Thursday, November 15, 2007

A good speech. Who would have thought it came from the Prime Minister of Britain in the 21st century?

There is very little to argue with in the introductory remarks by Gordon Brown reproduced below. If only he were inclined to put any of it into practice!

Just shout: "Homosexuals are an abomination to God" in the hearing of a British policeman or try to defend yourself against intruders in your own home and see how long your liberties last! Brown's idea of liberty is the same as Stalin's: The liberty to be a Leftist

I want to talk today about liberty - what it means for Britain, for our British identity and in particular what it means in the 21st century for the relationship between the private individual and the public realm.

I want to explore how together we can write a new chapter in our country's story of liberty - and do so in a world where, as in each generation, traditional questions about the freedoms and responsibilities of the individual re-emerge but also where new issues of terrorism and security, the internet and modern technology are opening new frontiers in both our lives and our liberties.

Addressing these issues is a challenge for all who believe in liberty, regardless of political party. Men and women are Conservative or Labour, Liberal Democrat or of some other party - or of no political allegiance. But we are first of all citizens of our country with a shared history and a common destiny.

And I believe that together we can chart a better way forward. In particular, I believe that by applying our enduring ideals to new challenges we can start immediately to make changes in our constitution and laws to safeguard and extend the liberties of our citizens:

* respecting and extending freedom of assembly, new rights for the public expression of dissent;

* respecting freedom to organise and petition, new freedoms that guarantee the independence of non-governmental organisations;

* respecting freedoms for our press, the removal of barriers to investigative journalism;

* respecting the public right to know, new rights to access public information where previously it has been withheld;

* respecting privacy in the home, new rights against arbitrary intrusion;

* in a world of new technology, new rights to protect your private information;

* and respecting the need for freedom from arbitrary treatment, new provision for independent judicial scrutiny and open parliamentary oversight.

Renewing for our time our commitment to freedom and contributing to a new British constitutional settlement for our generation.

And my starting point is that from the time of Magna Carta, to the civil wars and revolutions of the 17th century, through to the liberalism of Victorian Britain and the widening and deepening of democracy and fundamental rights throughout the last century, there has been a British tradition of liberty - what one writer has called our 'gift to the world'.

Of course liberty - with roots that go back to antiquity - is not and cannot be solely a British idea. In one sense, liberty is rooted in the human spirit and does not have a nationality. But first with the Magna Carta and then through Milton and Locke to more recent writers as diverse as Orwell and Churchill, philosophers and politicians have extolled the virtues of a Britain that, in the words of the American revolutionary Patrick Henry, 'made liberty the foundation of everything', and 'became a great, mighty and splendid nation...because liberty is its direct end and foundation'.

At that time few doubted that modern ideas of liberty originated from our country. Britain 'hath been the temple as it were of liberty' said Bolingbroke as early as 1730 'whilst her sacred fires have been extinguished in so many countries, here they have been religiously kept alive'. 'The civil wars of Rome ended in slavery and those of the English in liberty' Voltaire wrote. 'The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to regulate the power of kings by resisting them...The English are jealous not only of their own liberty but even of that of other nations'.

So powerful did this British idea of liberty become that the American War of Independence was fought on both sides 'in the name of British liberty' and the first great student of American democracy de Tocqueville acknowledge its roots across the Atlantic: 'I enjoyed, too, in England', he said, 'what I have long been deprived of - a union between the religious and the political world, between public and private virtue, between Christianity and liberty'.

A century and more later, facing fascism on the right and Stalinism on the left, Orwell wrote that 'the totalitarian idea that there is no such thing as law - there is only power - has never taken root in England [where] such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed in'.

And while we should not overstate it, the anthems that today celebrate our country have at their heart a call to liberty. In 1902 A.C Benson wrote 'Land of Hope and Glory' to define Britain as 'the mother of the free' and two centuries before Rule Britannia, written in England by a Scot, resounded with the resolve 'Britons never never shall be slaves'.

Of course the cause has been hard fought -- won and lost and won again. But if you draw a line through all the peaks and valleys, the direction over time is upward.

A passion for liberty has determined the decisive political debates of our history, inspired many of our defining political moments, and those debates, conducted in the crucible of great events, have, in my view, forged over time a distinctly British interpretation of liberty -- one that asserts the importance of freedom from prejudice, of rights to privacy, and of limits to the scope of arbitrary state power, but one that also rejects the selfishness of extreme libertarianism and demands that the realm of individual freedom encompasses not just some but all of us.

More here

The reality behind Brown's fine words

We live in an era of Doublespeak. In Britain, `freedom' is proclaimed from the rooftops, while our real freedoms to protest, speak openly and choose how we wish to live our lives are going up in smoke. Everywhere you look, the f-word is celebrated: on bogroll packaging, in air freshener ads, in speeches by politicians who manage to dress up their assaults on freedom as new freedoms. Freedom is paid lip service while simultaneously being stabbed in the back - a mixed metaphor, I know, but then this is a mixed-up state of affairs.

Now, a fightback against our illiberal rulers has been launched from a most curious corner. Brick Lane, a long road in the East End of London, is the heart of the capital's Bangladeshi community. On a balmy afternoon, waiters in crisp white shirts and black waistcoats stand outside the lane's myriad curry shops, trying to coax passers-by to pop in for a cheap and cheerful spicy late lunch. Tempting, but I head towards the Old Truman Brewery, a former beer-making factory turned `creative industries' Mecca. It's an 11-acre site that houses more than 200 small, creative businesses. Fashion designers, artists and djs rub shoulders with architects, photographers and illustrators. The courtyard is packed with Nathan Barley lookalikes: young (well, youngish) men and women wearing casualwear and black-rimmed spectacles and tucking into exotic-looking sandwiches and cups of steaming coffee.

Tucked away on the first floor of the old brewery is S2S Productions, the makers of one of this year's most talked-about British movies: Taking Liberties. The two-hour campaigning documentary on how Blair's government signed away our civil liberties - from the right to protest to freedom of speech to the principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty - was a surprise hit last month, both critically and in terms of box-office stubs. There's also a book of the same name and the film will come out on DVD later this year (complete with two hours of extra, New Labour-baiting material). The film's director, Chris Atkins, is sitting at his desk. `Hold on a minute', he says. `I'm just sending an email to some bastard who's threatening to sue me.' I notice that, taped to his wall, there is a rifle and a pair of handcuffs, which makes me think for a minute that he is really serious about taking down our killjoy government. Alas - and please pay attention, any police officers who happen to be reading this - they're only toys. (That's right, American readers, we Brits do not have the right to bear real arms. How would we ever manage to overthrow a tyrannical regime without guns, I hear you ask? Good question. Sometimes I lay awake at night wondering the very same.)

`The loss of liberty under New Labour has been unprecedented in modern times', says Atkins, over a bowl of chips and a glass of orange juice and lemonade in a gastro-pub back in the Nathan Barley courtyard. `Labour flushed down the toilet freedoms that have existed for a very long time', he says (making me think of that `Freedom' toilet paper again).

Both the film and the book versions of Taking Liberties trace the reams of illiberal laws that were enacted by the Blair regime. You think you have free speech and the right to protest? Not any more you don't, thanks to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act that passed through parliament in April 2005 and which criminalised protest without permission. The Act made the square kilometre around Parliament Square in London a `designated area' (`more like a f*cking "exclusion zone"', says Atkins) in which authorisation for any kind of protest must be sought six days in advance.

The exclusion zone, designed to protect the Houses of Parliament from the sight and sound of uppity protesters, spreads from Westminster to Lambeth, and covers the whole of Whitehall (which is peppered with government buildings), County Hall and much of the south bank of the Thames. Anyone who conducts an unauthorised protest inside the exclusion zone risks being imprisoned for up to 51 weeks. That's nearly a year. For protesting. As Atkins says, the authorities have `excluded political protest from the most political bit of London'. The fencing off of the political centre from last-minute, quickfire, angry demonstrations represents a serious denigration of our right to assemble and speak freely.

You think you could never be detained without trial? Think again. The Prevention of Terrorism Act was updated at the end of 2005 to allow suspects to be held without charge or trial for 28 days. Yesterday our new PM Gordon Brown put to parliament the case for extending the detention-without-trial option to 56 days. (This should have been taken as hard evidence that Brown is as allergic to liberty as his predecessor was. Instead, much of the media, where for some mysterious reason there has been an outbreak of Brown-nosing, congratulated the PM for rejecting `the melodramatic rhetoric of the last prime minister' in favour of articulating `the delicate balance between security and liberty' (1). So apparently it's okay to bin our liberties, so long as you do it in measured tones rather than with fiery bombast.) As Atkins points out, Habeas Corpus, the idea that `all detention is unlawful unless it has been approved by a court', has existed since the Magna Carta of 1215. `And then Blair comes along and scribbles it out', he says. The late comedian Tony Hancock put it well: `Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?' (2)

Atkins' book and film also attack the government's constant monitoring of the population, through CCTV cameras, numerous databases and soon (perhaps) ID cards. The book has a cutting chapter on how the Blairites' `Respect Agenda' has been used to force through new rules and regulations governing our behaviour. Consider Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), which can be used to punish and correct behaviour that is not even illegal but which someone somewhere finds annoying. Describing ASBOs as a product of New Labour's politics of `Go And Stand In The Naughty Corner', Atkins writes in the book version of Taking Liberties: `Even though New Labour has been responsible for thousands of new criminal offences, you still have to be found guilty of one of these to go to prison. ASBOs neatly get around this little niggle, by having tailor-made restrictions for each individual person.. If you are doing something that isn't against the law, but someone else doesn't like, they can go to a magistrates' court and get one of these orders that bans you acting in that way. If you break the ASBO, you go to jail.' (3)

In very plain English: you can now be imprisoned for doing something that is not against the law. This can include wearing a hooded sweatshirt in a shopping mall or making a lot of noise while you wash your dishes or gathering on street corners in groups of two or more or.hold on, this list could go on forever. To save time, yours and mine, let me state the bald truth: the ASBOs set-up means you can effectively and potentially be imprisoned for just about anything. Where's Magna Carta when we need her most?

Atkins is clearly passionate about civil liberties. He talks animatedly, in between wolfing down mouthfuls of a steak-and-salad sandwich, about how important the rights to protest and free speech are. It makes a refreshing change from listening to those sometimes dull civil libertarians who clog up the airwaves and who can't seem to get through a single sentence without bigging up Brussels as the true defender of our rights. (This is the same Brussels that scolds entire nations for voting the `wrong way' in EU referendums.) And yet. there's something peculiar about Atkins' defence of liberty, which I couldn't put my finger on at first. Then, as he tried to convince me that most Sun and Daily Mail readers do not appreciate how British and traditional liberty is, or that their hero - Winston Churchill - was apparently a great defender of liberty, it suddenly strikes me: the Taking Liberties project is actually conservative rather than radical. It uses the `politics of fear' as much as the Blairities did, and it seems to view freedom as a tradition that we must respect rather than as a thing that we do in our daily lives.

One of the most striking things about the film version of Taking Liberties is what it leaves out. It's good on the degradation of our formal rights, but it has little to say about the creeping erosion of our informal freedoms. It's good on the way in which the relationship between the state and the individual was redefined by the Blairites (with the state coming out very much on top), but it is silent on the Blairites' interference in our relationships with each other. For instance, it says nothing about the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, a shockingly Stalinist piece of legislation which will codify the requirement for every adult who works with children to undergo a criminal records check. Built on a deep suspicion of the adult population, enforced vetting will require that 9.5million adults - from youth workers to lollipop ladies, football coaches to priests - submit themselves to the watchful eye of the suspicious state. This can only poison intergenerational trust and undermine free and easy relations between men, women and children.

Nor does Taking Liberties address New Labour's smoking bans, which take away our choice even in that traditional getaway from stuffiness, the public house. Or its ban on junk-food advertising, which usurps parental decision-making on the basis that Government Knows Best what children should eat. Or its use of the health agenda to enforce a New Conformism amongst the public, where we're advised what to eat, how much exercise to take, what to wear while having sex (condoms, please), and how to raise our children as healthy and respectful citizens in the mould of our Dear Leaders (first Blair, now Brown).

Taking Liberties seems able to conceive of freedom only in the public sphere of courts and demonstrations; it has a blind spot about freedom and choice in the private sphere. Yet libertarians, alongside defending public space from the encroachments of heavyhanded legislation, must also defend private spaces as areas where we should be free to kick back, relax, experiment and make and break our own rules. A man needs an unfettered private space in which to mould relationships and develop his personality, as well as deserving respect, equality and freedom of speech when he enters the public sphere.

At times, Taking Liberties uses a very Blairite brand of fearmongering in an attempt to wake the apparently fickle public to the dangers of New Labour's illiberalism. The film hints that we could slide back to Nazism if we don't resist New Labour's illiberal agenda, while the book berates its readers by asking if they will simply `chuckle at the jokes, feel sorry for the people whose lives have been ruined, and then go back to watching "Celebrity Face Swap"' (4). Both the film and the book seem to be saying: `Don't you know there is a long tradition of freedom in Britain? Aren't you going to help defend this tradition?' The redefinition of freedom as a stuffy tradition risks devaluing liberty, while also placing people in a subordinate relation to their own freedom. Apparently our role is merely to respect the freedoms that have been graciously handed down to us by heroes of the past (Winston Churchill!), rather than to live and breathe our freedoms every day, to act them out, to call for their expansion and improvement. People should not be seen as the passive and grateful recipients of rights from on high; they should be seen as freedom personified, as freedom itself.

Atkins says we need a `written bill of rights' in order to protect freedom from power-hungry politicians. It comes across like a demand to elevate freedom above the messy business of life, love and politics. In the past, constitutions and bills of rights tended to be written in revolutionary moments by the representatives of mass movements, and thus they expressed a genuine desire on the part of large swathes of people to live differently and more freely. By contrast, a bill of rights that was based on a fear of out-of-control politicians and a suspicion of the celebrity-obsessed public would run the risk of turning freedom into stone, ossifying it, making it a museum piece that can be admired by lawyers and professional civil libertarians but which remains beyond the reach of the smoking, drinking, junk food-eating man in the street.

Atkins has done a good job of exposing to public ridicule New Labour's assault on formal rights (and I can't help noting the irony that his civil libertarian cell emerged from the heart of the `creative industries' that were so flattered by the Blairites). But we have much further to go if we are to turn freedom from rhetoric into a reality.


Tories warn of a 'lost generation'

Britain is in danger of creating a "lost generation" of wayward teenagers responsible for soaring levels of gun crime and drug and alcohol abuse, a Tory-backed group claims today. In a stark warning about the extent of the "broken society", it says a toxic combination of family breakdown and school failure is creating a violent and anti-social youth culture. The Commission for Social Justice will today launch an inquiry into the epidemic of gang and youth crime that threatens to turn inner cities into no-go areas.

It will study New York's success in reducing crime and the impact of a zero tolerance approach to law enforcement. The commission, chaired by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, released shocking statistics:

every year an estimated 70,000 school-aged offenders enter the youth justice system; 18- to 20-year-olds constitute 42 per cent of all first-time offenders; three quarters of male offenders between 18 and 21 re-offend within two years;
the most likely person to have a knife is a boy of 14-19; four out of 10 muggings are committed by under-16s; the total of young offenders in custody has been above 2,500 every month since April 2000 and 1,504 of those in custody now are 16 or younger.

Mr Duncan Smith will today say that the challenge of youth crime, unemployment and educational failure is one of the most important facing Britain - but is not being met by Gordon Brown's Government. He told The Daily Telegraph: "The murder of little Rhys Jones in Liverpool and the murders of 20 teenagers in London this year by the gun or the knife is a wake-up call for politicians of all parties. "Family breakdown and school failure are important long-term factors in the growth of a violent and anti-social youth culture. We need to tackle these problems, even if it may take a generation before we can see the benefits."

The commission will liaise with the senior police officers who advised Rudolph Giuliani, the architect of the zero tolerance policy when he was mayor of New York, and will produce recommendations to restore a sense of order and safety to the streets. It will also launch a strong attack on City institutions for not investing more of their profits in the inner-cities.

After being forced out as Tory leader in 2003, Mr Duncan Smith has rebuilt his reputation with his ground-breaking research into the causes of social breakdown. He has become an influential figure close to David Cameron and is touring the country to study social problems with members of the shadow cabinet. His announcement today will form part of a wider Tory attack on Labour's failure to tackle crime.

Mr Cameron will today set out plans to toughen rape laws following research showing poor conviction rates in comparison with other European countries and falling prison sentences for rapists.

Mr Duncan Smith, will use a speech at the launch of the 10 million pound Salmon Centre, an east London youth club, to challenge Mr Brown to address the family breakdown, school failure in inner cities and drug and alcohol abuse that is fuelling a new breed of out-of-control adolescents.

There have been more than 30 criminal justice Bills since 1997. Over 3,000 new criminal offences were created - one for every day Labour has been in office. However the Tories claim there has been no real attempt to reverse the social breakdown at the root of the crime problem. Mr Duncan Smith said: "Our police and communities need solutions to gang crime and we need a quicker, simpler and far more effective system of youth justice.

"A renewed effort must be made to tackle drug abuse and under-age drinking, a major cause of violent and anti-social behaviour. "But we need carrots as well as sticks. Our provision for young people in the form of places to meet and worthwhile activities is woefully inadequate.

"I also believe that big business and the City of London, whose bosses enjoy lavish salaries and bonuses, could be making a far bigger contribution. In London and other big cities we have wealth and poverty living side by side. "Why don't our big City companies make their own efforts to tackle the poverty on their doorstep? Why don't they start putting money into youth clubs and fund voluntary groups working with disaffected youth? These are questions I want our review to address."

Public confidence in the criminal justice system has fallen, with up to 17 per cent of people reporting "high levels" of anxiety about violence and anti-social behaviour.

Yesterday, it was announced that the disgraced former Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken, who was jailed for perjury, will head a review of prison reform under the auspices of Mr Duncan Smith. The decision to appoint him was taken by Mr Duncan Smith, rather than the party leadership and does not signal a return to the party fold.


Even illegals can pass security vetting in Britain!

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has been accused of covering up the fact that thousands of illegal immigrants were given clearance to work for the government in sensitive security posts. A report in the Daily Mail has quoted emails which show Ms Smith was aware of the error in July, however only admitted the fact to reporters on Sunday in answer to questions. The scandal is centred around the revelation that the Security Industry Authority, a Home Office body, gave security clearance to 5,000 illegal immigrants to work as government security guards.

Opposition Leader David Cameron called on Ms Smith to explain. "I think there are some really big questions for the Home Secretary to answer and she needs to come to the House of Commons today and give a statement and answer those questions," he said. "In particular, I think the real problem for the Government here is that it looks like they put the convenience of when they wanted to announce things to the press and Government spin ahead of public safety and telling the public what was happening." He added, "Until we have a proper Home Secretary announcement and the chance to ask her questions in the House of Commons, it is difficult to get to the truth."

The Home Secretary is to make a statement to the House of Commons later today.


Costly immigrants in Britain

Town halls will have to raise council tax or cut services to pay for the care of thousands of child asylum-seekers, which costs up to 45,000 pounds a year per child, council leaders say today. Nine councils will introduce a report at Westminster showing that they are losing out on 35 million a year, because the Home Office and the Department for Education are not providing the cash.

More than 3,200 unaccompanied asylum-seekers under 18 entered Britain last year, some as young as 4 or 5. Many are orphans or have been smuggled out from their home countries in an act of desperation and councils have a legal duty to look after them. The councils for Birmingham, Hounslow, Hillingdon, Hammmersmith and Fulham, Kent, Manchester, Oxfordshire, Solihull and West Sussex, claim that foster care can cost as much as 900 pounds a week, and that older teenagers often have to be put up in bed and breakfast accommodation. Paul Carter, leader of Kent County Council, said: "In Kent alone we have accumulated 7.5 million to 8 million in debts in care for unaccompanied minors."


The BBC finally looks seriously at the Warming skeptics. See below:

Have all the BBC scandals and staff cuts scared some of them into a little more objectivity?

What do "climate sceptics" believe? You might think that you know the answer, having heard, seen and read numerous counter-blasts aimed at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the course of this year, as the three components of its landmark climate assessment were published.

Despite having reported on climate change for more than a decade, I realised at the beginning of the year that I was not entirely sure. On a sceptic's blog I would read "global warming isn't happening". Then I would read an op-ed saying "warming is happening but it's entirely natural". Later, someone would tell me "it is happening, it is caused by greenhouse gases, but the effect is so small it won't matter". Either there was a genuine divergence in the views of the sceptical science community, I concluded, or their analyses were somehow getting scrambled in transmission through blogs, newsletters, and the mainstream media.

The sceptics' top 10: What sceptics believe is an important question, because their voices are heard in governments, editors' offices, boardrooms, and - most importantly - the street. Their arguments sway the political approaches of some important countries, notably the US, which in turn influence the global discussions on whether to do anything about rising CO2 levels. So I decided I had better try to find out.

The best approach seemed to be the simplest - just ask them. But first I had to define who I meant by "them". Rather than choosing a group of people myself, I decided to use a group which had already been compiled by sceptics' organisations. In April 2006, a group of 61 self-styled "accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines" wrote an open letter to Canada's newly elected prime minister, Stephen Harper, asking his government to initiate hearings into the scientific foundations of the nation's climate change plan.

The letter, complete with a list of signatories, was published in Canada's Financial Post newspaper. Many, though not all, of the signatories were indeed scientists active in fields relating to climate science. And the group was large enough to suggest I might receive a workable number of replies. So I compiled a questionnaire about their views on climate change science, with a dose of politics thrown in, and mailed it out.

I cannot guarantee that all 61 received it; I was unable to obtain contact details for one person, and was less than certain that I had correct details for three of the others. On the other hand, I was fairly sure that the questionnaire would be spread through the blogosphere and - what should we call it? - the emailosphere? - which turned out to be so.

I went into this exercise not completely knowing what to expect; I guessed I would receive a wide variety of responses, and I was right. Fourteen of the group filled in the questionnaire, in varying degrees of detail; another 11 replied without filling it in. Of these, some sent links to articles explaining their position. Some replied with academic papers, for which I am grateful, especially to Doug Hoyt who mailed a number of references that I had not previously seen. Some said this was a worthwhile exercise. Some, in circulated emails, said the opposite, in terms which were sometimes so frank that others of the group apologised on their behalf.

So to the results. Ten out of the 14 agreed that the Earth's surface temperature had risen over the last 50 years; three said it had not, with one equivocal response. Nine agreed that atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide had risen over the last century, with two saying decidedly that levels had not risen. Eight said that human factors were principally driving the rise. Twelve of the fourteen agreed that in principle, rising greenhouse gas concentrations should increase temperatures. But eight cited the Sun as the principal factor behind the observed temperature increase. And nine said the "urban heat island" effect - where progressive urbanisation around weather stations has increased the amount of heat generated locally - had affected the record of historical temperatures. Eleven believed rising greenhouse gas concentrations would not result in "dangerous" climate change, and 12 said it would be unwise for the global community to restrain production of carbon dioxide and the other relevant gases, with several suggesting that such restraint would bring economic disruption.

One of my more gracious respondents, Arthur Rorsch, suggested that rising CO2 might help "green" the world, with increases in food supply. There was general disdain for the Kyoto Protocol, with respondents split roughly equally between saying it was the wrong approach to an important issue, and a meaningless exercise because there was no point in trying to curb emissions. There was general agreement, too, that computer models which try to project the climate of the future are unreliable. Several respondents said the climate system was inherently unpredictable and therefore impossible to model in a computer.

The other questions produced sets of responses which I could not boil down into anything approaching a consensus view. I do not think that anyone would take this exercise as a comprehensive assessment of the views of climate sceptics, which is probably an impossible task. They are a disparate community, and if you put any two together they would surely disagree on some aspect of the science - just as would any two researchers you picked out from any discipline. But I hope it provides a snapshot of where the scientific disagreements that sceptics have with the IPCC begin and end - for one thing, scotching the view (prevalent in my in-box) that sceptical scientists generally believe the Earth's surface is not really getting warmer.

The IPCC and many of the world's climate scientists would, of course, profoundly disagree with the conclusions evidenced by this small group, and I have linked to some articles which detail some of the science behind their disagreement.


Skepticism and the IPCC

By John Christy, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Alabama. This was published by the Beeb too!

The IPCC is a framework around which hundreds of scientists and other participants are organised to mine the panoply of climate change literature to produce a synthesis of the most important and relevant findings. These findings are published every few years to help policymakers keep tabs on where the participants chosen for the IPCC believe the Earth's climate has been, where it is going, and what might be done to adapt to and/or even adjust the predicted outcome. While most participants are scientists and bring the aura of objectivity, there are two things to note:

* this is a political process to some extent (anytime governments are involved it ends up that way)

* scientists are mere mortals casting their gaze on a system so complex we cannot precisely predict its future state even five days ahead

The political process begins with the selection of the Lead Authors because they are nominated by their own governments. Thus at the outset, the political apparatus of the member nations has a role in pre-selecting the main participants. But, it may go further. At an IPCC Lead Authors' meeting in New Zealand, I well remember a conversation over lunch with three Europeans, unknown to me but who served as authors on other chapters. I sat at their table because it was convenient. After introducing myself, I sat in silence as their discussion continued, which boiled down to this: "We must write this report so strongly that it will convince the US to sign the Kyoto Protocol." Politics, at least for a few of the Lead Authors, was very much part and parcel of the process.

And, while the 2001 report was being written, Dr Robert Watson, IPCC Chair at the time, testified to the US Senate in 2000 adamantly advocating on behalf of the Kyoto Protocol, which even the journal Nature now reports is a failure.

As I said above - and this may come as a surprise - scientists are mere mortals. The tendency to succumb to group-think and the herd-instinct (now formally called the "informational cascade") is perhaps as tempting among scientists as any group because we, by definition, must be the "ones who know" (from the Latin sciere , to know). You dare not be thought of as "one who does not know"; hence we may succumb to the pressure to be perceived as "one who knows". This leads, in my opinion, to an overstatement of confidence in the published findings and to a ready acceptance of the views of anointed authorities.

Scepticism, a hallmark of science, is frowned upon. (I suspect the IPCC bureaucracy cringes whenever I'm identified as an IPCC Lead Author.) The signature statement of the 2007 IPCC report may be paraphrased as this: "We are 90% confident that most of the warming in the past 50 years is due to humans." We are not told here that this assertion is based on computer model output, not direct observation. The simple fact is we don't have thermometers marked with "this much is human-caused" and "this much is natural".

So, I would have written this conclusion as "Our climate models are incapable of reproducing the last 50 years of surface temperatures without a push from how we think greenhouse gases influence the climate. Other processes may also account for much of this change."

To me, the elevation of climate models to the status of definitive tools for prediction has led to the temptation to be over-confident. Here is how this can work. Computer models are the basic tools which are used to estimate the future climate. Many scientists (ie the mere mortals) have been captivated by an IPCC image in which the actual global surface temperature curve for the 20th Century is overlaid on a band of model simulations of temperature for the same period. The observations seem to fit right in the middle of the model band, implying that models are formulated so capably and completely that they can reproduce the past very well. Without knowing much about climate models, any group will be persuaded by this image to believe models are quite precise.

However, there is a fundamental flaw with this thinking. You see, every modeller knew what the answer was ahead of time. (Those groans you just heard were the protestations of my colleagues in the modelling community - they know what's coming). In my view, on the other hand, this persuasive image is not a scientific experiment at all. The agreement displayed is just as likely to do with clever software engineering as to the first principles of science. The proper and objective experiment is to test model output against quantities not known ahead of time.

Our group is one of the few that builds a variety of climate datasets from scratch for tests just like this. Since we build the datasets here, we have an urge to be sceptical about arguments-from-authority in favour of the real, though imperfect, observations. In these model vs data comparisons, we find gross inconsistencies - hence I am sceptical of our ability to claim cause and effect about both past and future climate states. Mother Nature is incredibly complex, and to think we mortals are so clever and so perceptive that we can create computer code that accurately reproduces the millions of processes that determine climate is hubris (think of predicting the complexities of clouds).

Of all scientists, climate scientists should be the most humble. Our cousins in the one-to-five-day weather prediction business learned this long ago, partly because they were held accountable for their predictions every day. Answering the question about how much warming has occurred because of increases in greenhouse gases and what we may expect in the future still holds enormous uncertainty, in my view.

How could the situation be improved? At one time I stated that the IPCC-like process was the worst way to compile scientific knowledge, except for all the others. Improvements have been adopted through the years, most notably the publication of the comments and responses. Bravo. I would think a simple way to let the world know there are other opinions about various aspects emerging from the IPCC font would be to provide some quasi-official forum to allow those views to be expressed. These alternative-view authors should be afforded the same protocol as the IPCC authors, ie they themselves are their own final reviewers and thus would have final say on what is published. At that point, I suppose, the blogosphere would erupt and, amidst the fire and smoke, hopefully, enlightenment may appear.

I continue to participate in the IPCC (unless an IPCC functionary reads this missive and blackballs me) because I not only am able to contribute from my own research, but there are numerous opportunities to learn something new - to feed the curiosity that attends a scientist's soul. I can live with the disagreements concerning nuances and subjective assertions as they simply remind me that all scientists are people, and do not prevent me from speaking my mind anyway.

Don't misunderstand me. Atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to increase due to the undisputed benefits that carbon-based energy brings to humanity. This increase will have some climate impact through CO2's radiation properties. However, fundamental knowledge is meagre here, and our own research indicates that alarming changes in the key observations are not occurring.

The best advice regarding scientific knowledge, which certainly applies to climate, came to me from Mr Mallory, my high school physics teacher. He proposed that we should always begin our scientific pronouncements with this statement: "At our present level of ignorance, we think we know..." Good advice for the IPCC, and all of us.



Aesop would have had little trouble seeking inspiration if he were writing his fables today. The Tortoise and the Hare might have become The Hamilton and the Raikkonen. The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs might have been known to us as The Fisherman and the Cod. And parents might now be reading The Sub-Prime Mortgage and the Investor instead of The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing.

But one moral tale that certainly isn't lacking any inspiration today is The Boy Who Cried Wolf. We live in an age where we seem to revel in the scare story. Some would argue that climate change is just such a story. Day after day we read scientific reports pointing to an ever worsening outlook for our species. But the law of diminishing returns says that no matter how pressing or compelling the message, the more we hear it, the less impact it has on us over time.

Rather predictably, talk of "eco fatigue" is beginning to surface. An ICM survey of 2,000 British adults found recently that 23% of those surveyed admitted they were "bored with eco news". You could say 77% are still engaged, but it would be a mistake to ignore the fact that some have gone from "aware" to "despair" in a very short period of time.

What has caused this? Earlier this year, Professor Mike Hulme, then director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, warned scientists and the media against the use of hyperbolic language when speaking about climate change scenarios. In particular, he warned against using the words "disaster", "apocalypse" and "catastrophe". His own research showed that such terms generated apathy among the intended audience. "Sod it," people would conclude, "we all might as well live for the now, then. What time does Top Gear start?"

Another factor I sense playing its part in generating "eco fatigue" is that some people clearly see it as a passing fashion. Our "build 'em up, knock 'em down" culture demands that we constantly check the shelf life of any trend, and now the environment has gone "mainstream" many instinctively want to retain their cool by getting off this carousel. Tellingly, the ICM survey found that 18% of those surveyed admitted to exaggerating their commitment to environmentally friendly lifestyle choices because it is "fashionable".


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