Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Shameless fear-mongering – versus reality

Al Gore peddles climate and weather scam. CFACT film and Aussie book present Climate Facts

Paul Driessen

Before I could enjoy a movie last week, I was forced to endure five minutes of climate and weather fear-mongering, when the theater previewed Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Sequel.” His attempt to pin every weather disaster of the past decade on humanity’s fossil fuel use felt like fifty minutes of water boarding.

Mr. Gore has made tens of millions of dollars pedaling this nonsense and his demand that modern society undergo a “wrenching transformation” from oil, natural gas and coal to a utopian make-believe world powered by biofuels, wind and solar power, electric vehicles and batteries.

Every alarmist prediction has been falsified by actual events: from soaring temperatures to an ice-free Arctic to monstrous hurricanes that have not hit the USA since 2005. His attempt to blame New York City floods during Superstorm Sandy ignored inconvenient truths like construction that narrowed the Hudson River by hundreds of feet, forcing any incoming water to rise higher … and flood Manhattan. Mr. Gore conveniently ignores even well known climate change and weather events of past centuries. No wonder this devotee of SUVs, private jets and multiple homes doesn’t have the spine to debate anyone over these issues. When he lectures us, he won’t even take questions that he has not preapproved.

Thankfully, those seeking an antidote or healthy dose of reality have alternatives. The Climate Hustle documentary film debunks scores of whacky predictions that never came true and presents solid evidence-based science from dozens of scientists who don’t accept “manmade climate crisis” claims. A new Australian book presents detailed and expert but fast-paced, readable material on key climate issues.

Climate Change: The Facts 2017 is the third in a series. Dedicated to the memory of the late, eminent Aussie geologist and climate scientist Bob Carter, its 22 chapters cover climate changes through the ages, the multiple natural forces that primarily drive climate and weather fluctuations, devious tricks that alarmist researchers have used to modify and “homogenize” actual temperature data, attempts to silence experts who focus on natural causes of climate change or on adaptation rather than costly “prevention,’ the historic context behind climate debates, and coral reef resilience amid alleged ocean “acidification.”

Assumed coral, shellfish and other asserted disasters from even slight changes in ocean pH are based on computer simulations that often extrapolate from laboratory experiments. John Abbott, Peter Ridd and Jennifer Marohasy point out that some of those experiments actually added hydrochloric acid to fish tanks to simulate acidification presumed to result from slight increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide!

Carbon dioxide has been demonized because it is a byproduct of fossil fuel use, and many activists want to eliminate the oil, natural gas and coal that provide over 80% of US and global energy. Moreover, while it helps trap solar heat and keep Earth inhabitable, CO2 is the polar opposite of a “dangerous pollutant.”

CO2 is vital plant food and fertilizer, essential for photosynthesis. Without it, life on Earth would cease to exist. In conjunction with slightly warmer global temperatures since the Little Ice Age ended (and modern industrial era began), rising atmospheric CO2 levels are helping to “green” the planet, by spurring crop, forest and grassland plants to grow faster and better, Craig Idso and Matt Ridley explain. 25-50% of vegetated parts of our planet have gotten greener over the past 33 years, from the tropics to the Arctic, and 70% of that greening is due to higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Only 4% has gotten browner.

Ian Plimer, Ken Ring and Nicola Scafetta discuss natural climate cycles and the long planetary and human experience with major climate changes and weather events. Nothing seen today is unprecedented, and most is far more benign than in the past, they note. Bjorn Lomborg and other authors explain why we must end our obsession with the “climate crisis” and other exaggerated threats, and with false solutions to fabricated climate disasters. We need to spend our limited time, money and resources on the many real, pressing problems that confront mankind in developed and developing nations alike.

My chapter in The Facts addresses those pressing humanity problems, largely in the context of Pope Francis’s Laudato Si encyclical. For countless millennia, I note, humans endured brutal, backbreaking lives cut short by malnutrition and starvation, wretched cold and poverty, foul air, filthy water, myriad diseases, absent sanitary practices, and simple wounds that brought gangrene, amputation and death.

Then, in just two centuries, via discovery and progress powered by fossil fuels, billions of people doubled their life spans and became healthy, well fed, prosperous, increasingly mobile, and able to afford wondrous medical and other technologies, foods, services, luxuries and leisure-time activities that previous generations could not even imagine.

Mechanized agriculture – coupled with modern fertilizers, hybrid and GMO seeds, irrigation and other advances – enable smaller numbers of farmers to produce bumper crops that feed billions, using less land, water and insecticides. Improved buildings keep out cold, heat, and disease-carrying rodents and insects, and better survive earthquakes and extreme weather. Electricity transformed every aspect of our lives.

“How can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications?” His Holiness asks. Unfortunately, he then presents romanticized references to consistently mild climates, benevolent natural worlds and idyllic pastoral lives that never existed. He insists that Earth’s poorest people will soon face “grave existential risks” from planetary warming, if we do not quickly and significantly reduce fossil fuel use.

He ignores the absence of Real World evidence that greenhouse gases are causing climate chaos – and the compelling evidence that fossil fuels continue to bring enormous benefits.

Over the past three decades, oil, gas and especially coal have helped 1.3 billion more people get electricity and escape energy and economic destitution. China connected 99% of its population to the grid, mostly with coal. Average Chinese are now ten times richer and live 32 years longer than their predecessors did barely five decades previously. India is building numerous coal power plants to electrify its vast regions.

But more than 1.2 billion people (more than the USA, Canada, Mexico and Europe combined) still do not have electricity; another 2 billion have electrical power only sporadically and unpredictably. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 700 million still cook and heat with “renewable” wood, charcoal and animal dung.

Hundreds of millions get horribly sick – and five million die – every year from lung and intestinal diseases, due to breathing smoke from open fires and not having refrigeration, clean water and safe food. Hundreds of millions are starving or malnourished. Nearly 3 billion survive on a few dollars per day.

These destitute masses simply want to take their rightful, God-given places among Earth’s healthy and prosperous people. Instead, they are being told that “wouldn’t be sustainable.” They’re being told that improving their health, living standards and life spans is less important than avoiding the “looming climate cataclysm” that “threatens the very survival” of our wildlife, civilization and planet.

These claims – and the false solutions being offered to dire problems that exist only in alarmist movies, press releases and computer models – examine only far-fetched risks that fossil fuels supposedly might cause. They never consider the numerous dangers and damages those fuels reduce, prevent or eliminate. These attitudes are anti-science, anti-human, unjust, unethical – and genocidal.

Noted observer of popular culture Clive James wraps up this fascinating book. Proponents of man-made climate catastrophe asked us for so many leaps of faith that they were bound to run out of credibility in the end, he says. And yet it would be unwise to think mankind’s capacity to believe in fashionable nonsense can be cured anytime soon. When this “threat” collapses, it will be replaced with another.

Al Gore, the IPCC, alarmist modelers and researchers, and EPA’s “social cost of carbon” scheme and carbon dioxide “endangerment” decision have all depended on the climate bogeyman. Eternal vigilance, education and pushback by the rest of us will be needed for years to come.

Via email

UK Energy Cost Review Turns Into Farce Before It Has Even Started

Green taxes which are blamed for adding up to £150 to every power bill will not be cut as the result of a government review of rising energy bills announced today.

Dieter Helm, an Oxford academic and critic of wind and solar power, has been hired to lead the official review of energy bills – but has been told he cannot suggest any “detailed” changes to green taxes.

Last week British Gas blamed the taxes for a huge rise in electricity bills for three million of its customers.
Electricity prices will increase by 12.5 per cent, adding £76 to the typical annual bill, from next month for British Gas’s customers.

The company said the cost of green subsidies levied on bills has created “significant pressures” and suggested that it had no choice but to respond by raising prices.

The UK is legally obliged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050.

Green levies on bills are used to pay for loft insulation schemes and subsidies for renewable energy projects.

The Tories have repeatedly threatened to take action to curb the costs of these environmental taxes, which were  reportedly branded “green cr*p” by former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013.

Theresa May, the Prime Minister, pledged to cap energy price rises for 17 million households during the election.

The Government said the review “will deliver on Government’s commitment to consider how to keep energy costs as low as possible”.

The terms of reference of the review “will consider the key factors affecting energy bills, including but not limited to energy and carbon pricing, energy efficiency, distributed generation, regulation of the networks, innovation and R&D”.

But it added: “The review will not propose tax changes.”

The review also said that the Government’s “carbon targets need to be met, while concurrently ensuring security of supplies of energy, in the most cost effective way”.

But it said its recommendations had to be on “how these objectives can be met in the power sector at minimum cost and without imposing further costs on the Exchequer”.

Alex Neill, managing director of home products and services for Which?, said: “It is right to look at how to keep costs down, but yet another review is going to be cold comfort to the millions overpaying on their energy bills right now.

“Consumers need to see urgent action from the Government and regulator to tackle the lack of competition in the market and to ensure they are getting a good deal.”

Will Hodson, co-founder of consumer collective The Big Deal which focuses on bringing down energy bills, added: “Energy prices are an urgent problem for British households right now. “With this review, the Government is simply kicking the can down the road.”


Child miners aged four living a hell on Earth so YOU can drive an electric car

Picking through a mountain of huge rocks with his tiny bare hands, the exhausted little boy makes a pitiful sight.

His name is Dorsen and he is one of an army of children, some just four years old, working in the vast polluted mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where toxic red dust burns their eyes, and they run the risk of skin disease and a deadly lung condition. Here, for a wage of just 8p a day, the children are made to check the rocks for the tell-tale chocolate-brown streaks of cobalt – the prized ingredient essential for the batteries that power electric cars.

And it’s feared that thousands more children could be about to be dragged into this hellish daily existence – after the historic pledge made by Britain to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040 and switch to electric vehicles.

It heralds a future of clean energy, free from pollution but – though there can be no doubting the good intentions behind Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s announcement last month – such ideals mean nothing for the children condemned to a life of hellish misery in the race to achieve his target.

Dorsen, just eight, is one of 40,000 children working daily in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The terrible price they will pay for our clean air is ruined health and a likely early death.

Almost every big motor manufacturer striving to produce millions of electric vehicles buys its cobalt from the impoverished central African state. It is the world’s biggest producer, with 60 per cent of the planet’s reserves.

The cobalt is mined by unregulated labour and transported to Asia where battery manufacturers use it to make their products lighter, longer-lasting and rechargeable.

The planned switch to clean energy vehicles has led to an extraordinary surge in demand. While a smartphone battery uses no more than 10 grams of refined cobalt, an electric car needs 15kg (33lb).

Goldman Sachs, the merchant bank, calls cobalt ‘the new gasoline’ but there are no signs of new wealth in the DRC, where the children haul the rocks brought up from tunnels dug by hand.

Adult miners dig up to 600ft below the surface using basic tools, without protective clothing or modern machinery. Sometimes the children are sent down into the narrow makeshift chambers where there is constant danger of collapse.

Cobalt is such a health hazard that it has a respiratory disease named after it – cobalt lung, a form of pneumonia which causes coughing and leads to permanent incapacity and even death.

Even simply eating vegetables grown in local soil can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, thyroid damage and fatal lung diseases, while birds and fish cannot survive in the area.

No one knows quite how many children have died mining cobalt in the Katanga region in the south-east of the country. The UN estimates 80 a year, but many more deaths go unregistered, with the bodies buried in the rubble of collapsed tunnels. Others survive but with chronic diseases which destroy their young lives. Girls as young as ten in the mines are subjected to sexual attacks and many become pregnant.

When Sky News investigated the Katanga mines it found Dorsen, working near a little girl called Monica, who was four, on a day of relentless rainfall.

Dorsen was hauling heavy sacks of rocks from the mine surface to a growing stack 60ft away. A full sack was lifted on to Dorsen’s head and he staggered across to the stack. A brutish overseer stood over him, shouting and raising his hand to threaten a beating if he spilt any.

With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.

Dorsen’s friend Richard, 11, said that at the end of a working day ‘everything hurts’.

In a country devastated by civil wars in which millions have died, there is no other way for families to survive. Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) is donating £10.5million between June 2007 and June 2018 towards strengthening revenue transparency and encouraging responsible activity in large and small scale artisanal mining, ‘to benefit the poor of DRC’.

There is little to show for these efforts so far. There is a DRC law forbidding the enslavement of under-age children, but nobody enforces it.

The UN’s International Labour Organisation has described cobalt mining in DRC as ‘one of the worst forms of child labour’ due to the health risks.

Soil samples taken from the mining area by doctors at the University of Lubumbashi, the nearest city, show the region to be among the ten most polluted in the world. Residents near mines in southern DRC had urinary concentrates of cobalt 43 higher than normal. Lead levels were five times higher, cadmium and uranium four times higher.

The worldwide rush to bring millions of electric vehicles on to our roads has handed a big advantage to those giant car-makers which saw this bonanza coming and invested in developing battery-powered vehicles, among them General Motors, Renault-Nissan, Tesla, BMW and Fiat-Chrysler.

Chinese middle-men working for the Congo Dongfang Mining Company have the stranglehold in DRC, buying the raw cobalt brought to them in sacks carried on bicycles and dilapidated old cars daily from the Katanga mines. They sit in shacks on a dusty road near the Zambian border, offering measly sums scrawled on blackboards outside – £40 for a ton of cobalt-rich rocks – that will be sent by cargo ship to minerals giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt in China and sold on to a complex supply chain feeding giant multinationals.

Challenged by the Washington Post about the appalling conditions in the mines, Huayou Cobalt said ‘it would be irresponsible’ to stop using child labour, claiming: ‘It could aggravate poverty in the cobalt mining regions and worsen the livelihood of local miners.’

Human rights charity Amnesty International also investigated cobalt mining in the DRC and says that none of the 16 electric vehicle manufacturers they identified have conducted due diligence to the standard defined by the Responsible Cobalt Initiative.

Encouragingly, Apple, which uses the mineral in its devices, has committed itself to treat cobalt like conflict minerals – those which have in the past funded child soldiers in the country’s civil war – and the company claims it is going to require all refiners to have supply chain audits and risk assessments. But Amnesty International is not satisfied. ‘This promise is not worth the paper it is written on when the companies are not investigating their suppliers,’ said Amnesty’s Mark Dummett. ‘Big brands have the power to change this.’

After DRC, Australia is the next biggest source of cobalt, with reserves of 1million tons, followed by Cuba, China, Russia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Car maker Tesla – the market leader in electric vehicles – plans to produce 500,000 cars per year starting in 2018, and will need 7,800 tons of cobalt to achieve this. Sales are expected to hit 4.4 million by 2021. It means the price of cobalt will soar as the world gears itself up for the electric car revolution, and there is evidence some corporations are cancelling their contracts with regulated mines using industrial technology, and turning increasingly to the cheaper mines using human labour.

After the terrible plight of Dorsen and Richard was broadcast in a report on Sky News, an emotive response from viewers funded a rescue by children’s charity Kimbilio. They are now living in a church-supported children’s home, sleeping on mattresses for the first time in their lives and going to school.

But there is no such happy ending for the tens of thousands of children left in the hell on earth that is the cobalt mines of the Congo.


Why the Left Can't Solve Global Warming

Greens are more interested on assigning blame than looking for fixes

Environmentalists have been waxing apocalyptic about global warming for several decades now. But what do they have to show for it? America's president just pulled out of the Paris climate accord, leaving a rudderless and bereft global movement. And even if he hadn't, the nation has little appetite for meaningful political action on climate change. Why have environmentalists failed so utterly to push their cause forward after all this time?

Because they've gone about it all wrong. Instead of treating global warming like a problem that needs to be addressed regardless of what caused it, the green left has been more obsessed with establishing humanity's culpability and embracing ever more extreme and painful mitigation steps, as if they were more concerned with punishing the perpetrators than solving the problem.

Global warming guru Al Gore in 1992 called for the elimination of the internal combustion engine from the planet in 25 years. But the accursed engine is nowhere close to going away given that auto sales (and not hybrids and electrics) are projected to grow for decades to come. Many environmentalists want to eradicate fossil fuels. This will never happen—or at least won't happen for a long, long time—especially in emerging economies that need cheap fuel to spur development and deliver decent living standards.

Undeterred, liberals are now saying that we should save the planet by having fewer kids, each of whom creates 58 tons of carbon dioxide each year (more for American parents). This is a ludicrous suggestion that will further drive a wedge between middle-class Americans who live for their families and yuppie, green Americans who live for the enviroment.

But the further problem with all these remedies is that they suffer from what's called the collective action problem. Take, for example, forgoing children: If some people forgo but others don't, the former will suffer a deep personal loss and the planet will be no better off. Hence everyone waits for someone else to go first and the "solution" doesn't even get off the ground.

If environmentalists want to succeed, they'll have to begin by transforming their own attitudes, focusing less on asking people to sacrifice to save the planet, and focusing much more on smart technological solutions that solve our climate problem without asking so much from us.

Morally shaming people into voluntary action doesn't work. And the more attached people are to the things that they are being shamed into giving up, the less effective this strategy.

Environmentalists' other strategy to overcome the collective action problem is government coercion to force polluters to cease and desist. But governments, especially democratic ones, don't have carte blanche to inflict endless pain on their citizens without being booted out. That's why Europe's cap-and-trade scheme—under which each industry got a free carbon quota beyond which it had to buy offsets from less polluting companies with permits to spare—has shown pathetic results. Countries simply gamed the program to give their industries a reprieve. A global carbon tax, though in theory a less messy solution, has even less chance of ever being embraced for all kinds of reasons, including that poor countries will expect rich countries to impose a higher tax because they caused the problem in the first place, while rich countries will expect poor countries to shoulder more of the burden as they are currently the bigger polluters. (Given that many global warming warriors fancy themselves to be progressives fighting for the underdog, they should bear in mind that in this battle, might will prevail over right and poor countries will have to face the brunt.)

If the environmental movement is serious about addressing climate change, it will have to forget about the fact that humans caused (and are causing) the warming and think of our problem like a meteor strike—a catastrophic event that humanity did not cause but from which it has to be saved. In other words, enviros will have to look for technological fixes that don't depend on the environmental equivalent of Mao's cultural revolution to get people to embrace carbon-free lifestyles.


A curious blend of doom and optimism

Rob Lyons

Veteran green Stewart Brand’s new book proves a surprisingly useful source of arguments and facts against green dogmas. But critics of environmentalism should still be wary of him

Every day, I wonder how many things I am dead wrong about.’

Stewart Brand approvingly takes this line from a novel, True North, and it sums up his own mindset - at least, to some extent. Brand was one of the early, high-profile environmentalists. He graduated from Stanford University in 1960 with a degree in biology, his specialty being evolution and ecology. (One of his tutors there was Paul Ehrlich, later author of The Population Bomb.) From 1966, Brand campaigned for NASA to release a rumoured photo of the whole Earth, a photograph finally taken in 1968, and an image that helped to inspire the first Earth Day in 1970. His Whole Earth Catalog, first published in 1968, provided details of suppliers for all the essentials of life -  if one wanted to be a treehugging hippy, that is.

Unlike many greens, however, Brand appears always to have been something of a technophile, and he mixed with many of the people who helped to create the World Wide Web. The journal he founded in 1974, CoEvolution Quarterly, included many technological pioneers, and promoted a positive attitude towards technology. If our thinking about technology could be radically altered, the journal argued, it could resolve many environmental problems.

In Whole Earth Discipline, this idea is expressed as a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde attitude towards the future. Brand manages to be both profoundly reactionary and thrillingly optimistic. His mix of science and misanthropy is reminiscent of James Lovelock (whom Brand refers to frequently in the book as ‘Jim’).

The book’s introduction is profoundly downbeat. Brand cites the Harvard archaeologist Steven LeBlanc’s argument that warfare is pretty much a natural state for humanity: ‘In all societies from hunter-gatherers on up through agricultural tribes, then chiefdoms, to early complex civilisations, 25 per cent of adult males routinely died from warfare. No one wanted to fight, but they were constantly forced to choose between starvation and robbing the neighbours. Their preferred solution was the total annihilation of the neighbors.’ LeBlanc’s thesis is that such wars were necessary because humans ‘always outstrip the carrying capacity of their natural environment and then have to fight over resources’.

Peace breaks out when the pressure on resources is reduced, suggests LeBlanc, either through a technological breakthrough or a major plague. In that respect, the Black Death was good news for Europe. In turn, after a period of relative peace in historical terms - over the past three centuries, just three per cent of the world’s people have died in wars - Brand argues that the future could bring a shift back to conflict if climate change sharply reduces the Earth’s carrying capacity. ‘If we do nothing or not enough’, writes Brand, ‘we face a carrying-capacity crisis leading to a war of all against all, this time with massively lethal weapons and a dieback measured in billions’. No wonder Brand now lives on a tugboat in San Francisco Bay, a perfect vantage point to watch from as the proverbial excrement hits the fan.

Brand clearly sees the monster of climate change at every turn. There are lots of ways, he believes, in which the climate could suddenly ‘tip’ from our currently benign conditions into something much more difficult to cope with. ‘Climate is so full of surprises, it might even surprise us with a hidden stability. Counting on that, though, would be like playing Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded but one.’ Chatting to ‘Jim’ Lovelock on the phone, the Gaia theorist warns Brand that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been too optimistic. Lovelock tells him: ‘I don’t think there’s much doubt at all now, amongst those few of us that have worked on the problem, that the system is in the course of moving to its stable hot state, which is about five degrees Celsius globally higher than now.’ Lovelock suggests that would leave the Earth with a carrying capacity for human life of less than a billion people.

How can we stop this disaster occurring? Brand turns to materials scientist Saul Griffith, who explains how we need to replace all our methods of producing energy at present with very low-carbon alternatives. Unfortunately, that task sounds close to impossible, requiring that an area the size of America is covered in wind farms, solar cells and sunlight-concentrating mirrors, biofuel tanks and nuclear reactors. Griffith tells Brand: ‘Industrially, humanity has the collective capacity. But politically, I don’t see how… But we have to try. Why else bother to be human and be in this game?’

Brand argues that the task is not impossible, but requires absolute urgency. ‘Forty years ago, I started the Whole Earth Catalog with the words, “We are as gods, and might as well get good at it.” Those were innocent times. New situation, new motto: “We are as gods and have to get good at it.” The Whole Earth Catalog encouraged individual power; Whole Earth Discipline is more about aggregate power.’

This mix of climate change panic and politics, based on the demand that ‘we must do this, because the science says so’, has become the mainstay of environmentalism for the past couple of decades. But just when I was tempted to toss the book away - the recycling bag seemed an apt receptacle - Brand then spent the bulk of it laying into some of the totems of the environmental movement. If you took a scalpel to the introduction and the last part of the book, what you would be left with is a source book of facts and arguments on the failings of environmentalist ideas that could easily be renamed The Debater’s Guide to Why Greens Talk Rubbish.

Brand opens this section with a defence of cities. A familiar theme of recent years has been the realisation amongst many greens that cramming people into cities reduces their ‘ecological footprint’ considerably. Brand talks about this as if the aim should be to quarantine as many polluting humans as possible in urban areas. Nonetheless, he does recognise that there are human advantages of cities, too, and does a pretty good job of updating Marx and Engels’ dictum from The Communist Manifesto that capitalism had rescued people from the ‘idiocy of rural life’. To that end, Brand quotes the words of BR Ambedkar, the leader of the ‘untouchables’ who helped to write India’s constitution in the Forties. Ambedkar described villages as a cesspool, ‘a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism’.

Brand recounts how his own ‘Gandhiesque romanticism about villages’ was turned upside down by the head of the Global Fund for Women in 2001, who remarked at a conference: ‘In the village, all there is for a woman is to obey her husband and relatives, pound millet, and sing. If she moves to town, she can get a job, start a business, and get education for her children.’ Rural and small-town life sucks, it seems, and people are voting with their feet. Brand notes how he asks travellers returning from remote places for their impressions, and gets the same universal report: ‘The villages of the world are emptying out, everywhere.’ In the past few years, the world has passed an important milestone: today, more people live in cities than in the countryside.

The upshot of this is that not only do people have a lower eco-footprint, but there are simply fewer of them, too. Brand notes that fertility rates plummet when people move to towns. In the impoverished countryside, women must have lots of children to provide a family workforce, give parents security in old age and, more brutally, because so many children die in their first few years of life. In the city, where space is at a premium, but where there are also many different means of support, the opposite is true: small families are better. Already, the assumption that world population will peak at nine billion is being questioned. Indeed, for a host of developed countries, declining population is a serious possibility as birth rates fall well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. Even in the developing world, the rise of the city has meant that birth rates are dropping much faster than expected. You might decide to live in a remote village and pretend that this is a greener way of life, but Brand argues well that this impression is the exact opposite of the truth.

Brand is similarly scathing of the rejection of nuclear power. This section is, to some extent, a mea culpa: Brand was as vigorous in opposing nuclear as any other environmentalist in the Seventies. Yet a cool look at nuclear’s safety record shows that those green fears were totally misplaced. Nuclear is in fact far safer than other forms of power production. The stumbling block for many environmentalists, as Brand notes, has always been the issue of nuclear waste. Yet a trip with the board of his Long Now Foundation to Yucca Mountain Repository, 100 miles north-west of Las Vegas, changed Brand’s view completely. There is simply no need to bury waste in a vault that will last for 10,000 years when the waste can be stored at or near the surface safely. Moreover, there’s every chance that in the not-too-distant future, that waste could be reused as fuel. Why make assumptions about the needs or capabilities of future generations now?

With waste disposal reinterpreted as a manageable problem, and nuclear looking like a safe, reliable, low-carbon energy source, Brand notes: ‘My opinion on nuclear had flipped from anti to pro. The question I ask myself now is, What took me so long? I could have looked into the realities of nuclear power many years earlier, if I weren’t so lazy.’ Now Brand sides with the daddy of climate change alarmism, James Hansen, who wrote to President Obama as he took office in 2009: ‘The danger is that the minority of vehement anti-nuclear “environmentalists” could cause development of advanced safe nuclear power to be slowed such that utilities are forced to continue coal-burning in order to keep the lights on. That is a prescription for disaster.’ While Hansen is a fine one to be talking about irrational panic mongering, it is no surprise to find that more and more greens are changing their positions on nuclear.

Brand reserves his greatest scorn for those who oppose genetic engineering of crops. He provides chapter and verse on the advantages of developing new foods in this way, noting at the start of this section: ‘I dare say the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we’ve been wrong about. We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool. In defence of a bizarre idea of what is “natural”, we reject the very thing Rachel Carson encouraged us to pursue - the new science of biotic controls. We make ourselves look as conspicuously irrational as those who espouse “intelligent design” or ban stem-cell research, and we teach that irrationality to the public and to decision makers.’ In the chapters on genetics, Brand provides as good a popular defence of GM crops as you’re likely to find, and it is particularly striking to find it coming from a green viewpoint.

Given his technophilic outlook, Brand worries about the dominant romantic philosophy of the green movement. ‘The romantics identify with natural systems; the scientists study natural systems. The romantics are moralistic, rebellious against the perceived dominant power, and dismissive of any who appear to stray from the true path. They hate to admit mistakes or change direction… [scientists] are easily ignored, suppressed or demonised when their views don’t fit the consensus story line.’ He notes the relentless paradigm of decline that began long before there were environmentalists - in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Spengler and Heidegger amongst others - that finds its strongest contemporary expression with environmentalists.
Brand even frets about the comfortable fit between green ideas and Nazism. Brand notes that the biologist Ernst Haeckel, who coined the term oekologie back in 1866, ‘championed eugenics and selective euthanasia to purge an imperilled Europe of “degenerates such as Jews and Negroes”’. There is no necessary connection between environmentalism and Nazism by any means, but as one of Brand’s colleagues notes, ‘there are lots of ways in which the two movements can and have connected historically’.

Given the almighty kicking that Brand gives to some green shibboleths and to some of his past fellow travellers, you might think that he should start to question some of his other ideas, too. Is climate change, for example, really the global disaster waiting to happen that Brand suggests? His point that scientists - even within the green movement - who question the ‘consensus’ are ‘ignored, suppressed or demonised’ might have some consequences for the state of climate science, too. Perhaps he should have more sympathy for those scientists who (often tentatively) suggest that there are problems with the mainstream outlook on global warming.

But I suspect there is an element of ditching the past going on here, too. Environmentalism is now keen to be seen to be pro-science, a technocratic and pragmatic paradigm for running future societies; it is a ‘big idea’ that the political establishment can get behind, but one that is potentially very flexible in policy terms. It’s betrayed in Lovelock’s rather pompous phrase about the ‘few of us that have worked on the problem’ and Hansen’s dismissive quote marks around ‘environmentalists’ in his letter to Obama. This is really about the formation of a new elite that thinks it knows what is good for us. (Clearly, though, Brand has a self-confessed track record for not knowing what’s best for us.)

The last thing this new elite needs is a bunch of unwashed treehuggers running around and embarrassing them. Another Nazi parallel springs to mind: once its job was done, and the Nazis had wormed their way into government, Hitler was pretty quick to dispose of Ernst Rohm’s uppity Sturmabteilung or ‘brownshirts’. In other words: thanks very much for beating up the communists, now fuck off and die (literally). Brand’s assault on his erstwhile colleagues is in its own small way a reflection of a ‘Night of the Long Knives’ within the green movement.

Critics of the green movement would be wise to be cautious about Brand. At heart, he is still a green who wants to prostrate human society to the problem of climate change and thinks the real problem we face is too many people chasing too few resources. But the middle sections of Whole Earth Discipline are still a great read for anyone who believes in the capacity of humanity to understand and control nature in order to improve our lot. Just don’t forget the scalpel.




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


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