Climate Change Denial

January 24, 2007


George Marshall @ 5:15 pm

looknosnow2Climate change was not going to get in the way of the fun and frolics of the World Cup ski races this weekend in Kitzbühel, Austria: a fleet of helicopters imported more than 100,000 cubic feet of snow from higher up the mountain. A snip at $390,000 and just imagine how many tonnes of fuel.

To add further to the multiple ironies piling on top of this pathetic tale, the races have had to be cancelled anyway because a freak storm blew a lot of the airlifted snow off the mountain.

Snow fall has been very low and temperatures at record highs across the Alps. The snow was so thin for the Lauberhorn downhill race last week that many racers crashed or collapse from exhaustion.

According to the New York Times the president of the International Ski Federation, Gian Franco Kasper, does not accept that the chronic lack of snow is due to climate change. He says it is due to natural variation.

More bloody fool him. The ski industry is going to be ruined by climate change so it is hardly surprising that it is having a hard time dealing with the proof of its imminent demise.

Like all of the international tourism industry, it could be a strong, brave, and influential voice for change. But this would require it to come to terms with the enormous impact of the leisure flights that sustain it. And as the resorts generate ever higher emissions to create snow where it no longer exists (see my 26 Sept posting: ‘Wrap it up to go’) they are entering into an ever tighter cycle of self destructive climate change  denial.

SNOWBALLThanks loads to Nathalie Koerfer for alerting me to that


….and thanks too to Zoe Palmer for this excellent picture which she shot with her mobile phone in a UK high street. It says it all- but somehow the price reduction adds a particular poignancy.

May 6, 2015


George Marshall @ 10:35 pm

I regard myself to be a radical. However, I now believe that the most radical thing that I can do is to break out of the safety zone of left/liberal environmentalism and actively engage with conservatives.

I have two decades in the radical environmental movement, and I believe strongly that the crisis of climate change requires systemic changes. I make no apology for this and am utterly convinced,  from my reading of history, that these changes will only emerge from strong and outspoken political movements.

But no movement will win unless it has strength of numbers and influence. We should not delude ourselves  that a highly motivated minority – what Marxists used to call the vanguard– can ever win this. This issue is far too large to be overcome without a near total commitment across society.

Yet, throughout the Anglophone world  there is a dangerous political polarisation around climate change. In one particularly disturbing US poll, attitudes to climate change were a better predictor of respondents’ political orientation than any other issue- including gun control, abortion and capital punishment. Denial of climate change is not just an opinion, it has become a dominant mark of people’s political identity.

This is no small problem. People with conservative values (some of whom may also vote for centre-left parties) constitute the majority in almost all countries. In US surveys people who identify strongly with these values outnumber those who identify with liberal/left values by a factor of 2:1.

In my book, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, I argued that climate change exists for us in the form of socially constructed narratives built upon our values and identity. It is these narratives- not the underlying science or even the evidence of our own eyes- that leads us to accept or reject the issue.

Unfortunately one of the dominant values in the climate movement is a disregard , if not outright contempt, for the right-leaning mainstream and their concerns. Activists often talk with disgust of the selfishness, greed and stupidity of conservatives. This is intolerant and unpleasant. The denigration conveniently ignores the diversity of opinion and life experience among conservatives. A struggling rural family, an elderly Christian on a small pension, a community shopkeeper and a Wall Street Banker are combined into one faceless enemy.

More often, though, conservatives are just ignored. Few people in the climate movement want to deal with them, talk to them, or find out more about them. They simply don’t exist.

Last week I led a communications workshop for one of the largest international environmental networks: one I respect and have worked with for many years. I asked them “do you think that the climate change movement has a problem with its diversity?” Absolutely, they replied, it’s too dominated by middle aged men, too white, too middle-class, not enough involvement from minorities or indigenous peoples, not many disabled people. Nobody mentioned the absence of conservatives, and certainly no-one in the room was admitting to being one.

Diversity’ is a powerful frame for progressives but its components have been entirely defined by the struggles of marginalised groups for representation. It makes us blind to our own failure to involve the majority of our fellow citizens.

Last year I was thrilled to attend the People’s Climate March in New York (I think I can justify the carbon-I was there on a six -state book tour). 350,000 people marched with placards declaring “To Change Everything We Need Everyone“. But, just as diversity only includes the groups that conform to the progressive ideology, the definition of everyone excludes the majority of the population. There was a great deal of progressive diversity at the march: indigenous peoples headed it up, followed by environmental justice groups of all colours and ethnicities and labour unions. As someone who has campaigned for over twenty years for indigenous rights, and led large programmes with trades unions, I was thrilled to see  such broad representation.

But as I watched the banners and placards pass by, I imagined how this would seem to mainstream America. The dominant messages were about banning, stopping, protecting, boycotting things. Among them were hard left-wing messages about overthrowing capitalism and destroying Wall Street. A woman with a placard reading Never, Never, Never, Ever Vote Republican (see above) was clapped and whistled. To balance this a posse of cigar-chomping Republican frat boys turned up with cut outs of Ronald Regan to wind up the lefties.  But there was nothing, not even a word, that so much as hinted that mainstream conservatives had a place alongside everyone in the climate struggle. A small pack of  Nebraskan ranchers, converted to the cause by their fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline, told me freely, proudly, that they were lifelong Republicans. They were hidden within the mass of the march when they should  have been at its very front: a symbol of an extraordinary unity of purpose and our shared destiny.

Ironically we know how to change this. The process to increase representation of conservatives in the climate change movement can be taken directly from previous experience with building diversity- whether it be economic, gender, or race. First of all actively hire new people from the underrepresented group who can work through their networks. Then enable them to develop communications that speak to others like themselves using their own values.

The  process by which we respond to climate change creates the tramlines for our future adaptation. If we use it to build a narrative around our interconnectedness and shared humanity then we stand a good chance of pulling through, just as divided communities can settle their differences to pull together after a hurricane. If we build our  movement through distrust and division we create the preconditions for future in-fighting, blame and scapegoating. The only reason why the minority vanguards ever won was that they got their hands on guns and then ruled by them.

So  my challenge to all people concerned about climate change is this: when are we going to accept the challenge of reaching across partisan boundaries and building a broad social consensus for action? We do not even have to agree about the details of the solutions- indeed I hope we maintain a strong debate. But surely we can come together in the recognition that dealing with climate change is the greatest calling of our age? 


Please share this piece and comment below. Over the next few weeks I will be posting a number of articles to my blog exploring these themes.

August 31, 2012

Romney Channels Beck

George Marshall @ 2:46 pm

There are curious things happening with climate change narratives.  In this excerpt from his Republican convention acceptance speech last night Romney delivers a line about climate change with mocking pauses that look,  to my British eyes, pure Glenn Beck. What does this say about the way we message climate change?

The line is “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans (13 second pause)
And to heal the planet (3 second pause)
My promise is to help you and your family.”

Watch it carefully because the delivery is a meticulously choreographed mime. Romney breaks his gaze from the audience, and does a little eyes to heaven, lip biting act that is all about communicating clearly to the audience that this is not a podium style rhetorical pause ( such as “think not what your country can do for you…….) but a Jack Benny stand up comedy pause. The body language suggests that he is like a long suffering but resigned parent holding in his real views about the President’s ‘stupidity’.  Watch it and see what I mean.

To me this  signals several things.  Firstly that the political discourse as a whole is being strongly influenced by the mocking parodic style of the shockjocks. This is nothing new- Reagan had his ‘zingers’ and every presidential debate has one rehearsed one liner that they hope will make the news headlines. But the theatrical contempt is something  new.  Look for example at Bush’s delivery in the 2000 debate against Gore “I’m beginning to think that not only did he invent the internet, but he invented the calculator as well”. The intent is to mock (and it references attack ads), but the delivery is stiff and literal.

It is also a step change in the way that politicians talk publicly about climate change.  So this is no longer a debate about the science, or  the policy response (as it was under Bush)- it is now a debate about competing versions of reality and fantasy. The line about slowing the rise of the oceans is skillfully chosen as it frames climate change as both a natural cycle and an inevitability. The mocking pause clearly signals that attempts to stop it are therefore a self aggrandising  folly. Here in Britain the resonance would be with King Cnut (Canute) who ordered the tide to stop coming in. I suspect in America is more likely to be with Moses. It is a quote that appears on some Christian Conservative sites as evidence that Obama claims to be the Messiah.

And this all makes you wonder at the ineptitude of Obama’s own script writers. This was not some throw away line in a minor interview like Gore’s claims to have invented the internet- Romney is misquoting the meticulously honed language of Obama’s own acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in 2009. Of course, we know that it has been distorted and removed from context, but surely it was not smart in any context to talk about “healing the planet”- a phrase that immediately triggers an association with the most woowoo end of New Age greens.

And, when there is so much that can be said about the short term impacts and opportunities of climate change, it was surely not bright to reference the one impact that is probably the most distant, protracted and unavoidable. He might as well have promised that his presidency would be the point at which the North Pole or the glaciers stopped melting.  Let’s face it, this was a gift to his opponents.

So, if this is a harbinger of what is to come, we can expect that climate change will continued to be used in this election as a metaphor for an ideologically driven fantasy rather than as a a  real issue that should be weighed and evaluated. Few people vote, and even fewer are party activists, but this framing is powerful and toxic.

POSTSCRIPT- I like this from Joe Romm:’s Climate Progress blog

Reacting to the resounding laughter among delegates to those comments, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said the moment would someday “be in documentaries as a moment of just ‘what-were-they-thinking’ madness.” As a former documentary maker I had exactly this feeling, though Chris Hayes put his finger on it- this is one of those Peace in our Time, Read My Lips, Mission Accomplished  moments that will make it onto the stupidities of the century B roll.

December 8, 2010


George Marshall @ 7:09 pm

Guest blogger, Terence Blacker decries the ‘Ozymandian’ stupidity of holding the 2022 World Cup in air conditioned stadiums in Qatar, one of the world’s hottest  countries and FIFA’s feeble greenwashing of its stupendously destructive choice of host country.

If the delegates currently attending the global climate conference in Mexico need any reminding of the magnitude of their task in the face of human stupidity and hubris, they do not have far to look. At another meeting of a distinguished international body, the decision has been made to hold the most needlessly energy-wasting sporting event that the planet has ever seen.

As a symbol of the confusion and hypocrisy which surrounds the questions of climate change and energy conservation, the Qatar World Cup of 2022 will surely take some beating.

Qatar is not only one of the hottest countries in the world, but, as was announced last week, football’s greatest tournament is to be held during its high summer in June and July, when temperatures are between 40 and 50 degrees centigrade. Any kind of outdoor activity is impossible, so that, unless you are an immigrant worker (40 Nepalese construction workers died from the heat over six months in 2006), you will need to be inside.

Qatar may be small but, when it comes to profligate use of energy, it punches well above its weight. According to the recently published Living Planet Index, its per capita consumption of the world’s energy resources is higher than that of any other country, with the exception of the United Arab Emirates. Oil and gas usage in Qatar increased by 310 per cent between 1999 and 2009.

The response to these dubious claims to fame from international football’s ruling body, Fifa, has been to invite Qatar to go on a massive energy binge. Twelve new stadia will be built. There will be training grounds. The infrastructure to support an influx of between one and two million fans will be created. The venues will all be air-conditioned, reducing the outside temperature of 40 degrees to 27 degrees, even when the roof is open to the sun. Spectators will enjoy cool air projected from the back and neck of every seat. Similar facilities will be supplied to training grounds and, one assumes, to the buildings where visitors will spend their time when football is not being played. In fact, most of the country will have to be air-conditioned.

Then, when it is over, the stadia will be dismantled and shipped to different parts of the world where they will be re-erected. The true hypocrisy here lies not in the sheer idiocy of this organised spree of wastefulness, but in the way it is presented. A month-long, air-conditioned World Cup is, we are told, good for the planet. The Qataris, knowing that there is no fool like a green-washed fool, included in their plans the promise to use photovoltaic panels, situated in the desert, to power the stadium’s cooling systems. These will be carbon-neutral venues, it is claimed.

To put it mildly, these plans have caused surprise among scientists. Air-conditioning famously requires a vast amount of energy, even in temperate climates. The idea that solar energy can power cooling systems in a number of large stadia, reducing the temperatures from 40 degrees to 27, would seem to belong in the realm of dreams.

There are other niggling little problems. Air-conditioning units do not only use an inordinate amount of energy. They emit greenhouse gases – HFCs – which are incomparably more powerful than carbon dioxide. Then there is the small question of the construction process. The stadia are built. They are air-conditioned for a month, and then taken down, shipped across the world and re-erected. What happens to the millions of solar panels sitting out in the desert remains unexplained.

A perfect, tragic example of man’s arrogant belief that he can build his way out of trouble – save energy by accelerating his use of it – the Qatar World Cup is the global equivalent of someone leaving all the lights and heating appliances blazing away in a house, and claiming to be green because there is a wind turbine on the roof.

It is a mad Ozymandian desert folly. In Mexico, they should look on the works of Fifa, and despair.

Terence Blacker is an author, critic, social commentator and tree planter. He writes a twice weekly column for The Independent

This article was originally published in The Independent link and has been reproduced with the permission of Terence Blacker.


George Marshall adds- I wrote a piece for Climate Denial back in 2006 (see Football Pants) observing that the declaration that the 2006 World Cup in Germany would be ‘carbon neutral’ conveniently ignored the thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted by people flying to attend. I suggested that, like addicts, FIFA had a remarkable capacity to create self serving definitions of their own problem behaviour.

The same criticism can be made of this event but, try as hard as I can, I can’t find any metaphor that adequately describes how insane this new ‘green’ World Cup seems seems at a time when scientists  are confirming that their worst case climate predictions  may have been too low. So what next, the world ski championships in Brunei (which, let’s not forget, has the world’s largest indoor ski slope)?

I must admit that I got a slight wry smile when  found that the company installing the solar panels is Albert Speer & Partner founded by the son of Hitler’s favourite architect. I fear that you have to look at Papa Speer’s plans to flatten Berln to build a vast capital for the Nazi empire to find hubris on a similar scale.


A further comment: according to a FIFA consultant’s report, the total carbon footprint for the 2010 World Cup came to 2,753,250 tons of CO2 equivalent, an eight-fold increase over the previous World Cup in Germany. As noted above, the vast majority of this was due to air travel. So the footprint of a ‘green’ sporting event exceeds the entire emissions of many small developing countries  including Burundi, Congo, Djibouti,  Mauritius, Bhutan Bahamas,  Grenada and Guyana.

August 26, 2007


George Marshall @ 1:02 am

In another of my irregular postings on climate denial in adverts here is a selection of French press ads for gas-gourmand SUVs and energy companies that combine arrogance with racism in the quest for new frontiers to destroy.

jeep_bear.jpgIn this advert a subservient bear is bringing the keys to the Jeep in his teeth. The slogan is “Man has always dreamt of taming nature”. Those Jeep emissions lead to increased temperatures lead to increased range of the pine beetle, destroying entire forests of Whitebark Pines the seeds of which are a crucial source of winter food for Grizzlies in the US northwest. Taming is just another word for exterminating.

cherokee_ecoutez_votre_ame.jpgThe frontier is also evoked by the ‘savage primative’. The ads follow the lead of generations of French intellectuals in romanticizing and patronizing indigenous peoples. In this advert a model is daubed in war paint under the slogan ‘Savage Dream’ to promote the Jeep Cherokee. One might think that after 500 years of smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis, and state sanctioned massacres the Cherokee Nation might be allowed a little respect. 

citroen_tribale1.jpgThe Amazonian peoples have undoubtedly fared even worse, but are still portrayed as idiot savants in these ads. The copy for the Citroen C3 tells us “when Héyoka came back to his tribe, he brought together his people in order to tell them about his vision: it was the new C3 X-TR. In his vision, Héyoka felt first much robustness and security – then much comfort and adaptability – and also a true pleasure in driving …Even the oldest people in the tribe had never had such a vision’.

edf_paques.jpgAnd finally here is another piece of tribal wisdom. This advert for EDF, the largest power company in France and the world’s largest nuclear operator carries the slogan: “We develop tomorrow’s energies for future generations”. But what kind of extraordinary logic uses the Easter Island statues as a progressive image? The Easter Island civilization collapsed from deforestation and overpopulation. The statues are a symbol of hubris and denial in the face of an impending environmental disaster. What staggering stupidity to use them to promote nuclear power.

The adverts and analysis can be found on the website of the French ‘Alliance pour La Planete’ link…   and I am indebted to  Laurence Ledoux for drawing them to my attention and providing translations. Please everyone, keep sending me absurd and disturbing adverts.

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