent things that have bucked the tendency in the UK, however, are energy and property.

The prices of electricity and homes have increased. This would imply scarcity on most economic perspectives. It may be true that more people mean that there are fewer homes. Yet there is plenty of land in the UK, ripe for development. But an almost feudal system of land management now exists, in which bankers and landlords can take from renters and people with mortgages ever larger slices of their salaries by the manufacture of scarcity. A similar transfer of wealth has taken place through the energy market, legitimised on the same ‘green’ basis.

There is no shortage of energy resources. With the development of horizontal drilling and other techniques, there are arguably more resources than there were available to us in the past. Nonetheless, energy policy has been hard to formulate. Governments since the 1990s — dash for gas notwithstanding — have been unable to permit any new development. They appear to have been as much colonised by the green movement as they have feared it. First, green organisations stood in the way of nuclear power. Then they prevented coal, and lobbied for renewables. There was no visible public mood for green energy policies. Yet, as well as closing down conventional generating capacity, the UK has committed to policies at EU, domestic and regional levels without any idea of how to realise these goals. This was the point made by Roger Pielke Jr. at the time the UK’s Climate Change Act (CCA2008) was implemented, and his analysis held.

The CCA2008 mandated the creation of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to set ‘carbon budgets’ into the future. Then led by Lord Adair Turner, the CCC was intended to be ‘independent’, and suggest pathways to Parliament, so that an 80% reduction of CO2 could be achieved by the year 2050.

The problem, of course, is that the CCC is not independent. It is stuffed full of people with political and financial interests in green energy policy. The bigger problem with the CCC is that, although technocratic solutions to seemingly technical problems seem to be the best, ‘expert’ panels preclude public and informed debate, with obvious consequences for transparent, democratic policy-making. Suggest to the CCC’s current Chair, Lord John Deben, that alternative understandings of climate policy exist, and he will accuse you of being funded by oil companies to propagate misleading information. Contempt for democratic debate is institutionalised by the creation of technological bureaucracies, which in turn has consequences for the quality of the choice of technique.

The CCC has today published its guidance on the next carbon budget period:

Under the Climate Change Act (2008), the Committee is required to advise the Government, by the end of 2015, on the level of the UK’s fifth carbon budget (the limit on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted by the UK between 2028 and 2032).

This report sets out scenarios for the UK power sector in 2030 as an input to the Committee’s advice on the fifth carbon budget, given the importance of the power sector to meeting economy-wide emissions targets.

These scenarios are not intended to set out a prescriptive path. Instead, they provide a tool for the Committee to verify that its advice can be achieved with manageable impacts for the criteria in the Climate Change Act, including competitiveness, affordability and energy security.

This is timely. The big energy issues at the moment are: i) the looming ‘energy gap’, or ‘capacity crunch’ – a long-predicted shortfall; ii) the cancellation of subsidies for some forms of renewables, especially solar PV, and the removal of the presumption in favour of planning applications for onshore wind farms; iii) the costs (subsidies) for the new nuclear plant at Hinckley Point, and the deal with the Chinese government, and how unfari this is, given that other renewable sectors are being deprived; iv) the looming Paris UNFCCC farce meeting.

It would be fair to say that policy-makers need guidance like never before. But is the CCC up to snuff, so to speak, or is it too busy with its own snout in the trough?

Taking the last point first, the CCC was, back in 2008, intended to give the UK some kind of leverage as the first mover in setting ‘legally binding’ domestic targets. Hence, the CCA was a rushed job, the details — much less the implications — of which were necessarily beyond the understanding of the clear majority of MPs who voted for it nonetheless. The ink on the CCC’s guidance was not even dry when MPs voted on it. But vote for it they did — you could count the ‘nays’ on the fingers of one hand. The belief was that UK politicians could demonstrate ‘leadership’ at the global level, having implemented an aggressive domestic policy. A cross-party consensus existed on an issue that had never been tested at the ballot box, notwithstanding the Green Party, which struggled to rise above low single-digit percentages of the vote after four decades of campaigning. Green ideology had nonetheless established itself amongst the political class, whose cynicism of the public — and its material desires in particular — became increasingly obvious. Not just with respect to energy demand, the government became preoccupied with behaviour, with the minutia of daily, private life, rather than with competing values about the management of public matters. How much people drank and what they ate, where they smoked, and how well they got on with their neighbours became key political issues. Meanwhile, issues like the management of the economy was put out of political control, and into the hands of the Bank of England, just as ‘carbon budgets’ were to be decided by the CCC. What UK politicians were seeking to demonstrate to the world at the COP meeting in 2008 then, was not simply a policy idea, but a mode of government… ‘governance’, to be precise.

Pielke noted, back in 2009, that evidence of the UK’s overcommitment would soon be apparent — that it would fail, and that the ambitious targets would be missed, or would be achieved only by creating hardship for people. We should also see that failure as a failure of the form of governance that has been pursued. That failure is analogous to the UK’s housing crisis. House prices rose as the Labour (Labour!!!) government worried about social cohesion, British identity, ‘quality of life’, what we ate for supper, antisocial behaviour, binge drinking, Islamic fundamentalism, and of course, climate change. It cared about those things more than it cared about a huge transfer of wealth, often through the benefits system, from people who didn’t own houses, to people who owned more than one, and it made it harder for people to own one. “I will not allow house prices to get out of control and put at risk the sustainability of the recovery’ (1998), and “My vision is of a Britain where there is not stop go and boom bust but economic stability” (2000), announced the the Chancellor, Gordon ‘fifty days to save the planet’ Brown — who, following the biggest bust for decades, later became Prime Minister. We should see the energy policies implemented by governments in the same way we see their economic policies: not simply as technical measures intended to meet ‘challenges’ or problems from without, but as political ideas about how society should be organised.

This brings us to the UK’s new nuclear power project… Because the anticipated energy crunch was inevitable, the previous Secretaries of State for Energy and Climate Change having been such green energy zealots, and no sensible baseload capacity was on the horizon, new nuclear was bound to be expensive. Any energy company could see that the Labour and then coalition governments had openly declared their negotiation position for new nuclear: over a barrel, with no trousers. Thus, it was possible for any player to demand a high price, guaranteed. Politicians had turned to the green movement and green energy lobby for direction. Recall David Cameron, in his hug-a-husky days, climbing Greenpeace’s rooftop to admire their solar panels, and to listen to their advice on Feed-in Tarrifs. Dead American billionaires had spent as much as $30 million a year lobbying against coal and gas in Europe, leading to the celebrated cancellation of the replacement of Kingsnorth power station. Meanwhile, the renewable energy lobby, big on promises but short on delivering them, has barely produced enough capacity to replace two coal-fired power stations. The only hope left, after more than a decade of policy making under a condition of almost unanimous cross-party consensus, and the exclusion of all criticism from public and political debate, was to burn forests, imported from America. How green. The point of which is to say that the high price of the proposed Hinkley Point nuclear plant is entirely the result of predictable policy failure. Critics having been excluded from debate by angry DECC ministers on the basis of unfounded conspiracy theories, those who whinge about the high price of new nuclear energy projects have no leg to stand on. Though they will whinge… Here are some whingers on Channel 4 news…

The reporter — CH4’s ‘science editor’, Tom Clarke — reports in the same way that Greenpeace does. He frames the debate about subsidies and choice of technique to suit the outcome he prefers. He speaks to the erstwhile Lib Dem SoS at DECC, Ed Davey, for his angry reaction, and to an green energy academic activist. Dr Robert Gross of Imperial College, London is not just an ‘energy analyst’, he is Director of the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology and Policy Director, Energy Futures Lab, Head of the UKERC‘s Technology and Policy assessment function. As has been described in many earlier posts here, the nexus of academy and government creates a vast ecosystem of such outfits, but blurs the line between research and policy-making at the expense of democratic transparency. Gordon Brown called it a ‘government of all the talents‘ (GOAT). But goats turn out to be lame ducks.

Academics are made advocates, and advocates are made academics. Of course Dr Robert Gross is disappointed that the government seems to be reflecting (at last) on its commitments to green energy, his day-to-day job has depended on that compact for a decade or more. Davey, meanwhile, should reflect on his own role in creating the mess that the government is seeking a way out of — his party promised a commitment to a 100% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050, and the abolition of nuclear power and the petrol engine. Were the voting public impressed? No – that party lost 49 of 57 MPs at the last election, and now has just one MEP. Rather than complaining about the Conservative government, Davey should be reflecting on what cost him his seat and his party such a humiliating routing at the last election. Perhaps he, and the energy price rises he helped to create might have something to do with it. So why does Channel 4 and Tom Clarke offer no counter position? Why not ask the government for its explanation, or even some analysis from critics of climate policy? The question is rhetorical.

The complaint, dutifully, uncritically, credulously (journalist virtues in today’s world) reported by Clarke, is that its not fair that green energy subsidies should be cut, while the bill-payer will be lumbered with subsidies for nuclear power. Indeed, the project is ridiculously expensive. Rob Lyons in spiked argued, “Hinkley Point C: rip it up and start again“. Peter Atherton wrote in the Spectator “At £5 million per MW of capacity, Hinkley will be, by my reckoning, the most expensive conventional power station in the world.”

But anyone who argues for the support of renewable energy through subsidies has surely lost the right to complain about subsidies for nuclear. After all, nuclear energy has the virtues of being virtually zero-carbon (if that is a virtue), not subject to intermittency, and in spite of the long timescales can add significant amounts of capacity, in contrast to the piecemeal development of wind farms — a few MW here and there. To illustrate that last point, in a decade of support for onshore wind (2002-2013) the UK added just 7.7 GW of wind capacity, which at 25% capacity factor offers just 1.9GW of intermittent supply, and was subsidised to the tune of £3.4 billion over that period — and will continue to be subsidised. Hinkley point, by contrast, will add 3.2GW (2 x 1.6 GW reactors) of capacity, which, with a capacity factor of about 90%, will produce 2.8GW of reliable supply. Yes, the £92.50/MWh of electricity from Hinkley point is expensive — at twice the current price of electricity. But it is almost exactly the same price as onshore wind energy has been, given the price of electricity, and the average subsidy of £46.4/MWh for onshore wind.

That price point is not a coincidence. Politicians, in the endless to-and-fro about energy policy, supported by green campaigners have emphasised the need to create ‘investor confidence’. In their wisdom, they have said to every investor that subsidies are available to any technique, necessarily. If I have a £billion to invest, and I’m making a choice between wind and nuclear energy, why would I put that money in a project that would yield half the return that was being offered elsewhere? The market was distorted by policy, intentionally. Ultimately, the commodity being traded is electricity. It’s no good saying that electricity produced by nuclear is only worth half of electricity produced by wind. Green campaigners have, almost entirely unopposed, established the UK’s negotiating position on new nuclear.

But let’s take the green argument at face value. Is Hinkley Point worth the money, given green priorities, rather than our own?

This question brings us back to the CCC and their new report. As is the wont of green movers and shakers, the lines are drawn robustly:

Low carbon technologies are, and in the 2020s will continue to be, a more expensive way to generate electricity than burning gas and allowing the emissions to enter the atmosphere for free. However, in a carbon-constrained world this is not an option. A carbon price that reflects the full cost of emissions would increase the cost of gas-fired generation to a level at or above the cost of some low-carbon options. The Government’s carbon values are designed to be consistent with action required under the Climate Change Act (Box 3). They reach £78/tonne in 2030 and would be enough to push the costs of gas-fired generation up above the level of mature low-carbon options in the 2020s (Figure 2).

I believe that the question of whether or not we want a ‘carbon-constrained’ world, and when we do or don’t want it has not been debated. Much less debated is the putative ‘cost’ of ‘allowing the emissions to enter the atmosphere’. The CCC claim that it isn’t free — that there are externalities. But not only might these externalities turn out to be positive, rather than negative, even the negative externalities might be worth bearing, relative to the benefits of cheap, abundant energy.

Nebulous claims about the putative externalities of CO2 emissions allow the CCC to claim that renewable energy will be less expensive when these externalities are included in the price of energy. These assumptions are shown in the following graphic.

theCCC

As we can see, gas with no carbon price attached is the cheapest way of producing electricity. (There is no mention of unabated coal). When the carbon price or carbon Capture and storage (CCS) is introduced, the cost of gas is doubled. This seems to make onshore wind competitive. Thus, the argument is made for continued support for renewable energy.

If more low-carbon capacity is to be deployed in the 2020s, as in our scenarios, the total support will initially need to increase beyond £8 billion per year.

The CCC want, in fact, up to £9.4bn in subsidy per year for low carbon energy. That is a huge amount of money — equivalent to about £147 per person in the UK, each year. And even then, the CCC imagines that £12bn a year is possible. Here is how that cash gets distributed, according to the CCC.

ccc2

The bulk of this graphic is the amount already committed to renewable energy operators. How wisely was this money, and the future cash that the CCC wants to get its hand on, spent?

Let’s assume that the pot of cash for subsidies increases linearly from £4bn in 2014 to £12bn in 2028 — i.e. increases by around £600m a year. By 2028, the UK will have spent £112 billion on subsidies.

That’s enough to buy — not subsidise — six Hinkley Point plants at their current price. The result would be 19.2GW of zero carbon capacity (17.28GW net, or 151 TWh/year) bought and paid for, if the money was simply saved rather than used to pump up green energy company profits. If this were the policy, the first nuclear plant could be bought in 2018. The second would be bought in 2021. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth would be bought in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2028 respectively. Alternatively, progress could be made towards more than one development at a time.

The CCC estimate that demand for electricity will be 380TWH in 2030. And we have just found a way to buy almost half of that capacity — at a very high price — using money that was going to be wasted on subsidies — i.e. to add zero value to the UK’s energy infrastructure. If the difference was to be saved, and the plant bought outright when sufficient funds had been saved, the bill-payer could effectively own the nuclear fleet, within a generation.

Moreover, as is explained above, the anticipated price of nuclear energy is inflated, and the negotiating position of the government weakened because of the subsidies offered to renewable operators. If subsidies were to be scrapped entirely, and a more sensible regulatory framework put in place, nuclear energy at half the price or less is not implausible. For the same money, more than 300TWh of capacity could be added, making the UK’s power supply almost entirely zero carbon. Twelve, shiny new nuclear power plants could be supplying the UK with cheap, affordable, zero carbon nuclear energy. No more messing about with silly wind farms. No more fiddling about with a ‘smart grid’ trying to ‘manage demand’. No more subsidies to rich landowners. And no regrets about having cut off the vast army of solar PV spivs.

I don’t propose the public ownership of utilities, or a 100% nuclear power supply as the way forward. The point is merely to demonstrate that there is no need for renewables, at all, in the ‘energy mix’ — that nuclear can cover as much of the ‘low carbon’ generation as is deemed necessarily, without sleaze. The CCC’s proposition is not an answer to a technical problem, but is a political argument for a particular relationship between consumers and producers that most classical economists would understand as ‘rent-seeking’. If energy supply is to be de-carbonised, and the bill payer is to pay subsidies to support the green energy sector ‘for the common good’, he might as well own the capacity he is paying extra for through subsidies, and go with the best technique. It would mean a decade and a half of high prices. But the payoff would be much lower bills after that. Arguments about choice of technique certainly appear, like New Labour’s claims about the management of the economy, merely technical, but beneath the technical presentation is political substance.

The emphasis on renewable energy is as backwards the CCC’s thinking on energy is. That the CCC could conceive of wasting so much cash supporting the renewable energy sector’s excess and on rescuing green policies from their inevitable, and predicted failure is hard to understand from a face-value reading of the empirical facts. Parliament could have — and should have — made the decisions about de-carbonising the UK’s power supply, and the best way of doing it. But by delegating responsibility (and thereby abrogating its own) for it, it has merely created an unaccountable tier of governance that may serve itself, with impunity, whilst seemingly striving to achieve a higher purpose.

The CCC, and the renewable energy companies they service are as necessary to meet ordinary people’s needs as cheap credit for mortgages on houses with vastly inflated prices were. They burden people with rising prices and businesses, jobs and wages are put at a competitive disadvantage, just as policies that affected house prices have left millions paying through the nose for rents, and stacked huge liabilities on people on average incomes. Rising energy and house prices serve the interests of brokers and speculators who profit more from asset-inflation than from innovation, not the public. Ditto, those same interests are served by institutions that manufacture scarcity, where there is proven abundance, albeit an abundance that the vapid individuals who profit from scarcity see no way to profit from, other than by denying access to it. Cod modelling of the merits and demerits of one technique vs others is a distraction from the fact of the political nature of the CCC’s enclosure of the market in the same way that the enclosure of the huge abundance of land in the UK ensures high prices for the dubious benefit of ‘protecting the environment’ — the Green Belt.

If there is not yet a name for all of this, it should be ‘green feudalism’. ‘Feudalism’ because a class of technocrats, who seem to be above democratic oversight has been constructed, which is able to serve itself and its cronies at the public’s expense, justified on the basis of its putative virtues in the way that the nobility was imagined to be, well, ‘noble’ — possessing virtue — prior to the Enlightenment. The justification for that regime is invariably ‘green’ — even the Chair of the Bank of England has laid out his climate credentials. We all seem to have to pay tribute to this class, lest we incur Gaia’s wrath. This class of climate Lords is served in turn by a vast climate clergy, who promise us that the green noblemen are indeed virtuous, and not tainted by the devil’s own oils… But their own demands for our austerity aren’t matched by humble requests for green taxes, but demands for £billions and £billions, and rising every year.

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