Arrogant, ignorant and out of his depth, is Banana Boy Miliband our worst Foreign Secretary ever?

I’ve touched previously on the paranoid style in Daily Mail articles, but I thought this was quite impressive even by usual standards.

“Beyond hectoring this country’s allies in this way, Miliband also remains a global warming zealot. This is even though the world’s climate is actually cooling, the ice is expanding, the seas aren’t rising at a rate which should concern anyone and there is overwhelming evidence that the whole man-made global warming panic is an anti-west scam of unprecedented proportions.”

I’ve spoken before about climate change in the Mail and I’ll not do it again so soon. What I find more interesting is the idea that it’s a conspiracy  – who by, and for what purpose? Is the West ripping off itself, or is this some sort of evil developing world scheme to hobble our once proud industry further? How have they managed it? I mean, it is a hell of a scheme – it’s not just Miliband they’ve fooled/bought, this con is big. A lot of people who really should know better have gone and got the wrong answer to a simple either-or question. That’s a good scam.

“Much of this comes from a way of looking at the world through a highly ideological and distorting prism. Miliband is very much a child of the post-modern era in which the dominant  belief system of the progressive classes comprises ‘soft power’ – under which negotiation, legal processes and compromise take the place of war whose objective is actually to defeat an enemy with an unconscionable and non-negotiable agenda; ‘trans-nationalism’, under which the nation state is defined as the source of all the ills of the world; and ‘cultural relativism’, under which the west refuses to hold itself superior in its values to the third world, whose ‘narrative’ of its own oppression and powerlessness thus trumps all attempts by the west to defend itself against the attacks the third world mounts upon it.”

I admit that this juxtaposition reads a little strangely, there were some intervening paragraphs, but I’m assuming that the argument is consistent, and this is the first bit that would seem to reflect back on the dastardly scheme to scam the West. Turns out that all those Tuvaluans with their plans to live in New Zealand once their nation submerges are really only trying to undermine Western values with their narratives of oppression. First the petty cultural relativists¹ let them take our light bulbs, and next it’ll be our wives, castles and prejudices.

What this misses is the perfectly reasonable middle ground between mea culpa and right all along – that the nation state, while having its plus points, can also be guilty of some fairly dodgy things. For example, the system of propping up odious dictatorships as a protection of ones own people is a rum one, as are protectionist tariffs and the Olympics. We can safely question these without giving in to self-flagellation – think of it not as relativism but healthy jingoistic introspection. Thinking things through, we might find that we are, in fact, responsible for some of the ills of the world, and that some ways of improving things may be available through negotiation with those we’ve disadvantaged (or ‘wronged’, should you wish to be accurate).

The idea that we can just pretend that the damage we sometimes cause doesn’t happen is one we should have grown out of before hitting school. We can’t pull girls hair and claim that they’re making it up when they go crying to mummy – it didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. Ad hominem attacks ( “a twerp of the first order”) won’t change that. And claiming that the crafty poor majority are coming to steal you incandescent light bulbs under false pretences before accusing  other people of disconnecting from reality won’t either.

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¹ As an aside, she’s right about cultural relativism – to suggest that ‘x is wrong’ is the same as ‘x is wrong for me, but other people may disagree and are entitled to their opinion’ seems to me to misunderstand the meaning of ‘wrong’. Presumably we’re none of us relativist about, for example, rape – when we say that is wrong, we’re saying exactly what we mean. I’m not sure how ‘chauvinism is wrong’ or ‘causing animals unnecessary suffering is wrong’ are different – that is to say, what makes them different has never been adequately explained to me.

If Del Boy was around today, he’d be trading in carbon offsets

I suppose it goes without saying that I was surprised by Littlejohn’s column today, I’m not really his target audience, but I genuinely didn’t believe that there was still anyone out there who didn’t accept the evidence for climate change. After all, there is a scientific consensus behind it (see Oreskes (2004) for a brief introduction, this letter by various national academies in 2005  or this statement from the World Meteorological Association in 2006) and general governmental agreement (this is the text of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and these are the signatories). Poor naive fool that I am, I took this on good faith and started adapting my life accordingly.

What I foolishly failed to notice is that it’s cold at the moment, and has been warm in the past. If we were really warming, you’d expect it to be the other way around. Ergo, as Richard bravely points out, we can’t be warming. The fact that scientists missed this is probably a sign of some sort of agenda.

“None of this has in any way deterred the ‘global warming’ fascists. They dismiss this glaring, incontrovertible evidence as a ‘blip’ and continue to insist the world is burning up.”

The short answer to this is that Richard has got things the wrong way around – we have consistent findings of global rises in temperature (glaring, incontrovertible evidence, as it were) which he is writing off as anomalous, based on some localised instances of weather that doesn’t fit with the general trend. The trend and the instances are not incompatible though – a trend reflects the set of instances, it doesn’t determine individual ones. It is more than possible to have an unusually cold winter in the midst of generally warming ones – for example, our current cold spell is attributable to the effects of La Niña, the cold end of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (see the Met Office’s explanation here). It in no way undermines the consistent findings that global temperatures have risen.

On one level I can understand Richard’s mistake – it seems common sense that if we’re warming we should be warmer. However, the obvious thing to do when faced with something that runs against logic would be to find out if there was any satisfactory explanation, rather than assuming that the scientific community were a bunch of lying chancers you’ve easily proved wrong. What is striking is not just the solipsism of this (which must be difficult to avoid when you’re being paid for any and all of your thoughts) but the misconception of ‘science’ as an authoritarian monolith.

I’m being slightly unfair here, because Richard isn’t really interested in the scientific consensus – he seems to assume that there isn’t one. His real targets seems to be politicians and busy-bodies who are seizing on poor evidence to justify impositions on honest, hardworking people.

“That’s because this isn’t about the planet, it’s all about them.

‘Global warming’ gives them a reason to believe, provides meaning and purpose to their dismal little lives.”

This, again, seems to be upside-down. I would argue that, given that those who will suffer most dramatically (and who are already suffering) from the consequences of global warming are the world’s poorest (see here for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 working group report), acting to reduce carbon usage is actually about making sacrifices for others. Jacking up the heating because you’re damned if some government minister is going to tell you what to your own house is ‘all about you’, especially if you’re basing your actions on your own experience of the weather rather the evidence and opinions of those best placed to judge.

This kind of self-satisfied and wilful ignorance is irresponsible. There is a dishonesty in attacking a movement because it has the support of politicians when that support is based on apolitical evidence – however untrustworthy you think politicians are, some little investigation shows that in this case they are justified, a fact which should mitigate the mistrust. Instead, the lack of faith in them is extended sideways by association. Meanwhile, the fear of Richard and his readers is focused on the monster under the bed, when they should be worried about the water lapping at their door.