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Mar 18, 2010

Where is the Mao, the Lenin for climate change?

Climate change is not an easy thing to argue. Scientists can't boil it down, the rest take too much on trust. Where is the Communist Manifesto for saving the environment?

While dealing with the minutaie of British life — filling a free prescription (good) that the pharmacist said would take 45 minutes because of the absurd process of checks and counter-checks (bad)* — your correspondent browsed in the second-hand section of the excellent Bookmarks bookshop, run by the Socialist Workers Party. Among a range of purchases two stood out.

One was Mao’s pamphlet On Peasant Revolution. It was sitting on the desk beside me as I read various Crikey reports about Julian McGuaran, and his latest mad blurt about the CSIRO. Quite possibly it’s a new high/low in conspiracy theories, but it’s nothing new, really. Yet the reaction is fresh horror at the degree of irrationalism, stupidity, of McGuaran’s remarks, as if climate change should somehow sell itself as an idea autonomously.

The reaction is of a piece with much of the Green/climate change movement ‘s work, which has been, over past years, one of the most ineptly conducted campaigns, and avoidable political losses, in the last 200 years. There is no doubt that a lot of this is to do with the formidable money and power of the anti-climate change movement (sceptics is too neutral a term, denialists too prejudged).

But as the pamphlets of Bookmarks remind us — Shaw, Lenin, Mao, Emma Goldman, Stafford Cripps, John Strachey, Rosa Luxemburg, etc — progressive movements have faced far greater challenges hitherto. And the pamphlets tell us something else — the climate change movement should stop focusing on each fresh outrage by the antis, and focus on the positive campaign that it is not making.

Climate change is not an easy thing to argue. For a start, you can’t honestly say that the science is settled, because no science is ever settled. So one is faced with either advancing a great oversimplification, which then has to be walked back at times, or make the more complex argument about probabilities and the precautionary principle. Secondly, it’s a more abstract process than, say, killing whales, or some other concrete and visible thing. Thirdly, it asks people to be in a permanent state of transformation, rather than relaxing into their familiar lifeways. And that’s before you factor in the relentless propaganda of News Limited (Australia), etc.

But many of these things can be said about the challenges faced by the Left and the labour movement in the early 20th century. What was relatively concrete for workers were things like nation, empire, and race — these were immediate, visible things, rich in symbols and manifestations, of sufficient power to march millions of people into trenches to slaughter each other over a four-year period. Class as a concept (as opposed simply to wealth and poverty) was a different matter. Profit, surplus value, labour-power, exploitation — all these had to be established as an alternative account to notions of hard work, a fair day’s wage, king and country, blahblah.

How was it done? It was done by establishing a whole disciplined apparatus, with the explicit object of creating both a core of full-time cadres/organisers/propagandists who could expound the argument everywhere, anytime, a hundred different ways, at the drop of a hat. Step by step they created a wider band of people who, while not professional agitators themselves, had been so convinced by the argument — intellectually, politically, morally — that they felt some of its urgency and identified with it, so that they would talk to others about it.

Crucial to this process were four things — the training school, the pamphlet, the public meeting and political self-criticism/analysis. It’s a signal fact of the climate change movement that none of these features are really present. The Right likes to argue the Green movement is Marxism by other means. If only that were the case, some of these things might have been in place.

Instead few of them are. There are many good books on climate change — by Monbiot, Mark Lynas, David Spratt among many — but there is nothing in the style of a Communist Manifesto, the US Declaration of Independence, a Lenin, a Mao, or a Santamaria for that matter. Something that in a few thousand words sets out an argument about what is happening, about why its critics are wrong, and about what should be done.

The Green party should have produced something like this years ago. If it has, it should be printing it in the tens, hundreds of thousands. Everyone who wants to do something about climate change should just be able to take a stack of them to give to people. It should be written in clear, direct language, but without skimping on the science.

Secondly, you need people trained in the arts of argument, propaganda and recruitment. At the moment, most people actively involved in the climate change movement are simply terrible at arguing their case. Those with a scientific background don’t know how to boil it down, those without take too much on trust. Some sort of ongoing training would address both problems.

But here self-criticism would come in because the great flaw in the climate change movement has been an elitist arrogance that is, at its worst, anti-political. Some of that is due to the asocial political naivete of scientists — ‘I mean, it’s obvious, why are these people being so stupid’ — some of it is due to the technocratic spirit of the age, whereby something is seen as a mere technical problem to be fixed, and some of it is due to the fact that the abstract/systemic nature of climate change ideas are most easily accepted by people trained in abstract-systemic thinking. That is, the scientific /professional/managerial/cultural class (SPMC) who, in many ways, run the joint.

As Bernard Keane has noted here, the active anti-climate-change movement is old, white and overwhelmingly composed of people who once had unquestioned cultural authority but now don’t — the old bourgeoisie, some manufacturing workers and tradies, farmers, etc. Consciously or otherwise, they see that acceptance of climate change as a model means the transformation to a new framework in which the cultural power of the SPMC class becomes entrenched.

Trouble is, many of those advocating the reality of climate change don’t really factor in this class difference to the way they think, or the manner in which they campaign — when they campaign at all. And that is the final missing piece, the lack of public meetings and campaigning. No-one likes ‘the hours spent at the boring meeting’ (well some do, but they should be used very carefully) and leafletting in the street requires a ceaseless war against a creeping feeling of embarrassment and absurdity. But it’s got to be done. Even in post-post-modern society there’s no substitute for it.

The trouble is the SMPC class are not only digital natives, they can easily talk themselves into believing that a TweetDeck and a smokin’ thought-meme crowdsource flashmob thing can wholly substitute for grassroots face-to-face campaigning. The Greens, the FOE, the ACC, must have a potentially active membership larger than the far-Left groups such as Socialist Alternative. Yet you rarely see posters for a climate change public meeting, a table in Bourke Street Mall — and never for the Green party, which appears interested in repeating early Labour’s obsession with factionalism and parliamentarianism.

The climate change movement may well be correct in their argument that every year counts in changing global processes. But in past years that has served as an excuse for not building the slow and remorseless mass campaign, deploying all the campaigning skills and rhetoric of older progressive campaigns (much of which, in style anyway, is being used by the anti-climate-change group). It has to abandon the idea that truth somehow communicates itself. The longest march, as the man said, begins with a footstep. Or a pamphlet.

*These have nothing to do with the free nature of the drugs, which have not the slightest degree of recreational potential, and minimal possibility of overdosage. It is simply the autonomous process of British paternalism, rolled over from 1948, when the system began. The chemists still have specially printed ledgers in which every prescription filled must be hand-written.

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68 thoughts on “Where is the Mao, the Lenin for climate change?

  1. Ben Callinan

    errrr, An Inconvenient Truth?

  2. Tom

    Mr Rundle – Labour (Labor) = the have nots (and those who have sympathy with the have nots) shaping up to the haves and suggesting/demanding a fairer suck of the sav. It was not, is not and never will be a ideological or intellectual hobby for anybody who cares. For those that get bitter and twisted about inequality and lose focus on achieving equality the outcome is nearly always a philosophical position which suggest if you can’t convince you try to destroy. That sadly both Labour and Labor have forgotten why they are there is the real tragedy.
    On sad, white and middle aged men being sceptical (appreciate your definition) because they fear change or are threatened by the new order, maybe, but maybe it’s just that they have learned that unlike when we were 21 and would take to the streets after and inspiring 10 minute discussion on just about anything, we now need to be convinced that there is something worth getting off the sofa for and to be presented with some undeniable evidence and not simply the prediction of a computer model without an explanations as to how the model was constructed and the assumptions it makes based on the incomplete science you seem to suggest you accept?

  3. Johnny

    Wow, and some still wonder at how the green/environmental movement manage to turn people away, even after retoric like that!

    The merrits of AGW aside, it should be enough to convince people of your position on AGW (NOT climate change) by utilising the merits of the issue alone. That you feel protaginists need to resort to base methodology, propoganda and saturation in order reach what you allude to as the mostly subeducated non-elite in order to carry the day is disgusting – and should be seen as such by all sides of the debate.

    And you should look a little closer at the relative funding of pro v’s anti AGW factions, you might be surprised to find the figures in the billions v’s millions respectively. Remember all those NGO protesters outside Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen… UN funded!!! – No really, you should check this out!

    And again @ Jerry G
    It’s difficult to see how you can highlight ‘denialists’ (a word typically employed by the more fanatical side of the proAGW faction btw) use of propoganda without reference to the IPCC. This body’s use of miss information, manipulation and poor science hase been the cause of much of the confusion surrounding the entire debate and has caused a number of very eminent climate scientists (mostly pro-AGW as the chapter authors are appointed by the IPCC itself – kinda self sustaining, eh) to quit the organisation in disgust at the miss use of their research! No conspiracy here!

    Read a recent interview by Dr Judy Curry (pro-AGW) regarding the frustration and problems caused by the the ‘sloppy science’ of the IPCC in Discover Magazine for some enlightenment.

  4. Frank Campbell

     If ever there was a case of a general fighting the next war with the weapons of the last, this is it.

    Let’s look at his assumptions: the AGW “movement” is “progressive”. This confuses the fact that most “progressives” support AGW belief with the nature of the cause itself. That cause is an incoherent tangle of Green puritanism, anti-capitalism, state/corporate opportunism, and middle class millenarian cult– linked by naive, idealised concepts of science, politics and society.

    Progressive things can happen under such a regime, but its inherent contradictions guarantee that good intentions will be futile gestures or disasters. Often both . The insulation and green loans fiascos are just two examples. Spending billions on useless wind turbines while starving potential baseload renewable development is another.

    And Rundle doesn’t mention the Achilles heel of AGW action- that lead times vastly exceed the alleged time remaining: The Prince Charles Catch 22. China, India etc will ensure that CO2 keeps on increasing regardless of any sacrifice in small countries like Australia. Indeed Australia is already committed to supplying fossil fuel to the world for decades to come.

    Rundle says the Labour movement is an instructive model. Hardly. It emerged out of the concrete interests of the employed. Union, party and attendant subsidiaries formed. Even the savage Thatcherism of the past 25 years hasn’t wiped out the Labour movement, shrunk and weakened though it is. That’s because the fundamental injustice of capitalism remains. Compare that bedrock with the volatile conflicting interests, ideologies and opportunism which bedevils AGW. Ask Turnbull about it.

    What tools does Rundle recommend to advance the AGW “movement”?

    “ the training school, the pamphlet, the public meeting and political self-criticism/analysis.”

    LoL. I can hear Comrade MacEnroe now: “you CANNOT be serious”…Rundle is cribbing from the Victorian Railway Institute manual, circa 1949. Fine for its time, but ludicrous today. Hasn’t Rundle noticed that the anti-AGW cult depends entirely on the internet? So does the rearguard action of AGW believers. There’s more criticism on the net each day than in the entire Maoist Cultural Revolution. And rather more useful information.

    Exhortation and appeal to authority are counterproductive. This is why Rundle’s third recommendation is also pointless:

    “(The Left developed)… a whole disciplined apparatus, with the explicit object of creating both a core of full-time cadres/organisers/propagandists who could expound the argument everywhere, anytime…”

    Hey- we already have missionary cadres! They had a total monopoly on mainstream media until midnight 30 Nov. 2009. Anti-AGW never got a mention on the ABC, BBC or any big media, except for a few Murdoch ratholes- until Dopenhagen and Climategate. Do we need more Calvin Hamiltons, Williamses, Flannerys? They’ve driven everyone to drink. Sheer comic relief to have a clown like Lord Planckton to take the piss out of hellfire priests. Of course he’s a paranoidThatcherite nightmaring about commo world gummint, but don’t for a second think that this insane cabaret represents scepticism about or rejection of AGW. The polls tell the story. A steady drop since 2006 in anglosphere belief in AGW. Coming up to 50-50 about now I’d say. Many “believers” are glancing at the exit.

    So Dr. Rundle’s quaint prescription will be ignored. If heeded, it would speed the end of the cult. So I say- swallow the medicine.

  5. matthia dempsey

    The ‘antis’ have yet to put forward their own pamphlet with a coherent, science-based and unified theory explaining the warming effects scientists are observing. Until then, the onus is not on those who want action on climate change to defend themselves, but to point out the above. Attack, not defend.

    If that is what you mean by ‘the climate change movement should stop focusing on each fresh outrage by the antis, and focus on the positive campaign that it is not making’, I agree Guy. Instead of focussing on disproving each accusation from the antis, ask for an alternative coherent explanation—the charge of ‘conspiracy’, repeated over and over again, tends to be unpersuasive to those who are sceptical in the true sense of the word.

    So long as the antis (helped wittingly and unwittingly by various media) succeed in creating the illusion that a meaningful debate about the science continues, people who might otherwise take action will find the excuse they need to avoid it. Attack, not defend.

  6. JerryG

    @Tom, I didn’t call you in particular a denier. What I pointed out was that the arguments made against the science of global warming consist of lies, misrepresentations, slanders, and threats.

    Some examples:
    – Plimer misqouting scientific papers, eg. taking the quote from a paper by Charles F Keller:

    “The big news [is] the collapse of the climate critics’ last real bastion, namely that satellites and radiosondes show no significant warming in the past quarter century.”

    and citing it in his book as:

    “satellites and radiosondes show that there is no global warming.”

    – Monckton lying that he got information from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that stated that ocean temperatures weren’t increasing – also a lie,
    – Piers Ackerman making up quotes by John Houghton,
    – McIntyre organising a campaign to wreck the work in CRU using a vexatious email campaign,
    – McKitrick’s failure to acknowledge the errors in his hockey stick critique.

    and so on.

    In fact these are just part of archetypical denial. When people retain their opinions regardless of all evidence that show their opinions to be unfounded, then they are deniers.

    You too are a denier as confirmed by your words “the new religion”. If you really think that climate change is the new religion, then it goes back a long way, to Fourier in the 18th century, and is the only religion that has tens of thousands of papers that rely on empirical and readily available data for its conclusions.

    Climate science doesn’t care about your right or left ideology. It is about objective observation of the real world.

  7. Frank Campbell

    “the arguments made against the science of global warming consist of lies, misrepresentations, slanders, and threats.”

    If only this were true.

    The climate modellers themselves know how tenuous some of their assumptions-and evidence- is. Why do you think there is a continual ferment of new hypotheses, desperate ad hoc defences and hedging of bets- all within the tiny self-reviewing, self-referential group of climate modellers. Note that I don’t use the term “scientist” to describe them. The naivete about science inside the cult is fatal. There’s no awareness of the endless dirty wars over all paradigms, all orthodoxies, behind the prim facade of ‘science’.

    Best to read all the emails for a crash course in the history and sociology of science.

  8. JerryG

    @Johny: there is no doubt that the debate about the science of climate change has nothing to do with science. In fact it is completely peripheral to whether or not the climate is warming, and this is the front on which Guy Rundle wants to have the debate. In that case we will engage in a debate against irrationality from a position of irrationality.

    You suggest that the IPCC reports contains propaganda.

    Any objective look at the series of IPCC reports would show that the vast majority of predictions that have been made in the IPCC reports, have been shown to be underestimates of the real observed effects of climate change.

    This is not propaganda but self-censorship based on scientists institutionalised reluctance to make any kind of claim that is an over estimate.

    The IPCC reports have been shown to contain two errors which have no bearing on the overall evidence for the global warming that we are already seeing. One was carelessness, and one was due to an inaccuracy in source material. Both were pointed out by people involved in the editorial process.

    The fact that you even bring up the IPCC report to support an anti-AGW stance, puts you in the deniers camp. Those who use the term deniers are not extreme. They are those who are rational and understand that some kind of disturbance of the brain is the best explanation for people who hold onto their views of the world despite all the contrary evidence coming from their ears and their eyes.

  9. JerryG

    @Tony Kevin
    I can’t see how this article gives us any information on how to appeal to the mainstream. As I said, the times and circumstances when Lenin and Mao had some traction do not exist in the West at this time.

    I also fail to see how we can advance an idea based on pure objective science by taking to the streets. Street activism and propaganda are used (very ineffectively) to try and convince people of simple propositions, whether true or false.

    The message of climate change is not based on authority. It is based on science, and should be communicated in a way that does not link it to any irrelevant ideology.

    Having said that about the science, yes James Hansen and Clive Hamilton make very important points about what may happen in the future when we are convinced that the responsibilities we have to the survival of mankind are greater than the responsibilities we have to the laws of property.

  10. Tom

    @JerryG

    You too are a denier as confirmed by your words “the new religion”. If you really think that climate change is the new religion, then it goes back a long way, to Fourier in the 18th century, and is the only religion that has tens of thousands of papers that rely on empirical and readily available data for its conclusions.

    and …

    “They are those who are rational and understand that some kind of disturbance of the brain is the best explanation for people who hold onto their views of the world despite all the contrary evidence coming from their ears and their eyes”.

    Struggling to imagine where Rundle got the idea that the ‘signed-up feed me what you like and I’ll happily digest without complaint or question’ brigade are lacking in communication skills?

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