Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Wannabe Oppressed  

What do America’s college students want? They want to be oppressed. More precisely, a surprising number of students at America’s finest colleges and universities wish to appear as victims — to themselves, as well as to others — without the discomfort of actually experiencing victimization. Here is where global warming comes in. The secret appeal of campus climate activism lies in its ability to turn otherwise happy, healthy, and prosperous young people into an oppressed class, at least in their own imaginings. Climate activists say to the world, “I’ll save you.” Yet deep down they’re thinking, “Oppress me.”

In his important new book, The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse: Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings, French intellectual gadfly Pascal Bruckner does the most thorough job yet of explaining the climate movement as a secular religion, an odd combination of deformed Christianity and reconstructed Marxism. (You can find Bruckner’s excellent article based on the book here.) Bruckner describes a historical process wherein “the long list of emblematic victims — Jews, blacks, slaves, proletarians, colonized peoples — was replaced, little by little, with the Planet.” The planet, says Bruckner, “has become the new proletariat that must be saved from exploitation.”

But why? Bruckner finds it odd that a “mood of catastrophe” should prevail in the West, the most well-off part of the world. The reason, I think, is that the only way to turn the prosperous into victims is to threaten the very existence of a world they otherwise command.

And why should the privileged wish to become victims? To alleviate guilt and to appropriate the victim’s superior prestige. In the neo-Marxist dispensation now regnant on our college campuses, after all, the advantaged are ignorant and guilty while the oppressed are innocent and wise. The initial solution to this problem was for the privileged to identify with “struggling groups” by wearing, say, a Palestinian keffiyeh. Yet better than merely empathizing with the oppressed is to be oppressed. This is the climate movement’s signal innovation.

We can make sense of Bruckner’s progression of victimhood from successive minorities to the globe itself by considering the lives of modern-day climate activists. Let’s begin with Bill McKibben, the most influential environmental activist in the country, and leader of the campus fossil-fuel divestment movement.

In a 1996 piece titled “Job and Matthew,” McKibben describes his arrival at college in 1978 as a liberal-leaning student with a suburban Protestant background. “My leftism grew more righteous in college,” he says, “but still there was something pro forma about it.” The problem? “Being white, male, straight, and of impeccably middle-class background, I could not realistically claim to be a victim of anything.” At one point, in what he calls a “loony” attempt to claim the mantle of victimhood, McKibben nearly convinced himself that he was part Irish so he could don a black armband as Bobby Sands and fellow members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army died in a hunger strike. Yet even as he failed to persuade himself he was Irish, McKibben continued to enthusiastically support every leftist-approved victim group he could find. Nonetheless, something was missing. None of these causes seemed truly his own. When McKibben almost singlehandedly turned global warming into a public issue in 1989, his problem was solved. Now everyone could be a victim.

Wen Stephenson, a contributing writer at The Nation and an enthusiastic supporter of McKibben’s anti-fossil-fuel crusade, is one of the sharpest observers of the climate movement. In March, Stephenson published a profile of some of the student climate protesters he’d gotten to know best. Their stories look very much like McKibben’s description of his own past.

Stephenson’s thesis is that, despite vast differences between the upper-middle-class college students who make up much of today’s climate movement and southern blacks living under segregation in the 1950s, climate activists think of themselves on the model of the early civil-rights protesters. When climate activists court arrest through civil disobedience, they imagine themselves to be reliving the struggles of persecuted African Americans staging lunch-counter sit-ins at risk of their lives. Today’s climate protesters, Stephenson writes,“feel themselves oppressed by powerful, corrupt forces beyond their control.” And they fight “not only for people in faraway places but, increasingly, for themselves.”

One young activist, a sophomore at Harvard, told Stephenson that she grew up “privileged in a poor rural town.” Inspired by the civil-rights movement, her early climate activism was undertaken “in solidarity” with Third World peoples: “I saw climate change as this huge human rights abuse against people who are already disadvantaged in our global society. . . . I knew theoretically there could be impacts on the U.S. But I thought, I’m from a rich, developed country, my parents are well-off, I know I’m going to college, and it’s not going to make a difference to my life. But especially over this past year, I’ve learned that climate change is a threat to me.” When one of her fellow protesters said: “You know, I think I could die of climate change. That could be the way I go,” the thought stuck with her. “You always learn about marginalized groups in society, and think about how their voices don’t have as much power, and then suddenly you’re like, ‘Wait, that’s exactly what I am, with climate change.’”

The remaining biographical accounts in Stephenson’s piece repeat these themes. Climate activists see themselves as privileged, are deeply influenced by courses on climate change and on “marginalized” groups they’ve been exposed to in high school and college, and treat the climate apocalypse as their personal admissions pass to the sacred circle of the oppressed.

It may be that these activists, eyes opened by fortuitous education, are merely recognizing the reality of our impending doom. Or might this particular apocalypse offer unacknowledged psychic rewards? These students could easily be laid low by an economic crisis brought on by demographic decline and the strains of baby-boomer retirement on our entitlement system. Yet marriage and children aren’t a priority, although they could help solve the problem. Why? Many dooms beckon. How has climate change won out?

Last academic year, the National Association of Scholars released a widely discussed report called “What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students.” The report chronicles what I’ve called a “reverse island” effect. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the classic liberal-arts curriculum first came under challenge, courses in ethnic and gender studies were like tiny islands in a sea of traditionalism. Politicized in ways that were incompatible with liberal education, these ideologically based “studies” programs were generally dismissed as necessary concessions to the nascent multicultural zeitgeist.

Today the situation is reversed. Not only have the ideologically driven “studies” programs taken over a large share of the college curriculum, but many courses in conventional departments reflect the underlying assumptions of the various minority-studies concentrations. Today, classic liberal-arts courses have themselves been turned into tiny besieged islands, while the study of alleged oppression represents the leading approach at America’s colleges and universities.

In this atmosphere, students cannot help wishing to see themselves as members of a persecuted group. Climate activism answers their existential challenges and gives them a sense of crusading purpose in a lonely secular world. The planet, as Bruckner would have it, is the new proletariat. Yet substitute “upper-middle-class” for “planet,” and the progression of victimhood is explained. Global warming allows the upper-middle-class to join the proletariat, cloaking erstwhile oppressors in the mantle of righteous victimhood.

Insight into the quasi-religious motivations that stand behind climate activism cannot finally resolve the empirical controversies at stake in our debate over global warming. Yet understanding climate activism as a cultural phenomenon does yield insight into that debate. The religious character of the climate-change crusade chokes off serious discussion. It stigmatizes reasonable skepticism about climate catastrophism (which is different from questioning the fundamental physics of carbon dioxide’s effect on the atmosphere). Climate apocalypticism drags what ought to be careful consideration of the costs and benefits of various policy options into the fraught world of identity politics. The wish to be oppressed turns into the wish to be morally superior, which turns into the pleasure of silencing alleged oppressors, which turns into its own sort of hatred and oppression.

What do American college students want? I would like to think they are looking for an education in the spirit of classic liberalism, an education that offers them, not a ready-made ideology, but the tools to make an informed choice among the fundamental alternatives in life. The people who run our universities, unfortunately, have taught their students to want something different, and this is what truly oppresses them.


Supreme Court to Consider EPA Regulations

The Obama administration has been zealously waging its “war on coal” through EPA regulations on carbon emissions that will both endanger plans for new coal plants and effectively shutter existing ones because the plants can't meet emissions standards. In June 2012, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court in Washington, DC, upheld every contention the administration made to defend its regulations – from the assumption that greenhouse gases are causing global warming to the authority of the EPA to basically do whatever it wants to combat it. Now the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in.

Unfortunately, the High Court is only considering the part of the appeals court ruling dealing with permitting requirements; they are leaving in tact the lower court's finding on emissions and climate change, which, as we often recount in this space, is dubious at best. But SCOTUS found in 2007 that the Clean Air Act, which doesn't define CO2 as a pollutant, nevertheless gives the EPA broad authority to regulate carbon emissions, so it's not surprising that the Court is leaving that issue alone. That earlier ruling focused on vehicles and mileage standards, while this latest case deals with the question of power plants and other stationary facilities.

Though the administration urged the Court to reject the case, EPA chief Gina McCarthy applauded the justices' decision on a narrow hearing, which she said “confirms that EPA has the authority to protect public health by reducing carbon pollution.” Such Orwellian spin is hard to take from an agency that shackles the U.S. economy with incredibly burdensome regulations. Expect a decision in the case by June 2014.


Study: Wind Power Costs Taxpayers Billions of Dollars

According to a new study conducted by Texas Tech University Professor Dr. Michael Giberson for the Institute for Energy Research, the government and wind lobby aren't telling taxpayers the whole truth about how much wind energy really costs. The study comes as the wind lobby is set to receive another extension on massive subsidies with little results to show for it.

"As Big Wind's lobbyists fight tooth and nail to extend the wind Production Tax Credit, it is important that we look at the true costs of wind power to taxpayers and ratepayers," IER President Thomas Pyle said about the study. "Despite being propped up by government mandates and billion dollar subsidies for decades, wind power continues to be an expensive and boutique energy source that the American people cannot rely on for power when they need it. Although lobbyists for the wind industry prefer to downplay the real costs of wind power, Dr. Giberson has produced a fact-based study that demonstrates just how expensive it really is."

According to the study, wind energy costs taxpayers $12 billion per year and shows wind power costs $109 per megawatt hour, nearly double government estimates of just $72 per megawatt hour. The study also shows wind power doesn't decrease the cost of electricity as environmental groups and government advocates claim, but instead shifts costs onto taxpayers. In addition, wind energy subsidies allow those who start wind projects to easily game the system.

"Wind power projects often obtain additional production subsidies, and these subsidies allow the wind project owner to profit even when power prices go negative," the study states.


Regulatory Commissars: EPA to Scale Back Ethanol Mandate?

Last Friday, we reported that two senators are seeking to more strictly enforce the ethanol mandate, part of the Renewable Fuel Standard. But that doesn't mean all is going according to plan. In fact, Reuters reports, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering a proposal that would set next year's target for use of renewable fuels at 15.21 billion gallons, less than the 18.15-billion gallon 2014 target established in the law.” Scaling back on a federal regulation? Paint us gold and call us Oscar.

Indeed, the EPA has gone so far as to punish oil companies for failing to use biofuels that weren't even available. But as Hot Air's Erika Johnsen writes, “The EPA has been heretofore undeterred in continually raising the requirements, but I suppose it must be getting harder to ignore that nobody but nobody except agribusiness and their associated Big Ethanol lobbyists are fans of ethanol – not oil companies, not environmentalists (and how often do those two groups unite?!), and certainly not American consumers paying higher food and gasoline prices as a consequence.”

About those Big Ethanol lobbyists: They're not going to go quietly. The EPA reassured them that nothing is final and it's only a “draft proposal.” But Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, called for “an immediate investigation by the Justice Department and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to determine if this was an attempt to manipulate markets such as corn futures, ethanol futures and/or RINS markets.” In other words, despite all the damage ethanol does to engines and food markets, the ethanol lobby isn't about to let their sweet deal run out of gas.


Avid environmentalist challenges climate change alarmists

About 10 years ago, while working to restore watershed and wildlife habitat, Steele said it became clear that landscape changes and natural cycles had a much greater impact on wildlife than climate change. The initial plan was to write on the subject for various magazines and websites, but he realized only a book could tell the whole story. This Sunday, Steele will be at Florey's to sign and discuss the book which developed from these earlier musings — "Landscapes & Cycles" (An Environmentalist's Journey to Climate Skepticism).

"The more I researched the causes of change in wildlife populations and local climates, the more I became appalled by the amount of bad science that was too easily published simply because it agreed with the prevailing bias of climate catastrophes," Steele said. "Every other chapter of the book highlights different species whose decline was mistakenly blamed on rising CO2."

In the first chapter, Steele was asked by the U.S. Forest Service to study the bird communities in high mountain meadows in the Tahoe National Forest. What caused a sudden collapse in those populations?" Steele's research revealed the decline was due to the placement of a railroad track 100 years earlier. The track had disrupted the meadow's stream flow and caused the meadow to start to "desert-ify." Landscape change not climate change was the key. (A partnership was formed to restore the watershed and most of the species have rebounded.)

In another chapter, he discusses the colony of emperor penguins featured in the film, "March of the Penguins."

"Despite that global warming models suggesting they will go extinct, the local temperature trend has never shown any warming," Steele explained. "The faulty model was based on a drop in numbers in the '70s when researchers were disturbing the colony and three islands were dynamited to make an airstrip. Likewise a chapter on Adélie penguins shows except for one small region, the Adélie penguins have been steadily increasing. The penguins that are genuinely endangered are not in Antarctica but on islands like the Galapagos where introduced cats and rats decimate the populations."

Two of his chapters are dedicated to polar bears. Steele presents evidence that the Arctic food web has benefitted from less ice. He also challenges a number of the claims of Camille Parmesan, currently a professor in the Section of Integrative Biology at The University of Texas at Austin. Parmesan's research focuses on the current impacts of climate change on wildlife, both terrestrial and aquatic. In 1996, she published findings regarding the geographical, northward and upward range shift of butterflies which she explained as a response to climate change.

"Her results were a statistical illusion caused by the growing urban sprawl in southern California that eradicated more prime habitat in the south," Steele said. "Preserving butterfly habitat and natural weather cycles have now sparked population recovery and Parmesan admits many populations she had claimed were 'extirpated' have now repopulated.:

"One bad study may seem inconsequential," Steele went on to say, "but then our top climate scientists asked Parmesan to coauthor another paper and used that faulty conclusion to argue that a trivial 0.7 C degree rise in global temperatures, was causing deadly extremes and disrupting the local ecological balance. That paper went viral and over 1000 scientists cited their paper as 'proof' of climate catastrophe."

Steele said that while he believes humans have undeniably caused an increase in concentrations of carbon dioxide, he thinks its effect on climate is trivial compared to other factors — naming a few here.

"I have found landscape changes such as urban heat islands, lost vegetation and lost wetlands are more influential," the author said. "Satellite data show grasslands surface temperatures reach 10 to 20 degrees higher than forested areas, and barren ground exceeds grasslands by another 10 to 20 degrees. The loss of wetlands raises temperatures, and California has lost half of its wetlands and has altered 99% of its streams."

Steele said a big part of his book's message is to get people to look into their own backyard and make changes there, in order to make changes for the entire world.

"For example, what gets lost in the politics of climate change is that east coast communities that had restored protective tidal marshes and sand dunes did not suffer the same consequences from Superstorm Sandy as communities that didn't," Steele noted. "To think we can stop floods by controlling our carbon footprint is a delusion."


The great climate fiction

Comment from Australia

IT is natural that when Tony Abbott [Australian PM] told Asia-Pacific leaders he was going to repeal Australia's carbon tax he found no opposition, and a good deal of support instead. He mentioned it in plenary sessions and bilateral meetings with all the leaders.

In taking this action, Abbott is bringing us into line with Asia-Pacific practice. There is not one significant national carbon tax or emissions trading scheme operating anywhere in the Asia-Pacific.

One of the most disagreeable defects of the Rudd and Gillard governments was the way they so often misrepresented reality, especially international reality. They tried to do this on such a scale that ultimately the public could see through it on many issues, especially boats and climate change.

The politics of climate change the world over is full of rhetoric and devoid of action. If Australians are being asked to pay a tax, even if it's called an emissions trading scheme, they should compare what other countries are actually doing, not what some politician might once have said.

The ABC in particular runs a constant propaganda campaign in favour of the idea that the world is moving to put a price on carbon. But the information is never specific. Any ABC interviewer with a speck of competence or professional standards should always ask the following: Name the specific scheme? Is it actually in operation? How much of the economy does it cover? What is the price of carbon? How much revenue does it raise?

You can impose no real cost on your economy, but still have a scheme to brag about if you have economy-wide coverage but a tiny price, or a big price but a tiny coverage. Either way you have a good headline scheme to fool the ABC with.

But here are some actual facts. The UN Framework Convention on Climate has 195 members. Only 34 of those use anything resembling an emissions trading scheme. Of those, 27 are in the EU scheme. No one in the Asia-Pacific has an effective scheme.

What about these Chinese schemes we hear so much about on the ABC? There are seven designated pilot projects in China. One - that's right, one - has begun operation. That is in Shenzhen. So far all the permits are given away for free. It has had no impact at all on carbon emissions.

The Chinese government has indicated it may look at a national scheme for the five-year plan from 2016. This is at most speculative, and there are a million ways it could be completely ineffective, which is almost certainly the result. China is by far the world's biggest polluter. Its per capita emissions are now comparable with Europe's. It has some plans to reduce carbon intensity, that is, the amount of carbon per unit of production, but no plans to reduce the absolute size of its emissions.

Japan has effectively abandoned plans for an ETS. No economy-wide carbon tax or ETS is operating today. South Korea has a plan, but it will issue all permits for free in the first period and is looking to redesign its scheme partly to avoid the impact on electricity prices, which Australia's scheme had. New Zealand has a notional scheme, but the price is a meaningless $1 per tonne.

The US has no carbon tax or ETS and is unlikely ever to have one. The separate Californian scheme is frequently adduced by pro-tax Australian partisans. But this scheme covers only 37 per cent of emissions, compared with the Australian tax that covered 60 per cent of our emissions. More importantly, in California, 90 per cent of permits for electricity are given for free.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative covers several northern states in the US. But the price is $2.55 per tonne and it covers only electricity.

Canada does not have an ETS or a carbon tax. The Quebec scheme covers a minority of emissions and because the province is so reliant on hydro-electricity the scheme has little impact.

Some of the biggest carbon emitters in Asia - like Indonesia and India - not only do not have national carbon taxes or ETS schemes, they have massive fuel subsidies to make carbon-based fuels accessible to all their people. A fuel subsidy is the opposite of a carbon tax, it is a carbon subsidy.

The European scheme has a price of about $7. Famously, it covers a substantially smaller proportion of its emissions than our carbon tax did. Equally famously, in its first five years it tended to raise about $500 million a year whereas our carbon tax raised $9 billion a year. So all of Europe combined imposed a cost on itself of one-18th of the cost Australia imposed on itself.

Europe also allows, within its scheme, a certain amount of imports of Certified Emission Reduction Units, basically UN-approved carbon credits created in Third World countries. The price for these shonky bits of paper has now fallen below $1 per tonne.

Labor's Mark Butler was yesterday repeating the ALP mantra, much recited, too, by the Greens and the ABC, that not a single reputable climate scientist or economist endorses direct action of the kind Abbott and his minister, Greg Hunt, propose. This is untrue. The vast majority of the governments of the world, certainly the US and Canada, are using direct action mechanisms to address greenhouse gas emissions.

 The rise of gas as an energy source has been the key driver of reductions in the US, but tighter automobile emissions standards and many other direct action measures have also been important. Australia would be extremely foolish to move substantially faster or further than most of the world. That is what we did in the biggest way with our hugely destructive carbon tax.

To compare ourselves with the world we must be absolutely accurate about what the world is actually, really doing in its physical manifestation today, not what some EU bureaucrat or NGO activist is willing to say in an always unchallenging ABC interview. Even within Europe's compromised scheme there is a great deal of re-thinking as economic logic trumps climate change piety.

The carbon tax and the ETS are based on a complete misrepresentation of what other countries are doing. Australians have never voted for either an ETS or a carbon tax and, unless the world changes radically, are unlikely to do so in the future.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


No comments: