What Zombie Films Can Teach Us About Climate Change

by Christopher Shaw

Dawn of the Dead, George A Romero’s classic 1978 satire on consumer society, opens in a chaotic television studio.  An unnamed expert and a TV presenter are sat across from each other, with panic unfolding all around them, and the expert is trying to convince the presenter that the dead are coming alive.  The expert shouts accusingly to the presenter, ‘Do you believe the dead are returning to life and attacking the living?’ To which the presenter replies, ‘I’m not sure what to believe doctor.  All we get is what you people tell us.’ As the camera pans away to a TV studio being rapidly abandoned by the traumatised staff, we hear the exasperated expert cry out: ‘What will it take to make you people see?’ 

This scenario, with the frantic expert desperately trying to convince an incredulous audience of the desperateness of the situation, has many echoes with the increasingly alarmed tone present in much of the climate change discourse.  Clive Hamilton noted a mood of ‘barely suppressed panic’ amongst scientists in his 2010 book Requiem for a Species and the environmental journalist Ben Cubby recently commented on Twitter that, ‘Talking to well-informed climate scientists is starting to become a very depressing experience.  We really are in trouble here.’ It seems fair to say there is, at the very least, a new sense of urgency, especially following the record Arctic ice melt in 2012.  In this article I want to talk about this sense of panic, and how expert opinion shapes our understanding of climate change risk.  I will attempt to show why powerful actors have promoted the claim of a two degree dangerous limit, and the negative implications of the two degree limit idea for democracy and social progress. 

Panic is often born of surprise and, I would argue that the growing urgency of much of the discussion of climate change in the last year reflects an element of surprise.  Policy makers, journalists and NGOs have for some time been claiming that climate change will only become dangerous when the planet has warmed by an average of two degrees centigrade over the pre-industrial average.  (I outline the history of the two degree story, and the reasons people give for claiming it is a dangerous limit here.  But if climate change is not dangerous until the planet has warmed by two degrees centigrade, why is it we are already witnessing a number of record breaking, high impact, weather extremes (heat waves in the US and Australia, drought and flooding in the UK, and the Arctic sea ice melt mentioned above)?  Climate science has never defined a dangerous limit.  In fact the vast majority of scientists have long made clear that choosing to define climate change as a phenomenon with a single dangerous limit is a value judgement that should be made through the appropriate democratic processes.[1]  My research has set out to explore that democratic process; what it looks like, where it is taking place, what forms of knowledge are seen as relevant to the debate.  My search has been a largely fruitless one.  Questions about what level of warming constitutes an acceptable risk have been kept out of the public sphere.  ‘Not in front of the children’ sums up the attitudes of those deciding how much climate change is to be considered dangerous.  The authority of ‘science’ has been invoked by a range of non-scientific actors to give this value choice the status of objective fact.  In this story the policy makers are the authors, and the primary audience journalists and NGOs.  

Constructing climate change as a phenomenon with a two degree dangerous limit is an overtly political act.  It is an approach which frames the issue as amenable to political regulation through the same kind of targets regime that defines much government policy.  However, the two degree foundation for the carbon reduction targets is highly problematic and there is little evidence to support the claim that, in the unlikely event of meeting those carbon targets, dangerous climate change will be avoided.  In addition, falsely ascribing a scientifically derived dangerous limit to climate change diverts attention away from questions about the political and social order that have given rise to the crisis.[2]  Instead the debate is limited to discussing which technologies offer the most cost-effective means of delivering the emission targets.  As Ross noted when writing about climate change over twenty years ago: ‘Calculations surrounding our ability to survive in a dramatically altered natural world are presented rationally so as to deny the irrationality of the actions generating the crisis’.[3]  From this perspective, the two degree limit is in reality a discourse of control.  The manipulation of symbols is a key technique of social control; it has been argued that if the public accepts a particular definition of a problem then they will generally consent to the actions the powerful wish to take.[4]  To maintain a particular symbolic definition of a crisis, the state pulls on the esteem of science to give a value position the appearance of fact, because an ideological position ‘can never be really successful until it is naturalized, and it cannot be naturalized while it is still thought of as a value rather than a fact’.[5]  As well as working ideologically to construct climate change as the type of problem that does not pose a challenge to the legitimacy of the current order, the claim of a scientific two degree dangerous limit poses climate change as a problem for the future, allowing fossil fuel industries to continue with business as usual while an industrial scale techno-fix is sought. 

The abstraction of a single dangerous limit removes climate politics from our immediate lived experience and into the locked conference rooms of global institutions.  Instead of being rooted in the value systems which people use to negotiate life it becomes a symbol, residing in the hands of a few, that can be reconfigured to suit the changing needs of these elites.  As it becomes increasingly apparent that it will not be possible to stay under two degrees of warming, the goal posts are moved to construct the idea of adapting to a four degree future.  When the four degree limit is breached, anyone still left alive can set a new six degree limit, ad infinitum through to extinction. 

Why have campaigners and journalists been willing to propagate such a dangerous myth? It could be argued that in having to communicate information about a complex and novel problem in a noisy media environment it is inevitable that these actors will latch on to an easily understood idea which can be described in very few words.  That policymakers are already using the concept makes it doubly attractive to campaigners, because they know that any demands they make which are aligned to the two degrees limit will be greeted more sympathetically than by a campaign to, say, limit warming to one degree, or to abandon the dangerous limit idea all together.  The mass media have been willing to communicate the policy makers’ two degree line because they are orientated towards, and act as a largely uncritical echo chamber for, the voices of the most powerful on significant policy issues.  But perhaps the most important reason why NGOs and journalists have failed to offer any critique of the two degree limit, and why many academics and other commentators have replicated the concept unthinkingly in their work, is that without the idea of a dangerous limit there is simply no climate change story to tell. 

I can best explain this by returning to the zombies.  Stories generally have three elements; a thesis (the existing order), the anti-thesis (the thing that threatens to disturb that order) and the synthesis (the new order that emerges after the threat has been dealt with).  That is what gives a story its narrative arc and tension.  The great thing about proper zombie films is that they play havoc with this structure.  There is a thesis and an anti-thesis but no synthesis.  The zombies are never destroyed and no new stable order emerges.  And that, I fear, may be the truth of the climate change story.  There has been widespread acceptance of the two degree story because stories are essential to our understanding of the world and most of the stories we tell are narratives designed to impose order on the world.  According to the two degree narrative, once upon a time there was an order called modernity, and all was well.  Along came the nasty climate change monster to threaten this order.  Luckily the monster did not become dangerous until it heated up by two degrees.  This gave the people of the land the time to find a way to keep the monster safe by creating a green economy.  The new green economy was very nice and everyone was happy.  That story is simply a fairytale.  But there is another story, blocked by the two degree narrative, which does have not one single happy ending, but many millions of different endings, some happier than others.  In this story, there is no two degree limit.  There is a world of massive uncertainty, a chaotic non-linear range of climate change impacts which the people realise is beyond the scope of modernity to even understand, let alone respond to.  All the knowledge, ways of being, cultures and technologies of the past and present are part of the millions of different stories that people in different parts of the world need to tell themselves to be able to find their own way through what is happening and what is yet to come.  Who knows what the endings of these different stories will be, but they will be stories that people have made by themselves, rooted in the opportunities and constraints of their own lives, not fantasies foisted on them from afar to serve the interests of people they do not know and will never meet.  Ironically, our best hope for reducing climate danger may lie in rejecting the very idea of a dangerous limit to climate change. 

Christopher Shaw is Visiting Fellow, Science and Policy Research, University of Sussex.  He is interested in building a more participatory process for deliberating on climate policy.  He is desperately trying to find the time to update his website exploring these issues.


[1] for example, Oppenheimer, M. (2005). Defining Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference: The Role of Science, the Limits of Science. Risk Analysis, Vol. 25, No. 6: 1399–1400.

[2] Smith, H. (2007).  Disrupting the global discourse of climate change.  The case of indigenous voices, in The social construction of climate change.  Power, Knowledge, Norms, Discourses (Global Environmental Governance), M. Pettenger. (Ed.), Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, p.202

[3] Ross, A. (1991).  Strange weather: culture, science, technology in the age of limits.  London: Verso.  p.136.

[4] Bronstein, J. (1984).  The effect of public controversy on occupational health problems: byssinosis.  American Journal of Public Health, Vol.  74, No.  10: 1133-1137, p.219.

[5] Fisher, M. (2009).  Capitalist realism: is there no alternative? Ropley: Zero Books. p.16.

imgPrintable version


imgContact us

Article tools:

printable version share contact NLP jump to comments

First published: 22 March, 2013


Latest articles...

  1. The Kerry Initiative: The Next Round: by Norman Finkelstein, Jamie Stern-Weiner
  2. Beyond the War and Ndombolo: by Christina Fonthes
  3. The UKIP Puzzle and the Media Establishmentarianisation Hypothesis: by A. L. Shaw
  4. Four Pictures of Migration: by Carl Rowlands
  5. A People’s History: by Steve Warby
  6. Demanding the Impossible? An Experiment in Engaging Urban Working Class Youth with Radical Politics: by Ed Lewis, Jacob Mukherjee


Twitter latest...

49 Comments on "What Zombie Films Can Teach Us About Climate Change"

By Rhoda Klapp, on 22 March 2013 - 21:26 |

Two degrees? About half an hour on a sunny day. The difference between my climate in rura lOxfordshire and that in Oxford, ten miles away. Or between here and the village up on the Chilterns which is always colder. It’s nothing to be concerned about.  Climate rather than temperature-wise, it would be like Oxford having the climate of Bordeaux. People manage to live in Bordeaux, I think.

And all that extreme weather?  There is not a single event in it which is unprecedented in the instrumental record.  Not a one, unless you can give a solid reference.

By Robin Guenier, on 23 March 2013 - 12:50 |

But, Christopher, there’s good evidence (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jan/24/china-climate-change-adviser) that China, the world’s biggest emitter of GHGs, is not convinced that the recent (very modest) warming is man-made. Thus there’s little sign of their being worried about a dangerous two degree (or any other) warming. Maybe that’s part of a construct to prevent climate change from becoming “a challenge to the legitimacy of the current order”, but it doesn’t sound like it. In any case, do you see any realistic prospect of such a challenge being mounted in China, or indeed in any developing economy? After all their “allowing fossil fuel industries to continue with business as usual” has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and underpinned massive economic growth and growing prosperity. And there’s much more (largely coal based) in the pipeline: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/picture/2012/nov/20/which-countries-most-coal-power

I would expect that to be a popular policy – both “rooted in the value systems which people use to negotiate life” and in the eyes of the ruling elite. And there’s not much we in the West can do about it. Don’t you agree?

By Christopher Shaw, on 23 March 2013 - 17:02 |

Hi Robin. The China thing does the rounds a lot. I believe the situation in China is the same as any other country - people mistake the values of the elites for the values of the people they rule over. Also of course it is a global economy, we could stop buying the stuff made in China and then they would cease industrialising. And at the root of it is what sort of problem you think climate change is. f you don’t think it is much of a problem then why cease our forms of consumption? But of course, empirically, it seems levels of CO2 are approaching the highest they have been for 15 million years. I  trust the science when it says the impacts of that are going to be profound and I believe are being manifested already. Have you read The Merchants of Doubt? It is a very interesting book setting out how the people and organisations who were behind the lies about the carcinogenic properties of cigarette smoke are the same people and organisations spreading doubt about climate change. All conversations about climate change should take place in the context of those doubt spreading activities. Anyway,I really appreciate you taking the time to engage in this conversation.

By Christopher Shaw, on 23 March 2013 - 17:06 |

Hi Rhoda. The two degrees is an average which hides massive differences. You know that warm March last year? That was only 2 and a bit degrees warmer than average, this March is just over 2 degrees lower than the average for March. The summer ice melt in the Arctic, the drought in the UK, and then the floods are all, without controversy, empirically determined record breaking events. See this link for Australia’s record breaking heatwave http://uk.news.yahoo.com/australian-heat-wave-sears-colours-onto-maps-063314006.html#212alls and this for the US http://edition.cnn.com/2013/01/08/us/extreme-weather Cheers

By Rhoda Klapp, on 23 March 2013 - 19:18 |

Christopher, thanks for replying. You are not correct to recognise the events you mention as indisputably record-breaking. The arctic ice melt records are about thirty years old. Yet we know the Vikings in Greenland buried their dead in ground which is permafrost now. If you are getting your information from merchants of doubt you should realise that it just is not so. The well-funded denial machine is largely a fantasy. The climate sceptics I know don’t deny anything, they merely ask for better science than what we get now, and they don’t get a regular cheque from Exxon. Nor do I. You really ought to approach this with a more open mind. Doubt is the natural state of humanity. Certainty is the trap for fools.

Why don’t you tell me what policy measures you would put in place that would solve a putative climate problem but would not be needed if the problem were not man-caused?

By Latimer Alder, on 23 March 2013 - 21:30 |

Please explain which ‘empirical record’ you think the recent drought in UK set?

By Mandy Meikle, on 24 March 2013 - 09:31 |

Great post, Chris! The phrase ‘Not in front of the children’ reminds me of the response to any question pointing out just how dire the situation is - ‘you can’t say that, you’ll disempower people’! Another message which is hard to get over is also linked to consumerism - about a third of anthropogenic GHG emissions (including methane & nitrous oxide) come from agriculture, land use, land use change and forestry and most are generated in the developing countries. Land use change contributes about 18% of the total annual CO2 emissions. There really is more to it than burning coal but how to stop the developing world from developing like the west? After all, the loans and grants are available to develop like us. I doubt there is as much support for truly sustainable, local development. The developing world must develop but not as we have.

Even if we found a truly clean form of energy, what would we use it for? I imagine we’d keep extracting resources and making tat for consumers to buy whether they needed it or not. There is so much about modern life which, once you start looking, is obviously flawed. Science tells us that our western diet of processed food makes us ill - non-communicable diseases linked to diet (diabetes, heart problems, cancer) kill more in the west than traditional diseases. We worked out the need for sanitation and germ control. Why don’t we now rid the world of junk food? Our values remain entrenched in the myths that the world’s resources are infinite and that we control nature. Until that changes, we are heading for serious trouble.

By geronimo, on 24 March 2013 - 11:15 |

Hiigh Chris, you say that 2C is an average, nobody is forecasting catastrophes at 2C. True the poles will be warmer than the mid-latitudes while the tropics will stay about the same. Let’s say 4C at the poles 2C in the mid-lattitudes. Antatctic has an ambient temperature of -40C, so 4C isn’t going to do much damage there, the Arctic has about 90 days a year when temperatures are above 0C, that would be extended to 110 days a year if the temperature rose 4C.
I’m mot sure what’s frightening you. Humans already inhabit the Arctic and Gobi desert, but what they can’t do, and never have been able to do, is to foretell the future.  If you don’t believe me, and you shouldn’t I’m not here with any provenance, take the word of the IPCC:

” … In climate research and modelling, we should recognise that we are dealing
with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the
long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”
IPCC TAR, Section 14.2 “The Climate System”, page 774.

By Christopher Shaw, on 24 March 2013 - 12:50 |

Hi Latimer, it was the driest 18 months on record up to April 2012 and yet, despite those drought conditions for the first three months of 2012, 2012 then turned out to be the wettest ever year in England. This Environment Agency report confirms this drought statistic. http://a0768b4a8a31e106d8b0-50dc802554eb38a24458b98ff72d550b.r19.cf3.rackcdn.com/Review_of_drought_report_2010_12_and_prospects_for_water_resources_final_Dec_2012_3d9a8c.pdf

 All the claims I make in the article are easily verifiable on Google and I can only assume I am asked these questions as a desire to snag up people like myself in inane school yard banalities of ‘prove it’ when the evidence is and has for a long time been in the public sphere.

By Christopher Shaw, on 24 March 2013 - 12:53 |

Thanks Mandy, very important points you raise. I need to check, maybe you know, what portion of CO2 emissions in the west are generated by homes and what proportion by business and industry.

By Christopher Shaw, on 24 March 2013 - 16:02 |

Hi Geronimo. You begin by saying no one is forecasting catastrophes  at 2 degrees when in fact the whole of European climate policy is built around exactly that claim. Saying 2 or four degrees is nothing in terms of warming at the poles contradicts both the science and current observable changes in the Arctic ice cover. My work is based around exactly the point you make - no one can predict the future - so how do you know catastrophic climate change won’t happen at 1 degree of warming?

By Robin Guenier, on 24 March 2013 - 17:49 |

I fear, Christopher, that you don’t understand what’s happening in China – or for that matter in India or other emerging economies. Since I first visited many of them over thirty years ago, the change has been near miraculous. China’s economy has grown by more than 10% per annum: today, for example, it’s the world’s largest car market (yes, more than the US) and largest energy consumer; it’s home to four of the world’s ten biggest companies and seems likely to surpass the US as the world’s premier economy by 2020. And trade with the West is an increasingly small part of this: your idea that, if we stopped buying their stuff, they “would cease industrialising” is hopelessly outdated.

One result of this growth is that China has, according to the UN, “generated the most rapid decline in absolute poverty ever witnessed” and, by 2008, had already achieved “the goal of halving the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015 set by the UN as one of eight Millennium Development Goals.” Nearly 400 million people have benefited – getting access to clean water, proper sanitation, fresh food, adequate health care, better education, etc. Do you really think these people are about to challenge their government for providing these wonders?

All this is the direct result of the massively increased availability of cheap, reliable electric power. And it’s almost entirely sourced from coal-fired power stations: this isn’t, as you put it, “allowing fossil fuel industries to continue with business as usual”, it’s encouraging those industries to expand and keep expanding. This graph illustrates the result:
(Note the UK’s trivial contribution.) Over the past six years, China has increased its GHG emissions by an amount equal to the USA’s total emissions. (The above graph goes only to 2009.) Here’s another result – the International Energy Agency’s view of how things will look by 2035, compared to the Copenhagen Accord targets:

The harsh reality of today’s world, Christopher, is that CO2 emissions will continue to rise. And there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m no scientist, so am not qualified to judge whether those who are sceptical about catastrophic anthropomorphic global warming are right. But we must hope they are. 

Two final points:
1. You sound suspicious of claims that Xie Zhenhua’s has doubts about the causes of global warming. Well, there’s plenty of other evidence of Chinese uncertainty – I’ll provide references if you wish. One view, seemingly supported by the government, is that the whole issue is little more than a Western plot to keep developing countries poor and undeveloped.
2. For a comprehensive overview of the geopolitics of China’s ambitions, I recommend two books: Winner Take All by Dambisa Moyo and China’s Silent Army by Juan Cardenal and Heriberto Araujo. Far more interesting and important than Naomi Oreskes.

By Brigitte Baptiste, on 25 March 2013 - 12:21 |

Hello everybody, from Colombia. Specially Gerónimo. We in the tropics will not remain as the same. Extreme events, though not statistically proven (we do not have good enough data for that) are dramatically affecting us, mainly following El Niño/Niña phenomenon. Yes, it is probably the same issue that affected mayas ans aymaras by the 13/14th century… But made their cultures collapse. Climatic variability is enough word for us, last year we lost 11 milllions of millions (not even billions) in agriculture and infrastructure to the floodings, the worst ever (recorded). Forecasting climate in our country, trully equatorial but with 70% of its population (from 45 million) living in mountains, at the Andes, has demostrated to be almost impossible at certain scales: havoc is growing. 2 degrees, even unproven at the 99% or 95 % is scary enough.

By Vinny Burgoo, on 25 March 2013 - 19:44 |

Um, would it be an inane schoolyard banality or merely a tiresome quibble to point that the EA report you link to says that only in the Midlands was the 18-month period to April 2012 the driest ‘on record’ (that is, since 1910)? In England in Wales as a whole, it was the fourth or fifth driest. (See Figure 3.1.)

The UK as a whole? Dunno, but 2011 rainfall was above average in most of Scotland and NI.

(I agree that the 2-degree target is unhelpful. Political marketing, not science.)

By Christopher Shaw, on 26 March 2013 - 09:04 |

Thanks to everyone for the comments. I appreciate people taking the time to engage. With work commitments I am finding it hard to respond to comments with the care and consideration they deserve, for which I am sorry. Vinny, thanks for clarifying the geographical extent of the Environment Agency’s claim that ‘Between September 2010 and March 2012, many parts of England experienced the driest 18 months for over 100 years’. As this map from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology shows, in it’s report on the ‘remarkable’ climatic conditions of 2010-2012, the most intense drought covered large areas and was surrounded by an even more extensive area of drought conditions. http://www.ceh.ac.uk/data/nrfa/nhmp/other_reports/2012_Drought_Transformation.pdf

Robin, I do think the ‘well there is no point us doing anything because of the rate at which China is industrialising argument’ needs addressing, largely because I don’t think the claim is made in good faith. Firstly, the argument rests on what is happening in China as the result of some immutable law of nature, rather than economic choices made by political and economic elites to serve their own interest. As this report from the FT shows, in fact the figures for people rising out of poverty are just crumbs off the tale - the main beneficiaries are that very same political and economic elites which are driving profit accumulation strategies in the West http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e5e12096-71ef-11e2-886e-00144feab49a.html#axzz2OdOsVBZv. The growth is largely driven by Western demand - those same political and economic elites outsourcing industrial activity to China in the pursuit of cheap labour, not in order to make the world a better place. Business as usual under capitalism is ceaseless expansion, that is essential to capitalism. The question is how bad do you think the impacts of climate change will be - is it better to remain capitalist at whatever cost rather than attempt to respond to the climate change science?

By Ed Rooksby, on 26 March 2013 - 15:11 |

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

By Robin Guenier, on 26 March 2013 - 15:25 |

Christopher: your suggestion that my observations are not made in good faith is unworthy of you. 

It’s certainly not my view that what’s happening in China is “the result of some immutable law of nature, rather than economic choices made by political and economic elites” – as in any society, it’s the elites that make things happen. Moreover, I believe that FT article has got it right: Chinese leaders face massive challenges and income inequality and widespread corruption are two of them. But slowing their growth is not the answer – indeed it’s economic growth that has brought the increased prosperity and poverty alleviation that have kept China relatively stable. These are popular policies and there’s no going back now. Your apparent suggestion that raising 400 million people out of poverty is an inadvertent side effect of policy is, frankly, absurd: China is determined to become the world’s premier economic power and increasing the population’s wellbeing, standard of education etc. is a key to that – just as it was for the West following the Industrial Revolution. But, as more people get access to clean water, proper sanitation, fresh food, adequate health care, better education, etc., they begin to notice matters such as income and social inequality and corruption. That’s why their leaders have to tackle them.

It’s a pattern that’s being repeated throughout the emerging economies. See, for example, this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-bryce/another-climate-change-meeting-looms_b_893750.html Read the whole piece, but note this extract:“… the essentiality of electricity to modernity is incontrovertible. The countries that can produce cheap, abundant, reliable electricity can grow their economies, educate their citizens and pull their people out of poverty. And those that can’t, can’t.” 

All this is the direct result of the massively increased availability of cheap, reliable electric power, derived almost entirely from burning fossil fuels, mainly coal. The objective may not be to make the world a better place – but it’s having that effect for vast numbers of people. And note: over 1.2 billion people still have no access to electricity and another 2 billion have inadequate access. As the article says, “Global leaders should give up their fixation on cutting carbon dioxide emissions. Significant cuts will not happen voluntarily anywhere. Instead, leaders should be focusing on providing as much cheap, abundant, dispatchable power to their citizens as possible

That’s why I believe we must hope that those who are sceptical about the dangerous climate change hypothesis are right. 

By Robin Guenier, on 26 March 2013 - 21:28 |

Ed Rooksby: I don’t know what Christ has to do with it, but why shouldn’t people on the left have a different perspective on climate change? I’ve suggested elsewhere on this site that there’s a good case for NLP taking a wholly new line on the issue. I’ll explain why.

Current climate policies (supported by both the Government and Opposition) are pointless: as I’ve illustrated above, what happens re GHG emissions will be determined, not by the UK with its minute 1.7% (and falling) share of global emissions, but by the world’s developing economies. Yet, despite this, our governing establishment – in a vain attempt to “tackle climate change” – is pursuing policies (closing coal-fired power stations, subsidising renewables, etc.) that are driving ordinary people into fuel poverty, costing jobs and potentially causing disastrous power blackouts – blackouts that will harm in particular the poorest and most vulnerable people in the community. The only beneficiaries are middle class people who can afford to invest in solar panels, wealthy landowners who agree to have wind turbines installed on their land and financiers making a packet out of “carbon trading”.    

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

By Vinny Burgoo, on 26 March 2013 - 22:26 |

Thanks, CS. That CEH report is a keeper. A very nice overview of the 2010-2012 drought/deluge flip-flop. Thanks in particular for Fig 1. I spent ages looking for something like that.

Thanks also for the history of the origins of the 2-degree target at your website.

(If not for your five easy steps.)

By George, on 27 March 2013 - 13:54 |

Robin - would you be the same Robin Guenier who is described on http://www.speakers.co.uk as follows?

“Robin Guenier is a writer and business consultant. He is interested in issues associated with the impact of new technology on business and society. His current activities include chairmanship of a PLC, which uses internet-related technology for marketing, market research and opinion polling. In particular its Medix business, via large databases of doctors and other healthcare professionals, provides a service for the pharmaceutical industry, academia and the media.”

By Robin Guenier, on 27 March 2013 - 16:59 |

George: yes - but that’s about ten years out of date. Well spotted!

By Ben Pile, on 27 March 2013 - 17:50 |

The zombie always has symbolised the masses—hordes of unthinking, unsophisticated mindless beings driven only by material impulses—against an elite group of survivors, seemingly representing ‘humanity’ and its virtues, but in fact representing the elite’s own alienation and impotence. If there’s no synthesis in a zombie film, it is for the same reason that there was no nuance to Bush’s ‘you’re with us or you’re against us’: there is no space for dialectics in such cartoonish moral universes. It’s us or the zombies. After all, it’s not as if the zombie, much like the terrorist, alien, or climate change denier is ever credited with intellectual faculties. The emergency and the necessities of survival demand that we suspend dialogue between thesis and antithesis. Notice how interlocutors in zombie movies come-a-cropper—that’s what you get for thinking, buster.  

Zombie movies look very much like environmentalism to me—as discussed at http://www.climate-resistance.org/2013/01/malthuss-zombie.html . The trauma depicted in the zombie movie reads like any malthusian narrative: rather than flesh-eaters, the world is populated by gaia-eaters. The ‘synthesis’ is mere survival.

Moreover, as per the discussion about the abstraction of climate to a 2-degree horizon above,  such limits are constantly revived and revised as they fail to materialise in reality. For example, the Limits to Growth thesis that failed to predict the outcome of the last quarter of the C20th is now reinvented as ‘planetary boundaries’. It is a zombie. A dead argument, that nonetheless walks the earth seeking satisfaction. Try reasoning with it. 

There is a curious symmetry to this phenomenon, and the zombie movie: the same story, retold, time after time, after time. The environmental narrative and the zombie movie don’t have anything better to write. But they find themselves as writers. The zombie is really a symbol of the writer’s own intellectual exhaustion. 

By Christopher Shaw, on 27 March 2013 - 19:03 |

I have encountered your writing before Ben, and have always found your acerbic style engaging, if not very accommodating of other viewpoints. I share many of the misgivings you voice about ‘environmentalism’ and it certainly isn’t an environmental sensibility which drives my engagement. I am actually interested in building a better future for humanity. I don’t believe the harm that is beginning to be expressed by a changing climate is a price worth paying for a continuation, acceleration and deepening of neo-liberal policies. I think those policies have made life worse, economically and socially, for people in the West and whatever claims of salvation through economic growth are made are I think are naive if it is imagined they will lead to long term wealth and comfort for the mass of humanity. Those benefits have always had to be fought for through political struggle, not consumerism and being a docile worker. 

Taking the oft repeated claim that the limits to growth thesis disproves climate science do you think, using that logic, that the failure in the West of what is termed ‘capitalism’ to deliver the growth it promises, is indeed it’s only justification, means we should now reject that model for communism or anarchism? Surely the failure of that model to predict the future correctly means the whole basis of Western society is redundant?

By Ben Pile, on 28 March 2013 - 01:03 |

Christopher, noting your comment that I am ‘not very accommodating of other viewpoints’, I am wondering how I might remain ‘on topic’ in a discussion about what zombie movies tell us about climate change and answer your question. We were talking about Zombies. 

My criticism of environmentalism is that it makes the future non-negotiable. It summons up its own equivalent of Bush’s ultimatum, reducing the ‘dialectic’ to the simple coordinates of the zombie movie. No matter the distance you claim from the excesses of environmentalism, I don’t think you have escaped them: ‘...ad infinitum through to extinction’. It turns out that ideas about ‘better future for humanity’ offer us no more than mere survival. So we’re not really talking about better futures at all—a ‘better future’ needs to consist of more than avoiding our extinction. 

Whereas ideas from the left about better futures once consisted of theories about relations within society, they now seem to have been displaced by a naturalistic view of society’s relationship with the environment. It is as if achieving some kind of optimal relationship with the natural world would concomitantly abolish antagonisms between social classes. Even if we turn the claim around—that optimal social relations will produce an optimal relationship with the natural world—we’re still only asking for equality on the basis that otherwise we all die, not on a more nuanced understanding of our interests beyond survival, much less developing an understanding of our own interests. (There’s much more to be said on this point, but I’ll leave it there for the moment.)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an argument that capitalism’s power lies in its predictive skill. (And neither do capitalists fail to understand capitalist crises). Also, I’ve never seen—much less made—an argument that the Ehrlich’s lack of predictive skill ‘disproves climate science’. Instead, I argue that the Ehrlich’s failures say something about the naturalistic perspective on human society and its relationship with the natural world, and the environmental movement’s more comprehensive failure to articulate ‘a better future for humanity’. In that naturalistic framework, society’s sensitivity to climate is equivalent to the sensitivity of the climate to CO2. *We* are zombies on that view. 

If we are zombies, then Ehrlich’s predictions might well have turned out right. It’s not the science which is in question as much as it is the presuppositions that science has proceeded from, but which have been forgotten by the final analysis, such as it is. You can do really good science from faulty premises. Science isn’t yet able to say that capitalism has reached its terminal crisis and that humanity stands on the brink of extinction. So much is presupposed. 

By GeoffChambers, on 28 March 2013 - 06:20 |

I don’t get it. The author says that fear of global warming is like fear of zombies. He says “The frantic expert desperately trying to convince an incredulous audience of the desperateness of the situation, has many echoes with the increasingly alarmed tone present in much of the climate change discourse.” and “Talking to well-informed climate scientists is starting to become a very depressing experience”. 

But that’s exactly what we deniers have been saying for years.

Having correctly identified the illusory nature of the idea of a 2°C danger limit, he goes on to reveal that  the two degrees is no more than “a symbol, residing in the hands of a few, that can be reconfigured to suit the changing needs of these elites”.

Given that the author agrees with us deniers that the idea of a two degree threshold is no more than a fantasy figure promoted for political reasons, the next step would surely be to examine what ixs actually happening to temperatures in the real world. Instead of which, the author admits that catastrophic global warming is no more than a story , a narrative “...which does have not one single happy ending, but many millions of different endings, some happier than others.  In this story, there is no two degree limit.  There is a world of massive uncertainty, a chaotic non-linear range of climate change impacts which the people realise is beyond the scope of modernity to even understand, let alone respond to”.

Well said. As the IPCC has admitted, future temperatures cannot be predicted. So let’s examine the data we have on current warming (roughly zero) and get on with our lives.

By Shub Niggurath, on 28 March 2013 - 10:44 |

Nice one, Mr Shaw. Very creative.

By Neil, on 28 March 2013 - 11:08 |

Ben Pile: “My criticism of environmentalism is that it makes the future non-negotiable. It summons up its own equivalent of Bush’s ultimatum, reducing the ‘dialectic’ to the simple coordinates of the zombie movie. No matter the distance you claim from the excesses of environmentalism, I don’t think you have escaped them: ‘...ad infinitum through to extinction’. It turns out that ideas about ‘better future for humanity’ offer us no more than mere survival.”

A uniform and monolithic ‘environmentalism’? Makes the ‘future non-negotiable’? Offers ‘[n]o more than mere survival’? Gives no consideration to relations within society? Talk about caricaturing!!

“Science isn’t yet able to say that capitalism has reached its terminal crisis and that humanity stands on the brink of extinction.”  Quite right to - that’s not science’s function or within it’s capabilities.

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

By James P, on 28 March 2013 - 13:12 |


“tat for consumers”

Funny how what everyone else consumes is tat, but what the authors of such remarks spend their money on is something else. No doubt they regard their iPhones and iPads as exempt, being things of lasting beauty, although they have the same short life-cycle as cheaper alternatives, are made in the same part of the world, and are responsible for the same release of CO2.

Such definitions are hard to nail down. If you regard durability and maintainability as important factors, then a modern condensing boiler is tat compared to an old cast-iron model that will often last for a generation. Modern cars, however, despite the popular image of built-in obsolescence, have a useful life around double that of those built more than 30 years ago, largely because of improvements in body construction that means they no longer dissolve into a heap of rust after few years.

Of course, serious greens will insist that such trappings are unnecessary, although few of them actually live in unheated homes with no TV or communications, or rely on public transport - that’s for everyone else.

By Alice, on 28 March 2013 - 13:25 |

I appreciate Neil and Ed’s frustrations. However, the problem is that drawing a line between ‘intelligent, constructive debate’ and ‘fog’ is far from straightforward, the types of judgement required would all too easily lead to limiting productive debate. Climate change is not a topic which it’s productive to imagine is clear cut.

I’d also like to warn commentators that the term denier offends many people, it’s also rarely accurate reflects the ways in which people do/do not relate to scientific knowledge. Sceptic isn’t exactly accurate either, arguably, but at least it’s a term many self-identify with. Overall, best if we avoid labeling people and assuming we know where they are coming from.

It’s unfortunate that our stories on climate change seem to attract a lot of attention from people who seem to be here more to fight than have a constructive debate - and not really from the communities the site was set up for - but I think that it’s just something we have to
live with. If you don’t want this space to become a site for particular types of discussions I suggest you avoid engaging with them. It’s unlikely you’ll change someone’s mind on
something so large and intricate in a NLP comment. Engage with the views you do find interesting, constructive and useful instead. Or just leave them be.

By Neil, on 28 March 2013 - 15:14 |

Thank you for your reply Alice. A possible constructive way forward - if it’s possible - on the issue of climate change and other environmental topics is to separate the scientific questions and debate from the political debate about what to do.  There are plenty of websites that people who want and/or are intellectually competent to debate the science can go and debate to their hearts content - yea until the sea levels are lapping at their own doors, food shortages are hitting even them, and their neighbourhoods have been hit by some form of extreme weather or climate event! 

As politically we can’t afford to wait until this happens - and the sceptics, scientific realists or whatever they like to think of themselves as, are convinced - before we act, the meshing of the two spheres of debate is in my view counterproductive. Those who are already convinced that we need to act for the sake of our place within the environment need a forum where we can debate politics - not science and doubt.

By David, on 28 March 2013 - 15:36 |

Neil and Ed - just to emphasise the points Alice has made. Be assured that we are not blind to these concerns.

We have a published comments policy (see the right hand side of our About page) which we think can be applied sensibly to threads on all topics, not just climate change, to ensure that debate remains productive, civil and on topic.

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

By David, on 28 March 2013 - 16:00 |

Neil - I take your point.

This is a site aimed at people on the left (broadly defined) and people who are interested in the ideas of the left. On climate change, the pieces we publish are for an audience that broadly accepts the overwhelming scientific consensus, and is interested in understanding its implications - particularly in terms of informing activism to combat climate change.

Others may want to take threads off these topics and talk about something else - namely their “scepticism” (I personally think the term “denial” is more appropriate) - but that may well fall foul of our policies (applicable to threads on whatever subject) that comments should be kept on topic.

Those people are of course at liberty to exercise their free speech somewhere else on the internet, which shouldn’t be a problem for them. Denialism is, if nothing else, spectacularly well funded. Indeed, I personally regard attempts to recast our efforts to moderarte these threads (to chair the discussion if you will) as a free speech issue as derailing and off-topic in itself, beyond a certain point.

But as Alice notes, this is not an exact science. We’re a small site run by part-timers and often we have bigger issues to deal with in terms of running NLP. We do what we can.

By Christopher Shaw, on 28 March 2013 - 16:21 |

Geoff, I don’t take issue with the two degree limit because I don’t believe human activity is forcing the climate, I take issue with it because of the implicit claim that forcing won’t become dangerous until the planet has warmed by an average of two degrees. I think that is a capitalist lie promoted to defend business as usual and to forestall taking the precautionary action demanded by the climate science . I do not think this is a particularly complicated or sophisticated position, but one demanded by knowledge of how those with power use language as the first line of defence of their privilege, combined with a cursory acquaintance with the science and the personal experience of extreme weather events of the past two years, alongside emerging evidence of the impacts of rapid Arctic sea ice loss.  

By Alice, on 28 March 2013 - 16:45 |

Neil, if the science and politics of climate change were easily divided, yes, but they aren’t. And it’s plain dangerous to live in fairy-land where that’s possible.

I made a lot of these points in my introductory post.

Again, I can recommend these books too.

By Ben Pile, on 28 March 2013 - 17:08 |

Neil - “A uniform and monolithic ‘environmentalism’? Makes the ‘future non-negotiable’? Offers ‘[n]o more than mere survival’? Gives no consideration to relations within society? Talk about caricaturing!!”

I don’t think I made any mention of a monolithic environmentalism. If you care to read what I’ve written elsewhere about what environmentalism is (but why would you?), I argue precisely that it’s not one thing, that it is a constellation of ideas, few of which are exclusive to environmentalism, many of which are in opposition, if not in contradiction, and is driven by a number of different motivations. Most importantly, I draw a distinction between ‘street-level’ and ‘establishment’ environmentalism(s). In fact, I’ve argued that it is a problem that environment *isn’t* monolithic: that there is no doctrine of environmentalism, its theoretical foundations are poor, that it is incoherent, and that it is assembled from a rag tag bag of crises. 

Nonetheless, that incoherence gives rise to a particular characteristics, the point of which in the discussion above—the excesses of environmentalism—had been identified by Christopher Shaw, not just me. He wanted to distance himself from environmentalism, but my argument was that he hadn’t really escaped it. 

Mind you, the incoherence of environmentalism notwithstanding, interrogating environmentalism’s claims can be like talking to a monolith. Perhaps I’m simply from the wrong ‘community’. But then, if we can’t raise questions within a community without being excluded from it, and we can’t talk across communities, then communities really are only populated by zombies, albeit zombies of slightly different flavours. 

By James P, on 28 March 2013 - 17:50 |

“a new sense of urgency”

What you are describing is often referred to elsewhere as a ‘tipping point’. Since the earth has been both far hotter and with far more atmospheric CO2 (although not always at the same time) in the distant past, it seems unlikely that such a thing exists. Indeed, plots of prehistoric temperatures invariably show a high temperature plateau that implies a strong negative feedback loop, making the world pretty much habitable for eons. Which it has been.

I can’t deny that we don’t look after our planet terribly well, but to single out CO2 as the bogeyman is to miss the point by a mile, and doing so has already made the situation worse. You wait until the lights start going out because we closed power stations to satisfy spurious EU targets…

By George, on 28 March 2013 - 18:42 |

Ben – “a ‘better future’ needs to consist of more than avoiding our extinction.”

I think avoiding our extinction may be the initial priority. Unless you wish to discuss better or worse non-futures?

By Rhoda Klapp, on 28 March 2013 - 18:48 |

Why do you think denialism is spectacularly well funded?

By Ed Rooksby, on 28 March 2013 - 20:08 |

Robin - it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the current ‘attempts’ to address climate change are driven by capitalist imperatives and a capitalist logic and tend to reproduce capitalist outcomes such as social inequality. We live under capitalism.

But your ‘total reversal’ of this policy is simply more of the same - accumulate, accumulate. Perpetual, infinite growth. And this for you - plain old capitalist accumulation, the logic of growth for growth’s sake - is for the ‘Left to return to its proper values’. So the Left’s proper values are basically the same as those of turbo-charged capitalism? The only difference is that Left values are all about hoping for the appearance of positive side effects of capitalist growth - rising absolute living standards for the working class (though these may of course accompany, as they usually have,  grossly uneven distribution of wealth and rising social inequality which may be the same sort of thing you worry about in relation to market driven green initiatives).

The Left, in my view, is not about turbo charging capitalism. It’s about replacing it.

By Shub Niggurath, on 29 March 2013 - 04:23 |

Dear NLP
I wonder what the best method to explain this would be. The ‘Left’, as I see it, looks more and more as being enveloped and gobbled up by environmentalism (just as Rahu does with the sun), a movement which sought a political husk to attain corporeal form. The power of the climate change narrative to the left, originated in the third world, which used the precautionary principle and appeal to ‘differentiated responsibilities’ to apply brakes on unrestrained exploitative practice of human industry, thus synergizing with labour. But this is a source of political power that existed, and exists even without environmentalism tagging along. For e.g., worker hazard exposure can unify their hands, community hazard exposure can bring them together, but such coalescence  takes place even without environmentalism. Training lessons learned from environmentalists’ ‘struggles’ in the third world, and in the international negotiations arena toward the developed world, the Left finds itself to be a negative, negatory, enervating force. It has become environmentalism’s hand-maiden, content in finding satisfaction in its juvenilia. Climate activism in particular appears to be extremely navel-gazing in its politics: these guys don’t appear to care for history, people, science or logic - if they want their bill passed, they will trash on anything and anyone that stands in the way. Environmentalism’s (political) successes are all negatory - setting limits on things, controlling something, banning, capping, preventing, stopping. Success in environmentalism is defined, ultimately, outside of human aspirations and standards. So things like the politically useful precautionary principle (for the South in its bargains with the developed world) become a form of shackles dangled enticingly when used in the first world? Who’s going to want to wear them? No one. Sure, they can be forced on by post-election trickery (Aus) and general sleepiness (UK), but no one really wants these. 

Why is the Left burdening itself selling the crap that environmentalism has to offer, and screwing itself in the process? So no, 2C is not a ‘capitalist lie’ to forestall the inexorable march of the Green-Left (that it so dreads) in order to dump its products on to markets before it happens, it is a construct created, by environmentalism, to provide tangible form to a notion the Left then able to grasp and sell on its behalf, to further its aims. And calling 2C a ‘capitalist lie’ is not historically correct either - the PIK head-meister Schullenhuber is widely understood to have come up with the number. So is 350. So is 4C. So are all the other holy idols erected by environmentalism in the climate arena. Sure, superficially, the objectives appear to be similar, and the targets appear to be the same (the dreaded Koch brothers etc, what a joke). But, formerly, let us remember, the Left had a nobler, higher calling - the business of thinking up a means of attaining human elevation (into which environmentalism properly falls). The Left’s job was to argue, cajole, persuade and go to war with the perceived ‘Right’ to work out doing this. When did it throw all of this away, and descend just to be content chasing environmentalism’s goals, just because the temporary targets happen to be the same? The debate was once more interesting: the right and left both wanted human progress but fought over the best way to do it. Now, it seems, the Right still wants to, and the Left wants to just put sticks and stones in its path. Its energies have been stolen by the Greenies. The world needs duality and the tension it brings to more forward, including on environmental goals. Where the Left does not speak with a legitimate and strong voice, poor people and weak people suffer. Just ask yourself: will you sell this message of the precautionary principle w.r.t carbon in India, as a political move? If you won’t, the question then is: how different are the poor in the UK or the US any different? 

By Brownedoff, on 29 March 2013 - 09:45 |

Paragraph 4 of this Article:

“Constructing climate change as a phenomenon with a two degree dangerous limit is an overtly political act.”  

OK, let us talk about overt politics and the effect on the ordinary citizen in the UK.

I know for a fact that there are ordinary human beings leading ordinary lives where the maximum ambient temperature in their location in the Middle East (Kuwait) exceeds 43°C for weeks on end.

I know for a fact that there are ordinary human beings leading ordinary lives where the ambient temperature in their location in the Antarctic (Vostok) is minus 43°C or below (down to minus 70°C) for months on end.

Thus, developments in engineering permit ordinary human beings to lead ordinary lives in  all sorts of locations within an ambient temperature range of  minus 70°C to plus  43°C.

Obviously then, ordinary human beings can cope with all sorts of ambient temperatures, even the Community of the Left is limiting its scare stories to  4°C or  6°C, let alone  43°C.

What is the common factor that facilitates these amazing achievements?

The answer is electricity.

This incredible commodity is relatively easy to produce, but unfortunately, the ability to execute this simple task in the UK is vanishing at an extraordinary rate.

Whilst it is easy to point fingers as to why this has occurred, it is fair to say that members of the Community of the Left have played a significant role in bringing that state of affairs to fruition.

Indeed, an article in NLP in January 2013 sought to reassure members of the Community of the Left, the title being “The UK Climate Movement: Eight Reasons to be Optimistic”:


“The climate movement never spoke with one voice, often fell out, and had much that was dysfunctional about it. But it achieved some great successes: the end of new coal in the UK, the halting of Heathrow’s third runway, and the world-leading Climate Change Act.”

Flowing from these great successes,  Alistair Buchanan, retiring head of Ofgem, has warned that blackouts in the UK are a possibility  by 2017 as plant margins fall to 4%.


Of course, as the margin falls towards 4%,  it will be necessary to permanently sever all the wind farms that are connected to the network because there will be no spare capacity to ramp up and down in order to avoid destabilisation of the network as a result of the intermittency problem.

An unintended consequence of CCA 2008. 

Therefore, as a result of the policies written and pushed forward by members of the Community of the Left, the UK is facing economic ruin.

I look forward to your explanation at to how you regard economic ruin as a great success.

Best wishes.

By GeoffChambers, on 29 March 2013 - 11:15 |

Christopher Shaw

“I take issue with [the two degree limit] because of the implicit claim that forcing won’t become dangerous until the planet has warmed by an average of two degrees. I think that is a capitalist lie promoted to defend business as usual..”

It was the last IPCC report which claimed that a temperature rise of up to 2°C would have broadly positive results, and any further rise would be broadly negative. If you think this is a capitalist lie, you’d better take it up with Dr Pachauri. He’s certainly a successful capitalist, since he’s a millionaire (and he runs the IPCC for free).


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

Well that’s me. I broadly accept the scientific consensus on most things. For example, on sea level rise, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that it’s been rising at a steady average of 3mm per year for at least the past century. So when Neil talks about “the sea levels lapping at their doors” he is indulging in rhetoric which is unsupported by the science. 

Where sea level rise is a problem, people deal with it. The Maldives, for example, have housed half their population on an artificial island out of sight of the tourists. Bangladesh is building dykes with the aid of the Dutch, and has increased its surface area by 5% over recent years. 

This is the kind of engagement with climate-related problems that the left should be discussing, not zombies.

By Ben Pile, on 29 March 2013 - 19:36 |

George—“I think avoiding our extinction may be the initial priority. Unless you wish to discuss better or worse non-futures?”

This is moral blackmail, isn’t it. It asserts that a crisis exists and precludes any possibility of that claim being interrogated. To think, to criticise, or to challenge is to invite the disaster, to call the waves to come lapping up past the shore. In much the same way, to be the hero’s interlocutor in the zombie movie is to identify oneself as the next victim of the zombies. 

This naturally limits any possibility of the Left—to the extent that it is dominated by environmental thinking—formulating an idea of what the Good Life ought to consist of. The imperatives of survival are corrosive to the concept of progress. This is manifested as hostility towards debate—and you only need to look as far as this discussion to see this much, such is the hostility even to the idea of hosting ideas that are apart from orthodoxy.

By George, on 29 March 2013 - 21:50 |

Shub Niggurath

If I diligently peel away your compulsively expanding Lovecraftian references to some awe-inspiring demonic entity called “environmentalism” what I find is a view that doesn’t mind protesting on behalf of the poor with reference to exploitation, “worker hazard exposure “and so forth. But there must be no reference made to the actual environment which, it seems, doesn’t exist. There must correspondingly be no negations or restrictions of any kind placed on the great human spirit which exists in some kind of void out of which we can create worlds of our own etc. (“And lo! We saw that it was good” etc.)

This is all bizarre stuff. I’ve noticed how New Left Project entries usually get around three or four comments – if any at all. UNTIL there is an article on global warming. At which point the comment count soars to twenty or thirty. And it always seems to be the same names of climate skeptics that show up. They are like antibodies just waiting to pounce on a perceived threat. Obviously the matter of climate change is an area that has to be very carefully policed.

By George, on 29 March 2013 - 22:12 |

Ben – your exact words were: “It turns out that ideas about ‘better future for humanity’ offer us no more than mere survival. So we’re not really talking about better futures at all—a ‘better future’ needs to consist of more than avoiding our extinction. “

We don’t even need to talk about the existence or non-existence of a crisis. You, by your own admission, are not interested in “mere survival”. You are not concerned about “avoiding our extinction. “ Now – as soon as you say that, all talk of whether there is global warming, whether we created it, and whether we can stop it – all that talk becomes irrelevant. You don’t care whether or not the human race survives. And there’s nothing more to say.

By David, on 29 March 2013 - 22:34 |

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

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

The variety of strategies (intentionally adopted or otherwise) for prevaricating, obscuring, dissembling, diverting and explaining away this stubborn fact is a rich source of unintentional amusement, if nothing else. As are some of the more ostentatious affectations of authoritative dissent, given the abovementioned consensus amongst people who…how to put this gently…actually know what they’re talking about.

Most amusing of all is the denialists’ posture as brave fighers for truth against the odds, and even for the oppressed. This is going to be a bit of a hard sell to the left wing audience of a left wing website, where it is well understood that the reason sufficient action has not been taken on climate change is because concentrations of captial and state power are overwhelmingly committed to structures and activities that are environmentally destructive. And where it is well understood that it is the world’s poorest who stand to suffer the most if serious action is not taken now. Honestly, there’s not much point try to pull this “Spiked”-style rhetoric here, guys. Our readership are a bit too enlightened for that.

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

By Alex Cull, on 30 March 2013 - 09:57 |

George: “I’ve noticed how New Left Project entries usually get around three or four comments – if any at all. UNTIL there is an article on global warming. At which point the comment count soars to twenty or thirty. “

David: “Honestly, there’s not much point try to pull this “Spiked”-style rhetoric here, guys. Our readership are a bit too enlightened for that.”

With the global warming articles, you’re getting lively engagement and debate. It seems to me this is seen as something of an irritant, but at least there’s a bit of involvement going on! Your target readership may well be enlightened, but they seem awful quiet. 

By David, on 31 March 2013 - 07:19 |

“With the global warming articles, you’re getting lively engagement and debate. It seems to me this is seen as something of an irritant”

It’s an entertainingly self-serving misrepresentation, Alex. But I’ve spelled this out in fairly plain English already. The issue is not whether there is “lively engagement and debate”, as I suspect you understand perfectly well. It is whether individual comments below the line have any value.

This website is set-up and maintained by our own voluntary labours in our spare time. Having invested that effort, we then use it to host discussions on topics and within parameters defined by us. With me so far?

We choose to publish articles and host discussions that work on the reasonably simple basis that climate change is real, caused by human activity, and threatens disastrous consequences for large portions of humanity unless the activities causing it are sharply curtailed.

We don’t have much interest in hosting comments that can’t rise to that minimum level of credibility. And if there are people bleating elsewhere on the internet that NLP isn’t interested in “dialogue” then, I hate to break it to them, but we’re pretty relaxed about that.

I hope this clarifies things for you and others, because I don’t propose to repeat the point.

By Alice, on 01 April 2013 - 13:27 |


I don’t have any particular response to any of the above, but I wanted to say a couple of things to the people who are still commenting on (or just watching) this thread.

1) Several comments have been deleted in moderation before being published on this thread. For those few who care about such things, it wasn’t me who deleted them.

My personal view is we should publish anything that’s not outright offensive, respond to those we think it’s productive to respond to, and ignore those we think there’s little point in engaging with. I’m generally quite a fan of at least reading the ‘bottom half of the internet’ (and don’t like the hierarchies of talking about top/bottom either).

However, the view of the NLP editorial team as a whole is slightly stricter (see the comments policy on the about page). As part of a collective, I’m happy to agree to a more strident approach here than I do in places like my own blog or the Guardian. One of the reasons I’m OK with this is that I believe that if we open up debate on some areas we effectively close it down in others. I’m happy with the debate here being a bit more targeted, especially as there are other spaces, elsewhere, which are more open.

2) This thread seems to have become the target for a bit of green and/ or leftie baiting rather than engaging with the text itself. For that reason we have decided to close comments here. Even those which got through moderation were putting off our core readers and several contributors. We’re not your toys and this isn’t a playground. If nothing else, it’s not fair on the author.

By all means call us closed-minded for taking this approach. Put on your best Galileo fancy dress and wring your hands about how we Just. Won’t. Listen. But you can’t do that here. It’s our space and we won’t allow it. The NLP comment threads aren’t a space for straightforwardly open debate. Sorry if you find that frustrating, but we’re quite proud of our policy and our site.

All comments are moderated, and should be respectful of other voices in the discussion. Comments may be edited or deleted at the moderator's discretion.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.