BishopHill’s Angels on the Warpath

Update 8th April

When I put this article up I posted links to it at Climate Resistance, New Left Project, TalkingClimate (where Chris Shaw’s article has been posted, so far without comments) and, a day later, at Chris Shaw’s own site

http://www.notargets.org.uk/index.html

My comments haven’t appeared at NLP (where it seems all comments from sceptics are now banned) but [added 9 April] it has at Talkingclimate. Chris replies in comments below, for which I thank him.

I’m banned from the Guardian, so couldn’t comment there, where Chris’s article also appeared

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/22/zombie-movies-climate-change-no-one-happy-ending

I tried and failed (due to their confusing zombie pop-up registering policy) to comment also at

http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.fr/2013/03/climate-zombies.html#more

the German sceptic site where Chris got an enthusiastic plug (in English) from Werner Krauss, coauthor of die Klimafalle, a book which makes much the same point about the essentially political nature of the debate. There’s an interesting comment there from Reiner Grundmann, who teaches sociology at Nottingham.

______________________________________________________

A bunch of us sceptics were having a go at a deep green lefty on a far left site the other day, (as you do) swirling around the poor fellow like a flock of angry starlings round a scarecrow stuffed with popcorn.

http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/what_zombie_films_can_teach_us_about_climate_change

The point of Christopher  Shaw’s article was one we’d been making for years, that the supposedly critical 2°C “limit” to safe global warming had no scientific justification. Except that Shaw’s conclusion was that therefore there was no safe level of global warming at all. We shouldn’t listen to the scientists because no limit they could come up with could be guaranteed.

(He’s right of course. Even if the earth doesn’t heat up at all, there will still be storms, floods and droughts. Just as you could reduce the speed limit to 10 mph and people would still get run over).

Shaw, to give him credit, responded to our criticism politely, asking Robin Guenier  if he’s read The Merchants of Doubt, (which explains how the people and organisations who were behind the lies about the carcinogenic properties of cigarette smoke were the same people and organisations spreading doubt about climate change) and explained to Rhoda Klapp just how record-breaking last years heatwaves were, by linking to some very brightly coloured maps.

[Maurizio, if you’re reading this, add this one to your list of “climate change phenomena that miraculously turned up just at the moment we were able to record them”:- record heatwaves just as we invent cheap colour printing with that extra deep magenta ink].

Then he lost his cool rather with Latimer Alder’s questioning of his records, with:

“I can only assume I am asked these questions as a desire to snag up people like myself in inane school yard banalities of ‘prove it’”.

To Geronimo he provides an unanswerable argument:

“My work is based around exactly the point you make – no one can predict the future – so how do you know catastrophic climate change won’t happen at 1 degree of warming?

Then the tone changed abruptly with this comment from Ed Rooksby:

“Christ, climate change deniers in the comments of a left-wing website. This really is depressing.”

To which Robin Guenier replied, pointing out the futlilty of  current policies and saying:

“For the Left to embrace a total reversal of this policy would, I believe, be a return to its proper values.”

After comments from Ben Pile and me, a certain Neil stepped in, quoted Ben at length, and addressed himself to the editors:

“Sir! Sir! Molesworth is firing ink pellets at me Sir!”

[sorry, wrong quote]

“NLP editors – I agree with Ed Rookby’s exasperation. I would appreciate it if you would consider whether NLP environmental articles gain anything by allowing climate change deniers/sceptics to come in and disseminate their fog of unknowing and divert and deter intelligent, constructive debate about how the Left should respond to the emerging environmental crisis. I think you’re taking tolerance of opposing views a bit too far.”

Alice Bell, environment editor added her tuppenceworth:

“I appreciate Neil and Ed’s frustrations. However, the problem is that drawing a line between ‘intelligent, constructive debate’ and ‘fog’ is far from straightforward…”

And a couple of hours later, editor Dave (“call me David”) Spart himself stepped in:

“Alice’s suggestion to ignore what you do not find interesting, constructive or useful seems like a sensible idea to me.”

And popped back 20 minutes later to agree with Neil:

“Neil – I take your point. This is a site aimed at people on the left (broadly defined) and people who are interested in the ideas of the left. On climate change, the pieces we publish are for an audience that broadly accepts the overwhelming scientific consensus..” 

Conversation continued normally for a while with Ben, Rhoda, Brownedoff, Shub, JamesP, and a polite reply from Christopher Shaw to me. (“Normally” is perhaps an exaggeration, since comments were held up in moderation, sometimes for a day or two, but still…)

Then editor David returned to the fray:

“Perhaps its an encouraging sign that the denialist tendency is so rattled by our little website that they are flinging themselves in droves at its comments threads, and expending such energy here.

“The problem you face, of course, is that there is an overwhelming and long-established scientific consensus that climate change is real, is caused by human activity and will increasingly have calamitous effects on human life over the years to come …

“I’d heard that we were getting a bit of traffic from the denialists on these articles, but I’d not really taken a proper look until this particular thread. I’m glad that I did.  Its encouraging to see how weak some of this stuff is, when you look at it. Possibly goes some way to explaining point two in this previous article of ours..”

Sweet Gaia. Something is amiss in the vast media empire that is New Left Project. But never fear, the ever-watchful David is on the job. Alice is new to the job and is having trouble controlling her class, but the Head is at hand, ready to step in and issue stern warnings:

“I’d heard that we were getting a bit of traffic from the denialists on these articles, but I’d not really taken a proper look until this particular thread.”

.. with a subtle warning to the new girl to get a grip

 “… I’m glad that I did…”

The mysterious “point two in our previous article” is that:

‘The climate sceptics’ mission to destroy public trust in climate science has utterly failed. Public belief that global warming is real and manmade is now back to pre-Climategate levels…”

And the source for this claim is:

http://www.noiseofthecrowd.com/climate-change-opinion-is-now-up-to-pre-climategate-levels/

where it is claimed that:

“Climategate’, recent cold winters and the economic climate no longer have any discernible impact on public belief that climate change is real and man-made..”

Which was written in July 2012. No doubt they’re sharpening up their survey questions for this year. Trouble is, it’s difficult to get people to stop and answer questions about global weirding in a blizzard…

Back to New Left Project. Next to comment was Alex Cull. Alex is probably the politest, gentlest critic to ever grace the blogosphere, so it took the class by surprise when headmaster David stormed in:

“I’ve spelled this out in fairly plain English already…. as I suspect you understand perfectly well… With me so far? …  And if there are people bleating … I hate to break it to them, but we’re pretty relaxed about that. I hope this clarifies things for you and others, because I DON’T PROPOSE TO REPEAT THE POINT.”

Whereupon a hushed silence fell upon the class for thirty hours, only to be broken by Alice:

“I wanted to say a couple of things to the people who are still commenting on (or just watching) this thread. Several comments have been deleted in moderation before being published on this thread. For those few who care about such things, it wasn’t me who deleted them. My personal view is we should publish anything that’s not outright offensive, respond to those we think it’s productive to respond to, and ignore those we think there’s little point in engaging with. I’m generally quite a fan of at least reading the ‘bottom half of the internet’ (and don’t like the hierarchies of talking about top/bottom either). However, the view of the NLP editorial team as a whole is slightly stricter…”

Alice Bell is a prominent academic and green activist. Since she teaches classes (in the history, philosophy, and communication of science?)  she may have issues about free speech, scepticism – stuff like that …

After we were all put into detention by the moderator and eventually expelled by the Head Editor, we carried on our chat at Ben’s place

http://www.climate-resistance.org/2013/03/alice-in-wtf-land.html

where Ben quoted Shaw at his best:

“The abstraction of a single dangerous limit removes climate politics from our immediate lived experience and into the locked conference rooms of global institutions. Instead of being rooted in the value systems which people use to negotiate life it becomes a symbol, residing in the hands of a few, that can be reconfigured to suit the changing needs of these elites.”

and added:

“I’ve spent years trying to say the same thing so concisely…”

Chris (may I call you Chris?) Shaw, I’ve been writing fan letters to Ben for years, and I’ve never received a pat on the back like that. I’m green (no, that’s not my colour) purple with jealousy.

I appreciate the delicacy of Alice’s position, and I appreciate doubly the efforts of Christopher Shaw to engage with us. I hope the dialogue can continue here. We have something to say to each other.

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45 Responses to BishopHill’s Angels on the Warpath

  1. omnologos says:

    Geoff -something’s amiss.

    If that’s the New Left, a concentrate of bourgeois conformism denying the very essence of science and free speech …then why do you see yourself a leftist?

    If Alice disapproves that much of the NLP editors …then why does she keep their company?

    If Kim Jong Spart considers a nuisance having to debate his religious beliefs …then what is the NLP website about?

  2. omnologos says:

    Alice talks of core readers. That site is navel gazing if not onanism.

  3. Omnologos:
    “..the New Left, a concentrate of bourgeois conformism denying the very essence of science and free speech …then why do you see yourself a leftist?”

    A good question. I sincerely hope that the NLP gang turn up to take part.
    First, I don’t see myself as a New Leftist. I’m rather Old Labour, like Royal Society Presidents Sir Paul Nurse and Sir Martin Rhees – but that’s probably more a question of generation rather than position on the left / right spectrum.

    In a comment censored by the NLP, I pointed out that I signed Diane Abbott into the Labour Party, and supported Ken Livingstone’s first unsuccessful attempt to enter parliament.

    I agree with you that the entire left at the moment “denies the very essence of science and free speech”. Climate Change and Leveson are insuperable barriers between me and the Labour Party. But the left goes back further than the Miliband brothers. So does the right.

    I’m currently reading Sternhell: “Ni Droite ni Gauche” on French Fascism between the wars. The way a section of democratic socialists slid towards “National Socialism” while the psycho-rigid pro-soviet marxists resisted (just as the Nazis in Germany took votes from the socialists, but not from the communists) gives pause for reflection. It was a French socialist who invented the concept of the “fascies” which Mussolini adopted.

    These are big subjects. At the moment, like most people in France, I’m more interested in seeing some of those trillions of euros in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere coming back home. I’m taking French citizenship as soon as possible in order to take part in what may turn out to be one of the political events of the century.

  4. Skiphil says:

    It is interesting to see the NLP types standing in solidarity to worship “science” when many of us can remember the kind of litcrit disdain for “science” and “objectivity” that developed in the 70s and 80s. Not all leftish intellectuals abandoned scientific values, but a great many did. It went much beyond the “two cultures” kind of divide of mutual incomprehension, there was formerly a lot of leftish disdain for science and scientists. Of course, the Sokal hoax did a lot to embarrass such types:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair

    Still, the embrace of climate science consensus orthodoxy does seem strange for people of a leftish bent who learned to “question authority” and recognize the subtexts of various hidden agendas. It does seem too much like a marriage of convenience, where many on the left embrace climate alarmism for the centralizing and planning powers, tax revenues, etc. promised for the War on Carbon.

  5. Mooloo says:

    It is interesting to see the NLP types standing in solidarity to worship “science”

    They don’t. They won’t accept that organic vegetables are not better for people or the environment, and that their only purpose is to make people feel better. They support the vandalisation of GM crops. They refuse to listen to expert advice on nuclear power. They get all grumpy when experts in medicine try to close down “alternative” practitioners.

    They are old-fashioned hypocrites.

  6. j ferguson says:

    Skiphil,
    Thank you so much for mentioning the Sokal hoax. I don’t know about you or other readers here, but I felt that I was forced to read Sokalisms while at university. Architectural curriculum included history of old buildings which required reading Nicolaus Pevsner who was capable of including “neo-platonic-aristotelianism” in a paragraph addressed to some old English rockpile. Conspiring, we found that none of us had any idea what he was getting at and suspected our prof didn’t either. We also suspected that the prof didn’t read our papers either.

    So a hoax was written addressed to the life and works of Filipo Ragazini, a renaissance Italian (what else?) architect whose biography was little known and works lost. We invented the life, and his buildings including plans. There was even some discussion on how they had come to be destroyed in the abortive streetcar token riots of 1927. If you read it aloud, it sounded like Pevsner.

    Prof did read this one and our colleague who submitted it was congratulated on his research and the paper sent off to Mellon at Harvard who was one of the heavies in the architectural history dodge at the time. He congratulated our prof on hosting a truly original effort.

    To creep up on the point, if there is one. Observations by our David (Dave to you) suggest that he hasn’t read the stuff he is relying on. Is it possible that no-one reads the stuff in some of what pass for “disciplines” at academe? Again, I don’t know about the rest of you,. but I found you could really turn it out if it didn’t have to mean anything.

    See? I can still do it.

  7. j ferguson says:

    “either” goes on time-out for thirty days. Sorry

  8. Lewis Deane says:

    As I said in a late comment on Ben Pile’s thread, we’ve forgotten what the ‘Left’, indeed, the ‘Right’, means. One might think that a good thing, but the loss of precision, of definition of words is, in fact, very dangerous, both politically and, for want of a better word, ‘spiritually’. Far from ‘ideology’ being a dirty word, it’s honest acknowledgement, must be the beginning of true discussion. So called ‘impartiality’ is, therefore, here, a total lie, dishonest. Hence, one must never be ashamed or shy of ones ‘ideological’ background but rather declare it and brave it out. If one had no idea how Mankind should live, then you would have a problem. We are all Platonist’s, in that sense.

  9. Lewis Deane says:

    Just in case I might be misunderstood – ‘impartiality’ is not impossible, on the contrary, it is very humanly done, everyday.That is to say, it is not an ‘ideal’ but a human condition – that of the honest acknowledgement of ones self, of who one is, and ones ‘project’ for mankind, ones ideology. Otherwise, one merely gets the impotence ‘of ironic points of light’ – the Audeneque failure:

    SEPTEMBER 1, 1939
    by W.H. Auden

    Auden: A poet for our times
    by Christopher Hitchens
    I sit in one of the dives
    On Fifty-second Street
    Uncertain and afraid
    As the clever hopes expire
    Of a low dishonest decade:
    Waves of anger and fear
    Circulate over the bright
    And darkened lands of the earth,
    Obsessing our private lives;
    The unmentionable odour of death
    Offends the September night.

    Accurate scholarship can
    Unearth the whole offence
    From Luther until now
    That has driven a culture mad,
    Find what occurred at Linz,
    What huge imago made
    A psychopathic god:
    I and the public know
    What all schoolchildren learn,
    Those to whom evil is done
    Do evil in return.

    Exiled Thucydides knew
    All that a speech can say
    About Democracy,
    And what dictators do,
    The elderly rubbish they talk
    To an apathetic grave;
    Analysed all in his book,
    The enlightenment driven away,
    The habit-forming pain,
    Mismanagement and grief:
    We must suffer them all again.

    Into this neutral air
    Where blind skyscrapers use
    Their full height to proclaim
    The strength of Collective Man,
    Each language pours its vain
    Competitive excuse:
    But who can live for long
    In an euphoric dream;
    Out of the mirror they stare,
    Imperialism’s face
    And the international wrong.

    Faces along the bar
    Cling to their average day:
    The lights must never go out,
    The music must always play,
    All the conventions conspire
    To make this fort assume
    The furniture of home;
    Lest we should see where we are,
    Lost in a haunted wood,
    Children afraid of the night
    Who have never been happy or good.

    The windiest militant trash
    Important Persons shout
    Is not so crude as our wish:
    What mad Nijinsky wrote
    About Diaghilev
    Is true of the normal heart;
    For the error bred in the bone
    Of each woman and each man
    Craves what it cannot have,
    Not universal love
    But to be loved alone.

    From the conservative dark
    Into the ethical life
    The dense commuters come,
    Repeating their morning vow;
    ‘I will be true to the wife,
    I’ll concentrate more on my work,’
    And helpless governors wake
    To resume their compulsory game:
    Who can release them now,
    Who can reach the dead,
    Who can speak for the dumb?

    All I have is a voice
    To undo the folded lie,
    The romantic lie in the brain
    Of the sensual man-in-the-street
    And the lie of Authority
    Whose buildings grope the sky:
    There is no such thing as the State
    And no one exists alone;
    Hunger allows no choice
    To the citizen or the police;
    We must love one another or die.

    Defenseless under the night
    Our world in stupor lies;
    Yet, dotted everywhere,
    Ironic points of light
    Flash out wherever the Just
    Exchange their messages:
    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.

    An ‘affirming flame’ is just not good enough.

  10. Thanks Lewis, and thanks W.H. Auden. I agree absolutely that ideology is unavoidable, (unless you deliberately rid yourself of all ideas, if that’s, possible) and that therefore it’s necessary to analyse one’s own.
    I’m an ideological democrat, and I get angry in a quite irrational way when people talk about limiting democracy. You can suggest all sorts of britght ideas about internet referenda and cloud sourcing and government by experts à la Mario Monti but I just won’t listen. Irrational, isn’t it?

  11. alexjc38 says:

    The NLP’ers would , I suspect view us not so much as angels but as imps of Satan (if they ever thought in religiocentric terms, that is.)😉 Well, I try to be a polite imp, at any rate (thanks, Geoff!)

    Re the new leftism-environmentalism connection, there’s an item that might be of interest to commentators here; it’s a short speech by Spiked’s Brendan O’Neill last September and broadcast on ABC, entitled “What’s left about environmentalism?”, transcribed here:
    https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/home/20120904_ab

    He argues that “the rise of environmentalism on the left signals the end of centuries’ worth of radical left-wing thought”.

  12. Foxgoose says:

    geoffchambers says:
    April 5, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    …………. I’m taking French citizenship as soon as possible in order to take part in what may turn out to be one of the political events of the century.

    Mind the old back chucking those paving stones about – Geoff😉

  13. Don’t worry Foxgoose, the cobbled streets have all been tarmac’d. Anyway, pavingstones are very sixties. The trend now, when a company goes bust (ie every five minutes) is to barricade yourself on the roof of the factory with a canister of butane and a barrel of toxic chemicals and threaten to blow up the neighbourhood. Whether it’s the workers protesting at being laid off or the boss protesting against government austerity, it gets a lot of sympathy in the media.

  14. Foxgoose says:

    Bloody ‘ell – sounds a bit …….errr……….fundamentalist to me.

    Whatever happened to sitting in Trafalgar Square with your arms crossed.

  15. Mooloo says:

    The NLP’ers would , I suspect view us not so much as angels but as imps of Satan

    I don’t mind them thinking of me as an imp of Satan. What annoys me is that they portray me as right-wing imp of Satan.

    It would seem that their linkage of Green and Left is so strong that they cannot imagine how one could be Left and yet anti-Green. Never mind that traditionally the Left was pro-industrialisation, and the far Left even more so.

  16. Chris Shaw says:

    Thank you to Geoff and the other commentators here for a) believing my arguments to be worth further consideration and b) being so complimentary about the claims I put forward. I would like to say I share Alice’s disquiet at the comments thread being closed but I respect the right of the Editor’s to make such decisions, it’s their website. I had no part in any conversation about that, and I first heard about it when Alice sent me an email to say so, with a link directed to the rationale given. One of those rationales was that it wasn’t fair on the author but I had no such feelings and had never expressed any such feelings to anyone. The article was also picked up by The Guardian and because of its broad reach a comments thread quickly developed under the article. I didn’t engage in that comment thread because it would be too time consuming but did respond to some of the comments at the NLP. However, as that comment thread grew I found it increasingly difficult to find the time to respond to all the arguments with the care and consideration they deserved and so I had stopped responding some time before the thread was closed.
    I do find myself sharing a scepticism towards political and technical elites which is evident in many of the responses challenging climate policy. But then my scepticism extends to many areas of state activity, a healthy approach to the world which isn’t shared by all climate sceptics. I think particularly of David Rose, who abandoned all scepticism in his claims that the West needed to launch a military attack on the people of Iraq because Saddam Hussein was developing WMD. So that generates doubts in my mind about what exactly motivates much climate scepticism. Whilst we share a questioning attitude to climate policy, I feel my reasons for doing so differ markedly from many of those who critique climate policy. Whilst I perceive climate policy to be insufficiently precautionary I think most sceptics argue the policy is overly precautionary. Now I don’t actually think one can answer this question just with science, it is more about what sort of world one wants to live in. And none of us is going to disabuse the other of their deeply held personal convictions about how the world should be. And so I think my efforts are better directed at those who are on the same path as me, but are operating under the misconception that as long as the world doesn’t warm by two degrees everything is going to be fine. Then maybe they won’t adopt such supine and subaltern positions in the face of expertise, and will develop sufficient insight to start thinking independently.

  17. omnologos says:

    Anybody care to discuss Engels’ contribution to environmentalism?

  18. Mooloo says:

    And so I think my efforts are better directed at those who are on the same path as me, but are operating under the misconception that as long as the world doesn’t warm by two degrees everything is going to be fine.

    Isn’t the “official” IPCC position that the damage only starts being important after two degrees? Certainly there is very little support for the that a change of say 1.5 degrees will be dangerous (provided it stays at that point, of course). People will certainly cope, and most plants prefer it warmer anyway.

    Are you not then arguing against the very science you are meant to be supporting?

  19. Chris Shaw says:

    No, the IPCC does not define a dangerous limit to climate change. Science does not define a dangerous limit to climate change. Policymakers defined it, on the basis of particular (capitalist) value choices, without democratic deliberation.

  20. Omnologos
    I mentioned Reiner Grundmann in my update at the top of this page. His book “Marxism and Ecology” (1991) can be read at
    http://www.academia.edu/214817/Marxism_and_Ecology
    Interestingly, there seems to be no mention in it of CO2; the greenhouse effect, climate change or global warming.

    Chris Shaw
    The problem with comments at the Guardian is that 1) Comments appear too quickly on multiple interweaving theads, making logical interaction is difficult. 2) most of the intelligent sceptics have been banned long ago, leaving only newcomers and the extremely diplomatic.
    I’ve often said comments on blog threads are like conversations in a noisy pub. On busy newspaper blogs it’s more like a conversation at an airport terminal or, since we’re talking about the Graun, at a National Express Coach Station.
    I’m glad your scepticism extends to many areas of state activity – mine too. The fact that I don’t agree with David Rose about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs doesn’t stop me admiring his critical attitude towards official claims about global warming.
    I agree entirely when you say:
    “Whilst I perceive climate policy to be insufficiently precautionary I think most sceptics argue the policy is overly precautionary. Now I don’t actually think one can answer this question just with science, it is more about what sort of world one wants to live in”.
    This is the point Ben Pile makes continuously at Climate Resistance, a point which he develops into a radical criticism of the legitimacy of environmentalism.
    Without going so far, I think we can probably agree, based on your paragraph which I quote above, that our disagreement about how precautionary we want to be can only be based on how we interpret the scientific evidence. It should be possible to discuss this without getting into the details of the science, since it comes down to the question of the status one gives to different types of evidence: statements from authority figures; interpretation of graphs; considerations of the nature and possibility of long term prediction, etc. These are subjects on which I think we may find a large measure of agreement.

  21. Chris Shaw says:

    The thing is Geoff is where does one draw the boundaries around the problem? It is I think impossible to say well, I am just going to respond on the base of the science, because none of us do that, we all have, as I said above, deeply held beliefs about how we want the world to be, which goes beyond science to include political positions etc. Hence my mentioning of David Rose; I believe his willingness to propagate the lies about Iraq WMD is not a separate matter from how he interprets climate science; they are positions, responses, which draw from a particular set of politics and attitude to the world. And no amount of message board discussion is going to shift people from their respective positions. Personally I do not understand how anyone could doubt the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change and nor do I understand why people would not want to move the kind of world which would generate less emissions, by which I mean less divisive, less acquisitive, less competitive. But I am under no illusion that you share my viewpoint or will come to share it as a result of anything I write here. So why bother?

  22. omnologos says:

    Chris -we owe to ourselves to understand each other or forego our humanity. Please forget David Rose and focus on the individuals you’re writing to🙂

    My question to you: having seen how climate change has been manipulated by political and technical elites bringing about a series of ecological and social disasters (biofuels, wind power etc) on what basis do you think more of the same won’t bring about even more disasters?

    please make no assumption about my inner motivations, political affiliation, big oil links and whatever else.

  23. omnologos says:

    (and yes I’d like a world better than this…that’s EXACTLY why I don’t approve of blind faith in climate alarmism)

  24. Ben Pile says:

    Chris – “Whilst I perceive climate policy to be insufficiently precautionary I think most sceptics argue the policy is overly precautionary. Now I don’t actually think one can answer this question just with science, it is more about what sort of world one wants to live in”

    But the precautionary principle demands the suspension of political dialogue about ‘what sort of world one wants to live in’. Instead, it generates imperatives by ‘what if…’, not ‘what could be….’. The catastrophic scenario is always overweening, whereas the positive argument always seems ‘ideological’, arbitrary, subjective, irrational against such pragmatism and necessity. For an example, see Roger Pielke Jr’s recent blog post on ‘planetary boundaries’ as a ‘power grab’, and criticism of Pielke’s argument.

    You can’t make such an easy distinction, as you seem to want to, between the UNFCCC bodies. The IPCC, whether it makes an argument for a 2 degree limit or not, is part of the same process. It is remarkable that you observe the problems with the PP when applied in the War on Terror, but not in climate policy.

    It is the same thing, and has been throughout the development of environmental politics throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s. The role of those institutions, be they policy-making, or evidence-making, was to define ‘limits to growth’, the safe operating parameters of ‘Spaceship Earth’, defining ‘planetary boundaries’, all of which are exactly like the 2 degree limit. And have always been given more credibility than they deserve by the imperatives generated by the Precautionary Principle.

  25. Ben Pile says:

    “… no amount of message board discussion is going to shift people from their respective positions.”

    I changed my mind on climate change after discussion on the internet. I saw the weaknesses of the green argument especially the green left’s. And I began to see how the consensus wasn’t as independent of ‘politics’ and ‘ideology’ as had been claimed. But people are very resistant to the idea that science has proceeded from ideological premises about how human society relates to the natural world.

    You can speak for yourself, of course, and say you’re not going to change your mind based on what might emerge during discussion. But that’s been the basis of much criticism I’ve made of environmentalists, that you’d only be unwittingly agreeing with.

  26. Foxgoose says:

    Whilst I perceive climate policy to be insufficiently precautionary I think most sceptics argue the policy is overly precautionary. Now I don’t actually think one can answer this question just with science, it is more about what sort of world one wants to live in……………. but are operating under the misconception that as long as the world doesn’t warm by two degrees everything is going to be fine.

    How can whether climate science is insufficiently precautionary – or whether everything is going to be fine at less than two degrees be answered by anything other than science?

    It’s not a matter of opinion or political dialectics – it’s a matter of climate sensitivity and the biological responses to its effects.

  27. I changed my mind about global warming when I heard about Justice Burton’s ruling on the showing of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” in schools. It offended my libertarian instincts that a judge should be deciding what should be shown in schools, so I looked into it, and discovered that the judge judged Gore to be wrong where he disagreed with the IPCC. So who was right, Gore or the IPCC?
    I naturally turned to the Guardian, who said that Gore and the IPCC were both right and the judge was wrong. A week later the IPCC and Al Gore both got the Nobel Peace Prize, even though they didnt agree with each other. That couldn’t be right, I thought. Didn’t Kissinger get it because he agreed with the guy from Hanoi? Or was I thinking of Arafat and Rabin? Suddenly, I had to face the awful thought that possibly the Guardian might be wrong…

  28. Chris Shaw says:

    Okay, so again, I am genuinely pleased that you all think my ideas worthy of responding to. I find myself confronting the same issue as before, faced with several thoughtful comments from obviously intelligent people, which deserve a more considered response than I can find time for. You are several people, I am one. Maybe in responding to Ben’s comments I can address some of the questions raised generally about the problems of over-reacting to misinformed catastrophic scenarios of future climate change. I see a need for the precautionary principle to be introduced into the political debate, not to be a substitute for it. Though the EU has argued it’s environmental policy is based on the precautionary principle, I have argued elsewhere (Shaw, 2010. The Dangerous Limits of Dangerous Limits in Nature, Society and Environmental Crisis, Wiley-Blackwell) that setting a two degree limit is not precautionary. I would argue recent extreme weather events in the UK linked to melting of the Arctic ice after 0.8 degrees of warming is evidence that two degrees is too high a limit. I agree the setting of planetary boundaries is a power grab, as is the two degree limit. They are neither democratically defined, nor precautionary, whatever the authors of these ideas may claim. I need a bit more help with the second paragraph of your comments Ben because I am not certain where I have made such distinctions between UNFCCC bodies. I do not understand the connection you make between the precautionary principle and the West’s war mongering. You say the ideas of limits to growth or whatever have been given more credence than they deserve. Have you got any examples of what policies have been enacted on the basis of the limits thesis?

  29. Chris Shaw says:

    Also, sorry, I have to raise the point that I may not be able to respond immediately to comments posted. Thanks

  30. omnologos says:

    Chris – you’ll dislike what I’m going to say but at the following link I explain the strategic identity between Cheney’s views on Iraqi WMDs and proponents of the precautionary principle to deal with Agw

    http://omnologos.com/what-have-vp-dick-cheney-and-activist-agwers-got-in-common/

  31. Chris Shaw
    “You are several people, I am one.”
    This is a 5 month-old blog with a readership of dozens. Your article to which I linked was at the Guardian, at NLP, which claims to be an influential leftwing blog, and at Talkingclimate – a government subsidised blog for social scientists interested in climate change (where the only comment so far is mine, inviting your colleagues to come here and comment) and I’d willingly drum up some support for you, but I’m banned from the first two and comments at the third take days to get throught moderation.
    This is something I’ve commented on before – climate change activist blogs which claim millions of supporters (they add the total membership of their supporting organisations, Oxfam, Women’s Institute, Judaean People’s Liberation Front, etc) and yet are totally dormant. This is in itself something that social scientists should find deeply fascinating.

  32. Ben Pile says:

    Chris, my point about different UNFCCC bodies refers to your comment:

    >>No, the IPCC does not define a dangerous limit to climate change. Science does not define a dangerous limit to climate change. Policymakers defined it, on the basis of particular (capitalist) value choices, without democratic deliberation.<<

    It looked like you were trying to make a distinction between science and politics, i.e. that the UNFCCC's science (IPCC) was intact, but its politics (COPs) corrupted.

    And on the precautionary principle, I have argued, like Omnologos, that it is a problem. You're right that the EU has absorbed it:

    "According to the Commission the precautionary principle may be invoked when a phenomenon, product or process may have a dangerous effect, identified by a scientific and objective evaluation, if this evaluation does not allow the risk to be determined with sufficient certainty." – http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/consumers/consumer_safety/l32042_en.htm

    Given your statement… "I would argue recent extreme weather events in the UK linked to melting of the Arctic ice after 0.8 degrees of warming is evidence that two degrees is too high a limit"… I wonder whether you've misconceived the precautionary principle somewhat. In order to invoke the precautionary principle, it only needs to be plausible that there might be some effect or other. You now seem to be saying that there is tangible evidence that can be used to establish some better response.

    Naturally, I disagree. Even if the weather in the UK, or melting of the Arctic can be attributed to AGW, this might make a very good argument that the 2 degree limit is too *low*. Those hot summers and that string of milder winters were far less harmful than the cold winters, like we used to get, but which seem to have made a comeback (due to climate change, perhaps?). It's hardly the stuff that was promised. I think what you must be getting at is the idea that such events are some kind of harbingers. In lieu of any scientific evidence from the future, and with such disagreement hanging over the questions about the natural and human worlds' sensitivity to warming, the precautionary principle is the trump card.

    And this is why it is dangerous, and *always* a power grab. It denies debate and democracy, while using the possibility of catastrophe as a fig leaf to conceal its own prejudices, presuppositions, and 'ideology'.

    The War on Terror and climate change politics are both applications of the precautionary principle that ground political power above democratic control. You can say 'but climate change is real', but the Hawks in the post-911 Western governments could also point out that there were terrorists, and they did bring down planes, etc. Then the 'What Ifs…' started. Terrorism was imagined to be a much bigger problem than it was, which mandated a change in the relationship between individuals (in the UK and USA) and their governments. Ditto, climate change seems to legitimise the creation of powerful supranational political bodies, with far-reaching powers well above democratic control. These two things are not necessarily purposive, deliberate acts of wrestling power back from the Hoi Poli, But it must be observed that environmentalism is a form of politics with a *demos*. It hasn't needed to win a mandate from the public. It takes its authority from elsewhere. And I argue, that this is the tendency of politics over the era, anyhow, whatever crises we are imagined to be facing. (This is 'biopolitics'). We see a similar transformation of the relationship between individuals and the state in many areas of public and private life, on all sorts of premises: pandemics, obesity, antisocial behaviour, blah blah.

    You ask:

    "Have you got any examples of what policies have been enacted on the basis of the limits thesis?"

    Yes, the UN, since the Club of Rome/Limits to Growth. Have a look at this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=UgPvJWvy7FA
    and part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=laHZWeG5mGI

    The idea that humanity exists in a fragile, dependent relationship with the natural world, and thus that this relationship needs to be managed by supranational political institutions is much older than me, and also much older than the science that it is claimed to be based on. The UNEP began with a form of population environmentalism, but moved through other ecological stories, inventing the concept of 'sustainable development' (Brundtland 1987) before the climate thing took off at all. In fact, the WCED/Brundtland report mentions 'global warming' only ten times in a book that's just shy of 400 pages. Now that climate change is the dominant environmental narrative, 'sustainability' and 'sustainable development' mostly emphasises carbon. But it wasn't ever about the environment: "Our Common Future serves notice that the time has come for a marriage of economy and ecology so that governments and their people can take responsibility not just for environmental damage, but the policies that cause the damage", said Brundtland. But we didn't ever get to have a vote on it.

  33. Ben Pile says:

    Over at The Guardian’s website, Will Straw has written something that’s a bigger problem for Chris Shaw than a bunch of sceptics on the internet refusing to be put into Left-Right boxes…

    Straw: “According to Faith Birol {sic}, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, the world has just four years to implement the changes necessary to avoid a temperature increase above 2C. If we wait any longer, we will lock ourselves into high-carbon infrastructure that takes us above this threshold. Two degrees constitutes a level of warming referred to as a “dangerous” by scientists. All major countries agreed in Copenhagen that temperature rises should be limited to below this level.” – http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/10/climate-g8-agenda-government

    Of course, pointing out to the likes of Straw that it wasn’t ‘Scientists’ who proposed the two-degree limit is typically the job of sceptics. And our efforts usually attract the criticism in return that we must be ‘right wing’ science deniers. And yet here is a director of IPPR, fully embracing bourgeois economics, its conceits and its global technocracies.

    If Fatih Birol says there are only four years left to save the planet, it *must* be true. If even organisations like the International Energy Agency agree with the two-degree limit, it *has* to be right. If there’s agreement between all the major countries, then something *must* be up.

    I can almost imagine a conversation between Straw and Shaw, with Shaw explaining, ‘But Will, this two degree limit is just a capitalist fiction, put about to further elite interests”. “Exactly,” says Straw, “if conservatives are admitting 2 degrees, the reality must be even worse”.

  34. Chris Shaw says:

    Ironically Ben I have already made such a comment against the article. Your line ‘If political elites are saying two degrees is dangerous the reality must be worse’ is a neat summation of how I interpret the two degree discourse.

  35. omnologos says:

    Ben – could you please ask Chris if, on the basis of recent history, the precautionary principle recommend never to use the precautionary principle as it has inevitably led to deaths disasters and the gnawing of a lot of teeth?

  36. Chris Shaw says:

    I am not ignoring you Omnologos, I just feel your points about the precautionary principle needed more careful consideration than I have, as of yet, found the time for.

  37. omnologos says:

    🙂 please do not apply the PP to our discussion here

    Let’s display some life!! Even if unprecautionsly!!! 8)

  38. Ben Pile says:

    Chris: “‘If political elites are saying two degrees is dangerous the reality must be worse’ is a neat summation of how I interpret the two degree discourse.”

    What if we substitute some stories…

    * ‘If political elites are saying terrorism is a problem, the reality must be worse’
    * ‘If political elites are saying Iraq could launch WMDs at the uk in 45 minutes the reality must be worse’.
    * Etc.

    Moreover, if you can simply work out what is going on in the material world, simply by amplifying what your political opponents say is the extent of the problem, why bother with science at all?

    I don’t see the irony.

    What needs explaining is why the seemingly progressive left needs to take its authority from those institutions, such that the only ‘alternative’ it can articulate is ‘no, it’s worse than that’. The preoccupation with crisis — of the establishment and of progressive and radical alternatives — says a great deal more than ‘science’.

  39. omnologos says:

    Lenin’s triumph after and because of the Great War crisis might have something to do with it

  40. Omnologos
    Lenin had his faults, but believing everything the Tsar’s chief scientific adviser said wasn’t one of them.

  41. Chris Shaw says:

    What I have written about previously, and what i felt I was writing about here, was the precautionary principle in relation to climate change, with the EU claiming to adopt a precautionary principle in respect of environmental issues. I have argued that the two degree limit is not precautionary as the impacts arising from that amount of warming will cause widespread harm. I draw this conclusion partly on the basis of the projections used to inform the two degree limit. I have never sought to argue the precautionary principle is a universal featuere of Western policy and so I do not really know how to make the leap across to foreign policy interventions. I, like yourselves I think, value freedom and democracy and am not a liberal in the sense that most ‘left-wing’ comment is in fact liberal, i.e capitalist. I think most NGOs are, at best, liberal. I am interested in true and real democracy and giving people control over their own lives. Being told, you will suffer the impacts of two or more degrees of warming, and lump it, because nothing must stand in the way of reproducing the privilege and wealth of a tiny elite, is anthema to me. I get the sense no one here wants to be told what to do by scientists, the state or NGOs. That sounds good to me. So I don’t really see where we differ.

  42. Ben Pile says:

    “I have argued that the two degree limit is not precautionary as the impacts arising from that amount of warming will cause widespread harm.”

    It is precautionary. The claim that beyond two degrees lies ‘dangerous climate change’ makes that figure a horizon of uncertainty, not a tangible limit, or ‘tipping point’. It reflects the fact that, your own analysis notwithstanding, nobody has been able to identify danger at lower temperatures. Indeed, many analyses suggest that there are benefits at least up to that point.

    “I get the sense no one here wants to be told what to do by scientists, the state or NGOs. That sounds good to me. So I don’t really see where we differ.”

    Well, we clearly differ on our views on what the 2 degree limit is, and what function it serves. You seem to be saying that enables capitalist elites to continue in the face of climate change which will be worse than they are letting on. I say it has long been the tendency of more radical environmentalists to try to replace the establishment’s application of the precautionary principle merely with claims of certainty, but that this is nothing better. It’s a bit like being a critic of the war on terror, and rather than replying to Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’ that he was talking nonsense, replying that there are no unknown knowns, and that everything we could imagine terrorists to be and to have is what they are and what they do have.

    But I think we might disagree even more fundamentally. I think the precaution, and other of environmentalism’s ideas exist prior to ‘the Science’, and that science proceeds from these presuppositions.

  43. Mooloo says:

    I have argued that the two degree limit is not precautionary as the impacts arising from that amount of warming will cause widespread harm.

    Nowhere do I see any indication that you consider any harm from the “cure”.

    Many people are sceptical of global warming because they see the widespread harm in imposing more taxes. They see the widespread harm in moving from reliable energy sources to unreliable ones. They see the widespread harm in reducing people’s consumption.

    If the world warms, we will suffer some harm, somewhere. That alone does not make the “cure” worth undergoing. To convert us, you need to show, not posit, that the cure is worth the pain. Being precautionary does not do that, because we can be equally precautionary about the effect of more tax, and ergo less money in our pockets. (And telling us that our society “over consumes” won’t cut it, sorry. Most of us like consuming. A lot.)

  44. steveta_uk says:

    “To convert us, you need to show, not posit, that the cure is worth the pain.”

    Indeed. The alternative appears to be that accoring the the precautionary principle, everyone should be on chemotherapy because the dreadfull side effects may not be as bad as possibly developing a fatal cancer.

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