Saturday 21 May 2022

Blah Blah Blah – Is That All There Is?

Speaking Truth To Power: Greta Thunberg argues that the fine sounding phrases of well-meaning politicians changes nothing. The promises made, the targets set – and then re-set – are all too familiar to the younger generations she has encouraged to pay attention. They have heard it all before. Accordingly, she angrily disdains to respond in detail to the carefully-crafted speeches of world leaders. As far as she, and the millions she speaks for are concerned, it is all just – “Blah Blah Blah.”

SOME STORIES stretch our credulity. Surely, we object, someone is pulling our legs? Nobody could be that dumb. The sort of stories for which my friend, the war correspondent, Jon Stephenson, habitually reserves his pithy quip: “You just couldn’t make this shit up!”

Like the story that came out earlier this week from the Ministry of the Environment. In preparation for the Labour Government’s long-awaited announcements on Climate Change mitigation, some poor soul had drafted a new addition to the Ministry’s webpage headed: “Here are some the actions currently being taken by New Zealand to mitigate against climate change.”

Alongside the bullet points, inserted in anticipation of the Government’s initiatives, this same poor soul had written “Blah Blah Blah”. I say “poor soul” because my assumption is that when he or she inserted “Blah Blah Blah” it was an act of naïve innocence.

The alternative explanation is that the person responsible for this extraordinary blooper was only too aware that “Blah Blah Blah” was the scornful riposte delivered to the assembled representatives of the world’s nation states by the young Swedish founder of School Strike For Climate, Greta Thunberg.

Her point was that the fine sounding phrases of these well-meaning people changed nothing. The promises made, the targets set – and then re-set – were all too familiar to the younger generations she had encouraged to pay attention. They had heard it all before. Accordingly, she angrily disdained to respond in detail to the carefully-crafted speeches of the politicians. As far as she, and the millions she spoke for, and to, were concerned, it was all just – “Blah Blah Blah.”

Meaning that if the Ministry of the Environment employee responsible for this priceless story was aware of Greta’s rhetorical trope, then he or she is in possession of a satirical talent that would, almost certainly, be better appreciated elsewhere. (Unless, of course, the Ministry itself has become as frustrated as Greta – and who could blame it!)

Whatever led to the error (long since expunged from the Ministry’s website) it anticipated to perfection the reaction of most environmentalists to the Government’s “Emissions Reduction Plan” – abbreviated to the rather dyspeptic-sounding “ERP”.

Certainly, its incremental steps and irresponsibly optimistic expectations, left those scientists aware of the urgency now required of not just this government, but all governments, to avoid runaway global warming, fighting off feelings of anger and disappointment. Like the inimitable chanteuse, Peggy Lee, they were left asking, plaintively: “Is That All There Is?”

Is That All There Is? - The inimitable Peggy Lee.

And, sadly, the answer is “Yes.” Because, how could it be anything else? Ours is a democratically elected government, all-too-aware that those who endorsed it so emphatically in 2020 are now ill-disposed to repeat the favour in eighteen months’ time.

Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw, knows how to interpret an opinion poll and read a focus-group report. If you ask the voters if they want effective action on Climate Change, they will answer “Yes!” But ask them if they are willing to support the drastic actions required to make a serious difference, and their answer will be an equally emphatic “No!”

Ditto, his colleague. Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s Budget, delivered yesterday afternoon, reflected a very similar reliance on incrementalism, hopeful expectation, and strategic forbearance. Certainly, there was little of sufficient muscularity to grapple with the multiple challenges currently besetting the New Zealand economy. Lifting the burden of debt repayment from the shoulders of the most vulnerable by overseeing a fiercely redistributive reformation of this country’s tax system, may be the most obvious and the most ethical response to the nation’s fiscal crisis, but it is also a response that will collapse what’s left of the Government’s electoral support.

The public’s attitude to death, taxes and Climate Change is remarkably consistent. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die, pay more, or give up their SUV.

The trick of successful democratic government in times of global warming, pestilence, war – and rampant inflation – is to convey the impression of doing something while actually doing very little at all. The job of the politician, when you boil it right down, is to keep the lights on and the ATMs working. If not forever, then until well past the next election.

So, yes, “Blah Blah Blah” is pretty much all that there is. Pretty much all that there’s ever been.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 May 2022.


Charles Pigden said...

So is it possible to build an electoral coalition around a policy that isn't just blah blah blah, that is, a policy designed to (help) mitigate climate change that demands *sacrifice* from at least some people? If it isn’t and if this impossibility is a transnational thing then a global catastrophe involving hundreds of millions of deaths is inevitable. I think – and I certainly hope – but that it is possible but it is decidedly difficult. How do I know that it is possible to build consensus around a policy that demands sacrifice for some important goal? Because it has been done. After all the present government achieved precisely this during the first two years of the pandemic. When Winston Churchill said to the British people 'I have nothing to offer but blood toil tears and sweat ' surprisingly they closed with the offer, on condition, of course of the ultimate promise of victory against a terrible threat. Right now, before our very eyes, Ukrainians and even non-Ukrainians are *volunteering* to risk life and limb in a fight again Russia. So the demand for sacrifice isn’t necessarily electoral suicide. But though asking people for sacrifice isn’t bound to fail , it is obviously risky. For a start, the sacrifice has to be proportionate. It can’t be confined to the lower orders. Lower-class people suffered a lot in Churchill’s Britain but so did upper-class people, (witness the novels of Evelyn Waugh The Sword of Honour Trilogy and ‘Put out More Flags’). Churchill was an aristocratic Tory politician presiding – so far as his Home policy went – over a surprisingly egalitarian regime. Secondly you have to be honest. . The line has to be that if we are to play our part in averting a Global catastrophe – a Global Catastrophe that is already upon us – THIS IS GOING TO HURT. For a start we must radically downsize the Dairy industry substituting other food products. Secondly we must radically cut back on both international tourism and foreign travel UNLESS we can find a GHG neutral way to fuel them. (For instance by converting to hydrogen-powered planes or air-ships; the hydrogen to be produced by solar-powered electrolysis.) But the real problem as I see it this. In the case of the Pandemic or of WWII though your individual efforts and your *individual* sacrifices may not have had much impact, you *country’s* efforts did. Those lockdowns that we all endured saved a lot of lives. It is no exaggeration to say that in resisting Nazi aggression in the first two yeas of the War, Britain helped – and helped substantially – to save the world from Nazism . (Of course to *defeat* rather than simply *resist* Nazism also required the combined efforts of the USA and the USSR.) The real problem in selling sacrifice to fend off catastrophic climate change is this. Even if New Zealand became a paradigm of Green principle and a sink rather than a source of GHG’s this would not put off the catastrophe *unless most other countries followed suit* . It is as if Churchill had said ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is the *chance* victory, but a victory that can only be achieved if *most of the countries of the world,* many of them much mightier than ourselves, are prepared to make similar sacrifices.’ Had he made such a speech he might have been less successful. But that is the kind of speech that every democratic leader either in Aoteroa/New Zealand or elsewhere must be prepared to make if a global catastrophe is to be mitigated, let alone avoided.

David George said...

That people are reluctant to make heavy sacrifices for the failed predictions of the climate botherers is hardly surprising. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Trutht, for example is so shot full of lies and exaggerations that the British courts decided it was unfit to be used in classrooms. "Convenient Lies" would be a more appropriate title.

I won't go into it here but I'm not convinced there's any need for drastic action over the highly promoted "climate emergency". The promotion, this attempted manufacturing of consent, the need for a perpetual emergency, an enemy, is the really interesting issue.

Here's a great essay on that and our weakness in the defence of liberty. Intro:

"Throughout history, there have been crises that could be resolved only by suspending the normal rule of law and constitutional principles. A “state of exception” is declared until the emergency passes — it could be a foreign invasion, an earthquake or a plague. During this period, the legislative function is typically relocated from a parliamentary body to the executive, suspending the basic charter of government, and in particular the separation of powers.

The Italian political theorist Giorgio Agamben points out that, in fact, the “state of exception” has almost become the rule rather than the exception in the Western liberal democracies over the last century. The language of war is invoked to pursue ordinary domestic politics. Over the past 60 years in the United States, we have had the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terror, the war on Covid, the war on disinformation, and the war on domestic extremism.

A variation on this theme is the utility of moral panics ­— spiritual warfare — for pursuing top-down projects of social transformation, typically by administrative fiat. The principle of equality under the law, which would seem to be indispensable to a liberal society, must make way for a system of privileges for protected classes, corresponding to a moral typology of citizens along the axis of victim and oppressor. Victim dramas serve as a permanent moral emergency, justifying an ever-deeper penetration of society by bureaucratic authority in both the public and private sectors.

Once this pattern of government by emergency snaps into focus, one experiences a Gestalt shift. The self-image of the liberal West — as based on the rule of law and representative government — is in need of revision. Our society’s response to Covid brought this anachronism to mass awareness."

John Hurley said...

BS aboundeth
. 3 house to 12m where there was a 2 story limit. You could potentially be shaded all winter
Meanwhile every Tom, Dick and Harry has their EV plugged in so the power bill is sky high
. there is no official recognition of Limits to Growth. Mind you if they admit that then they may have to answer: "when did that start?". Was it 70 years ago?

I can't think of the words Jon Haidt uses for the mundane and the spiritual but I was thinking about it in relation to One Nation 5% and Green 12%.
One Nation are the knuckledraggers whose interests are in continuity whereas Green are the concerned with transcendence and that makes them sexy.
The profane bark at the outsider because everyone within society must be recognisable. They see value in day to day, mundane life within a connected community (hum-drum most of the time but with periods of joy).
The Greens transcend that but it takes them out of the real world.
When asked about limits to growth Holy Walker of the Helen Clark Foundation says it is very hard to determine but (anyway) "we have our moral obligations to take climate change refugees".
She is prepared to sink the lifeboat on moral grounds while she (as an elite) will have a room at a Vatican (Jacinda "having a wonderful time somewhere in the Mediterranean").


David George said...

That essay ( ) really raises some interesting questions about, and explanations for, the rise of illiberal liberalism. Just how and why do we see the (former?) liberals accepting if not actually promoting anti-speech laws for example.

"The idea that emotion should have any positive epistemic role to play in grasping reality is foreign to modern thought. Pride can only be a source of partiality; to be “judgmental” is to be prejudicial. The ancient perspective offers a critical challenge, answering that reason without spirited evaluation fails to apprehend things in their true colours, because the lifeworld of human beings is shot through with value and cannot be adequately described in “neutral” terms that are value-free.

What happens when the regime is one in which this spirited, evaluative activity is short-circuited altogether, subordinating the (various) distinctions that make for (competing visions of) the good life to mere biological life, bare existence? That is, “health” as conceived by “public health”? This is aggression against our nature as evaluative beings. It would seem to be the consummation of a project that puts the flight from death, rather than attraction to the good, at the center of our political metaphysics."

I would love to hear your thoughts on that, Chris, wrestling as you, and many of us, do with the glaring contradictions we see.

Odysseus said...

Whether or not you believe the hypothesis that CO2 drives climate (I do not), nothing humans can do will make a jot of difference to this huge and chaotic system. The only sensible strategy for dealing with climate change is adaptation, as it has been down the ages.

David George said...

The rise of governments around the world instituting "Ministries of Truth" should be of concern to anyone with a sense of history. Only state approved disinformation allowed!
Fortunately the US, in the face of a strong backlash, has backed down for now. Turns out their chosen head of the ministry, Nina Jankowicz, has something of a record of peddling disinfo herself.
You may have seen her cringy Tik Tok Mary Poppins skit.

For our amusement here's The Bee with a spoof. Very good. 60 seconds

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The rise of governments around the world instituting "Ministries of Truth" should be of concern to anyone with a sense of history. Only state approved disinformation allowed!"

Yeah right.

"But I am not going to listen to it at the moment from the party of insurrection, the party of book-banning and library-scouring, the party of dangerous myth-making bullshit about “grooming” and (eek!) “critical race theory,” the party full of people who still bend the knee to the Prince of 30,000 Lies down in Florida. Hell, this is a party that lies to itself. Isn’t that right, Never-To-Be-Speaker Kevin McCarthy? Regain your sanity, folks, before you start throwing around George Orwell’s name in defense of your absolute right to launder and launch all the fantastical tales spun by Macedonian teenagers. Orwell would eat you all on toast and still have room for bangers and mash."

David George said...

Charles: "a global catastrophe involving hundreds of millions of deaths is inevitable"
Where did you get that from Charles?

There's no proper basis for your fears, much less the idea that we are facing an actual existential crises. Even the IPCC, cheerleaders for the catastrophists have not said that. Have you considered the possibility that you're the victim of a pervasive propaganda campaign. Our entire legacy news media have signed up as partners with the Covering Climate Now outfit; an outfit solely committed to instilling the terror you're expressing.
Even questioning the narrative is verboten on the pages and screens of our self declared "one source of truth" media.

Here is their hall of shame, our lot amongst them:

Charles Pigden said...

The reason that Climate Change represents a major threat to the World's population in the medium term is that it is likely to diminish the world's food supplies. This is due to

1) Desertification, especially in what are currently the world's breadbaskets.
2) Flooding, especially in what are now delta bread baskets (eg the Nile, the Mekong) The territories in question don't have ot go underwater to become useless from a farming point of view. It is enough if they are transformed into salt marshes.
3) Decreased fertility even in in areas where agriculture is still possible owing to droughts and/or floods.

Many of these things are already happening. There is perhaps a question about how large their effects will be, but even a 25% drop in the world's food supply would lead to many millions of deaths.

A more serious threat is is that some populous parts of the world may become literally uninhabitable. The current heatwave in India and Pakistan is making it nearly impossible to work outside. If, as seems not unlikely, large territories become subject to long-lasting heatwaves in which the wet bulb temperature exceeeds 33 degrees Centigrade then the people who live there (and can't save themselves with expensive air conditioning) will begin to die in very large numbers.

More generally I would say that David George's picture of what is going on is almost the reverse of the truth. It is not governments who are trumpeting climate change in defence an authoritarian agenda. It is climate activists who have been trying desperately and without very much success to cajole reluctant governments into doing their bit.

David George said...

Thank you for your reply Charles. You are quite correct, activists are driving government climate action. Whether it's the above mentioned CCN outfit or folk gluing their faces to the pavement the intention is clear - to cajole and threaten governments into action and to influence public opinion towards their cause. Governments have (or should have) a much broader range of concerns as Chris says. The US Dems were actively promoting The Green New Deal which proposed effectively ending fossil fuel use and extraction, aviation, long haul trucking, modern agriculture and much more. We don’t hear much about that now; someone has run the numbers and the truth is that those proposals would lead to a catastrophic, and possibly terminal, economic and social collapse. Adoption of those policies and we really would have an existential crisis.

There has always been extreme whether events somewhere in the world - droughts, storms floods. They are, if anything, less common or severe now but the story that they are is the narrative. Every event is magnified and dramatised, the dreaded phrase "Climate Change strategically inserted.

One recent example: the Australian 2019/20 bush fires were widely presented as both unprecedented and the direct result of human induced climate change. Permanent drought (subsequently there has been abundant rain), the dams will never be filled, this is the new normal, we're on the edge of Armageddon!

The twenty odd million hectares burned in that season were never compared to the 120 million burned in the '74/75 season, a time when the worry of the day was an approaching ice age after thirty wears of global cooling. Could it be that we're being actively lied to Charles?

Anonymous said...

In reply to David George (25 May), asking "Could it be that we're being actively lied to.....?" Yes, always entirely possible David, but the situation with climate change is much more complicated than simple outright lies. That carbon dioxide helps trap heat, and that there's more carbon dioxide in the air than in pre-industrial times are both true statements.

It's in the discussion over what, (if anything) we could or should do about it that things get fraught. I join you, David, in skepticism about the more panicky claims, and the wilder "solutions".

David, if you haven't already, try researching the Sri Lankan government's ban on imports of synthetic fertilizer and agrochemicals, imposed in April 2021. Followed shortly after by a decree that only local and natural fertilizers could be used, and this would make Sri Lanka the first country in the world with 100% organic agriculture. The entirely predictable result was a massive decrease in agricultural production, followed by a deep economic crisis. One so bad patients are dying in hospitals for lack of imported medicines, and airlines are asked to land in Sri Lanka with enough fuel for their return trip, for lack of imported jet fuel.

Well, if 100% organic is such a recipe for disaster, how do we grow enough food? A small part of the answer is that climate change actually helps in some areas, to the great discomfort of the catastrophe mongers. Arable farmers in Canada are experiencing longer growing seasons, higher yields, and more flexibility in the range of crops they can grow, as the planet warms.

But the most important way forward is for farmers to be able to keep on doing what farmers have been doing for as long as there has been agriculture. That is, using every method to hand to breed improved varieties, and adapting to changing circumstances. Salt tolerant wheat is being developed from strains found in Bangladesh. (Non-GMO, traditional breeding). Drought resistant wheat has been commercialized in Argentina. (A GMO, incorporating sunflower genes).

The choice is clear cut. The back to the 19th century, "100% organic", path leading to Sri Lankan style disaster, or the use of every 21st century method to grow more food than ever before, using less land than agriculture currently uses, and with less labour than ever before. (Farmers can already sit in air conditioned cabs supervising computer controlled machinery guided by GPS with centimetre accuracy. Improved agricultural robots are in the pipeline).

Finally, a question for Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth (Foes of Everything Modern would be more accurate), and anyone else who supports vaccines, (especially for the Third World), but opposes genetically engineered crops. Why can't modern genetic technologies that deliver safe and effective vaccines also be used to grow enough safe and nutritious food? What is the point of saving people from infectious disease with modern technology, but then allowing them to starve, for lack of modern technology?

David George said...

Thanks for your reply Anon, sorry I didn't see it earlier. Good, sensible points. I was going to mention the Sri Lankan situation, thanks for bringing it up.