IF THE latest IPCC intergovernmental report on climate change, didn’t draw your attention to the dire impacts of global warming at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels then a new study of the Earth’s oceans, showing the planet is much more sensitive to fossil-fuel emissions than past studies have shown, really ought to get your attention.
Because of South Africa’s relative isolation, you are probably either reading urgent press releases reiterating the IPCC position on the likely effects of climate change or equally colourful reports purporting to debunk these pieces as alarmist. The cadence of environmental debate here is such that the nay-sayers are still being given equal opportunity to spread their jaundiced lies and scholastic gobbledygook, in the process smearing genuine climate science as hopelessly flawed.
Statements by Patrick Dowling of Wildlife and Environment Society of SA (WESSA), an organisation which was forced during the closing stages of apartheid, to include habitat as part of the broader picture of wildlife and thus environment alongside humans, after criticism of white privilege and shallow ecology published by South Press under my own byline back in the early 90s, thus appear alongside the work of professional hucksters and anti-climate charlatans.
Neo-Con columnist Ivo Vegter for instance, has made a career on purporting to debunk climate change, and his work regularly appears in The Daily Maverick
Stop for a moment to reflect on the content of the latest report carried by the venerable Independent, a UK based news outlet: The world’s oceans have absorbed far more heat than previously estimated, “suggesting global warming and climate change could accelerate faster than predicted,” according to new research.
“The results suggest over the past 27 years, the world’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than research teams had previously thought.”
All of which supports my own contention, as one of the founders of the environmental justice movement in South Africa (and author of a chapter on climate change in a book trashed by the apartheid regime), that far from being at the start of the Anthropocene, we are for all intents and purposes at its End.
The End of the Anthropocene is a geological period immediately preceding the point at which humanity itself becomes extinct. Our civilisation is not simply in peril from runaway climate change as the IPCC would have it, we may be endangered by a malignant cycle and impending catastrophe associated with previous mass extinction events, with a thermal max some 20 degrees hotter than now.
Alarmism has become acceptible, according to David Wallace-Wells writing in the Intelligencer
“We are on track” he says for four degrees of warming, “more than twice as much as most scientists believe is possible to endure without inflicting climate suffering on hundreds of millions or threatening at least parts of the social and political infrastructure we call, grandly, “civilization.” The only thing that changed, this week, is that the scientists, finally, have hit the panic button.”
Catastrophic climate change, has an upside. It is not all doom and gloom and the slow-moving disaster (by some accounts already locked in) may also be the catalyst that creates the first Post-Humans, that is if one defines humans beings, not simply as ‘human because of other humans‘, but rather human because of our collective habitat. In other words, human because of the necessary conditions for the existence of mammals and great apes on planet earth. In the future, entire Cities may be covered by domes, while we colonise Mars and our deep oceans, ironically, experiencing failing atmospheres on both planets.
Instead of grappling with the impetus, massive scientific consensus on global warming, and the credible problems and complications presented by new data which show that all our current climate models may be way off, and the situation worse than even the IPCC is willing to let on, online periodicals such as the Daily Maverick continue to peddle the climate debate within the narrow confines of a binary opposition. In effect, excluding any opinion beyond the centre, and to the left of the spectrum, and instead, entertaining us with neo-conservative claptrap.
That the 2018 IPCC report signals a turning point in the consensus view of climate change is clear from the language of the document. “Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system.”
Drawing this position out and reiterating IPCC findings, is not the purpose of this piece. Suffice to add, that what is missing from the media narrative, is the counter-narrative supplied, not by those idiotic skeptics who believe themselves to be especially privileged by race, class and social status and thus ordained by neoliberal theology to defend the worst ravages of capitalism, but rather the absent history of the environmental justice movement in general, and equally the present litany of hatred against climate scientists in particular.
Take Naomi Oreskes, a science historian, earth scientist, and author, who first became a target of the anti-climate science movement in 2004 when she published documentation of the scientific consensus on climate change.
Fourteen years ago Science magazine published a peer-reviewed article by Oreskes on the state of scientific knowledge about anthropogenic climate change. “After analyzing 928 scientific abstracts with the keywords “global climate change,” she found no disagreement in the scientific community that human activities were resulting in global warming. All of the papers reviewed agreed with the judgment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences, and other leading professional scientific societies and organizations on this point.”
Then Oreskes began receiving hate mail just days after her Science essay came out. The escalation of the hatred of our habitat forced her to “reach out to climate scientist Ben Santer, who connected her with a group of scientists who had also been similarly attacked. The group helped Oreskes understand that the harassment wasn’t personal; it was about the role she plays in the conversation on climate science.”
“We weren’t being attacked because we’d done something wrong,” says Oreskes. “We were being attacked because we’d done something right. Because we’d explained something significant, we’d laid facts on the table, those facts had implications, and some people were threatened by those implications.”
Oreskes’ book Merchants of Doubt “How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” (an excellent read) went on to expose a network of ideologues that attacked scientific data on several issues: the ozone hole, acid rain, tobacco use, and climate change.
“The common thread among these issues is that the scientific implications of each imply the need for some kind of government regulation as a solution, challenging the ideology of laissez-faire capitalism. A common tactic used by those resisting policy solutions and attacking the scientific data is to sow doubt and confusion about the science among the general public — a strategy still being used today with climate change.”
Vegter’s latest unsubstantiated piece on climate change littered with straw man arguments on crop yields and biofuels, dated critique of alarmism and misplaced quotes by well-meaning UN officials taken out of the context of the IPCC and scenario planning and given the sheen of evidence and aura of credibility via publication in the Daily Maverick, must be seen in the same vein as similar denials by the tobacco industry.
“Dire predictions about the consequences of climate change” Vegter says “are a staple of the sensationalist media, but a lot of past predictions have failed to come even remotely true. Yet climate change activists want to dismantle the world’s capitalist economy by whipping up fear.”
THAT people like Ivo Vegter get given column space on the strength of an untested book purporting to debunk campaigns against fracking, nuclear power, climate change and environmentalism in general, is a sign of the insatiable rise of right-wing politics, of the kind that has lead to the ascendency of President Donald Trump. In Vegter’s latest missive published by Daily Maverick, the columnist makes the bold claim that “Rich environmentalists oppress poor people.”
In order to support his thesis, he refers to campaigns to save the Sumatran Tiger and rainforest habitat in Indonesia, the battle to counter deforestation, and a supposedly “alarmist film” by one Leonardo de Caprio, whom Vegter labels variously, a “climate change hypocrite” and a rich celebrity with a ‘carbon footprint the size of small countries’ who has merely ‘poked his nose into the fight’.
De Caprio’s film Before the Flood about climate change and presented by National Geographic was an official selection at both the Toronto and London Film festivals. In comparison Vegter’s 2012 book “Extreme Environment: How Environmental Exaggeration Harms Emerging Economies” failed to make any notable book lists and hardly ranks in terms of global sales.
Vegter’s writing has been labelled as “staggeringly naïve and shoddy research“, “elastic research“,” a man who passes himself off as an environmental journalist, but consistently backs the right of those with money and power to destroy the environment” and a “cherry-picker of facts“.
After poo-pooing De Caprio’s fact-finding epic, Vegter turns to geothermal energy, making the point that instead of being seen as a good thing by environmentalists, such projects, particularly in Indonesia, have raised the ire of earth-centric activists wanting to save habitat from human intervention. David Attenborough is thus chief on Vegters hit-list, as any deep green ecologist would be — one who places a higher value on ecosystems than human beings in general and who is thus opposed to our supposed God-given right to destroy nature.
Hence what can only be termed a rather limp but convoluted preface, tame in comparison to earlier postings, (the man’s writing has spawned a veritable cottage industry of conspiracy theory), begins Vegter’s perennial opining on the subject:
“Environmentalists often try to appeal to our common-sense instincts to preserve our world from harm. Nobody would dispute that a healthy, productive environment is desirable, and indeed essential for continued human welfare and prosperity.
“However, in their zeal to oppose environmental degradation, environmentalists routinely overstate their case. When infrastructure or other development projects are proposed, their knee-jerk reaction is to object, and never give ground. Instead of seeking to minimise harm, they insist that no environmental price is worth the benefit of development.
“There are strong incentives for environmentalists to become fundamentalist extremists, who brook no human development that might disturb a supposedly pristine environment. To understand why, allow me to propose four possible motivations: environmentalism as a religion, environmentalism as a political tool, environmentalism as sensationalism, and environmentalism as an industry.”
That Vegter willfully misstates the case, is unable to tackle apartheid and related environmental issues in his own backyard, and thus resorts to cherry-picking issues half-way around the world, issues that readers do not have any immediate interest in the outcome of events, save from what they see on their Nature television screens, is par for the course, for a man who lost the debate on Fracking and Fukushima. Vegter painfully misjudged the geology of the Karoo, made spurious claims without any science about Fukushima, supported Big Oil at the expense of Water, and continues to disregard the environmental struggles of millions of South Africans living in the townships.
His characterisation of environmentalists as nothing less than ‘wealthy oppressors’, must be rejected as insulting and offensive to all activists on the ground struggling for a healthy environment and better conditions for all humans living on the Earth. This week, saw a major climate victory for Earthlife Africa, an organisation with a predominantly black membership, and thus an organisation which carries my DNA, and notably, one to which I contributed its founding charter and principles. Part of the story of the rise of ELA and environmental activism during apartheid can be read here.
While there is no dispute regarding the need for criticism — yes, white conservationists were considered fair game during the dark days of apartheid, and I published profusely on the subject, forcing the Wildlife Society to become the Wildlife and Environment Society — and since as I argued, human beings were intimately part of the habitat, thus saving our climate and ending apartheid, was equally important, both for wildlife and all human beings, especially those who lacked clean water and basic sanitation — Vegter goes too far in his own extreme, and one should add, obnoxious alt-right point of view.
The convoluted dispatch from the self-proclaimed “never wrong” pundit (read: Never right), may also be considered a form of back-peddling, for in admitting the need for some form of environmentalism in geothermal energy, and thus in part a recognition of the energy debate central to climate change, and ergo, a part revision of an objectionable thesis, Vegter’s borrowed critique of shallow environmentalism, not all environmentalism per se, is in reality, an attempt to destroy the environmental movement by incorporating some of its own ideology and criticism.
Thus like the Rupert’s who wish to be seen as pioneers of transfrontier parks, without dealing with their contribution to apartheid, Vegter’s sudden sympathy for the poor, in essence greenwashing, cannot mask an otherwise abysmal career as a proponent of resource exploitation. Such nitpicking is unlikely to bother the strong non-racial green movement which has arisen post-COP17, nor will it remove the guarantees of Earth Rights in our constitution, and the campaign for the inclusion of ecological sustainable development, of which I was one of the authors.
Vegter’s latest views, therefore need to be discarded as nothing less than fallacious and false argument, the utterings of a dyed in the wool racist, and the work of an opponent of science. One has merely to review the latest debates around the Anthropocene, and certainly, my view is that we appear to be at the end of this geological era (1). Far from being “monopolisers of truth” environmentalists, are deploying science – evidence-based research and empirical data in their campaign to avoid the devastating consequences of climate change. Ivo the Terrible, on the other hand, appears to offer nothing more than a theological counter-point, providing a hazardous litany of argument — one of many, self-ordained saints of alt-speak making a quick buck out of roasting the green movement.
(1) NOTE: See this documentary on the great Permian extinction. A 5 degree increase in global temperature caused by massive release of CO2 albeit via basalt eruption and volcanic activity was enough to extinguish all life on the planet. The documentary makes the apt point that the increase in global temperature resulted in the melting of methane hydrate (CH4·5.75H2O) on the ocean floor and thus the release of CH4 which resulted in a further 5 degree increase in global temperature, a trophic cascade if ever there was one.