Posts Tagged Monbiot

A Celtic New Year: lilt or lament? Gareth Renowden Jan 01

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Mr Morrison invites us all to come on home, and have a Celtic new year — which is always a good thing, as I can testify, being a Celt of many generations standing. While I wait for the ham to subside and the cabernet merlot to wash out of the system1, I’ll point you to the thoughts of George Monbiot, who is less than impressed with the old year:

It was the year of living dangerously. In 2012 governments turned their backs on the living planet, demonstrating that no chronic problem, however grave, will take priority over an immediate concern, however trivial. I believe there has been no worse year for the natural world in the past half-century.

Nor do the efforts of the British government bring him much cheer:

In the UK in 2012, the vandals were given the keys to the art gallery. Environmental policy is now in the hands of people – such as George Osborne, Owen Paterson, Richard Benyon and Eric Pickles – who have no more feeling for the natural world than the Puritans had for fine art. They are busy defacing the old masters and smashing the ancient sculptures.

There is only one answer, he reckons:

To avoid another terrible year like 2012, we must translate these passive concerns into a mass mobilisation. Groups such as show how it might be done. If this annus horribilis tells us anything, it is that action, in the absence of such mobilisation, is simply not going to happen. Governments care only as much as their citizens force them to care. Nothing changes unless we change.

A very fair point, and very well made. Meanwhile, others have been looking back at the “year of living dangerously”. Skeptical Science provides a very nice review of the main events in climate science and the denial campaign, a fine counterpoint to the piece posted here last week.

For a laugh, check out Media Matters’ list of the 10 Dumbest Things Fox Said About Climate Change In 2012. The first example should suffice to demonstrate what passes for considered opinion in US newspropaganda circles:

1. Fox Reporter: “The Temperature Basically Hasn’t Changed Much Since The Ice Age.”

Ahem. That would be the ice age when Wisconsin was covered by mile thick ice. Fox might like to take a look now…

Even more amusing is Heartland head honcho Joe Bast’s response2 to an item in last week’s roundup, in which we remembered with some affection the giant-sized PR fail that accompanied their “Unabomber” billboard. It appears Bast is spinning like a top, and as unrepentant as Malcolm Tucker:

The billboard simply pointed out that Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, still believes in global warming, and asked viewers if they do, too. We know why lefties went nuts over it – Kaczynski, after all, is one of their own – but it wasn’t inaccurate or offensive.

Sorry, Joe, it was — and grossly so. Trying to pretend otherwise is pure propaganda — as is the assertion that 2012 was “a breakthrough year”. That would be for definitions of “breakthrough” that encompass the loss of 21 corporate sponsors and $1 million income — the most recent being the withdrawal of support by Pfizer only a few weeks ago.

  1. Tomorrow, of course.
  2. Also posted at µWatts by Heartland-funded propagandist blogger Anthony Watts.

Realism and risk: waiting for the bus Bryan Walker Sep 02

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Climate Change Minister Tim Groser gave a substantial and intelligently argued speech recently to an informal meeting in Auckland of international climate negotiators met to discuss the  way forward to a new agreement in 2020. Groser makes the case for political realism in climate negotiation. He records his sense after attending a COP conference at Poznam a year before Copenhagen that the negotiation was not on track and that if more reality did not prevail Copenhagen might be a train wreck. It was, and he says that it was only some superb political leadership by the Mexican hosts at Cancun which got the UNFCCC process back on the tracks. “My conclusion is simple: negotiating scenarios which are developed without any political realism behind them cause great and unhelpful friction.”

The claim to political realism is always difficult to argue against, particularly with someone who has spent literally decades in difficult international trade negotiations, as Groser has. But those of us who aren’t negotiators or politicians can’t allow the question to be arbitrated only by those who are.

To be fair to Groser he doesn’t push political realism to the point of helplessness in addressing the problem:

“Our objective must be to aim for a high quality comprehensive agreement that actually deals with the problem of global emissions, not finds a political fix to a diplomatic problem.”

“Fresh thinking is possible.”

“As we look towards the task of delivering a long-term comprehensive agreement that might actually deal with global, not regional, emissions, the first order requirement is around participation. And by ‘participation’ I mean mitigation — the ultimate and agreed objective of the Convention. I am convinced this can be achieved within the framework of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

He also stresses that the eight-year transition period between now and when the new agreement is timed to come into effect should not be treated as of little consequence:

“Well, my strong view is that ‘the transition’ is not a vacuum, and the way that we all shape our actions, the way we report them, and the way we are held accountable for them — now and over the next few years — will be critical to whether we can succeed in building a new global agreement.”

To turn to his argument for political realism. At its heart is the notion that we must first get everyone on board the mitigation bus before we worry about picking up speed:

“In political language — ie, not to professional negotiators — I have often talked about the importance of ‘getting people on the bus’, rather than worrying about the speed limit. If we get more and more countries on the mitigation bus, doing what they can to drive towards a lower carbon future for their own country, we can later look at the speed limit, or pace of adjustment. The logic of this is straightforward: we are trying to get lower carbon economic strategies embedded administratively and politically. There is huge resistance to this, for a variety of reasons. Look at the debate over comprehensive carbon pricing proposals in any number of countries if you are in any doubt. It is still unsettled in many countries.”

It sounds sensible enough, but it founders because it doesn’t properly reckon with the urgency now required. Groser’s reply to that objection is clumsy and overlooks not a political reality but a scientific reality:

“I know the counter-argument. It starts by taking the most extreme of the IPCC scenarios of future climate change and arguing that ‘nothing less’ than immediate and drastic action will suffice.”

It’s significant that he goes on to make a slight acknowledgment that the scenario issue may be a little more complicated than that, while at the same time affirming that even if it is, the political reality is not affected and that “later” is the time to consider a more serious economic response.

“What I know is that there is a range of scientific views about the time dimension of the risk and which scenario is the more probable. But the one thing that will absolutely guarantee failure to develop a meaningful response to this global challenge is if we do not get most of the large emitters, plus a large number of small emitters like New Zealand who are absolutely prepared to join in genuine collective action, on board the mitigation bus. It is a global problem; only global action or something close to it, can work.

“Further, at this stage in the evolution of a global response, you are more likely to persuade countries, where climate change policies are very immature, to get on board the bus if they can persuade their political masters that the commitments are realistic and doable. Later, when lower carbon strategies are more deeply embedded, then we need to return to the matter to the pace of adjustment and the development of a global carbon price.”

That is too complacent about the level of risk. Groser’s use of the word “extreme” in relation to some scenarios carries the suggestion of exaggeration, of pushing something further than is necessary. As I understand the projections of climate science, though they cover a range of possibilities none of them are fanciful and it is not safe to dismiss any of them on the grounds that they must be extreme. As George Monbiot wrote in in his column on the same day that I read Groser’s speech:

“As I’ve warned repeatedly, but to little effect, the IPCC’s assessments tend to be conservative. This is unsurprising when you see how many people have to approve them before they are published.”

Groser’s appeal to political realism needs to far more disturbed than it appears to be by the magnitude of the threat that climate change is already disclosing. His wide experience of international negotiations is not as relevant as he appears to think.  Monbiot again:

“There are no comparisons to be made. This is not like war or plague or a stockmarket crash. We are ill-equipped, historically and psychologically, to understand it, which is one of the reasons why so many refuse to accept that it is happening.

“What we are seeing, here and now, is the transformation of the atmospheric physics of this planet. Three weeks before the likely minimum, the melting of Arctic sea ice has already broken the record set in 2007. The daily rate of loss is now 50% higher than it was that year.”

Or from our own climate scientist James Renwick, who describes the break-up of Arctic sea ice as “just jaw-dropping”:

“This event unfolding in the Arctic Ocean right now should be a wake-up call to governments world-wide, that climate change is a serious threat, and it is not distant menace, it is on our doorstep today.”

Groser’s claims about political realism do not seem to have been exposed to the full impact of scientific realism. He does not say that human society is in grave danger. I have not heard that from any government Minister. Maybe the political realities will remain problematic even when that is said, but we would have more confidence in our negotiators if we knew that our government was fully cognisant of what climate change is threatening.  We would also expect such cognisance to put a dampener on the government enthusiasm for an increase in fossil fuel exploration and mining which sits very ill with the claim that we are attempting to persuade others to get on the mitigation bus.

In the eight years before the new international agreement we should not just be sitting on the bus waiting for it to fill up with passengers. We should be acting vigorously on our own account with serious mitigation measures because we understand the great danger of climate change.

[The Hollies]

(Not So Simple) Twist Of Fate Gareth Renowden Feb 21

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Something I didn’t expect: Peter Gleick, the director of the Pacific Institute, a vocal opponent of climate denial and a highly respected scientist, turns out to have been behind the leak of the Heartland Institute board meeting documents that have been creating waves for the last week. Gleick made the admission in an article at Huffington Post earlier today (NZ). He reports that he received:

…an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute’s climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute’s apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.

In order to attempt to verify that document’s contents, he:

…solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget.

Gleick goes on to apologise for what he calls “a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics”.

As you might expect, the usual suspects are all over Gleick’s admission like a rash, but it’s important to retain some perspective here. The people so ready to decry Gleick’s actions were notably silent about the theft and release of private emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. The Heartland Institute was central to promoting discussion of those emails, and continues to paint their contents as a scandal. Their hypocrisy, and that of Watts, McIntyre and the rest of the Heartland fellow travellers, is breathtaking.

Nevertheless, Gleick should not have done what he did. However valuable the public service he performed in exposing the reality of Heartland’s climate lobbying and the roots of its funding — and that information is hugely important to any “rational discussion” of why, more than 20 years after the problem was first identified, the USA and the world remains unable to take meaningful action on emissions reductions — the means he chose were not those we would expect from a respected senior scientist.

However this plays out in the longer term, it’s clear that Peter Gleick played the role of whistleblower, bringing the attention of the world to the nefarious activities of a well-funded right wing lobby group with mysterious “anonymous donors” and zero accountability for their actions. It’s a job that any worthwhile investigative journalist would have loved to have done — and which should have been done long ago.

Together with the sterling efforts of John Mashey, the leaked documents confirm in detail what many had suspected. Heartland have made a career out of subverting the truth, the law, and the democratic process.

Gleick might pay a heavy price for his indiscretion, however laudable his goals. Heartland, its funders and the pet “scientists” on their payroll must be made to pay the higher price. Their actions have condemned future generations to far worse than any lapse of judgement or ethics. The real price of Heartland’s policies will be paid in human suffering, and for that there will be no forgiveness.

See also; The Guardian, George Monbiot on why We need to know who funds these tinktank lobbyists, Union of Concerned Scientists report on How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense, Josh Rosenau on parallels between Heartland’s climate “education” tactics and that of creationists, plus Peter Sinclair on Heartland’s abject pleading for tobacco money as recently as 1999 — and let’s not forget they arer still getting it today, and are happy to have a “smoker’s lounge” on their web site.

[Amongst many, I like KT Tunstall, Jeff Tweedy and Bryan Ferry, but there's also a worthy Diana Krall, and of course His Bobness when he could remember how to sing.]

Milliband’s Reading Cheers Monbiot Bryan Walker Aug 24

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George Monbiot has a striking piece in the Guardian this week, asking how much of the economic growth of the past 60 years is real and how much an illusion created by levels of borrowing that cannot be sustained. Ireland is his exemplar:

’Go to Ireland and you’ll see that even bricks and mortar are a mirage: the marvels of the new economy, built on debt, stand empty and worthless.’

And it’s not only financial borrowing, but also ecological borrowing:

’…we have inflicted more damage since 1950 to the planet’s living systems than we achieved in the preceding 100,000 years.’  

He links to an excerpt from an interview with Wall Street consultant Nouriel Roubini, one of the few who predicted the financial crash, quoting his striking conclusion:

“Karl Marx, it seems, was partly right in arguing that globalisation, financial intermediation run amok, and redistribution of income and wealth from labour to capital could lead capitalism to self-destruct.”

(Roubini’s arguments for a return to the right balance between markets and provision of public goods can be seen in this recent article.)

As the current economic system faces crisis in the financial sphere it also, says Monbiot, fails to address the environmental crisis. The promise that economic growth and environmental damage could be decoupled hasn’t come remotely near being delivered.

So far governments have responded to the crisis by frantically seeking to ’revive the old magic’ again. It won’t work.

But now, in the wake of the English riots and faced with possible collapse, he detects the beginnings of talk about the issues ignored while the illusion persisted: ’equality, exclusion, the feral rich and the discarded poor and, in WH Auden’s words, about ‘what the god had wrought / To please her son, the strong / Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles / Who would not live long.’”

I enjoyed reading the article, as I often do with Monbiot’s writing, but what made me decide to build it into a Hot Topic post was that he then went on to see a sign of hope in the fact that Ed Milliband had included in his pile of holiday reading Prof Tim Jackson’s book Prosperity Without Growth. ’It’s a revolutionary text, now two years old, whose time has come.’ I wrote a review of the book over a year ago and was very impressed by it. I often wish with some of the books I review that there was a way of keeping them as an object of attention for longer than an ephemeral post allows. This was certainly one of them, and I couldn’t pass by the opportunity to recommend it a second time.  Monbiot provides a summary of the book’s main ideas. So does Jeremy Leggett in his excellent Guardian review.

My own summary of the book’s thinking can be seen in my review, and I won’t try to recast that here. The more I look at what Jackson wrote the more sense it makes. He is recommending ways in which an economy can work within a recognition of the ecological limits we have too long ignored. In doing so it can set less emphasis on labour productivity and provide high employment in a low-carbon economy.  The book doesn’t propose revolution or picture utopia. It’s not even suggesting the dismantling of capitalism. Jackson points out that there is a wide spectrum of possibilities in a capitalist system: greater public ownership and a more significant role for government are not incompatible with a capitalist economy.

Here’s how Monbiot sums it up:

’His system is not wholly different to today’s: people will still spend and save, companies will still produce goods and services, governments will still raise taxes and spend money. It requires more government intervention than we’re used to; but so does every option we face from now on, especially if we try to sustain the growth illusion. The results, though, are radically different: a stable, growthless economy which avoids both financial and ecological collapse.

’From now on, as the old dream dies, nothing is straightforward. But at least we have the beginning of a plan.’

Ratcliffe coal protesters invited to appeal conviction Bryan Walker Apr 20

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The defence of the Ratcliffe coal power plant protesters in the UK, charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass, was that they were acting through ’necessity’ to prevent death and serious injury caused by carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. James Hansen was among the defence witnesses, testifying to the reality of the danger from climate change. The prosecution argued that the defendants were not really intending to stop carbon emissions, but instead engaged in a publicity stunt. I wrote in this post in January of the lenient sentencing from a judge who was clearly impressed by the motivation of these ’decent men and women with a genuine concern for others’. They were found guilty and had to be punished, albeit leniently.

Their conviction now appears likely to be overturned. The Director of Public Prosecutions, no less, has urged them to appeal their convictions after allegations that police suppressed potentially crucial evidence from an undercover police officer. “I have invited the defence to lodge an appeal and to include the issue of non-disclosure of material relating to the activities of an undercover police officer in any grounds of appeal.”

The story of the undercover officer has been extensively canvassed in the pages of The Guardian in recent months and I won’t try to disentangle it here, but it seems possible that tapes he secretly made of the protesters’ discussions may have helped their defence. The protesters are reported as wanting copies of those tapes and other reports of the undercover operations to help their appeal, and The Guardian comments that this is a move the CPS would now find it hard to resist.

The affair is a reminder of how strong are the forces lined up against climate change action. The law firm which represented the protesters observes:

“The impression remains that the establishment have sought to undermine those campaigning against the urgent and extreme perils of climate change and, once discovered, grudgingly are conceding only as much as they have to when they have to. It has taken two years to get this far and this has only come about as a result of the persistence of climate campaigners.”

George Monbiot is more direct in his trenchant comments yesterday on the issue. He points to the role of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in overseeing the National Public Order Intelligence Unit which ran the undercover operation. In effect, he says, they were running a private militia, and doing so in the interests of corporate power.

’…police chiefs in this country are out of control. They appear to see their role as protecting corporate power against the people, regardless of what the law says. To this end they are spending both public money and private money extracted from public hands, without obvious lines of accountability or constitutional authority.

’They are behaving as you would have expected the Guardia Civil under Francisco Franco to behave: working for private interests against the public interest.’

He wants them investigated:

’The police chiefs who commissioned the spy rings run by ACPO’s organisations must be held to account. If they have broken the law, they must be put on trial. Only then will we have some chance of believing that the law applies to everyone, and is not the exclusive property of corporations and secretive chief constables.’

If governments continue to play down the seriousness of the issue of climate change there will almost certainly be an increase in acts of civil disobedience as protesters challenge the corporations who carry on with damaging activities and the apathetic governments who permit them. Those who deliberately break the law in such circumstances expect to face the legal consequences. Their defence is likely to be on grounds of defending the welfare of those, some in future generations, who suffer the consequences of climate change. Such defence deserves to be given a full and fair hearing before judgement is declared. A democratic society requires no less and it should be no part of the state prosecution to hinder it even though arguing against it.

Waving, not drowning (yet) Bryan Walker Oct 13

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I found myself hesitating over reporting a further attempt on the part of Oxfam to draw attention to the increasing plight of populations in poorer countries faced with the early effects of climate change. In this case it is Oxfam New Zealand’s Wave of Change campaign, highlighting climate impacts in the Pacific region.

Why was I hesitating?  Fear of overdoing a theme? Recognition that there is not absolute scientific certainty that a particular event can be attributed to climate change? Caution about compassion fatigue? Foreseeing reactions from some that this is just another begging strategy devised by the pesky poor? A general feeling of hopelessness about the likelihood of rich nations taking a sustained interest in the plight of others, even when their responsibility for that plight is established? Not wanting to be seen as a bleeding heart liberal?

All these elements, and others, were discernible when I interrogated myself. None of them justified ignoring the Oxfam news release sitting in my inbox.  All the more when I read George Monbiot’s latest Guardian article. His argument is more generally political than climate change related, and I don’t propose discussing it here in those wider terms. But his conclusion was entirely relevant to this post:

’People with strong intrinsic values must cease to be embarrassed by them. We should argue for the policies we want not on the grounds of expediency but on the grounds that they are empathetic and kind; and against others on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel. In asserting our values we become the change we want to see.’

So let me write briefly about the Wave of Change campaign. It’s timed as the Cancun conference comes into view.  There appears to be some slight hope that Cancun will see advance on the transfer of finance and technology from developed countries to help developing countries adapt to climate change. Oxfam intends that New Zealand politicians and negotiators are well aware of the seriousness of the need of our Pacific Island neighbours in this respect. The declaration opening the short video on their website:

’People of the Pacific are among those to be hit first and worst by climate change.’

This isn’t just about the future danger of islands disappearing as a result of sea level rise, as Oxfam’s Coordinator Anne-Marie Mujica pointed out when launching the campaign:

’Right now people are struggling with salt poisoning their staple food crops and polluting their drinking water.’

A Pacific Conference of Churches spokesperson underlines this when he  speaks on the video of the increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather patterns.

’Salt water is now seeping into the food crops and the drinking water. Tropical storms are more fierce.’

One woman puts it simply:

’Seawater is coming. Every high tide I have water in my front yard.’

The campaign seeks a fair deal. Two Pacific Islanders on the video say it:

’Our Pacific urgently requires a fair deal on climate change.’

’We need to protect our Pacific regions. We need to speak out loud and clear for a fair and ambitious deal on climate change.’

Fair deal is the right note to strike since issues of justice are clearly involved when the effects of  emissions are felt by those least responsible for them.   One woman speaker says:

’Climate change is not just about science; climate change is about human rights.’

These are island voices. People alarmed by what they see happening where they live and asking for attention and fair treatment. Auckland is the most appropriate city in the developed world for their voice to be raised loud and clear.

Awareness-raising events taking place around Auckland this week are detailed on this Facebook page.

One of the campaign activities suggested is writing to the NZ Prime Minister. He should be open to the plea. New Zealand has signed up to the Copenhagen Accord and consequently no doubt expects to make a proportionate contribution to the funding targets outlined in that Accord to assist developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Last word to Oxfam’s Mujica:

’New Zealand may be a small country, but we’re a big player in the international climate talks. Our negotiators lead, or are members of, important working groups. It’s time to show the government that its citizens want them to do more to protect our Pacific.’

Rees: scientists are citizens too Bryan Walker Sep 25

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The BBC’s HARDtalk interviewer Stephen Sackur engaged this week with the eminently reasonable Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society. The interview covered a range of topics, and climate change was among them.  It could hardly not be, given the seriousness with which Rees regards it.  Sackur chose to introduce the subject by suggesting that some of the confusion over climate change among the general public may be ’because some scientists can’t decide whether they’re scientists — completely impartial, independent, guided only by data — or whether they’re campaigners’. Who he had in mind he didn’t say, or more likely didn’t know. Perhaps he was suggesting Rees falls into that category.

If so, Rees didn’t rise to the bait but took the opportunity to affirm that there is wide acceptance in the scientific community that climate change is a matter for serious concern and that nothing that has happened in the last year weakens the evidence for this.

He acknowledged, however, that there is plenty of scope for debate as to what we should do about it because we have to decide what sacrifices we make now in order to guard against risks of uncertain magnitude in the future.

Incidentally, when Rees mentions the uncertainties of future predictions it should be noted that he means that it is uncertain whether the level of warming this century will be two degrees or as much as a catastrophic five or more degrees.

Confronted with Monbiot’s latest fear that climate enlightenment is dead Rees replied that he wouldn’t go as far as that but hoped rather that the debate could be reinvigorated. At this point he mentioned the article he and Anthony Giddens have just written and which has now been posted on Hot Topic. Sackur pounced, asking how that can be done by scientists who must follow the data rather than campaign.

Rees patiently agreed that it is important to separate out the science, which is the basis for the policy decisions, from the policy decisions themselves. As a scientist ’I see it as my job to ensure that the science with all its uncertainties is made available to politicians.’

But then came the telling aspect of scientific responsibility: ’But as citizens I think we want to make sure that issues which are longer term and important don’t always get trumped by the urgent and immediate.’

’Scientists need to get noisier do they?’ asked Sackur.

’Not just scientists, but many people who are concerned about the long-term future of the environment and the climate need to urge our politicians to give some weight to long-term issues.’

Behind the politeness and carefulness of Rees’s statements there is clearly a refusal to accept the foolishly simplistic notion that climate scientists should be corralled in the domain of their science and should leave the policy makers of the world to work out for themselves whether they are going to respond to the science and how. The fact of the matter is that politicians need to be constantly challenged to face up to the seriousness of the issue. And scientists are citizens with the same interest as the rest of us in an appropriate level of political response to a grave threat.

The dichotomy which Sackur used to get the discussion under way is a false one. It’s also a very tired one. I was surprised that an accomplished interviewer such as Sackur wasn’t ready with an approach which showed a more alert awareness of why scientists like Rees are impelled to sound alarms. It seemed to fit with a critical Climate Progress post from Joseph Romm recently on what he discerns as a decline in the BBC’s coverage of climate change. In the post he  reports hearing from a former BBC producer colleague that internal editorial discussions now under way at the BBC on planning next year’s news agenda have explicitly parked climate change in the category ’Done That Already, Nothing New to Say’!

Reinvigorating the debate, Rees’s preferred path, is not going to be made easy. But we can be thankful that he and other scientists are committed to the effort.

The politics of failure/the failure of politics Bryan Walker Sep 22

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As an example of contradictory thinking it would be hard to better Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee this week. He was announcing that oil and gas exploration in New Zealand is to get a substantial boost in government resources, including funding to further the possible exploitation of deep-sea methane hydrates.

He made a plea for New Zealanders to consider the potential for an accelerated oil and gas discovery programme to be achieved in an environmentally responsible way.

“People need to shift their thinking on exactly this issue. The development of New Zealand’s natural resources and the protection of the environment are not mutually exclusive. It is only through a strong economy that New Zealand can afford the expenditure required to look after and improve our environment.”

Is it unfair to construe this as follows?

We need to mine more oil and gas, the burning of which will hasten dangerous climate change, in order to become rich enough to deal with dangerous climate change.

In fact of course, when Brownlee talks of the environment he is probably not thinking of climate change at all.  He gives very little evidence of ever thinking of climate change.

The contradictions of which Brownlee is an example are deeply embedded in the political scene in a great many countries. There is very little indication that governments are preparing to stop the mining of fossil fuels.  Indeed there’s every indication that they’re ready to increase it whenever it looks as if there could be an economic benefit in doing so. Even the monstrous environmental assault of the extraction of oil from the Canadian tar sands is justified by its proponents. American Senator Lindsey Graham, who once supported a US climate bill, announced recently on a visit to view operations that he was going to do all he could to make sure that the oil sands production was not impeded because of US policy. He remarked that its production ’really blends in with the natural habitat’!

One risks being regarded as slightly mad in declaring that a rational New Zealand would leave any possible new oil and gas fields undisturbed, along with coal unless effective carbon capture and sequestration processes are in place. But that seems to me to be the sane view at this stage of our understanding of what greenhouse gas emissions are doing to the climate.

George Monbiot has been reflecting on gap between the grand announcements of governments about emissions reductions and the reality that they aren’t achieving them. In a bleak column this week he writes that the failure of the international political process to find a successor to Kyoto means that ’there is not a single effective instrument for containing man-made global warming anywhere on earth.’

It’s not as if the warnings are getting weaker.  They are clearly mounting as the evidence continues to accumulate.  But ’the stronger the warnings, the less capable of action we become.’ We were mistaken to think that something might come out of the last 18 years of talk and bluster. Environmentalists tend to blame themselves, but there was no strategy sure of success. The powers ranged against us are too strong.

’Greens are a puny force by comparison to industrial lobby groups, the cowardice of governments and the natural human tendency to deny what we don’t want to see. To compensate for our weakness, we indulged a fantasy of benign paternalistic power — acting, though the political mechanisms were inscrutable, in the wider interests of humankind. We allowed ourselves to believe that, with a little prompting and protest, somewhere, in a distant institutional sphere, compromised but decent people would take care of us. They won’t. They weren’t ever going to do so.’

Monbiot concludes that we must stop dreaming about an institutional response that will never materialise and start facing a political reality we’ve sought to avoid. I guess here in New Zealand that means accepting that the juggernaut of ’resource’ exploitation is going to roll on and leading politicians are going to continue to talk as if they’re protecting the environment while they’re in the process of destroying it. It also means that only strong organised implacable challenge is likely to have any effect — there is a small ray of hope in the success of mobilised public opinion against mining in protected conservation areas, but whether that kind of mobilisation can be raised against fossil fuels remains to be seen.

It may be worth noting that another columnist this week found reason to sound more upbeat, though certainly not about his own country. Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, lamented the failure of the US senate to pass the energy-climate bill but pointed to the seriousness with which Chinese Communists were by contrast tackling the climate change issue and turning it into an opportunity for the development of clean technologies.  Friedman is inclined to optimism, as was apparent in his book Hot, Flat and Crowded, but he provides some basis for it in the case of China.

He quotes Peggy Liu, chairwoman of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, a nonprofit group working to accelerate the greening of China.

’China’s leaders are mostly engineers and scientists, so they don’t waste time questioning scientific data…China is changing from the factory of the world to the clean-tech laboratory of the world. It has the unique ability to pit low-cost capital with large-scale experiments to find models that work.’

Friedman points to the way China has designated and invested in pilot cities for electric vehicles, smart grids, LED lighting, rural biomass and low-carbon communities.

It’s perhaps not much to pin hopes on, especially as coal continues to be used for much new power generation in China. But it may well yet be the case that burgeoning clean technologies will take us further than politicians can. In my inbox this morning was information from the Earth Policy Institute on the continuing rapid growth of solar photovoltaic cell production, described as the world’s fastest-growing power technology. China, Japan and Taiwan are the leading manufacturers. The writer acknowledges that it remains more expensive than fossil fuel-generated power, but points out that its costs are declining rapidly. If fossil fuels ceased to receive subsidies and were required to incorporate their currently externalised costs their relative cheapness would be exposed as only apparent.

Which is good reason to argue in New Zealand for more even-handed government investment in renewables by comparison with fossil fuel extraction. The absurdity of offering so much support for fossil fuels and so little for the green technologies on which our future, if we have one, will depend might be realised by some in our government if we keep on insisting. But it remains a hard slog.


Report clears IPCC head Pachauri, UK paper apologises Bryan Walker Aug 27

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Back in March I posted on IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri’s stout defence of the IPCC report against the attacks to which it was being subjected by hysterical denialism.  But he has also had to defend himself against accusations in an article by Christopher Booker and Richard North in the Sunday Telegraph in December which claimed that the UN climate chief was “making a fortune from his links with ‘carbon trading’ companies” and that payments from his work for other organisations “must run into millions of dollars”.

KPMG was engaged by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the non-profit organisation Pachauri heads, to conduct an independent review of personal financial records of Dr Pachauri and other records of TERI to confirm if there is any evidence that suggests that Dr Pachauri misused his position for personal benefit as alleged.

The KPMG report has now been made public.  The Guardian reports:

’The KPMG audit, completed in March, showed the allegation that Pachauri had made millions of dollars could not be further from the truth. In addition to his annual salary of £45,000, the auditors found that in the period 1 April 2008 – 31 December 2009, Pachauri received 20,000 rupees (£278) from two national power commissions in India, on which he serves as director; 35,880 rupees (£498) for articles and lectures; and a maximum of 100,000 rupees (£1,389) in the form of royalties from his books and awards.

’Any money paid as a result of work that Pachauri had done for other organisations went to TERI. The accounts also show that Pachauri also donated to the institute a lifetime achievement award from the Environment Partnership Summit – a 200,000 rupee prize he would have been entitled to keep.’

The Sunday Telegraph has removed the article from its website and apologised, hardly handsomely but apparently to avoid libel proceedings:

“[The article] was not intended to suggest that Dr Pachauri was corrupt or abusing his position as head of the IPCC and we accept KPMG found Dr Pachauri had not made ‘millions of dollars’ in recent years. We apologise to Dr Pachauri for any embarrassment caused.”

George Monbiot has made trenchant comment.

’Has anyone been as badly maligned as Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ?

’…The story immediately travelled around the world. It was reproduced on hundreds of blogs. The allegations it contained were widely aired in the media and generally believed. For a while, no discussion of climate change or the IPCC appeared complete without reference to Pachauri’s ‘dodgy’ business dealings and alleged conflicts of interest.

’There was just one problem: the story was untrue.

 ’It’s not just that Pachauri hadn’t been profiting from the help he has given to charities, businesses and institutions, his accounts show that he is scrupulous to the point of self-denial.’

The Sunday Telegraph article also complained that we don’t know “how much we all pay him” as chairman of the IPCC. The answer, as Monbiot reports, is nothing.  This was information that the journalists could easily have obtained but driven by their intention to malign preferred not to.

This won’t be the end of the matter for denialists of course. North on his blog puts the apology down to the paper’s need to avoid libel proceedings from an ’unethical law firm’ and continues undaunted:

’If you wish to believe that means Pachauri didn’t make millions of dollars, that is your affair. But the crucial thing is that the paper has not apologised for accusing Pachauri of making millions of dollars. That accusation stands uncorrected. The paper simply accepts that KPMG has a claim in this respect.’

Monbiot expects that the smear campaign will continue, and become ever more lurid as new charges are invented.

’The best we can do is to set out the facts and appeal to whatever decency the people spreading these lies might have, and ask them to consider the impact of what they have done to an innocent man. Will it work? I wouldn’t bet on it. As we have seen in the United States, where some people (often the same people) continue to insist that Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born abroad, certain views are impervious to evidence.’

If we need reminding, denialism will stop at nothing in its campaign to denigrate the science of climate change. That is what the attacks on Pachauri are about. He is chairman of the IPCC. Portray him as dishonest and hope thereby to spread doubt about the IPCC reports. It is determination to suppress the science which informs the attacks on him and on the scientists who have been falsely accused of various malpractices.

Monckton is a fraud Gareth Renowden Aug 03

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Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, pompous peer of a parish in Kent, not content with threatening legal action against US scientist John Abraham (who had the temerity to point out the huge number of errors and misrepresentations in a talk he gave: see Support John Abraham, now 1050+ comments), has now threatened action for libel against Professor Scott Mandia. Mandia wrote a blog post in support of Abraham, inviting members of the media to consider if Monckton were a fraud — which drew a spiteful little email from Tannochbrae

I also note that you have publicly accused me of ’fraud’, and have widely circulated that accusation on the internet, and have expressed the intention to invite the mass media to repeat it. Since this is a serious charge, do you have any evidence to back it up, or should I add your name to that of Professor Abraham in the libel case that will be filed shortly?

Mandia’s open letter to the media asked them to “expose Monckton for the fraud that he is”, which is somewhat different to an accusation of fraudulent behaviour. Let’s examine the evidence, and see if Monckton can reasonably be described as “a fraud”, and whether his actions and public statements are in themselves fraudulent. First we need some definitions:

The Google definition listing is here, and from that Princeton Wordnet offers:

  • intentional deception resulting in injury to another person
  • imposter: a person who makes deceitful pretenses
  • something intended to deceive; deliberate trickery intended to gain an advantage

My elderly Oxford English Dictionary (complete edition, 1979) offers the following:

  • the quality or disposition of being deceitful; faithlessness, insincerity
  • criminal deception; the using of false representations to obtain an unjust an unjust advantage or to injure the rights and interest of another
  • an act or instance of deception, an artifice by which the right or interest of another is injured, a dishonest trick or stratagem
  • colloq of a person; One who is not who he appears to be; an imposter, a humbug ( = a hoax, jesting or befooling trick, an imposture, deception, fraud or sham)

Then a US legal definition (definitions differ in other jurisdictions):

Fraud is generally defined in the law as an intentional misrepresentation of material existing fact made by one person to another with knowledge of its falsity and for the purpose of inducing the other person to act, and upon which the other person relies with resulting injury or damage. Fraud may also be made by an omission or purposeful failure to state material facts, which nondisclosure makes other statements misleading.

How do Monckton’s public statements, writings and presentations stack up when considered in the light of the above definitions. Not well. Let us first note the evidence assembled by Professor Barry Bickmore of Brigham Young University in Utah on his Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet page. One item will suffice: In a letter to the US Congress Monckton represented himself as a member of the House of Lords in the British Parliament. Monckton is not now, nor has he ever been a member of the House of Lords. Intentional misrepresentation? You be the judge…

Next, let us consider his bizarrely overwrought “Response to John Abraham” [PDF]. Once more, one item will be sufficient. From page 69:

394: Are you aware of results such as that of Pinker et al. (2005), and of several other researchers and data gathering organizations? Pinker found that in 18 years and 1 month from 1983-2001 a naturally-occurring global brightening, attributable at least in part to a reduction in cloud cover at low latitudes and altitudes, had increased the flux of solar radiation reaching the surface by 2.9 Watts per square meter, an increase sufficient to account for all of the ’global warming’ over the period?

Monckton made a similar assertion in a debate with Deltoid’s Tim Lambert in Australia earlier in this year, only to have the wind knocked from his sails by a quote from Rachel Pinker, pointing out that he was wrong. Tasked with this, Monckton assured Lambert that he would “check with Pinker and the IPCC”, and change his argument. It appears that he has failed to do this, preferring instead to continue to misrepresent Pinker’s paper. A deceitful pretence? You be the judge…

Closer to home, Monckton was caught telling lies on New Zealand television, claiming to be an expert on the calculation of climate sensitivity:

The scientists have indeed got their sums wrong, because there are only perhaps 40 or 50 scientists involved in calculating that one central quality, which is known as climate sensitivity, how much warming will you get. It’s a very narrow, very specialist field in which I have actually published work in the [slight pause] reviewed literature, and there’s not many people who have done that. Very few people people have actually done work in this field, and unfortunately what they have done is they have preferred at the UN’s climate panel to rely on computer models which are in effect a form of guesswork.

Monckton’s only contribution to this field was an article (not a peer-reviewed paper) in a newsletter (not a peer-reviewed journal) of the American Physical Society in 2008, which got the science so badly wrong that Arthur Smith was able to document 125 errors. Two years on, Monckton would prefer we didn’t remember that. Something intended to deceive; deliberate trickery intended to gain an advantage in debate? You be the judge…

Monckton has also made free with his threats of actions for libel. Aside from Abraham and Mandia, he has threatened George Monbiot and The Guardian (he got nowhere, though he has apparently attempted to claim that he was awarded £50,000 damages), and Arthur Smith’s debunking also earned him a threat of action (see Monckton’s Rap Sheet). None of the ignoble Lord’s threats amount to more than hot air. Perhaps he thinks that preaching from a bully pulpit will impress his congregation. His popularity with the American think tanks running the campaign against action on climate change depends to some extent on his being seen to be at least vaguely credible, and perhaps that demands that he be seen to posture and preen. Or perhaps that is just the nature of the man…

In Britain he carries much less clout. There he is recognised for what he is — a pretentious fabulist and self-important minor peer who is involved with a fringe far-Right political party. Nigel Lawson’s secretly-funded Global Warming Policy Foundation wouldn’t touch Monckton with a barge pole, because it would make Lawson and his backers look like idiots.

On the evidence, it is clear that Monckton is a shameless humbug, a proven liar and a hypocrite, who intentionally misrepresents the facts of climate science in order to mislead his audience. The real mystery is why this isn’t obvious to important sections of the US body politic.

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