Miliband, energy prices and the Big Six

British Gas, EDF Energy, Eon, Npower, Scottish Power, SSE.

At the 2013 Labour Conference, Labour leader Ed Miliband said of these Big Six:

Take the gas and electricity companies. We need successful energy companies, in Britain. We need them to invest for the future. But you need to get a fair deal and frankly, there will never be public consent for that investment unless you do get a fair deal. And the system is broken and we are going to fix it.

If we win the election 2015 the next Labour government will freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017. Your bills will not rise. It will benefit millions of families and millions of businesses. That’s what I mean by a government that fights for you. That’s what I mean when I say Britain can do better than this.

I expect the black-hearted Conservative voting lobbies to go for Labour between now and the elections. So here is Which Magazine, bastion of consumerism, debunking some energy market myths in its October 2013 issue (pp28-29).

From it we discover that our electricity comes from coal (39%), gas (28%), nuclear (19%), renewables (11.3%) and other (2.5%). Of the 28% gas, over half is produced in the UK and around a quarter is from Qatar. Less than 1% is from Russia.

Since 2008 there have been 91 price changes of which 77% (hey Which, that’s 71) price changes have been increases. The generation and retail operations are ‘vertically integrated’ – that is, linked by a single company which sells to itself behind closed doors. You can bet they make a heap of money. Which estimates that in 2012 the generation operations averaged profits of 20%. These vertically integrated companies can and do choke off supplies to smaller companies, causing them to become uncompetitive. My fuel comes from one of these smaller companies.

Six huge vertically integrated companies prevent genuine competition in the energy market. Weak competition means that although British Gas lost 868,000 customers after increasing its prices by 28% in 2006, its gas sales revenues increased by 15%. Hiking the prices pays off for the Big Six.

4% of an average household energy bill is invested in low carbon energy – for some reason this is taken from the electricity bill. However, 26% of the 9% of British households which are electrically heated are classed as fuel poor (significantly higher in Scotland and Wales) – they are paying disproportionately for this low carbon investment.

No mention of fracking in the Which report. Miliband mentions it once – not to oppose it or rally renewables support. But to score a cheap point off the Conservatives.

Obviously the solution is a combination of nationalised and small-scale renewables. Not on Miliband’s cards, as far as I can see. Nor anything of substance in Caroline Flint’s 2013 conference speech. And what about the Living Standards and Sustainability Policy Commission – hello? Pathetic, appalling. But still, resigned gradualist that I am, I support the fuel price fixing gambit. It forces the Conservatives to either reveal themselves as profiteers or rein in the Big Six. If the former, Labour gains. If the latter, the consumer. Either way is better than now. But it’s a long way from actually doing any good. I wish Labour were better, because the Green Party is crazy nasty.

And yet, the worst thing would be not to vote.

“Influential left-wing ideas” (or issues, or initiatives)

Bob From Brockley asked about what I (among others) thought were the most influential left-wing ideas, as a follow-on from what I thought was a dispiriting discussion about influential left-wing individuals.

People report they are finding this difficult. Without a doubt it’s harder to examine the influence of ideas on populations of individuals than the influence of prominant (or perhaps more often, dominant) individuals on populations. But ‘vector’, the metaphor for infection or pollination which is now widely used to talk about the spread of ideas, is a good metaphor because a vector isn’t a single organism with intent, but a phenomenon in a context.

The good influences mentioned so far include (Bob’s) social justice; internationalism; the one-state solution; open source; strangers into citizens and (Sarah’s) statism; LGCT rights; minimum wage; secularism; the blogosphere.

Mine follow. They’re scant I’m afraid. There’s some overlap with Bob, but at least one interesting point of departure.

Good influences

Internationalism. The kind of coordination of effort and redistribution of resources and know-how which holds that tackling climate change is important because some people, whose lives are as important as ours, reside in low-lying Bangladesh. This depends on a sense that “that could be me”, and empathy, which I think of as an essentially left-wing disposition. The kind of coordination which sends international peace-keeping forces to underwrite Ivory Coast democracy and peace in the Balkans. And at the grass-roots, organisations like Fairtrade, Labour Behind the Label and the rainforest preservation initiatives whose idea of sustainability includes the wellbeing of local human communities.

Equality. It’s good that talk of social mobility, which implies decline as well as gain, has been replaced to some extent by a commitment to arrest and reverse the gap between the middle and the poor. Wilkinson and Pickett’s ‘The Spirit Level’ has changed the political right and recalibrated the left by claiming that inequality harms the wealthy as well as the poor. On the other hand, the Equality Act (now threatened by the Coalition on the pretext of removing burdens on business) was conceived to support equality of opportunity by outlawing discrimination.

Openness. Open government: the Freedom of Information Act. Open source: Moodle not BlackBoard; OpenOffice not Microsoft Office; Ubuntu not Mac OS; Audacity not GarageBand. The open web: Twitter not Facebook; Gutenberg and CreativeCommons, not Amazon.

The following two are on a different scale from the three above. Better to think of them as initiatives rather than ideas.

Mutualism and cooperatives. Workers’ stake in decision-making about the businesses which employ them. N.b. I (and I think Bob too) mean for the commercial sector, rather than this weird New Labour and latterly Conservative mutualisation of what were formerly state-run public services.

The nanny state. I know that the smoking ban passed through the legistature on an employment law technicality, but for many, smokers and non-smokers alike, it’s a good thing if we are supported to overcome the parts of us which a) hurt us, and b)  draw heavily on a shared NHS pot. The nanny state also belongs in the ‘not influential enough’ section below. I hope for more nannying over our diets and physical activity. I also hope for a better name for this, and feel ambivalent about its alternative, libertarian paternalism.

Not influential enough

Conservation. Conservation is the un-self-interested investment in unknown future others. It stands against consumption, against individualism and for kindness. It cares, preserves, doesn’t take for granted, doesn’t squander, and hands over in good order. It treats the world as an inheritance. Sound left-wing to you? Me neither – even though it should be a principal tenet of the left. This is why I remain, despite their many and troubling failings, more Green than Labour.

Opposing the consumption of animal. In recent decades, the desire for cheap animal protein in a capitalist system has precipitated a race to the bottom in terms of animal welfare. As a general rule, animals are bred to maximise feed conversion at the expense of their health, pumped with pharmaceuticals at the expense of our health. Their deaths are never good, often not achieved quickly, and the sick ones are rarely euthanased because it’s too expensive. The animals’ shit makes us ill. Animal farming is for the most part environmentally degrading and takes up an enormous amount of land at the expense of other food crops – i.e. we do not need to eat animal to thrive. The most acute and prevalent suffering in the world is that of farmed animals. There can be no left-wing position that supports this disgusting, self-harming state of affairs.

Related to openness, the free flow of ideas embodied in the open access movement, enabled by CreativeCommons which fractured the binary all or nothing approach to authors’ rights, and allowed them to decide how they wanted to make their work available.  There is a growing number of reputable non-commercial publication channels such as the Open Humanities Press (another major vector of left-wing thinking and amplifying some of the individuals I know Bob feels have too much influence on the left – but, those individuals aside, a model of how academic publishing should be). Now there is nothing to stop the world’s scholars publishing gratis and libre open access, and offering their ideas to a hungry world. However most continue to publish commercially for readers of means, often without self-archiving.

I’m beginning to become resentful (I think it may be partly due to a bout of inter-festive dejection) so let us proceed to:

Initiatives I appreciate when I’m feeling realist in a right-wing world

  • Micro-credit
  • Regulation of the money markets
  • Philanthropy

All for now – thanks Bob. Like him I doubt I can rouse anybody to this, but I’d be very interested to hear from Stroppy, Papanomicron, Barkingside21 and let’s bother Mod some more. And, remembering that Marko did this last year in a fashion, I read his again.

Update: here’s Weggis – think observation rather than aspiration.

How to be a top political blogger

I was pleased and more than a little surprised to discover this blog among the Total Politics top green blogs for 2010, at number 14. The ranking, which is controversial because it’s presided over by a leading Conservative blogger, is based on the votes of 2,200 self-selected people, but I’m not sure what the question was.

According to Adrian’s foraging (congratulations Adrian for being 8th), according to Wikio Flesh is number 20. Wikio’s ranking is based on the number and weight of links to a blog (other than that the methodology is uncertain, but I have to thank Barkingside21, Weggis, and Bob, and (less, because they’re not listed by Wikio) Mod and Kellie (whom I’ve just submitted to Wikio and who will inevitably nudge me down, selfless creature I am). Update: also submitted The Poor Mouth – and how could I miss out Gordon’s GreenFeed?

But to get things in perspective, my blog has taken a tumble in the grand scheme of things. It’s been a while since the stats got above 3000 readers per month. Its Wikio ranking (general category – I’m not registered there as a political blog) of 724 in November 2009 has fallen to 1398 in August 2010. The pool is bigger and higher quality, for a start. Also work has been more demanding and I’ve also been getting out more, with a consequent drastic decline in the number of posts. Back in the bad old days when my trade union took a piss all over my sleep patterns I was writing 38 posts in a month. This year I haven’t posted 38 in 8 months. And ultimately, I’m too laid back about the ranking to change my behaviour. Long may this harmless self-indulgence endure, because in my case it’s a barometer of security.

But if my frustration and worry develop a sense of potential, and these things become acute enough to engender ambition, I know what I could do to improve my ranking. I’d need to become a political actor as well as member of the chatterati, and use the web-based medium to its fullest extent. Here’s how I’d do it (update: n.b. here’s how I mostly don’t do it):

  • Link frequently to fellow bloggers. Ambitious bloggers treat links as a currency. Unlike the snooty established media, bloggers are likely to link back.
  • Addition: in linking, attend to connections between your readers. Aim to be a node not a hub, so your network remains if you stop blogging tomorrow; act as a sort of socio-political glue.
  • Don’t just write for, or link to, people whose views you share. The most vulnerable ideas are the ones which are taken for granted and left unchallenged.
  • Filter blog i.e. select purposefully from the web and link to the most important things you’ve seen, organised into themes. As well as providing a public service, filter blogging is an acceptable (uningratiating) way to link copiously to fellow bloggers, as mentioned above. It is also more personal than it might at first appear, giving insights into your interests. It’s also a good use of your time. Filter blogging contrasts with original writing; it’s the equivalent of listening – particularly if you provide some contextualisation. Promoting listening on the Web is a good thing to do.
  • Use links as bait – they are a discreet and genteel way to ask a fellow blogger to read your post. Their clicks enhance your ranking. So as well as linking to them, click on your own links to them so that your visit appears in their stats.
  • Never stop posting – if taking a holiday, schedule posts while away.
  • Comment at other places and make the most of your adventures by directing your readers to the online discussions in which you’ve participated.
  • Acknowledge your commenters and treat each contribution as something permanent. Refer to them as works in their own right.
  • Attempt to start conversations.
  • Maintain concern for the events you write about; don’t abandon them as if they were old stories. A long attention span is an article of responsible journalism, and also related to listening. (It’s the most important thing I lack.)

The most open-eyed example I know of these practices is Bob From Brockley. I’m not sure to what extent he’s participating in this rankings game, but he is definitely nurturing a politics on the left and growing a readership is a necessary part of that. More power to him.

To continue:

  • Use the social web. Feed to and from other places frequented by your constituents, which these days include Facebook and Twitter.
  • Use the granularity of the web. Syndicate, assume that your feeds will be analysed and feed the entire post, not just a summary.
  • Post early and carefully on events of global interest, before the rest of the media get to them. Be alert on Sundays, high days and holidays.
  • Go out to observe goings-on of interest, and report what you have observed as accurately as possible. Tweet and harvest your tweets. Aggregate other tweets for triangulation with your own account. Reporting is the part of journalism in greatest need of democratisation, where the web has most to offer. One recent illustration is the reportage of the Californian wildfires; as the established media were glued to Beverley Hills, the people beneath their notice in the L.A. suburbs within reach of the flames suddenly woke up to Twitter.
  • Use a three column layout and position your sidebar widgets to communicate your assets: maintain a blogroll; show your blog’s most recent comments above the fold to encourage participation; show a smorgasbord of your most recent posts, publicise your accolades (e.g. Top 25 Green Blog).
  • Help people to read you: write really well; include a search engine; use keywords and categories intuitively if you want to be read as a resource, and consistently if you want to link to yourself as a resource.
  • Politics is about exposure, so blog broadly – in a resourceful rather than populist way. If you have diverse interests and your blog is a journal of your day-to-day endeavours as well as a campaign, Google will bring a diverse readership to stumble upon your other messages. Reviews, recipes, how-to guides, that kind of thing.
  • Title posts intriguingly and with search engines in mind.
  • Do interviews. Important people will consent to be amplified, and their importance will bring you readers. It’s a nice symbiosis. On the other hand, if you obtain the dizzy heights Norm has, you can give right-minded nobodies like me a leg up by interviewing them. Like Bob, Norm is also building on the left.
  • Addition: thinking about Barkingside 21 which is both local and high-ranked, commenting on local government initiatives and local goings-on is a valuable thing to do – not least because politics begins where you live. B21 is good at illustrating the distinction between local and particular.

At this stage I can’t say I’m as relaxed as I thought I was about the contrast between how much I know and how little I’ve enacted. Suddenly it seems like a missed opportunity  to be only ranked the 1398th blog in the land – particularly when there are bastards, arseholes, linguistic disasters and total menaces higher up than me, and hardly any women getting read. After I’ve retired perhaps I could be number one. Maybe I owe it to myself. Hey, maybe I owe it to the whole wide world, like L’Oreal says.

But for now I have some chores to do, the first of which is to go pick slugs off my pepper plants, the second of which is an hour of shorthand, on which I hope to post next. And then just another quick read of the web to confirm that I want to reopen nominations for the green leadership elections.

Exemplary Green Party foreign policy

Rollo Miles is displaying international relations acumen characteristic of the rest of his party.

“People refer to Hamas as a terrorist organization, but let’s remember they were duly elected by the people of Gaza and therefore one could argue that they are a legitimate government.”

But the Nazi party was elected legitimately – it doesn’t mean they should have been left alone to do their revolting business.

“Israel was allowed to be created because the world felt a collective shame and guilt for what had happened to the Jews during the Second World War.”

If the world had felt a collective shame and guilt, surely it would have thrown open its borders to 250,000 or so refugees in DP camps for the years between the end of the war and the establishment of Israel. Most Jews would have preferred the US to Israel any day. My granny, for example, left Palestine for England when the opportunity arose and lived out her life here. Existing in Israel was extremely hard at the beginning, and still is hard. But the rest of the world didn’t open its borders to those stateless Jews, did it? And, if you can possibly believe it, many Jews who had survived forced labour camps, extermination camps, concentration camps, and death marches, and watched their friends and families die along the way, did not want to go home. If Rollo believes that Jews should take a lesson from this, I wonder what that lesson might be.

Warsaw Ghetto:

“Does this account remind you of what is happening in Gaza today, Israel you must remember your past and stop history from repeating itself?”

Hamas’ has genocidal tendencies. What about that bit of Jewish history?

The Greens cannot find enough good candidates to run, can they. I contributed to the deposits of people like him and I am frankly ashamed.

Palestinians need better advocates than this facile loser who believes that Auschwitz and the Warsaw Ghetto were instructive experiences in humanitarianism, or that you could learn there how to deal gently with genocidal movements.

Update: my recommendation would be to make him ‘former’, like the Lib Dems did to Jenny Tonge. Sadly, Jenny Tonge has not been expelled from the Liberal Democrats, and if she were she might well find a welcome in the Green Party, if she made an overture. Grim.

Our chief negotiator at the Copenhagen Climate Summit

The name of our negotiator at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen this fortnight is Jan Thompson. She is very private and a woman, so The Guardian finds itself talking more about her red patent boots than her political position.

Luckily she is being tracked by somebody more communicative. Her name is Anna and she’s from Warrington. She’s one of many youth climate activists who have adopted a negotiator at the behest of Global Climate Action, meet with them, shadow them and are relaying their actions to us. They exist to keep Copenhagen negotiators connected to the populations they represent. Far from all of the 192 countries at the summit have trackers, but some of the biggest emitters do including China, the US and India.

It sounds like Anna is struggling to stay positive:

“It’s been 6 months now since I ‘adopted you’ and today I set off for Copenhagen. I can hardly believe time has passed so quickly.

Before I start my journey, before we all return to the UN, and before the craziness and seemingly inevitable frustration sets in I wanted to take this time to write to you.

Over the last 6 months I have developed a much deeper understanding of the way the UNFCCC works. 6 months ago in Bonn I was fresh to this, eager and if the truth be known probably a little naive. As time has passed and we have been through Bangkok and Barcelona, as the process has developed and Copenhagen drawn ever closer, you know, I have often become frustrated. I have grown weary of the process, tired and often overwhelmed by it all. I’m sure at points you have felt all these things too. At times it maybe seemed you did.

Often when we meet at the UN the intensity of the situation, the long hours we are all working and the simple hugeness of the task in hand brings all these emotions to the surface for me. I know that’s true for my friends at the UN as well, and I’m pretty sure you could say the same for you and many of the other delegates.

That’s why I wanted to take this time to write to you now, before Copenhagen.

I wish sometimes we could meet away from the process, away from the UN, because then you would experience a very different me.

Away from the UN I am laid back and calm. I like to laugh and joke around, most of all I am optimistic, hopeful and happy. I see climate change not just as a challenge but also as the greatest opportunity our generation has ever had.”

Jan replies. The letter made her cry. Which in turn made me cry until I diverted myself with the red patent boots.

Here’s Anna’s collection of pieces about Jan. I now know that Jan hasn’t had a weekend off since the beginning of October. Bless her.

On this first day of the summit, Leela Rainer, tracking the Indian negotiator, has deja vu – same old spiel, different day. There doesn’t seem to be much energy. And the signage is really bad – people are lost and missing their meetings. And there are delegation offices at the conference venue (the Bella Centre), so people aren’t mingling. And fucking hell:

“From the UNFCCC documents to the free bags in the NGO centre, from the Copenhagen bottle to the green raincoat, to the badges, stickers, and posters; it was RAINING freebies and Bella Centre residents were scrambling to get each one to not miss on their COP collection.

If people could have spent even 50 % of that energy putting pressure on the negotiators as they moved around, we might be expecting fireworks by the end of this thing instead of months or a year from now.”

This is a lively, humorous and critical blog about a summit which will probably fail and indirectly kill us all. Read this from Anna trying to negotiate about her future with Jan’s boss.

Update: the front page of the Adopt A Negotiator site has chosen to foreground the most commented posts. These are not reliably the most important posts, but ones like Why Shouldn’t I Date and Annex-1 Guy. For those, look in the top right hand corner for the Recent Entries From: list.

The meaning of Climategate

The Copenhagen Summit on climate change is approaching, and the politics are overheating.

Over 1000 private emails were stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU – site is currently down, post-hack).

At The Telegraph, James Delingpole is trying to convince us that climate change is a figleaf over a one-world government globalisation agenda.

Bob from Brockey sent me a Wall Street Journal piece by an author who doesn’t seem to believe that in the physical sciences the ‘peer review’ process precludes the publication of work which puts up “alternative hypotheses” without solid basis for their relevance. More of such understandings below.

The author objects to the following, reproduced from a stolen email sent by Pennsylvania State University’s Michael Mann:

“This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the “peer-reviewed literature”. Obviously, they found a solution to that-take over a journal! So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering “Climate Research” as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board…”

Note how Michael Mann calls these people ‘skeptics’. I’m not sure this is a good term – or at least, it reflects badly on skepticism. I wish there were a better word which stopped short of ‘denier’ but recognised the role of loyalties and strongly-held beliefs. Reckon I might have to put ‘skeptics’ in scare quotes, which is something I only do when I’ve run out of words.

Anyway, these ‘skeptics’ hope to convince us that the unprecedented scientific consensus that we (humanity) are responsible for this period of climate change is a fiction, and only sustained by suppressing the work of heroic lone voices like the Climate Research journal.

But Climate Research has been politicised for a long time. Former editor Clare Goodess (researcher at CRU) relates the resignation of half its editorial board in 2003. After the publication of a skeptical paper (Soon and Baliunas, 2003) many climatologists protested and the publisher, Inter-Research, initiated an investigation into the peer review process.

“This left many of us somewhat confused and still very concerned about what had happened. The review process had apparently been correct, but a fundamentally flawed paper had been published. These flaws are described in an extended rebuttal to both Soon and Baliunas (2003) and Soon et al. (2003) published by Mike Mann and 11 other eminent climate scientists in July (Mann et al., 2003). Hans von Storch and I were also aware of three earlier Climate Research papers about which people had raised concerns over the review process. In all these cases, de Freitas had had editorial responsibility.

My main objective in raising the concerns of myself and many others over the most recent paper was to try to protect the reputation of the journal by focusing on the scientific rather than the political issues. Though I was well aware of the deliberate political use being made of the paper by Soon and Baliunas (well-known ‘climate sceptics’) and others. Chris de Freitas has also published what can be regarded as ‘climate sceptic’ views.

Eventually, however, Inter-Research recognised that something needed to be done and appointed Hans von Storch as editor-in-chief with effect from 1 August 2003. This would have marked a change from the existing system, where each of the 10 editors works independently. Authors can submit a manuscript to which ever of these editors they like. Hans drafted an editorial to appear in the next edition of Climate Research and circulated it to all the other editors for comment. However, Otto Kinne then decided that Hans could not publish the editorial without the agreement of all of the editors. Since at least one of the editors thought there was nothing wrong with the Soon and Baliunas paper, such an agreement was clearly never going to be obtained. In view of this, and the intervention of the publisher in editorial matters, Hans understandably felt that he could not take up the Editor-in-Chief position and resigned four days before he was due to start his new position. I also resigned as soon as I heard what had happened. This turned out to be the day of Inofhe’s US senate committee hearing and the news of the two resignations was announced at the hearing . Since then, another three editors have resigned.”

Hans von Storch, resignee editor-in-chief mentioned there, now Director of the Institute of Coastal Research at Geesthacht, has (hastily) updated his web site with a restrained account, and a call for action. There’s a link from it to a recent paper – von Storch, H., 2009: Climate Research and Policy Advice: Scientific and Cultural Constructions of Knowledge. Environmental Science and Policy;12(7) 741-747 which I have just read. It’s about the practice of ‘Bringschuld’, the communication of danger on the horizon as a moral obligation of the scientist.

I’m now in a hurry so I’ll dump rather than digest:

On postnormalisation of science and a new awareness of  the role of ‘cultural constructs’ in scientific communication:

“The quality of being “postnormal” was introduced into the analysis of science by the philosophers Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1985 S.O. Funtowicz and J.R. Ravetz, Three types of risk assessment: a methodological analysis. In: C. Whipple and V.T. Covello, Editors, Risk Analysis in the Private Sector, Plenum, New York (1985), pp. 217–231.Silvio Funtovitz and Jerry Ravetz (1985). In a situation where science cannot make concrete statements with high certainty, and in which the evidence of science is of considerable practical significance for formulating policies and decisions, then this science is impelled less and less by the pure “curiosity” that idealistic views glorify as the innermost driving force of science, and increasingly by the usefulness of the possible evidence for just such formulations of decisions and policy. It is no longer being scientific that is of central importance, nor the methodical quality, nor Popper’s dictum of falsification, nor Fleck’s idea of repairing outmoded systems of explanation (Fleck, 1980); instead, it is utility that carries the day. The saying “Nothing is as practical as a good theory,” attributed to Kurt Lewin, refers to the ability to facilitate decisions and guide actions. Not correctness, nor objective falsifiability, occupies the foreground, but rather social acceptance.

In its postnormal phase, science thus lives on its claims, on its staging in the media, on its congruity with cultural constructions. These knowledge claims are raised not only by established scientists, but also by other, self-appointed experts, who frequently enough are bound to special interests, be they Exxon or Greenpeace.”

von Storch recognises that scientific findings are socially situated, and that the skills and sensitivities of a cultural theorist are required when entering into communication with the public:

“In order to give our analysis depth and substance, we need the skills of the social and cultural sciences. My personal experience, which is admittedly limited, informs me that up to now, however, these sciences have largely kept their distance. What I have heard are occasional and general hints that everything would be socially constructed and relative—which I consider mostly signs of an unfortunate refusal to go into concrete detail, which would be unavoidable for any real synergy. It is annoying when colleagues from these fields obviously fail to notice that the scientific and cultural constructs are falling away from each other; instead, they content themselves with cultural constructions as circulated by the popular media and vested interests.”

He refers to science as a proxy battlefield whereby politicians present politics as subservient to science, and so the political battles are accordingly played out in the laboratories and scholarly publications. Policy-makers wait to see who “wins”, but science is supposed to hold itself open, to explore where there is a lack of resolution. Science is about question-finding; it should not be about propagandist tactics.

von Storch then goes on to discuss risks inherent in the representation of climate change as a catastrophic event for three different actors: scientists, politicians and the media:

“Science, or more precisely: the scientific institutions react to this risk by implementing professional “press relations”—which are oriented to “representational principles of the mass media.” Policy-makers protect themselves by creating a “hierarchy of knowledge, or of advice,” with advisors to the Chancellor, Climate Service Centres and the like. The mass media seek the attention of the public by selectively presenting scientific findings that either agree or conflict with the cultural construct, or else by staging controversies, by which means yet another cultural construct is served; namely, the construct of the allegedly arbitrary nature of scientific evidence.”

He ends by acknowledging that his view is limited to Central and Northern European experience, and hoping (in fact, I think it’s a yearning) for a reconciliation of cultural construction and scientific construction, concluding:

“The insight of two competing types of knowledge has a number of practical implications for science. One is, that science itself is under permanent influence of non-scientific knowledge claims, such as ideological or pre-scientific claims. They influence the scientist in his way of asking and in her request for evidence before accepting answers. Claims, which are consistent with cultural constructed knowledge are easier accepted as accurate than results, which contradict such claims. Another issue is the transfer of scientific understanding into the policy process. Here, the scientific understanding should help to prepare policy design – which must not be misunderstood as enforcing certain designs – by clarifying the natural science part of the issues.”

Besides the security breach of a university’s secure system (which I’ve passed over but which is terribly important), this is what the story of Climategate is really about . It isn’t that climate change is suddenly not human-induced. The consensus that it is is overwhelming. The real story (an old story) is that science is politicised. Consequently it falls to politicians to take responsibility for asking the right questions, coping with uncertainty and acting on the findings. We know that rigorous, disinterested climate scientists are being marginalised and unrecognised as authorities because they are cloistered. Policy-makers must pursue both relations and public relations on their behalf as a matter of urgency.

To read:

Update: “Professor Henry Brubaker, of the Institute for Studies, said: “While there will always be debate over climate data, it’s important to remember that the state of the world’s icebergs and glaciers remains wholly dependant on which group of tedious, hectoring arseholes is currently winning the argument.” HT Weggis.

Defend Peter Tatchell

Because he doesn’t stoop to exploit this country’s appalling defamation law, it falls to us to defend Peter Tatchell, Green Party speaker on Human Rights, from the smears of his ‘political’ (in the loosest, most dissolute sense of the word) opponents.

To quote a very ruffled David T, “A Left on which Peter is done over is a Left seriously fucked up”.

Read the whole piece.

G8, consumption, equality

Documents of the G8 summit are up, including the historic 40 page statement ‘Responsible Leadership for a Sustainable Future‘.

This is woefully inadequate for the times.

Climate change begins at paragraph 63. The idea is to use market mechanisms, new technologies and a global financial effort from all but the least developed countries to prevent a rise in global temperatures of over 2 degrees. Capacity-building for contingencies are also on the cards. And then there’s mitigation efforts such as addressing deforestation and clean, efficient energy (including nuclear).

There are nice words about financial integrity (there’s a determination to look past the crisis though) followed by more good noises about worker rights and the “social aspect of globalisation” – inclusive globalisation is the order of the day. There’s a commitment to refrain from protectionism and other barriers to trade. Conservative noises about digital intellectual property. There’s a biodiversity target, and food security plans. Water and sanitation for all. Peace and security in Africa, studiously ignoring the Middle East.

Reducing poverty – good. But nothing about reducing inequality – the first I noticed “equitable growth” was in a directive aimed at developing countries. Gender equality gets a few mentions, but this is no substitute for more general social equality. Ditto “health as an outcome of all policies”. Health and equality are related. And there is nothing about reducing consumption.

Social epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket, authors of The Spirit Level, argue that most social ills have one root cause, which is inequality. Individual consumption, for example, is strongly related to status anxiety, which in turn is related to inequality. They mount (to my dismally unstatistical eye) a robust and evidenced argument to this effect. Thatcher did for equality in Britain and Blair and Brown kept us unequal.

I think it’s fine to stress where the responsibilities of individuals end and those of institutions begin, but what is not fine is to make out that we can consume our way out of this hole. Most people who seem to me to want the right thing – like Fairtrade co-founder Ed Mayo, for example – are sure that we cannot buy our way out of this crisis and that we need to create the circumstances to consume less. And yet it is absent from this G8 statement.

This is a taboo that will turn us on each other when the strain our day-to-day lives places on the climate, the environment and resources becomes impossible to sustain.

We need more equality, beginning with a global commitment to cap pay.

Inauspicious foul weather for Put People First

I should be at Put People First but I’m working on a bid today.

Twitter hashtag #G20rally is trending right now – it’s the next best thing to being there. Only Zebedee is Qik’ing.

A Soviet Union flag???

Yes, @Rhamdu, it’s raining here too. Well done for turning out, pal.

Mark Thomas sounds good.

Oh, bless them! Go on, tweet them some encouragement.

Now, I’d better go or I may as well have gone.

Cows prefer to be treated as individuals

My animal rights arguments have always been weak (in fact mostly expressed as inarticulate menu choices). Friends still feel comfortable looking at my Guardian supplement on the ill-treatment of pigs and remarking that the bacon on the front looks appetising. I had a bit of what Matt calls a sense of humour failure at that point because I find that nearly as difficult to swallow as I would the thin slivers of pig corpse many people like to eat.

I’d love to review animal sentience and look for an ethos of vegetarianism which takes on board nutritional concerns and doesn’t seek to stigmatise people who eat meat or other animal yields. For now I resort to the fall-back position of publishing stories about animals from the news.

There’s no shortage. In The Sun there is at least one animal story every day. There’s been Ass Hole, the immortal Chav Finch and the hub-cap donating bear. More problematically (“respect for life should start with a ship’s cat” – really, start with the ship’s cat?) Kilo, the murdered HMS Belfast cat and the swans eaten by clearly breadline Polish Olympics construction workers forced to camp out in winter. In The Sun, animals are mascots, curiosities, clowns, or bit-parts in a bigger story. This would be OK if that weren’t all they were.

When the Boeing Airbus which ended up in the Hudson ploughed into the flock of canada geese which sent it down, nobody (Update: see comments) seemed to notice that there had in fact been fatalities. In fact, it appeared for a while as if plans are being made to carry out a cull so that humans who catch planes near where geese live can fly at even lower risk.

Today BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme had a piece on the work of Newcastle University researcher Dr Catherine Bertenshaw (who has since become Catherine Douglas). She had published a paper in Anthrozoos on individualised relationships between farmers and cows, and how it improves milk yield. She had to stick up for her findings in conversation with a skeptic and I see from a scan of the web that he is not alone (so that’s scientific blogging is it?)  I can’t say for sure because I can’t get to the study, but people seem determined to misinterpret her findings.  I looked at the abstract and the only reference to names is in the context of a correlation, not a cause. I think got the impression she used names as a marker of individualisation of the human-animal relationship.

“A human’s attitude towards animals influences their behavior around animals, thus affecting the quality of the human-animal relationship (HAR). Many scientific studies have demonstrated that cattle’s fear-response to humans affects their productivity, behavior, and welfare. In the scientific literature thus far it is believed that fear of humans is the predominant relationship on dairy farms. Via a postal questionnaire, we gathered subjective information from 516 stock managers on reported indicators of the HAR and their opinions of the HAR on UK dairy farms. We found that only 21% of farmers believed that dairy cattle were fearful of humans. Respondents accepted that humans can have an impact on cattle temperament, as 48% of respondents attributed a cow’s docility to previous human contact and reasons given for poor milking temperament included previous negative experiences with humans (9%). Ninety percent of respondents thought cows had feelings, and 78% thought cows were intelligent. Higher heifer milk yields (≥ 200 liters) were found in herds where the stock manager thought it important to know every individual animal, although this was only a trend (p = 0.14). On farms where cows were called by name, milk yield was 258 liters higher than on farms where this was not the case (p < 0.001). As a person’s attitude is a good predictor of their behavior, these subjective reports suggest UK dairy farmers have a good quality of human-animal relationship with their animals. The pattern for improved milk yield and behavior based on increased human attention to the individual animal requires validation, but it is an encouraging finding based on reported opinions analyzed against objective production data in a survey of commercial farms.”

On Today she also mentioned a relationship between cortisol (a fear hormone – the abstract says that fear is predominant in the relationship cows have with farmers) and lower milk yield. She sounded like a woman who had rapidly got used to being taken the piss out of. Good luck to her – she’ll need it. Even though her conclusions accept the established exploitation of cows by humans – they’re about productivity being linked to welfare – still it’s in many business’ interest to discredit her work, because it opens the animal sentience can of worms a little more. We know that the animals we farm are sentient individuals – each has their own likes and dislikes, experiences curiosity, boredom, fear.

And then there are the people like Jay Rayner who you get the impression would be happy if the animal welfare gains to date were revoked. He only started talking about nutrition when HFW etc started talking about welfare. He never appeared to worry much about protein before. Animal rights gains are retarded by people like him – I think like many he is uncomfortable with the cognitive dissonance inherent ingranting some animal rights on the basis of capacity for suffering while ourselves retaining the right to have them killed for no good reason except a sense of entitlement over their bodies, and to breed, farm, kill, take and eat needlessly. There’s a big hole in that position.

Of course I can rant and rail against this all I want here but it’s entirely unconvincing – you have to do a lot of work to be able to make this case convincingly. As Catherine Douglas knows.

Meanwhile 10 billion individual lives were taken in the US last year – and that’s less than the number consumed.

More from the RSPCA.

Alex Renton is somebody who’s seen the hell and responds – “…stop eating pork. I couldn’t do that” – by buying a free range piglet and paying for it during the course of its life.

Lastly, because it occurs to me, I was talking with a vegan friend not long ago and she introduced me to the concept of vegansexual. She is single at the moment and looking, and she was telling me that she didn’t think that she could kiss somebody whose lips had been in contact with dead flesh, and who were themselves composed of dead flesh. I’d never thought of it that way, but when she put it like that… And I’d just finished reading Eternal Treblinka.