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Rebellious Times

Posted on 29 April 2019 by John Mason

The Extinction Rebellion protests of 2019 and their naysayers: analysis

It can sometimes seem a lonely road to walk. Voices in the wilderness: a plucky band of writers doing their best to explain the science of climate change, anxiously watching as the countdown-clock ticks away. Producing carefully-written, fully-referenced content, only to watch people turn over and go back to sleep. Facing condemnation, derision, ridicule, from those to whom any notion of deviation from Business as Usual is anathema. Yes, the lot of the climate change campaigner has indeed felt like a lonely road at times. But not any more.

Something extraordinary has happened. People have woken up. It reminds me in a sense of the closing chapters of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, in which the consistently laid-back and predictably passive hobbits suddenly arise en-masse, to put a swift end to Saruman's occupation and wanton destruction of The Shire. In Tolkein's narrative, the hobbits have to fight a battle, sacrificing some of their own in the process of securing a better future for their people. It was how things tended to be done in Middle Earth.

Switch to the UK in April 2019 and it's not swords and shields but locks, glue, dance and song. The extraordinary protests by the new group, Extinction Rebellion, have brought not only climate breakdown into the limelight, but also biodiversity-loss, pollution and the myth that you can have infinite growth on a finite planet. Over the same period, vast numbers of schoolchildren have undertaken strikes and organised their own demonstrations. Swedish student Greta Thunberg has admonished administration after administration on her tour of European capital cities. Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, starkly warned companies that if they don’t adjust to the reality of global warming, they will simply cease to exist. To top all of that off, David Attenborough delivered his bluntest warnings to date in a lengthy and compelling documentary - “Climate change: the facts”. In the light of all these developments, it almost feels as if I can put my feet up!

Of course, neither I nor we will put our feet up: if you don't hear from some Team-SkS members for a while, you can guarantee they are still busy on things climate-related, in various other ways. We know there will always be political opposition to climate science; the usual suspects will not stop peddling their contrarian talking-points and they will not go unopposed.

Misinformation-creep

In fact, a classic and well-documented example of misinformation-creep has happened in London, this past weekend. Marble Arch, one of the four key locations across London that has been occupied by Extinction Rebellion, is situated adjacent to Hyde Park. On April 20th, crowds gathered in Hyde Park to celebrate 4/20 Day, an annual occasion about which you can easily find out plenty, by looking it up using an internet search engine. A lot of litter resulted. This is not the first year in which 4/20 parties and litter have been mentioned together in the news. So what happened next? Can you guess?

Photos of the littered park were quickly circulated on social media, with captions like, “so this is what eco-warriors really think of the environment” and so on - see a typical screengrab from Facebook, below. Such things get circulated because too few people bother to fact-check. People don't fact-check either because they don't know how to, or because the story fits their narrative, an extremely narrow, evidence-free narrative in which climate protestors can only be equated with crusty hippies. Therefore there will be litter. And look! A photo of litter! QED!

aftermath of party in Hyde Park

Through such factors, things like this piece of fake-news can spread like wildfire. For example, on April 24th, the Facebook page of Wales Online had a story about an Extinction Rebellion protest in Cardiff. Within less than 24 hours, 159 comment-threads had been posted beneath the piece. On April 25th, I scrolled down through the first 100 original posts. Some 25% of them linked Extinction Rebellion with the litter in Hyde Park - although in fairness most such posts were debunked by others. But the whole business is a textbook example of how easily and rapidly a barefaced lie can spread around, in this Internet era.

The litter fake-narrative is, for once, straightforward to debunk. Furthermore,  Extinction Rebellion, who have been carefully recycling any rubbish, actually volunteered to help local council workers, sent to the park to tidy up the litter. But such silly attempts at smearing led to me asking a bigger question: what are the key objections to Extinction Rebellion and how do they rank, relative to one another? I thought this exercise would offer us a useful snapshot, since in some cases it may help to shape the way we talk to various people about climate change. Not in all cases, of course. Hence this recent tweet from George Monbiot:

If you are middle class, they call you a champagne socialist.
If you are working class, they say it's the politics of envy.
If you wear leather shoes, they call you a hypocrite.
If you don't, they call you a hippy.
Everyone, apparently, is disqualified from challenging the system.

Method

To take the pulse of anti-Extinction Rebellion sentiment, a five-page Daily Mail comments-thread was examined. The article above the line was by Dominic Lawson, it placed Extinction Rebellion in a negative light (what else would anybody expect from the Mail?) and it generated hundreds of comments. Original posts and immediate responses were scrolled through – these being assumed to be posted by those with an axe to grind, since they had taken the trouble to set out their thoughts. A total of 208 comments that demonstrably objected to Extinction Rebellion were copied and pasted into a text document. The comments were then numbered and ranked into ten categories using a spreadsheet and the rankings were then plotted into a pie-chart.

It should be noted, by the way, that many such comments received strong rebuttals from other readers, but what is not known is whether the latter were Daily Mail regulars.

Results

Here's the chart:

pie-chart: types of objection to Extinction Rebellion

Let's take a look at the categories of objection, in order of popularity.

Generic fury against the left: 21.63% of comments

The Daily Mail appeals to those who lean politically to the right, so it comes as no surprise to find a lot of comments either specifically berating the protestors as “leftists” or “lefties” or advocating the police use water-cannon, batons and various other forms of authoritarian physical control on them.

Despite the fact that the laws of physics are apolitical, communicating climate change to right-leaning people has long been one of the greatest challenges faced by the scientific community. One reason is that right-wingers tend to be instinctively opposed to big government, and issues like climate change appear to be so massive that, so the logic goes, only massive governmental controls can adequately deal with the problem. Yet Conservatism itself is deeply rooted in the preservation of things. It is conservative to want to see biodiversity preserved for future generations to enjoy.

To address this contradiction in terms, there is an important point that must be taken into account. There is a difference between old-fashioned Conservatism and the current rapacious system that is largely responsible for the crisis we find ourselves in – Neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is an extremist form of modern capitalist philosophy in which things only have worth if profit can be extracted from them. That includes us, folks. Neoliberalism first took root in Western economies some forty years ago and, while it has made a small number of people very wealthy, it has also impoverished millions and brought about a rate of biodiversity-loss equivalent to the great mass-extinctions dotted though the fossil record.

Neoliberalism calls for deregulation like no other philosophy – indeed it loves the sort of deregulated free-for-all that brought about the great banking-crash of 2008. As such, it can be argued that Neoliberalism is not Conservative at all, but is instead a pestilence that has by stealth managed to parasitise modern politics. As such, it is not just a problem for the Conservatives, but for all of us.

China syndrome: 18.27% of comments

The second commonest objection to Extinction Rebellion, it goes something like this: “what is the point of doing anything, when countries like China are causing so much pollution?” A similar kind of argument cites over-population, making up nearly a third of comments within this category. This is defeatism at its worst – as a commentator pointed out at the Guardian, it is akin to saying, "that guy is crapping on the floor, so why should I use the toilet?" Another commentator at the Guardian, on overpopulation, made the very important point:

“Population, as others have pointed out, is solving itself. The problem is not the final billion before we stabilise. It's the three or four billion who each want five or ten times as much stuff.“

Consumerism and Neoliberalism, of course, go hand-in-hand: one could not exist without the other. Here's where we can make a huge difference, by simply consuming a lot less stuff. Although Western countries like the UK have offset a lot of their carbon footprint by outsourcing the manufacture of stuff to countries like China, that offset could be instead become an eradication. If people stop buying the stuff in the first place, less of it will be made, equating to less emissions and less pollution. In any case, the Chinese are making considerable progress of their own, as reported in March in the Guardian.

Climate change denial 13.94% of comments

For a sample of 200+ comments in a newspaper that has constantly pushed climate change denial over several decades, such a percentage is at least encouraging. Outright denial of climate science is something that is perceivably on the wane here in the UK, although it has not by any means gone away. As events unfold, denial becomes an increasingly outlandish stance to take, in the face of so much accumulating hard evidence. This is, of course, no reason for complacency on our part.

Accusations of techno-hypocrisy: 13.46% of comments

This objection asserts that, since the protestors used powered travel to get to London and they have things like mobile phones, they are therefore hypocrites. Given that proposed solutions to climate breakdown tend to advocate vastly expanded availability and use of public transport, which is the best means by far of getting to London, the accusation itself has a ring of hypocrisy to it. Also, people need to remember that, while the protestors are advocating systemic change to avoid a nightmare scenario, they are compelled to do so within the system as it currently stands.

Inverse snobbery: 11.54% of comments

Banging away on their stereotypewriters, a substantial number of commentators stated that only middle-class people can afford the luxury of being able to protest. Looking back through the history of protest, it is clear that people of all backgrounds and classes have taken part – I think of the Jarrow Marchers of the 1930s, CND, anti-apartheid and many other examples. In the case of Extinction Rebellion, it is true that it arose through an academic background in 2018, but that does not mean that the movement is elitist: it regards itself as a broad church, open to all who share the same concerns – concerns which are not the sole domain of any one demographic in society.

But things get somewhat cloudier when you look at what some of the anti-Extinction Rebellion cheerleaders are actually saying. Witness this exchange between Tory MP David Davies and radio-journalist Shelagh Fogarty, on LBC. The MP told Fogarty that the protesters were "only able to take days off work because...we have the ability to pay people benefits because we have a capitalist system".

Fogarty replied: "You're making an assumption about people being on benefits are you?" Davies: "I am making an assumption about them yes, but I think it's probably a fair assumption...I'm not saying they're all on benefits but I'll bet you most of them aren't doing a normal 9 to 5 day's work." The MP continued: "Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people's lives are being disrupted, quite unfairly, by a smallest minority of arrogant, middle-class protesters."

Some of what Davies said falls into the next category. But it reminds one of the contradictory accusation sometimes levelled at immigrant people, who, “come over here and take our jobs and benefits” – both at the same time! Talking of benefits, Davies shows how out of touch with reality he is. A week's unemployment allowance, in the UK as things currently stand, would not even buy you a return train-ticket from Leeds to London. And in any case, if Davies really wants to learn what major disruption looks like, he should read up on the science (many days worth on here alone, David), and understand what the planet has in store for us, if we carry on like this for much longer. He certainly needs to look this stuff up, given another comment he made during the same exchange, revealing his somewhat limited grasp of the subject:

A rise of less than one degree, partly due to the end of the little ice age, doesn’t mean we should ban cars, flying & everything else which makes 21st century so great to live in.

Job/benefit envy: 8.17% of comments

“Some of us have to work”, is always going to crop up in such discussions. The concept, bereft of a shred of evidence, is that the protestors are all workless dole-scroungers. Classifying them so allows them to be “othered” - i.e. they do not belong to our tribe - and as such are fair game for other forms of attack. That many Extinction Rebellion protestors are professionals – academics, doctors, lawyers and so on – using their annual leave in order to attend, kind of collides head-on with this particular objection.

Another important point here is that the sort of “business as usual” alluded to, by David Davies above, is exactly the problem. “Normal” is the cause of the biodiversity crisis – the never-ending cycle of travel-work-consume-as-much-as-you-can, repeated day in, day out, by countless millions of people. Or, as put by McEver Dugan and Evan Cholerton (Guardian, 24th April 2019):

Every day we go into work and spend our time and labour building a system that is burning us alive. The top polluters in the world are directly dependent on this effort.

This cycle may well be, “all we know”, but it is most certainly not, “all that is possible”.

Unclassifiable: 7.21% of comments

These are objections that were posted devoid of context, for example a comment that just says, “idiots”. To which, the obvious question is, “why?”.

The Great Unwashed: 3.85% of comments

This category could probably be lumped together with “generic fury against the left”. It completely ignores the demographics of the protestors, opting instead for silly phrases like, “soap-dodgers” and so on. Again, the idea is to “other” the protestors, set them apart from the tribe, yet again it is not based on a shred of evidence.

Conspiracy theories: 1.44% of comments

Only a few of these, advancing ideas such as the protestors being secretly funded by shadowy billionaires or even that the protest is a “false flag” event. There have always been conspiracy theorists. It seems that, for some, reality is never interesting enough.

Publicity-aversion: 0.48% of comments

A minority of objections, too. The idea is that if you ignore these people, then they will go away. File under, “wishful thinking”.

Extinction Rebellion in London, Easter 2019

Above: Extinction Rebellion in London, Easter 2019. The pink boat, used as a focal point and stage, is named the 'Berta Caceres' after the prominent Honduran environmental activist, assassinated in 2016. Image: Fernando García Vicario, via Katy Fowler. A good selection of photographs from the Extinction Rebellion Easter protests can be viewed here.

Looking forward

So there you have it. There are clearly some people that one cannot reason with. But importantly, there are points arising from the results of this brief analysis that may be worthy of further consideration, when engaging with people about climate. The difference between traditional Conservatism and Neoliberalism is perhaps the most important example. Cutting down through the chilling Neoliberal psychology that underpins far too much policy-making today, into the underlying wish to preserve desirable things, like Nature, may help bring a further turn-around.

I'm not a member of Extinction Rebellion, since one can only spread butter so thinly and writing for Skeptical Science and, in more recent years, for some other projects, has been my thing. But I support their aims. So I thought I'd ask a local friend and Extinction Rebellion stalwart, Katy Fowler, to offer her thoughts on some of the objections raised by the opposition. Katy spent several days down in London, so if anybody understands the demographics of the group, she does:

"I spent three amazing days at Oxford Circus, stewarding at the welcome desk. During that time I spoke to hundreds of people, from all walks of life. About half were People of Colour and about a quarter were tourists or visitors. All bar five were curious, positive or downright enthusiastic and delighted. Most had never heard of Extinction Rebellion before.

The five that were less supportive included: one who believed in climate change but didn't think we could make a difference; one young lad who couldn't understand why there was a carnival atmosphere, one (drunk) man who came to shout at us about China and didn't want to listen to our responses (in the end the police stepped in and he ranted at them for five minutes and left); and two separate passers-by who said things along the lines of, "you only want to cause chaos" (a line from an editorial in the Evening Standard that day) and that we were useless hypocrites.
When our food tent was taken down and moved to Marble Arch on Wednesday morning, people were coming up to the desk regularly, asking if they could buy food to donate. Our free food table was constantly full. We also had so many requests if we were taking donations that we put a pot out and received hundreds of pounds. One older Asian gentleman gave us a £50 note!
People were often very emphatic in their gratitude that something big was finally happening. We trained hundreds of people in Non Violent Direct Action. Took hundreds of sign up sheets. Transformed a polluted shrine to consumerism into a people-friendly festival of life, hope and peaceful rebellion."

Extinction Rebellion have made three key demands, The first was for the government to tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency and working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change. The second was to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025: a very ambitious time-scale maybe, but the need for change is nevertheless urgent. Thirdly, that the government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice. As someone with a long involvement in the climate debate, I would also have a fourth demand: tell them how the Goddam Planet works.

By this, I mean that if, “how the planet works”, had been a compulsory part of our National Curriculum, and its predecessors, in schools from the 1950s onwards, there would have been no need for Extinction Rebellion. The planet is our only home, but outside of the Earth Science community, detailed knowledge of the development of life on Earth and what sustains it – and what has come close to wiping it out, is not commonplace. It's as if Planet Earth has been an irrelevance for all these years. Yet the basic principles could easily be taught at a secondary school level, alongside the more traditional physics, chemistry and biology. It would mean far more people would be better-equipped to help maintain a living planet: what's not to like about that?

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Comments

Comments 1 to 18:

  1. The response to the XR protests looks very much like the response to the women's suffrage movement or the civil rights movement. If you can't credibly attack a protestor's claims, then attack their methods.

    But if you look at the structure of the attacks, it soon become clear that the only acceptable method of protest, according to the critics, is ineffective protest. People are welcome to protest as long as their protests cause no inconvenience or discomfort to anyone else; in other words if the protests are ineffective.

    In the case of the suffrage movement and the civil rights movement, the critics also found themselves on the wrong side of history.

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  2. A significant point is that all of the "Civil Disobedience Disruption" by XR protests was done without any angry violence.

    Groups like the Yellow-Vesters in France could learn from that example.

    There have been cases of deliberate planting of violent agitators into peaceful protests that become too effective. At least in Britain there is little chance of the likes of Russian Cossack gangs attacking the protests. The USA is not as likely to have XR protests be free from that type of attack.

    Hopefully XR will have enough vigilant trained peaceful protest monitors in every location they act to effectively safely maintain their Peaceful Civil Disobedient Inconvenient Disruption Protests. Like the leaders of the construction industry say "Safety First: There is no reason for anyone to get hurt. Everyone needs to participate in ensuring that is the reality at the end of every day." (Of course many construction industry companies still try to maximize their profit by getting things done quicker and cheaper at the expense of safety, but they do not really have a future).

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  3. BTW, here's a link to the David Attenborough documentary. H/T Tamino.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLdxWjEWCrk

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  4. Recommended supplemental readings:

    The science behind Extinction Rebellion’s three climate change demands by Adam Vaughan, Environment, New Scientist, Apr 25, 2019

    Extinction Rebellion rushes activists' handbook This Is Not a Drill into print by Alison Flood, Books, Guardian, Apr 26, 2019

    Why the climate protests that disrupted London were different by Eliza Barclay & Umair Irfan. Energy & environment, Vox, Apr 28, 2019

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  5. Regarding claims that 'Net-Zero Britain by 2025 is politically impractical'.

    Everyone making that type of claim should be required to admit that damaging deliberate irresponsible political action and related leadership through the past 30 years has created that 'political impracticality' (what Greta Thunberg correctly points out every chance she gets).

    The follow-up required admission should be that all of the political participants in that delay tactic (everyone who tried to impede development of improving awareness and understanding and the required corrections), should be removed from the political playing field so that responsible leaders can most effectively act to avoid future 'political impracticality'.

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  6. Here is a study that suggests peaceful protest is more effective than violent protest, based on hard historical data. It seems to be extinction rebellion has things well worked out. 

    From what I have read in articles on human behaviour, violence and strong verbal abuse are tactics to intimidate dissenters and shut them up, and are effectively status displays, and are less effective at changing the minds of people especially the great "silent majority"  of people. 

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  7. This is a really good data based article. Its a bit ominous that almost all the critical comments are characteristic of conservatives, showing just how politicised the whole issue has become, although one suspects the people posting criticial comments are largely working for conservative special interest groups or are disgruntled individuals so perhaps not representative of the great silent majority of conservatives. And its good that extinction rebellion have steered clear of the blame game, and politicising the issue because in democracies we simply have no choice but to try to build political consensus and persuade people.

    The china syndrome is of course a weak argument and can be resolved with international agreements getting everyone to pull together. Sadly the dissenters then complain about so called loss of sovereignty. The climate issue has become so deeply frustrating. The denialists will indeed find themselves on the wrong side of history, but probably won't care.

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  8. John Mason included the very important clarification that the political group causing problems is Neo-liberal, not Conservative.

    The harmful actions of Neo-liberal groups are not just denial of climate science and resistance to the required Climate Action corrections of what has developed. They try to promote and prolong many other unsustainable unjust pursuits of personal interest.

    In Alberta, where I live, and in many other places, the Neo-liberals learned that they can increase their chances of winning power by uniting with social fundamentalists (change resistant believers in the superiority of their identifiable Tribes - religious or cultural). And they learned to try to be the only, or vastly larger, 'Conservative' named political group in order to also get the votes of people who have grown up Conservative (meaning: grown up to believe that they Must vote for the Conservative - change resisting - candidate)

    It costs a Neo-liberal very little to give Fundamentally Intolerant Tribal people what they want. And those Fundamentalists will instinctively passionately (without serious consideration) support any group with leadership that appears to be willing to support and excuse their socially unsustainable and harmful beliefs and actions.

    The unacceptability of Uniting government power with religious beliefs was well understood by the Founders of the USA. Had they experienced more recent history they likely would have also understood the importance of separation of government power from any social fundamentalists, and from the interests of the wealthiest.

    It is very important to clarify that the Neo-liberals and the social fundamentalists they can be seen uniting with are not Conservatives. They are undeniably corrupting correction-resistant influences on the Right.

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  9. I'm uneasy about Extinction Rebellion's 'tell the truth' demand. The 'truth' they are telling their supporters to get them motivated to me looks quite a lot like 'reverse denialism' inasmuch as they cherry pick the very worst projections/predictions, the words of the most 'edgy' scientists and scientifc pundits such as Beckwith, MacPherson, Anderson and use cherry picked realities, such as the faster than expected polar ice loss rates, and that German nature reserve study on flying insects, to create a narrative that we are imminently doomed unless we adopt a 'war' mentality. Their headline net carbon neutrality by 2025 target has been criticised by Dr Adam Levy (ClimateAdam on Youtube) as not only just politically very unlikely but also physically impossible too...

    I've ploughed through 3hrs+ of the organisers' videos and they make a big deal of that 'resilience centre' study that basically multiplied all the low-probability-high-impact scenarios together which basically asked what would happen if all the worst things that could happen actually happened - rather like someone who places a ten horse accumulator bet on rank outsiders and expects to get rich quick!

    Whilst I believe that for risk assessment purpose such low probability aspects absolutely should not be dismissed I am preety sure, based on what I have seen that ER are promoting the 'ten horse accumulator'  as the actual mainstream science which isn't being told to the public to get that public on to the streets protesting.

    Anyone who has been fighting denialism for years will know that the denialosphere keep lists of silly or unwise things scientists, pro-climate campaigners such as Al Gore, etc etc have said (such as Viner's 'kids won't know what snow is anymore' remarks)  and they wheel them out endlessly for many years afterwards.  I think the rhetoric from the organisers of ER looks like a new source for the denailists to use to smear more moderate scientsists and the science itself.

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  10. Hi Nick,

    Coming from the ancient and dogged of SkS, I can sympathise! I do not believe that adopting AMEG's stuff is especially sound. It's not supported by hard evidence. But at the same time, we have created an atmosphere not seen since at least the mid-Pliocene. That we know from hard evidence. There will be wide-ranging consequences (there already are). XR are a very new group and have done important stuff by sheer dint of numbers, and I do not think they have done so by just messaging. Lots of us have seen biodiversity decline severely in our lifetimes. I remember the Cotswolds as a boy. Very different now.

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  11. Nick Palmer,

    Let me present 'the basis for the design and construction of structures' and relate it to 'the basis of design and construction of the planet humans can survive on' and see if that changes your mind about the validity of concerns regarding 'extremely unlikely things, but still potential real things'.

    The design codes for Structures that have been developed by most developed and developing nations require a high degree of certainty that the structure will function successfully through a period of up to 100 years. To do that, there needs to be less than 2% chance of inadequacy for the combinations of things hat could lead to failure like lower than designed for quality of materials, or more severe than designed for conditions being experienced.

    That means that for a structure to be considered reasonably reliable through 100 years a design that leaves a 2% chance of failure is thought to be reasonable, as long as in the event of damage to the structure people can safely exit with the structure being repaired or rebuilt as required before it is deemed suitable for continued use.

    Now relate that to the one and only planet that humanity is certain to have a chance of surviving on for the next 1 billion years. What level of likelihood of unacceptable damage done with repair or reconstruction required before it is able to be re-occupied is acceptable? Any chance that is greater than 'None' seems absurd.

    The popularity of Other perceptions is a serious problem. Compromising the degree of concern by saying 'things may not be as bad as they might be' doesn't sound Helpful. It can even be extremely harmful if it delays the required improved awareness and understanding needed to support the required correction of developed harmful and unsustainable activities.

    Too many times in the past humanity has twiddled it thumbs evading the need to externally act to limit the harmful results of 'Sovereignty' because it is hoped that those pursuing harmful selfish acts under the 'supposedly impenetrable defensive shield of sovereignty' will choose to change their minds and behave better.

    Allowing sovereignty to shield harmful Egoism is a serious threat to the future of humanity.

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  12. Nick, it annoys me too that many environmental activists run with the idea of picking the worst case scenarios so as to motivate the public or the belief that by pushing to one extreme, then you can shift the outcome closer to a desirable outcome.  Long ago, I attended a talk from one activist/analyst that had a lot of examples about how ineffective this was in shifting government policy. It was too easy for officials to demonstrate the exaggerated nature or even falseness of claims, discrediting activists and allowing politicians to score points in debate against them. By constrast, if officials on investigation found that activists were underestimating the problem, the politicians or at least ministry officials would tend to act.

    However, it does depend somewhat on extent to which activists do capture the public imagination. If more than 60% of electorate are sympathetic then politicians feel vunerable if opposing. I really wish we could get action on a whole host of issues with a "just the facts" approach but sadly democracies dont work that way.

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  13. This is my take on the Truth issue.

    There seems to be a good argument emerging that the IPCC reports are conservative in some respects, for example they do not include certain particular feedbacks related to the arctic area. This really needs to be addressed pretty urgently if its the case. This is not to rubbish the reports, which seem very good to me on the whole.

    And while the IPCC underestimated the decline of arctic ice as pointed out by extinction rebellion, basic warming estimates have been slightly over (emphasis on slightly) so it cancels out. But the bottom line is I think there are some problems in the reports.

    And I have noticed that the summary for policy makers is very muted in its tone, for example talking about good certainty that there will be more heatwaves, but to me totally failing to get across just how severe those heatwaves could become. The summary for policy makers is good on the science, but it communicates in a way that is a bit over nuanced doesn't get across the serious risks and very real possibilities, and it's the document that people read. 

    The IPCC reports do talk about the possibility of warming considerably exceeding 4 degrees c by 2300 but it gets lost in the fine print in the body of the report that people can easily miss. Likewise there is new research on hothouse earth and climate tipping points. These things need to be better bought to the attention of the public, but one suspects that if they are in the next IPCC report they will be lost in the detail and all but invisible.

    I don't think policy should be based on some "reasonably likely scenario". We have to look at worst case scenarios even if they are low probability because the stakes are so high as others have suggested. If we trigger run away warming, there is no nice blue planet close by we can colonise.

    But worst case scenarios have to be evidence based. There is evidence sea level rise could well exceed IPCC estimates of 1 metre this century, but claims of 5 - 10 metres this century made by a couple of scientists look hard to explain to me.

    And I don't think exaggerated claims help our cause. Guy Macpherson claims humanity would be extinct within ten years due to climate change here. This is obviously in the realms of fantasy. People will think that if one climate expert is crazy perhaps all climate scientists are crazy, because they are looking for a way of doing that to avoid confronting the climate problem.

    Of couse climate change will cause huamity problems and increased mortaility, and  is almost certain to cause many other species to go extinct, and will exacerbate a very concerning decline in insect numbers.

    The writer David Wallace Wells latest book seems to capture the dire risks of climate change in a slightly more soundly based way.

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  14. I agree that claiming something horrible will be happening much sooner than it actually will happen is unhelpful. However, it is important to point out the most horrible collective result that could develop as a result of everyone's lack of interest in corrective actions, or their belief that only those people who care should solve the problem themselves (expecting others to solve a problem while you make it worse is worse than irrational).

    Socioeconomic-political systems are harmfully and insidiously encouraging people to develop:

    • Less concern for things that will happen further in the future. It is not rational to consider a harmful event to be less of a concern if it is further in the future (a broken leg is a broken leg). But many people tend to react and think that way.
    • less concern for things that will happen to people they are unlikely to know or care about. Something bad happening to a person cannot rationally be diminished in severity based on 'how well acquainted you are to the person who is suffering' (a person harmed is not less harmed because you do not know them well).
    • less concern for things that an individual can think they are only contributing a small amount to. The collective total of actions is the reality. It is not rational to think that individual contributions to an accumulating problem are irrelevant. Every bit adds to the problem.

    Issues like climate science (and there are many issues like it), suffer a lack of corrective action because the status-quo socioeconomic-political systems develop harmful irrational ways of thinking that resist correction.

    Developing an effective ethical solution within a status-quo that encourages unethical attitudes to develop may not be possible. It may be like that classic description of Insanity. Presenting shocking claims (shock therapy) may be required to bring about the required corrections of thinking that have developed in the status-quo.

    As an example it is incorrect to talk about the temperature increase that will occur by 2100. That may be meaningful to scientists, but what really matters politically is the highest temperature that will be created by the accumulated harmful human impacts. It may even be politically appropriate to present what that future would look like with an RCP far exceeding 8.5, combined with the statement that everyone reasonably wealthy today who is resisting correction of their way of life, demanding no loss of perceptions of prosperity or status because of the required correction, is immorally contributing to the creation of that horrific harmful future. The wealthier they are, the more immoral their resistance to correction is.

    That change of perception, increased perception that the resisters of 'climate science and its identified corrections of what has developed' are harmful immoral actors, may be required to effectively rapidly reduce the amount of harm being done to future generations.

    The past 30 years seem to indicate that compromising to accommodate everyone's personal sovereign interests, no ruffled feathers among the peacocks, will not achieve the rationally required result of rapidly ending the individual contributions of harm to future generations.

    Connecting the worst of the possible futures to the worst of the wealthiest is not wrong. Rhetorically tarring and feathering the worst of the wealthy peacocks by pointing out that they are the most immoral and least deserving of respect in the population should not be required, but that depends on how resistant to helping others, especially the future of humanity, they choose to try to be.

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  15. OPOF @ 8 neoliberalism is probably a preferable term to pointing at conservatives, but is still not ideal because it means different things to different people. It loosely includes deregulation, privatisation and free trade etc. I think neoliberalism gives the private sector excessive power but we should not go back to protectionist trade.

    What we really have to do is articulate an alternative system. Countries like Finland and Norway have quite good socio economic systems, although its hard to sum it up briefly.  Most problems have been solved somewhere in the world. It's no coincidence that Scandinavia are doing ok on climate change mitigation.

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  16. nigelj @15,

    Agreed. Describing the behaviour in detail is better than just using a label. However, Neo-Liberal is a better label than the far more generic Conservative.

    And the solution can be fairly simply described.

    Altruistic helpful improvement of awareness and understanding and its application to correct harmful unsustainable developments and pursue and improve on the Sustainable Development Goals is what is required.

    However, the hard task is getting everyone to understand that any activity or institution, not just capitalism, needs to be governed and limited by that Helpful Altruism. And that the higher the status a person has the higher the requirement for them to be helpful that way. There would be no expectation that the poorest and least fortunate would be helpful or have any influence. So anyone of higher perceived status not wanting to be more helpful can justifiably be claimed to be choosing to be less influential and be relegated (penalized if necessary) down to the lower levels of the poorer and least fortunate. They do not deserve any perceptions of higher status than their chosen level of helpfulness.

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  17. Nick Palmer and SkS generally: While Beckwith and McPherson seem a bit out there, there does seem to be an evolving concensus that many things are happening much faster than expected, esp. in the arctic (and, per Beckwith, and you can track down the paper he mentions) they just strated tracking arctic Nitrous Oxide.

    Combine this with Richard Alley's work (among others, I'm sure) that abrupt climate change very likely happened before plus the idea in the 1990s that 1.5 might lead to feedback loops and 2 degrees certainly would, wouldn't it be better to err on the side of 0 emissions by tomorrow (which would save lifes via air quality among other causes) ?

    Last I checked, methane is increasing in a quite an unexplained, unaccounted for clip (of course Beckwith et al point to the vast area of perma frost not monitored)...

    Point being, yes many of the studies of feedback systems in the arctic are in first stages, can we afford to wait the decade it would take to verify their findings?

    As Richard Alley said in his presentation to the AGS years ago, there might only be a 5% chance, but there is a 5% the climate flips.

    If that happens it very likely could be PETM or post Siberian Traps.

    Or am I missing something? Did you guys update this site to include studies that explain the increases in methane and CO2 above the arctic? That wamer soils are starting to be become carbon sources? That warmer oceans are beginning to become a less effective sink possibly leading to a source?

    Even if all this is inaccurate, there are something like 122,000 coal fired plants being built around the world now. Tars sands, fracking... all this has to be stopped. How can we get the world to pull together in a democratic way other than deposing market systems and aknowledging we have to plan our resource use and help each other to live sustainably on the planet via changing energy and agriculture?

    In terms of material necessity (food, shelter, healthcare), the proportion off the population that does anything is miniscule. If we shared these jobs in a democratic way, expanded education and research, created walking cities we could drop emissions drastically in a day.

    Free Catalonia of the 1930s is a good model (among others).

    And as XR points out, fear can lead to freeze, flight or fight.

    But, again, if you've debunked all this, point me to the article and I'll happily sleep better.

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  18. Annoyingly, Youtube have taken down the Attenborough documentary, linked to in post 3, upthread. BBC have complained about copyright. Normally I'd see their point, but on a subject as important as this, it seems like bad form to me.

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