Climate Change and the Left

By Alice

16 December 2012

Hi, I’m Alice; New Left Project’s new climate change editor. We haven’t had one of these before. It’s a bit of an experiment. So I thought I’d do a short post introducing this new line of content.

Climate change has been a worry as far as I can remember being politically aware. Like many people, I’m pretty used to it. It’s almost become mundane. I watched public interest rise and fall around Rio in 1992 and Copenhagen in 2007. I took part in bits of this activity, watched some from afar, argued over others, and ignored more. Honestly, as a teenager, I was a bit frustrated by my greener family and friends. Who cared about trees and ice and animals, when people were suffering? I focused on war, education and health policy. But that was, arguably, a bit myopic. Climate change is all about people, including issues of war, education and health. It’s about the people who will be affected, the people who can tell us what’s going on and the people who can work together to do something to mitigate the damage. Trees and ice and animals do matter not only in their own right but because we are connected to them. 

At a seminar at the Policy Exchange last May, I heard someone from the audience blithely say he'd believe climate change when he saw it with his own eyes. That sort of hardline empiricism has a whiff of rigor to it, but is somewhat lazy too, dangeriously so. It’s just too late, too narrow. The abstract ideas and datasets we have developed to tell us about the natural world (i.e. the science) may seem far off, but allow us to see further than our everyday experience and are worth taking into account. Later in the summer, I saw a leading climate scientist glumly argue poor people will die and the rich won’t notice. Or worse, they’ll notice, but watch while it happens. I left both meetings thoroughly depressed by the lack of vision for the future, the lack of hope; wondering at what point the fictional dystopias I consumed as a kid became the realities of my adulthood.

The editors of New Left Project feel climate change is a pressing problem that the left badly needs to re-engage with, and so have brought me on board. As ever with NLP, the aim is to inform activism and activists by providing substantial analysis from left hand side of the political spectrum, written in an accessible but intelligent style. Aside from that though, I’m not sure what exact sort of content I want to see here yet. It’s an experiment, and I’m happy to see how it goes.

Three initial thoughts though:

1) I think we can start from the assumption that anthropogenic global warming is real, happening and we should do something about that. I’m all for upholding the great scientific principle of scepticism, but on this basic idea I'll hold my doubt. Maybe I’m wrong. Awesome if so. But I’m pretty sure the science is right on this question and, perhaps more to the point, there are more than enough other people out there ready to lend a dose of uncertainty. If that’s your game, go hang out on Bishop Hill. Or read Merchants of Doubt

2) Equally, I think we can do something other than climate science 101; just because you can already get that elsewhere. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Green Alliance/ Imperial College's “Climate Science Explained” overview. It’s hardly flashy, just a pdf, but it’s very clear. The FCO's climate change YouTube channel is pretty good too. Let's focus on the politics of energy and climate change here (even if science may well be part of this).

3) We should be careful about being too simplistic when we talk about the relationships between capitailsm and climate change. There are, arguably, connections (if you haven't read Naomi Klein's "Capitalism vs the Climate", do). My own green tendencies are deeply embedded in my redder ones, but to reduce enviromentalism to socialism, or vice versa, devalues both. I also think it limits ways of thinking about how to deal with climate change. The New Left Project wants to discuss the the left and climate change, but I think we should remember that many on the right have a long history of environmental thought too, for reasons that may well overlap as well as clash with our own. 

Maybe I'm wrong on those points though. If you’re inspired by something and want to share it, let me know (see also the NLP notes for contributors). I agreed to do this because I thought I'd learn something, inluding having my views challenged, and look forward to what new lines of thought we might find.

Alice Bell - New Left Project’s climate change editor - is an academic and writer interested in science's relationships with the rest of society. She’s currently a research fellow at the University of Sussex and keeps a personal blog.

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40 Comments on "Climate Change and the Left"

By Alex Cull, on 17 December 2012 - 08:06 |

Hi, just to say shouldn’t “Copenhagen in 2007” be “Copenhagen in 2009”? I’m a CAGW sceptic and Bishop Hill regular - many of us appreciate accuracy too, you know!

By Bernard Marszalek, on 17 December 2012 - 19:29 |

Please see the latest contribution from Monthly Review’s Foster and Clark.

“Capitalism today is caught in a seemingly endless crisis, with economic stagnation and upheaval circling the globe. But while the world has been fixated on the economic problem, global environmental conditions have been rapidly worsening, confronting humanity with its ultimate crisis: one of long-term survival. The common source of both of these crises resides in the process of capital accumulation. Likewise the common solution is to be sought in a “revolutionary reconstitution of society at large,” going beyond the regime of capital.”

By Kean, on 19 December 2012 - 02:53 |

One of the scariest things I’ve read in the last year is Bill McKibben’s piece in Rolling Stone:

To summarize ... we’ve effectively already used all the oil reserves that oil companies have as the value of these reserves is already accounted for in the share value of those companies. So, we will never be able to keep to a 2 degrees rise without a total collapse of the oil industry -  and that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

By Barry Woods, on 23 December 2012 - 09:54 |

I agree that the comment I believe in ‘climate change when I see it’ is problematic and not very helpful. Especially as the term climate change has so many meanings and nuances now. (try getting an agreed specific definition of sustainability as a similar problem)

Equally problematic, and an example counter point, at the same meeting one of the panel members ‘researcher not a campaigner” and then started to explain why motivated reasoning and ideology was the reason why the right was skeptical

Whereas those on the right (not me) if they had perhaps just googled the panel member they would have found that he is very much a ‘campaigner’... and perhaps just laughed.. at his lack of selfawarenes and naivety in making that statement, especially given the subject matter of motivated reasoning and ideology and the audience (Peter Lilley, Benny Peiser and Lord Lawson amongst them)

One of the many reasons there are sceptics or ‘lukewarmers’ (me), is because of activist scientists that people may perceive to have lost their objectivity, because of their passion for the cause (James Hansen being the classic example, to some embarrassment to other climate scientists)

Which would raise a responsible question in their eyes, are the left blinded by their own motivated reasoning and ideology, to think that the science is beyond question.. or more importantly policies are beyond question, which gets mixed up in the science debate

Science does not demand a windturbine or a nuclear power plant.. or gas pragmatically replacing coal (ie better than coal less emissions)

when I say question the science, I mean not whether or believe in ‘climate change’.

the issue has been poorly framed do you believe yes/no

The majority of the sceptics are asking, how much climate change, how much is AGW vs natural climate change, and to what degree (!) it may or may not be a problem in the future. Which, with some irony, is almost exactly the same position the majority of climate scientists find themselves 

And only then can rational choices about policy be made.

(where I say ‘climate scientists’ I limit it to mean atmospheric physicists, etc. ie Working Group 1 scientists) Prof Richard Betts makes the similar distinction between ‘climate scientists’ and ‘climate change scientists’, and acknowledges the problems between WG1 & Working Groups 2 & 3

Prof Richard Betts:

*I prefer to distinguish between “climate scientists” (who are mainly atmospheric physicists) and “climate change scientists” who seem to be just about anyone in science or social science that has decided to see what climate change means for their own particular field of expertise. While many of these folks do have a good grasp of climate science (atmospheric physics) and the uncertainties in attribution of past events and future projections, many sadly do not. “Climate change science” is unfortunately a rather disconnected set of disciplines with some not understanding the others - see the inconsistencies between WG1 and WG2 in IPCC AR4 for example. We are working hard to overcome these barriers but there is a long way to go.” - Richard Betts

As a ‘sceptic’, ‘lukewarmer’ or a ‘denier’ (many of the labels that have been applied to me) I have very  much in common with Prof Betts, but very little with those that seek actively to ‘communicate climate science’, because to often the mix up policy with science.

By Geoff Chambers, on 24 December 2012 - 18:13 |

“I think we can start from the assumption that anthropogenic global warming is real, happening and we should do something about that.”Most sceptics probably agree about the “real” and the “happening”. Before we decide to do something about  it though, we’d like to know more about “how much?” and “with what effects?” This is where the science often diverges from the advocacy.The tone of your article suggests that you don’t intend to discuss the science. I think you owe it to you readers to at least explain how you intend to get from “anthropogenic global warming is real and happening” to “we need to do something about that” without discussing the science, particlarly as “doing something “involves spending billions. Finally, I’m not sure if your suggestion “If that’s your game, go hang out on Bishop Hill” is meant to be an invitation to New Left readers to explore a site which promotes intelligent science-based climate scepticism, or whether it’s suggesting that BishopHill readers are not welcome here. We’re already a majority among commenters here, and there are no doubt many BishopHill fans who would welcome the opportunity to debate climate change with those of the political left.I note that you finish by saying that  you enjoy having your views challenged. Many sceptics would second that.I look forward to the possibility of a constructive dialogue, and I’m sure commenters Barry and Alex will agree with me.

By JoshM, on 31 December 2012 - 04:36 |

Good on NLP for adding a climate editor, and good luck Alice!

I’d love to see content that closes the gap that exists, even on the left, between the science and public perception. When I read mainstream science periodicals I see that there are numerous doomsday scenarios like runaway warming from the release of methane clathrates by melting arctic ice, or phytoplankton die-off from ocean acidification, or ocean anoxia from disruption of the thermohaline process. And yet polls show less than half of Americans support even a 10% carbon tax.

Meanwhile some mainstream environental groups have made a short-sighted strategic decision to only talk about polar bears or how coal plants cause asthma, rather than educate the public. I’d like to see some pressure from the left wing within those orgs to get them to tell the truth about the danger, in a way that drags mainstream consensus closer to the scientific consensus. Ideally we’d be seeing Congress and mainstream pundits debate how to prevent climate change rather than whether to do anything about it. (This incidentally involves developing strategies for marginalizing denialists.) I’d also like to see discussion of how to get environmental orgs to adopt a broader range of tactics. There is a disconnect between the urgency of the problem and the business-as-usual tactics actually employed. I think it’s a matter of cognitive dissonance, but it could easily be read as, “these environmentalists don’t *really* believe what they’re saying. When the whole world is at stake you don’t just sign a post card.”

On the flip side there needs to be disscussion around what kind of media frame and tactics would best make civil disobedience intelligible to the public, and not either ignored or dismissed as the work of a few fanatics.
Finally, given that the planet is already warming and the poorest people will be most affected, the Left has something to contribute in terms of crafting policies and strategies to cope in a way that expresses the values of basic human solidarity and decency. Assume that climate driven migration, famines, pandemics, etc. become massive in scope. You know what the forces of order will try to do. What will we do? We should be ready. We should be thinking about it now. 


By Geoff Chambers, on 31 December 2012 - 11:51 |

JoshM says:“... there needs to be discussion around what kind of media frame and tactics would best make civil disobedience intelligible to the public, and not either ignored or dismissed as the work of a few fanatics.”To make civil disobedience intelligible, you clearly need to persuade the public that your worries, about methane clathrates or ocean acidification and so on, are justified. To do this, you need to engage with the scientific discussion. For example, you need to explain why record summer loss of Arctic ice has resulted in no observable increase in atmospheric methane. Yet instead of developing a reasoned argument, you speak of “marginalising deniers”.As long as we deniers have scientific arguments on our side, that’s not going to work.

By JoshM, on 01 January 2013 - 05:47 |

@ Geoff Chambers

I don’t see it as my job, or the job of civil society in general, or the Left in particular to generate and test hypotheses related to global warming. Climate scientists do that. They’ve reached a consensus on how much warming and how many parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are safe. Our job is to devise the economic, technical and political strategies to reduce greenhouse gas production to within safe limits.

This will require appealing to people on both a rational and also an emotional level. And because some people will never be convinced no matter what, it will involve political struggle. That’s just how life works.

By Geoff Chambers, on 01 January 2013 - 12:50 |

JoshMThe left doesn’t need to generate and test hypotheses related to global warming. It just needs to understand the argument.

There is no “consensus on how much warming and how many parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are safe”. The figure of 2°C as a safe level was plucked out of the air by Professor Schellnhuber. The “safe” level of greenhouse gases relates to estimates of climate sensitivity (estimated temperature rise caused by a doubling of CO2). Even the IPCC gives an estimate somewhere between an innocuous 1.5°C and a catastrophic 6°C. Empirical research suggests 1.5°C is about right - a result that (according to the leaked draft of the forthcoming report) it seems the IPCC is trying desperately to cover up. So there’s no need “to devise the economic, technical and political strategies to reduce greenhouse gas production to within safe limits”.

By simon abingdon, on 01 January 2013 - 13:51 |

JoshM says:

Ideally we’d be seeing Congress and mainstream pundits debate how to prevent climate change rather than whether to do anything about it. (This incidentally involves developing strategies for marginalizing denialists.)

On the other hand:

Ideally we’d be seeing Congress and mainstream pundits debate how best to mitigate the effects of climate change rather than whether we can realistically do anything about preventing it. (This incidentally involves developing strategies for marginalizing law-breaking greens.)

By Robin Guenier, on 01 January 2013 - 16:15 |

If you’re going to marginalise denialists, I suggest the Left must first prioritise influential targets. That means answering a key question: where are the serious obstacles to the reduction of GHG emissions? A good place to start would be proposals to build coal-fired plant for power generation. As James Hansen said in 2009, “the only way to avert an irreversible climate meltdown and save the planet is to phase out virtually all coal plants worldwide …” This chart shows where you can find those targets: And note: far from phasing them out, these countries are planning to build new coal-fired plants!
I’ll suggest a prime candidate. Here’s one of his observations: “There are disputes in the scientific community. We have to have an open attitude to the scientific research. There’s an alternative view that climate change is caused by cyclical trends in nature itself. We have to keep an open attitude”. So there goes a true denialist. And he’s no minor player: his name is Xie Zhenhua and he’s China’s lead negotiator on climate change. How would you marginalise him?
Also it’s obvious from the above chart that China, India, Russia, Turkey, Vietnam, South Africa … fall into your category of those who “will never be convinced no matter what”. How will you initiate political struggle there? 

By James, on 01 January 2013 - 22:41 |

The problem with explicitly linking climate change and the left is that you leave yourself open to the charge of political motivation. The causes are all “right’, industry, the west etc and the solutions are all “left”, taxes, money for poor countries etc.  How convenient.

By Alice, on 01 January 2013 - 23:41 |

Yes, sorry, typo - I meant 2009. 

As as for the “problem” of being left open to the charge of political motivation by talking about climate change and the left (talking about, not necessarily linking…) well, I take your point, but I’m hoping we can have better conversations than just that. Hence my point 3. We’ll see.

By Robin Guenier, on 02 January 2013 - 18:50 |


Congratulations on getting this started. Let’s hope the experiment is a success.

So far however, not so good: not yet much in the way of the conversation you might be hoping for. JoshM seems disinclined to engage with Geoff and hasn’t even responded to me. So I’ll put the same issue to you – one that I hope accords with your “initial thoughts”. First, an observation: like Geoff, I’m prepared to assume that AGW is real and happening; however, like him, I’m unhappy about your assumption that “we should do something” about it. It’s a proposition that raises a host of interesting political, ethical, economic and practical questions – questions that could be a rich source of material for discussion here. But it’s your blog, you set the rules and, if you want to proceed on the basis of that assumption, so be it.

So I’ve chosen a topic that assumes the need for action and is focused squarely on politics and economics. It’s this: we in the so-called developed Western economies, while wasting a lot of time and energy on never-ending and commonly fruitless debates between “warmists” and “denialists” (both ghastly terms), are – to an extraordinary extent – almost wholly ignoring the fact that what’s happening elsewhere in the world is the real obstacle to greenhouse gas reduction. At least we’re trying: Europe’s emissions are flat lining and the USA’s have actually declined. But elsewhere they’re not interested: see, for example, the Xie Zhenhua comment I referred to in my comment to JoshM. Just look at this chart or read this article in the New York Times. An extract from the latter: ‘Global demand for coal is expected to grow to 8.9 billion tons by 2016 from 7.9 billion tons this year, with the bulk of new demand — about 700 million tons — coming from China, according to a Peabody Energy study. China is expected to add 240 gigawatts, the equivalent of adding about 160 new coal-fired plants to the 620 operating now, within four years. During that period, India will add an additional 70 gigawatts through more than 46 plants.’ This extract from a HuffPo article summarises what’s happening: ’ … over the past decade, Vietnam’s carbon dioxide emissions grew by 136%. And Vietnam’s explosive growth looks like it will continue for years to come. Indeed, the country … stands as a proxy for many of the countries in the developing world. And as those countries grow their economies, their energy use, and their carbon dioxide emissions, the hope for any hard cap – or tax – on carbon becomes ever more remote.’ The developed West’s GHG emissions are a rapidly shrinking 30% of a global total that’s growing massively. And we can hardly blame the developing world – the economic expansion of China and India, based on fossil fuels, has raised nearly 500 million people out of poverty in the past 30 years. 

So, given your assumption, we face an appalling problem. What’s to be done?  

By Robin Guenier, on 04 January 2013 - 12:15 |

Alice: further to the above, I didn’t really expect to get a response from JoshM, but I thought you might wish to discuss the issue I’ve raised. So I’m rather disappointed to have heard nothing from you yet.

Given your assumption that “we should do something” about AGW, we face a dreadful dilemma: on the one hand, that assumption yet, on the other, the reality that the world, far from doing anything, is most unlikely to change course from its current determination to massively increase its GHG emissions – a course set and driven by the major developing economies. It’s unlikely to change because these economies are not interested in slowing their (fossil fuel based) economic growth – a growth that is providing increased global power and influence and internal political stability. And it’s a growth that’s rescuing vast numbers of people from the miseries of poverty, malnutrition and disease. 

As I noted, only the developed Western economies (representing a rapidly diminishing 30% of global emissions) seem interested in doing anything. Yet (apart perhaps from the USA) as Fred Pearce points out in the current NewScientist, they (essentially the European economies) haven’t achieved much – if indeed they’ve achieved anything. Moreover, as the Economist notes its increased coal production is ‘making a mockery of European environmental aspirations.’

I suggest a radical rethink of our position on climate change may be needed. Do you agree?

By Alice, on 04 January 2013 - 16:14 |


I’m not sure we’re planning on using this space for blog-comment based discussion. NLP isn’t CiF, or a forum. There are other places for that. This blogpost is more a call for people who might want to write reasonably long essays on these topics - we’d publish a few in month in total, so you can’t expect things that soon. 

On your question, I don’t know. 

By Robin Guenier, on 04 January 2013 - 21:41 |


Ah - so I’ve misunderstood. Apologies. I thought that, when you referred to “conversations”, you meant an exchange of thinking and ideas. If not, what’s the purpose of this particular space - this comments section?

So far as an essay is concerned, might you be interested in something that expands my thinking about the need for a new position on climate change - probably suggesting a radically new approach? If so, how would I submit it? 


By Geoff Chambers, on 04 January 2013 - 22:34 |

Alice: “I’m not sure we’re planning on using this space for blog-comment based discussion”. 

It would be a pity not to have the possibility of commenting. I can’t speak for Robin or others, but I know from discussions I’ve had with other commenters on sites like BishopHill and Climate Resistance that there are many who would welcome a space for left-wing climate sceptics to put their point of view. The fact that the majority of climate sceptic sites are of a libertarian-right tendency doesn’t bother me (there are good sociological reasons for that, I think - something I’ve discussed with Adam Corner) but  discussion of the political dimension of climate and energy policy tends to fall flat when a proportion of your interlocutors think that Obama’s social policies are the equivalent of soviet communism.

The event that opened my eyes to the necessity of a serious discussion of  climate scepticism in the context of left politics was the loss of Redcar - one of Labour’s safest seats - at the general election. You will know that this was a direct result of Labour’s climate and energy policies. If effective “carbon pricing” ever becomes a reality, energy intensive industries will be priced out of the market, and traditional Labour voters will turn to UKIP, just as here in France working class voters have turned to the National Front, leaving the Socialists as the party of the teachers and other white collar civil servants.

I note that NLP “...encourages readers to comment on our articles. ... The aim is to foster inclusivity, ... and to ensure that comments add something valuable and substantive to the material that is being commented upon.” As you say, you’re not CiF, where “fostering inclusivity” is definitely not part of the programme.

By Robin Guenier, on 06 January 2013 - 17:07 |


Geoff makes an interesting point. As left-wing climate sceptics have little choice but to go to right-leaning web sites to exchange views about the science, it’s unfortunate that NLP, in discouraging “blog-comment based discussion” (contrary to its declared policy), seems reluctant to allow their views to be developed in response to your article, “Climate Change and the Left”.

Mine is a rather different perspective: why have supporters of progressive politics adopted an agenda at odds with the best interests of ordinary people? Thus the Left in the UK seems to have embraced unanimously a policy (reduction of GHG emissions) that results in the loss of jobs in key energy-intensive industries and additional burdens on fuel costs, damaging poorer people in particular. Worse, its longer-term effect seems likely to be increased economic weakness; endangering many of the services we currently take for granted. And, paradoxically, all this is enabling wealthy middle class people, landowners etc. to benefit from taxpayer-funded subsidies in return for installing solar panels and wind turbines on their property and is putting substantial tax-generated sums into the pockets of city traders and allegedly “green” entrepreneurs taking advantage of government policy.

Such consequences might be justifiable as the side effect of a globally agreed programme to reduce GHG emissions. But there is no such programme. And it’s surely obvious by now that there never will be: indeed, far from reducing emissions, the world seems determined (see my earlier posts) to massively increase them. So we’re left with the – to my mind – pathetic, neo colonialist argument that the UK is “setting an example”.

Hence my question: might a radical rethink of our climate change policy be needed? You answered, “I don’t know”. 

But that sounds like the beginning not the end of discourse. Given that NLF editors “feel climate change is a pressing problem that the left badly needs to re-engage with”, might this not be a perfect jumping off point for reengagement – especially as it’s a matter of politics and economics rather than science? It would seem to be a good example of a new line of thought – something you claim to be seeking. OK, you might be interested in publishing an essay on the above lines (would you?) but there would seem to be little point in it if “blog-comment based discussion” is then discouraged.

By Geoff Chambers, on 06 January 2013 - 21:05 |

Robin is right about the effects of current climate and energy policies on ordinary people - very much the same point I was making about Redcar where, if I remember correctly, a foreign-owned company bought and closed a viable steel-making site in order to use the carbon credits abroad. What made Redcar unique was:1) That the local voters clearly understood what was happening and punished the local Labur MP for the government’s green policies, and 2) The centre left press was very quiet about the affair.  This latter point is one that worries me. The left has always been famous for airing its ideological disputes in public. The supposedly incontrovertible nature of the evidence for dangerous climate change has imposed an unhealthy Pravda-like self-censorship on the Guardian, the Independent, and the New Statesman. 
AliceI hope you don’t feel “got at” by our posts. I’ve discussed these subjects before with Robin on the New Statesman thread when it was transferred to the sceptical blog “Harmless Sky”, but there’s no sceptic plot to take over your thread (and no Big Oil money, alas). 

By Geoff Chambers, on 07 January 2013 - 08:07 |

Alice’s article is predicated on the assumption - shared by every  environmental and science correspondent plus every editor in the mainstream media - that the science is incontrovertible and one must trust the experts. The only opposition supposedly comes from a few grumpy old sceptics on a few denier blogs.
Just two posts on denier blogs within the last 24 hours demonstrate how false this view is. 
1) At Wattsupwiththat (twice voted best science blog of the year) Anthony Watts demonstrates that all the monthly average temperatures for the contiguous United States, (which are the source for all those news items about “hottest month of x since y”) are false. All of them. And he explains why. (It’s to do with the time it takes for letters to arrive at climate headquarters, the time it takes to open letters and copy the figures onto the computer, and so on). 
It’s not complicated. You don’t need to be a climate scientist to understand it. You just need to be a climate scientist to think it doesn’t matter.
Rather similarly, at Tallbloke, it’s revealed how the Met Office has revised it’s five year temperature projection sharply downwards. They now think that the past 16 years of no warming are going to continue for another 5 years. They have issued no explanation, no press statement to accompany this rather surprising move.
These are not unsubstantiated accusations. They are undeniable facts, proved by screenshots of the official records. 
Any journalist with access to the media has the scoop of the century here. It’s got all the qualities of  “man bites dog” plus “the dog that didn’t bark”. But it won’t happen.
Not because there’s a conspiracy of venal scientists, blinkered Green activists, and canny investors. Not really.  It’s more complicated, and more interesting than that, and it will probably take a generation of social scientists, political analysts, and media experts to explain it convincingly. 
The process could start now. Or it could wait until rocketing energy prices and blackouts force the issue on to the political agenda, with the likelihood that truth will be clouded by backtracking, namecalling, and political expediency of all kinds.
Go for it Alice.   

By Robin Guenier, on 07 January 2013 - 09:04 |

But, Geoff, my proposal is unconnected with AGW scepticism. Whatever the validity of the dangerous AGW hypothesis, the world plainly has no intention of doing anything about it. Therefore our globally feeble but locally damaging policies are pointless and the Left should reconsider its strategy. 

By Geoff Chambers, on 08 January 2013 - 15:39 |

RobinAgreed. I was using the term “scepticism” to cover the whole range of views which challenge the conventional “consensus”, and which Alice sums up when she says: “I think we can start from the assumption that anthropogenic global warming is real, happening and we should do something about that”.You and I both differ with Alice over her third point; I further disagree that the global warming which is happening  is significant. This is an easy point to defend, because it’s supported by the official temperature records, as well as by Professor Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit, for the past sixteen years, and now by the Met Office for the coming five years. I take it that your point is similar to that made by Lord Lawson and the Global Warming Policy Foundation: that there’s no point in defending a policy that has no chance of being implemented; and that for the left to propose a policy which manifestly harms the poorest in society is particularly perverse. Whichever point one chooses to make, we’re both facing the same difficulty: how to get our arguments heard and discussed outside the tiny world of sceptical blogs?

By Robin Guenier, on 08 January 2013 - 17:23 |

Well, Geoff, here’s my reason for raising this:
Given that the Coalition, the Labour Party and pretty well the entire establishment (media, academia, civil service, big business, etc.) support the pointless but damaging “something must be done” mantra, people might really sit up if the Left were to announce that, from hereon, it was abandoning that approach and pursuing a policy that provided maximum benefit now (re living costs, jobs etc.) for ordinary people – and particularly for the poorest people in society.  

By Barry Woods, on 09 January 2013 - 12:54 |

Xie Zhenhua , who China’s lead climate negoiator at Copenhagen and Duranb got a mention earlier..

and to quote from the Guardain:

“..China’s most senior negotiator on climate change says more research needed to establish whether warming is man-made

China’s most senior negotiator on climate change said today he was keeping an open mind on whether global warming was man-made or the result of natural cycles.  Xie Zhenhua said there was no doubt that warming was taking place, but more and better scientific research was needed to establish the causes.

Xie’s comments caused consternation at the end of the post-meeting press conference, with his host, the Indian environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, attempting to play down any suggestions of dissent over the science of climate change…”

Let us remind ourselves how many EXTRA coal fired powerstations China has planned, again from the Guardian.
More than 1,000 new coal plants planned worldwide,
figures showWorld Resources Institute identifies 1,200 coal plants in planning across 59 countries, with about three-quarters in China and India

the graphic makes it really plain.. (remember this is additional capacity)

maybe the UK should just build 23 GW of new (cheap) coal power stations, to keep all those poor pensioners warm, in labour seats

By Robin Guenier, on 09 January 2013 - 16:50 |


Coal is a relatively cheap source of power so there may be something in your proposal. Its problem however is the combination of toxic chemicals and materials (e.g. nitrogen oxides (NOx) and dioxides (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), mercury (HG), soot and various particulates (or “fly ash”)) that it can release into the atmosphere – a major reason for China’s ghastly air pollution. However, modern techniques (e.g. pre-combustion, “scrubbing” and filters) can eliminate most, if not all, of these. 

It’s interesting that Germany is building over 20 modern coal-fired power plants** to replace the nuclear plant it has decided to close down. In the UK, coal plants contribute about 40% of our electricity needs, although many of those are scheduled to close soon under EU regulations.


By Alex Cull, on 09 January 2013 - 19:32 |

I agree, Robin, with your point about the Left’s inability to come up with an energy and climate policy that provides maximum benefit for ordinary people in the present, and personally think the problems with the Left’s approach go far deeper than the climate change question. One of the reasons why I found myself on the left side of the equation in my youth was its promise of freedom and empowerment for the “little people”, and to me the enemy wasn’t so much modern capitalism than it was the dead weight of feudalism, from which we in the West had spent centuries struggling to be free.

Among the unattractive features of feudalism, to my mind, were the notions that everyone was born into a fixed station in life and that it was vital to “know one’s place”, that those of us lower down in the great chain of being were fair game to be patronised, lectured to and “nudged”, etc. by our betters, and that the institution and authority of the church should be wielded to keep people in their place and validate the rule of the “great and the good” in days of old.

I find similar unattractive features in the modern Left. Instead of knowing our place in the old feudal chain of being, we have to know our place in “the environment”, exist “sustainably” and lower our horizons so that we do not get above ourselves in the natural order. In addition to the traditional things we in the lower strata are lectured about by our betters (eating, drinking and smoking too much, enjoying ourselves too rowdily, etc.) are a new list of moral strictures against travelling too much, using too much energy and emitting too much CO2 (which, in the grand old feudal spirit, apply to thee but not to me - “me” in this case being representatives of the political class, “civil society” and the media who have bought into - and waxed fat on - the new order, “thee” being the rest of us.) 

And instead of the church, we have science, whose utterings (however arcane, protean or ambiguous) are suitably filtered and interpreted so that (quelle surprise!) the proscriptions I listed in my previous paragraph are duly approved and given the stamp of authority.

It’s a throwback to a bad old world some of us had come to believe we had (more or less) shaken off. It’s almost the complete antithesis of what I thought I’d subscribed to, all those years ago, and I suspect I’m not the only one who thinks so.

By Robin Guenier, on 10 January 2013 - 19:10 |

Alex: you make some interesting points and there may be some truth in them. However, I hope you’d agree that you’re oversimplifying; and, in any case, I suggest analysis and commentary on the nature of today’s Left is better pursued elsewhere on NLP.
I also hope that, notwithstanding the accuracy or otherwise of your comment, today’s Left would fully accept that at least one of its aims – I would hope its principal aim – is to prioritise support for ordinary people and especially for the poorest and most vulnerable; in particular when established authority is taking action plainly at odds with that priority.
That’s why I believe this NLP initiative – that the left hand side of the political spectrum should re-engage with the climate change issue – could be an important opportunity, even a turning point. For the reasons I’ve stated above, I’m proposing that the Left should abandon the “something must be done” approach of past decades – an approach that can only exacerbate poverty and therefore vulnerability – and campaign for a policy that would provide maximum benefit now (re living costs, jobs etc.) for ordinary people, and particularly the poorest. 
Perhaps such a policy might even encourage you to re-engage with the beliefs of your youth.   

By Alex Cull, on 10 January 2013 - 23:42 |

Robin, point taken - yes, I think I was guilty of a degree of hyperbole in that comment. And agreed, I should be welcoming the possibilities raised by this initiative, just find it very hard not to resort to cynicism (especially after years of exposure to the likes of the Guardian’s environment section…) My apologies to Alice as well, for the unduly negative tone.

Just to chip into the energy debate, one way of exploiting our considerable coal reserves with a minimum of dirt and danger might be to embark on Underground Coal Gasification, the sort of process Durham University is researching at the moment (although the idea is not new at all). It promises access to abundant energy without having to send men underground, and - if done right - should produce minimal air and water pollution. And it would benefit the depressed economies of the former coal-mining areas, just as exploiting the Bowland Shale has the potential to boost the economy of Blackpool.  

In addition it offers the possibility of practical carbon capture and storage, which would make it a win-win scenario for people on both sides of the debate, I believe, if the lights were kept on, we had abundant and affordable energy and the process could also be made carbon neutral (without making it uneconomical, of course).   

In the meantime, yes I would support a political party or movement (left or right) that campaigned and worked towards cheap fuel (and cheap food, for that matter!) for the masses, and took a refreshingly sceptical stance towards the IPCC and its prognostications. That would be heartening indeed.

By Robin Guenier, on 11 January 2013 - 11:14 |


Thanks for your comment. I was especially pleased to see your apology to Alice. And your observations about UCG are most interesting.

But – and I hesitate to say this – you’ve still, I think, misunderstood my proposal. First, it’s about a lot more than cheap fuel. What I would like to see is the range of positive consequences (from job creation to poverty alleviation) that would flow from abandoning the current “we must reduce GHG emissions at all costs” assumption. However – and this is my key point – this would not mean adopting a “sceptical stance towards the IPCC and its prognostications”. No – I’m proposing something more radical: that the Left bypass altogether the never-ending and sterile climate debate. As I’ve noted above, the hard reality is that most of the world doesn’t care; and there’s nothing we can do about it. Our climate policies are therefore pointless. Moreover, they’re weakening our already damaged economy and hurting the most vulnerable: abandoning them would mean a stronger economy and a more resilient UK. If we’re heading for environmental disaster, that can only be a good thing. If not, it’s the right thing to do anyway. Either way the poor benefit. 

If the Left seized this initiative, I believe it would gain a substantial benefit.

By Geoff Chambers, on 11 January 2013 - 12:37 |

I take it that your position is that espoused by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and by Lord Lawson in his book “An Appeal to Reason” in which he says “even if the current majority view of the science of global warming is correct, the policy response we are told we must urgently adopt, of drastic curbs on global carbon dioxide emissions, makes no sense: it is both economically damaging and politically unattainable.” (Afterword to 2009 edition).
It’s unanswerable, and hasn’t been answered. The disturbing thing from the point of view of the political left, is that - as the GWPF documents day after day - business, industry,  finance and the political right is able to change its policy daily according to pragmatic criteria, while the left is wedded to a doctrine which  is not even its own. The New Ecological Paradigm invented by Ehrlich and others in the seventies is a pseudo-philosophical dogma based on unscientific assumptions about the fragility of the planet and its ecosystems. As Ben Pile points out tirelessly at Climate Resistance, the politics precedes the science, and the politics is intensely conservative.
I disagree most strongly with your asssertion that “analysis and commentary on the nature of today’s Left is better pursued elsewhere on NLP”. The left must reject the reactionary ideology of environmentalism if it is ever to recover as a living force in modern politics.  

By COLIN R BROOKS, on 11 January 2013 - 13:56 |


Your introduction shows you as a caring and intelligent person with certain aspirations for both the human race and the NLP.
You now have an apportunity to allow this comments section to perhaps develop in a way you did not envisage originally.
I am not “of the left” and I am a denier but for your own benefit please recognise the following:
You have a number of left leaning Bishop Hill regulars choosing to spend time here and that is quite an achievement, most “warmist” blogs do not see much activity so think hard before you throw it away.

Regards Colin

By lapogus, on 11 January 2013 - 22:04 |

Alice, I am also a Bishop Hill regular, who being more left than right on most issues, am frustrated by the way the left has been duped over the dubious AGW science and the environmental movement in general.  This talk by Ann McElhinney on her experience in Romania, where two rich western Greenpeace activists thwarted a proposal by a Canadian mining company to operate a modern (and clean) gold mine in a very poor area of the Carpathians, and give local people jobs and hope,  says it all - or just read this article which covers the same ground:
In my country (Scotland) the main proponents of windfarms (which have ruined many important landscapes, and killed Agenda 1 birds) are WWF and the RSPB - yet these windmills are expensive, unreliable and even when the wind id blowing, make very expensive electricity.  The only people who benefit are the big energy companies and landowners who reap the subsidies from poor consumers who can no longer afford to heat their homes.  It was Blair and his Nottinghill socialists who put these energy policies in place, not Cameron and Clegg.  It takes about 3000 120m high windturbines to meet the average output of one coal or nuclear or gas power station, complete madness.  The environmentalists have taken over the asylum, but it was the left that gave them the keys.

By Robin Guenier, on 12 January 2013 - 08:54 |

Geoff (and now lapogus):

I agree with Colin that Alice has – unwittingly or not – created an opportunity here that could develop into something unique. And, from reading her comments, agree that she appears to be “a caring and intelligent person with certain aspirations for both the human race and the NLP”. Therefore, it seemed to me that we are presented with the unprecedented and valuable possibility of arguing in a left-leaning space for a pragmatic solution to the damage being done by the UK’s response to climate change concerns.

I am sure that, if we’re to make use of this opportunity, we absolutely must – if only within the confines of this blog – declare a truce in the never-ending and fruitless warmist v. sceptic battle. However strongly any of us may adhere to a particular position, I think we should put it aside here and focus exclusively on what might be done to further the best interests of UK society and especially of the poor and disadvantaged in that society. So please let’s not get into another debate about the failings or otherwise of environmentalism or who is ultimately responsible for current policies. There are many opportunities for such discussion elsewhere.

Of course it’s a long shot. There are many (maybe too many) on the left – and on the right, particularly those who are benefiting financially – who are irrevocably wedded to their “green” beliefs. But (to repeat an earlier comment) with the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the LibDems and pretty well the entire establishment (media, academia, civil service, big business, etc.) supporting the pointless but damaging “something must be done” mantra, people might really sit up if the Left were to announce that, from hereon, it was abandoning that approach and pursuing one that provided maximum benefit now (re living costs, jobs etc.) for ordinary people – and particularly for the poorest people in society.

By Geoff Chambers, on 13 January 2013 - 04:58 |

I’m certainly happy to “declare a truce in the never-ending and fruitless warmist v. sceptic battle”. This worked in my discussion with  the psychologist Adam Corner because we had interesting differences about the concrete question of the psychology and motivation of sceptics which could be discussed independently of questions of “the science”.

All that’s needed to create a dialogue is for someone to talk to us.

By Alex Cull, on 15 January 2013 - 21:40 |

Just to say that Robin’s idea of a political movement that bypassed the entire climate debate and focussed on raising living standards for all, including the poorest, is a good one, in my opinion and also a potential vote winner, although it would incur much criticism where its policies sought to provide cheap fuel and food in ways that were not low-carbon. By the way, Natalie Bennett was on Radio 4 last week, speaking about her wish list for 2013; she was talking about a need to “reshape British society for a low-carbon world” and saying that on average we are “living as though we had three planets” but - almost in the same breath - was also saying that people nevertheless “aren’t sure where the money for tomorrow’s lunch is coming from”. To me her ideas seem incompatible with one another; on the other hand, a political movement that aimed to secure tomorrow’s lunch without counting carbon or planets might offer a more pragmatic (and, in these days, I think quite a radical) approach. 

By Geoff Chambers, on 18 January 2013 - 13:39 |

Alice has an article at the Guardian in which she says:
“I recently agreed to be climate change editor at the New Left Project. One of the other editors suggested we ban comments that doubt global warming. We haven’t decided yet. I’m still unsure. In some ways this is a valid point: why should we be in the business of publishing views we profoundly disagree with? That doesn’t mean we want to censor such voices, we just don’t have to go out of our way to make space for them.”
The article attracted 143 Comments, mostly intelligent and polite. The last comment, from bbc bias (Barry Woods) was deleted, and comments were switched off without notice 25 hours after the article was posted, though commenting is normally  enabled for three days.
Could Alice tell us why?
She finished her article by saying:
“I remain more concerned by the politics of astroturfing than comments per se.”  linking to an article by George Monbiot on the subject in which he said:
“After I wrote about online astroturfing in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them… he used 70 personas ... I’ll reveal more about what he told me when I’ve finished the investigation I’m working on.”
Monbiot never came back to report on his investigation. In a previous article on CiF, he had accused a particular  commenter of being an astroturfer, but he never produced any evidence, and the commenter was never banned from the Guardian (unlike many of us).
Since Monbiot’s investigation never got anywhere, one wonders why Alice referred to the accusation, and why she’s worried about it.


By Robin Guenier, on 20 January 2013 - 09:04 |

Geoff: this is a continuation of the recent discussion on the Australia Burns thread.

This polemic, referring to Dr Viner (then of the University of East Anglia) and his notorious prediction that “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is”, illustrates my point. As it says, time after time, the Establishment “get away with it pretty much scot free while some other poor, blameless bastard ends up paying the price”. Surely the Left should be fighting this, not supporting it?

You mentioned the possibility of submitting a contribution for publication here. Well, on 6th January, I asked Alice if she’d be interested in publishing an essay expanding on my views. She hasn’t replied. Perhaps we should ask again. 

By Geoff Chambers, on 23 January 2013 - 12:00 |

The article you link to is on one of those vulgar, amusing right-wing libertarian sub-Delingpole blogs that no decent lefty would visit. The author makes an excellent point about the absurdity of  the fact that Dr David Viner (he of the 13-year-old  prediction that snowfalls are a thing of the past)  went on from the Climatic Research Unit  to the British Council, advising on its climate change programme, and is now at the £1 billion global consultancy Mott MacDonald as “principal advisor for Climate Change.”
(The blog author then ruins his case by the kind of nasty vulgar violent comment which would result in outrage if it came from the racist working-class right instead of from the posh middle-class right - but that’s another story).
It’s precisely the same kind of madness as infected the banking system, whereby those who make the biggest mistakes get the biggest payoffs. The left should be criticising it in the same way, but they can’t, because it’s climate, and Dr Viner is one of theirs.
At first I was heartened by the fact that our comments are continuing to appear here, though I’m not sure anyone’s reading them. 
We’re not going to persuade leftwing intellectuals to admit that they were wrong, that they’ve been taken in by an environmentalist movement whose scientific credentials are shakey, at best. I suspect that NLP policy will be to ignore us until we get bored and go away.
If anyone has another theory, or another suggestion for persuading left-wing believers in CAGW to engage in dialogue, I’d like to hear it. 

By Patrick S, on 20 June 2013 - 02:05 |

It’s really quite interesting the turn this thread has taken .... as aside from a few short early comments the longer posts by Geoff, Robin and Alex have all focused on the possibility of a left-oriented questioning of AGW, and the strategic implications of that.

From my perspective here in Australia, I think its a debate we have to have, as the current labour party, which implemented a price on carbon pollution (significantly due to needing the support of Greens MPs as a minority government), looks set for inevitable defeat this December and the incoming Abbott Liberal government will aim to wind back many of the policies and implement a mostly ‘hot air’ alternative. (For UK readers, the Liberal party in Australia is quite like your current coalition between conservative Torys and nominally socially-liberal Liberal Democrats, with a solid dose of large rural farming interests thrown in via their coalition with our National party).

Linking this back to Alice’s original post :- it strikes me that a genuine commitment to environmentalism is a real challenge for the left, especially a left that had developed in deep co-evolution with and had its real-power alliances with the labor movements such as in the UK and Britain.

Ever since its earliest days the Left has always had to strike a balance between universalistic , even utopian goals of a fairer society where all people can reach their potential :- with a calculus of defending and improving the short-term prospects of the working class and less powerful.  Geoff and Robin frequently and properly allude to the latter role of the left.

Whereas a concern with climate change is more of a ‘progressive’ value like anti-racism and feminism :- its based on universal values and goals of fairness, that may not chime deeply with the current working class (particularly in relatively affluent western countries) :- indeed may run against their short-term interests in a capitalist society.

But one of the key ‘left’ aspect of climate change is that if you agree based on the evidence and debate that its a problem, and will on average affect both current and future generations negatively :- then in our political-economic tradition its fairly clear that its the poor and working-class will suffer most from the negative consequences.

So in both the medium and long-term, its in the left and working-class interest to address the problem, and ensure its done so in a way that poor and working-class people don’t have to bear the brunt of the costs to do so.

It is here that the discussion by Geoff etc above is important. I agree that there is an vital left debate to have round views that policies like subsidies for residential solar power benefit middle—to-upper-middle class people the most, and are not the most effective way of addressing climate change. And I agree that we need apply a deep concern for the potential regressivity of market-based approaches to reducing greenhouse emissions, both in practice and perception.

But in line with NLP’s current series on global capitalism, I also think the framing of Geoff etc is far too narrow. China and other countries growth is a real issue, but remember most of their product is still being exported to be consumed in the capitalist west. And re employment, perhaps one implication of climate change is to push for a real re-questioning of the benefit of ever more global trade that’s been part of neoliberalist orthodoxy for recent
decades. Perhaps we need to look at the idea of [url=“>”] as a Compass contributor did recently, or <a
href=“”>Deglobalisation[/url] as proposed by Walden Bello. Neither of these will be easy in the West, as broad swathes of society have got very used to “having our cake and eating it too” :- enjoying the diverse and seemingly-cheap products from China and the rest of the developing world, but then having them as a convenient scapegoat for why we can’t make bold efforts to improve workers rights or deal with the environment.

So being mindful of the plight of working-class in UK and Australia etc, lets inject some global ambition back into the debate. Moving to a new energy system has real costs, but it also has benefits in terms of employment at all skill levels, which was the point of a Green New Deal alternative to Austerity pushed for a couple of years back (I’ve seen empirical evidence
that ‘green’ industries, including wind-farms, are relatively employment-dense
in the US).

I look forward to more posts in this series.

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