How the “left” can avoid own goals: vigorous debate is a necessity, but physical attacks on billionaires and destroying the work of scientists should be condemned

For over a year I ran a blog called Watching the deniers highlighting the misinformation, lies and dirty tricks of the climate denial “movement”.

To some the term “denier” is offensive, that somehow I was equating climate sceptics with Nazi’s. Perhaps using the adjective “denier” was as ill-advised when I started my blogging career…

However, I still maintain that the majority of those who reject climate science are “in denial”. Not maliciously so, but generally for ideological reasons.

The science is “settled”. There is a genuine scientific consensus on the issue. To ignore the science, is to be well… in denial.

But, I’ve never called for the “deniers’ to be censored. As much as I personally despise the likes of charlatans such as “Lord” Monckton, he has a right to speak his mind. That he is a blathering inbred anachronism is neither here nor there.

But there are actions that should be condemned. And no, I’m not talking about how nasty climate sceptics are (and they can be).

I’m talking about some recent actions undertaken by my fellow travellors in the so called “left”.

Greenpeace and its “war on science”

An incident that greatly concerns me is the Greenpeace “action” that saw the destruction – with whipper snipper’s – a test crop of GM wheat.

Let me say I’m against such actions.

Both Tim Lambert (Deltoid) and noted economist John Quiggin have called it a “war on science”. I agree. Australia’s scientific community has been united in condemning this act of scientific vandalism.

While I won’t deny Greenpeace have “done some good’ or “have their heart in the right place”, their actions were wrong. There is a place to debate the safety of GM – in the peer reviewed literature.

Imagine if “climate sceptics” broke into the offices of the CSIRO and smashed computers? We’d condemn them as ideological zealots.

Indeed, I put the actions on par with those who hacked into the computers at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (Climategate).

Murdoch and the “pie incident”

The second incident has to do with the incredible events taking place in the UK, where Rupert Murdoch’s is rapidly losing control of his control on the British media. Yes, I’m talking about the News of the World scandal.

Following the incredible scandal surrounding their UK paper, News of the World”, Murdoch, and his son James were forced to appear before a joint parliamentary committee to explain themselves.

This is a level of accountability the Murdoch’s aren’t used too. It also appears that Murdoch is on the run…

He’s been forced to close down News of the World; his bid to take over BSkyB in the UK has fallen over; share prices in News Corp are tumbling; there is speculation that he could be replaced; governments in the US and Australia are threatening to look at News Corp entities in their respective countries; his Australian cable deal is on hold; James Murdoch has been accused of “lying” to the committee.

As Rupert and James sat their being “grilled” by politicians, it was clear a shift in power was taking place.

No longer would politicians fear the Murdoch press as much. Rupert was being made to do something he was clearly uncomfortable doing: answering questions and being made accountable. He thumped the table, looked confused and confessed (or lied) he didn’t know a lot about his own company.

And then the proceedings where interrupted by a protestor who decided to try and throw a “cream pie” at Murdoch:

When that protester leapt at Murdoch I knew immediately he’d just helped Rupert and News Corp. It immediately made him a figure of sympathy, turned his wife into a feminist pop-culture icon and distracted everyone from the fact that Rupert Murdoch as being made accountable.

The Committee was forced to apologise to Murdoch, as it made their security look atrocious (which, in fairness it must be to allow such an action).

I’d also note that Murdoch seemed invigorated by the attack.

Where he had appeared confused, out of touch, cantankerous and “humbled” he seemed transformed.

Murdoch, of all people, understands the power of symbols: it made him the “victim”.

Just because it feels good, is no excuse

Now both actions – attacking GM crops and a billionaire – may be personally fulfilling and cathartic for the perpetrators, but ultimately they harm the very causes they are tyring to promote.

Greenpeace’s actions are not only ill-advised by are built upon an opposition to GM technology that has no foundation in the scientific literature.

“Johnnie Marbles” pie attack on Murdoch made him not only look foolish, but shifted the sympathy back to Murdoch and turned his wife Wendi Deng into a cult figure.

Both these actions were intended to reach a national and global audience: they were concieved as PR stunts.

But as PR stunts they failed dismally.

My solution: patience, hard work and carefully amassing evidence

“OK mister smarty pants, what’s your solution to standing up to corporate oligarchs and nasty multinationals huh?” I hear you ask.

We already have proven strategies and models to emulate.

The real “heroes” of the News of the World scandal are the journalists of The Guardian who patiently pursued the story for five years, gathering evidence and not letting the issue be buried.

Then there is a Cynthia Cooper, the accountant who led a team of auditors in uncovering the $3.8bn fraud at WorldCom. Yes, accountants can be heroes too.

Then there is John Abrahams, the scientist whose masterful presentation patiently exposed the lies and distortions of climate sceptic “Lord” Monckton. Since then, Monckton’s credibility has been a downward slide.

The actions of these individuals can be considered “heroic”.

But there is a common theme to each of their actions: respect for the truth; respect for evidence; patient hard work; discipline.

We should never be afraid to speak truth to power.

Throwing a pie at Murdoch or destroying the work of scientists may feel “cathartic”, but in reality it is counterproductive.

In fact, it’s more than that.

It’s lazy.

The actions of The Gaurdian journalists, Abrahams and Cooper have done far more good in the world than all the thrown pies and whippers snippers ever could.

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10 thoughts on “How the “left” can avoid own goals: vigorous debate is a necessity, but physical attacks on billionaires and destroying the work of scientists should be condemned

  1. In a world blessed with a vast and stable future – I would agree with you completely. Justice is a multigenerational quest.

    But climate models say that we have about 3 generations left. And in our future we will be testing human civilization – at the very time when conditions deteriorate. I don’t think this is the time to tolerate a media war-lord with a political agenda that contradicts physical and scientific reality.

    My children and I did not ask for this timeline of the future. The science of climate and ocean dictate major changes are necessary. And many powerful people are working hard to prevent humans from learning the science, from facing the issue and preventing us from taking the actions necessary to mitigate damage. They happen to be rich and powerful, but the damage they do is to all – globally.

    We are trapped in business-as-usual harmful behavior – we have not yet started to face reality.

    But given the situation, when would you like to see change happen? What terms of civil behavior would you like the world to accept?

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    1. True, but in reality, we do have the numbers.
      I’m personally hoping that my contribution the the project that Mike and I are putting together will provide practical methods that individuals and communities can undertake to make themselves more resilient and less dependent on such people. It’s not the first time that there has been a shift of power. Hopefully it won’t be the typical ways – if shouldn’t need to after all, seeing as it’s not the same kind of power. This shift will be one of wealth. Communities that build their own wealth, needed to consume less, providing their own free-news and open forums, such as is occurring online, will take the power away from such people.
      That, I’m sure, is what’s needed and the only viable option left for us.

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  2. “Murdoch, of all people, understands the power of symbols: it made him the “victim”.”
    Yes, I thought exactly the same thing. And I also considered that it may have been staged for exactly that reason. Murdoch, of all people, knows how to manipulate.

    You’re railing here against those who disobey laws: but some of those laws are arguably totally out of touch with reality. What of those who are ‘legally’ destroying our planet? These people are the true vandals.

    Throwing a harmless plate of shaving foam pales into insignificance when compared with acts such as the wanton destruction of hundreds of mountaintops, the mowing down of 150,000 acres a day of forests, the extermination of 100 species a day. Such actions would be declared criminal — if the law weren’t the proverbial ass.

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  3. Some smart common sense here. There are times when action is called for, but not when your adversary is on the rope and the legitimate mechanisms of state are all set to deliver some form of justice.

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    1. …which is the point I was making.

      Like many, I share the frustration that attempts to mitigate/slow down climate change and enviromental destruction aren’t “moving fast enough”.

      What is the answer?

      It is a complex problem, and I’m happy to hear more solutions. I’m all for public protests and rallies, letter writing, boycotts… I think the civil rights movement is a grea model or template for change.

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      1. sorry it took so long to approve your comments (new user check) – I’ve not had the chance to get on New Anthro much recently and for some reason the wp app is useless on my phone.

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      2. WTD – I want to share what I deem as excellent news that I hope gives you cause for hope. The solar PV industry announced last week that solar PV would soon be available at a cost of $1.42/watt in about 5 years. This cost competes (without government subsidies) with coal. It won’t what the politics are or what the belief in climate change is because you and I could install solar PV at a cost that would pay for itself in less than 8 years and then provide cost free energy to us for 17 more years (typical operation life of 25 years). The key is to get laws that that reimburse the homeowner for energy sent into the grid. It wouldn’t matter if someone was a denier because you could appeal to greed via the economic fact that solar PV would put money in their pocket because NOT INSTALLING solar PV will actually cost them thousands of dollars over 25 years.

        Take care.

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