A common view expressed by the arrogant, opinionated elite is that when things don’t go their way, and they know that their opinion is the correct one, this indicates that our democratic system is in crisis and needs to be fixed. This post is the first in a series on academics who have tried to employ this pathetic argument.
Mark Maslin and Al Gore: Fixing climate change to combat democracy
As part of the propaganda campaign to promote Al Gore’s new film, climate scientist Mark Maslin interviewed him, as reported at the Independent and at the Conversation. Maslin began the interview sycophantically with
“I’m a climate scientist, and I have to say that, the importance of having – I love your phrase in your film, a recovering politician, of your stature, being able to communicate and actually push the agenda for the climate crisis has been very important.”
For the purpose of this post, the most relevant part of the interview is this bit (note that Maslin’s words were not accurately transcribed by the Conversation).
“I was struck in the middle of your film, there was a profound statement you made, which really resonated with me, where you said ‘To fix the climate crisis we need to fix democracy’, and I went Yes! And then unfortunately the film moved on to something else and I thought No! So can I take this opportunity to say, how do you think we can fix our democracies now in the 21st century?”
These words – particularly those omitted by the Conversation’s transcription – illustrate Maslin’s political motivation; ironically he accuses others of political motivation later on in the comments.
Gore’s reply is
“Well, big money has hacked our democracy even before Putin did. And it accompanied the transition from the printing press to television, when all of a sudden candidates – especially in the US – were made to feel they have to spend all their time begging rich people and special interests for money so they can buy more TV ads and their opponents. And that’s really given an enormous unhealthy and toxic degree of influence to lobbyists and special interests.”
The article whines about Trump at the beginning and at the end, yet it takes less than a minute to check that Clinton raised almost twice as much campaign funding as Trump did.
Later in the article Maslin repeats his support for Gore’s ‘profound’ statement that democracy is broken and must be fixed:
“Gore makes the profound statement that Western democracies are broken and in order to solve the climate crisis they need to fix democracy. In the interview, Gore suggested that big business has bought many politicians and this must be unpicked so that they are free to make informed unbiased decisions.”
But what is he getting at here? Is he just saying that campaign spending should be regulated in the US as it is in the UK? That’s hardly profound. And is Gore himself not the perfect example of the wealthy, special-interest lobbyist trying to subvert democracy? So too is Maslin, the recipient of a great deal of public money, as listed in his disclosure statement. The two of them are using their power and influence to do exactly what the article is complaining about (another thing that Maslin says, that the Conversation chooses not to include in its transcription, is “how do we actually bring them in to actually our side of the debate”).
Do read through some of the comments below the article, if you haven’t already. Maslin’s feeble arguments, in many different areas, not just the ‘broken democracy’ meme, are taken to pieces by numerous critics. In the first comment, Anthony Nordberg makes the point above, about Gore himself being a rich lobbyist. Robin Guenier plays his ‘usual drum’, asking: “How can you decide something democratically when you’re dealing with profoundly undemocratic countries such as China?” and continues on this theme with several detailed comments. Various people call out Gore for his own high-carbon lifestyle. Jaime Jessop points out that Big Green is hijacking democracy. The mysterious Ming Fanjiang criticises Maslin for a ‘logically incoherent’ argument on the nature of science. I draw attention to Gore’s false claim of ‘far more common and destructive’ extreme events, and Maslin’s failure to challenge him on this.
Maslin attempts to respond to some of these criticisms, but what interests me is that he seems unable to provide a logical argument. It is as if he has never had his views challenged before, and has never had to defend them in debate. This seems to me to be a worrying indictment of the ivory tower. In response to Robin, he makes 4 vague points, none of which are relevant, leading to a string of seven further comments from Robin. He accuses Anthony Nordberg of failing to understand science, while making the logic error pointed out by Ming. Then he makes the vague accusation of “run of the mill climate change denier fodder”. Absurdly, his response to my quoting of the IPCC on the lack of trends in extreme events is “Only you would have the gall”. Finally, when Ming raises a philosophical question about the precautionary principle, his response is “please feel free to send me your paper or give me the url of the journal it has been published in”.
In a previous article at the Conversation, Maslin said that he would not debate the science with “climate deniers”. Having seen the results when he does try to debate the science, I can now understand why he said this.