Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category
Jesus of Nazareth once said, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall…” If so, the next UK government is likely to be (at least led by) the Labour Party. OMG – the thought of it is almost enough to make me emigrate to Australia…
For those of you who are not following UK politics (i.e. about 99% of the Earth’s human population), I shall, in due course, explain what makes me say that our government is divided and therefore, even if it is not going to fall, is certainly going to be ineffective. For now, given the nature of this blog, you will not be surprised to learn that I intend to focus on the ways in which the UK’s current (coalition) government appears to be completely schizophrenic – in statements made regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). Before getting into this subject, however, I should like first to deal with a couple of objections that may be raised as a result of this introduction:
1. Will not coalition governments always be somewhat schizophrenic? May be so, but, this has not stopped our coalition government making progress. Indeed, in the midst of an unprecedented global financial crisis, I think it has worked well. This remark will no doubt surprise many readers in the UK – especially those who have amnesia and have forgotten the mess into which the last Labour government got this country; and/or have been duped into thinking the Labour Party must have learned from its mistakes. Hopefully, this begins to address the second objection…
2. What would be so bad about the UK having a Labour government? Sadly, all I think Labour Party politicians have learned to do (as did the Conservatives) is to say whatever is most likely to get them elected. They are still just as beholden to vested interests (trade unions) as they ever were – just as the Conservatives are beholden to vested interests (big business). Sadly, although it would be better if vested interests did not control politicians, it has always been in the long-term best interests of this country to favour the interests of big business (rather than trade unions).
Again, this will probably surprise (if not anger) many readers in the UK (and elsewhere). However, although I have a great deal of sympathy with the views of people like Oliver Stone and John Pilger (who see Capitalism as the root of all evil in the World), if the 20th Century can teach us anything, it is one very simple thing: Marxism does not work. This is because Marxism = [Growthmania – Capitalism] …and you cannot blame politics for a problem that resides within the human heart, as in: “the love of money is the root of all evil”.
All of the above will hopefully explain why, apart from a brief mental aberration (between 1997 and 2003 – prompted by a certain Anthony Blair), I have always voted for the Conservative Party.
However, unless the Party kills off the libertarian and anti-scientific cancer that is currently growing within it, I am not sure that I will be able to vote for it in the future. Sadly, I think I will become one of the many that does not vote in elections. This is because our democracy is a complete sham. This is something else we can learn from the 20th Century: Without a form of proportional representation, the majority of voters (who do not vote for winning candidates) are disenfranchised by first-past-the-post electoral systems.
However, I digress. I was supposed to be explaining how our current coalition government is divided when it comes to policy on acknowledging and mitigating ACD – and why this matters.
I am very grateful to a faithful follower of this blog – one Lionel A Smith – for alerting me to the content of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme on 7 June 2013 and for sending me a link to a post on the SkepticalScience website that was prompted by this broadcast. This post begins as follows:
An extraordinary – and worrying – insight into the mind of Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Environment here in the UK, was provided during a June 7th edition of the political Q&A programme Any Questions… This week’s panel was made up of Peter Hain, Labour MP for Neath, Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, Owen Paterson, UK Secretary of State for the Environment and James Delingpole, blogger and well-known inhabitant of an alternate universe when it comes to climate science…
Having read this piece on SkepticalScience, I decided – as was suggested by one of the many commenters – to send a message to the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron via the Internet. I also sent the message to my MP (who has confirmed she has forwarded to the PM’s office asking for a response). My message was as follows:
Subject: The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP
I refer to Mr Patterson’s remarks in response to a question about climate change on BBC Radio Four’s Any Questions programme last week (the question posed approximately 29 minutes and 20 seconds into the broadcast).
Can the Prime Minister please explain how Mr Paterson can be Environment Minister and make so comprehensively flawed remarks as he did in response to this question?
Mr Paterson’s remarks are completely at odds with those of Edward Davey.
Given the recent attempts by Energy Minister Michael Fallon to question the credibility of Tim Yeo in the recent Energy Bill debate (at about 1345 hrs on 4 June [c.1405-06]), could the Prime Minister also offer any kind of reassurance that, in the future, the government will speak with one voice on the subject of anthropogenic climate disruption?
The message was subject to a 1000-character limit – hence the absence of any quotations. However, for the benefit of those wanting to understand the issue without having to follow all the links, here are the important bits, which demonstrate the extent to which the Coalition is currently being completely schizophrenic, intellectually incoherent, and – therefore – completely ineffective.
Paterson: “…the climate’s always been changing… Peter [Hain] mentioned the Arctic and I think in the Holocene the Arctic melted completely… we then had a little ice age, we had a middle age warming – the climate’s been going up and down – but the real question which I think everyone’s trying to address is – is this influenced by manmade activity in recent years and James [Delingpole] is actually correct… the temperature has not changed in the last seventeen years and what I think we’ve got to be careful of is that there is almost certainly… some influence by manmade activity but I think we’ve just got to be rational (audience laughter)… and make sure the measures that we take to counter it don’t actually cause more damage…”
Davey: “Of course there will always be uncertainties within climate science and the need for research to continue… But some sections of the press are giving an uncritical campaigning platform to individuals and lobby groups who reject outright the fact that climate change is a result of human activity. Some who even deny the reality of climate change itself. This is not the serious science of challenging, checking and probing. This is destructive and loudly clamouring scepticism born of vested interest, nimbyism, publicity seeking… or sheer blinkered, dogmatic, political bloody-mindedness… By selectively misreading the evidence, they seek to suggest that climate change has stopped so we can all relax and burn all the dirty fuel we want without a care. This is a superficially seductive message, but it is absolutely wrong and really quite dangerous.”
Fallon: “I have read a report of a speech delivered by [Tim Yeo] during the recess, in which—I was somewhat puzzled to see this—he said about climate change that, ‘the causes are not absolutely clear. There could be natural causes, natural phases that are taking place’… [Tim Yeo interjects with an explanation of the context of this selective quotation, after which Fallon continues]… I am sure that those who support my hon. Friend will be grateful for that explanation. The quotation I have seems pretty clear to me, but it is for him to explain it. If he is not so sure any more, why should the rest of us be so sure?”
Net result: Climate change deniers 2, environmental realists 1 …and this is just the tip of the iceberg… The Energy Bill debate (from which the latter quotation is extracted) was littered with speeches and interjections by Conservative politicians who very are very clearly convinced that ACD is either a scientific hoax or a political conspiracy.
Given this level of inconsistency within the Coalition, the government only just defeated an amendment to this Bill (that would have required carbon reduction targets to be set now). It therefore must be hoped that – helped by the House of Lords – reality will dawn on enough of these anti-science MPs to get the Bill amended before it is passed into Law (it would only require about 15 MPs to vote for the amendment to get it inserted).
Why? Well as John Ashton, has said, no one who votes against carbon reduction targets can be considered to be taking the need to reduce carbon emissions seriously (see here). Sadly, by doing so, they are going against the advice of the vast majority of relevant experts in atmospheric physics and – given the stance of the International Energy Agency and the International Monetary Fund – that of experts in energy policy and economics as well.
Fantastic news today! Tearfund, a UK based Christian charity focused on promoting overseas aid and development, has announced the success of its ‘Unearth the Truth’ campaign. As of today, the EU has implemented new Transparency Laws that will make it much harder for corrupt governments and companies around the world to trade with the EU. Here is the news in Tearfund’s own words…
We’ve unearthed the truth!
In advance of the G8 Summit to be held in Northern Ireland, Avaaz is asking people to sign a petition to help encourage President Obama and Canadian PM Harper do the right thing.
In days, governments will discuss whether to plug a gigantic $1 trillion per year corporate tax loophole – enough money to end poverty, put every child in school, and double green investment! Most governments want powerful multinationals to pay these taxes, but the US and Canada are on the fence. To get a deal, we need them to feel the pressure.
$1 trillion is more than every country combined spends on their military. It’s bigger than the budgets of 176 nations. It’s $1000 each for every family on the planet. And believe it or not, it’s the amount that our largest corporations and wealthiest individuals evade each year in taxes.
This should be a no-brainer. To massively boost our public finances in a time of painful cuts and debt, all we need to do is ensure that everyone pays the taxes they’re supposed to. But big US corporations are fiercely lobbying to protect their dodgy practices. A massive public campaign will help identify and hold accountable the two leaders – President Obama and Prime Minister Harper, who are considering siding with corruption over this gigantic step forward for the planet. Let’s get to one million voices and then Avaaz will deliver our call to leaders and the media in the middle of the negotiations:
Apple, one of the world’s wealthiest companies, paid basically $0 in tax on $78 billion they made in recent years by setting up shell corporations in low-tax countries and posting profits abroad. This kind of global tax evasion gives multinational firms a huge advantage over smaller domestic companies. It’s as bad for a healthy market economy as it is for democracy and economic stability.
But in days, governments will consider a plan that would make it harder for companies and individuals to evade taxes by hiding their money offshore and in tax shelters. The plan would require countries to share information to expose where the money is hidden and require “fake” companies to reveal who’s really behind them. If talks go well this week, the G8 could agree to the whole thing later this month.
In hard times, when governments everywhere are cutting spending on vital social priorities, it’s particularly galling that the wealthiest get a free pass from paying their fair share. (Even more so when the hard times were caused by massive government handouts to bail out banks owned by the same people). Governments are finally getting serious about plugging these holes in our finances, but the US and Canada are falling sway to powerful business lobbies.
A large public petition that’s well covered by the media will help highlight which countries are blocking the agreement, and make this a political issue for Obama and Harper to deal with. A powerful call from the world’s people to choose to give a massive boost to our planet instead of preserving corrupt loopholes will also help these leaders to find their consciences and good sense. We can’t let the lobbyists win this one in the shadows, let’s bring the spotlight of public attention to this massive decision for our planet:
Every week, our community strives in and often wins fights for human rights, democracy, conservation and more. But some decisions have the power to affect thousands of causes at once, often preventing many problems from ever happening. $1 trillion per year in public funding would make a massive difference in the lives of children who could go to school, lives that could be saved, peace that could be built, habitats that could be protected, and so much more. For the sake of all these future struggles that we might not need to fight, let’s win this one.
Alex, Jeremy, Christoph, Marie, Ian, David, Paul, Ricken and the whole Avaaz team
PS – Many Avaaz campaigns are started by members of our community! Start yours now and win on any issue – local, national or global: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/start_a_petition/?bgMYedb&v=25479
Europe’s push against tax fraud gains momentum (BBC)
The Corrosive Effect of Apple’s Tax Avoidance (New York Times)
Factbox: Apple, Amazon, Google and tax avoidance schemes (Reuters)
Tax havens are entrenching poverty in developing countries (The Guardian)
The missing $20 trillion (The Economist)
Europe’s lost trillion in taxes (CNN)
Military spending by country (The Economist)
The Business Case Against Overseas Tax Havens (ASB Council)
Sad to say it but, having reached cross-party consensus and implemented the Climate Change Act in 2008, the UK has now:
– failed to honour the promise this contained;
– failed to listen to the advice of its own scientific experts;
– failed to dismantle the subsidies that support fossil-fuel production;
– failed to provide certainty for investors in renewable energy (at any scale); and
– failed to take a lead to encourage other countries also to work towards a sustainable future.
I therefore think John Ashton, a former Foreign Office climate expert, was right to conclude recently that no-one who has voted for this new Energy Bill can be considered to be taking the threat of anthropogenic climate disruption seriously.
Here is the latest email from Greenpeace UK summarising what happened in the UK’s Parliament yesterday:
The vote was this afternoon and was amazingly close. But we lost.
MPs have just rejected a clean power future – and I thought you’d want to be the first to know.
It’s been a tense few days as we waited for MPs to vote on a clean power target in the Energy Bill, and it’s not the outcome we all wanted.
But there is a silver lining.
Thousands of us told our MPs to back clean electricity, and as a result the rebellion against George Osborne’s dirty, costly dash for gas continued to grow steadily right up to the vote.
We lost by just 23 votes. That’s the third closest vote since the election. If just 12 more MPs had switched sides, we’d have won.
Osborne may have won this round, but the Energy Bill will now go to the House of Lords. There will be another vote, which gives us another chance to secure our clean energy future.
The battle for Britain’s energy future is far from over.
Over the next few days, we’ll be thinking about where to take the campaign next. But right now we’re recruiting for our core volunteer lobbyists – the people who go and challenge their MPs face-to-face, in their constituency offices.
We need as many of these volunteers as possible to make sure we get the political impact we need. You’ll be trained for free and given all the support you need to become an effective lobbyist – for the good guys.
Let’s use today’s news to make us stronger. Volunteer for the Greenpeace lobbying network now.
P.S. In two days, 21 people will be sentenced for occupying one of George Osborne’s dirty gas power stations. Some of them are facing prison sentences. Please follow [i.e. 'Like'] the Facebook page of Greenpeace’s No Dash for Gas campaign for updates.
This post is based on something I wrote for Paul Handover’s Learning from Dogs website, which was published there earlier this month.
As originally conceived, I gave it the title ‘Libertarian ideology is the real road block’. Having had a few more weeks to think about it, I remain convinced that a great many people overlook the most basic finding of the recent research of Professor Stephan Lewandowsky (et al): As Lewandowsky and his co-authors put it, “adherence to free market economics predicts…” the denial of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).
In plain English, the main reason people reject science is to preserve the integrity of their ideological and/or theological prejudice. As I have recently had to point out to Roger Helmer MEP (on his blog and in my previous posts here), this is what Young Earth (YE) Creationists do. Whilst completely understandable from an emotional perspective, both YE Creationism and the denial of ACD are utterly irrational positions that can only be maintained by willful ignorance and by the automatic rejection of any conflicting evidence. However, unlike YE Creationism, the denial of ACD is intrinsically dangerous (in the same way that it would be to deny you are being chased by a tiger).
Without further ado, in a form slightly amended from that in which it appeared on Learning from Dogs, here is my summary of the recent work of Stephan Lewandowsky (et al).
I have recently been catching up on a bit of reading – focusing on the recent work of Professor Stephan Lewandowsky (and others). Following in the wake of James Hansen, Ben Santer and Michael Mann, Lewandowsky has recently been the target of hate-mail campaigns by climate change sceptics. Unlike all the others, however, Lewandowsky (formerly at the University of Western Australia but now at Bristol University in the UK) is not a climate scientist. This is how Bristol University announced his recent appointment.
Steve is an internationally renowned cognitive scientist who has joined us from the University of Western Australia. His research has already revolutionised our understanding of human memory and cognition, and he now stands poised to build upon his impressive body of work with a project as ambitious as it is timely. In particular, Steve’s intention to improve our understanding of how people choose to acquire information, and to use this understanding to help create a more informed populace, is a unique and much needed undertaking. Thus, this research offers enormous benefits in the fields of experimental psychology, climate research and the wider public engagement with and understanding of scientific research.
I must admit that, until recently, I had not sat down to read either of the papers by Lewandowsky et al ( ‘Motivated Rejection of Science’ [PDF] or ‘Recursive Fury: Conspiracy Ideation in the Blogosphere’ [PDF] ) – I had only read about them.
However, now that I have read them, the thing that strikes me most forcefully is not the stupidity of conspiracy “ideation”, the invocation of conspiracy theories, it is the fact that, as Lewandowsky et al acknowledge, their work confirms the findings of many previous studies; that climate change scepticism is associated with prejudicial adherence to libertarian ideology. Also key is that climate change scepticism can be predicted by that prejudicial adherence to libertarian ideology.
Amongst many other things, this explains why EU sceptics are climate sceptics and why the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) do not like Wind Farms. I had understood this for some time. However, I had not fully realised its importance; it was just one theme among others. Anyone who has read my blog recently will probably have noticed my post about New World Order (NWO) conspiracy theory, in which I acknowledged that I had not realised just how significant such thinking is, and how subliminal and subconscious it may be.
Although adherence to free-market economics and libertarian ideology were themes I highlighted in my MA dissertation and in my subsequent book, and mentioned on my blog numerous times, everything I have read in the last few days points to one conclusion: We will not succeed in communicating the urgency of the need for radical changes in energy policy until we can convince people that climate scientists are not trying to perpetuate their research funding or halt human progress.
Professor Lewandowsky’s research shows that little can be achieved by simply telling people they are wrong. Far better is pointing out to people that Limits to Growth and Peak Oil have already halted the progress of globalised Capitalism, as recent times prove dramatically. In other words conveying facts to people rather than ideology.
I must admit that this has been a tough pill to swallow. I am not naturally progressive and certainly not naturally “liberal”. On the contrary, I am socially and politically conservative. However, the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption is a game-changer. Therefore, unlike members of the Flat Earth Society or Young Earth Creationists (YECs), I do not refuse to accept what scientists tell me simply because I don’t like the message.
We cannot defeat such obscurantism by telling people they are irrational; we can only defeat it by focusing on the evidence that suggests strongly that they are mistaken. To this end, I think the words of St Augustine of Hippo are an important consideration; words going back over 1,400 years before anyone started to question the Age of the Earth or the Origin of Species! Words echoed by Thomas Aquinas:
… since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing. – Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (1273).
In the last 150 years or so, most Christians have now come to reject conspiracy theory explanations for fossils, for example, and have realised that it is inappropriate to treat the Bible as a scientific text book. Regretably, the main source of ideological blindness today is not conventional religion; it is adherence to free-market economics.
Therefore, it is important that we acknowledge the ideological nature of the communication problem we face: The research by Prof Lewandowsky and others has discovered a tendency for libertarians to prefer conspiracy theories to reality. Perhaps, therefore, it is not surprising that it has been attacked; as no-one likes to be told they are deluding themselves. However, roadblocks to policy change will not be cleared by social and political scientists telling libertarians that they are deluded. All that will do is confirm their suspicions and reinforce their prejudices!
No, what is needed is for climate scientists to be bolder in stating the facts. However, sadly, the majority of climate scientists seem content to continue to soft-soap the issue; afraid of “telling it to people straight” because it may induce despair.
No, it is not too late to prevent an ecological catastrophe. However, I am certain that we are now very short of time and – as everyone from the International Energy Agency, the Pentagon and the IMF agree – further delay will not be cost-effective.
At the same time, I think social and political scientists need to focus on debunking the ‘New World Order’ conspiracy myth and pointing out the logical fallacy in the idea that all Greens are Communists in disguise (the so-called ‘Watermelons’).
The environment has become a political football when it is nothing of the kind. It is our life support system and we have pushed it near to the point of collapse – as E.F. Schumacher once said – by mistaking Nature’s capital for a form of income. Therefore, if we do not change course, bankruptcy would seem inevitable.
This is the Gospel according to Roger Helmer MEP (and Cambridge graduate in Mathematics) – whose non-expertise in the subject leads him to conclude that the climate is not changing; and to equate people concerned about climate change with those who once insisted the Earth was flat…
I am pleased to report that the comment that featured in my previous post, entitled ‘A letter to Roger Helmer UKIP MEP’, did appear on his blog.
I am even more pleased that he decided to respond. Nevertheless, I am very disappointed by the extremely tired and pre-debunked arguments that he trots out.
But don’t just take my word for it; judge for yourself. What follows is a transcript of his reply and my response (which has also appeared on his blog). However, before you read that, see how many discredited arguments you can count in Roger’s remarks.
In response to my original comment, Roger Helmer said this:
Thanks Martin. Good question. Your are quite right that I am not “a scientist”, though you may also like to know that I have a Cambridge maths degree, and have followed a range of scientific issues that interest me. But the fact is that politicians have to make decisions and take positions on issues — and I suggest to you that I know a great deal more about science, and about energy policy, than most of the MPs who blindly voted through the disastrous Climate Change Act. I know enough about science to know that scientific questions are settled by the creation and testing of hypotheses — not by appeals to authority. The global warming hypothesis is looking increasingly threadbare. I also recall that a few hundred years ago all accepted authorities agreed that the world was flat, and you could be burned at the stake for taking an alternative view…
My reply to that load of dingo’s kidneys was as follows:
I take it you mean you have not seen enough evidence yet. If so, it would help if you looked at some (rather than relying upon anargumentum ad verecundiam of your own – courtesy of the very few people who tell you want you want to hear).
The passing of the Climate Change Act in 2008 was a landmark in cross-party co-operation at a national level, and may even have convinced the Chinese that some Western countries are actually willing to acknowledge their responsibility for the bulk of historical CO2 emissions. The Communist Party of China may now only be acting in the interests of self-preservation, but at least it is acting (rather than continuing to dispute the science).
It is interesting that you should mention belief in a Flat Earth – or that the Sun revolves around the Earth – as this is directly comparable with the disputation of climate science today. Climate change“sceptics” are not like Galileo. Galileo confronted an obscurantist Establishment with evidence that it refused to look at (such as moons orbiting Jupiter) and insisted that – as the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west – it was very obvious that the Sun goes round the Earth and not vice versa.
The only obscurantist Establishment today is the fossil fuel industry: In order to describe climate science as a threadbare hypothesis it is necessary to put your faith in a handful of industry-funded contrarians (like Roy Spencer or Richard Lindzen) who – having been theologically or politically prejudiced before looking at any data – would have us all believe that the majority of climate scientists are now behaving like an obscurantist Establishment themselves. This is, to say the very least, highly improbable.
Given the fact that theoretical heat-trapping effect of CO2 was deduced from basic principles, tested in a laboratory, and continues to be validated by events (i.e. global warming did not stop in 1998, etc), your position is simply not credible: Indeed, it is comparable to someone insisting that the Earth is only 6000 years old – which is very easy to do if you reject every piece of evidence that suggests otherwise as part of a scientific and/or political conspiracy.
I suspect that, by now, Roger has dismissed me as a self-deluded eco-Marxist. However, what he and every other Maths graduate from Cambridge who thinks he knows best need to remember is this:
Reality is not altered by what you decide your personalised version of the truth is going to be.
Addendum (for all those who struggle with the basics of atmospheric physics):
Global warming is manifested in a number of ways, and there is a continuing radiative imbalance at the top of atmosphere. The current hiatus in surface warming is [therefore] temporary, and global warming has not gone away. — From ‘Global warming is here to stay, whichever way you look at it’, by Kevin Trenberth on The Conversation website (23 May 2013).
Roger Helmer was first elected as Conservative MEP in 1999, but defected to UKIP last year. Not surprisingly, therefore, he is “sceptical” about climate science. He is, as David Suzuki has recently described it, one of many that elevate economics over the biosphere. In other words, if asked to choose between science and economics, he would choose to trust economics every time. As such, he is one of the politicians that features in my book.
On his WordPress blog, in response to yet another irrational diatribe against renewable energy and the green economy, I recently tried to point out to him that his scepticism is unwise and unjustified. However, just in case my comment never appears on his blog, I reproduce it here:
Dear Mr Helmer,
When considering the remarks that follow, please bear in mind that I am a Conservative voter.
In a speech to the European Parliament on 4 February 2009, you claimed, in characteristically robust terms, that the EU was:
…planning to spend unimaginable sums of money on mitigation measures which will simply not work, and by damaging our economies will deny us the funds we need to address real environmental problems. As a British journalist, Christopher Booker, has remarked, global warming alarmism is the greatest collective flight from reality in human history.
According to Andrew Grice in the Independent newspaper (2 Dec 2009), you have even accused the Church of England of having “abandoned religious faith entirely and taken up the new religion of climate change alarmism instead”.
Given that you are not a climate scientist – or indeed any kind of scientist – you would appear to have allowed your belief in free-market economics to prejudice your approach to the science and/or you have uncritically accepted the opinions of a handful of similarly prejudiced scientists (or indeed non-scientists) who say that climate change is either a scientific conspiracy to perpetuate research funding or a political conspiracy to install worldwide socialist government.
So far, you have the International Energy Agency, the US Department of Defense, the International Monetary Fund, and the Committee on Climate Change, all saying that further delay in the decarbonisation of power generation systems will be a false economy. Therefore, please forgive me for being so blunt but, how much more evidence will it take to convince you, a non climate scientist, that climate scientists are not “just in it for the money”…?
Martin C Lack BSc(Hons) (Geology), MSc (Hydrogeology), MA (Environmental Politics).
This post was therefore not published yesterday (i.e. International Workers’ Day).
Since publishing my book, I have been contacted by a number of academics in a variety of countries who are doing – or have done – research into climate change scepticism (i.e. similar to that which I did for my MA – the basis of my book). As well as being very enthusiastic about my research, they have all asked me why I did not get it published in an academic journal. However, the answer to this question is simple: I did not rate my chances as an unknown, sole author, while not doing a PhD. I am therefore now actively pursuing the possibility of doing both.
However, to get to the point, having established these contacts, it is obvious to me that, along with ‘Agenda 21’, the concept of a ‘New World Order’ conspiracy is one that I did not mention in my dissertation two years ago. Although one is merely a subset of the other, Wikipedia is a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with these terms:
– Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development. It is a product of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. It is an action agenda for the UN, other multilateral organizations, and individual governments around the world that can be executed at local, national, and global levels.
– The common theme in conspiracy theories about a New World Order is that a secretive… elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government… Significant occurrences in politics and finance… and current events are seen as steps in an on-going plot to achieve world domination through secret political gatherings and decision-making processes.
Christopher Monckton, the third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, is fond of mentioning Agenda 21 in his speeches (e.g. here and here), but I have still not come across anyone (maybe I have just not looked hard enough) who frequently refers explicitly to the New World Order (NWO). Having said that, NWO conspiracy theory is the basis of James Delingpole’s stupid Watermelons books.
The trouble is, of course, that, whereas the organised nature of the campaign to discredit climate science and scientists is a very well-documented conspiracy fact, the idea that there is a global conspiracy to bring about an NWO is a delusion. Indeed, it may even be a form of vestigial anti-Semitism. I say this because Hitler believed the Jews were intent on establishing an NWO. However, as well as being entirely discredited long before the start of World War Two (WW2), this idea was – and is – entirely intellectually incoherent. In the decades preceding WW2, Jews were simultaneously accused of plotting to bring about an NWO and derided for being obsessed with making money. Despite this, even today, anti-Semitic organisations such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood indoctrinate their followers into believing that there is an NWO conspiracy – they just call it ‘Zionism’. But that is another story.
Certainly, from the beginning of the Cold War onwards, belief in an NWO and/or characterisation of the USSR as the “evil empire” or “Red Menace”, acted as a recruiting sergeant for libertarians and free-market economists everywhere. Furthermore, as Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have clearly documented, in their book Merchants of Doubt, it was a bunch of neo-conservative physicists, whose worldview was forged in the Cold War era, who laid the foundations of the campaign to dispute climate science for ideological reasons. In the twilight years of the USSR (before the Berlin Wall came down), it was they who convinced President George Bush to resist much of what the first Rio Earth Summit sought to do in 1992… The USA had decided that the new enemy was “environmentalism”. People may think this is simplistic but the German Minister for the Environment at the time, Klaus Topfer, is on record as having said this is how he perceived the USA’s position at the time (See Timothy Luke’s ‘A Rough Road out of Rio’ (2000) – PDF available here).
Sadly, the idea that environmentalism is the enemy of progress is complete bullshit.
I’m sorry to be so blunt but, there really is no better word for it. However, this is sad for a variety of reasons:
– So many have been – and still are – convinced that concern for the environment is a form of Communism (or Fascism).
– This powerful delusion has been responsible for the failure of international efforts to prevent the environmental catastrophe that is now unfolding.
– The failure of climate scientists to explain their message in such as way as to shatter this delusion may result in things getting much worse than they might have done.
– The World’s politicians are yet to wake up to (or admit) the reality that simply curtailing the increase in global CO2 emissions will never solve the problem.
What we needed was ecological modernisation (i.e. modifications to the way we do things so as to make them more ecologically-friendly and environmentally-sustainable). Instead, what we have got is economic stagnation (because perpetual growth in consumption and accelerating resource depletion was always going to run into trouble eventually).
The questions that therefore remain are whether climate change sceptics are going to continue to try to perpetuate:
– The myth that Communists realised they could not win power in Western democracies so therefore invented the Green Party instead.
– The myth that there is a left-wing conspiracy to over-tax and over-regulate people (so as to make everyone poorer).
– The myth that we need not worry about the finite nature of the Earth’s mineral resources or its ability to deal with our pollution simply because of human ingenuity (Prometheanism) or Nature’s bounty (Cornucopianism).
I really do think it is time to admit that the game is up, the NWO does not exist:
– The only environmental conspiracy is that which seeks to deny the truth that human activity is irreversibly altering the Earth’s climate.
– The only political conspiracy is that which seeks to under-tax and under-regulate industry (so as to make a few people richer).
– The amount of energy received from the Sun is effectively constant and therefore, by powering industrialised civilisation using the fossilised energy received by the Earth over millions of years, the Carbon Era has been neither physically nor environmentally sustainable.
So, then, the NWO conspiracy does not exist. However, that is not the end of the story.
Sadly, as I pointed out three months ago now, the CO2 fairy does not exist either: Given the history of exponentially growing demand for fossil fuels (and therefore CO2 emissions), it will be a very long time until carbon capture and storage (CCS) could possibly begin to solve our problem. Indeed, the technology is still at the experimental stage and, even once the best method of CCS is identified, it will then have to be made operational on a global basis such that sequestration exceeds emissions. Only then would the atmospheric concentration of CO2 begin to fall. This will therefore never happen unless global emissions are massively reduced.
The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones; and we have a limited carbon budget that we simply cannot exceed and expect to retain a habitable planet. Therefore, wherever their use is easily substitutable, we need to phase out the use of fossil fuels as soon as possible. And, yes, that is the end of story.
The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stone!
I know this has been said many times. Most recently it has been said by one of my favourite environmental commentators/campaigners, Executive Director of CIWEM (the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management), Nick Reeves OBE. If any new readers are not familiar with him, they may wish to start by typing his name into the Search this Blog box (in the right-hand column) and see what happens…
CIWEM publishes a monthly magazine, to which Reeves nearly always contributes an article. Last week, my copy of the May 2013 issue arrived early. It includes an article by Reeves entitled, ehem, “A bonkers energy solution”. However, the online version is indeed entitled “Fracking Mad“. Reeves begins with a seemingly bizarre discussion of the failings of the UK’s education system. However, it soon becomes clear that he considers this to be at least partly to blame for the fact that the general public are willing to accept a “bonkers energy solution” such as hydraulic fracturing. However, it is UK government policy that is “bonkers” (the general public just don’t seem to realise it):
Last December, the energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, gave the go-ahead for fracking (the controversial technology for releasing underground shale gas) as part of a plan for maximising the use of (so called) low-cost fuel. In so doing the government has thumbed its nose at legally binding carbon emissions targets and cuffed the country to a fossil-fuel future. Worse still, its commitment to fracking will undermine investment of billions of pounds in renewables, geothermal and energy efficiency. We now know that the ‘greenest government ever’ tag was shameless and that ministers are back-sliding on their commitment to a low-carbon and green economy.
Reeves goes on to recount the recent history of fracking in the UK and mentions all the (probably spurious) safety concerns. Like me, he focusses on the fact that we probably cannot afford to pursue fracking because of the long-term consequences doing so will have; and that we simply must find a way to do without it. However, he is more blunt than I have been, and criticises the reviews the Government commissioned for not making this point:
The scientists appear to have ignored the fact that no amount of control and regulation can stop shale gas from being a fossil fuel or from releasing carbon dioxide.
This is an important point well made. However, in defence of the scientists (and engineers) asked to determine whether fracking is ‘safe’, I would have to point out that the questions of the long-term environmental sustainability, sensibility and/or survivability of fracking were carefully excluded from the remit of the reviews that the Government asked them to undertake. Reeves therefore concludes that fracking is “a reckless move driven by ideology” that “will commit the UK to being a fossil fuel economy and not a low carbon one” for decades to come… And so, you can almost hear the frustration in Reeves’ voice as he asks:
What will it take to get people to understand the seriousness of the climate change catastrophe that awaits us?
Reeves then goes on to talk about carbon budgets and our rapidly-declining chances of limiting global average temperature rise to 2 Celsius (compared to pre-1850) and makes the point many others have made that global reserves of fossil fuels are five times greater than that which we would have to burn in order to guarantee at least 2 Celsius temperature rise. As Reeves puts it:
In other words, we can only avoid devastating climate change if we keep most of the world’s fossil fuels in the ground. But, is that possible? Can we deliberately forgo what many regard as our most precious energy resource – the fuels that have powered 200 years of industrialisation – for the sake of future generations? It is absolutely possible, and we must. The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stone. (my emphasis)
The remainder of Reeves’ article (which I would encourage all to read) is a typically incisive summary of how this problem is entirely solvable. We do not lack the technology or the resources to produce the electricity to provide for the needs of even 10 billion humans. What we (or at least our politicians) lack is the intellectual honesty to admit that the game is up. Fossil fuels are not the solution; they are the problem. Furthermore, the longer we (or they) fail to acknowledge this, the greater the problem will become.
Reeves looks at the situation from a range of perspectives, UK, EU and global. However, in the end, this is a problem that will only ever be solved by people demanding that their politicians solve it:
The dash for oil in the Arctic and the dash for shale gas elsewhere, shows that we are as addicted to fossil fuels as we ever were. But a low-carbon future is the one we must all fight for – our gift to the unborn.
Today’s post is that which was intended for last Monday. However, thanks to the happy coincidence of incoming information, Monday’s post was taken up with summarising an 11-year old presentation by Dr Albert A. Bartlett, entitled ‘Arithmetic, Population and Energy’, which is the best summary I have yet seen of the insidious problems caused by exponential growth. Even if you think you understand the maths – and are familiar with concepts such as doubling time and illustrations such as 264 grains of rice on a chessboard – it is still worth watching the a series of eight 9-minute videos, or entire presentation, posted on YouTube. This is primarily because of all the evidence Bartlett presents, which suggests that anyone who says exponential growth and/or resource depletion is not a problem is either stupid or a liar. It really is that simple.
However, I should also wish to draw attention to two further happy coincidences – two recent posts by fellow bloggers that are well worth reading:
1. “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” – another post about Bartlett’s presentation by Jules Bywater-Lees.
2. The Great Unmentionable by George Monbiot – a self-explanatory post by Paul Handover.
Today, then, I will finally get round to summarising the recently-published paper by economist Partha S. Dasgupta and biologist Paul R. Ehrlich, entitled ‘Pervasive Externalities at the Population, Consumption, and Environment Nexus’. As I said on Monday, the abstract is viewable on the Science journal website, but, having done a quick Google search, I found the entire paper published as a PDF by Dasgupta on the website of Cambridge University. Here, then, is my summary of the paper:
‘Pervasive Externalities at the Population, Consumption, and Environment Nexus’, by Partha S. Dasgupta and Paul R. Ehrlich.
Introduction (in lieu of Abstract)
The authors start by pointing out that externalities (i.e. unintended consequences) in economics are widely acknowledged but generally relate to human use of the natural environment. Thus, people talk about our collective failure to value the essential ecosystem services Nature provides. In strict contrast to this, the authors suggest that the adverse consequences of resource consumption and population growth are generally not acknowledged.
The authors then begin by suggesting that birth rates in Europe began to decline 400 years ago as a result of improvements in the standard of living of most people because, almost counter intuitively, it led to people delaying marriage and childbirth until they could afford to set up their own household. However, birth rates in developed countries have since fallen much further and faster with improvements to the education and emancipation of women; and the advent and acceptance of contraception.
The authors note that, today, population growth is greatest in poor countries. However, unlike Bartlett, they do not acknowledge that per-capita rates of consumption make modest population growth in wealthy countries even more problematic. Instead, the authors focus on the factors that continue to encourage high birth rates in poor countries (in sub-Saharan Africa in particular).
Under the title ‘pro-natalist institutions’, the authors discuss societal norms such as the fostering of children by non-biological parents; communal land tenure (as opposed to the division of land amongst children that could discourage large families). Although seemingly careful not to mention the effect of religious beliefs, the largely “unmet need” for family planning is acknowledged. The authors also seem to be optimistic that lowering birth rates can be achieved faster through increasing access to contraception than it may be by improving education. Irrespective of how it is achieved, the authors acknowledge that achieving it will be essential to halting global human population growth. Notwithstanding, for the moment, that the ecological carrying capacity of the planet may have already been exceeded, the authors point out that whether or not global human population growth stabilises depends mainly on average family size in the future.
Under the title ‘conformity’, the authors discuss the reality that people continue to have large families long after the original reason for doing so (e.g. high infant mortality and lack of good healthcare or social welfare) has diminished or disappeared. On a more positive note, the authors suggest that the desire to conform can be broken if a big enough minority can be encouraged to modify their behaviour (i.e. and defy convention).
Under the title ‘breakdown of the commons and the added need for labour’, the authors discuss the externalities arising from the predominance of subsistence economies. These are the things that keep poor people poor, such as the labour intensive nature of many agricultural practices in the absence of mechanisation; and the fact that children who are fetching water, gathering fuel, working the land, or looking after animals are often missing out on being educated as a result.
The authors start by stating the obvious: the consumption (and depletion) of resources has consequences for both current and future generations. In terms of consequences for people alive today, the most obvious adverse consequence of resource consumption – or rather pollution by the waste being generated – is highlighted as being ongoing global climate disruption. The authors then focus on what drives us to consume things and to do ‘competitively’ and ‘conspicuously’ (i.e. to equate consumption with progress, fulfilment, and happiness). Here too, the authors highlight the troubling reality of social conformity as a driver of persistently self-destructive behaviour.
Once again, the authors acknowledge previous discussion (in academic literature) of anthropogenic impacts upon the environment and choose to focus on those that are detrimental. They suggest that these can be categorised as either unidirectional or reciprocal: the former being impacts the authors describe as “externalities each party inflicts… on all others, as in the case of unmanaged common property resources”. The authors then highlight that, unlike commonly owned resources at a local level, global resources that are not owned by anybody (such as the atmosphere and the fish in the sea) tend to be become polluted or over-exploited.
Difficulties in Enacting Policies to Counter Externalities
The authors begin their discussion of all of the above by lamenting the popular misconception by economists of Nature as something that is “a fixed, indestructible factor of production”. This rather opaque statement incorporates a variety of fallacies, including that Nature has only instrumental value; that it has an infinite capacity to provide resources for our use; and that it has an infinite capacity to assimilate (or recycle) the wastes we generate. These are all serious misperceptions of reality: Nature’s resources are finite and its essential ecosystem services are non-substitutable. For example, if human activity continues to decimate bee populations, at what point will it start to impact upon our ability to grow fruit and cereal crops? Indeed, is this not already happening?
As in many other discussions of the environment, the authors highlight the non-linearity of many processes in Nature; and the existence of positive (i.e. self-reinforcing or mutually-destructive) feedback mechanisms. Thus, they construct the population consumption environment nexus as three corners of a triangle with each having an effect upon – and being affected by – the others. Towards the end of their discussion, the authors highlight the fact that 15 of the 24 major ecosystem services examined in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment were found to be either degraded or currently subjected to unsustainable use.
Even more worryingly, they cite the conclusions of numerous other studies that, if all 7 billion of the people on the planet today were to squander resources at the rate at which those who are already wealthy do, “at least two more Earths would be needed to support everyone on a sustained basis”. Considering the consensus view of UN statisticians that, on its current trajectory, the world population could exceed 10 billion by 2050, the authors make the obvious point that, if realised, “the demands made on the Earth system will prove to be even more unsustainable”.
So it is, then, that the authors end their discussion of the issues by considering the prospects for technology alone to solve this problem. They start by noting that technology does not operate in a vacuum (i.e. it too consumes resources) and that innovators respond to incentives (so government policies are important). Reflecting recent pronouncements by the IMF, the authors highlight the fact that Nature’s essential ecosystem services are currently grossly under-valued (e.g. the price of fossil fuels does not currently reflect the damage our use of them does to our environment). The authors also cite historical and empirical evidence that suggests that innovation and technology has historically increased unemployment; and archaeological evidence that past civilisations collapsed as a result of degradation of their environment or an inability to respond fast enough to environmental change. This should be of great concern to all humans alive today, because the current rates of environmental change are almost certainly unprecedented in the period of time over which such civilisations have existed.
I will let the authors’ conclusion speak for itself:
Although their magnitudes are likely to differ across societies, owing to differences in societal histories, institutions, customs, and ecologies, the reproductive and consumption externalities we have identified here share striking commonalities. Moreover, the analysis has uncovered reasons why technological innovations since the Industrial Revolution have been rapacious in their reliance on natural capital. We have shown that the externalities studied in this paper are not self-correcting. Therefore, the analysis we have presented points to a spiralling socio-environmental process, giving credence to the presumption that the pattern of contemporary economic growth is unsustainable.