Lying In State

George Monbiot Blog - Sun, 06/21/2020 - 17:06

History, as the government tells it, is one long lie, airbrushing a host of atrocities.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th June 2020

When Boris Johnson claimed last week that removing statues is “to lie about our history”, you could almost admire his brass neck. This is the man who was sacked from his first job, on The Times, for lying about our history. He fabricated a quote from his own godfather, the historian Colin Lucas, to create a sensational front-page fiction about Edward II’s Rose Palace. A further lie about history – his own history – had him sacked from another job, as shadow arts minister under the Conservative leader Michael Howard.

But, Johnson tells us, “We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history.” Yet lies and erasures are crucial to the myths on which Britain’s official self-image is founded, and crucial to hiding the means by which those who still dominate us acquired their wealth and power.

Consider the concentration camps Britain built in Kenya in the 1950s. “What concentration camps?”, you might ask. If so, job done. When the Kikuyu people mobilised to reclaim the land that had been stolen from them by British settlers and the colonial authorities, almost the entire population – over 1 million – were herded into concentration camps and fortified villages. One of these camps, as if echoing Auschwitz, had the slogan “Labour and Freedom” above the gates. Even Eric Griffith-Jones, the attorney general of the colonial administration in Kenya, who was complicit in these crimes, remarked that the treatment of the inmates was “distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany”.

Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of prisoners died. Many succumbed to hunger and disease, including almost all the children in some camps. Many others were murdered. Some were beaten to death by their British guards. Some, as the governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, acknowledged in a secret memo, were roasted alive. Others were anally raped with knives, rifle barrels and broken bottles, mauled by dogs or electrocuted. Many were castrated, with a special implement the British administration designed for the purpose. “By the time I cut his balls off,” one of the killers boasted, “he had no ears, and his eyeball, the right one, I think, was hanging out of its socket”. Some were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound until they bled to death. If you know nothing of this history, it’s because it was systematically censored and replaced with lies by the British authorities.

Only in 2012, when a group of Kikuyu survivors sued the British government for their torture and mutilation, was an archive, kept secret by the Foreign Office, discovered. It revealed the extraordinary measures taken by colonial officials to prevent information from leaking, and to fend off questions by Labour MPs with outright lies. For example, after 11 men were beaten to death by camp guards, Sir Evelyn Baring advised the colonial secretary to report that they had died from drinking dirty water. Baring himself authorised such assaults. In implementing this decision, Eric Griffith-Jones warned him “If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly.” When questions persisted, Baring told his officials to do “an exercise … on the dossiers”, to create the impression that the victims were hardened criminals.

As it happens, Sir Evelyn Baring was the grandfather of Mary Wakefield, the wife of Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings. Last month, her own truthfulness was called into question, as an article she wrote in the Spectator, discussing her experiences of coronavirus, created the strong impression that she and Cummings had remained in London, rather than travelling to Durham, against government instructions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Baring’s family fortune was made from the ownership of slaves, and the massive compensation paid to the owners when the trade was banned.

The hidden Kikuyu documents that came to light in 2012 were part of a larger archive, most of which was systematically destroyed by the British authorities before decolonisation. Special Branch oversaw what it called “a thorough purge” of the Kenyan archives. Fake files were inserted to take the place of those that were expunged. “The very existence” of the deleted files, one memo insisted, “should never be revealed.” Where there were too many files to burn easily, an order proposed that they “be packed in weighted crates and dumped in very deep and current-free water at maximum practicable distance from the coast”. So much for not editing or censoring our past.

The same deletions occurred across the British Empire. We can only guess at what the lost documents might have revealed. Were there more details of the massacre of civilians in Malaya? Of Britain’s dirty war in Yemen in the 1960s? Of the catastrophic famine the British government created in Bengal in 1943, by snatching food from the mouths of local people and exporting it? Of its atrocities in Aden and Cyprus? One thing the surviving files do show us is the British government’s secret eviction of the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, to make way for a US air base. The Foreign Office instructed its officials to deny the very existence of the indigenous islanders, so that they could be removed without compensation or parliamentary objections.

The erasures and deletions continue. In 2010, the disembarkation cards of the Windrush generation of immigrants from the Caribbean were all destroyed by Theresa May’s Home Office. Many people suddenly had no means of proving their right to citizenship of this country, facilitating her cruel and outrageous deportations. In 2013, the Conservatives deleted the entire public archive of their speeches and press releases from 2000 to 2010, and blocked access to web searches using the Wayback Machine, impeding people trying to hold them to account for past statements and policies.

This week, the Prime Minister asked the head of his policy unit, Munira Mirza, to set up a commission on racial inequalities. She is part of a network of activists whose entire history has been, in my view, confused and obfuscated. It arose from the Revolutionary Communist Party and Living Marxism magazine. As these names suggest, they purported to belong to the far left, but they look to me like the extreme right. In 2018 I discovered that one of its outlets, spiked magazine, had been heavily funded by the US billionaire Charles Koch. Other sources of funding remain obscure. In common with some of her comrades, Mirza has cast doubt on institutional racism. Her new role has caused dismay among anti-racist campaigners, who fear yet more editing of history.

Lying about history, censoring and editing is what the political establishment does. The histories promoted by successive governments, especially those involving the UK’s relationship with other nations, are one long chain of lies. Because we are lied to, we cannot move on. Maturity, either in a person or in a nation, could be defined as being honest about ourselves. We urgently need to grow up.

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Sold Out

George Monbiot Blog - Mon, 06/15/2020 - 10:28

The government intends to use a US trade deal to bypass democracy, override Parliament and rip down our public protections.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 10th June 2020

The Conservative manifesto made a clear promise. It pledged that in the government’s trade talks, “we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”. Just six months after the election, the promise has been ditched. Our government is now proposing that chlorine-washed chicken, beef treated with growth hormones, pork from animals injected with ractopamine and scores of other foods produced in the United States by dangerous, cruel and disgusting means will be allowed into this country, as long as higher trade taxes (tariffs) are applied to them.

The trade secretary, Liz Truss, has made it clear that any such tariffs would be removed within 10 years. It’s impossible to see the US negotiators allowing them to pass in the first place. The US intends to secure “comprehensive” access to our food markets, while “reducing or eliminating tariffs”. This nonsense about higher tariffs is a blatant attempt to soften us up, to sugar the toxic pill of US imports that don’t meet our standards. When I say sugar, I mean high fructose corn syrup.

It’s not as if our standards are wonderful. But by comparison to the revolting practices in the US, our food rules, laid down by the EU, are a haven of sanity. As well as washing chicken flesh with chlorine, to compensate for the filthy conditions in which it is raised and processed, and injecting dangerous substances into cattle and pigs, Big Farmer and Big Food in the US use 72 pesticides that are banned here and food colourings that have been linked to hyperactivity in children, impose no limits on the amount of sugar baby food contains, and permit cow’s milk to contain twice the amount of pus that the UK allows.

What this means is that we will bring into this country food whose production is banned here. Either our farmers and food processors will be outcompeted, or our domestic production standards will be brought down to match. Some Conservative MPs attempted to insert an amendment into the Agriculture Bill, to uphold the manifesto promise. But it was decisively slapped down by government loyalists.

The US government argues that these matters should be left to consumers. We should each be allowed to decide whether we buy cheap vegetables containing residues of pesticides that are banned here. But I suspect that, rather than having to read and interpret the labels on everything we buy from shops, takeaways and restaurants, most of us would prefer to know that all the food on sale is safe to eat. Anyway, just in case we did try to exercise such choice, the US also insists that all useful labelling be banned.Perversely, it has argued that warning labels are “harmful” to public health.

This doesn’t end with food. In the same section of their manifesto, the Conservatives promised that “in our trade talks … the NHS is not on the table. The price the NHS pays for drugs is not on the table. The services the NHS provides are not on the table.” The leaked dossier of trade documents released by the Labour Party last year revealed that the US is seeking “full market access” to the NHS. If the promised food and farming standards were a lie, how long will it be before we discover that the NHS pledge was also worthless?

I suspect this has been the agenda all along. The neoliberal extremists who populate the front benches have long sought to rip down our public protections, rip down our public services, rip down everything that stands in the way of the most vicious form of capitalism. A trade deal with the US allows them to do so while disclaiming responsibility for the consequences. Once they have signed it, they can claim that, sadly, their hands are tied. Unfortunately, the rules don’t allow us to maintain food standards, and force us to open the NHS to competition. Perhaps mistakes were made during the negotiations, but it’s a done deal now, enforced by legal instruments. There’s nothing we can do.  They know they could never obtain public consent for these policies. A US trade deal would impose them without consent.

Even parliamentary consent is unnecessary. The Trade Bill, in its current form, makes no provision for parliamentary scrutiny of any deal. Parliament has no legal right under this bill to debate or vote on a trade deal, or even to know what it contains. The bill also grants the government Henry VIII powers to change the law on trade agreements without parliamentary approval. The governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are granted no formal role in negotiating or approving trade treaties. In other words, nothing is being left to chance. This is not democracy. This is elective dictatorship.

To make matters worse, the US is likely to insist that the deal is enforced by an offshore tribunal, which allows corporations to sue governments if domestic law affects their “future anticipated profits”. This mechanism has been used all over the world to punish nations for laws their parliaments have passed. It ensures that, over time, legislation everywhere has to be tailored to the demands of corporate power. Far from taking back control, a trade deal on these lines with the US involves a massive renunciation of sovereign power.

The government knows that accepting such a deal means no deal with the EU. US food rules are incompatible with EU standards. In the leaked documents, US officials remark that “there would be all to play for in a No Deal situation”. I suspect our government sees it the same way. The pigheaded obstructionism of the UK in the current EU talks is at stark odds with its willingness to prostrate itself before US power. Dominic Cummings says he intends to stay in his post for the next six months. In other words, he will stay for long enough to ensure that the transition period is not extended, making a no deal Brexit more likely.

Just as Trump seeks to erase Obama’s legacy, Johnson and Cummings seek to erase Clement Attlee’s much deeper legacy. It’s not about sovereignty. It’s not about taking back control. It’s not about British values or British autonomy. It’s about locking deregulation and the demolition of public services in place, by means that cannot be challenged by either people or Parliament. The combination of a no deal Brexit and a coercive US trade agreement will allow the government to rip down a wide range of rules and protections, creating a paradise for the disaster capitalists funding the party, and hell for the rest of us.  

They intend to pursue this agenda regardless of the pandemic, regardless of a petition that has already gained 800,000 signatures, regardless of the economic and political harm it might do. This is their game, and we must use every democratic means to stop it.

Categories: Blogtastic

Sensitive but unclassified: Part II

Real Climate - Sat, 06/13/2020 - 12:34

The discussion and analysis of the latest round of climate models continues – but not always sensibly.

In a previous post, I discussed the preliminary results from the ongoing CMIP6 exercise – an international, multi-institutional, coordinated and massive suite of climate model simulations – and noted that they exhibited a wider range of equilibrium climate sensitivities (ECS) than in previous phases (CMIP5 and earlier) and wider than the assessed range based on observational constraints (of many kinds).

Since then, more model results have been added to the archive, and thanks to Mark Zelinka, we can see some of the analysis as it updates in real time.

By eye, it looks like there are two (or three) groups of models, one within the range of the assessed values (roughly 2 to 4.5ºC), one group with significantly higher values, and one institution/two models with a notably lower ECS. The question everyone has is whether this extended range is credible.

Mark and colleagues recent paper (Zelinka et al., 2020) demonstrated that a big part of the reason for the high sensitivities was in the Southern Ocean cloud feedback:

This is the key result from the Zelinka et al paper that just appeared. It shows that the big difference in sensitivities in some of the CMIP6 models is tied to the short wave low cloud feedbacks in the Southern Oceans (orange line).

— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) January 4, 2020

Since my first post, there have been a number of papers have looked at the skill of these models to see whether there are some key observational data that might help in constraining the sensitivity (and by extension, the projections into the future). One set of papers has focused on the global mean trends from 1990 or so onward which is a period of stable or declining aerosol trends and which might therefore be a closer test of the models’ transient sensitivity to CO2 than earlier periods. Notably Tokarska et al. (2020) and Njisse et al. (2020) suggest that many of the high ECS group warm substantially faster than observed over this period and therefore should be downweighted in the constrained projections of the future.

From Nijsse et al (2020).

Recently however, writing in Guardian, Jonathan Watts uses results from the UK’s new model (Williams et al., 2020) and a commentary from Tim Palmer to argue that that we nonetheless need to take these high sensitivities more seriously, and indeed that they may indicate that the assessed ECS range has been underestimating potential changes in the future. This is however flawed.

The Williams et al paper demonstrates that updates to the HadGEM3‐GC3.1 model developed by the UK’s Hadley Centre that affect the clouds and aerosols, increase the skill of that model in short-term initialized weather forecasts. This is fine, and indeed, consistent with increases in skill in the newer models across the board when they are compared to a very broad range of observations.

But it is a logical leap to go from an observation of increased skill in one metric to assuming that therefore the overall ECS in this particular model is more likely. To demonstrate that, one would need to show that this particular measure of skill was specifically related to ECS which has not been done (a point Palmer acknowledges). To put in another way, it may be that all models that do well on this task have a range of ECS values, and that the coincidence of this one model doing well and having a high ECS, was just that, a coincidence.

The Williams et al paper and Palmer commentary point to one particular feature of this model which is that the newer (higher ECS) versions have greater amounts of cloud liquid water at cold temperatures. For background, clouds can consist of either ice crystals, or liquid water droplets which have quite different radiative behaviours (liquid water clouds are generally more reflective), and knowing whether clouds are ice or water has been historically difficult to determine globally. In recent years however, satellite data from CloudSAT/CALIPSO has shown that more clouds have liquid water and at colder temperatures than was assumed before, and hence newer models have reflected that updated information.

This has an impact on ECS because in a warming world, one expects more cloud water to turn from ice to liquid, and since liquid clouds are more reflective, this is a damping feedback on overall climate warming. But if there is less cloud ice around, then there will be less of that ice to turn to water, and thus the magnitude of this damping effect will be smaller, and thus the overall sensitivity will be higher.

In discussions with colleagues over the last few months, this effect has been frequently brought up as a potential reason to think that the higher ECS values are therefore justified. But closer analysis does not necessarily support this. Some models for instance, have increased their cloud liquid water but have only had modest increases in climate sensitivity. Thus the relationship between higher CLW and ECS may be less strong than assumed above. It may be that other features in the clouds (such as the transition of different cloud types) might be playing a bigger role.

This assessment is obviously an important task for the authors of the IPCC AR6 report which is currently in it’s second-order draft. One (very modest) positive impact of the pandemic is that the deadline for papers to be accepted in order for them to be included in the final version of AR6 has been delayed to January 31st 2021, which will allow much of this new science to be published in time.

In the meantime, claims that climate sensitivity is much higher, or that worst cases scenarios need to be revised upwards, are premature.

  1. M.D. Zelinka, T.A. Myers, D.T. McCoy, S. Po‐Chedley, P.M. Caldwell, P. Ceppi, S.A. Klein, and K.E. Taylor, "Causes of Higher Climate Sensitivity in CMIP6 Models", Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 47, 2020.
  2. K.B. Tokarska, M.B. Stolpe, S. Sippel, E.M. Fischer, C.J. Smith, F. Lehner, and R. Knutti, "Past warming trend constrains future warming in CMIP6 models", Science Advances, vol. 6, pp. eaaz9549, 2020.
  3. F.J.M.M. Nijsse, P.M. Cox, and M.S. Williamson, "An emergent constraint on Transient Climate Response from simulated historical warming in CMIP6 models", 2020.
  4. K.D. Williams, A.J. Hewitt, and A. Bodas‐Salcedo, "Use of Short‐Range Forecasts to Evaluate Fast Physics Processes Relevant for Climate Sensitivity", Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, vol. 12, 2020.
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Forced responses: Jun 2020

Real Climate - Fri, 06/12/2020 - 04:08

Open thread on climate solutions. Please try and stay within a mile or two of the overall topic.

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Rings of Power

George Monbiot Blog - Fri, 06/05/2020 - 14:55

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is not so much a democratic leader as a monarch with a five-year term.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 3rd June 2020

Do we live in a democracy? You may well ask. An unelected adviser seems to exercise more power than the Prime Minister, and appears unanswerable to people or Parliament. The Prime Minister makes reckless public health decisions that could put thousands of lives at risk, apparently to dig himself out of a political hole. Parliament is truncated, as the government arbitrarily decides that MPs can no longer join remotely. As the government blunders from one disaster to the next, there seem to be no effective ways of holding it to account.

Established power in this country is surrounded by a series of defensive rings. As soon as you begin to name them, you see that the UK is a democracy only in the weakest and shallowest sense.

Let’s begin with political funding. Our system permits billionaires and corporations to outspend and outmuscle the electorate. The great majority of money for the Conservative party comes from a small number of very rich people. Just five hedge fund managers have given it £18 million over the past 10 years. The secretive Leader’s Group grants big donors special access to the Prime Minister and his frontbenchers in return for their money. Courting and cultivating rich people to win elections corrupts our politics, replacing democracy with plutocracy.

This grossly unfair system is supplemented by outright cheating, such as breaching spending limits and secretly funding mendacious online ads. The Electoral Commission, which is supposed to regulate the system, has deliberately been kept powerless. The maximum fine for winning an election (or a referendum) by fraud is £20,000 per offence. Democracy is cheap in this country.

Despite such assistance, the Conservatives still failed to win a majority of votes at the last election. But, thanks to our preposterous, outdated first-past-the-post electoral system, the 43.6% of the vote they won granted them a crushing majority. With proportional representation, we would have a hung parliament. Five years of unassailable power for Johnson’s Conservatives, even as popular support collapses, would have been impossible.

The structure and symbolism of Parliament, with its preposterous rituals and incomprehensible procedures, could scarcely be better designed to alienate people, or to favour former public schoolboys, educated in a similar environment. Even its official emblem tells us we are shut out. It’s a portcullis: the means by which people are excluded from the fortress of power. The portcullis is topped by a crown, reminding us that power is still vested symbolically in an unelected head of state. Many of her actual powers have been assumed, in the absence of a codified constitution, by the Prime Minister.

These powers are routinely abused, by all governments. Prime ministers bypass Parliament, governing through special advisers like Dominic Cummings. When they make catastrophic mistakes, they have the power to decide whether or not there should be a public inquiry, and, if there should, what its terms and who its chair should be. It’s as if a defendant in a criminal trial were allowed to decide whether the trial goes ahead and, if so, what the charges should be, and to appoint the judge and jury.

Even when an investigation does take place, the Prime Minister can suppress its conclusions, as Boris Johnson has done with the Russia report by Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, that remains unpublished. Does it contain details of unlawful donations to the Conservative party? Or about Conservative Friends of Russia? This group is closely associated with a man who has subsequently come under suspicion of being a Russian spy. He has been photographed with Boris Johnson, whom he described as a “good friend”. What was going on? Without the report, we can only guess.

The same inordinate powers enabled Johnson to suspend Parliament last autumn, until his decision was struck down by the Supreme Court, and to terminate remote access for MPs this week, preventing many of them from representing us. He is, in effect, a monarch with a five-year term and a council of advisers we call Parliament.

The House of Lords is a further defensive ring within this ring. Some of its seats are reserved for hereditary aristocrats. Some are reserved for bishops, making this the world’s only country, other than Iran, in which religious leaders have an automatic right to sit. The rest are grace and favour appointments, keeping power within existing circles. Many of them are granted to major political donors, reinforcing the power of money. In any other country, they would call it corruption.

Despite a vast array of new democratic techniques, pioneered in other countries, there has been a total failure to balance our supposedly representative system with participatory democracy. This failure grants the winning party a scarcely-challenged power, on the grounds of presumed consent, to do as it pleases, for five years at a time. Even when public trust and consent collapse, as they have now done, there are no effective channels through which we can affect the decisions government makes.

These formal rings of power are supported by further defences beyond government, such as the print media, most of which is owned by billionaires or multi-millionaires living offshore, and the network of opaquely-funded thinktanks, that formulate and test the policies later adopted by government. Their personnel circulate in and out of the Prime Minister’s office.

Our political system has the outward appearance of democracy, but it is largely controlled by undemocratic forces. We find ourselves on the wrong side of the portcullis, watching helplessly as crucial decisions are taken about us, without us. If there’s one thing the coronavirus fiascos show, it’s the need for radical change.

Categories: Blogtastic

Closed because of geoengineering works

Mark Lynas' Blog - Mon, 10/19/2009 - 12:21
Suddenly geoengineering is all the rage. Is it dangerous nonsense or a potentially useful insurance against catastrophe? (First published in the New Statesman.)
Categories: Blogtastic

How climate change is blowing hot and cold

Mark Lynas' Blog - Mon, 10/05/2009 - 19:49
A rainy day in July does not falsify climate change. But understanding why not requires some scientific knowledge. (First published in the New Statesman.)
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Do you care about your children? Then stop flying

Mark Lynas' Blog - Thu, 09/10/2009 - 10:08
The industry is perhaps the most unsustainable on the planet. Let's start discussing the moral issues sensibly. First published in the Independent here.
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10:10 - reduce your emissions 10% in a year

Mark Lynas' Blog - Thu, 09/03/2009 - 13:14
If you're in the UK, you can hardly have missed the launch of 10:10, the campaign for individuals, organisations and companies to reduce their emissions.
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Rhythms del Mundo - Classics: out now!

Mark Lynas' Blog - Fri, 08/28/2009 - 09:32
I'm an adviser to Artists Project Earth, the charity that funds climate-related campaigns and other activities, using funds generated from the sales of Rhythms del Mundo albums. The new offering is out now, featuring classic songs covered by artists such as the Rolling Stones and Amy Winehouse. I'm also putting up here an interview with Kenny Young, the producer and leading light behind the project.
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Nuclear power: challenging the Green Party

Mark Lynas' Blog - Wed, 08/12/2009 - 10:40
The UK Green Party has several canonical beliefs - and one of them is that nuclear power is bad. I asked for space to outline in the party magazine, Green World, why I thought this needed re-examining. The editorial board kindly agreed, even though it is highly unusual for articles running contrary to party policy to be published.
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Miliband takes the greener path

Mark Lynas' Blog - Thu, 07/30/2009 - 11:09
The UK government has just announced its new strategy on cutting carbon emissions - the so-called 'Transition Plan'. Writing for the Guardian website, Mark Lynas assesses its merits.
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