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?


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:


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.

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:


 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

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) [] Sent: 09 July 2015 11:25 To: XXXXXXXXX (Strategy) Subject: FOI advice


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.



From: XXXXXXXX ( (Strategy) [] Sent: 09 July 2015 11:44 To: Witty, Hannah (CCC) Cc: XXXXXXXXX (Strategy); Subject: FW: FOI advice

Hi Hannah,

Copying in XXXX who is our FOI adviser.



From: Witty, Hannah (CCC) [] 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?



From: XXXXXXXX (ITD) [mailto] Sent: 09 July 2015 13:03 To: Witty, Hannah (CCC) Subject: RE: FOI advice


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


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:



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:


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: . 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 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):

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.


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:


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 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 Please note that this will not include your personal data.


ANNEX A {reordered}

From: Witty, Hannah (CCC) [] Sent: 09 July 2015 11:25 To: XXXXXXXXX (Strategy) Subject: FOI advice


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.




From: XXXXXXXX ( (Strategy) [] Sent: 09 July 2015 11:44 To: Witty, Hannah (CCC) Cc: XXXXXXXXX (Strategy); Subject: FW: FOI advice

Hi Hannah,

Copying in XXXX who is our FOI adviser.




From: Witty, Hannah (CCC) [] 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?



From: XXXXXXXX (ITD) [mailto] Sent: 09 July 2015 13:03 To: Witty, Hannah (CCC) Subject: RE: FOI advice


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


From: Witty, Hannah (CCC) [] 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?



From: XXXXXXXX (ITD) [] Sent: 21 July 2015 15:11 To: Witty, Hannah (CCC) Cc: Gault, Adrian (CCC) Subject: RE: FOI advice



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.


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?


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”.



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.


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 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

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 .

4th Carbon Budget Report, chapter 1 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, 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, 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.


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.


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.

Brian Cox's Weird Science

Brian Cox — of wide-eyed BBC science spectaculars fame — is lauded as one of science’s leading advocates, and a ‘science communicator‘.

But for a man who is so keen to extol the virtues of the scientific method, and its unequalled ability to make sense of the world and how to make it a better place, he seems awfully confused:

Granted, it was just a tweet. But it was a tweet that provoked a volume of conversation, in which Cox defended his position.

More about that shortly. But what strikes me immediately about Cox’s words is that although he emphasises science, he is quick to abandon it as the lingua franca of debates of consequence. Better to simply take the piss out of people you disagree with than engage with them on the ground you hold sacred. So much for science, then. And so much for the scientist who seems to have won awards for his expertise in ‘public engagement’ in science. This should prompt some discussion about what is meant by ‘science’, what is meant by ‘engagement’ and what is meant by ‘public’. “Taking the piss” is not science. And telling people what they must think (for fear of having the piss taken out of them by the pop-star-turned-TV-physicist) is not ‘public engagement’ with science. Moreover, the ‘public’ imagined by ‘communicators’ seems to be a mindless body that must be instructed, not individuals who are capable of forming an understanding for themselves until they are anointed.

Cox, as is the wont of most people in his position, who use their elevated status to pronounce on climate change, misapprehends climate scepticism — mostly because he’s more interested in “taking the piss” out of it, than in actually understanding the terms of the debate. He is informed not by the debate itself, but by the polarised view of the debate, which precedes it. The politics of the climate debate precede the science. Thus, on Cox’s view, there is only ‘the science’ and its deniers. All nuance is given up.

This is a surprise, because, as is discussed in a recent post here, Cox had an opportunity to see how the establishment’s own preoccupation with climate change threatened to dominate the research agenda, and his own field of high energy physics. Here he is, arguing with the then UK Chief Scientific Advisor, David King, who argued that the LHC was nothing more than an expensive device for navel-gazing.

It is odd that this exchange did not produce more reflection from Cox on the nature of the climate debate. Here he was, facing a bureaucrat, not even a green lobbyist or environmental activist, telling him that the machine he was so proud of was a waste of money, which would have been better spent on climate change research. “This is part of a journey that we’ve been on for about a hundred years to understand what are the building bocks of matter and the forces that stick them together”, said Cox, after being asked if there was nothing more useful that the money could have been spent on. This answer should have been enough, but Cox went on to spell out what that meant. “The transistor, the silicon chip.. It’s given us the ability to cure cancer, to potentially kill brain tumours. There an endless list… I would argue in fact the modern world has been invented as a result of this quest, and this is the next step”. King disagreed. “This money was spent on curiosity-driven research which may conceivably have some impacts on our well-being in the future. I suspect it wont”, said the Chief Miserablist, “I think we’ve probably driven this type of research far enough that it’s now more navel-searching than searching for potential future developments for the benefit of mankind”.

Scientific research priorities invariably reflect political priorities. In the days of the Cold War, that meant big stunts that demonstrate superpowers’ economic might and military prowess. For better or worse, this meant exploring the infinitesimal and the near-infinite. In today’s political climate, ambitions have been called back from the stars. Science, and the technological progress it has driven, seems to have unleashed risks, even if it has helped to win a geopolitical battle. Hence David King now frames climate change as our ‘moon landing’ — a fitting demonstration of how scientific ambition has been brought back down to Earth with a bump.

What goes up must come down, after all. Cox has since joined the same ranks. Made famous by the BBC, he now speaks more for the establishment than for science.

Asked by Gerry Morrow, ‘why don’t you get some real evidence the future will be catastrophic[?]’, Cox replied,

‘Have you empirical validation for these predictions?’, asked Rupert Darwall.

This is interesting. Cox claims that the necessity of making ‘policy decisions’ makes it imperative to take at face value probabilistic statements, which are not empirically-verified. Better the informed than the uninformed guesswork. But what is this ‘uninformed guess work’ we are asked to compare with ‘informed guesswork’. Moreover, what is the ‘informed guesswork’ informed by? Cox unwittingly reveals that the imperative is political, not scientific, and that his reasoning is circular. Why ‘must’ policy decisions be made? If the answer is that ‘informed guesswork’ suggests that policy decisions are imperative, Cox should admit it, rather than “taking the piss” out of sceptics, who might have something to say about the nature of that guessing. It is not as if Cox can say that there is something in particular, which science has positively identified and which is as tangible, say as the mechanism of evolution, which sceptics have ‘denied’.

There is a difference between being sceptical of something, and sceticism of guesswork. As I have argued before, this produces amongst the hand-wringing tendency to lose grip on what they claim is at the centre of their own argument: the scientific consensus. If the consensus is only so much guesswork — albeit ‘informed’ guesswork — but it is treated as concrete, the scientific consensus becomes a consensus without an object, and ditto, on the same view, scepticism becomes scepticism without an object. The debate amounts to two sides disagreeing about something that the side which claims something exists cannot even identify.

What is it that Cox believes sceptics are sceptical of? As Rupert Darwall makes clear, it is not the warming effect of CO2…

The real object of scepticism, then, might be no more than the over-extension of the climate narrative, which may have rather more read into it than was given to it from science.

This, naturally returns us to the IPCC. Cox was asked what he counted as evidence…

It’s not a particularly well-formulated question, I would argue, since most scepticism isn’t scepticism of “AGW”. But it is a question asked of a celebrated ‘science communicator’, nonetheless… The answer is of course, the IPCC’s synthesis report SPM…

… Which provokes the same response…

To which the award-winning science communicator replies with,

I have read AR5 SR SPM properly. And I still find it problematic. Take for example, this line from page 8.

Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence).

But this is a meaningless statement by itself. It refers to no science. It’s just a headline. To find out what it actually refers to, we need to interrogate the full version of the Synthesis Seport [PDF -10MB], not the Summary for Policymakers, and even that is merely a pointer to the relevant sections of the rest of the AR5 reports.

Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence). Impacts of such climate-related extremes include alteration of ecosystems, disruption of food production and water supply, damage to infrastructure and settlements, human morbidity and mortality and consequences for mental health and human well-being. For countries at all levels of development, these impacts are consistent with a significant lack of preparedness for current climate variability in some sectors. {WGII SPM A-1, 3.2, 4.2-3, 8.1, 9.3, 10.7, 11.3, 11.7, 13.2, 14.1, 18.6, 22.2.3, 22.3,, 24.4.1, 25.6-8, 26.6-7, 30.5,Table 18-3, Table 23-1, Figure 26-2, Box 4-3, Box 4-4, Box 25-5, Box 25-6, Box 25-8, Box CC-CR}

So how significant is the vulnerability revealed by ‘impacts from recent climate-related extremes’? How many ecosystems and how many ‘human systems’ are vulnerable and exposed to what degree of ‘climate variability’? So many weasel words litter this statement, I find it hard to take seriously at all, let alone as a summary of scientific evidence. But let’s press on, nonetheless.

The first reference is to WGII SPM A-1. But this is another SPM, not the actual review of the ‘science’. The first paragraph of A1, for instance reads,

In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Evidence of climate-change impacts is strongest and most comprehensive for natural systems. Some impacts on human systems have also been attributed5 to climate change, with a major or minor contribution of climate change distinguishable from other influences. See Figure SPM.2. Attribution of observed impacts in the WGII AR5 generally links responses of natural and human systems to observed climate change, regardless of its cause. 6

More problematically, WGII is concerned with “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”, not the “physical science basis” of climate change. WGI in fact finds,

… there has been a likely increasing trend in the frequency of heatwaves since the middle of the 20th century in Europe and Australia and across much of Asia where there are sufficient data. However, confidence on a global scale is medium owing to lack of studies over Africa and South America but also in part owing to differences in trends depending on how heatwaves are defined (Perkins et al., 2012). Using monthly means as a proxy for heatwaves Coumou et al. (2013) and Hansen et al. (2012) indicate that record-breaking temperatures in recent decades substantially exceed what would be expected by chance but caution is required when making inferences between these studies and those that deal with multi-day events and/or use more complex definitions for heatwave events

So what the Synthesis report referred to as ‘high confidence’ in ‘impacts’ of ‘heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires’ seems to be owed to only a ‘likely increasing trend’ of heatwaves, as far as the science is concerned. And on rainfall..

Given the diverse climates across the globe, it has been difficult to provide a universally valid definition of ‘extreme precipitation’.

And floods…

In summary, there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale.

On droughts…

the current assessment concludes that there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century, owing to lack of direct observations, geographical inconsistencies in the trends, and dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice. Based on updated studies, AR4 conclusions regarding global increasing trends in drought since the 1970s were probably overstated.

On cyclones…

this assessment does not revise the SREX conclusion of low confidence that any reported long-term (centennial) increases in tropical cyclone activity are robust, after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities.

On extratropical storms…

In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extratropical cyclones since 1900 is low. There is also low confidence for a clear trend in storminess proxies over the last century due to inconsistencies between studies or lack of long-term data in some parts of the world (particularly in the SH).

I could not see any statement on the frequency of wildfires. What is interesting, though, is how different the Synthesis Report, its SPM and WGII appear to be from WGI with respect to these phenomena, almost to the point of outright contradiction. Similarly, on the impacts of these events, on which the SPM claims ‘high confidence’, the same report claims,

Direct and insured losses from weather-related disasters have increased substantially in recent decades, both globally and regionally. Increasing exposure of people and economic assets has been the major cause of long-term increases in economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters (high confidence). {WGII 10.7.3, SREX SPM B,}

But of course losses from weather have increased, because the wealth that is destroyed by weather — aka development — has increased. As the IPCC chapter admits,

Growth-induced changes in past losses are removed by normalizing to current levels of destructible wealth. So far, only one study analyzes normalized global weather-related insured losses(Barthel and Neumayer, 2012), but the period is too short (1990–2008) to support a meaningful analysis of trends.

Moreover, the IPCC’s Special Report on Extremes (SREX) found that,

“There is medium evidence and high agreement that long-term trends in normalized losses have not been attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change”
“The statement about the absence of trends in impacts attributable to natural or anthropogenic climate change holds for tropical and extratropical storms and tornados”
“The absence of an attributable climate change signal in losses also holds for flood losses”

Also via Roger Pielke Jr,

“Some authors suggest that a (natural or anthropogenic) climate change signal can be found in the records of disaster losses (e.g., Mills, 2005; Höppe and Grimm, 2009), but their work is in the nature of reviews and commentary rather than empirical research.”

So to Brian Cox, we can say that the IPCC is certainly not the final world on climate science, or its impacts. Nor is it an unchallengeable presentation of the evidence. It is, taken as a whole, internally inconsistent — it’s parts are in contradiction with many of its other parts on important matters. (Some other contradictions are discussed here).

Pointing out these inconsistencies is what will ultimately lead to an improved understanding of the natural world, and to understanding our relationship with it, including an understanding of the extent to which we depend on it. By preferring to respond to climate sceptics by ‘taking the piss’, Cox will deprive science of the very thing that makes it possible: competing perspectives, each attempting to account for some phenomena or other. Cox rules out any challenge to what appears to him as the ‘consensus’ a priori, not as a consequence of an understanding of the science, but as a consequence of who is making the argument… Politics, in other words, at the expense of science.

The only way Cox can sustain his claim to be the champion of science, then, is if we note the difference between science as a process and Science as an institution. For Cox, the two may be the same thing, but we can see for ourselves that the authority of the IPCC and its reports subsists more in its political function as representatives of the consensus than as a scientific analysis.

The point couldn’t be better demonstrated than by Cox himself. He points to the most problematic part of the IPCC’s output: the SPM of the Synthesis report. And he points to it as evidence. And yet it contradicts the rest of the Assessment Report. The IPCC can’t even communicate clear science to a science communicator. All he is left with is ‘taking the piss’.

This is a weird science indeed. And it is a weird science communicator and science advocate who wields the authority of scientific institutions, rather than champions the scientific method, and who allows political expediency to posit half-baked Bayesian waffle in the place of scientific knowledge. On Twitter.

Cox started well. But he is surely a victim of his own success. Not being all that remarkable (as far as the public is concerned) for his science, he was instead made famous by being a relatively pretty face in an era of dumbed down television, in which producers were nervous of otherwise ugly scientists (in)ability to generate ratings. Chosen then to speak for science — to make science cool — Cox was inevitably drawn closer to the establishment and its preoccupations. Perhaps some iron law dictates that as an individual without merit is elevated as a scientific hero, the bigger prick he will turn out to be.

Cox knows very little about climate science, hence he waves the authority of the IPCC AR5 SR SPM in no more a qualified way than the climate campers, who declared in 2007 that they were “Armed… only with peer-reviewed science”. They thought they were, but the pages they were holding aloft like a preacher holds a bible were not from a scientific paper, nor was it peer-reviewed. It was a report called ‘living within a carbon budget‘ from the Tyndall Centre, for the Coop Bank and Friends of the Earth.


Cox is not so different. But let’s not single him out. More important is understanding what produced Cox. After all, Cox merely reproduces the orthodox view, not even of climate science, but of critics of that view. He preaches the virtues of science, but it is a view of science that looks more like a search for authority than as a liberating form of knowledge — a quest that is shared by the proponents of climate politics. Challenges to that form of politics look to its advocates as denial of science, but it is they, who would so easily dismiss criticism on that basis, who are anti science as a process though not science as an institution. Science is increasingly more about shoring up ailing political institutions than about shedding light on material phenomena. If it weren’t so, it would be hard to explain Cox’s anger and frustration with climate sceptics.

If that sounds too much, consider this. Here is Cox explaining to a TV producer why time goes in one direction, and why the direction you move through time is constrained.

So clearly Cox is an able communicator. But this ability breaks down as Cox nears the climate debate. At this point he becomes sweary and impatient. Perhaps, then, Cox should stick to science, and maybe stick to physics. Outside of physics, he becomes inarticulate and aggressive. Isn’t that tendency in microcosm what we see in the broader climate debate? Science overreaches itself, and then its proponents and heroes are forced to fight what are essentially their own excesses — grand claims made before evidence, supported only by ‘probabilistic’ guesswork, and protected from criticism by the notion of a polarised debate — but which appear to them as ‘sceptics’ and ‘deniers’. It would be harder to be a sceptic of the IPCC if its AR’s were more consistent. And it would be harder to criticise the IPCC and UNFCCC if the process was not so transparently about turning a seemingly scientific idea into a vast political project.

What Do Psychologists Have to Say About Climate Change?

One of the least-explored but most revealing things about the climate change debate (such as it is) is the intersection of climate science and psychology. I have yet to see anything from psychologists that sheds any light on the debate more than it merely exacerbates its problems. And I have yet to encounter a psychologist who seems able to take criticism, and who is not, let us say ‘attached’ to a particular outcome of that debate. In the Guardian yesterday, Oliver Burkeman writes,

At yesterday’s summit in Bavaria, the G7 leading industrial nations agreed to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century. It’s easy to be cynical about these things, but these official goals really matter. And one big reason is this: in the absence of intergovernmental action, we are hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with this problem as individuals.

My problem with the G7’s new goal is the same as it is with any supranational organisation’s pronouncement: where is your mandate? Briefly, it seems to me that climate change allows the construction of political institutions and the accretion of power above democratic oversight. To some, that looks like a conspiracy theory. But there’s nothing secret about it: it is all done in plain sight. There is no secret about the intention to build supranational organisations to tackle seemingly “global problems” that would be intractable under normal politics, by which I mean sovereign national democratic governments. And it is no secret that these organisations make more of the issue of climate change than either the man-in-the-street or the governments themselves make. A simple thought experiment suffices: would the UN or the EU, or for that matter, organisations like The World Economic Forum, World Bank and NGOs be any smaller, were climate change never to have presented itself? I think not. And yet this process of institution-building goes on, largely unchallenged, or even unquestioned. I find that odd.

Burkeman continues:

In fact, if a cabal of evil psychologists had gathered in a secret undersea base to concoct a crisis humanity would be hopelessly ill-equipped to address, they couldn’t have done better than climate change. We’ve evolved to respond more vigorously to threats that are immediate and easy to picture mentally, rather than those that are distant and abstract; we’re more sensitive to intentional threats from specific humans, rather than unintentional ones resulting from collective action; we’re terrible at making small sacrifices in the present to avoid vast ones in future; our attention is seized by phenomena that change daily, rather than those that ratchet up gradually over years.

All of these premises strike me as problematic, if not flat-out wrong. Are they a damning indictment of human’s faculties? Or are they a justification for psychologists seeking a slice of political action? All political ideas — ideas about how society ought to be organised, if it is to be organised at all — begin with a conception of humans, whether that be an explicit or implicit declaration. Burkeman’s claim is the one that we are familiar with: individuals are not competent to make decisions about their own future when faced with a problem such as climate change:

And should it dawn on us that our behaviours don’t match our beliefs – that we’re not doing our bit to save the planet, even though we think we should – we find it far easier to adjust the belief (downgrading the importance of climate change) than the behaviour (flying less, having fewer children).

This principle gives the title to Burkeman’s article: “We’re all climate change deniers at heart“. Accordingly, he proposes a system of mechanisms which produce “climate change denial”, which he takes from George Marshall and Daniel Kahneman

In one strikingly depressing scene in his recent book Don’t Even Think About It, climate change activist George Marshall interviews the Nobel prizewinning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the leading scholar of cognitive biases, and tries to nudge him into saying that understanding our brains’ limitations will, at the very least, make it easier to overcome them. “I’m not very optimistic about that,” Kahneman replies, despondently sipping tomato soup. “No amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standard of living. So that’s my bottom line: there is not much hope. I’m thoroughly pessimistic. I’m sorry.” The pessimism of experts provides yet another reason to pay attention to something else, anything else, instead of climate change: why choose to spend your days feeling relentlessly depressed?

Such is the climate psychologist’s burden…

Even once you grasp that people in general are terrible at responding to a threat such as climate change, though, there’s another hurdle: it remains much harder to accept how far you’re prone to such psychological pitfalls yourself. (This bias against perceiving your own bias has its own label: the bias blind spot.) It’s easy enough for any of us who aren’t climate-change deniers to engage in armchair psychoanalysis of them: they’re mired in denial and defence mechanisms, busily constructing online communities of like-minded people to help shield themselves from guilt, from accepting the need for personal sacrifices, or from contemplating their mortality. It’s much more difficult to accept that, in a subtler sense, you might be a climate change denier yourself. But the drive to eliminate cognitive dissonance – to rid yourself of the discomfort that comes from holding contradictory beliefs, or failing to act in accordance with your beliefs – is an awesomely powerful thing.


Personally I lean more towards Kahneman’s pessimism. Yet the same self-questioning stance surely demands that I acknowledge even pessimism has its selfish payoffs: if there’s nothing to be done, I might as well not bother trying to do anything. Despair can be a kind of denialism, too.

Of course, this blog is about building an online community of like-minded people, to help shield us from guilt, and from the need to accept my own personal sacrifice, and to defer my inevitable mortality… So I would say this… But what I think is interesting is just how terribly limited Burkeman’s injunction is. He seems to want his fellow climate concerned to reflect on themselves to the extent to which it would reveal that they are some kind of climate change deniers (though he believes that this is ultimately doomed to fail, along with the human race, in Thermageddon). But he doesn’t seem willing to reflect on the opposite: the extent to which he needs climate change to make his opening statement, praising the G7 for their statement on abolishing the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century… “these official goals really matter… we are hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with this problem as individuals.”

Why aren’t we free to interrogate official thinking? Why is psychology limited to interrogating the individual mind, to establish its limits, and not official thinking? I am amazed that psychologists have not been more forthcoming in this respect, to criticise the climate psychologists, if not the alarmists. After all, it is not as if there is no precedent for asking questions about the authority of the psychological sciences, as this short film about David Rosenhan’s famous experiment shows:

The problem of being sane in insane places, then, is that you cannot speak about the use of psychiatric labels where they are not appropriate. Accordingly, we cannot speak about the problems of climate science, or climate policy, or environmentalism without betraying our psychological inclinations such as ‘cognitive dissonance’, to avoid facing sacrifice or mortality. And it’s not until we accept the authority of official pronouncements on our condition that we are to be released from the climate mental ward, into the limited freedom outside it, which has been designed according to the exact same specification and principles as the hospital.

But unpacking the problem reveals much more about the psychological sciences — to the extent that they are attached to the climate issue — than it reveals about the psychology of individual ‘deniers’. The psychologist is not a climate scientist. As such, he can only measure the sanity of his patient against his own understanding of climate science (or policy).

In other words, psychology has to borrow its authority from climate science. And it is not until it has borrowed this authority from climate science that it can identify problems lumped under the term ‘cognitive dissonance’, to give it not just political significance, but global political significance.

So why isn’t psychology — as a science — able to produce it’s own authority, per the Royal Society’s motto, nullius in verba, ‘on the word of no one’? If mathematical proof depended on axioms supplied by cellular biology, we would wonder about mathematics. But very few questions seem to be asked when psychologists pronounce on the limitations of individual’s psychology, based on their own understanding of climate science: the ‘facts’ it supplies to them, such that they can detect ‘cognitive dissonance’.

One answer is Rosenhan’s experiment. Of course, that experiment was about psychiatry, rather than psychology as such. But the experiment is pertinent. The ambition of understanding the human mind and its shortcomings is not matched by the results produced by this branch of psychology. Nobody needed science to tell us that to err is human, nor that answering questions of perspective are confounded by perspective itself.

Call me a psychology sceptic, then, before you call me a climate change sceptic. New sciences make big claims about how understanding the object of their studies will transform the world. But these big claims invariably seem to be invested in by politics than by those of us who labour in our misapprehensions of the world, and our cognitive dissonance. Be they sociologists, eugenicists, Malthusians, cyberticians, memeticians or technocrats, the positivists’ dream is our recurring nightmare. Sciences are invented and reinvented, to reorganise political priorities, away from our befuddled minds.

It would be harder to say all this if the promise made by the G7 was not to ‘phase out’ fossil fuels by 2100, but to instead focus attempts to make such a thing possible. This was the point discussed in the previous post — the UK’s self-appointed climate aristocrats who want $150 billion to make wind and solar power economically competitive with coal. Yet even with that impulse, there is a problem. They presuppose the feasibility of the objective, and rule out the alternatives, be they low carbon or not, such as nuclear fission and fusion, distorting the research agenda, and depriving other experimental pathways of budgets. They ‘pick winners’, in other words, while enriching those techniques whose advocates have made the biggest claims. It is as if all we need to do to work out what the price of one form of energy will be in the future is find the relationship between R&D expenditure and the price signal, and extrapolate it into the future… And voila!…

So what happens if we are allowed to interrogate the psychology of the climate artistocrats and climate shrinks? The big claims that were made by psychologists in the twentieth century caused it to fall out of favour, and to lose its authority — in contrast to big, sexy science like high energy physics, which still promises to discover the ‘god particle’, no less. Meanwhile, researchers were increasingly made to prove their relevance to society — ‘impact’ — rather than to investigate the material world merely as an end in itself. I believe that the result is an ugly, self-serving compact between scientific institutions and politics. The antipathy towards humans, and the low estimation of their faculties expressed by those who embrace this nexus of psychological and climate science is the even uglier chimera of this union. It seems that weak science can multiply itself, and to amplify its message by teaming up with another weak science in the service of a political agenda.

After I tweeted about Burkeman’s post yesterday, some wag tweeted back,

Yeah. Shame your grandchildren won’t get to vote on your stupidity – I know how they’d vote..

The implication is, of course, that it is my (non-existent) children’s (non-existent) children who will suffer the consequences of my stupidy — climate change. Yet I am confident that future generations should be able to vote, as much as they should be able judge my words for themselves, not to have some climate academic limit their vote, and to rule out their judgement as cognitive dissonance.

The point of climate change psychology — much more than climate science — is to protect the political establishment from such judgement in the present. It is a form of consensus enforcement, and debate policing.

It is through debate that the shortcomings of individuals can be overcome, and some kind of synthesis produced out of profound disagreements achieved. So we don’t need some psychological toolkit to examine our own psychologies. And we do not need climate psychologists to point these shortcomings out. This is the dynamic that makes science possible, after all. But climate change psychology aims to rule out inconvenient perspectives, to exclude them from debate, such that only officially-sanctioned opinion is allowed to have any consequence.

The interesting phenomena in the climate debate is not ‘cognitive dissonance’, but the emergence of academic disciplines like climate change psychology. Rather than people checking themselves for latent climate change denialism, it is these werido academics, their claims and their institutions which need to be interrogated. They take themselves as planet-savers at face value, of course, but why should we?

The Apollo Lords – Shooting for the Stars? Or the Foot?

The climate debate has seen much history dragged into the present, to be served up again as hollow pastiches in environmentalists’ and climate activists’ shallow morality plays. Unable to make their own history, greens have to recycle moments from the past, to give their cause historical significance in the present. There have been green ‘New Deals‘. Martin Luther King’s words were altered to make a green message — a climate ‘fierce urgency of now‘. There have been comparisons of abolition with mitigation, allowing academic activists to claimt that climate sceptics were the latter day moral equivalent of slave traders. Some activists have gone further than mere figurative allusions, and dressed themselves up as ‘climate suffragettes‘. But my favourite has been the “climate change is our moon landing”, beloved of erstwhile UK chief Science Advisor, David King.

Kennedy’s famous moon landing speech outlined the ambition to put men on the moon within a decade. And so it is no surprise that a decade is the time frame chosen by the latest venture to bear King’s name…

King is one of six climate aristocrats — the others are all Peers — that have put together the ‘Global Apollo Programme’ (GAP), which wants the same proportion of GDP spent by each member country as the US spent on its own moon-shot.

The top table of Gap is as follows.

Sir David King, Former UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser. Lord John Browne, Executive Chairman at L1 Energy. Former President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and former CEO BP. Lord Richard Layard, Director of Wellbeing Programme, LSE Centre for Economic Performance. Emeritus Professor of Economics. Lord Gus O’Donnell, Chairman, Frontier Economics. Former UK Cabinet Secretary. Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and Former President of the Royal Society and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge & Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics. Lord Nicholas Stern, IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government, LSE, & Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. Lord Adair Turner, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of New Economic Thinking & Former Chairman of the Financial Services Authority and the Committee on Climate Change.

This blog has never objected to increased emphasis and budgeting on energy R&D. Contrary to the comments made about energy by notable environmentalists, more energy is a good thing…

“It would be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy.” — Amory Lovins

“Giving inexpensive and abundant energy to Americans today would be like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.” — Paul Ehrlich.

Environmentalism, it is argued here, has always been, and is necessarily about locating political authority in a particular view of humans, society and its relationship with the natural environment. Abundance, or even just the promise of abundance, is anathema to that view. Even abundance in the abstract sense divorces us from nature. A theological comparison pertains here with The Fall. The limits of nature are there to discipline us, to constrain our vices, and to impose the order that our sins turn to chaos.

On the optimistic, humanist view, however, more energy is a good thing precisely because it frees us from such limits which invariably result in suffering. But abundance threatens the political order imagined by today’s secular ascetics. So it is a surprise to see the leading proponents of far-reaching climate malthusianism now openly calling for R&D.

The question that needs to be asked about any claim for R&D expenses, though, must be ‘what for?’. Energy R&D is not a good thing in-and-of-itself. Energy is a Good Thing for us. The new Global Apollo Programme seems to want energy to be for the climate.

The contradiction here is one that the GAP cannot understand. It sounds great, to find a source of energy which is as cheap as coal within a decade. But this would be no leap equivalent to landing on the moon, because it would not yield any benefit to us greater than burning coal. Moreover, the same R&D budget not restricted to the green sector might create the possibility of new sources of fossil fuels. It might accelerate the exploitation of methane hydrates, for instance. Or it could help in the development of techniques like underground coal gasification. Or fracking, of course. Restricting R&D to ‘green’ technology could conceivably carry the consequence of precluding such developments which would make fossil fuels more abundant and less expensive, thereby denying those who would benefit from it the advantages of any new technology. The best that GAP offers us is life a decade hence as good as today.

The report produced by GAP claims that

One thing would be enough to make it happen: if clean energy became less costly to produce than energy based on coal, gas or oil. Once this happened, the coal, gas and oil would simply stay in the ground. Until then fossil-fuel-based energy should of course be charged for the damage it does, but ultimately energy should become able to compete directly on cost. How quickly could this happen?

The challenge is a technological one and it requires a major focus from scientists and engineers. The need is urgent. Greenhouse gases once emitted stay with us for well over a century. It would also be tragic if we now over-invested in polluting assets which rapidly became obsolete.

In the past, when our way of life has been threatened, governments have mounted major scientific programmes to overcome the challenges. In the Cold War the Apollo Programme placed a man on the moon. This programme engaged many of the best minds in America. Today we need a global Apollo programme to tackle climate change; but this time the effort needs to be international. We need a major international scientific and technological effort, funded by both public and private money. This should be one key ingredient among all the many other steps needed to tackle climate change which have been so well set out in the latest reports of the IPCC.

On GAP’s view, finding a technology to exploit renewable resources such that they become as cheap as coal is nothing more than just scientific investigation. But what if such a discovery were never possible? What if it turns out that it is, after all, harder to turn ambient energy into useful energy than it is to turn energy-dense substances into energy?

The key to this miraculous discovery lies in another chart produced by GAP.

I love these charts, because they mean absolutely nothing. What are the pillars supporting? And in what sense are storage, transmission and efficiency ‘foundations’ for the pillars? They would make more sense if they were labelled, ‘Sunday’, ‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’ from the bottom, followed by ‘Wednesday’, ‘Thursday’, ‘Friday’ across. Says the GAP,

For three of these six areas (which are shaded in the diagram) there is already a high level of research effort. For example, in nuclear fission there is the G4 international programme to produce a much more efficient use of uranium whereby enrichment occurs on site; in nuclear fusion there is the International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor (ITER) programme. But in the three unshaded areas (renewables, storage and transmission) there is far too little research and the present proposal focusses on those areas.

But how true — or significant — is this?

Figures from the OECD and IEA seem to bear out the proportions. (I haven’t been able to locate the precise amounts of funding). (There seems to be some data missing from the series, and the reduction in funding may be a result of quality. Also, I am assuming that this is government expenditure, not including private funding of R&D).

But think about what is being produced here. The proof of concept of a new solar PV cell would fit in your hand. But a proof of concept for nuclear fusion or fission would likely require a great deal more hardware, real estate infrastructure and thus capital, just to get off the ground. For this reason, also, state funding of R&D might be filling a gap in nuclear, so to speak, which potential developers could close for themselves in the storage and solar sectors. GAP’s comparison might not be one of apples and apples.

Moreover, if there is an urgent need to address the problem, in what way is the $5 billion of global R&D budget for nuclear energy ‘enough’? It wouldn’t even be enough to build a nuclear power station. Given that Nicholas Stern — one of the leaders of GAP — imagines a world in which climate change costs integer percentages of global GDP, and argues for similar expenditure or opportunity cost on mitigation, it hardly seems like a sensible claim. Even more so, when we consider that energy storage will always add a cost to generation, and that generation of power from renewables might never compete with coal. Einstein’s equation, on the other hand, tells us what the material limits of yield from nuclear reactions are, and they are astronomical compared to even the most optimistic expectations of yield from renewable energy.

Again, this isn’t a throw-all-the-money-in-the-world-at-nuclear-R&D argument, mainly because I don’t believe the premises of GAP, that climate change is the urgent problem that Stern et al have claimed. But there is a better argument for investing in energy R&D for the good it will produce for people. And if climate change is an urgent problem, why spend such a paltry amount as $150bn a year on it? Why not spend as much on energy R&D as was spent on banking bailouts and quantitative easing throughout the Western world?

One answer returns us to the political utility of scarcity. In short, GAP is a manifesto for climate bureaucrats, and the promise to them is that they will be able to sustain their cake and eat it. It is only by making modest proposals, rather than by making promises of the deadly abundance, that the climate establishment can maintain its grip over the political agenda. The clue is in the programme:

(1) Target. The target will be that new-build base-load energy from renewable sources becomes cheaper than new-build coal in sunny parts of the world by 2020, and worldwide from 2025.

(2) Scale. Any government joining the Programme consortium will pledge to spend an annual average of 0.02% of GDP as public expenditure on the Programme from 2016 to 2025. The money will be spent according to the country’s own discretion. We hope all major countries will join. This is an enhanced, expanded and internationally co-ordinated version of many national programmes.

(3) Roadmap Committee. The Programme will generate year by year a clear roadmap of the scientific breakthroughs required at each stage to maintain the pace of cost reduction, along the lines of Moore’s Law. Such an arrangement has worked extremely well in the semi-conductor field, where since the 1990s the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) has identified the scientific bottlenecks to further cost reduction and has spelt out the advances needed at the pre-competitive stages of RD&D. That Roadmap has been constructed through a consortium of major players in the industry in many countries, guided by a committee of 2-4 representatives of each main region. The RD&D needed has then been financed by governments and the private sector.

Look at how quickly we skate through such petty little detail as how, in the space of just five years, this project will make solar power cheaper than coal in sunny countries, and how simple it will be for countries to join. But then look at how much detail there is about the committee, as it effortlessly reproduced Moore’s Law in an entirely different technology sector, as though laws such as Moore’s simply by designing the right institutional configuration.

Would we be surprised to find the names King, Browne, Layard, O’Donnell, Rees, Stern, Turner on this committee? They seem to be the names on almost every other climate boondoggle going?

The tone of the GAP’s report seems incredulous that the world has not already handed over all its cash to these six knights and peers of the realm.

We are talking about the greatest material challenge facing humankind. Yet the share of global publicly-funded RD&D going on renewable energy worldwide is under 2% (see Table 1).18 19 Remarkably the share of all energy research in total publicly-funded R&D expenditure has fallen from 11% in the early 1980s to 4% today. This is a shocking failure by those who allocate the money for R&D.

But hold on a minute, my Lords… Who, free from the excesses of party politics and democratic contest, has been in a position to advise governments on the best strategies to dealing with climate change? Your noble selves, that’s who. In fact you were appointed in precisely this capacity. But as yet, it has taken you decades to organise an effort to orient publicly-funded research.

There is no doubt that David King has argued for different research priorities. Here he is in 2008, arguing with Brian Cox, who later became as disappointing as King, for his misapprehension of the climate debate (amongst other things, including his religious conception of ‘science’).

As reported here at the time, King was jealous of the budget’s available to high-energy physics, its international profile and its superstar status. Particle physics is sexy, whereas people who bang on about climate change invariably express themselves in a nasal whine, and in contrast to the optimism of their counterparts in physics, are preoccupied with the negative implications of their science. King, for example, saw the search for the Higgs-Boson as so much ‘naval-gazing’, without useful application in a world at the brink of catastrophic change — a burden that he seemed to be shouldering all by himself, while others toyed with expensive hardware. Never mind the possibility that the work at Cern might produce insight useful for the development of nuclear energy.

King’s colleague at GAP, Martin Rees, takes a similar view of inappropriate scientific research priorities, as has been discussed here before. In Our Final Hour, Rees outlines his scare stories, amongst which are his estimate that the odds of the human race surviving this century are just 50%, and that by 2020 — five years into the GAP project — “bioterror or bioerror will lead to one million casualties in a single event“. It was, after all, science which unleashed all that carbon. Science’s bureaucrats, then, are very good at making work for themselves.

Science has been very good, then, at telling us about what we must not do. But not so good at providing solutions to the problems its leading lights claim to have identified. As Climate Change Committee (CCC) member, Julia King, admitted, the CCC saw behaviour change as a key strategy in reducing emissions. Odd words, for a professor of engineering — unless it is behaviour she wants to engineer. And that seems to have been the emphasis of climate bureaucrats. As was pointed out in Rob Lyons’s interview with Bjorn Lomborg a few years ago, ‘Climate change: a practical problem, not a moral one‘. Said Lomborg,

If you do the standard Kyoto-style solution […] you do a couple of pence worth of good for every pound that you spend. But if you spent that same pound on energy R&D, you’d avoid £11 worth of climate damage – that’s 500 times more benefit. That’s why I’m suggesting we should be spending real money on tackling climate change, but we should be spending it smartly not stupidly.

But, of course, abundance creates a scarcity for the climate bureaucrat, who now scratches around for justification. It has taken so long for the climate change establishment to recognise the relatively strategies advocated by the likes of Lomborg, Pielke and the Breakthrough Institute because their ambition of creating a global political climate institution has been so long in its collapse. Political reality has caught up with environmentalism’s ambitions, and it is only now that the policy-down approach looks like it is about to collapse that the technology-up approach, seems to be gaining traction, and that the likes of Stern et al are pretending it was their idea all along.

It would not have been hard for the technology-up approach to have succeeded where the ambitious one-size-fits-all global policies have utterly failed. Financing R&D through microtaxes on energy consumption would have made some complain about the necessity of such a project, and the rights and wrongs of state intervention in innovation. But it would have been hard for those complaints to say that any real harm would come of it. Instead, climate sceptics can point to actual harm. There have been two decades of re-emphasis in the development agenda, which may have deprived millions of people access to energy, and increased energy costs in more developed economies, making life harder for millions of poorer families, and depriving many more of opportunity. We can compare the consequences of anti-technology (and in many instances, anti-human) policies to the emerging reality: that stories of climate catastrophe were simply overcooked, and intended to give momentum to a political project; that the implications of climate change are not as urgent as other problems faced by very many people; that development (not even ‘adaptation’) , including access to cheap energy, would be a better remedy to any likely perceivable consequences of climate change than radical mitigation; that hasty mitigation is itself harmful.

These things now being understood is a demonstration of the GAP project’s moral bankruptcy. We are supposed to take at face value the good faith of these six men. But in fact this latest move looks much more like six climate bureaucrats hedging their bets ahead of failure at Paris, and the shifting of the climate agenda.

If that sounds like I’ve over-egged the point, consider the concluding paragraphs from the Guardian’s coverage of GAP’s launch

Sir David Attenborough, who recently discussed climate change in a meeting with US president Barack Obama, said: “I have been involved in arguments about the despoilation of the natural world for many years. The exciting thing about the [Apollo] report is that it is a positive report – at last someone is saying there is a way we can do things.”

Prof John Schellnhuber, a climate scientist and former adviser to German chancellor Angela Merkel called the Apollo plan “truly ingenious” and said it “could well be a tipping point” in tackling climate change.

Is it conceivable that such learned figures such as Attenborough and Schellnhuber didn’t know of the existence of this form of idea — of spending around $15bn a year on energy R&D? Did they miss Lomborg’s book and film, “Cool It” — which contain much more detail than the GAP report? Or Pielke’s and the BTI’s volumes of work on the same theme? If it is true that they’d never considered the possibility before, it speaks to their bad faith nonetheless. They have no place commenting on climate change if they are new to this idea of solving the problem of climate change through technology. And so it is with the six knights and lords, who make no mention of Lomborg, either.

Tim Worstall puts it most succinctly:

These people are idiots, aren’t they?

Everyone and their grandmother knows that if you can design, invent or kludge together something that either:

Generates electricity cheaper than coal


Can store intermittently produced electricity cost effectively

…then you’re likely to become the world’s first dollar trillionaire. It’s, how to put this, uncertain, that any more incentive is needed.

Idiots, they surely must be. In fact, doesn’t this story of a King, and his defenders of the Realm in search of the Holy Grail sound awfully familiar?

The Global Aoollo Programme arrive at the COP meeting in Paris…

Shock News: Guardian Pages Sponsored by Rank Hypocrisy

Two things have become clear to me over the years regarding the putative ‘ethics’ of the Guardian’s green campaigns, copy and hacks.

First, it is a general rule that ‘ethics’ are for thee, but not for me. Second, these ‘ethics’ are intended to elevate those who bear them.

The people who bang on the loudest about ‘ethics’ are usually the least observant of these ‘ethical’ principles. It is not uncommon to find the climate Great and Good — celebs like Leonardo di Caprio and Pharrell Williams — preaching climate change to the World from the comfort of a private jet or luxury yacht. ‘Ethics’ gives a platform, from where to judge.

For the Guardian, the two limitations of its ‘ethics’ mean that it can weave an article out of nothing but the alleged infraction of an “ethic”, while in fact being in the midst of something far worse.

In today’s Guardian, Terry Macalister — the paper’s energy editor — writes

Shell sought to influence direction of Science Museum climate programme
Oil giant raised concerns one part of the project, which it sponsored, could give NGOs opportunity to open up debate on its operations, internal emails show

The article is published as part of the newspaper’s Keep it in the Ground campaign against fossil fuel companies, encouraging big capital investors to move their interests out of brown energy — ‘divestment’. The allegation is that Shell, as long-time sponsors of the Science Museum in London may have used this funding relationship to change the messages delivered by the museum’s climate change exhibit.

I visited the museum a few years ago, and wrote it up for Spiked. Read it here. Most notable, I felt, was the reflection of the times across the Museum’s different galleries. All those artefacts of historical pioneering spirit — spacecraft, aircraft, instruments and machines — were now lost to bland interactive displays.

The contrast between the space race and today’s low aspirations epitomised by Atmosphere invites a further comparison of the prevailing ideologies of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries and their propaganda. For all the world’s deep and dangerous problems that belied the optimism surrounding the Apollo programme, and of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin’s missions, they remain uplifting reminders of what is possible. The contemporary preoccupation with climate change, on the other hand, yields only joyless propaganda: an antithesis to the progress promised in the past.

Here’s some video I took of the same.

It was, as I described it, a tedious dollop of eco-propaganda. If there was any influence of fossil fuel companies’ dirty money on the exhibition, it certainly wasn’t obvious to me. The exhibition was, in spite of being sponsored by oil companies, as glib and alarmist as any propaganda issued by green NGOs.

Yet the Guardian claim…

Shell tried to influence the presentation of a climate change programme it was sponsoring at the Science Museum in London, internal documents seen by the Guardian show.

Epitomising this weird new puritanism, ex-academic and Guardian blogger, now at the failed 10:10 campaign, Alice Bell tweeted,

Exactly a year after my Spiked article on the exhibition, Bell seemed to agree…

So, exceedingly pretty as Atmosphere is, the highlight of my trip to the museum was gawping at the Apollo 10 capsule. A humble-looking object, it has actually been around the Moon. You can see scorch marks from when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

I thought about its history, and the many times I’d stood there before. I remembered conversations I’d had with people about it. I remembered being moved to read more about the history of space travel, including the ways images from Apollo missions had inspired green activism in the 1970s, presenting Earth as a fragile, beautiful and, indeed, blue sphere in space.

Time spent quietly pondering the history of an object is an old-fashioned idea of a museum, but it still has power.

She’s wrong, though, of course. What inspired the ‘green activism’ of the 1970s was not as much pretty pictures of ‘Gaia’ as much as it was the oil shock, and the other economic and Cold War crises that developed as the postwar economic boom turned to bust. And it was not ‘green activists’ which were inspired as much as billionaires and their lackeys, who formed around the Club of Rome, and influenced the UN. Bell re-writes environmentalism’s history. Many, many many more young minds were inspired by the possibilities that the moon landing represented than were moved by the lonely image of the earth in Space. The green movement’s half-century campaign for austerity has sought to deny those possibilities to those minds.

I digress. The point here is that the Atmosphere exhibition at the science museum, clearly wasn’t some kind of fossil-fuel propaganda. Nobody taking the exhibition at face value could walk away from it as a climate change sceptic. Not even Alice Bell was complaining in 2011 that there was any hint of scepticism or denial in the exhibition. Her criticism was, like mine, that the fashion for interactive displays and the suchlike, as a way of attempting to engage minds with the ‘issues’ is probably not adequate.

The only way it would be possible to see Atmosphere as serving fossil fuel interests would be if one were to reflect on just how naff its exhibits and messages were, and what thinking and relationships may have been behind it.


Take this utterly clichéd House of Cards artwork, for instance. If we see it as an ironic gesture, then, yes, perhaps we can see that it could come to epitomise everything green: an art project that is entirely without artistic merit is commissioned by a public organisation with mixed private/public funding, as part of a broader, policy-relevant exhibition; an otherwise talentless ‘artist’ supported by a public organisation. Or perhaps the plan was simply to bore people away from the issue.

Where are the crappy paintings by climate sceptics at this Shell-sponsored exhibition? Where are the second-rate interactive media installations giving the sky-dragon version of climate change physics at this fossil-fuel industry funded show? And where are the glib ‘messages’ moderating — let alone ‘denying’ — the alarmist narratives served up at this Big Oil beano? If Shell or its PR firms intended to use Atmosphere to serve its own interests in the climate debate, it should be thoroughly ashamed of itself… Not for the shame of seeking to intervene in this way, but because it has done such a pisspoor job of it.

So what is behind the headlines? This picture of an oil company’s massive, illegitimate intrusion into the public debate on climate change, you will notice, is painted with run-of-the-mill Guardianista weasel words… “The Anglo-Dutch oil group raised concerns with the museum…”, “The company also wanted to know…”, “Emails show the close relationship between the Science Museum and Shell…”, “… a Shell staff member gives what they call a “heads up” on a Reuters story…”, “…a Shell employee [has] some concerns [that an] exhibition […] creates an opportunity for NGOs to talk about some of the issues that concern them around Shell’s operations.”

Is this the stuff of a conspiracy? Raising concerns? Are “close relationships” between major funders and beneficiaries unusual? Or is it just innuendo?

Perhaps one complaint — that “Shell’s own climate change adviser – former oil trader David Hone – made recommendations on what should be included” — might have been more interesting, had the exhibition not been, as discussed above, a virtual playground for climate alarmism. But there was no sign of scepticism of either climate science or policy on show.

Similarly, the Guardian suggests that the museum is compromised because its director criticised Greenpeace… (HOW DARE HE?!!).

the Science Museum’s former director Chris Rapley criticised Greenpeace’s successful campaign to make Lego drop its partnership with Shell.

But this, neither, passes the smell test. While this conspiracy between Shell, the Science Museum and Rapley was going on, he was penning his awful monologue, 2071, which I reviewed for Brietbart London back in November.

If you really want to know what this stage play formula is like, imagine a compulsory lecture on climate change at a low-tier university. On Saturday night. With Powerpoint. A city… no a world… of better offers exists outside. But you are trapped.

This is no exaggeration. Chris Rapley is keen to qualify his role as lecturer by professing his expertise in many things during the opening ten minutes (they felt like hours). One of those things is the cryosphere (the frozen parts of the planet), which is so-called because Rapley went there and bored entire mountains of ice to tears.

Rapley has since given up his snow mobile. Now he sits in a chair, from where, almost motionless, he freezes the brains of hundreds of people, each of whom seem to have volunteered themselves for this 70 minute ordeal of skull-crushingly dull ‘untertainment’ for up to £32 each. By the end of its ten-day run, some 3,600 individuals will have witnessed Rapley’s sedentary call to action.

Yet Naomi Klein Tweeted…

If Chris Rapley is part of some conspiracy to ‘silence the climate debate’, much less undermine climate science and subvert climate policy, he has me completely fooled. I am totally and utterly hoodwinked by his clever act. I have been to the climate change exhibition at the Museum he was director of. And I have been to see his stage play. And I have seen him speak at about half a dozen debates. I remain unimpressed by his argument and intellectual depth, but I am convinced he is a believer. He has bored me to tears, and I’m sure he has done it for his own self-interest, but I am sure he believes, nonetheless.

It is perhaps significant that the Guardian article does not reveal who obtained these emails. Because reading them reveals absolutely nothing underhand at all. See for yourself.

But another reason for the Guardian’s coyness is that the campaign which obtained the email exchange between the Science Museum and Shell wants to use the fact of sponsorship to embarrass the museum into dropping the sponsor. That campaign is BP or not BP, whose aim is to disrupt oil companies’ sponsorship of cultural events, as this video shows.

An interesting aside… The chap at 0:52 introduced as “Danny”, AKA Danny Chivers. Chivers appears to be the PKA Tim Lever, spokesman of the 2007 Climate Camp. Here he is, talking to Richard and Judy…

Clearly disrupting mass transport left Timmy and his pals more alienated from an unappreciative audience than they were anticipating. Better to target the luvvies, by disrupting instead subsidised and sponsored performances of Shakespeare. This demonstrates a considerable adjustment of the radical environmental movement’s ambitions over the last few years: from disrupting operations at one of the busiest transport hubs in the world… To heckling at a play, to an audience who likely already shares their values, and whose minds did not need changing.

If there is any constituency in the world that needs no encouragement to participate in a shallow Two Minute Hate ritual against oil companies, it is the luvvies — whose lifestyle choices are, broadly speaking, subsidised on the basis that they are Good Things. And it is this which most reflects the utter absurdity of the campaign. As the BP-or-not-BP campaign’s own video shows, nobody was fooled by BP’s sponsorship of the arts — its greenwashing. And so it is equally unlikely that anyone coming away from the Atmosphere exhibition would, even if they had noticed Shell’s sponsorship, have come away from it thinking about what a thoroughly decent Big Oil company it is.

BP-or-not-BP are concerned that people might not understand, you see, that companies which sponsor cultural things… Things like museums, operas, and plays… Do bad things, like producing energy for things like, erm, museums, operas and plays, as well the vehicles which take people to them, and things such as schools, hospitals and… Horror of horrors… factories where things are made. BP-or-not-BP want to rid the cultural sphere of companies like BP and Shell, not because they can point to any substantive interference intended to sway opinion in the climate debate, but because they believe that by purging the cultural sphere, the debate can be won. Think of it as Ethical Cleansing…

This brings us to why the Guardian omitted the FOI requesters… Their divestment campaign now in full swing, it would be a foolish time to admit to the world that there is something hypocritical about campaigning to ‘Keep it in the Ground‘ at the same time as being sponsored by the third largest coal mining interest in the world.

The very same Guardian writer has written articles under that very same campaign, saying that “Oil companies’ sponsorship of the arts ‘is cynical PR strategy’“. But just a couple of clicks away is the Guardian’s Anglo American partner zone section of its Sustainable Business pages, the most recent article on which was published just two days ago.

This is first-order, Class-A hypocrisy, of course. There is nothing that any Guardian journalist can say about Shell’s sponsorship of the Science Museum, or its climate exhibitions. There is no way the Guardian can continue to campaign to ‘keep it in the ground’. And there is no way it can criticise any organisation for being secretive about its arrangements, or for failing to respond to what it demands are ‘ethical’ imperatives.

So much for the Guardian’s climate ‘ethics’, then. That paper demonstrates that ‘ethics’ don’t apply to itself. Its own ethical cleansing campaign has, for years, consisted of endless stories about links between oil companies, policy-makers and public organisations, dominating the debate. But these were so many stories about next-door-neighbour’s-cousin’s-cat-who-one-knew-a-man… Take this graphic from the Guardian’s campaign. What’s missing?


The answer is the name and logo of the Guardian’s own sponsor, Anglo-American. They seem to have bought The Guardian’s silence. A bigger scandal, surely, than Shell sponsoring a climate-change exhibition.

Beyond the Graun failing to meet the standards it sets for others, though, is a sadder picture. The Science Museum’s former director, Chris Rapley, for instance, caught between a rock and a hard place. And Shell themselves, of course, trying to do the right thing in the era of corporate social responsibility.

A plague on all their houses. They invited it. Rapley chose to use the Science Museum as a vehicle for environmental politics. And Shell stumped up the ready money, for whatever ends. They wanted to champion climate change, but have been caught out and called out by the very movement they were seemingly hoping to capture. Shell, for instance, are sponsors of the Green Alliance (see their list of partners here), which coordinated the recent cross-party consensus on climate policy ahead of the recent UK general election. Where was the outrage, the direct action, and the Grauniad innuendo?

If Rapley, the scientist was worth an iota of his public profile, he would have been far more critical of the environmental movement, and he would have been critical of it long before it campaigned to get Lego to pull out of a deal with Shell. And Shell themselves, rather than lavishing money on green NGOs and lobbying outfits would have spent its money more wisely if it had spent a few quid on challenging the nonsense that its beneficiaries publish routinely… Including that daft exhibition at the Science Museum.

What are these kind of ‘ethics’, anyway? The Islamic State has ‘ethics’. The Taliban has ‘ethics’. They too seek to purge culture of infidels. And, as the Mirror journalist put it, they will brook no dissent. But behind these ‘ethics’ are naked self-serving ambitions to control society. That is what ‘ethics’ are in today’s world. They are not a form of knowledge, to which we all have access, to measure the rights and wrongs of actions, but are diktats, issued by self-appointed authorities for their own ends.

Identifying 'Lukewarmism'

Over at the Making Science Public blog, Brigitte Nerlich wonders about the origins of the word ‘lukewarmer’…

As I am interested in the emergence and spread of various labels used in the climate change debate, such as for example ‘greenhouse sceptic’, I wanted to know more about the label ‘lukewarmer’ and while I can’t write its history in this post, I can show how it was used in the news. I put ‘lukewarmer’ and ‘climate’ as search terms into my preferred news data base, Lexis Nexis, on 3 May 2015 in All English Language News and got (only) 43 results. There were 8 duplicates. So, in the end I read 35 articles, published between 30 January 2010 and 22 April 2015. Compared to the use of other labels, such as denier and alarmist for example, these are small numbers. What follows are extracts from this small body of articles and I’ll leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions.

Underneath Brigitte’s post is a long, unproductive exchange between various contributors and astronomer Ken Rice, pka And Then There’s Physics, who runs the blog of the same name. Rice bans alternative opinion from his own blog, but is a prolific commenter — so much so it’s hard to wonder how he gets any astronomy done — at popular blogs. Lucia made a heroic attempt to explain to Rice that there are more than two positions in the debate — read her précis here — but to little progress, such is the limit on dialogue imposed by the astronomer’s personality or capacity, it’s not clear which.

What is interesting about the phenomenon of ‘lukewarmism’ is its background. More respectable than climate scepticism and climate denial in turn, of course, but seemingly positioned just as far away from climate alarmism. But in this sense, anyone seeking to identify themselves as ‘lukewarm’ needs to take for granted the categories that others designate for themselves and each other, to triangulate their own coordinates.

But didn’t this space always exist? Was it only discovered recently? In the discussion at Making Science Public, various attempts are made to identify positions in the debate with respect to estimates of climate sensitivity. If this be the index corresponding to the fundamental axis of the debate, then, why not just give everyone on it a number? Deniers, 0-0.5; sceptics, 0.5-1.0; lukewarmers, 1.0 – 2.0, warmists 2.0-3.0, alarmists 3.0-99999999999.0.

Such an index would tell you nothing about why somebody believes that the climate’s sensitivity is what they believe it to be, much less why that number is significant. The numbers would obscure the argument, and in turn would prefigure the debate. This is, of course, the point of Consensus Enforcement that Ken Rice and his highly prolific associates engage in. Many a lukewarm blog — and even many ‘denial’ websites — has been all but colonised, lest the climate debate be contaminated by nuance. The consensus enforcers don’t even want there to be an index — admitting to an entire axis of perspectives would make the debate far more complicated than the simple matter of right-vs-wrong, good-vs-bad or science-vs-denial that they want it to be. The point of consensus enforcement is to sustain the polarised account of the debate.

Of course something approximate to the lukewarm position has always existed. And as the recent hand-wringing about Bjorn Lomborg’s appointment, and subsequent dis-appointment at the University of Western Australia shows, the debate has at least one more axis than even the enforcers admit to. In the Guardian, consensus enforcer, Graham Readfearn claimed of the affair, “The spark was the University of Western Australia’s decision to back out of a deal to host a research centre fronted by climate science contrarian Bjørn Lomborg and paid for with $4m of taxpayer cash.”

The designation of the category ‘climate contrarian’ to Lomborg is an interesting one, as Lomborg himself takes a fairly mainstream view of climate science, and stresses the need to decarbonise the energy sector. It is true that he says this is not the world’s greatest problem, but this is hardly ‘contrarian’, except in the world imagined by the consensus enforcers, where any policy short of radical mitigation is merely a lighter shade of ‘denial’. The case of Lomborg’s treatment at the hands of the consensus enforcers is the most perfect demonstration of their polarisation of the debate — the lumping together of lukewarmers, sceptics and deniers.

The same University was home to Stephan Lewandowsky, who has set up camp in the West of England — Bristol University — from where he has famously pronounced on the apparent correlation of conspiracy theories and climate change scepticism, which was fatally flawed and widely debunked, and led to a retraction. Lewandowsky has now teamed up with Naomi Oreskes, to produce a new theory of the climate debate, called ‘seepage‘,

… we argue that the appeal to uncertainty in public discourse, together with other contrarian talking points, has “seeped” back into the relevant scientific community. We suggest that in response to constant, and sometimes toxic, public challenges, scientists have over-emphasized scientific uncertainty, and have inadvertently allowed contrarian claims to affect how they themselves speak, and perhaps even think, about their own research. We show that even when scientists are rebutting contrarian talking points, they often do so within a framing and within a linguistic landscape created by denial, and often in a manner that reinforces the contrarian claim. This “seepage” has arguably contributed to a widespread tendency to understate the severity of the climate problem (e.g., Brysse et al., 2013 and Freudenburg and Muselli, 2010).

According to this theory, the global warming ‘hiatus’ is a myth, put about by climate sceptics, but which has been absorbed by climate scientists (as per ‘meme’), who reproduce it blindly, having been so beaten and harassed by the assembled forces of contrarianism and denial. But Richard Betts disagreed.

The authors suggest that climate scientists are allowing themselves to be influenced by “contrarian memes” and give too much attention to uncertainty in climate science. They express concern that this would invite inaction in addressing anthropogenic climate change. It’s an intriguing paper, not least because of what it reveals about the authors’ framing of the climate change discourse (they use a clear “us vs. them” framing), their assumptions about the aims and scope of climate science, and their awareness of past research. However, the authors seem unable to offer any real evidence to support their speculation, and I think their conclusions are incorrect.

Betts’s rejoinder was published as a guest post at… of all places… Ken Rice’s blog, where it was received by a mixture of responses, most resistant to the nuanced picture of the debate advanced by Betts. The post was republished at WUWT. I’m curious, though, why Richard Betts didn’t publish it on one of the websites of the organisations he is associated with, such as the Met Office. After all, Lewandowksy takes aim at climate scientists and their work directly. (For more comment, see also contributions from climate scientists including Betts in the comments under the article at )

And this point is worth more consideration. As I’ve argued before, “memes” — a theory which often comes up in the climate debate — are a double-edged sword. Lewandowsky is saying that climate scientists are vulnerable to ‘contrarian memes’ about ‘the pause’. But if this is so, wouldn’t climate scientists be equally vulnerable to ‘warmist memes’ and ‘alarmist memes’? After all, the warmist cause is so much better funded, and able to mobilise vastly more resources than any climate sceptics.

Once we start to see debates in terms of competing memes, we reduce all notions of truth to merely a dominant ‘meme’. Which is to say ‘truth’ might be nothing more than a meme — an arbitrary judgement which merely reflects dominant beliefs, not necessary truth. If that still sounds too theoretical, consider that it is precisely what Lewandowsky, Oreskes et al have done. They have said that the entire scientific community — individual scientists, scientific institutions, and the IPCC — were vulnerable to the ‘meme’, whereas only the historian of science and the psychologist were immune to its propagation through the very community that both Oreskes and Lewandowsky claim has produced a robust, unimpeachable consensus. Indeed, science itself — as a process — is no longer the best test of theories about the material world. And science — as an institution — is no longer an authority on any matter. All because us crafty deniers, by careful deployment of a simple word — “hiatus” — were able to undermine the consensus on climate change, and to hijack the entire global research enterprise.

Moreover, the implication of Lewandowsky and Oreskes is not only that by virtue of their vulnerability they are incompetent, climate scientists cannot even research ‘contrarian memes’, because to research the meme in question is QED to become vulnerable to it, and to reproduce it: ‘seepage’.

This returns us to the post at Making Science Public. Brigette opens by referring to a recent post by Tamsin Edwards, who is to the ‘contrarian meme’ what Typhoid Mary was to, erm, typhoid…

On 3 May Tamsin Edwards wrote an article for The Observer entitled “The lukewarmers don’t deny climate change. But they say the outlook’s fine” (see here for a discussion; I should point out that Tamsin didn’t choose the title for this article).

I find Edwards writing for the Guardian as odd as Betts writing for ATTP. Indeed, the comments beneath her article reflect the preference for shrill, alarmist copy, not nuances. Ditto, and moving more into the established Lukewarm camp, Roger Pielke Jr, recently had an article on the same website, ‘Why discrediting controversial academics such as Bjørn Lomborg damages science‘. The very first comment is from Ken Rice, who takes the moniker ‘fast fingers’ from Bob Ward…

What would probably help is if someone like Lomborg where to acknowledge the errors he makes when talking about something like climate science.

… Which is to say that debates would be so much easier if people I disagree with would just have the humility to admit that they are wrong.

But back to Tamsin Edwards, who wrote

But whether we are in denial, lukewarm or concerned about global warming, the question really boils down to how we view uncertainty. If you agree with mainstream scientists, what would you be willing to do to reduce the predicted risks of substantial warming? And if you’re a lukewarmer, confident the Earth is not very sensitive, what would be at risk if you were wrong?

It seems to me that ‘lukewarmers’, to the extent that they are represented by Pielke and to a lesser extent by Betts and Edwards, still have a cultural, or spiritual home in The Gaurdian — or even at ATTP. But it is an unhappy home.

This is shown, I believe by taking a closer look at Edward’s naive definition of the climate debate’s fundamental axis, that denial-lukwarmism-concern are reflected by one’s estimation of likely warming impact. As I wrote at Bishop Hill in the comments,

Here Tamsin should admit that this is ‘ideology’ or politics — the precautionary principle, reformulated — not straightforward risk analysis.

It follows that if you take a view of ‘nature’ which is fragile, exists in ‘balance’, and provides for human society, any interruption to the imagined Order of the world will be catastrophic — a contemporary, secular reading of the The Fall.

If on the other hand you take the view that human society is (or can be) more dependent on itself than dependent on natural processes, which don’t exist in quite such a perilous state as has been imagined, the perturbations caused by human society are of lesser consequence.

I can agree with a ‘mainstream scientist’ that his predictions (such as they are) are plausible without committing to the idea that substantial warming creates uniquely challenging risks. Conversely, the green view used to hold (i.e. Greens used to be frank about it) that tiny perturbations can precipitate huge changes in the natural environment. One can be wrong about low climate sensitivity, but still be able to face the societal and technical challenges this would imply, even if that meant, 500 years hence, abandoning London to the sea (or rescuing it through some form of engineering). After all, human life thrives across a vast range of environmental conditions.

There is the question of the sensitivity of climate to CO2, and there is the question of society’s sensitivity to climate. They should not be conflated. Conflating them is to presuppose the green view of nature in balance, and the perfect form of social organisation reflecting that balance.

If the notion of risk is still important, Tamsin’s question to the lukewarmer and mainstream scientist can be turned inside out. What are the risks of holding with the view that society is dependent on ‘balance’ with natural processes? And what are the risks of believing that human society is largely self-dependent. Added to these risk calculations are moral and political questions — is a society that models itself on ‘nature’ better than one that models itself on its own measure? I don’t believe Tamsin’s questions — nor any implications of climate science — make any sense until those questions have been answered. That’s not to say that even the radically human-centric view of the debate wouldn’t choose some form of mitigation, but it does suggest that mitigation at all costs, and in the political form of that the agenda currently takes would likely be off the cards, so to speak, and would be seen for the deeply regressive tendency that it is.

It seems to me that debates about the environment, and climate in particular rest on more than one axis. Of course, there is this index of sensitivity, which is important.

But then there is the question of the degree to which human society is dependent for any given stage of development, on natural processes, or ‘stability’. And this is arguably just as important.

Then there is the question, related to the first and second, about the necessity of organising public life around the principles seemingly understood from environmental/climate science.

I don’t believe that the first axis is the only axis in this debate. As I describe above, one could take a high position with respect to climate sensitivity, but have a high estimation of human society and humans as individuals, to determine that the benefits of industrial society are worth bearings the cost-consequences for, on economic, moral, or political bases. Moreover, I have had many arguments with people of an alarmist bent in which it has become obvious that they are keener on a society organised around the authority of climate science than they are keen on understanding precisely what climate science has determined, which is to say that such a position is nakedly ‘ideological’, yet owes very little of its understanding to science. And on the other hand, I have argued with just as many putative ‘deniers’ who would seem to accept a great deal of state control of their lives, should it be discovered that indeed the climate is changing as dramatically as been claimed, such is the limitation of pure climate scepticism.

Over at TheLukewarmer’s Way, Thomas Fuller enumerates the things, per Lucia, that lukewarmers disagree with others about:

“Lukewarmer disagree with those who:
1) Believe CO2 has no net warming effect.
2) Believe the warming effect is so small that any observed rise in measured global temperature is 100% due to natural causes.
3) Believe the measured global temperature rise purely or mostly a result of “fiddling”.
4) Believe the world is more likely to cool over the next 100 years than warm.”

And for:

* lukewarmers believe ECS is on the lower end of the IPCC AR4 range […]
* … recognize the magnitude of the temperature change matters as does the rate of change.[…]
* … think it’s important for the estimates of ECS used in economic models that are used to guide policy to not be biased by things like using inapproriate priors […]
* … disagree with the rhetoric that suggests that we must all focus on the high end of ECS […]

This would seem to claim that lukewarmism is qualitatively different from scepticism and ‘warmism’, not merely a position taken after triangulating between having ones cake and eating it. But that appears to be the implication, unfortunately. And this is perhaps the limitation of honest brokerage, lukewarmism and the new manifesto offered by the ‘ecomodernists’.

As I pointed out here in an earlier discussion about words

I find it hard to fault Pielke, Nerlich or Curry’s thinking on most things. But I wonder what use there is in an endless taxonomy of agents in the climate debate, and ideas about configuring effective relationships between science and governance.

Would even an honest broker have ever been able to resist eugenics and neomalthusianism? Could being objective about the evidence, and helping politicians consider the evidence have stopped the ‘limits to growth’ thesis from developing its toxic hold over (and against) the development agenda? Could public engagement have stopped 20th Century scientific racism?

The following may sound shrill, and lean towards a reductio-ad-Hitlerum argument. But notice that, even though we all now know that the racial science of the early 20th Century was political, not even the Royal Society is so aware of the difference between science and ‘ideology’ that it recognises mid 20th Century malthusianism as a racist doctrine and Paul Ehrlich as a nasty racist. The Royal Society gives Ehrlich awards instead, salvages his failed prophecies, and re-animates them to increase their own leverage in political debates about the environment. The task in front of the honest broker is bigger than he realises: it’s him versus some serious institutional muscle.

Just a few years south of Rio Declaration’s fourth decade, I would argue, is a little bit late to start worrying about merely fixing the relationship between science and policy-making, such that only the best science gets through, untrammelled by alarmism — denial was never admitted to the debate anyway. If lukewarmism really is about merely fixing this relationship after locating some sensible middle ground, it is hopeless. It is not equal to the task of understanding why the environment in general and climate in particular have become encompassing frameworks for understanding the world and things within it such as poverty, war, inequality, and decline in the ‘general sense of wellbeing’, and as such is not equal to the task of understanding what impedes transparent dialogue between science and policymaking. It is not enough to merely say that we should use ‘good science’; the reason why policymakers have sought the moral authority of science needs to be understood, before we can say what is good science and what is not. And it is not enough to produce glossy manifestos, aiming to put policy-making and the natural science on the right track. Until the reasons why alarmist manifestos and the models that underpin them were able to thrive are understood, there can be no sensible manifesto.

In other words, if ‘lukewarmism’ tries to define itself as anything other than merely an attitude towards debate — for instance by attaching itself to an estimate of climate sensitivity — then it is as problematic as outright denial or rabid alarmism. I always thought this was what was meant by ‘lukewarm’, and that the middleground estimation of climate sensitivity was the consequence of not being invested either in ideas about scientific fraud or in particular political agendas. It seems that many lukewarmers are, after all, refugees from the green camp, displaced — or even expelled by the shrill rhetoric of so many Lewandowskys and Oreskes — by alarmism, but not really willing to ask why they are in exile.

Of course, many (but not all) lukewarmers do ask such questions. But perhaps ‘lukewarm’ doesn’t describe very much at all, except where a position exists in relation to another. There’s little point trying to define lukewarmism for all values of alarmism, or for all values of denial, since the debate is fluid, and moves on. New issues emerge, such as the pause, or ocean acidification, or climategate, or Himalayagate. Each creates new challenges for the putative camp in question to explain the development. Giving things names, more often than not, is an attempt to keep the debate frozen.

There is a quote somewhere, which I have lost: once you give something a name, you don’t have to argue with it. This is the tactic followed by Lewandowsky, Oreskes et al. By suggesting that there is a phenomenon of denial… And now lukewarmism in the form of reflection on the hiatus, it becomes an object of study, rather than an analysis or judgement in its own right. Lewandowsky and Orsekes no longer need to defer to climate science — nor even climate scientists — they simply need to say that science is vulnerable to some force which is greater than it. Deniers are vulnerable to ‘conspiracy ideation’, and climate scientists are vulnerable to deniers’ conspiracies to undermine certainty with doubt. No deniers, sceptics, lukewarmers or even climate scientists are allowed to have found the data on the hiatus interesting in its own right. Don’t take my word for it, ask Lewandowsky et al.


Roger Pielke Jr. tweets that he rejects the term ‘lukewarmer’, and adds: “Distinguishing political perspectives according to ECS is antithetical to robust policy & inclusive politics”.

I would again add that I think the term isn’t meaningful, so I don’t mean a lot by it. My apologies to Pielke, nonetheless. This is the problem with labels. By referring to him as a ‘lukewarmer’ I was not referring to his estimates of sensitivity, but as I point out later, an approach to debate, contra those who are hostile to it, which holds that it is essential.

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

Another day, another apocalyptic story in the Guardian

Coffee catastrophe beckons as climate change threatens arabica plant
Study warns that rising temperatures pose serious threat to global coffee market, potentially affecting livelihoods of small farmers and pushing up prices


Coffee, as we all now know, is grown by poor people. And, as we all know, climate change is worse for the poor. Never mind that environmentalists — who claim to care for the poor — hate coffee shops (unless they’re in Amsterdam), and hate global trade and hate the vehicles that global trade depends on, and hate even more the fuels that make advanced agriculture and global shipping possible…

Cultivation of the arabica coffee plant, staple of daily caffeine fixes and economic lifeline for millions of small farmers, is under threat from climate change as rising temperatures and new rainfall patterns limit the areas where it can be grown, researchers have warned.

This is surely a disaster.

With global temperatures forecast to increase by 2C-2.5C over the next few decades, a report predicts that some of the major coffee producing countries will suffer serious losses, reducing supplies and driving up prices.

2.5 degrees over the next few decades? Really? Over the course of my coffee-drinking career — i.e. my adult life — the globe has warmed by approximately no degrees centigrade. But let’s not worry about that right now. What exactly is the claim?

The joint study, published by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) under the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), models the global suitability of arabica cultivation to see how production will be affected in 2050.

It predicts that Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and Colombia – which between them produce 65% of the global market share of arabica – will find themselves experiencing severe losses unless steps are taken to change the genetics of the crops as well as the manner and areas in which it is grown.

Well, we can all agree that adaptation is a Good Thing, and is likely a good way of responding to climate change. But there’s adaptation and there’s adaptation. Most adaptation is a decision that can be taken at the level of the farm. The implication of the study, however, is that coffee growers will have to move ever upwards to cope with the changing climate, demanding the intervention of national and global carbon bureaucracies.

But is this true? What’s the evidence for it?

It doesn’t exist in the statistics relating to the production of coffee provided by the UN. Here is a chart showing coffee production in the countries named by the Guardian in the passage above, and for the world total.


World coffee production has doubled since 1980. Coffee production has tripled in Brazil since 1995, and output is less volatile. Vietnam has emerged as a coffee superpower in just two decades. Indonesia’s coffee production has shown slow, but steady and sure growth. This picture is hard to marry with the story that coffee production is getting harder. The only loser here is Columbia, whose output seemed to peak in the early 1990s. For this we turn to Wikipedia for the standard explanation

Regional climate change associated with global warming has caused Colombian coffee production to decline since 2006 from 12 million 132-pound bags, the standard measure, to 9 million bags in 2010. Average temperatures have risen 1 degree Celsius between 1980 to 2010, with average precipitation increasing 25 percent in the last few years, disrupting the specific climatic requirements of the Coffea arabica bean.[13]

Well that’s one explanation for Colombia’s coffee production decline. But there are at least two others… Fair trade organisation, Equal Exchange offer this account:

The global coffee [price] crisis hit Colombia’s small producers hard. Twenty-three percent of producers were not meeting production costs in the nineteen nineties. The affect on producer families varied by region, but overall the crisis sent people further into poverty and debt. Malnutrition among small children in farm families went up significantly, while coffee production across the country fell 44% as farmers could no longer afford to harvest and process their crops. Many farmers were forced to migrate for work in urban areas leading to increased unemployment and more poverty.

The article is not without its own tendency to sustainabollocks. And this journal article offers a third perspective, but which it also attempts to link to climate change…

Coffee rust is a leaf disease caused by the fungus, Hemileia vastatrix. Coffee rust epidemics, with intensities higher than previously observed, have affected a number of countries including: Colombia, from 2008 to 2011; Central America and Mexico, in 2012–13; and Peru and Ecuador in 2013. There are many contributing factors to the onset of these epidemics e.g. the state of the economy, crop management decisions and the prevailing weather, and many resulting impacts e.g. on production, on farmers’ and labourers’ income and livelihood, and on food security. Production has been considerably reduced in Colombia (by 31 % on average during the epidemic years compared with 2007) and Central America (by 16 % in 2013 compared with 2011–12 and by 10 % in 2013–14 compared with 2012–13). These reductions have had direct impacts on the livelihoods of thousands of smallholders and harvesters. For these populations, particularly in Central America, coffee is often the only source of income used to buy food and supplies for the cultivation of basic grains. As a result, the coffee rust epidemic has had indirect impacts on food security. The main drivers of these epidemics are economic and meteorological. All the intense epidemics experienced during the last 37 years in Central America and Colombia were concurrent with low coffee profitability periods due to coffee price declines, as was the case in the 2012–13 Central American epidemic, or due to increases in input costs, as in the 2008–11 Colombian epidemics. Low profitability led to suboptimal coffee management, which resulted in increased plant vulnerability to pests and diseases. A common factor in the recent Colombian and Central American epidemics was a reduction in the diurnal thermal amplitude, with higher minimum/lower maximum temperatures (+0.1 °C/-0.5 °C on average during 2008–2011 compared to a low coffee rust incidence period, 1991–1994, in Chinchiná, Colombia; +0.9 °C/-1.2 °C on average in 2012 compared with prevailing climate, in 1224 farms from Guatemala). This likely decreased the latency period of the disease. These epidemics should be considered as a warning for the future, as they were enhanced by weather conditions consistent with climate change. Appropriate actions need to be taken in the near future to address this issue including: the development and establishment of resistant coffee cultivars; the creation of early warning systems; the design of crop management systems adapted to climate change and to pest and disease threats; and socio-economic solutions such as training and organisational strengthening.

But the link between climate change — whether it be natural or anthropogenic — and reduced coffee bean production is speculation. The research only suggests it as a ‘likely’ part-cause of an epidemic, given relatively modest changes in temperature extremes, which itself had a much more profound effect on production, which was again much more likely an economic consequence — low price and poverty. Let us not forget that greens are hostile to interventions which could have prevented the disease — pesticides — and campaign to abolish their use, and have persuaded Fair Trade organisations to make ‘sustainability’ a condition of trade. In other words, it is not implausible that the demands of ‘sustainability’ could have caused the very problem which its advocates now attribute to climate change.

A broader picture of climate change’s effect on coffee production can be gained by looking at each country’s yield.


Again, we can see that the story of environmental decline doesn’t fit with the statistics. We can see no signal corresponding to climate change in any country except Colombia, which we have an explanation for. Moreover, in the case of Vietnam, where we can see a dramatic shift in yield between the late 1990s and mid 2000s, which the environmentalist might be tempted to explain as the consequence of climate change. But he would be wrong. The producer price of coffee fell between 1997 and 2004, before rising again. As this graph of Colombian production statistics shows. (The data for producer prices in Vietnam do not exist over this time range).


Economics accounts for changes in production yield much better than climate. When the price is low, the yield is low.

The Guardian article continues, quoting one of the study’s authors…

“If you look at the countries that will lose out most, they’re countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras, which have steep hills and volcanoes,” he said. “As you move up, there’s less and less area. But if you look at some South American or east African countries, you have plateaus and a lot of areas at higher altitudes, so they will lose much less.”

So do these countries show any sign of being vulnerable to climate change yet? Here are the production and yield stats for those countries.



We can see coffee production increase in Honduras and Nicaragua, and yield increase in Honduras, with wobbly increase for yield in Nicaragua. The case of El Salvador is very different. Coffee production fell, and has not recovered since 1979, and its yield has fallen since 1969. Is this the result of climate change?

No. In the cases of both Nicaragua and El Salvador, conflict much better explains changes in production statistics than climate change. In Nicaragua, civil war affects production through the 1980s, which was amplified by US sanctions, and the reduction in yield from the late 1990s through the mid 200s is explained by the lower prices that affected Vietnam. Civil war affected El Salvador through the 1980s, also, from which the El Salvadorian economy has not recovered .

The report‘s abstract reads as follows…

Regional studies have shown that climate change will affect climatic suitability for Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) within current regions of production. Increases in temperature and changes in precipitation patterns will decrease yield, reduce quality and increase pest and disease pressure. This is the first global study on the impact of climate change on suitability to grow Arabica coffee. We modeled the global distribution of Arabica coffee under changes in climatic suitability by 2050s as projected by 21 global circulation models. The results suggest decreased areas suitable for Arabica coffee in Mesoamerica at lower altitudes. In South America close to the equator higher elevations could benefit, but higher latitudes lose suitability. Coffee regions in Ethiopia and Kenya are projected to become more suitable but those in India and Vietnam to become less suitable. Globally, we predict decreases in climatic suitability at lower altitudes and high latitudes, which may shift production among the major regions that produce Arabica coffee.

This seems to me to reproduce the same old trick, of plugging in worst-case scenario projections into modelled assumptions of sensitivity of this-or-that to climate, to reveal, hey-presto, a sound prediction of what life will be like a few decades hence. Yet we can see that climate has had very little impact on agricultural production, if any negative impact at all. And we can see that economics plays a much bigger role in agricultural production than any environmental effect.

These kind of studies claim to want to protect the interests of producers. Yet their futures don’t seem to be at all dependent on the interventions of climate bureaucracies, if there is any lesson to be had from the past. The weather is simply the weather, whereas price volatility and conflict are the real enemies of farmers in poorer economies. Wealth allows for the proper management of crops, as well as adaptation to any kind of weather. The study does not appear to have attempted to isolate climate and its Nth-order effects from economic effects and conflict in its estimation of coffee-production’s sensitivity to climate. Why not?

This doesn’t exclude the possibility, of course, that dramatic shifts in climate could create problems for coffee producers. Of course it could. Yet even extreme weather, such as that which caused widespread damage in coffee-producing economies in the late 1990s as a result of El Nino don’t seem to have affected coffee production. In fact, the price of coffee fell following the 1997-8 El Nino, no doubt amplifying the consequences for recovery.

To link agricultural production and climate change in this way — as seems to be the greens’ want — is to make instrumental use of the plight of producers in poorer economies. It does not aim to intervene in any way that would improve their condition. The purpose is to inflate an already engorged bureaucracy and add to its powers. A genuine discussion about how to improve the conditions of producers in poorer economies would be about how best to allow a situation in which fewer farmers produced more goods, leaving more people to produce the machines and chemicals those wealthier farmers would use in their work, the other services they would use in their lives, and the books, films and music they would use in their leisure time.

But bloated, ambitious green bureaucracies and their academic organs like the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, which produced this report don’t want such lifestyles for poorer producers.

No single research institution working alone can address the critically important issues of global climate change, agriculture and food security. The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) will address the increasing challenge of global warming and declining food security on agricultural practices, policies and measures through a strategic collaboration between CGIAR and Future Earth.

Food security is not an ‘increasing challenge’. It is a challenge which has reduced dramatically over just the timespan of anthropogenic global warming. More people have more access to better quality food than ever before. Only in the minds of bureaucrats and climate impact models is the world a worse place than it ever has been. The reasons for this are obvious.

Greens Whinge About Consensus

The looming UK general election has so far been a contest of the lowest possible expectations. It is a difficult election to get excited about. But one group seems to feel especially hurt at being left out of the debate, with their favourite subject having taken a back seat to promises about lowering the cost of living, creating jobs and making tax-dodgers pay their fair share.

Over at Business Green — the on-line trade magazine for subsidy-junkies — we’re told that

Election campaign ‘failing to address’ green energy concerns

Said subsidy-junkies had polled themselves, and found them disillusioned with the substance of the election debates. The Renewable Energy Association (REA) asked its members if they ‘feel that the political parties are addressing the needs of the renewable energy {sic} during this election campaign’. 95% of 136 respondents said they did not. It seems that 1 in 20 turkeys voted for Christmas.

The Green Party was viewed as the party that would be ‘best for the renewable energy industry’ (29%) with the Liberal Democrats seen as the next best.

Members were less optimistic about the two parties most likely to form a government after the election. Nearly a fifth (18%) of respondents believed that the industry would be in the best hands under Labour, whereas the Conservatives received the support of 15%.

No doubt industries and the individuals within them have their favourites. But isn’t it odd for a particular industry to imagine itself and its favourite topics as deserving special status. There is much hand-wringing about large energy interests getting involved in politics — especially in the USA — but Business Green and the REA seem somewhat unashamed to admit that their own interests lie in particular election outcomes. When fossil fuel companies appear to expect special treatment from politics, green organisations and journalists are the very first to complain. And nobody can say that there hasn’t been emphasis on green energy — including the closure of many fossil fuel power plants, and much green legislation — in the UK over the last two parliamentary terms.

The green sector and green organisations have enjoyed much privilege. Yet Green Party and Climate Outreach & Information Network activist and part time academic psychologist, Adam Corner complained in the Guardian that

We need our leaders to speak out on climate change, not stay silent
The less that political, community and business leaders talk about climate change, the more scope there is for scepticism to emerge

There is plenty of stuff in the manifestos, Corner observed, but not in the debate.

So while there appears to be a robust political consensus around the importance of climate change, it is a silent consensus – which from the point of view of public engagement, may as well not be a consensus at all.

And out comes the cod psychology…

One important factor known to influence public opinion is whether elite groups (such as politicians and other public figures) give positive or negative cues on climate change. What our political leaders say about climate change matters – especially if they say nothing at all.

But perhaps one reason for this ‘silence’ is that political parties and their machines have decided that the public aren’t receptive to climate change, no matter what Corner’s research leads him to believe about ‘positive messaging’. After all, when people are more worried about jobs, the cost of living, the economy, health, and taxation, to bang on about climate change might look somewhat callous. Moreover, it risks giving a hostage to fortune, with UKIP being the only party willing to criticise the prevailing political consensus, and which has rapidly absorbed working and middle class voters alienated by the Labour and Conservative parties.

Even the Green Party has chosen to emphasise its social justice agenda rather than the environment. Its manifesto promises to ‘end austerity’ and create a million public service jobs paid for by a new ‘Robin Hood’ wealth tax and create a £10/hour minimum wage, protect the NHS from privatisation and increase spending on mental health, before it gets round to tackling climate change.

The climate simply hasn’t been the rousing chorus that environmentalists want it to be.

But another reason for the ‘silence’ is the fact of consensus politics creating a democratic deficit. To expose the political consensus to debate would be to challenge its very foundations, to test the public’s sympathy for it. This is simply too risky.

The cross party consensus on climate change was renewed for this election in a deal brokered by the Green Alliance.

Green Alliance was launched in 1979 with the aim ‘to ensure that the political priorities of the United Kingdom are determined within an ecological perspective’. Our name originally referred to the large group of eminent individuals from a wide range of professional spheres who were the founding members.

The Green Alliance is staffed, funded and partnered by all the usual suspects — a roll call of climate capitalists, green bureaucrats and activists NGOs — and surprisingly, by fossil fuel companies. Together, they worked to get the leaders of the three main political parties to pledge:

– To seek a fair, strong, legally binding, global climate deal which limits temperature rises to below 2°C.
– To work together, across party lines, to agree carbon budgets in accordance with the Climate Change Act.
– To accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation.

So it doesn’t matter what the public thinks. The leaders of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have already decided. So there is little point debating the detail. Yet Corner still wants debate:

As the election debates have shown, powerful leadership on climate change is not well served by quiet agreement. Nor is it a question of getting different leaders singing from the same song sheet. Some passionate disagreement – the antithesis of a silent consensus – would in many ways be preferable, and put climate change where it deserves to be: at the centre (not the periphery) of political debates.

Corner is himself reluctant to debate. Like many greens, he takes criticism of his ideas personally, rather than as abstract discussions of consequence. Much of his academic activism hides its politics behind the scientific consensus on climate change. One of the ideas he seems most resistant to discussing is the political nature of consensus — its political utility, and its corrosive effect on democracy. The cross-party consensus on climate has allowed its parties to establish political power and technocracies above the institutions of national democracy, and excused themselves from having to debate it. In the same way, the scientific consensus allows politicians to hide from debate and from criticism, to dismiss critics of political environmentalism as ‘deniers’, no matter the substance of their criticism. Adam Corner has got the consensus he has campaigned for.

Just two years ago, Corner complained that UKIP’s rise may undo the climate change consensus.

If political conservatives have so far not found environmental policies to their liking, then a priority for everyone who cares about climate change, whatever their political leaning, is to find a way of reconciling the values of the right with policy responses to climate change that are sustainable and just.

Otherwise – and the rise of UKIP suggests this may be closer than many assumed – the hard-won cross-party consensus on climate change in Britain, enshrined in the Climate Change Act, could be undone.

Forgetting environmentalism’s origins (in the UK at least) in the conservative camp led Corner to put the policy cart before the political horse. If so many conservatives aren’t natural environmentalists, and thus UKIP’s rise threatens the cross-party consensus, then we can see writ large an admission that the Conservative Party’s embrace of the climate issue alienates its core constituency. If, as Corner (And COIN) argues, green and conservative values can be reconciled, then the Conservative Party still remain divided from their base, having not yet persuaded them of the argument.

A more simpler explanation for what Corner observes, then, is that green values seem to thrive where parties suffer a disconnect from their constituencies, across the political spectrum. It may be the case (I have seen no evidence either way) that Labour and Liberal Democrat activists are more sympathetic to the climate cause than their counterparts in the Conservative Party, but this may reflect the expression of loyalty, obedience or discipline, rather than an reasoned ideological commitment. Moreover, none of these parties are enjoying historic levels of support after enumerating their new-found green principles, much less do they share them with the broader public. Corner’s desire to help the Conservative Party reconnect with natural conservatives with environmental issues aims to address a far more fundamental problem with British (And European) politics than it is able to grasp. It is as if the democratic deficit that afflicts all parties would be okay, or is not worthy of comment, just so long as some Tories think that climate change is an important issue. In this sense, then, environmentalists campaign for climate policy precisely in spite of the public’s interest, against it, to protect all three parties from their existential crisis — the yawning chasm between the political establishment and an indifferent public. Saving the planet from climate change is about saving the political establishment from the public.

BBC-journalist-turned-Greenpeace-activist, Damian Kahya notes the differences between US and UK politicians treatment of the climate issue, and promises to explain How we stopped talking about the climate this election — and why that’s a problem.

After using World Earth Day to warn about the impact the changing climate is already having on the US, [Obama] used his annual stand-up routine in front of White House journalists to rant against his “stupid, short-sighted, irresponsible” climate skeptic opponents who throw snowballs in the Senate to illustrate global warming isn’t happening.

As polarised and unpleasant that debate is — it’s hard not to wonder why it is so absent in the UK. After all, the UK is a flood prone island not that much less economically dependent on fossil fuels than the US.

Whilst Hillary Clinton and her opponents make climate central to their polarised campaigns, the issue appeared 3 times in Paxman’s battle for No.10 with Miliband and Cameron.

It is as if Greenpeace activists suddenly don’t like the consensus.

In fact the UK’s political discussion about climate has become ever more elite, as if the main principles are decided and it’s down to the geeks to sort out the details. But this is to miss the point of what climate means now.

It’s as if Greenpeace are complaining about the elite form of politics they have helped to create…


Here, a self-appointed Greenpeace activist sits in judgement of the Parliament below him.

And it is as if Greenpeace are now complaining about technocracy…

Climate politics in the UK remains dominated by “the science”. It is a debate about what the science was and what principles and targets we should adopt. It’s the sort of thing you can do a charity concert about — but it no longer engenders real conflict or emotion.

Gosh! It is as if Kahya had just read every blog post on this site. Yet there is no sense that Greenpeace were in any way responsible for the state of the debate… And yet a visit to the Climate Resistance archives yields this…

Back then, it was Dave on Greenpeace’s rooftops, unveiling his policies, which would end up paying the owners of domestic solar PV installations 5 times the market rate for electricity… to consume that electricity. Barking mad — but just the sort of thing Business Green, Corner and Greenpeace campaigned for. And when criticism came, they fell silent, or said the critics were ‘right wing’, ‘fossil-fuel funded’, or ‘deniers’. Kahya shows no signs of regret.

The debate, says the activist for the organisation that has done so much to shut down debate and to belittle criticism, should be about more than technical detail:

It’s about floods, storms or droughts and how to deal with them. About which coastlines, which industries and which companies will survive and which won’t; which technologies we develop and which economic models we use. The way our economy works is – after all – inherently tied up with the energy that drives it.

Most importantly it’s about the risks a changing climate poses to the poor and vulnerable and how to tackle that without undermining the economic livelihoods of those same people by driving up their bills or depriving them of power.

Kahya is wrong. What to do about floods, storms or droughts is a technical issue. But he is right that government picking winners is a political issue. But not one that can be justified on the basis of overweening crisis — the environmentalists preferred mode of argument. If Greenpeace wanted a debate that didn’t pretend that choosing winners and losers that didn’t descend to science, they have certainly fooled me. But that’s the point of asserting ‘the scientific consensus’ in political debates. To suggest that coastlines aren’t quite as perilous as green activists claim, that the government shouldn’t be picking winners, or that cheaper energy might be more helpful to poor people than mitigating climate change was to “deny science”, and to be victim of some horrific right wing ideology that would make Hitler’s crimes against humanity look like a summer picnic… Climate sceptics were inviting certain doom. And even lukewarmers were, on the green view, like some kind of Neville Chamberlain, clutching a piece of paper.

If this blog — now starting its NINTH year — has done nothing else, it has asked the likes of Greenpeace activists for debate about ‘the risks a changing climate poses to the poor and vulnerable and how to tackle that without undermining the economic livelihoods of those same people’. Yet Kahya complains about ‘silence’.

Politics, after all, is about power and choices. The UK’s silent consensus to talk about climate – at some later date – simply means those choices will be made without debate, as though huge changes to our infrastructure, buildings, equipment, behaviours and food system can be delivered by a few technocrats working under the radar. If forced to choose I’d rather someone showed up at Parliament and threw a snowball.

Environmentalists have their consensus and now they don’t like it. They turned up at Parliament, which agreed with them anyway, to stamp all over it, and to issue demands to it. Parliament did as it was told. And climate change became so unfashionable, so uncontroversial that nobody thought to challenge it. Anybody who dared to was harassed and smeared by politicians and NGO activists and on the pages of the Guardian. They were made the subject of bullshit psychology experiments. And now the Greenpeace Activist and the Green party activist say the same thing: wouldn’t it be better if the UK Parliament had a James Inhofe to chuck a few snowballs around.

There’s no pleasing environmentalists who forget the wisdom: be careful what you wish for.

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