Thursday, July 29, 2010

Six Months after Copenhagen: Climate Justice Movement is crumbling faster than a summer snowflake

"Time is Running Out” was the catchphrase of environmentalists and international NGOs (INGOs) during the run-up to the Copenhagen Climate meet last December. Do they continue to believe in the frenzy they whipped up six months on?

To have an insight, we visited some of the websites of leading environmental organizations and international NGOs. We selected among others, WWF, Greenpeace, Christian Aid and Oxfam who led some of the most high decibel campaigns using this catchphrase.

Christian Aid and other Christian agencies to the run-up to Copenhagen additionally walked away with the prize for best theatrics by constructing a mock grave stone declaring 'Climate change-a matter of life or death' outside the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, England. Organizers Christian Aid, CAFOD and others later took part in a New Orleans style funeral through the streets of Coventry.

We assumed that if it was thought so dire urgent six months ago, surely there should be sense of even more desperate exigency now. That unfortunately is not what we found. The issue in fact was not in their radar at all. WWF website focused on saving the Bengal Tiger, Greenpeace on stopping another Bhopal, Christian Aid and Oxfam’s on West Africa’s Food Crisis! Search as you like, but you will not find climate change any where as one of their highlighted list of priorities of their website.

So we ask again, do these environmental organizations and international NGOs really believe that “Time is running out” for Planet Earth? We leave you to draw your own conclusions.

When Copenhagen talks failed, NGOs and environmental activists put on a brave front as a blog records their defiant public declaration
“More than 250 partner organisations have come together to form an unprecedented alliance under the TckTckTck banner – including development, human rights, environment, religious and youth groups, trade unions and scout groups... In Copenhagen on December 12, one hundred thousand people marched in a powerful manifestation of this unity...The global climate movement - more diverse than ever before - stands united in the face of tonight's disappointing news.” 
Well we found that this facade has all but collapsed. As long as any social or environmental movement is able to sustain its capacity for collective mobilization, it survives and grows. However, repeated body blows struck on the science of global warming, starting from the Climategate scandal and the overnight collapse of IPCC’s credibility has apparently sucked out all the air of the movement. Fast evaporation of public support including of those by the media for the cause also prompts most to apparently place the issue on the backburner. However, a minority within the movement was found still reflecting a continued priority for climate change.

Placing climate change on the backburner of their websites does not necessarily mean that these organizations have dropped climate change as an activity focus. It only means that they go on stealthily. A glance of the websites of NGO job openings will confirm that vacancies of their climate change department are still being filled on a business as usual pace. So are the workshops and seminars attempting to indoctrinate NGO workers and public. What has visibly dropped in terms of frequencies are NGOs releasing statements at their drop of their hats, linking climate change as the cause for each and every natural disaster though disasters themselves are on the increase being a La Nina year. For the first time, even the recently concluded G20 meeting dropped direct reference to climate change and renewable energy, which gives an insight to how far the issue has been discredited that even politicians like Obama who championed the cause are fighting shy of even acknowledging climate change as a pressing issue confronting the world.

Sydney Tarrow in his bestseller, “The Sociology of Social Movements” remarked that social movements go through 
"cycles of protest” and have to keep radicalizing in order to gain more support; the radicalization in turn could lead to a loss of support."
This observation could turn prophetic to the Climate Change movement. We detect a small emerging trend of increasing radicalization as exampled by Greenpeace activists shutting down 50 gas stations all over London last week to protest ostensibly against BP’s oil spill. However, this act of vandalism also is tightly aligned also with their climate change agenda to eliminate usage of fossil fuels. By inconveniencing commuters, Greenpeace only succeeded in further accentuating the already dwindling public support for their cause as media reports suggests.

We additionally searched for any significant differences between those who overtly kept the issue on the backburner and those who still aggressively forefronted this. What we found was that the backburners mainly tended to be constituted by those who supported carbon trading while the forefronters tended to be those ideologically opposed to it. The rout of their science apparently opened up serious divisions within the formerly closed ranks of the climate campaign. So fundamental is the divide that it appears that an internecine conflict has broken out between the two factions.

Last week, in a protest against carbon trading as a method for acting on climate change, the public website of the European Climate Exchange (ECX), the leading marketplace for trading CO2 emissions in Europe, was hacked allegedly by a coalition that included Earth First and Climate Justice Action.

The ECX website was taken offline. It was replaced with a message (above) in an effort to try to raise awareness about carbon trading as a dangerous false solution to the climate crisis, in support of the grassroots activists, aiming to oppose the power structures and companies profiteering from the dysfunctional Cap & Trade scheme. The hacked page also shows the embedded video of The Story of Cap and Trade, anchored by Annie Leonard.

Leonard is no stranger to South Asia as she worked as a Greenpeace staffer during the nineties heading their anti-toxic dumping campaign. She in fact testified to the US Congress on the topic of international waste trafficking.  I remember a chance encounter with her in Bangladesh where I was attending a Sustainable Agriculture Policy workshop. She recounted the tale of a US firm passing off toxic wastes as fertilizer aid to innocent, unsuspecting Bangladeshi farmers and the horrendous consequences it created. She completely mesmerized workshop participants through her communications wizardry so much so that it was no surprise that there was a virtual stampede in the end of her presentation to sign up for the cause!
Her knack for explaining environmental issues in a simple and entertaining manner saw her producing a series of short powerful videos - “The Story of Stuff”, “The Story of Cosmetics” and “The Story of Bottled Water”. “The Story of Cap and Trade” is one in this series and perhaps has become the most embarrassing to those within the Climate Justice Movement who support cap and trade. Earlier, in 2009, Friends of the Earth (FoE) UK released a report warning that carbon trading could trigger a second ‘sub-prime’ style financial collapse and fail to protect the world from global warming catastrophe. A copy of the full report, ‘A Dangerous Obsession’, is available at:

People’s struggles are inspired essentially from strong beliefs to oppose what is perceived as unjust or iniquitous in society. Consequently, conviction to a cause arises from a belief that one’s cause is fundamentally a just cause and that the awakening of one’s conscience needs to be channelled to strive for change in order to remedy a perceived societal injustice. This is what Annie Leonard’s video exactly succeeded in undermining. It was a harsh indictment, no matter how cleverly disguised, of those environmental organizations and NGOs supporting carbon trading, who she bared as virtually supporting a big business financial fraud whose bill is finally paid by the poorest in the world! In short, it left the overwhelming majority of the movement with the stigma of being pro-rich and anti-poor by their support to carbon trading.

Over the years, the Climate Change Movement successfully co-opted the more matured Social Justice Movement within its folds. Now with their bus on fire and totally discredited, the likes of Annie Leonard and FoE have fired the first salvo. They implicitly warn that if the Climate Change Movement hopes to survive then the only way the fire can be doused is to get on the social justice bus to heal wounds, because in the end, there could be only one bus to travel.

The Climate Change Movement had never been a monolithic  entity and more accurately described as an umbrella organization which has under it a vast array of institutional forms—individuals, small NGOs, large organizations, corporate groups, etc. representing the entire gamut of social and political opinion. In fact, a majority of those involved are not even active in any movements. A good many within the movement despite their public pretensions, do not even really understand climate science, in fact do not understand any science at all, leave alone physics which is a must to understand climatology.  They joined the movement only because they thought it was the hip thing to do. A small section even consider the whole hullaballoo of global warming  unscientific but continue to offer lip service only because they think it is the most politically correct thing to do. No longer. What hurts most of the so- Climate Change movement are the growing mass desertions within their ranks, which saps the vitality of the movement. 

 You can't control a monster by asking it not to shit as much... or by proposing to buy its shit"

One of the most high profile defections last week was by physicist Dr. Denis Rancourt, a former professor and environmental science researcher at the University of Ottawa. Rancourt has published over 100 articles in peer reviewed scientific journals. While a recognized expert in a number of scientific fields, he is particularly known for his unconventional and controversial pedagogical approach and activism directed at the hierarchical structure of universities. Heavily influenced by the works of Paulo Freire and Schmidt, Rancourt has strongly argued for critical pedagogy aimed at confronting all sources of oppression. Watch the video and consider some of the quotes transcript by Climate Depot.
"It is as much psychological and social phenomenon as anything else. “Global warming is strictly an imaginary problem of the First World middle-class. When I tell environmental activists that global warming is not something to be concerned about, they attack me — they shun me, they do not allow me to have my materials published in their magazines” (Nice “peer review” process, huh–walk the party line or no peer review). “They look for comfortable lies that they can settle into and alleviate the guilt they feel about being on privileged end of the planet — a kind of survivors guilt.

We see this sort of guilt a lot in the West, especially in America. We have such incredible affluence compared to the rest of the world, and we have attained it with such incredible ease, that many people without a solid moral and philosophical grounding feel vaguely guilty for having so much. Not being sure they are legitimately entitled to it, they opt for self-flagellating guilt mongering…while remaining generally unwilling to give up all those modern comforts they feel so guilty about. The process of self-flagellating and America-hatred purges enough of the guilt to allow them to continue enjoying these modern conveniences without the burden of guilt.

It's not about opinion politics. It's about not being scammed. It's not about education. It's about independent thinking. It's not about peer-review. It's about the class politics of science. It's not about being oppressed fairly. It's about liberation.”
Given the plurality and diversity within, the Climate Change Movement is not a monolithic animal as commonly portrayed. This inevitably leads to widespread ignorance and reductionism within the movement. World Vision’s boss Tim Costello best illustrates such ignorance when last year he claimed that Tsunamis are a result of climate change though all scientific knowledge points that it is triggered by a geological phenomenon – earthquakes. Some of the ardent climate activists I have met were shocked to learn that apart from Tsunamis even volcanic eruptions have no links to global warming.

Reductionism on the other hand is an approach to building descriptions of systems out of the descriptions of the subsystems that a system is composed of, and ignoring the relationships between them. A draft circulated of the India Disasters Report 2010, a NGO publication, observed the following: 
“The floods in Mumbai and Rajasthan in 2005 and 2006 respectively are indications of things to come. In Mumbai, the rains were so intense that they paralyzed the city. Santa Cruz area received about 944 mm rain on a single day. This is a little less than half of the annual rainfall that Mumbai gets on an average. The following year, some desert villages of Barmer in Rajasthan recorded 577 mm rain in three days— more than double the annual average. It rained so heavily here that it changed village landscapes”
This serves an excellent example of reductionist thinking - linking of rains with floods in a rather simplistic analysis. In the case of Mumbai what the analysis did not capture were the freak nature of rains, being a cloudburst, which combined with unusually high tides that led to unprecedented flooding in Mumbai. In the case of Barmer, a town in Thar Desert, in Western Rajasthan, what the analysis did not factor in was that rainfall pattern increasing in the area due to natural variability of the Indian monsoons and further due to bentonite and gypsite deposits in the area that makes the soil impervious, increasing vulnerability for waterlogging conditions. Barmer was flooded again this Monsoons.

Let us take another example from the draft report: 
“Internationally, March 2009 became the hottest month recorded. The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for March 2010 was the warmest on record at 13.5°C (56.3°F), which is 0.77°C (1.39°F) above the 20th century average of 12.7°C (54.9°F).”
The Centre for Science & Environment (CSE), India’s premier environmental body who position themselves as promoting knowledge based environmental activism had made a similar claim a few months ago linking the heat wave in India as an outcome of climate change. What both had suppressed was heat waves are common in India in an El Nino year. The duplicity of climate activists stands exposed when they make loud noises when temperatures go up and remain mum when there is a severe cold wave as it occurred in Northern India last winter. This reflects on their character, integrity and accordingly their public credibility. According to Transparency International, such duplicity amounts to corruption according to their definition of the term!

Exposure of this corruption will come to a head soon. With the La Nina formation anytime in August, global temperature could be expected to plunge below its long-term average around the time the world meets at Cancun for the next Climate Treaty meet. If this is not embarrassing enough, consider the possibility of a super La Nina that could see the whole of Northern Hemisphere without a summer in 2011 as well as one of the worst winters. This could well be a big if, though all meteorological bodies in the world are predicting a big sized La Nina this year. Whatever its size, one thing is clear. For the near future, global temperatures are destined to be cool. This means humiliation for climate change activism and NGOs and environmentalist organizations should be prepared to display humility to make a public apology that they were misled on this issue. It will take a public apology to stem the decline in their advocacy programmes.

So the question is, do they have this humility?


  1. Your columns here on climate change have obscured or misrepresented scientific findings. There is overwhelming evidence that humans are causing dangerous climate change, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels and land-use changes.

    There is not only a growing consensus among climate scientists but, more importantly, a consilience, the convergence to highly similar conclusions by independent scientists conducting a wide range of studies and experiments in various related fields and using diverse techniques.

    At the heart of that consistence is wide acceptance of the scientific method which encourages legitimate skepticism. Your columns, however, encourage contrarians and denialists whose opinions are usually unsubstantiated, misinformed or disinforming, rarely referring to unrefuted and legitimate scientific studies. ...

  2. Thoroughly bias article. You should be ashamed of yourself

  3. Great to read your blog. Being a climate sceptic does not mean not being Green. It still means that we care for issues like recycling wastes, air pollution etc. It only means that we do not buy in into the theory that CO2 is responsible for climate change. This is why your blog appeals to me.

  4. Typical Rajan. Wrote off the epitaph of climate change activism. But that's probably the right thing to do.

  5. As the say : You know they hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming is in dire trouble when a liberal environmentalist trashes it publicly.

    You know the Climate activist movement is in trouble when Annie Leonard thrashes cape & trade.

    Excellent piece

  6. They know the scam is up. So they are planning the new one - setting up an IPCC for Biodiversity. Developing countries beware