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Discussion > Three elephants and the left’s agenda

As noted elsewhere, the White House has been caught out deleting a factual tweet at odds with its agenda. Geoff Chambers and I have been the victims of a similar tactic by a somewhat lesser organisation – the New Left Project.

A few days ago, Alice Bell (activist, academic and NLP climate change editor) published a response to a guest post by Dr Adam Corner about the Climate Outreach & Information Network (COIN) report – ‘A new conversation with the centre-right about climate change’. Her post was based on the following proposition:

The elephant in the bit of the room occupied by the GWPF lobbyist is that many policies to address climate change include economic and social changes which just don’t sit well with large parts of the right.

As always with Alice, it was a complex and nuanced piece. But, in particular, she stressed that the need to mitigate climate change to avoid the sort of “horrific” outcome suggested by a recent World Bank report would require “quite radical changes which might involve working through new alliances based in sets of values more complex than left or right”. And she predicted “fights” – for example about “how environmental policies connect with our ideas about society”. In this context, she welcomed “attempts to help the right deal with its climate scepticism problem”.

Geoff responded by commenting, inter alia, that the reason for the GWPF’s opposition to climate policy was simple: it was “ruinously expensive and ineffective”. Therefore, if Alice was serous about doing something about climate change, what was her counter-argument? Alice couldn’t see the relevance of this – the question for her was how “we can work together”: it was “largely a moral question”. Geoff repeated his question, querying “the moral imperative” underpinning the NLP’s “do something” call. In any case, he added, “you can’t begin any discussion without laying out your assumptions about the science”. He challenged the basis of her reference to “horrific” outcomes and observed that spending billions “building windmills to stop the global temperature rising by a few hundredths of a degree” was “insane”. Alice dismissed all this as having nothing to do with “the substance of this post”; he should take his concerns and arguments elsewhere.

No – she wanted to “spend time working out how to mitigate something I think is real … it’s about choosing where to focus energies”.

I decided to comment. OK, I said, let’s discuss “how we might mitigate that something you think is real, considering, as you suggest, where to focus energies”. First, having noted that - in the overall picture - the GWPF’s alleged elephant was “utterly trivial”, I observed:

A vastly more important elephant is the huge one dominating a large part of the building occupied by the developing economies, especially China. It’s this: the many policies we’re told are necessary to tackle climate change include economic and social changes which just don’t sit well with their global ambitions and priorities.

I referred (with references) to the West’s total humiliation at Copenhagen and to recent indications that attitudes had not changed – commenting that the developing economies seemed most likely to continue their vast GHG emissions. And, with a global share of less than 2%, we couldn’t make the slightest difference.

So what should the left do? My answer: “prepare for the worst … and hope the sceptics are right”.

Alice ignored me, pointing out (to Geoff) that “the point of the blogpost [is] the way people on the left and right might think differently about climate change”. So I decided that my next move should be to call Alice out on her confused responses to Geoff by posting something on these lines:

You say that “the point of the blogpost … is the way people on the left and right might think differently about climate change”. But, on Saturday, having noted that your interest was in “working out how to mitigate something I think is real”, you said, “It’s about choosing where to focus energies.” But surely you don’t think that focusing on the left and right’s differing attitudes to climate change could have any impact on the mitigation of CO2 emissions – or do you?

As I demonstrated in my earlier comment, the difference between the West and the developing world is the essence of the problem. And the West is losing: [references]

To focus energies on left/right differences would be to get into bald men fighting over a comb territory.

But I was too late. Probably realising the muddle she’d got herself into (Alice is no fool), commenting was no longer “available”.

My conclusion:

The elephant in the bit of the room occupied by "green" lobbyists is that their interest in climate change is concerned exclusively with its value as a means of achieving economic and social changes that would not otherwise get a hearing.

Probably most BH contributors know or suspect this already. But it might be interesting to discuss some other examples.

Jun 25, 2013 at 6:04 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

I agree completely with the statement “quite radical changes which might involve working through new alliances based in sets of values more complex than left or right” but I doubt very much if many people who voice the opinion appreciate what they’re saying. If they did they’d be eager to talk to sceptics and wouldn’t doubt for a second that the science isn’t good enough.

We live in a modern bubble of comfort we scarcely know is there. From the road surfaces to the light switches. we are surrounded by energy expended. Even people living out of skips are benefiting from our energy riches. Without a copious alternative the only way to cut CO2 is to have less. Ask those who have to downsize or who lose their jobs what doing with less is like. For most it’s not a bucolic return to a simpler life.

It would feel a lot like reaching old age without much cash. Smaller homes, less possessions, feeling cold, washing less, mending clothes, boring meals, no more long distance holidays and a short coach trip a year if you’re lucky, losing the right to drive and having to take the bus, no matter what the weather. The TV becomes your only escape.

Now, what kind of new alliance could the left and the right form to get people to sign up to that? Probably by forming an ice skating team to compete in the Hades Olympics.

Jun 25, 2013 at 7:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

If she was allowing comments I'd post this:-

You're not getting the gist either the GWPF's or Geoff's argument. Imagine if a friend came to you and said they had to get a lot of money fast or they were dead. You'd say 'really?' nervous they were about to hit you up for the sum. 'I just need £100' the friend reassures you but just as you're about to ask a bit more about what trouble they're in the person says 'I'm going to put it on a horse and win enough to save myself'. Suddenly you're not prepared to even lend the £100 because you know the scheme is almost doomed to fail. You are now much less likely to help and certainly want to know a lot more about the trouble your friend hints at.

Think of the left-right co-operation you seek and hear the other side telling you they're not prepared to throw good money away on a dodgy solution for an ill defined problem.

Jun 25, 2013 at 8:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

My conclusion is the same as Robin's, see my final comment at the end of Adam's blog post.
What I find amazing is that these professional academics are incapable of conducting a debate with people who don't share there views - it's as if this is an unfamiliar concept to them. In his talk at the Chapman climate communication coference recently, Bob Ward acknowledged that the sceptics were running rings round climate scientists. It seems to be the same with the activist wing of social science.

Jun 25, 2013 at 10:43 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

the activists have got away for far too long with not having to exist in the world of facts/costs/returns....eg Greenpeace runs emotive campaigns to raise funds and then blows the money on stupid publicity stunts that allegedly save whales or stop pollution from oil rigs, etc etc When it comes down to switching off the heating in Winter v saving the Earth, people start to get sceptical and harder to coerce with emotive campaigns...those poor bears/penguins etc that you can support from a position of relative affluence rapidly take second place to coping with life in a below-freezing environment.

Jun 26, 2013 at 12:08 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Diogenes I agree, and the environmentalists would view such practical concerns as greed. Funnily you can rarely get them to define where need stops and greed starts. Often their own circumstances seem to be the dividiing line. Which is why at one end we have students hinting we should enjoy living in a tent and at the other Arnie saying we can have Humvees and a swimming pool so long as they're run on renewable electricity. Those who do suggest a figure for a CO2 allowence are either completely deluded about the energy emitted by their own lives or else are perfectly happy with the wealthy buying the right to emit more.

Greenpeace and WWF are founded on people flying round the World telling other people how to live their lives, all well and good but the moment AGW came into view they should have been recruiting local activists to their job and going home and staying there. All environmental conferences should now be totally intenet based. Presentations and discussions can be done without leaving the office. If those most worried about unecessary emissions can't help flying around the planet to do their job, who's going to do better? Well Anthony Watts managed it with his 24hr sceptic tv. With half of Gore's budget it would have been outstanding and on a shoestring it was very creditable.

People like Alice Bell need to stop asking how they can get the masses to cut CO2 and start asking how they can get committed environmentalists to define reasonable need and stick to it.

Jun 26, 2013 at 8:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Thanks Robin for summarising the discussion so well. I should point out that I’m only banned from commenting on Adam Corner’s article and Alice’s latest. I can comment elsewhere on the site, including on Alice’s earlier articles. So I’d guess TinyCO2 and others can probably comment, though moderation is strict about being on topic.
I’m keen to engage people like Alice and Adam. They’re academics, so they can hardly support censorship. On the other hand, on a site like NLP, they’re perfectly at liberty to define the nature of the topic, and therefore rule all sceptical comments off-topic, if they want to. To be fair, on an earlier thread, it was Alice (who is environmental editor) who favoured letting our comments stand, and her boss who overruled us.
The ignorance of warmists on the left about the nature of sceptics and scepticism is even more abysmal than their general ignorance about climate science. The left is likely to be in power in a couple of years. It’s essential that lines of communication are opened to the left, to allow them to do the kind of slow turnaround which seems to be happening in the Tory party. It should be easier, at least for Labour activists, to come to their senses, since the Greens are their political rivals, and workers in the heavy industries which are going to be driven abroad by high energy prices are their natural allies.

Jun 26, 2013 at 10:42 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Geoff (10:42 AM) is that not a romantic notion of the left in your last sentence? There was a time when 'workers in heavy industries' were a primary focus for the left, and their prosperity and success would have been something to trumpet in places such as the USSR, and their poverty and oppression something to condemn in places such as the UK. But today? Are they not part of 'the problem'? Are they not 'unsustainable'? In other words, have 'The Greens' succeeded in taking over 'The Left', with folks like Alice Bell merely looking out from the battlements of one of their fortresses in search of something to say about the few hostiles they can spot mingling with other 'parts of the problem' beyond?

Jun 26, 2013 at 11:06 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

I disagree with those who think the problem is the inability of these people to debate the issue. It’s much more serious: they have no intention of or interest in debating the issue. Here’s an extract from Alice’s post:

I don’t claim to hide that I have assumptions about the science … you are welcome to deconstruct them, just not here. And not with me … I’d rather spend time working out how to mitigate something I think is real rather than wasting time with you discussing that.

Some may regard that as hardly an intelligent attitude, unworthy of serious attention. But it’s not just Alice and her chums who take this view, it’s a view widely shared by the major political parties, most MPs, academia, the MSM (especially the BBC, Channel 4 and the Guardian), NGOs, EU bureaucrats … etc. (Here’s Obama yesterday: “I don't have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real … We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”) As I’ve indicated, their interest is exclusively about economic, political and social change – “quite radical changes”, according to Alice.

There’s simply no point in trying to debate CAGW science with these (hugely influential) people. Try to do so and you’ll be categorised as a “right-wing denier”. And ignored.

But engagement is essential. And possible. In my view, the only way to achieve it is to forget the science and focus exclusively on practicalities: the likely damage (costs, power cuts, job losses) of planned policies on poor and vulnerable people, the trivial impact of UK emission savings on the global situation … and, above all, the intractable opposition of the increasingly powerful developing economies.

Jun 26, 2013 at 12:51 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

The Tyndall Centre conference discussed here is a perfect illustration of the attitude I referred to in my earlier post. If the Royal Society is content to host a conference with such objectives, why should Alice consider Geoff's views on climate science as being of the slightest importance or interest?

Jun 26, 2013 at 3:27 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

..........the likely damage (costs, power cuts, job losses) of planned policies on poor and vulnerable people,........

With good will Robin, you are deluded. These people know nothing and care even less about poor and vulnerable people. They have spent their lives in a comfortable middle class bubble: ->school ->university ->academia ->retirement & pension. They can't conceive what it is to be poor.

Ask Alice if she knows what it is to turn bedsheets "sides-to-middle". Thats what my mother did when the bedsheets wore out and split. She sewed the outer edges together to make a "middle", and hemmed the torn edges to make "sides". Ask Alice what she (or her children) would have to say about sleeping on a seam.

Jun 26, 2013 at 3:49 PM | Registered CommenterHector Pascal

Robin Guenier is right, and we've touched on it many times here.

We keep pointing to the shoddiness of the science as if it's the killer argument with these people. The science was only ever a useful tool to them - the political and social objectives are what is important.

Completely discrediting the science to us would make the entire edifice collapse - to them it would be like a builder finding the wheel has come off his wheelbarrow - inconvenient to find a replacement, but the house is still going to be built.

Proper opposition to this madness has to take place on all levels. We tend to focus on the science, because this is a science blog. But we need people arguing economics, politics, from left wing points of view.

Each of these arguments should not reference the other, e.g. the economic argument should be that windmills are simply a very bad idea in terms of value and return. That other solutions would cost less and deliver more. In fact it would be beneficial if all other arguments specifically did not start from the science position - in the polarised debate, perfectly good economic and political arguments are dismissed because they are perceived as coming from an "anti-science" camp.

I believe Robin and others' progress at the New Left Project would have been much greater if you had feigned a belief in the hokey science first and concentrated on the socio-political shortcomings. As soon as you self-identified as scientific sceptics, this coloured for them every opinion you stated on there.

We need to be more canny.

Jun 26, 2013 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

TBYJ:

You do me a disservice. In my previous posts at NLP, I have been careful not to express a view on the science. I don't find that very difficult: I'm a lawyer not a scientist and probably would best be described as an agnostic (who regards CAGW as no more than an interesting hypothesis). If I have a hero, it's Steve McIntyre - also an agnostic. Here's my note of something he said at the GWPF meeting in London in August 2012:

He noted (1) that China’s GHG emissions will be double US emissions in 2012, and (2) that, in the past 5 to 6 years, China has increased its emissions by an amount equal to the USA’s total emissions (now maybe close to 1990 levels). That, he said, is the reality of what’s happening in the world and it means that one of the IPCC “base cases” for GHG emissions and its consequence will be what happens. He said, “You have to assume that the IPCC advice is accurate. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of [room for] for manoeuvre.” Yet the “entire rationale” of Western policymakers has been to simply ignore this. He commented, “We must hope the sceptics are right”.
Amen - if it's good enough for Steve, it's good enough for me. And it avoids tedious argument about the science. In my view, it's precisely the message we should be giving to Alice and co.

Jun 26, 2013 at 5:01 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Hector: "They can't conceive what it is to be poor."

True - but they are vulnerable to evidence showing, for example, how the sick, the disabled, the elderly and the very young would be grievously damaged by extended power failure. After all, they're Guardian readers and the Guardian is always (and rightly) concerned about such people.

Jun 26, 2013 at 5:11 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Sorry! Robin, I'm sure you were very careful, but I think the group decision to go over there "mob handed" alerted them to some sort of fly-by. Also, you're not exactly unknown yourself!

Jun 26, 2013 at 6:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

The subject is getting an airing here
http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/blog/renewable-energy-socialism-rupert-darwall-age-of-global-warming/

Jun 26, 2013 at 8:38 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

I had a skim read of A new conversation with the centre-right about climate change:

http://www.climateoutreach.org.uk/coin/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/COIN-A-new-conversation-with-the-centre-right-about-climate-change_FINAL-REPORT.pdf

Some teeth grinding later. Have they not noticed that Conservative politicians are largely out of step with their voters and both sides are rejected by a huge sector of society. What's written wouldn't be bad if it was discussing a new vaccination policy or brand of tea but they're blithely writing our future for us.

One part in particular made me wonder if they're capable of logical thought. It was about persuading right wingers that car sharing was a good idea and the theory was that saving money would be the key. If I’d been there I’d have asked ‘ok, how many of you car share with someone who you don’t know and isn’t a chauffeur or taxi driver?’

It’s typical that they haven’t got beyond step one in planning because they haven’t asked anyone let alone themselves what, apart from money or saving the environment might be considered with car sharing. Off the top of my head I can think of – the trouble finding someone who is travelling regularly from my starting area to my finishing area without involving too much diversion; is this person a danger to me; will the driver have/need special insurance for this scheme and will I be sued blind if there’s an accident; who pays for what mileage and how are you going to measure/cost it, cause I don’t want to pay if he/she always fills up on the motorway and are we talking wear and tare too; what time are they travelling in both directions; what if either one of us wants to shop on the way home; what if one of the parties is late, does the driver wait and risk being late too; what if the passenger is ill or away but hasn’t told the driver, who pays for the diversion; what if I need to go out in the middle of the day or travel for a meeting and I’m not the one with the car; what if the driver doesn’t show up at either end of the journey; how will I ditch my car buddy if it’s not working out; what happens when the driver is on holiday or ill; should I keep my car and if I do, won’t I be paying a large part of the cost of the car just by keeping it on the drive and adding half the petrol and a tip in means I’m not saving that much for a huge load of hassle? Etc.

That took longer to write than think up and it’s not a comprehensive list. It’s not rocket science to work out that people will only do things that make sense at the fine detail level, not the broad brush stroke. There are few CO2 reduction measures that don’t have numerous caveats and the people who contributed to this report demonstrate their ignorance of trying it.

Jun 26, 2013 at 9:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

So what are you two, Robin and Geoff? The Bishop's denial of service squad? Sent in to close down other people's conversations when you don't like their content? There are 8 comments on that NLP thread (excluding those from Alice), five of them from you two. Alice tells you directly that she doesn't want to discuss your pet topic but instead of having good manners and taking it as an invitation to desist, you just piled on more. So she closed the thread, whereupon you boast here of your exploits and bleat about the thread being closed and how clever your next post was about to be. Grow up boys.

I like the idea that sides-to-middling is the epitome of poverty. My mother did it when I was young and we were not poor. Maybe it came out of wartime make-do-and-mend or maybe it went back further, but it was nothing to be ashamed of. I expect there are people who carry on that way. Their sheets are probably still more comfortable than modern ones that pill after six months, even with a seam. If you want to see real poverty you are looking in the wrong place.

Car sharing has been around for ages in Germany so I'm sure all of the problems you cite are soluble - just go to mitfahrzentrale.de

Jun 26, 2013 at 9:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterMissy

After 7 pages of wasted posts on the Warming not warming thread I suggest DNFTT might be advisable!

Jun 26, 2013 at 10:13 PM | Registered CommenterRKS

RKS: seconded.

Jun 26, 2013 at 10:45 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

The real elephant in the room for left wing lunatics is that temperatures have failed to increase for the past 16 years whilst CO2 levels have continued to increase, unabated by the trillions spent by the West on so called renewables.

The AGW hypthesis of surface warming by 'back radiation' from man made CO2 is looking shakier by the day, especially when they try to convince us that the depths of the oceans are being warmed by supposed infra red back radiation which can be shown, by perusal of basic science text books, cannot penetrate more than a few microns of the water's surface. Ignore penetration by sunlight - that has nothing to do with AGW and the atmosphere must first warm up before it can transfer heat to the oceans by conduction, and this has not happened for 16 years. [Of course this oceanic surface heat is soon removed by winds, convection and evaporation]

Our message regarding the lack of warming must be repeated loud and clearly at every available public forum. There is NO AGW and draconian methods to halt it are not needed.

Jun 27, 2013 at 12:00 AM | Registered CommenterRKS

Sorry, RKS, but that elephant won’t fly (apologies : ))

Try the temperature “pause” argument at, say, CiF and you’ll get howls of derision (fuelled by Skeptical Science “facts”) and be immediately branded a right-wing denialist - if indeed CiF allows the comment to appear.

Far more productive to show how a proposed policy would put mentally and physically disabled people at serious risk – plus how pointless it is given the UK’s 1.7% share of global emissions (no more than a rounding error) and the obduracy of Chinese climate negotiators – exemplified at last month’s Bonn negotiations.

Jun 27, 2013 at 9:31 AM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Robin, you don't seem to understand that the Chinese will come round to our way of thinking because of the wonderful example we are setting them and the rest of the world. How they will thank us later.

We punch above our weight, you know.

Jun 27, 2013 at 9:34 AM | Registered Commenterrhoda

I suspect Robin has it about right. Kid gloves are required to interact with ideological types. In my experience, merely mentioning trigger words in their presence can produce tirades from them at the drop of a hat. I don't think there is much hope in reaching the hard-core of this type, but their followers, their audiences - who are far more numerous - might be reachable. By which I mean, willing to listen and think for themselves and argue issues in a civil manner. So while an Alice Bell or her boss may be lost to reason, her readers will surely not all be and the art is therefore to get new thoughts in to them by not stepping on the mental mines in the minefield produced by strong ideology. I think even, perhaps especially, the Chinese would recognise that as a necessary skill for making progress in such territory..

Jun 27, 2013 at 9:59 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Robin:

True - but they are vulnerable to evidence showing, for example, how the sick, the disabled, the elderly and the very young would be grievously damaged by extended power failure. After all, they're Guardian readers and the Guardian is always (and rightly) concerned about such people.

I admire your perseverance (and apologise for being curt, not intended). But there's a logical inconsistency here. The sick, disabled, elderly and young can be protected to some degree by "wealth". That is: sufficient food & water, shelter and warmth, not filthy rich.

Green/left policy seems to be to price some of "the sick, disabled, elderly and young" out of the market. They would happen to be those not protected by public sector jobs, public sector unions and public sector pensions. The little people.

Jun 27, 2013 at 10:37 AM | Registered CommenterHector Pascal