It’s official! Climate alarmists are now even more alarmed…

My initial attraction to the Left 45 years ago was precisely because they were the ones talking about progress – or rather Progress (with a capital P). I would tag along with my father on Saturday mornings in the mid-1960s to visit the International Bookshop run by the Communist Party in Melbourne. He would meet a few of his like-minded workmates (from the factory in which he worked) there, and together we would marvel at the Soviet and Chinese propaganda magazines. What did we marvel at? Simple: all the pictorial examples of Progress – huge dams being built, new nuclear power stations, vast areas of land being cleared for food production or residential development. Just about everything that the Greens oppose.

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The release of the IPCC’s synthesis report on climate change has resulted in predictable headlines in the mainstream media about how the planet is running out of time. The leader of the Australian Greens has asserted that the world has in fact run out of time. Coal is bad, and only ‘sustainable’ growth can be justified.

Attributing a moral quality to coal highlights the quasi-religious thinking underpinning much of the opposition to fossil fuels.

As for ‘sustainable development’ has there ever been a finer oxymoron? How does development happen without change to that condition which preceded it? That which once was, ceases to be. Which is why I support Development.

This is not for one moment to suggest that humanity should not seek to move on from fossil fuels. After all, we moved on from wind power centuries ago and have not looked back as a species. Those today who wish to go back to wind power are quite literally reactionaries.

Three questions interest me.

First, does the actual summary report of the recent IPCC synthesis justify such alarm on its own terms?

Secondly, is the IPCC so credible that all that is needed is appeal to its authority to win an argument?

Thirdly, what does any of the alarmism – the hype and the media spin – have to do with a progressive left-wing outlook? (Spoiler: absolutely nothing, but please read on).

1. I have read all the summaries of the past IPCC reports. The ‘summaries for policy makers’ are what the politicians and their advisers, and the media people, are supposed to read. The latest summary has been compiled by about 50 IPCC contributors. There is little in it to justify alarmism. For instance, despite the iconic use of tidal waves and sinking islands in media coverage of climate change, the IPCC synthesis summary points out that “Over the period 1901 to 2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 metre”. Sea levels are rising by a couple of millimetres – note, millimetres not centimetres – per year. It is not possible to reconcile this with Al Gore’s tidal waves swamping Manhattan or the ABC’s Science Show host claiming that hundred metre tidal waves are possible as a result of the warming.

The IPCC summary also finds that “Many terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species have shifted their geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances, and species interactions in response to ongoing climate change”. Again, is that cause for alarm? Haven’t human beings been adapting to such changes for centuries? Things are never static. We can adapt as a species to such change.

I could provide other examples from the summary but the point is that the IPCC forecasts are based on the time-frame to 2100. Everything in it needs to be considered in that context, namely: we have 85 years in which to adapt to even the worst changes. The planet has NOT run out of time, contrary to what the Greens and sensationalist media want us to believe.

2. The IPCC represents a form of consensus science and, of course, science has never been consensual. It has always advanced knowledge through a process of debate and argument, the testing of hypotheses, observation and theory. Dissident scientists have often been proven correct over time against the wisdom and authority of the scientific establishment at a given point in history.

Personally, I am not a climate scientist and so I can accept that the consensus represented by the IPCC might be right, despite worrying criticisms that claim a flawed IPCC process. It may be that global warming is primarily driven by human industrial activity, by CO2 emissions. Beyond that, the consensus breaks down, but this does not stop the alarmists from using the IPCC consensus to justify every manner of exaggeration and hyperbole going way outside what the IPCC actually says. This is why I view with great caution people who insist that ‘The Science is Settled’ It certainly runs counter to my Marxist instincts based on old Karl’s personal motto: “De omnibus dubitandum” – question everything!

So, the appeal to authority is not good enough for me in itself. The principal flaw of the IPCC methodology that concerns me is its emphasis on computer modelling. How have the models stood up against observed changes? Not very well, it would seem.

The IPCC’s 2013 Assessment report admitted that the “historical simulations do not reproduce the observed recent warming hiatus”. The hiatus – or absence of the expected significant increase in warming due to record levels of CO2 emissions – runs counter to the computer modelling. John Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama, and a former Lead Author for the IPCC, tested the outputs of 73 IPCC climate models against the facts observed through satellite and weather-balloon data from 1979 and 2013 and found that all the IPCC models ran hotter than the actual observed climate. Similar studies and findings can be accessed here.

3. The mainstream media portrays the oppositional views about climate change alarmism in terms of a conflict between the Right and the Left. Apparently it is left-wing to take an alarmist view and to see coal as evil. What utter nonsense!

My initial attraction to the Left 45 years ago was precisely because they were the ones talking about progress – or rather Progress (with a capital P). I would tag along with my father on Saturday mornings in the mid-1960s to visit the International Bookshop run by the Communist Party in Melbourne. He would meet a few of his like-minded workmates (from the factory in which he worked) there, and together we would marvel at the Soviet and Chinese propaganda magazines. What did we marvel at? Simple: all the pictorial examples of Progress – huge dams being built, new nuclear power stations, vast areas of land being cleared for food production or residential development. Just about everything that the Greens oppose.

Some readers will say that I was naive to fall for this propaganda. But the point is that that is what attracted me, and many others, to the ‘red left’ back then. It was not a value system based on ultra-conservative notions like ‘Sustainability’ but a belief that capitalism’s profit motive and concentrated private ownership of means of production held back progress and that socialism was the way to unleash human creativity and productivity. I still believe that is the case, that we humans “ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”.

I smirk to myself when I hear the current Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, speak of plans to develop the north of Australia into a ‘food bowl’. I first heard of that dream back in the 1960s from old veteran communists. They held it up as an example of what would happen under socialism – the centre of Australia would flourish through irrigation, they told me. Again, these were not ‘green’ values but truly progressive ones. The old blokes also assured me that such great development of the north of Australia would not happen any time soon under capitalism because there was no short-term profit to be made from it. I was maybe 16 when they told me that – I am now heading for 64. They were right.


For all the alarmism, greater alarmism and even greater alarmism, our two billion brothers and sisters who are hungry and do not have access to clean water will not do what some in the ‘first world’ would tell them and opt for less efficient and more costly forms of energy. In the industrialising and modernising countries of Africa, for instance, people will be lifted from extreme poverty – as the rest of us were – thanks mainly to fossil fuels. The only way to stop this process is by developing energy sources that are cheaper and more efficient than coal. But people are hungry right now. And coal is cheap, and efficient.

Another value that attracted me to the left in my youth was the sense of confidence in humanity – and that meant, and means, confidence in the future. Without that confidence, why bother?

The lack of confidence in the future on the part of what I regard as the pseudo-left is found in the oft-repeated assertion that the planet has reached its natural limits. ‘We have gone too far with our so-called progress – the planet cannot sustain it any longer’. I can think of no idea that is more reactionary than this one. It could have been said at any point in history, by any set of princes and popes.

Once upon a time, coal was used merely for ornamental purposes. In Roman times, had you suggested that that black chunk on the end of the local beauty’s necklace would power a revolution in industry and production, and in social relations, that would overthrow a future system known as feudalism and lead to secular democracy and capitalism, you would have been regarded as insane. Who knows what the next energy source will be? How dare the reactionaries tell us that the planet’s resources are finite!

Those who think that way cannot see beyond solar panels and windmills, let alone begin to consider nuclear fusion or appreciate how northern and central Australia could one day flourish.

And then there are the planets and the stars. Awaiting us.

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No such thing as a ‘watermelon’. Why the Green world outlook is not left-wing.

Andrew Bolt and John Pilger both agree that there is something ‘red’ about being Green. Bolt claims that the Greens include those who are really red – hence the ‘watermelon’ metaphor – while Pilger sees them as being on the side of progress and the left. Both are wrong and in this article, which I originally wrote for ‘On-Line Opinion’ in 2008, I explain why.

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In the political discourse around green issues, the world outlook associated with various green groups is portrayed as left wing. This is largely because the green world outlook generally opposes capitalism, its leaders frequently use the rhetoric of the Left, are promoted as being left wing by the mainstream media, and usually identify themselves as being of the Left.

Moreover, many green leaders and activists were radicalised in the 1960s and 1970s and have genuinely left wing backgrounds. They see the green movement as a continuation of their previous left wing radicalism.

The measure of whether an outlook is on the Left needs to be assessed against criteria based on core values that have given meaning to the concept historically. Left wing traditions have never been green and, I would argue, the identification of the green outlook with left wing politics has only been possible over the past few decades because of the decline of the Left.

Contrary to what right wing commentators declare, the green movement is not the Left in new form but a product of its absence as a significant force in contemporary politics. Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. Green ideology has filled the vacuum created when the Left went into hibernation in the mid 1970s, after a spectacular rise during the second half of the previous decade.

What then are the core values that determine a left wing outlook, and what are the traditions of the Left in regard to nature and the non-synthetic environment?

The values of the Left are based on two interconnected qualities: opposition to oppression and tyranny (i.e., support for democracy and freedom); and enthusiastic support for material progress, for a world of (as we used to say in the communist party) “abundance for all”. These values have defined the Left since 1848, when Karl Marx issued the Communist Manifesto.

Marx, and the genuine Marxists, wanted to overthrow capitalism, not because it was supposedly bad for the natural environment, but because the key contradiction within it – between the social nature of production on one hand and private appropriation on the other – stood in the way of personal freedom for the workers and a real unleashing of the productive capacities of human beings.

Marx believed that wage slavery was based on exploitation and alienation, and that the workers should rise up and seize the means of production for their own ends rather than for the profit of the small group of owners. In a sense, Marx was a real supporter of “free enterprise”: but for the producers rather than the owners. There is nothing green at all in a Marxist position.

Marx’s comrade, Frederick Engels, compiled the booklet ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’ precisely to defeat the influence of the “greenies” (i.e. utopians) of his time. Marx and Engels established a left wing tradition that fully embraced – indeed waxed lyrical about – modernity and the achievements of industrial capitalism.

Their opposition to capitalism, I repeat, was based on an analysis that saw it as retarding social and material progress. Their views on the relationship between progress and nature were consistent with the “Age of Reason” and the scientific revolution: nature, to the Left, has never been something with which to seek harmony and balance – let alone with which to live “sustainably”.

The classical Marxist view was expressed at the left wing lastsuperpower website in the following way:

The whole history of humanity is that we are a species that does not adapt its lifestyle to its environment but develops “unsustainably” in ways that require transforming our environment, our technological forces of production and our social relations of production. Our unsustainable development has already terraformed most of this planet so that it is no longer a “wilderness”, substituted “synthetic” for “natural” products for everything we live on (including ancient things like domesticated wheat and other food staples) and will go much further both intensively here and extensively across the universe and at the same time it has totally transformed the way we relate to each other and will continue to do so.

Throughout our history there have been progressives wanting to speed up the movement forward and reactionaries demanding that we should live within our means. These ideologies are closely connected with the fact that ruling classes fear the instability and threat to their domination that goes with changes undermining our old mode of life while oppressed classes always want more from life than what their exploiters think they should live on.

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According to Engels, the struggle for human liberation required the overcoming of the limitations placed on people by the natural environment. Science, technology, and politics were ways by which humans constantly created something new, rendering the old “unsustainable”.

It’s hard to imagine a more reactionary and conservative notion than “sustainability”, but it has permeated the psyche of the populations of the advanced industrial nations and has become a mantra. It is a buzzword, basically meaning let’s not take risks, let’s get cosy with nature rather than continue to transform it for our own benefit; as we have done since the harnessing of fire.

The green outlook’s opposition to capitalism does not qualify it as being on the Left because its opposition is to the industrial and social advances ushered in by capitalism. The greens look backwards to small-scale production, to a social system based on village/community life, to a society in which humans were more in touch with nature. This type of society has existed, prior to capitalism, during the feudal era. However, capitalism, as Marx enthusiastically asserted:

… has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations … Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones … All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kin. ( See: Karl Marx, Chapter 1, Communist Manifesto, 1848).

Support for turning back the clock to small-scale production based on village/community life found expression in Australia in the 1940s, with the publication of B. A. Santamaria’s ‘The Earth, Our Mother’. Santamaria was on the far right of politics and never renounced his support for Mussolini and the Italian fascists. It made sense that someone on the right would support such a backward social system, and bemoan the liberating consequences and direction of modernity because this was the tradition of the right.

Leftists are the ones who want to “overcome nature” rather than be submissive before it. We are the ones who want to reach for the stars!

To understand just how completely opposite to the left wing position Santamaria’s view was, and how completely opposite to the left wing view the green world outlook is today, one can consider Engels, writing in ‘Anti-Duhring’ (1877). Engels speculates about the radical consequences of man finally confronting the material conditions of existence, and understands humanity’s mastery of nature as the key to its social liberation: the leap from the “kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom”.

… for the first time man, in a certain sense, is finally marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom, and emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones. The whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man, and which have hitherto ruled man, now comes under the dominion and control of man who for the first time becomes the real, conscious lord of nature because he has now become master of his own social organisation. The laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face to face with man as laws of nature foreign to, and dominating him, will then be used with full understanding, and so mastered by him. Man’s own social organisation, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action. The extraneous objective forces that have hitherto governed history pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself, with full consciousness, make his own history – only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the humanity’s leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.

Not surprisingly, there are left wingers around the world who speak out against the green outlook. Their views are rarely heard in the mainstream media but their critiques can be read at sites such as Spiked Online, and Strange Times (which archives of the old LastSuperpower site). Both are basically Marxist when it comes to the green issue. The UK-based editors of Spiked Online previously ran the journal ‘Living Marxism’. There are also occasional anti-green Marxist-influenced books, such as Austin Williams’ ‘Enemies of progress: the dangers of sustainability’ and David McMullen’s ‘Bright future’, but these receive minimal publicity in the mainstream compared to the voices of doom and gloom.

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OK, so there’s no left wing green tradition, and the greens are antithetical to left wing values. Who then are these green ideologues who are described as, and claim to be, left wingers?

To me, a new concept is needed to understand their politics and that concept is “pseudo-left”. The concept has been around for a few years now and has been used by public intellectuals such as Christopher Hitchens and Nick Cohen. In Australia it was promoted at strangetimes/lastsuperpower. It is time for the “pseudo-left” descriptor to be taken up by many more people, so that the green outlook can be situated where it rightly belongs.