Things I thought

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Thanks, future self!

A lot has changed over the last ten years. Looking back now, the world of 2010 seems almost quaint. At the start of this decade, who could have predicted the rise of MirrorVision, the spectacular death of Elizabeth the Second, or that Nick Griffin – once a figure of hate – would become one of our most beloved celebrities? Perhaps most importantly, few in 2010 could have foreseen that we would end the decade living far beneath the earth’s uninhabitable surface, ruled by the world’s first totalitarian lexical dictatorship. In many ways, 2010 seems like a simpler time.
It’s impossible to talk about the past decade without talking about the rise and fall of David Cameron. Upon winning the general election in 2010 with a majority of just four seats, Cameron immediately embarked on a right wing legislative offensive, with the emphasis on offensive. The move succeeded in uniting the Tories, and not all of the policies that came out of the period were totally disastrous: The re-introduction of the death penalty reduced both the prison population as well as the population as a whole, the reinstatement of the poll tax revitalised the flagging baton and barricade industries, and the invasion of Europe went about as well as could have been realistically expected.
There was very little public outcry over these putative reforms partly because politics is boring, but also because 2011 saw the advent of MirrorVision. MirrorVision was described by its creators, Endemol, as “A devastatingly imaginative social experiment which provides real time content over a hybrid social and classical media paradigm.” In English, 2011 was the year everyone got their own show.
MirrorVision conquered all. For a small/ridiculous fee, you too could have a camera crew, make-up artist and director follow you around 24/7, splicing, editing and adding narration to your life in post production, turning your existence into a glitzy, high concept and totally unwatched TV series. MirrorVision quickly spawned a whole new generation of hyper-celebrities, and none flew higher or sunk lower than Duncan Souch.
Souch became famous for a week long MirrorVision binge. For seven days, Souch lay in his pants on the sofa, literally watching his own life slip him by, narrated live by a man with a pretend Geordie accent. What Souch didn’t know was that his immobile vigil of self-worship was also being watched by millions across the world on his MV channel. By the time he eventually emerged to buy some milk, he was an international superstar, hounded by paparazzi on his way to the newsagents, and hailed as an everyman symbol of the shiny new auto-digital age.
The appetite for news about “Couch Souch” was insatiable, and soon his MirrorVision channel was being watched by 200 million people. SouchVision was relocated from a dingy south London bedsit to a brightly lit LA studio, where Souch continued to lie around in his pants only this time on a much more expensive sofa.
It couldn’t last forever. Souch soon began to feel cramped by his onscreen persona, unconvincingly arguing that there was more to his personality than lying motionless for hours on end, watching himself do nothing. Souch started branching out into charity work and political activism, wearing pants he had bought from the NSPCC shop and occasionally muttering dark comments about assorted politicians under his breath. Analysts began to speculate that spending an average eighteen hours a day watching himself watch himself might be provoking some kind of deep-seated existential crisis.
Soon, the backlash began – pundits declared “Slouch Souch” was a self absorbed, lazy twat, and an extremely poor role model for the nation. As quickly as he had been placed on his pedestal, Souch was cast back down into the muck. Editorial after tabloid editorial decried him a nonentity, a fuckwit, unspeakably evil, and a portent of the coming apocalypse. On the third of December, 2012, in full compliance with the Anti-Social behaviour act of 2012, Duncan Souch was burned at the stake.
But the rise and rise of MirrorVision could not insulate Cameron’s controversial government forever, and in 2013 he made his fatal mistake. In response to a parliamentary question, Cameron claimed that “Chav Hunting is part of modern British culture, and it symbolises that once and for all we have moved beyond the misrule and muddled thinking of the Noughties, forwards into the bright new future of the Tweens.”
The comment was highly controversial, both inside and outside of the party. Conservatives were unsettled by Cameron’s suggestion that Britain was going forward into the future, a move they wholeheartedly opposed. Meanwhile, the media and masses became obsessed with Cameron’s flippant use of the word “Tweens”. In a debate which never fully fell out of fashion, pundits and public alike went into total meltdown over what to call their decade. At one point, every post on twitter was tagged with either #tweens, #teens or, #eleventies. The argument became symbolic of everything from the breakdown of the family unit to the rising price of Frisbees, but it ultimately coalesced around one point: Cameron had to go.
Despite a valiant attempt to regain the support of his Cabinet with an emergency bill banning the use of public transport, David Cameron was forced to resign on the third of March, 2013.
Across the pond, dastardly hopemonger Barack Obama won a second term in office, but lost control of Congress. The Republican party blocked his every attempt at reform, and passed several pieces of legislation that went against everything Obama believed. After being forced into signing the “No, you can’t!” act of 2014, Obama was found lying face down on the floor of the oval office, silently mouthing the words “despair and stagnation” over and over again. It looked as though Obamamania was over.
Then, on April 5th, 2015, a series of terrorist attacks in major cities around the globe gave life, meaning, and most of all, public support to Obama’s flagging administration. After weeks of intensive debate on both sides of the Atlantic, the United States unilaterally invaded Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the Sudan. Britain also invaded the Middle East, but insisted that it was just a coincidence and it definitely wasn’t only copying America to look cool in front of all the other countries.
The war with a huge success, killing hundreds of thousands of people who looked a lot like terrorists, and, totally by accident, as an added bonus, securing several major oil fields. Despite continued, and indeed intensified, atrocities, Obama was lauded for winning the war on terror, and collected a second Nobel peace prize.
Unfortunately, the war was not without its costs. Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, insisted on going to the front lines herself to fight. She predictably died in the first few hours of the conflict in a parachute drop over Tehran, and was buried in eight separate coffins. At that time, few could have predicted the severity of the constitutional crisis that her passing would provoke.
Events began to spiral out of control when, noting Obama’s newfound popularity, and acting on misguided advice from his father, Prince Charles blacked up for his own coronation. The outcry was unequivocal from across the spectrum. Charles the Third would reign for just three days before abdicating in favour of his son.
But William would never sit on his father’s throne. Before taking the crown, the young prince issued an ultimatum to his Kingdom: He had fallen in love with the glamour model, actress and Booker Prize winner Katie Price. Britain would accept her as their queen, or he would not rule them at all. They were both burned at the stake in a quiet ceremony, shortly before dawn.
Finally, Prince Harry was declared “inappropriate” because of that thing none of us are supposed to talk about, and the situation reached crisis point. By this stage, Britain had been monarchless for almost three weeks. Across the country, school fetes went unopened, parades went unwatched, and swans went uneaten. It was pandemonium. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had little choice but to dissolve the monarchy. Surviving members of the royal family went on to make ends meet in the dying reality TV industry.
The dissolution of the monarchy demanded a new constitution and fresh elections. In an effort to be modern, Boris Johnson introduced e-voting, to be conducted entirely via the comments on Youtube videos and the Have Your Say section of the BBC website. The BNP was returned with a landslide majority of 174 seats.
At the start decade, Nick Griffin had been a figure of public revulsion, but an appearance on the final series of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here in 2013 changed all that. Nick delighted the nation with his pratfalls and faux pas and audiences up and down the country squealed with glee as a horrified Griffin was forced to swim through a pit of centipedes, swallow a live gecko and shake hands with a black person. By the time he became Prime Minister, Griffin was a household name, presenting his own chat show, cookery program and The Daily Politics on BBC 2. With all of these media commitments, Griffin had little time to govern, and outsourced the day to day work of his office to a Polish labourer, who did a thoroughly excellent job at a very reasonable price. In late 2016 Griffin resigned the premiership entirely to become the new host of Top Gear, triggering the third election in six years.
By this time, most BNP members had become disillusioned with politics and the party had all but disbanded. Successive victories for “lol n00b” and “fagzzzzzzz” highlighted the shortcomings of the internet based electoral system, and it was decided that Britain should institute a system of proportional representation. Literally everyone stood in the election of 2016, with the most popular 646 parties each receiving a seat. The years since have been complete legislative deadlock, with the bi-monthly reintroduction and repeal of the fox hunting ban being the only laws consistently passed.
On the 19th of August 2017, President Murdoch of the United States and acting Prime Minister David Chubbs, of 26 Handell Way, Chorleywood, both received a phone call. It was the head of the International Association of Careless Bankers, Michael Froth, phoning from the Bahamas. While on a morale boosting corporate jolly celebrating the banking sector’s record 2017 profits, the heads of world’s seven biggest banks got a little tipsy, placed those record profits in a big pile, gathered around in a circle and set it on fire. The banking sector urgently needed $1.8 trillion for re-capitalisation, bonuses, and plane tickets home.
It was agreed by politicians that this was no time to play the blame game. World Leaders declared that a financial crisis of unimaginable magnitude was facing the global economy, one that nobody could have predicted without looking at the past. Decisive action was taken: World Governments borrowed the money they needed to give the banks from the banks they were giving the money to, temporarily solving the crisis. A few months later, after failing to keep up repayments, World Governments were repossessed and sold to China.
One of the few pieces of good news of the decade came when, after accidentally turning on location services on his iPhone, FBI agents finally caught up with Osama Bin Laden. The fugitive terrorist mastermind admitted to a long list of atrocities but, curiously, not the 2015 attacks which had precipitated the Western invasion of the Middle East.
The real culprit was soon unmasked. Beneath the surface of society, an increasingly atomised cultural diaspora had become irrevocably detached from the rest of civilization, spiralling into a topsy-turvy world of skewed significances, factionalism, and urban warfare. On March the 25th, 2019, #eleventies became the first twitter hashtag to test a nuclear weapon. It was followed in the next few hours by #tweens and #teens.
It is often said that the resulting atomic conflict had no real winners. I disagree. After the last few remaining Tweensters and Teenites were captured and summarily executed, it seems pretty clear that the Eleventies have won. Other winners include cockroaches, producers of canned food, and the only celebrity to survive the nuclear holocaust, Nick Griffin, whose vast melty face is glaring down at me as I write this from the mess-hall telescreen in the abandoned sulphur mine I now call home.
Indeed, 2010 was a simpler time. If only, knowing what I know now, I could somehow go back to before all this terrible business started, to those bright, clear days populated by naive creatures, blissfully unaware that they stood on the very precipice of destruction. I could play the lottery or something. I’d be well rich.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Copenhagen: The Aftermath

"What are you doing?" A security guard asks me. My mind is swimming with the events of the last few days, and I am just waking up.

"I’m going to The Bella Centre. I need to stop the summit." I reply.

“Do you know where you are?”

Three days ago I was marching through Ostebro, embedded in the Blue Bloc with the rest of my affinity group. As we crossed the bridge on our final approach, as the protest arrived outside the most important talks the world had ever seen, we were quietly de-legalised. They were supposed to give us three clear warnings, but here was a pattern that had become all too familiar: police failing to keep to even the flimsy rules that remained under the Danish emergency laws. The march ground to a halt outside the main gates. The riot vans closed in behind us and the cops kitted up.

Suddenly there was a flurry of activity. A couple of dozen people began inflating Lilos and tying ropes. The crowd came together as one, elated at the scent of energy. Slowly it dawned upon them: we were going across the water between us and the Bella Centre.

It took just a few minutes before the bridge was floated and people began crawling across. From our side of the canal, an activist-medic shouted warnings about the potentially lethal danger of falling into the drink. From the police side cops fired pepper spray into the faces of those crawling across the structure. Nevertheless, a few activists made it, straight into the snarling jaws of the dogs on the other side, and immediate arrest.

Word went round that the police had begun beating our comrades at the entrance to the Bella Centre, and we decided to join them in solidarity, using the bridge as a barricade. Within seconds of our reaching the front line, the cops pulled knives and thrust them into the Lilos. I shouted at the lines of armed police.

"Arrest that man! Destruction of property! Carrying an offensive weapon!"

As our bridge deflated, the chant rose from our ranks:

"We Are Peaceful! What Are You? We Are Peaceful! What Are You?"

They answered with a flourish batons raining blows indiscriminately into the crowd. One of my new friends, a protester as peaceful as any you could ever meet, was being hit repeatedly. Flushed with adrenaline, I threw myself between them. It didn't matter to the man with the truncheon: any protester would do as a target.

I registered the pain, but didn't feel it. Yet some primal part of me recognized the violence, and the sickly red rush of anger swam through my veins. A lifelong commitment to peace was being steam-rollered by millions of years of evolution. I felt the tug of my id at the back of my mind, urging me to push, to throw, to punish. Thankfully events took over, and my group withdrew from the front. We went to join the People’s Assembly: an alternative summit, to which delegates from COP15 had been invited, that would propose real solutions to the problems of Climate Change.

Word went around that delegates who had tried to leave the Bella Centre and join our protest had been beaten, pepper sprayed and arrested. I felt sick with fury and impotence, not just at the news, but at the knowledge that just a few days ago, I would not have believed such a thing could happen. Now it seems normal. Somehow this news - that internationally recognised diplomats were attacked and detained to prevent them joining a peaceful protest - has been quietly buried by the UK media.

The People’s Assembly was rich with ideas, but without our friends from inside it was hard for it to be anything more than symbolic. In the end, we marched away as one, crushed and euphoric all at once. I did not know how to feel so I felt nothing, except the dregs of anger that still bubbled at the sight of every cop.

An hour or so later, at an activist info-point, a news report broke the surface tension of my inner turmoil.

"All we are asking for is the economic space to exist." pleaded a South American delegate. Perhaps it was the way that begging for scraps had been clothed in the language of neo-liberalism. Perhaps it was the realisation that our action had failed to move the debate in a radical direction. Perhaps it was just exhaustion and adrenaline. Whatever the case, a wave of emotion coursed through me and I fell apart. Tearful, my friends took me to trauma support where I crashed for a couple of hours.

The next few days were a blur of tiredness and frustration, as we discussed and refused to discuss our cumulative failure. Leaving Copenhagen I hear that the US is only offering 4% cuts over 1990 levels. Even this will not be legally binding. The Copenhagen Accord is a whisper in a gale, a piece of crude and cynical gesture politics, a quiet acquiescence to genocide. We have failed this time, as a movement and as a species, and no building of networks, no shift in our collective consciousness, no revolutionary friendship can truly compensate for this defeat. My inner optimist rails against the futility of it all, a lonely internal protest trying to pull down the fence of facts that cannot be denied. The best I can say is that our work is unfinished. I know a part of me will always yearn for the hope, the energy, and the lost opportunities of those few brave hours on the streets of Copenhagen.

"I’m going to The Bella Centre. I need to stop the conference."

"Do you know where you are?" The security guard asks

I look around, and realize I have fallen asleep at Charing Cross. The frenetic days and stunted nights have finally caught up with me. The security guard looks confused.

"Well, we can't let you stay here. It's a suicide risk."

Still bleary and jangled from sleep, I hear myself say:

"It's too late. Didn’t you hear? The world already committed suicide."

He eyes me weirdly and walks away. I am just waking up, and I slowly realise that I am wrong. We did not commit suicide in Copenhagen. We merely wrote the note.


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Tuesday 15 December 2009

Day 3 - Dec 14th, No borders & Christiania Riots

Hi, sorry I'm only getting to file 1 a day. Here's the latest:

After two days of abuse, two days of mass arrests, two days in which we witnessed how a country without a constitution behaves, today the movement won it's first big victory.

The (legal) No Borders demo left an hour late because it's organisers had been arrested. The march was peaceful but determined, linking arms tight to form chains around the edges, chanting slogans and singing to the storm troopers as they escorted us.

The tension levels simmered as we approached the MoD and the police lines thickened. Suddenly, we stopped. We were at the ministry of defence. We held tight, braced for impact and... Nothing. Minutes passed, our chains weakened. It became clear we had not got a plan. The people with the plan were in a cage somewhere in Copenhagen.

The demonstration moved on to parliament square and became illegal.

For several minutes two thousand people danced, chanted and sang along to the tunes blasting from the party bus. The huge orange globe was ripped from its tethers and dragged back and forth across the square, then right into the centre of town. The police were a mess: they repeatedly tried to kettle us but we broke through their lines. We began marching towards Christiania.

As we made our final approach the police made one last effort to break through our lines and detain people. We repelled them and for a moment everything seemed like it was about to kick off. Then a message came blasting from a tannoy:

"Please keep calm and continue marching."

The cops were scared. More than scared: they were in retreat. We had won, and we marched to Christiania in peace.

A few hours later the black bloc were denied entry to Christiania by its citizens. They left, but set fire to a car nearby. It was all the pretext the police needed.

Hundreds of riot police descended upon the squat community, firing tear gas and handing our beatings in a vicious revenge attack. Over 150 arrests were made. Make no mistake: this was not policing. It was payback.

All eyes are now on Wednesday and the Reclaim Power Rally. Copenhagen waits on the doorstep of history.

Day 2 - Dec 13th, Stop The Production

The Danish police enacted the largest mass arrest in their history yesterday. 968 people were detained for the heinous crime of Incitement To Fuck All. The police rested on their laurels a bit today, snatching just a few hundred innocent people from the streets of Copenhagen. A lot of those people were on the way to the docks to protest, and never made it more than a few hundred yards from their assembly point which was, somewhat naively, right in the middle of a triangle of roads. The protest sort of came pre-kettled.

My buddy and I went a different route and, surprisingly, got to the docks. They were effectively closed: the herds of cop vans rocketting up and down between two huge police blockades made sure of that. We eventually found what was left of the kettle, and you can watch videos of that escapade at

Later, after returning to the centre, I went to help pick up some people from the police station. Clearly the police have some really crippling targets they have to meet for dicking people about, because instead of just letting the prisoners out at the station and into our waiting van, they tried to secretly drive them away on a coach to a much more inconvenient location. So we followed them, and drove them back home.

This is my second night sleeping in the Voldskarken Skole and already it feels like home. Today was long, tiring and amazing. The atmosphere is beginning to buzz and crackle with speculation about the sixteenth. It is slowly dawning on me that I am part of something very, very big here.


Day 1 - Evening, Dec 12th

We arrived in cop at about midday. The police gave us no trouble on the way in, though the Green, Yellow and Lilac coaches were hassled quite badly and yellow arrived several hours late.

Today was quite laid back, though as the day went on there were arrests and rumours of arrests. I went with a hastily formed group to the big global day of action. It was fun and lively but it's hard to see what impact my four hour walk had on the issues at hand. Apparently around 400-700 black bloc were arrested just after they crossed the Torvlgade bridge - the police effectively kettled them and then nicked them under the preventative arrest laws. The exact numbers are unclear but I saw at least five police coaches packed out, blue lights flashing, taking the black bloc to jail. So there will probably be a lot of pissed of anarchists released at 4 AM this morning, hopefully leaving enough time for them to get some shut eye before the blockade of the docks at twelve.

Speaking of which: Night Night.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Requiem For A Rubbish Decade (Unamusing Version)

As I write this sentence we have 700 hours left of this decade. For me, and millions of others, this is a pretty big deal. It is the decade in which we came of age, the decade which birthed our adulthood, the decade that killed our innocence. And, so far, our decade has been a failure.

We entered this century on a wave of fear and anxiety, consumed by gloom over the phantom millennium bug and myriad other impossible Armageddons. Just over 18 months later on 9/11, our fears seemed to be realised, as scenes from a nightmarish action movie were spewed into our newsreel. They are the images which our decade will most probably be remembered for. Thousands died, and with them, our great hopes for a bright new millennium. What followed from those eclipsed dreams was a tornado of destruction that wiped out the lives of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though we marched, though we voted, Blair resigned to a standing ovation in 2007, and Bush walked from the White House unimpeached.

The irony is that an atrocity which cost just half a million dollars to commit, and involved less than a hundred people, could wreak greater terror from our response than its perpetrators could ever have hoped for from its implementation.

That heinous act of asymmetric warfare ushered in a new epoch for human interaction. This has been the age of the individual, the age of ingenuity, the age of the connected. It was an age in which television was democratic, while our governments were not. Twitter, Facebook and Youtube forced the networks to make stars of ‘ordinary’ people. We voted for our gods with our phones and with our wallets, then cast them down into the pit of collective revulsion when our deities became too dull. Much of the story of this decade can be told in these two tales - the unwanted, undemocratic war that churned through the bodies of countless thousands overseas, and the over-responsive, creatively bankrupt culture, which fed off of our democratic instincts to create a cacophony of trivia that absorbed us in the hyperactive zeitgeist.

But there is another side to this story. In Britain, bloggers gave a home to rumours of a scandal in MPs expenses, a story which would come to rock the Palace of Westminster. In Iran, acts of dissent and rebellion which would have once been impossible were made workable through the decentralised network of Twitter. And in America, the power of the Internet broke the power of the party machinery, putting a man who would once have been kept as a slave in the White House. That these achievements all came in the last two years shows that we leave this decade with tools undreamed of by the generations that preceded us, generations that ended slavery, brought us the vote and defeated fascism.

But our decade is not yet finished, and it is not yet failed. As we enter this final month we, the people, have one last chance to redeem our age. In Copenhagen, five days from now, the most important talks in human history begin. Our leaders, weakened by false perceptions, and distracted by false solutions, have already declared the summit a bust. But in 2009 power is no longer the preserve of the few. Power is ours. This can be the decade in which the bright future we dreamed of back in 1999 begins. We can change our masters’ by making our voices too loud to be ignored. The old institutions are crumbling in a way unprecedented in human history. 2009 can still be the year we saved the world, if that's what you want.

Then come to Copenhagen: march, take action, blog, film, tweet, do whatever it is you do, because now is the time to do it. We are not the prisoners of history, we are its authors. Come, write your story. Do it now.

Monday 23 November 2009

A Challenge

I forgot to include this in my last post.

I'm challenging any Climate Deniers who believe that the Hadley CRU e-mails show a concerted effort to manipulate data in favour of AGW to pick the e-mail they think shows, beyond all doubt, that such collusion/lying has taken place, and post a link to it here in the comments.

So far, all I have seen are examples of normal scientific practice where the reader has misunderstood the context and nature of the comments (the misreading of the "trick" e-mail being the most obvious blunder).

I look forward to seeing the incontrevertible evidence of conspiracy...

Edit: Tuesday 24th November.

People seem curiously reticent about actually picking an e-mail. I even had one commenter over at the Telegraph admit that 'none of the e-mails' showed any evidence of fraud.

So I'm upping the stakes: If you can find one, which shows beyond reasonable doubt that the Hadley scientists have been manipulating data solely to support the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming, then I will donate £50 to the charity of your choosing.

Let's be clear, though. I'm looking for that e-mail where the Hadley bunch take results they know to be accurate, and fraudulently alter them to support their hypothesis.

Edit: Friday 27th November

So far, nobody has taken me up on my challenge ("because nobody reads your shitty blog" comes the perfectly accurate reply). However, someone has asked me to clarify the conditions of success.

I will pay £50 to the charity (or church, or political campaign, as I've realised asking climate deniers to pick an actual charity they like might be a bit unfair) of your choice if you can find a evidence amongst the stolen Hadley data which shows that:

1.) Data was manipulated


2.) That manipulation made the evidence in favour of AGW appear stronger than it was in reality


3.) There was no scientific reason for the manipulation of that data.

I readily admit that these criteria are subjective. For the third one, I will go away and research whether there was a scientific reason for manipulation. If there wasn't one, you get your money.

But think about the odds you are getting! If you win, you get £50 for the charity, group or cause of your choice. What's more, you'll make me look like a complete tool - and considering what a smug, arrogant tosser I am, I have a feeling this is an even better prize than the money. If you lose, you lose nothing. Those are odds of infinity to one. I know the climate denier camp isn't great at calculating risk and probability, but even you lot must see the value there.

Good luck!

Similies are like metaphors

Imagine, if you will, that you are the world's cleverest mathematician, quantum physicist and demonologist all rolled into one. You are cleverer than a billion Einsteins, the "Einstein" being the internationally recognised unit of cleverness.

Now imagine that, one night, hunched over your self invented abacus/particle accelerator/portal to the ethereal darkness, you discover something horrifying. The logarithmic wave function of the prison of Ba'al is going to collapse, very soon, releasing Ba'al from his millenia old torment, to wreak a terrible vengeance upon the Earth. It won't be the end of the world, but it will be pretty bad: millions will die, whole cities will be destroyed, Horne and Corden will be given a third series, before their second has even aired.

Worst of all, you are the only person who has the requisite knowledge, expertise and intelligence to understand the coming catastrophe.

Fortunately, something can be done to prevent Ba'al's infinite wrath from being unleashed. Unfortunately, it's going to be quite expensive. A solid diamond superconducting altar must be built to push the prison of Ba'al back into quantum superposition, keeping him trapped for another thousand years. If everybody mucks in, you feel confident disaster can be avoided.

How do you sell this proposition to the general public, whose money and resources you need to to stop the hellspawn's merciless claws laying waste to all he surveys? They can't be expected to understand the intricacies of mathematical quantum demonology - only a handful of scientists do. So you give it to them in layman's terms. This, naturally, makes the information less accurate, which allows those opposed to the idea of giving up their diamsonds, to poke holes in your arguments. You are fighting against the economic tide.

Time is now running out. Frogs are falling from the sky, a kitten with seven heads is born, and the lion has lain down with the lamb as your models predicted. But the critics are saying there's no evidence that these signs of the coming cataclysm have anything to do with Ba'al. It's just a massive coincidence.

You have done your best, as a scientist, to convey your scientific opinion to those who need it. But it's being twisted, distorted, rejected. Mankind is heading towards a terrible disaster and you are the only one who can see it. What do you do?

In that situation, I'm guessing most of us would decide we had no option but to adopt the tactics of our critics, disingenuous and unscientific as they were. Sure, Ba'al wasn't going to devour the whole earth - at least, probably not, only a few studies suggest that his ancient hunger can only be sated by consuming the whole of creation - but perhaps suggesting that he might would finally convince people to get on and build that solid diamond altar.

And, sure, the nature of your field means that you can only be 80-90% positive that Ba'al is coming. But your critics are preying on your equivocal statements as evidence of doubt. So why not start pretending you are absolutely certain? People are bad at understanding probability in any case - that's why they play the lottery.

Finally, not all of those signs have come in quite how your model predicted. A second kitten is born, this one with only six and a half heads, causing the Sun to run a front page story declaring "Ba'alism HEAD as the dodo!". You decide that, should this happen again, you might just glue on an extra half a head.

This analogy, tortured far beyond anything that would be tolerated under the Geneva Conventions, is of course about Climate Science. E-mails between relatively prominent climate scientists have recently been stolen from the Hadley CRU by, well, who knows? The point isn't their theft (if someone on our side had done it to ExxonMobil I'd be rolling around with glee, so I'll not make any pretence to moral superiority), it is their perceived contents.

Blogs far and wide have declared that the e-mails as showing proof of collusion, cover up and malfeasance at the very top of the world of Climate Science. I, despite my best efforts, can find no such evidence. I can't claim to have read the entire body of e-m,ails, running to some ten thousand, but I have focused on those the Climate Deniers seem to think are noteworthy. In the process I have found numerous examples of data being changed and manipulated - because that particular datum is anomalous or has been gathered in an unusual/unusable way. The only example I have so far found of the Hadley crew manipulating data in an unscientific way to change its appearance was an admission that scientists had given in to "toning down" a document in order to ensure they received more funding in the future!(document number 1089318616 for those who want to look it up on the searchable database). So far, I have not seen an e-mail that provides anything like 'smoking gun' evidence of a conspiracy.

I say 'so far' because I am actually surprised by how little there is to chew on in these e-mails. As our little thought experiment at the top of the page showed, you would expect the scientists to alter and manipulate data, tweaking the presentation so the public's understanding, and from there their actions, are better aligned with objective reality. But there is little to no evidence of that happening

I had always rather assumed that the worst prophecies of the doomsayers were deliberately over-egged, that the temperature curves were sloped a little steeper than was necessary, that we had more time than the scientists suggested. Now, I'm not so sure.

If we've not been being lied to all this time, we're in serious trouble.


P.S. Any of you who like to do your own research, and who therefore clicked through to the e-mail I referenced in the main body, will hopefully have noticed that the 'document' that was toned down was a letter to a superior, not a climate research paper. It in no way supports the claim I made that scientists have toned down their findings to secure further funding. But it is a good example of the kind of deliberate misreading of these e-mails which has been undertaken by those in the Climate Denier camp all weekend.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Don't Look Directly At It

It's hard not to have a begrudging awe for The Sun newspaper. They can take a seemingly uninspiring story - "one eyed man bad at handwriting" for example, or "grieving woman upset" - and produce a multi-day blockbuster that other news outlets fall over each other to report.

The transcript of a private telephone conversation between Prime Minister Gordon Brown and a bereaved housewife is breathtaking for all sorts of reasons. It throws up a huge number of questions. Why did the PM make the call? Was he advised to do it, or was this fiasco his idea? Was he actually intending to apologise? Did he feel guilty? Was it all a PR exercise? And whose first instinct, on being told they are being put through to the Prime Minister, is to reach for a tape recorder?

This is undoubtedly a scoop for The Sun: a story that, with the inclusion of the tapes, verges on journalism. The raw data - Brown's umming, erring, awkward, miserable style of speech throughout a conversation we were never meant to hear - tells us volumes about our current leadership. The Sun's breathless attempts to ring every drop of scandal and outrage from the PM's words rings false in the face of such personal failure. It is hard, in fact, not to feel sorry for him. One can feel the conversation slipping away on his behalf - Mrs Janes, at one point, complains of being 'brought down' to the level of conversing with our Premier. What on earth was he trying to achieve? Perhaps, one wonders, he has a Messiah Complex. Perhaps he believes, somehow, that just by calling this distraught woman up that he could make right the death of her son?

But as juicy and voyeuristic as this insight into the private musings and possibly unwell mind of our Prime Minister undoubtedly is, it also implies something disturbing about the climate of the country. Assuming, for a moment, that the Sun did not specifically instruct Mrs Janes to make the recording, the newspaper must still have known the recording was made illegally. There is nothing on the tape to indicate that Brown was made aware that he was being taped. While I somewhat doubt that Brown will be dragging Mrs Janes through the courts over her infringement of the data protection act (though it's hard to see how such a move could damage himany further. When things are this fucked, why not just have some fun with it?) it's worrying that our PM, along with most politicians, is held in such utter contempt by the public and media that such definitely illegal and arguably immoral behaviour isn't even questioned.

Let's not forget: this entire 'scandal' arose because the Prime Minister made the choice to send personally hand written letters to the families of the war dead. Had he chosen a less time consuming, less personal option then the mistake - and thus the scandal - would likely not have happened. Indeed, looking at the letter, and as a possessor of fantastically shit handwriting myself, I can well believe that error was one of transcription rather than, er, spelling. In any case, the entire thing feels vaguely reminiscent of the expenses scandal - the public are outraged over mistakes and infractions which they themselves are entirely guilty of. The Sun, in particular, should be the last to criticise declining standards in writing.

But, of course, The Sun, in their dark genius, have tied this in to the 'wider issue': our New Labour Government doesn't care about the armed forces! Where oh where were the Merlin Helicopters that could have safely airlifted poor Jamie to hospital, as a curiously on-message Mrs Janes asked the PM? If he were a more callous man he might have replied that the helicopters were never bought because, at £28 million a pop, the money was better spent elsewhere. On thirty new heart surgeons, for example, or over a thousand chemotherapy courses.

But the Prime Minister didn't make these arguments, perhaps aware that the 'big picture' was not this poor woman's primary concern. She wanted someone to blame, and that person was to be Gordon Brown, no matter what he said in his defence. There has never been a war in history that has been fought with 'sufficient' resources: the nature of conflict itself dictates that whatever is available will be stretched to breaking point, and beyond. Once again, the shrieking, adolescent focus of the tabloids has distracted us from reality and left us blind to the truth, almost as if we'd been staring straight into The Sun.

Post Script: My spellchecker doesn not recognise the word "Janes". How dare blogger disrespect the memory of our brave boys fighting for our blah blah blah...

Monday 9 November 2009

Lord Monckton Rubbish At Painting Houses

Below is a video of right wing pundit/terrifying psychopath Glenn Beck interviewing both Lord Monckton, the muppet-faced, climate denying Lord of the realm, and an obviously uncomfortable John Bolton, who seems to be racking his brains trying to work out how his career took him from the United Nations, where he sat beside world leaders and attempted to answer the great political questions of the hour, the the Fox studios, where he is sat beside a wailing madman answering whether Hitler's brain is stored in the UN basement.

But I digress.

Check out the question Beck asks Monckton at 7.20 or so.

Now, I don't know about you, but 51 trillion seems a tad on the high side for painting your roof. Put in context, it's roughly the GDP of planet earth. So, according to Lord Monckton, if literally everyone stopped what they were doing so we could refocus the entire productive arsenal of the global economy on getting the roofs painted white, it would take an entire year. I know manual labour probably isn't Monckton's strong suit, but this sounds a little on the pricey side. It it just me, or is it at all possible that Lord Monckton just pulls facts and figures like these out of the hole in his arse?

Yes, it's about politics

This morning, after one of my frustratingly common sleepless nights, I decided to go for a little walk and watch the sunrise.

I watched it from under a statue of a large copper horse. actually, thinking about it, it wasn't a large statue of a copper horse, it was a large copper statue of a horse. The original animal probably wasn’t made of metal. I’m guessing it was made of horse.
But I digress.
As I looked out at the lights of Windsor, the gently twinkling snake of cars on the M25, and the low key visual hum of London to the East I thought: we like this place, don’t we? I mean, Earth?

Overall, life on Earth seems pretty sweet. We have fine art, good music, great literature. We have friendships, and love, beauty. I hear series 3 of “Mad Men” is very good, and I just got an iPhone. So, on average, I would declare myself a broad supporter of civilization on Earth. As, I’m guessing, would most of you.

But scientists have been telling us, for a good while now, that Earth is ill. Very ill, in fact. If a doctor was delivering the prognosis, he would almost certainly start by saying “I don’t quite know how to tell you this” before breaking an egg of bad news all over the Gaia's pretty little face. It's not that the diagnosis is terminal, of course. if we would just start taking the medicine, we'd be fine.

Two years ago, at a Climate Summit in Bali, the powers that be postponed coming up with a final, legally binding deal on climate change until December of this year. Why December of this year? I’m guessing because, at the time, it was one of those dates that seemed so far away it might as well be never. Yet, with the monotonous predictability of linear time, the new summit is upon us. To nobody's great surprise negotiations have stalled, and a deal now looks unlikely for another year at best. If a week is a lifetime in politics, the Ministers at Copenhagen are gearing up to put off saving the world for another fifty two lifetimes.

So what’s wrong? If we’re all pretty fond of life on Earth, why are we having so much trouble saving it? One of the reasons, of course, is the cost. The stern report reckoned that effectively combating global warming could cost half a trillion dollars. Put into context, that’s about 1% of global GDP, or about half as much as the world spent on the banking bailout.

So it's actually pretty cheap. A bargain, in fact, when compared to the alternatives (which Stern estimated would cost between 5-20% of GDP a year, every year, forever). But the real problem is nobody can decide who will pick up the tab. Again and again, the debate about Carbon emissions refers back to the emerging economies of India and China, whose 2.5 billion people pollute nearly as much as we 700 million Westerners. It would, of course, be obscenely unfair if the developed world bore the economic brunt of reducing atmospheric carbon levels, simply because we gained all of the economic benefits from driving those levels up in the first place. But surely, as preposterously unfair as this is, doesn’t it make sense for the West, the rich people with the most to lose, to just buckle down and fix it ourselves? After all, when one of your housemates is late on the rent, the rest of you muck in, rather than risk getting chucked out, and settle the bill later.

So, why can’t we get a deal on climate signed? The world is on fire, and we’re idling around the garden centre, stroking our chins at the price of hoses. Why?

Perhaps because the earth is not ablaze. The earth isn’t sick. The earth is healthy. Or, if it the earth is sick, there is no cure. The world isn’t getting hotter. Or, if it is, it's not our fault. And even if it was our fault, how could you possibly know? What, really, do any of us know?

Just because the overwhelming majority of scientists agree on something doesn't make it true. It might be a ploy by climate scientists aimed at getting more money for their niche profession. After all, why does anyone go into academia if not for the Benjamins? And without ‘Climate Change’, how could Climate scientists possibly get paid? It’s not like there’s any money in predicting droughts, floods and hurricanes. Use your imaginations. Is it really that unlikely that a vast conspiracy involving hundreds of thousands of doctors, professors, researchers and other academics has spent the last 30 years conducting worthless research and falsifying the results as part of a nefarious plan to line their own pockets?
Of course, there is a little niggle with this theory. If you wanted to make money as a climate scientist, the quickest and most sure fire way of doing so would be to go and work for an energy company. Better yet, you could go and work for one of the countless think tanks who exist primarily to poke holes in the theory of anthropogenic climate change.
These think tanks, and others, have made the world of climate science a rather murky one for the layman to explore. I don’t know what to think when I hear that a volcanic eruptions produces more CO2 than all of the human beings on earth combined. Or when I hear that simple water vapour is a far more powerful Greenhouse Gas than CO2. I don’t have the time or understanding to research each and every one of the assertions thrown out b y those who doubt Climate Change is both real and manmade. And, in a highly contested environment, one in which both sides accuse the other of systematically falsifying research, how can I possibly know which side to believe.
The only method I have found, and one which reliable tells me that climate change is real, and we are doing it, is the method used by detectives the world over: follow the money. When two sides in an argument have broadly comparable views – say that Pepsi is better than Coke, or vice versa – the side with the most money tends to win. That’s why we have an advertising industry. Yet, in the controversy over climate change, in a fight between energy companies and environmentalists, the environmentalists are winning the battle for the minds of scientists. Why, if not because the science is right? Don’t get me wrong, It’s not that environmentalists don’t have money - Greenpeace has a revenue of $23 million. But the energy companies have more - ExxonMobil’s revenue is $477 Billion.
Yet there is a split, a split in the public’s view of the situation. People are deeply divided on climate change, not just what to do about it, but on whether it’s real at all. The public is split on what is fundamentally an issue of science, and when we understand why, I think we will understand why we have yet to fix the problem.
The division over whether anthropogenic global warming is real splits along political lines – the left believes in it, and the right doesn’t. The reason for this is pretty obvious. There is not a right wing solution to climate change. Even the most capitalist solutions – such as Cap and Trade – require the Government to step in and impose an artificial level on CO2 emissions, in effect to regulate the problem, before businesses can set a price for Carbon.

When an issue has a ‘market solution’ which requires direct Government interference with the Market, the right has a serious problem. Climate Change is not just an annoying, wishy-washy, lefty distraction for them. It is an existential threat to the foundations of right wing thinking. Of course, it doesn’t help that their ‘market solution’ doesn’t actually work. Governments are so given up to corruption that every instance of cap and trade that has been tried has resulted in huge cash giveaways, deals which have allowed the biggest polluters to line their pockets without reducing their emissions one jot.
The problem deepens when you realise the left are either unwilling or unable to put forward real, non-market solutions to Climate Change. Such solutions, to be effective, would require some new form of legally binding, responsive international law – “one world government” to quote the far right. Additionally, massive taxes, subsidies and takeovers of industry, particularly the energy industry, would also be necessary – “communism” to quote our lexically challenged friends once more. While I would love to see a workable solution to climate change come from the centre, or even from the right, it hasn't done so far, and time is seriously running out. We have to do something.

When a problem is fundamentally insoluble within our current political framework, when a collective problem arises in a world of ruthless individualism, and when that problem provides an existential threat not merely to our ideology, but to our existence itself, it is time to abandon the lofty, tarnished principles and do whatever works. It is time to stop worrying so much about economic growth and the absolute freedom of the wealthy. I believe we have thus far failed to solve climate change because it requires a paradigm shift in the way of the world – away from an atomised planet of isolated individuals, and towards a community. To save the world, we must first change the way it works.