John Wayne, Smoking and Climate Change

There once was a man called John Wayne. He was a very famous man. He was very strong and very tough. So tough that US army soldiers often referred to their toilet paper as “John Wayne toilet paper” because “it’s rough and tough and don’t take shit off no one”. He smoked 6 packs of cigarettes a day. Some doctors said that smoking was safe back then, so John probably wasn’t too worried. And he was as fit as a fiddle. Until he got lung cancer. Luckily for John, he could afford the best surgeons that money could buy. They removed an entire lung and he got better. Some say that maybe John got cancer when he starred in The Conqueror, where 41% of his colleagues developed some form of cancer, as the set was downwind of a nearby nuclear weapons testing site. But John thought it was from his 6 pack a day habit. So John stopped smoking cigarettes but was instead smoking cigars and chewing tobacco. And he got cancer again, this time in the stomach. Surgery couldn’t save him a second time though.

When John Wayne, maybe in the 1940s or 1950s was reading in the news that some doctors thought smoking might be really bad for your health, I wonder what he was thinking. Did he think that everything will be fine and that those doctors were just quacks? Maybe he figured that the risks were small. He could point to doctors that said it was good for you; maybe that always allayed his doubts? There was enough doubt in his mind to stop him from taking action.

Where did this doubt come from? Were doctors just crap back then?

No, the tobacco industry paid doctors to say that smoking was harmless.[1] Indeed, this became part of the whole strategy by the industry to cause as much doubt as possible about the link between smoking and cancer:

“I think we should give immediate attention to the possibility of running ads stating, in effect, that there is no scientific evidence of a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer” (Brown and Williamson, 1967)[2]

The mounting evidence that smoking tobacco caused cancer was a severe threat to the industry’s profits. They had to stand in the way of science if they were to keep their jobs. Understandable perhaps, but still wrong.

Well the same thing is happening again. History is repeating itself and as usual, not many people are paying much attention. As the planet continues its inexorable warming, there are still people quibbling about whether the planet is warming and if humans are responsible or not. Many of the think tanks that say climate change is not happening or not caused by humans receive funding from the fossil fuel industry. When these think tanks are then quoted in media outlets from Fox News to The Economist as some sort of authoritative scientific body, these links to the fossil fuel industry are often not mentioned. Can you imagine if a tobacco industry-funded doctor today were to be quoted in The Economist for saying that smoking doesn’t cause cancer without the slightly relevant topic of his funding being mentioned?

Well that’s happening today with climate change. The fossil fuel industry is purposefully trying to distort the public debate in climate science and they’ve been getting away with it for over a decade. Doubt is their product and their pushing it hard. So hard that a substantial portion of public opinion in the United States and the United Kingdom still thinks that cliamte scientists are in disagreement about whether or not global warming is happening. Whereas reality is somewhat closer to this below:

peer review

Other studies have generally found that 3% of all papers rejected the consensus. Either way, it’s not exactly a 50/50 split. Who are the skeptics exactly? I’m not going to go into too much detail, because there’s excellent documentation on other websites I’ll link to here, but there’s not many climate scientists it seems. One of the most famous is an ex-weatherman called Anthony Watts, who has a blog called Watts up with that. Watts, it turns out, has received payment from The Heartland Institute which also receives funding from ExxonMobil, which was to the tune of $600,000 between 1998 and 2006.[3]

In the UK, ex-Chancellor Nigel Lawson heads the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a think tank that excels in casting doubt about the scientific case for global warming, but it appears that Lawson may also have links to the fossil fuel industry. Certainly the GWPF is less than transparent about its sources of funding.[4]

I can’t exactly blame the fossil fuel industry for trying to protect their interests, even if they do it in an entirely dishonest and despicable manner. But I do blame people for ignoring the parallels between back then and today. Over 30 years ago, doctors were paid to cast doubt on the science of the harmful effects from smoking. Today some people are being paid to cast doubt on the science of climate change, although significantly this group hardly ever consists of any climate scientists.

The human race right now is John Wayne, and we’ve got cancer. Are we going to listen to the real doctors, cut down on smoking, get that surgery and recover? Or give in to industry-funded doubt and carry on with the same old habits that will make us even more sick?

– Note, of course John might have died from nuclear radiation rather than smoking. There’s no way to say which one it was, but in any given population we can say that a certain percentage of people will die prematurely as a result of smoking.
– The story of the tobacco industry, the fossil fuel industrry, climate change and other environmental and health issues has been meticulously researched and described in the book Merchants of Doubt  by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

What do Lana Del Ray and Christopher Hitchens have in common?

They both have the same attitude towards death. Del Ray, as many will be aware, thinks that we are all born to die. Hitchens, a few months before his death from cancer said, “Everybody is [dying], but the process has suddenly accelerated on me.” I had heard something similar from a friend in school once, that we’re all born to die.

I don’t know how many people really think this way, but I suspect it’s a fair few people. Whether this thought or attitude bothers them too, I also don’t know. But I do think that it’s extremely wrong.

I find it wrong not because I’m uncomfortable with the idea that all living things will die, but simply because it just makes no sense to me. Yes, we’re all going to die. But if I’m supposedly dying until that point, then what the hell happened to the word ‘living’? Are we ‘dying things’ instead of ‘living things’? Of course not. Living is a process of self-sustainment. When that process stops, then we are dying. I’m not sure if there’s a clear line to say precisely when this happens but I would argue that this happens late in old age. For now it’s beside the point.

Despite the blurry line between living and dying, I can say that the only thing that can die is what was once alive. We don’t say that inanimate objects die, we say that they cease to exist or are destroyed. We use the word ‘die’ or ‘death’ in a particular way to describe what happens to a living thing once it ceases to be living. There is no death without life and there is no life without death. They are two sides of the same coin. And there’s nothing religious about that statement, it’s simply an observation.

A lot of people are scared about dying, it is maybe even something every single human being goes through. In British society today we tend not to talk about it a lot. I think this is wrong and is quite harmful for our mental well-being. Let’s talk about the inevitable, the common thread that unite us all. By not talking about it we are making it harder to confront. And let’s also not view it as something negative, but instead as a privilege even?  An at times terrifying and painful privilege, but still one nonetheless. Because if you are going to die then it means that you are living right now. For many people it is perhaps not so much of a favour, because life is unbearably painful for them. But for the lucky ones amongst us that on the whole enjoy observing events on this spaceship Earth, we can be thankful. Richard Dawkins made the same point much better on a wonderful video about life and how unlikely and random it is. Take a look if you’re interested:

Perhaps a better expression then, would be that “we are born to live and then die”. Lana probably wouldn’t have sold as many records and Hitchens probably wouldn’t have upset as many people if they had both said that, but they both would have been more accurate. 

“About Life and People” Pt.I Training

In a little break from environmentalism this is an extract from “About Life and People”, an autobiography by William Dron, my Grandfather and hero. For anyone interested in what life was like for a somewhat ordinary British soldier (he played the pipes, so was not on the frontline as was decreed by General Montgommery after 1943), then I hope that you will find this account interesting as well as entertaining. It is a tale told with compassion, honesty and a good degree of down to earth humour. I’m still editing all the Scots and British dialect to make it more readable for the international reader. At this point in the Autobiography, William, or ‘Bill’, has enrolled into the army and is on his way to Fort George, in the Highlands of Scotland. 

The Army.

I set of for Fort George full of a mixture of hope and apprehension not knowing what to expect.  Although Dad had been in the Army he didn’t offer me any advice on what life was like or how to play it.  Therefore I arrived in Fort George on the Moray Firth a complete innocent and it didn’t take long for the Army to knock that out of me.  I think I was half expecting a warm welcome, as a volunteer, and being granted a few favours when they realised how lucky they were at gaining such a brilliant recruit.  That was not the Army way I’m afraid, there were no favours, everyone was treated exactly the same, like cattle!  We were harried from pillar to post from morn till night until we didn’t know whether we were coming or going.  Of course that was done on the principle that you began to accept orders without question and without using your own brain.  After we had all the inoculations and vaccinations we were given 24 hours to recuperate.  I did not recuperate very well but fell ill with tonsillitis and was shifted to the sick-bay, which was another Nissan hut but with linoleum on the floor and sheets on the beds, the lap of luxury.  The food was from the mess hall, in other words inedible, and the medication was Asprin, which was ineffective.  After a few days even the M.O. realised I was not improving and I was transferred to the Hospital.  When I arrived I was met by a nurse who ordered me to take a bath before sullying her clean sheets.  Once in bed I was given a load of large pills and fell into a deep sleep, only to be wakened and fed another dose.  This went on for the next couple of days until I awoke one morning feeling much better and absolutely ravenous.  The pills were one of the sulphonamides a fairly recent discovery and a precursor of penicillin.  I was duly pronounced fit and returned to duty.

Thus was my inglorious entry into the Army; hardly the stuff of regimental history.  When I returned to duty I was dumped into a new intake of conscripts, what a come down for the brilliant recruit.  But as the old saying goes the De’il looks after his own.  The volunteer platoon had been set up as an example to the poor conscripts of how a platoon should act and behave with true military zeal.  I need hardly add that by this time my zeal had sunk without trace and I was more than content to settle with the poor conscripts.  The volunteers were mostly Army Cadets who could strip down a Bren Gun and knew Army Regulations as well as, if not better than, the NCO’s.  That wasn’t so difficult as some of the NCO’s, especially the Regulars, were not noted for their intellectual capacity.  Training began therefore in trying to turn a bunch of unfit civilians into trained fighting machines.  I had thought I was fairly fit because I had done a lot of hard cycling in the previous months, on Saturday afternoons I often did a circuit by Forfar- Kirrie-Alyth about 40/50 miles.  However I soon realised that my comparative fitness was as nothing compared to what it became in four months time.  Apart from square bashing i.e. drill, we had to do physical drill, route marching, forced marches with full pack, and generally run about like mad things until we were passed as trained recruits.  Note! not yet trained soldiers, we still had a long way to go.

After the first six weeks we were allowed out to sample the delights of Inverness on a Saturday afternoon.  It was a busy place with lots of military personnel and loads of Canadian lumberjacks who were stripping out the adjoining forests.  We soon found a Church of Scotland canteen offering home cooking, warmth, and cheery female faces.  It was a regular port of call for us as the food was such a contrast to the usually inedible Army grub.  I fell in love with Inverness or ‘Snecky’ as it became, a play on Harry Gordon’s (the famous Scots comedian) ‘Inversnecky’.  It was a bonny wee [nice, small] town then, steeped in history with a wonderful position on the River Ness the Caledonian Canal and Tomnahurich (The hill of the Fairies) the most picturesque cemetery in Scotland.

During my time in the Fort the realisation dawned upon me that my political views were not so far to the left as I had thought.  The nemesis that brought about this transformation was a Campbell in my platoon.  He was a theatrical type from Glasgow, a committed Communist, and a thorn in my flesh.  There was not one single thing we had in common and we fought bitterly on every subject discussed, until I came to the conclusion that my political salvation lay more in terms of Socialism.  Many years later I discovered Gordon? Campbell had become a great man in the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, and a famous director.  I have much to thank him for.

The following ten weeks were devoted to Infantry training; by this stage the halt and the blind had been sorted out and the survivors were deemed to be suitable for the infantry or, as some say, rejected by everyone else.  We were taught fieldcraft- weapons training – map reading and so on.  One young Corporal had trouble with a map until I noted it was upside down but he was a good sort and I didn’t get a severe reprimand.  The tips I had from Grandfather Dron, who was a crack shot, should have helped in the shooting but the old Lee Enfields we used in target practice were not very good.  It wasn’t until we got the Bren a light machine gun that I had better results.  All good things must come to an end and at the finish of this period we were posted to Battalions.  My draft were sent to the Italian front but I was too young and was posted to the Liverpool Scottish the English Territorial Battalion of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.

At last I became a full member of the Camerons but it was strange having so many Englishmen sporting the tartan and talking Liv’pool.  They had to show some Scottish roots to get into the Terriers and were proud of their Scottish connections.  I applied to join the band when I met the Battalion in Eastbourne on the South Coast of England, a long way from Fort George.  I was unable to do so until I survived a further spell of training and became a Trained Soldier.  When I got into the band I was a fairly average piper but there were few class players in the band.  The only one I remember was Hutchison  a regular soldier from Edinburgh.  He was a flashy guy and a flashy player and the only one who comes to mind.  The Pipe Major was a Terrier not a great piper but a reasonable man.  He was a good dancer and got together a dance team for the Strathspeys and Reels [a type of dance], I enjoyed dancing and became a member of the team.  It was traditional in the Highland Regiments for the bandsmen to specialise in dancing.

One of our duties on the coast was to patrol at night to repel any incursions by the enemy.  This involved a cycle patrol along a section of coast between Eastbourne and Hastings where the Martello Towers stand (built to warn of invasion by Bonaparte).  I used to set out on my bike in the wee small hours with my trusty rifle, 50 rounds of ammunition, and not a clue of how I would react if a boatload of Storm Troopers landed on my patch.  Pretty scary in the dark hoping you wouldn’t bump into anyone or anything but OK on a beautiful moonlit night when you could see for miles.  The effectiveness of the patrol was never tested, thank God.

About November 1943 we were moved to Northern Ireland to a wee town called Banbridge in County Down not far from Belfast.  This was a popular posting, food was plentiful and cheap there were lots of bonnie lassies [beautiful young women] and the war seemed far away.  A Battalion of American troops were in an adjacent camp and we made friends with some of them and heard interesting stories of Hollywood and the stars.  One chap claimed to be a nephew of Mary Pickford (the Screens Sweetheart) it may have been true and in any case he was a great storyteller.  The most interesting commodity in Banbridge was food; all the wee cafes served ham and eggs, toast and tea for the princely sum of half a crown (12½p).  We soon discovered that the Americans were being charged much more as their wages were vastly superior to ours.  Not only that, but also their equipment resources, their living conditions, and their food bore no comparison to ours.  We were using the basic equipment of the First World War while the Yanks had modern weapons superior back-up and food we would have killed for.  Their attitude to discipline was much more relaxed, their officers were treated as equals instead of superior beings, and while this may have had an effect on their performance as fighting men, it certainly made life a whole lot easier for the ‘Doughboys’.  To me it was an example of American democracy and a complete contrast in class distinctions.

Whilst in Ireland I discovered a certain aptitude for cross-country running which came as a shock, because I was a bit of a dead loss when running with full equipment.  The Adjutant was an enthusiast for the sport and that meant the Company was expected to be just as keen.  One day we were out on a long run when I got my second wind and just started to run comfortably increased my pace until I finished in the leading group, much to the amazement of my Corporal who had viewed my previous efforts with disdain.  The downside of my career in Ireland took place one dark and freezing winters night when I was hurrying back to billets.  I was pounced upon by two Regimental Police [RP’s] and charged with the heinous crime of having my coat collar turned up.   Next morning the Company Officer was mortified that I had let the Company down so badly – the RP’s involved – the Honour of the Regiment – Three Days Confined To Barracks!  C.B. or as we called it ‘Cockie Bendy’.  I was a criminal with a record, three days of spud bashing, would I ever be able to hold up my head again in decent society?  At the same time the C.O. let it be known that my record showed that I had been marked down as N.C.O. material, and he hoped I would mend my ways.  Is it not some sort of miracle that we won the war with such attitudes?

I had always hoped that my Grandfathers aptitude for marksmanship would rub off on me and it was in Ireland that it came to pass.  The Bren gun was my favourite weapon it seemed to suit me much better than the rifle.  One day we were having a competitive shoot on the banks of Lough Neagh, that huge inland loch [lake], and I couldn’t make a mistake I just kept getting ‘Bulls’.  Eventually it came down to a straight contest between the Regimental Sergeant Major and me and I won.  I’m afraid the R.S.M. wasn’t very sporting about it in fact he was decidedly unchuffed [unhappy].

Good news at last, I got my first leave in December 1943 and would be home for Christmas.  We took the boat over to Stranraer, the bus to Ayr, then to Glasgow, and the train to Dundee.  It was good to be home in the bosom of the extended family and visit all the relatives I possibly could.  Not for long, as a Telegram arrived telling me to report back pronto.  This was ominous, the Battalion could be going overseas, so I bade a fond farewell to Mum and Dad, and returned.  I actually travelled back on Hogmany [New Year’s Day] and arrived in Ireland on New Year’s Day.  As soon as I reported in I found I was on a draft to another unit.  After a few days preparation about one hundred of us embarked for destinations unknown.  One of the draftees was a drummer Abbie George who I knew well; I think we were the only ones from the band.  A few of the draft like Abbie had been pre-war Terriers and had spent four years in a training Battalion, never having heard a shot fired in anger.  I almost felt sorry for them.  We sailed back to the mainland, a much easier passage than at New Year, when the seas were crashing over the decks, and the bogs [toilets] were full of very sick troops.  We entrained and set of on the usual wild goose chase all over England until we finished up in High Wycombe.  When the train drew to a halt in the station my heart sank when I saw numbers of soldiers with Red Hackles in their Tam-O-Shanters (Bonnets).  The Black Watch!  I was not impressed atall atall.  I could have joined the Watch in Dundee without going to the bother of becoming a Cameron.  I considered it a terrible loss of dignity to come from a Real Highland Regiment, to one with an ambivalent history and some support for the Hanoverians against the Prince*.  Besides they were only quasi-highlanders coming from Fife, Angus, and Perthshire.  I considered giving the Colonel my thoughts on the subject, but when I met him he seemed such a decent fellow, I didn’t have the heart to hurt his feelings.  He was in fact Chic Thomson a Dundee C.A. and when he asked where I came from, and what I did in civvie street, he was delighted when I mentioned Jute Industries; his Father had been one of the original Directors.  I thought I would be OK in this crowd having the Colonel as a friend but I don’t think I ever spoke to him again.  C’est la Vie!

The Pipe Major appeared after the Colonel to ask if there were any Bandsmen in the draft?  Abbie and I stepped forward smartly and did our party pieces.  I thought I would be diplomatic and played Heilan’ Laddie the Black Watch regimental march,  Abbie did some fancy stick work, and we were admitted to the ranks of the band, an action which probably saved our lives…

Part II will see Bill head off to the vision of hell that was the battlefield in the direct aftermath of the D-Day landings. 

*The Blackwatch were born with this name, as they were originally a militia founded in 1725 to “keep watch” over the unlawful highlands. The Regiment had sided with the British Government during the Jacobite Rising of ‘Bonny Prince Charlie’, the grandson of the last Catholic King of England, Ireland and Scotland, James VII and II (seventh of Scotland, Second of England)

Carrotmob Freiburg 2.6.12

Freiburg’s 5th Carrotmob was a deliciously sunny affair, with excellent carrot cake, carrot soup and carrot quiche in abundance. The carrot cake sold out actually, much to the disappointent of some late ‘mobbers. ChezFine, an organic restaurant specializing in French cuisine, pledged to give 90% of the revenue made from the day towards making environmental improvements in the restaurant. A special ‘gunstig’ menu was prepared by the ChezFine team so that everyone could enjoy the food at what is normally a more upmarket establishment – internalizing those externalities has to cost more by definition.

Andrea and Miriam enjoying some first time ‘mobbing!

In total 623 euros, 50 eurocent was raised for improvements to be made at ChezFine. To get an idea of what that could achieve consider the assessment made by energy assessors from A new radiator at a cost of 400 euros could save an estimated 10,000 kWH (kilo-watt-hours) per year and an average saving of 2320 kilograms of Co2 per year. Amazingly this would save ChezFine an estimated 2100 euros per year in energy costs.

The total investment that could have been made at ChezFine according to the energy assessor was 4,886 euros, which would have resulted in monetary savings of 2931 euros per year, with an energy saving of 13,956 kWh and Co2 of 3617 grams per year. In just two years the restaurant would make back the money if they were to invest in all of the improvements! Obviously most of this would come from a new radiator. It’s amazing to think that a 400 euro investment could save so much. I’ll have to email the energy assessors to see if they can explain how this is so.

The report

It just goes to show what an excellent idea Carrotmob is. Local businesses can be supported, the environment aided and people made happy (that cake was amazing). Before we get too happy though we still need to confirm that the restaurant have used the money as they said they would. Will keep you posted. In the meantime enjoy these photos of a lovely Saturday in sunny Freiburg. Thanks to all those who came!

Enjoying the sun and music

A lot of international student love.


ChezFine. Or CHEzFINE.


For more information about Carrotmobs in Freiburg see on see and for the Carrotmob concept in general

Why we disagree but where to go from here?

Our class had a very interesting set of lectures the week before last. Given by Heiko Roehl from the German Development Agency (the GIZ), we were introduced to a number of knowledge and organizational learning concepts. It touched upon a lot of the things that I have been thinking about recently, like the nature of truth, why it is that people – even intelligent ones – can disagree so vehemently about such a wide range of issues and how it is that we as individuals can come to make more of an effort towards understanding each other.

Something that really crystallized all of this rather well was a wee diagram explaining a concept called ‘Relevance Systems’. This theory or way of thinking about individual beliefs and knowledge can help us to understand why and how it is that we can come to have such radically different views of the world. This struck me powerfully because I have been trying for a while to get a better idea of why it is that people disagree about climate change. This helped me to understand the why a bit better, but I’m still not sure if it helps to form any solutions. Time will tell.

The Model

a) To start off with we have our set of beliefs. Our beliefs about reality are constructed from our experiences and the environment in which we grew up. Our parents might have instilled in us a belief in God or the belief that it is the right thing to help others. We might have grown up in a Western society where we are taught the primacy of the individual. Some may have grown up in societies that teach the primacy of the community.

b) This model also recognises that our brains filter information. It has to do this to stay functional. If we were to process every bit of information that our senses detect then it would be overloaded. This happens to people with autism – their brains don’t filter out information and so their social systems can be said to be impaired. They perceive the world in a radically different way to non-autistic people and so act in a very different way too.

We often ignore information that we don’t want to hear or don’t believe in, although this is mainly an unconscious process. Information that rejects our beliefs is, on the whole, rejected. Information that supports them is absorbed. I was taught to value empirical science when growing up and thus perceive the world as spherical because the information I have acquired, I saw on TV scientists explaining why the earth is a sphere, supports or does not contradict my beliefs. Another child, perhaps an unfortunate that had medieval re-enactment enthusiasts for parents, might perceive the world as flat. The information that he gets, from his eyes, tells him that it is so. He might sometimes see on TV the earth referred to as a sphere but rejects this knowledge. Scientists are just phony wizards, or so his parents keep telling him. We both ‘see’ the same information but our belief systems interact with this in different ways to produce different perceptions of the world from us.

c) Information is never absorbed independently though. We combine it with our judgement. Our judgement is also strongly influenced by our early experiences. Being raised in a family where cleanliness is very important then shapes your judgement – and you will judge cleanliness as a good thing. For example, when you go to a foreign country your impression of it may be formed by its cleanliness. For someone else it might be the quality of food that determines their judgement of the country.  Therefore it is our judgement, “I judge cleanliness as important” plus the information we receive, “I read in the newspaper that French people wash the least often” that constructs our knowledge, “France is a bad country”.


d) It is thus our beliefs, judgement and the information we filter that form our perceptions of the world. The lines flowing from the belief circle out towards the world represent this ‘relevance system’ that determines how we perceive reality. Never in its completeness and never without some truth.

Link to Climate Change

This was a highly simplified explanation partly so I could explain it but also so that the model is understood. It’s not a perfect model. Perhaps some people see more of reality than others because they are more intelligent or have access to more information. The beliefs we grow up with can all too often be rebelled against. But I hope the framework is there and makes sense, so let’s apply it to the climate change example.

I often read a report or blog decrying climate change as a left-wing conspiracy. As someone who believes in climate change my initial reaction is always, “did no one ever tell these people that the Left couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery?”. I then look to see if there any flaws in the report, or I look up the authors on the internet to see if they have any connection to the oil industry – which they often do. Failing this I then consult ‘climate friendly’ websites to check the arguments of the sceptical report/blog. Most of the time I end up convinced that climate change is happening and that the sceptical blog is just another paranoid old man that needs to get out more. Even writing about it you can see that I’m quite unwilling to even realistically treat the subject impartially here – although that’s also to make it slightly more readable.

It’s easy to see how this can happen the other way around – with a sceptic and climate change. They read the latest IPCC report, find some errors in it or find information that some of the authors are also members of Greenpeace and their beliefs remain unaltered. They absorb the information, this clashes with their beliefs and they judge the information faulty, perhaps by finding additional information to support this. End result: beliefs unchanged. Exactly as in my example.

You can this set of examples on this very blog, on the post below. Justin gives one argument and backs it up with a web link. I dismiss his link and then provide a link of my own. He then does the same and so on and so on, and we go in circles forever.

It’s quite easy to see this, fancy diagram or no. What’s now harder is how to change this situation. How can I and Justin come to some sort of understanding? Does one of us have to give up our beliefs in order to do this? That won’t happen easily – it would take a massive event or crises to do that. Perhaps tomorrow morning I see in The Daily Telegraph photos of Rajendra Pachauri[i] playfully wiggling his rump from under the duvet of his bed whilst Jim Hansen[ii] rubs money into his back, both cackling at the world’s stupidity for buying that rubbish about the earth warming.

In our class we were also taught that engaging in dialogue is important to understand how our systems of relevance overlap and thus where our disagreements stem from. This may sound like wishy-washy-hippy crap at first glance but I feel it’s something very important to consider – especially with regards to climate change. For so long ‘believers’ and ‘sceptics’ have been debating, for decades, and it’s getting no one anywhere as the debate gets uglier. Death threats against climate scientists, the hacking and distortion of personal emails – very vicious name calling by Greens. We’re at a dead end and perhaps dialogue is the first step towards a solution. We were introduced to a number of dialogue tools to resolve conflicts, which I may blog about some time in the future.

[i] Rajendra Pachauri is the chairperson of the IPCC

[ii] James Hansen is head of the NASA institute for Space Studies

Many thanks to Julia Koch, Jonathan Niessen and Aurange Kreamsicle for helping me to articulate this a lot, lot better. It is still a work in progress.

The most important environmental article written in a mainstream newspaper…

…was written by Sunny Hundal in last weeks Guardian. I won’t post a link, because the Guardian doesn’t need the juice, but just type, ‘The climate change message is not being heard. Here’s how to change tack”‘ into google.

Here Sunny fluently explains what the green movement has been doing wrong about getting across the message to act on climate change. I’ve read one or two other blog posts a year or two back that said basically the same thing, but was extremely pleased to see that this message had made it onto a large newspaper in the UK.

If you’ve been following the climate change issue then you’ll have noticed that success hasn’t exactly been forthcoming. There are some massive obstacles in the way of progress. Big oil, big business, a system that won’t tolerate anything other than an increase in GDP per capita. There’s another one too – the environmental movement.

Look at one example. How many marchers were there in London just before the COP 15 at Copenhagen 2009? It was 50,000. 400,000 marched against the fox hunting ban in 2002. There’s a 7 year gap between the two, but it’s clear to see where the strength of public opinion truly lies when it comes to climate change, and other issues. To a city dweller such as me, that 400,000 could protest against a ban on a medieval practice of animal hunting seems absurd, but clearly this issue was extremely important to the people who live in the countryside and others.

So why doesn’t climate change – supposedly a threat to global prosperity and security – provoke the same sort of feeling? One reason is the environmental movement itself, besides the other challenges mentioned, and Mr. Hundal presents a few reasons why:

1) Doom-mongering – we don’t concentrate on solutions, we just bang on about how the world’s going to end. A crass generalisation about environmentalists from me, but the point would ring true for many I believe. Let’s be more positive and offer solutions rather than catastrophe.

2) Anti-capitalist – as Mr. Hundal rightly points out, we’ve been preaching to the converted.    It’s left-wing people that are largely behind the message to act on clmate change, but we’re losing the right, who are just as, if not even more, important than the left. Activists with dreadlocks threatening to smash capitalism isn’t the best way to win supporters from the right-leaning people.

3) Failure to address the economic argument – the right-wing tabloids continue to insist that green projects will cost the economy. Whether you believe in economic growth or not is irrelevant. Stopping climate change is one of the most important challenges the world faces – along with eradicating hunger and poverty. To do that there needs to be a broad concensus, or at the very least, a strong majority amongst the population on the need to act. We’re not there yet, and we should have been there years ago. Greens need to show how economic and environmental improvement can go hand in hand. Referring to arguments such as Potocnik’s here is a good example of this (ok I said I wouldn’t link to the guardian but never mind)

The UK government is largely committed, at least in legislation, to slashing it’s consmption of emissions. This was achieved largely because of the dedicated work of a number of brave and industrious activists and NGOs. But we can go further and we need to, as do our friends in the US and Canada. We would all do well to learn from Mr. Hundal’s article.

A brief introduction



I think that environmental issues need to be discussed more often. Everyone should be talking about the environmental crisis much more often.

Yes, it is a crisis. Sometimes it’s hard to see a crisis coming, but this one, if you look closely at the information available, is not all that hard to see.

So let’s talk more about it, and see what we can learn from each other. And enjoy this quote.

“When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.” – Martin Keogh.