Monbiot’s Massacre and the Smiling Sheikh
Why have I never heard of the Munk debates? Held at regular intervals in Toronto, these public debates on significant social or political questions attract audiences of over three thousand. I knew there were some sympathetic, highly intelligent people in Toronto – but so many?
A recent one pitched Matt Ridley and Steve Pinker against a couple of “humanist” journalist / philosophers defending the motion that “Humanity’s best days lie ahead.” I’ll come back to that one another time. (You can read, watch, listen to or download them all for free.)
This post is about an old one from December 2009 in which George Monbiot and Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May defended the motion that: “climate change is mankind’s defining crisis, and demands a commensurate response” with Nigel Lawson and Bjørn Lomborg speaking against.
I remember Monbiot mentioning it in his Guardian column at the time, agonising about the morality of taking a plane to Canada, but I can’t find any trace of a mention afterwards. (Mind you, he had a lot to agonise about just then, post-Climategate and just pre-Copenhagen.)
And no wonder Monbiot stayed silent about it. The pre-debate poll showed 61% of the audience in favour the motion, which fell to 53% after they had heard the arguments – a significant success for Lawson and Lomborg. To be frank, I think they had an easy time of it, since the wording of the motion meant that every time May or Monbiot linked climate change to some fearful consequence – drought, disease, infant mortality or whatever – Lawson and Lomborg could reply: “Well, aren’t they the real defining crises? Why not tackle drought, disease etc directly, rather than link them to something as uncertain as catastrophic global warming?” to which Monbiot and May had no answer. Because of course, the worse the putative effects of global warming, the more urgent it is to deal with them right now, rather than lowering the CO2 content of the atmosphere in a few decades time. And this argument is unanswerable right up to the most extreme effect imaginable – the end of life on the planet. Which explains neatly why climate change activism must be catastrophic or nothing.
In his closing argument Monbiot veered off-subject to recount an anecdote about something that happened to him in Kenya which convinced him that Climate Change was the Big One.
Here’s Monbiot’s autobiographical anecdote:
The reason I’m concerned about climate change is because of my experiences in northwest Kenya. I mentioned the region before, but I haven’t told you exactly what happened.
When I was there in 1992, they were suffering the most severe drought they had ever suffered to date. Since then they’ve suffered two which have been even worse. And because of that drought, everyone was under the most extraordinary pressure. They had run out of basic resources and the only option they really had was to raid neighbouring tribes and take resources from them.
At one point, I was about to go up to the cattle camp that my Turkana friends and their families were running. And it had been stricken by tremendous drought and I fell very ill just before I was due to go up. I got malaria and I collapsed on the street and eventually had to be taken away to Nairobi. And I thought it was a terrible misfortune that had befallen me. It was actually the luckiest thing that ever happened in my life. Because when I finally recovered, I went back in the Land Rover, back to this cattle camp I was supposed to have visited before. I was with one of the relatives of the people in the cattle camp.
About ten miles before we got there this man suddenly burst into tears and he was screaming and wailing and crying and I asked him what on earth was going on. And he said, can’t you see? And I said, I’m sorry, I can’t see. And as I got closer and closer, I did see. There were vultures hanging in the air just above this cattle camp. And when we arrived, all that remained of the 98 people who lived there were their skulls and backbones. The rest had been eaten by hyenas. The Toposa people had come in the night and surrounded this cattle camp and machine gunned it with AK 47s and G3s. They killed 96 people that night. There were two that got away and they killed them the next day. They killed them because they were desperate and they were desperate because of droughts. And that drought almost certainly was a result of climate change.
This is what we are up against. Not the esoteric abstractions and the figures and the squabbles we’ve been having over spreadsheets and computer programs and what this and that figure say. This is about life and death to these people – people I came to love and respect when I was there. And it was seeing that, which turned me into a climate change campaigner.
I was always switched on to social justice and environmental issues. But all these other things that I’d been fighting for all my adult life – getting people properly fed and preventing conflict and preventing disease – all that spending and that effort becomes wasted in the face of climate change. And when I was working there I was working with Oxfam in East Africa, and it was them who told me that this was the major problem. If we don’t deal with climate change, forget the rest of our programs. We might as well pack up and go home.
You can’t help admiring someone who gave up a cushy job at the BBC to become a freelance journalist and who, at the age of 29, had already had a lifetime of unpleasant experiences and narrow escapes. From Wikipaedia:
Working as an investigative journalist, he travelled in Indonesia, Brazil, and East Africa. His activities led to his being made persona non grata in seven countries and being sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia in Indonesia. In these places, he was also shot at, beaten up by military police, shipwrecked and stung into a poisoned coma by hornets. He came back to work in Britain after being pronounced clinically dead in Lodwar General Hospital in north-western Kenya, having contracted cerebral malaria.
Monbiot’s horrifying anecdote seemed weirdly significant when I read it late last night, but I couldn’t work out why, until this morning when I was watching a documentary on al Jazeera on a completely different subject – the life of a certain Sheikh Bassam.
[Correction: The link above is to the first part of the film about Sheikh Bassam’s son, whereas my text below is based on the second part at
starting from about five minutes in. I’ve now seen the entire film from the beginning and corrected a few minor errors in the text below. It’s well worth watching in its entirety. The first part has film of one of the first peaceful demonstrations against Assad’s regime, when, according to the Sheikh’s son, three of four villages, representing 100,000 people formed a march on the city of Irlib. We see them marching through lush countryside, no sign of drought. Fifteen were killed by the Syrian Army. Later footage of fighting by the Free Syrian Army takes place in well tended olive groves.]
I missed the beginning, and came in where the elderly sheikh, turbaned, with a long white beard, is shown surrounded by young men with kalashnikovs, overseeing the release of a hostage in a rebel-held part of his native Syria. Then we had his life in a series of flashbacks: opposition to the Bashar Assad régime; studying art and architecture in Aix-en-Provence; marriage to a French PhD student; preaching fundamentalist Islam in France and Belgium while running a Syrio-Lebanese restaurant (he claims to have made over two thousand converts); imprisonment for eight months in Saudi Arabia for alleged involvement in a coup against the régime; imprisonment for three years in Italy on trumped up charges of terrorism (he was released and received financial compensation); and finally back in his ancestral home in Syria, where he recently had his arm blown off by a car bomb placed by Daesh/ISIL. Interviews with a French engineer who befriended him in Saudi Arabia and a Belgian police chief who investigated him for suspected terrorism make it clear that he is no terrorist, though, as the police chief explains, his proselytising made him the ideal suspect. And his own explanations of his admiration for the student revolt in May ’68 and the French democratic system, the Islamic principle of tolerance for Jews and Christians (he didn’t mention atheists,) and his practice of Sharia Law back in Syria (he was a bit vague about the cutting off of hands of thieves) where he lives with two new wives (his French wife is still in France, being looked after by one of their sons) showed a personality which can only be described as – complex.
The last scene of the film covers the death of his other son, a Jihadist, in an attack on a Syrian army position. The Sheikh is shown going to the site of his death to recuperate his bones, and finding the tail of the missile which killed him. But his son’s body is buried in a mass grave. The Sheikh pokes at the stony ground with a spade held in his one remaining hand and mutters: “We’ll need a bulldozer.”
Apparently there was one at hand, because the son’s bones are now buried in the family cemetery, and this extraordinary old man can comfort himself with the simple precepts of his 1400 year-old religion, at least until Daesh or Assad’s troops get him.
Monbiot, faced with a similarly horrific event, couldn’t console himself with the simple precepts of an age old religion, but luckily Oxfam were on hand with a substitute. It’s interesting to learn that the theory that wars are caused by droughts which are caused by climate change which has been used to explain the Syrian disaster was already being used 25 years ago by aid workers in Kenya.
Every intelligent article I’ve ever read about the Middle East insists on the importance of tribal chieftains like Sheikh Bassam, usually with the message that unless we get to grips with these hopelessly backward people and their hopelessly backward feudal system, we’re never going to get anywhere winning whatever war it is that’s being discussed, though I’ve never seen an article featuring anyone quite like Sheikh Bassam, his feudal manners tempered by an education in jails in Saudi Arabia and Italy and in one of Europe’s oldest universities.
George Monbiot also went to one of Europe’s oldest universities – Oxford – though according to Wikipaedia he felt that he didn’t fit in there. I wonder why. Whereas Sheikh Bassam seems to fit in anywhere. You could imagine having a pint with Sheikh Bassam (his name means “smiler”) – of something non-alcoholic of course – which I somehow can’t with Monbiot, whatever his qualities. But then Sheikh Bassam isn’t worried by climate change.
Has anyone else been reading the tweets on the Middle East by Steve McIntyre?
Monbiot’s explanation is only secular in appearance; it is medieval theology. Science can’t tell you how shopping at Tescos caused a massacre in Africa, but he will tell you it does, all the same. His holism preaches that the suffering — not the resources — must be shared, the resources being limited, and our craven impulses — knowledge, technology, ambition — having unleashed chaos in an otherwise perfectly balanced Order of things prior to The Fall. He can’t answer Lawson and Lomborg because to do so would expose the mystical precept of Natural (i.e. Divine) Providence, which not even ecology attempts to substantiate. His War Against Ourselves (look it up) is a jihad with ‘science’ only giving modest cover to the mysticism.
I often wonder, too, about Europe’s oldest Universities. And Europe’s (and the ME’s) oldest families. Is something green in the … not DNA… but something? Is it hard to understand why relics of feudalism have, in the 21st Century, preoccupations with feudal modes of production and social organisation?
The Sheikh is not green because he has more pressing matters. Oxford graduate, Bin Laden, however, did find time to muse on climate change.
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If I come back obsessively to Monbiot (and I think I’m not the only one) it’s because he is in some ways an admirable person, an interesting journalist/activist, and a redoubtable strategist. The way he has targetted Plimer, Monckton, Morner etc., laying bare their eccentricities, and thus successfully branding all climate sceptics as weirdoes, marks him as a master propagandist. The fact that he has his equivalents in France shows that it’s not a matter of one person’s psychology, but a more general tendency in our society. I can’t help feeling that getting to the bottom of Monbiot (if I can put it like that) would go a long way to pricking the balloon, or pustule, if you prefer, of global warming hysteria.
I wouldn’t describe Monbiot’s “war against ourselves” as a jihad, simply because the word is already loaded with too many connotations, often designed deliberately to mislead. For an hour, on al Jazeera, a feudal chieftain described, in perfect French, Jihad as a concrete reality, and not as a cheap propaganda label. For an hour I felt slightly wiser.
Similarly, while not denying the existence of feudal remnants in the concept of oldest universities, oldest families, and in the mindset of many greens, I don’t think it’s useful to link it to the deeply rooted feudalism found in the Middle East. Someone from Monbiot’s background can turn out Deep Green or True Blue – there’s no telling. That’s what living in a free society means, if it means anything. But Sheikh Bassam’s society is a century or two away from such suppleness, which is one reason (there are others) why spending trillions bombing it into the 21st century is such a bad idea.
Thanks for reminding of that Monk debate. And it is a good point about how Lomborg and Lawson won by showing how mitigation campaigns and treaties do not deal with any actual crises that Nature sends our way for any cause whatsoever. The “insurance” argument by activists is similarly flawed: a policy is supposed to make you whole when suffering damages (assuming the carrier doesn’t find a loophole to disqualify you). Reducing emissions will do nothing of the sort, except make everyone poorer by forcing costly, unreliable energy. The real reason for the catastrophic claims of activists is that only Apocalypse can justify the trillions of dollars demanded.
The last point is well expressed by Robert Tracinski in his article on the rise of the climate doomsday cult following Trump’s Paris withdrawal:
“Maybe that’s why the global warming alarmists have to crank it up to eleven. If we can point to billions of dollars drained from the U.S. government and diverted through an international bureaucracy, or trillions of dollars in lost production and regulatory costs imposed on the world economy over decades, the global warming alarmists have to be able to claim negative consequences so great that they dwarf these massive costs. There’s nothing bigger than the planet dying. It’s a claim that automatically wins the argument—or so they think.”
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Monbiot and those like him use the skills of the passive agressive. Whenever they do something that others dislike, they are always doing it for a higher cause – god, the poor, the children, the animals. Even just questioning the effiicacy of their solutions is blasphemy. Emotional blackmail is their stock in trade. The only times that passive agressives lose is when they come across active agressives (like the sheik) and then they back off and look for an easier target. So it’s easier to blame us emitting CO2 for war in Syria than confront the Syrians and Assad or Putin.
Passive agressives are not really passive. In a gang they’re just agressive and often urge each other on to greater bile and, or violence. Bitchyness is their stock in trade when they’re more isolated. It’s no accident that comedians are amongst their number. They find an easy target in the ordianary people who just want a quiet life. The passive agressive uses anything and everything their targets say and do as ammunition. Unlike their opposition they don’t hesitate to use mistakes as weapons. They mock and criticise everything. They know that mud sticks. They don’t have rules about what should or shouldn’t be said. Even when they’re forced to retract a comment, they make it sound like an appolgy is not really due.
Both Cameron and May were obsessed with the Tories being the ‘nasty party’. Although the Conservatives have their fair share of greedy bstards the other parties have their own problems but the right doesn’t harp on about the other parties’ flaws. Almost from taking over the Tories were very coy about Labour’s financial failings. We’re still in the hole that we go into on Labour’s watch and May should have said so. I know that they’re terrified the World will notice we’re broke if we mention ho much in debt we are but surely the only people who don’t know it are the Millennials. The Tories have been in dismay because the government has continued to fritter money of THEIR pet causes. Be it foreign aid or climate change. I know they think that those two things keep other nations sweet, but they really don’t.
The only way to defeat the Monbiots of this world is for them to meet someone who is unashamed of being different. Trouble is, we don’t like them either.
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“And his own explanations of his admiration for the student revolt in May ’68 and the French democratic system, the Islamic principle of tolerance for Jews and Christians (he didn’t mention atheists,) and his practice of Sharia Law back in Syria (he was a bit vague about the cutting off of hands of thieves) where he lives with two new wives (his French wife is still in France, being looked after by one of their sons) showed a personality which can only be described as – complex.”
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that human cerebral complexity is the curse of our age. A complex thought process is not necessarily the best way to solve a ‘wickedly’ complex ‘problem’ like climate change. In fact, in the final analysis, it’s difficult to differentiate innate complexity from that complexity which arises as a direct result of human attempts to solve the problem. We seem to be inventing ever more complex and, quite frankly, bizarre, ways to deal with the complexity of the modern world in which we find ourselves. As a result, simple logic and common sense are being relegated to supporting roles, or kicked off stage completely.
96 people were gunned to death in a cattle camp in NW Kenya because:
1. Their neighbours owned AK47s
2. Their neighbours didn’t like them
3. The dead were competitors for resources and would have raided THEIR neighbours’ camp sooner or later.
4. Humans will readily resort to violence to solve simple problems (like lack of resources) – in the absence of complex societal rules preventing them from doing so.
5. Bad weather caused a severe drought in the region, which may or may not be related to a discernible warming of the entire planet in the 20th century and may or may not be related to changing global circulation patterns – e.g. shifting jet streams, migrations of ITCZ etc.
It is a stunning illustration of the allure of complexity driving Monbiot’s thought processes that he jumps straight to 5. to explain the ’cause’ of a mass murder; even going beyond that to infer directly that the ’cause’ of 5. is the addition, over the years, of modest amounts of GHGs to the atmosphere via the burning of fossil fuels – thus invoking a universal eschatological impulse buried deep within the human collective subconscious. It is almost as if Monbiot’s mind is saying to itself, ‘I am complex, therefore that which I perceive must also be complex’.
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Geoff, I can’t attack anyone for obsessing over Monbiot. I did plenty of that, and the above wasn’t a criticism of your post.
However, I don’t think he can claim credit for ostracising Plimer and Monckton, or any other sceptic. In part, they did it themselves, the latter in particular tending towards the bombastic. Monbiot spoke to and with a narrow, but perhaps influential (at the time) part of society, who already had authored the green conspiracy theories, and were positioned so as to be able to peddle them to a wider public. Monbiot merely regurgitated the narrative, be it the Tobacco Strategy, Exxon Secrets, or whatever. I would say he’s a good writer, insofar as he writes with authority. And speaks. Testament to the British public school that people so dead between the ears can pull off a public intellectual act. There’s some feudal legacy, right there. But otherwise, he was pushing at open doors in his own house. Monckton, as it happens, is an excellent chair, rather than speaker, and highly sensitive to the audience’s needs. So my guess is that his style when lecturing or debating has always been a matter of choice, he speaking to plenty enough for him (extremely popular in the US & Aus), and not feeling it necessary to speak to the green crowd. It’s not an entirely daft premise, and I’ve wondered myself if there was much sense trying to speak to the part of the room that had long ago signalled its hostility to debate. After all, the green crowd never had the numbers, only the position necessary to achieve their aims.
I think the ME and wider region does offer some lesson in this regard. Many of its cities were comparable to Western Europe’s, in terms of politics, attitudes, culture and so on. The more rural and poorer areas perhaps not so, but it was ever thus. The reasons for their fall are history, of course, the point being that what is shocking about the backwardness is not, as some would have it, an unbroken continuity of medieval theocracy, but in some cases, a recent regression, that took place well within the lifetimes of most readers here. Matt Ridley in Spiked this week said that “when asked what I’m worried about, I say superstition and bureaucracy. Both of those could yet win. A lot of other civilisations came a cropper on those two rocks in the past, so it could happen again.” I agree… We should not take liberal, secular democracy for granted. (And yes, the irony of quoting a viscount here is not lost on me, though he doesn’t need to be asked to agree that the HoL should be democratically-appointed).
You’re probably right about the term ‘jihad’, though IIRC, it was Philip Stott who coined the term ‘green Taliban’ (apologies to him if it wasn’t), and that its training camps were places like Eton, not the estates. Stott points out that recycling requires genuflection and ritual… It also requires confrontation of our inherent sinfulness, and that a holistic correspondence between our
actionsthoughts and Gaia should guide our actions, overseen by Her institutions on earth. Talk to greens, and you discover that, for many. there’s much more to green ideology than merely a technical response to an objectively-defined problem; it is mystical; putting out the recycling isn’t merely an act of conserving resources. There is a broader ideology at play, a Weltanschauung, and this is why Monbiot *is* useful. He can’t help revealing it, and exposing its uncompromising ambitions.
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Interesting essay. A bit disjointed. What is McIntyre up to?
Monbiot’s epiphany rings hollow and self absorbed. A typical imperialist wannabe who knows all from an intense experience bereft of context. The droughts he referred to were not tgecworst ever. The killings were due to generations old clan and tribal conflicts. He is so self absorbed that he requires a planet shaking explanation for his personal experience. As with nearly all of Monbiot’s drivel its really a projection of his interior life, and has little to do with a deeper understanding of reality.
McIntyre tweets news from the Middle East that otherwise is ignored in the media.
Exactly. And someone like Monbiot, whose whole reputation rests on being well-informed, has no excuse for not reading up on a bit of anthropology. The more general point, which applies to the Middle East as well as to Kenya, is that there’s a kind of cultural transition period when closed societies encounter modernity comparable to the demographic transition. One society will take cellphones, another will take the AK47s, and apply them (at least at first) to living the kind of life they always have.
Monbiot’s experience suggest to me that Kenya could do with hydrologists, engineers, and maybe some training help for their police force. Monbiot thinks they need us to erect wind turbines in Europe, so that the weather will get better in Africa. If we’re to believe his anecdote, this is not a conclusion he came to from reading Stern and the IPCC, but something he was told by a bloke from Oxfam in Kenya when he was in a state of shock.
Yep. And here’s a way to link that area to climate impacts (of current Arctic ice melt), if briefly
Here’s another classic on Trumpian cuts from early today
The stuff on Syria is immensely important.
Indeed it is. And in particular because Steve is not a US citizen, has many followers who are, and who are likely to be disturbed by his position.
At Climate Audit he has always been reticent about expressing political opinions. He’s also been extremely careful not to become identified as a leader of the Climate Scepticism movement, going so far in the famous post Climategate Guardian debate
as to state that “my blog never suggested that governments should not – that climate change is not an issue or that governments should not adopt climate policy..”
I haven’t seen any general statement of Steve’s about US or Western policy in the Middle East, but I get the impression that he thinks there are more important subjects than climate change and the Paris Agreement at the moment. Here’s one such subject:
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain have just made 13 demands on Qatar, backed up by an economic blockade – an act of war. Among the demands figure the closure of the Al Jazeera TV station and of a Turkish military base. Turkey is a NATO member, and by the terms of the treaty an act of agression against one member is an act of agression against all. Responding to agression will be no problem, since the US has a huge base there. So will NATO come to the defence of Qatar’s right, as a sovereign nation, to continue to finance Hamas and the Moslem Brotherhood, political parties which have won elections in their respective countries? Certainly not. So will NATO come to the defence of Estonia or Latvia when its large Russian-speaking minorities start making “unacceptable” demands? You tell me.
What’s all this to do with my post? Watch the al Jazeera programme and listen to Sheikh Bassam talking about: being a student in France in May ’68; his family tree dating back to the Prophet; the Daesh bomb which ripped off his arm but, alas, failed to provide him with the martyrdom he would welcome…
I don’t watch much TV, but this programme made me reflect on the complexity of humanity, the extraordinary diversity of its culture superimposed on our common humanity. I sometimes feel a blazing hatred for Monbiot and his epigones, but it’s not (just) because of their blind faith in a silly cultish perversion of science. It’s wider than that. It’s not just that in catastrophic climate change they’ve hit upon the wrong explanation for the world’s woes. It’s that the very attempt to seek such an explanation manifests what Ben Pile often castigates as intellectual mediocrity; what PeterS analyses as an unconscious residue of unrequited infantile desires; what I sometimes try to analyse as an intellectual perversion of a certain social class at a certain conjuncture..
Has anyone else watched the al Jazeera documentary? I’d be interested in hearing your reactions.
“it would be interesting to see how many other govt departments/branches can be taken to 0 employees with no impact outside Beltway”
No it wouldn’t. But if Grenfell Tower hasn’t taught you anything about government ignoring its duty, nothing will.
That’s quite a non sequitur. Steve is talking about the fact that certain US government agencies apparently do nothing, since the reduction of their personnel to zero has no effect. In the case of Grenfell Tower, the personnel working in Government Health and Safety has not diminished. I suggest you continue your comments on the appropriate thread.
What does it mean to say they do nothing? You could reduce building inspectors to nothing and that would also have “no effect”. Until some time later, perhaps much later, it because obvious that it did.
So Len knows already the result of the enquiry. In which case why didn’t he know before the enquiry or even before the fire? LEN, where were you when those guys needed you?
Omg similar failings in Tower blocks in Germany. Len! Where were you? You might have saved humanity
That should have been, “Until some time later, perhaps much later, it becomes obvious that it did.”
It should be quite clear that the impact of a body or of many employees is not measured in the day to day, but over the long term. So McIntyre’s comment is clearly stupid.
LOL. LM’s brought his insinuous comments on Grenfell to this thread probably on account of me telling him to bring facts to the table or sod off on https://cliscep.com/2017/06/19/grenfell-and-the-sustainability-agenda/
Jamie, I abandoned your thread because you wouldn’t answer the question: where is the counter example of a country that has high efficiency and low energy costs without regulations enforcing efficiency. Your solution to crap buildings is to throw cheap energy at warming and cooling them, but the result is not cheap living or necessarily comfort, but high fuel bills. Energy bills in the US are higher on average than in Europe despite cheap energy, in part because they waste so much.
It is a straw man argument to say the least to pretend that building inspectors would be on the list of closures. Grenfell happened at least in part because the climate obsessed over ruled the building inspectors. Perhaps some defunding of those who put their obsession with the future climate above the safety of people today are much better candidates for layoffs and firing. Building inspectors by definition get out and mingle with the people. A climate extremist supports exterminating people.
Geoff. For some very strange reason I never knew about the meeting and so the transcript you referred to was complete news to me. Very strange to revisit those times. What I noticed most was that my evaluation of Bob Watson and Trevor Davies as apologists remains unchanged, how Steve McIntyre stayed absolutely true to his limited brief and what a balanced judgement Fred Pearce gave – no hidden conspiracy just a sad expose of incompetence and cover up. What doesn’t really appear is the dread hand of Mann and the conflict between him and Briffa. Monbiot seems to have been a rather even handed chairman.
Thank you for drawing my attention to this material.
You might be interested in this background information on the Guardian debate.
The Guardian advertised it extensively beforehand, with just one sceptic invited, Douglas Keenan, who had made just one well-publicised foray into the climate mess I think, over a paper by Jones and Wang for which Dr Wang of New York State University had lost the Chinese data, resulting in Keenan accusing him of fraud.
Someone at Bishop Hill contacted the Guardian, saying “why don’t you invite McIntyre?” and they said they couldn’t afford to, so Bishop Hill readers made a collection and flew him over. After the debate, the Guardian put up a five minute video of extracts, from which McIntyre was absent, and a podcast, from which Douglas Keenan was censored, since some of his comments were potentially libellous, which was predictable, since he’d been trying to get Wang to sue him for libel in order to expose him. I transcribed the whole thing for Alex Cull’s Mytranscriptbox site, and Keenan provided the missing passages.
Others have commented on Monbiot’s fairness, which I think is entirely unjustified. What he demonstrates is a kind of low animal cunning (he has a degree in zoology after all) in directing the debate, starting with his fraudulent claim (during questions) that: “.. the Guardian chose me as the ideal chair for this occasion on the grounds that I’d already alienated everybody involved in the debate.”
What happened was that Monbiot’s initial reaction to the climategate emails was to demand the resignation of Phil Jones and a full enquiry. The Guardian then handed coverage of the affair over to Fred Pearce, and Monbiot contented himself with saying that he wouldn’t be coming back to the subject unless the official enquiries found something wrong – an extraordinary statement for an investigative journalist. After the three enquiries he apologised to Jones.
His first questions to Trevor Davies and to McIntyre were pure misdirection: He asked Davies about UEA’s reaction to the revelation of the mails, rather than the mails themselves, and he asked McIntyre about the temperature record, rather than the hockeystick. Either he had no idea what McIntyre had been doing for all those years, or he was deliberately leading him off the subject.
Monbiot has commented little on climate change since, but has parrotted the line that the UEA work was just one line of research among thousands, so all’s right with the science.
It was an excellent event compared to so much other dross. I happened to walk out at the end with Bob Watson. On picking up I was of sceptical persuasion he offered something like “The problem with mitigation as currently conceived is that it hits the world’s poorest the hardest, doesn’t it?” Couldn’t help agreeing with that.
That was a mark of something useful going on, for me. Not least due to Steve’s careful and irenic approach. We’ve gone backwards since in so many regards, not least, as I see it, due to the weight of institutional and crony capitalist need for mediocrity and dishonesty. Ben has that stuff right in my book.
All of Steve on Twitter is too big for me to deal with here. I agree with Geoff’s point about the Canadian’s US followers – up to a point. It’s not all his Climate Audit readers, remember, nothing like. But it’s also a forum that lends itself to many interrelated subjects, on some of which one hasn’t fully formed a view.
Thus Steve on Saturday on the Sarin attack Assad was accused of carrying out in April:
I found the thread he points to there convincing so summarised thus:
As I said, really important stuff, with Steve basically on the same page as an old UK tory like Peter Hitchens and many other independent thinkers who believe Assad’s ‘chemical attacks’ have to be fake news at its very worse. I heartily agree with them.
But then there’s three Cliscep regulars disagreeing on Brexit almost to the point of blocking just now:
Accusations of racism lurking there. It’s unclear if Twitter is so useful in such passes.
Apologies to Geoff that I’ve not looked at the video. Quick hits only at the moment. Another trait that lends itself to tweet form.
While I notice, this tweet and response was classic in a different way (also spotted thanks to Steve early Saturday):
Last night and today the biggest news for me has been Dominic Cummings responding to some of the fiercest Twitter critics of Brexit for the first time I’ve seen. Hard to pick it all up but these are two interesting starting points:
It could be an error. Partly because of intransigence of critics no doubt.
Dominic’s been interesting on the dumbness of the climate debate in recent months too.
But as I said above it’s being able to cover a vast number of subjects, even in a surface way, but sometimes with ‘Blink’ conciseness (everyone seen that book?), that is a great help. Been wondering about that ‘Climate Scepticism’ name 🙂
It’s hard to think it possible, but my opinion of climate sceptics takes another dive at the sight of you or McI analysing Syria from the comfort of your armchairs, as if you have even the vaguest of clues about the situation on the ground.
Len. Sometimes it takes someone uninvolved to dispassionately examine the evidence and reach independent conclusions. They may or may not be correct but they have the advantage of being independent. After examining all the footage of the Grenfell fire I have come to very different conclusions to those being pursued by the MSM with its focus on the cladding. If McIntyre were wise he would do what I was able to do, check with an expert. My experience with McI is that he is wise.
What is your expertise? Why should I bother listening to your POV?
“my opinion of climate sceptics takes another dive…”
You know what Martinez, you pathetic, annoying little waste of bandwidth?
I’m utterly certain that not a single climate sceptic anywhere gives a flying dog’s bollock for your opinion.
Or that of any of your fellow Warmie trolls on all the other blogs you pollute with your poisonous claptrap.
catweazle, the claptrap is not poisonous, just vacuous in a whiny passive-aggressive sort of way.
I agree with the poisonous. It’s also cowardly, in that as always it offers no point of view. For instance, in the Syria case, if someone said:
I’d at least respect them for clarity and, to a degree, for courage. Len never has the guts for either. Poison it is to pretend you’ve made a contribution from an imaginary moral highground when your munition is deployed only to blind and kill the discussion.
Back to Steve on Twitter who’s the polar opposite of that. Pace Alan, he has cited loads of ‘experts’. The problem is, of course, the experts disagree. But some of Steve’s old allies in climate turn up and he’s learned to respect them. Hence a retweet of this today from Ezra Levant on the latest hot issue in Canada:
and pointing to this video from Levant from 2015
Not a very trendy mistreated-Muslim-loving leftie position there and one, once again, I’d deeply share. On the other hand there’s this searing piece Steve points to, in relation to the fight for Mosul and Raqqa, on the deliberate destruction of civilian populations: Ask Grandpa What He Did in the Good War. That’s from the “American Conservative” but what does the label matter?
Steve recently tweeted about how he’d not realised the extent of the destruction of the population of North Korea in the Korean War. Me neither. I don’t follow the man from Toronto uncritically but I learn a lot by following him. Climate or Korea. Wonder why that may be.
Richard, you really are a twat. McI posts some thread by an anonymous archaic Greek character and you “found the thread he points to there convincing”. That you are ‘convinced’ by contrarian information that you have no way of verifying maybe because it forms a coherent set of tweets (or was there something you actually checked) is dumb even by cliscep standards. I’m glad that you don’t respect me as your respect would seem to require that I take a position on something not because it is valid or logical but just for the sake of having an opinion. Dumb beyond words.
Alan, McI may be wise when it comes to tree rings. You both may or may not have wise words o offer about geology or statistics. That doesn’t mean you or he knows the first thing about Syria.
Len, your evidence is…?
So snivelling Len is here now. Why, if you can afford it, should anyone suffer from climatic variations? I guess you want to tell people how much they should spend on heating or air conditioning. FUCK OFF
I’ll reply to the objection at 9:32pm but it’s only fair to warn readers that it will take this thread further away from Geoff’s main thrust in the original article. He has the right to call a halt at any point – indeed to delete any such comments.
Here’s the most convincing argument that the April 4th Sarin attack was fake news, from Philippe Lemoine, of whose writing Steve says my views on both incidents are virtually identical to his (including the earlier claimed Assad attack in 2013 – the whole article and its prequel and sequel yesterday are recommended):
You don’t have to be an ‘expert’ in missiles and munitions or in the normal behaviour of medical and other officials after a chemical weapons attack to understand the improbability here.
If Len wants to present why he believes the official narrative in the light of this, no problem. If not, the insults are water off a Drake’s back. But the bigger question is what happens if we all behave like sheep and accept the “international consensus” on this, just as we do (ha ha) on global warming. World War III with astonishing loss of life is a genuine possibility, not in a hundred but a handful of years.
Geoff mentioned earlier that Steve might find that more important even that the finer points of paleoclimate. Me too.
Len. I have written nothing about Syria here, in fact I have argued elsewhere that I do not believe in the revisionist view about the gas attack. I would however take what McI writes with consideration simply because those who have demonstrated an ability to sift data tend to be able to transfer this gift to other situations. Whereas you have not demonstrated, to my knowledge, any such abilities. In fact, if you support something, I’ll look at the contrary with greater interest.
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Richard. You wrote “The problem is, of course, the experts disagree”. Indeed, but my tactic was to examine what evidence is available, reach conclusions and only then ask experts. If they disagree (or disagree with your conclusions) you are able to judge on the basis of how they explain the evidence you independently have assembled. In my recent case I asked my ex-fire chief neighbour about the fact that fire reached flats before the external cladding burned. He confirmed the possible validity of what I suspected.
I have not independently looked at all the available evidence surrounding the gas attack in Syria so have no firm opinion about it, meaning that I would not be surprised either way.
The best scientists have split personalities. One assembles evidence and concocts an explanation. The other personality then attempts to destroy the explanation. Most climate modellers have singular personalities (as apparently does Len).
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Alan, I did doubt the perfection of the analogy, not least because not everyone has the luck to live next to an expert in the field in question! More deeply, there isn’t a single field in question in the Khan Sheikhoun case. So we have to take considerable care, not least because of the massive consequences of getting it wrong.
On those consequences, there is some very good news at present that many who feel they follow current affairs may have missed: the UNHCR is seeing significant returns of internally displaced amid Syria’s continuing conflict. Sorry to have to mention and cite the UN there but, like the IPCC, the “international consensus” isn’t all wrong, just ignored when it doesn’t fit the power-seeking elitists’ current agenda. Comments on the subject from two people worth following on Twitter included:
Editorialising from the strict moderator of Climate Audit or what? 🙂
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Richard my tactic is more general. If I don’t have an expert as a neighbour I seek one out. Working within a university was wonderful for that – I miss it greatly. Blogs like this one do exercise the mind and I believe people like Len (and Entropic Man over at BH) are invaluable resources.
Alan, I agree with the general method but see two challenges in this case: the multiplicity of fields of expertise needed to evaluate the story, as already mentioned, and in any particular field knowing who is a genuine expert who has not been bought by what I’ll call, for want of a better term, the establishment. Thus Philippe Lemoine
But it seems to me murkier even than that, with deliberate misinformation being spread by those who should know better. Thus this commenter on Eliot Higgins’ triumphalist effort as a consensus enforcer yesterday:
That’s exactly my view. Mr Hersh – an expert investigator in other cases, such as My Lai and Abu Ghraib – is in this case being played. Doesn’t mean he’s not right about much else, of course. Very murky – but I can’t see any alternative to doing our best, in order to bring some protection for refugees who have already suffered enough and to avoid even worse conflict.
Richard. I should perhaps mention that some problems are probably intractable. The reason for my lack of interest/effort in regard to the Syrian case is that there are , in my count, at least three viable alternative explanations and “experts” to support each one (and yet others). Here I use the Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) dictum: “everybody lies”.
I note that Moonbat is up to his old tricks today in reframing questions into his usual “beating wife” format. In the Guardian today he writes:
“We don’t allow defendants in court cases to select the charges on which they will be tried. So why should the government set the terms of a public inquiry into its own failings?”
Wrong on multiple counts:
Defendants not infrequently are allowed to choose a particular (and lesser) charge in order to avoid a lengthy court case.
Comparing court cases with public inquiries is highly suspect, and
Governments always set the terms and choose who will chair an inquiry (another Moonbat gripe).
Isn’t Moonbat prejudging the Government’s culpability?
Shame on you Moonbat.
Richard, did I say I believe the official narrative? I don’t recall doing so, but it is possible. The thing is, I don’t really care. It is terrible what has happened in Syria of course, but whether it was Assad or Putin or any other nutter makes no practical difference to me. If the US or UK had used or was using the attribution as justification to get heavily involved, then I’d be interested in its truth, but as the attribution was made and then fuck-all happened I don’t see either the reason for such a fabrication or a reason to care.
Alan, there’s nothing wrong with analysing and asking experts and so forth, just don’t have the hubris to think you have found the truth.
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Len. hubris??? I never believe I have found the truth. I have my last solo scientific paper being published this month. Do I think I have found the truth? Far from it, I just hope some young Turk doesn’t come along and blow me away with a more plausible explanation.
You don’t seem to understand scientific truth. It’s an explanation that is currently acceptable , but which could be superseded if a better “truth” comes along. I am happy with my revisionist explanation for the Grenfell fire , but not arrogant enough to believe it is correct. On the other hand, I cannot believe anyone, except the perpetrators, can be certain about what happened in Syria.
Again I ask a question of you – upon what expertise can you accuse me of hubris?
“Again I ask a question of you – upon what expertise can you accuse me of hubris?”
PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE TROLL!
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What’s all this stuff about the Middle East got to do with climate change? you may ask. There’s a new paper out soon, prepublished at
entitled “Estimating changes in global temperature since the pre-industrial period.” Among the authors is one Phil Jones, of the School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, and also of the Center of Excellence for Climate Change Research, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has recently issued an ultimatum to Qatar imposing a trade and travel embargo and making a number of demands, including the closure of a Turkish military base. This is an act of war, under international law, and Turkey is a member of NATO, and an attack on one member is an attack on all, so expect Britain to be at war wth Saudi Arabia quite soon.
Let’s hope that Professor Jones is safely back home in Norwich by then.
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Alan, I don’t think any expertise is needed to detect hubris. You just seem far too proud of your analytical efforts for someone with no apparent expertise in fires.
I don’t think you’ve been concentrating. Let me repeat this part:
After the attack in Khan Sheikhoun was attributed to Assad, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reversed “the most significant change of policy for the US since Obama demanded that Assad step down in July 2011”. This snap decision in April was at the very least taken before all the data about the attack could have been properly analysed and, crucially, it was before ISIS has been defeated in Iraq and Syria. So it’s true this change of policy by the Trump administration has not led, yet, to five million additional unnecessary deaths across the Middle East, Russia and who knows where. (We in the UK would not see a reduction in Islamist terrorism is such a situation, of that I’m sure.)
That will take time. So we can all rest easy.
And maybe it won’t be five million. But what an escalation of the war in Syria due to an attempt by the West to remove Assad, in the teeth of opposition from Russia, would definitely mean is that the 500,000 refugees the UNHCR says have recently returned to their homes there will have made the wrong decision. And if that is nothing, then indeed let’s talk the finer points of paleoclimate as if that is the only thing left wrong in the world.
The first part of my response was about a reason to care. The final part is about possible reasons for a fabrication or false flag operation.
The first question is why false flags are ever set up. It’s often forgotten Hitler used one before invading Poland in 1939. You’d have thought the Nazis didn’t care about what the rest of the world thought. You’d be wrong. WWII was a propaganda war from start to finish, Lord Haw Haw and all.
The motive for a false flag operation in Khan Sheikhoun in the case of al-Qaeda, or its local rebrands/affiliates in the area, is easy enough to posit: to enrage people in the West against Assad when otherwise, with the help of the Russians, he is close to total victory against them. And thus entice Western leaders to renew attempts to remove Assad by force.
Beyond that, it’s more murky. Why might some in the West be going along with the deception or even assisting with it? As Steve tweeted on Saturday “little about the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack makes sense”. But we don’t have to know all the reasons to have reason to care.
Len. Your analytical skills seem somewhat wanting don’t they? I thought I gave sufficient evidence to demonstrate that I certainly don’t believe my conclusions are necessarily correct (fear of young Turks etc). With regard to my conclusions about the fire, I’ll just point to my observations upon the visual record and encourage you, you who are so dismissive, to suggest alternative interpretations. Surprised will I be.
Richard. I am somewhat surprised that you ignore what I consider an equally likely scenario – that the Sarin gas canisters were already on the ground when the Syrian air attack occurred and the gas was inadvertently released as a consequence of that attack. That way, except for the victims, everyone’s culpable.
I don’t ignore that scenario Alan. Any scenario where Assad didn’t deliberately use chemical weapons against his own people is fine by me – though clearly not all are equally likely and evaluating the likelihood of each is a very technical matter.
The non-technical argument that weighs most heavily for me is the improbability of Assad risking incurring the wrath of the West for little or no advantage in his war, with Putin, against the remaining rebels – at a time when he is winning that war and America has just signalled it is no longer seeking to remove him. That would have been suicidally stupid. I don’t see any compelling evidence he has been.
An accident would of course get al-Qaeda off the hook for staging a false flag. I think it’s unlikely for the reality to be that convenient for them and those, in effect, supporting them in wanting the removal of Assad, like Turkey, but I don’t rule anything out.
Richard. Common sense and rationality are sometimes unreliable guides. I can think of at least three reasonable explanations for the Assad regime’s culpability. Another dictum that often applies is that “truth is stranger than fiction”.
Alan, Obama declared chemical weapons a ‘red line’, meaning he and his allies would seek to overthrow Assad if he used them. Now that Russia is so heavily involved, do you agree? Are you saying that you can think of three reasonable explanations for Khan Sheikhoun that would necessitate the overthrow of Assad, provoking war with the Russians? Do you see any reasonable explanations for Khan Sheikhoun that would lead to far less war, not far more?
If truth is stranger than fiction, then this is not necessarily a reason to abandon rationality. If truth is stranger than fiction then we can draw two possible conclusions:
1.Assad is crazy.
2.There is some reason why Assad has become complicit in his own downfall either by choosing to use chemical weapons against his own people or by having no choice not to use them.
I struggle to imagine what circumstances would give rise to 2., but they may exist of course.
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Richard, nothing has changed as a result of the poison attacks. Not in 2013, not now. Why would our intel agencies have collaborated in such a pointless deceit?
Alan, the problem is unknown unknowns. You can rationalize what you know about, but no further. It is the same problem with theorising about Syria as it is with Grenfell and climate change. The result is hubris.
Before I try and answer, let me ask a question about your line of reasoning here. Are you saying that no evil conspiracy is ever unsuccessful? With the unfortunate corollary that it’s impossible to know there’s an evil conspiracy until it’s too late?
“Are you saying that no evil conspiracy is ever unsuccessful? “
So it would be possible for ‘our intel agencies’ to ‘collaborate’ with others in a ‘deceit’ over Khan Sheikhoun (all your own terms) and not succeed in their aims? This I’m afraid destroys your point. Our intel agencies, or anyone else involved in the deception, are, mercifully, not all-knowing or all-powerful. They can plan evil and fail to achieve it.
My concern has been that we don’t yet know if they will fail or the extent of the destruction if they even partially succeed. Or if, as Alan suggested earlier, the release of poison was an accident and no human agency was involved in the mistaken impression that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people, we still don’t know the extent of the destruction caused by the resultant change in policy from the Trump administration.
I’m concerned about the consequences here. I suggest we’d need to ‘abandon rationality’ not to be concerned, as Jaime put it.
Geoff back a day or two:
That’s very funny. The background you describe, however, isn’t.
There are two possible critiques that might be made of the direction this thread took:
1. We didn’t much consider the main thrust of the OP
2. Even within the recent oeuvre of Steve McIntrye on Twitter, which was mentioned by Geoff, I and a few others got us to concentrate narrowly on the alleged Sarin attack(s) by Assad.
Steve is of course interested in Saudi atrocities in Yemen, the assistance provided for them by the West, and much else in Middle East policy as seen from Toronto. The attempt to close down al-Jazeera as well as the Turkish base I don’t remember him tweeting about but I’m sure he’s noticing. As a bear of little brain I find it hard to say much useful about such a wide sweep. (Another virtue as well as vice of Twitter’s 140 character limit.) But Khan Sheikhoun does seem a key deception that may open the door to a further appalling bloodbath. And, if it matters, I find there are interesting parallels as well as contrasts with the climate debate, both in epistemology and policy.
Richard. Goal post changing par excellence. I suggest I can think of three plausible reasons why the Assad regime might employ Sarin, and you respond with “[can I] think of three reasonable explanations for Khan Sheikhoun that would necessitate the overthrow of Assad, provoking war with the Russians?” I wasn’t going to respond but realized that you are opening a whole new question that has even more relevance. You are asking whether, with the threat level raised, we should respond in the same way. In turn this poses the question of whether we should ever respond if the consequences cannot be faced as being too severe. But asking such questions means that we should never oppose an aggressor who has the capability of doing us severe harm. Are there any circumstances where use of weapons of mass destruction can be countenanced? Your response could be read as suggesting you might not be able to countenance such a case. I somehow doubt this to be true. But where can the line be drawn? Obama drew it but then reneged. Trump, to his credit, did not blink.
Personally, I find it unreasonable to make a special case for people dying from poison gas. What’s the difference from dying from gas as opposed to being subject to barrel bombing?
So your proposition, Richard, is that our intel agencies collaborated in deceiving policy makers in order to get some unspecified policy outcome in 2013 and went on hiding the truth even though it was obvious that there would be no intervention. Then they did it again in 2016. Got it!
2017 not 2016
No, that is not my proposition Len. My words above will have to be your only guide.
There was no changing of the goalposts Alan. I was always primarily concerned about the humanitarian cost here. My questions for you were a gentle way of indicating I found your approach mystifying. Not least that in such a complex area you made statements on your conclusions without, IIRC, ever providing an external link to support or clarify. But I agree about the “dying from gas as opposed to being subject to barrel bombing”.
Richard. Hardly mystifying surely? I have already explained that I have not really been interesting in solving the conundrum of who caused the release of the Sarin, primarily because IMHO it is insoluble at present with lies masquerading as truths on all sides. Thus when commenting here I don’t have “external link[s] to support or clarify”. Instead I’m using my analytical abilities to sift what limited information I possess (known as ‘hubris’ by Len). You will note that I have always been careful not to reach and express any firm conclusion on this subject. What I find mystifying is how anyone, outside an intelligence agency with restricted information, can reach a conclusion at all about Khan Sheikhoun.
Sorry, I haven’t been following the argument here closely. My point in recounting the story of the Sheikh was simply to point up the complexity of our world, and of our ways of finding out about it. Monbiot in his writing is a great proponent of seeking out reliable sources, and much of his charm lies in his use of the well-researched counter-intuitional fact. But when it came to taking up a position on the Greatest Problem Facing Mankind, it was his personal experience which counted. Something similar happens in his book “Heat,” where, after blathering for a few chapters about the importance of scientific evidence published in the peer reviewed literature, all becomes clear to him when he receives an email from a bloke called Colin.
I don’t know about this Khan Sheikhoun. Is he a more or less significant character in history than the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria?
We’re very much hoping less.
Geoff. Actually on the main point of your OP:
This is a really important point. For me, it’s because “The Science” is actually saying “don’t have a clue, mate, sorry”. Our evidence-based worldview, as we like to think it is, finds that terribly hard to cope with. So we set up the IPCC and the rest of the rigmarole. But it’s really all smoke and mirrors to disguise the dreadful fact that our God has let us down. Personal feelings become everything.
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