Extinction Rebellion and Tony Abbott: the Climate Changes

As the lockdowns begin to fray around the world, so the pre-lockdown controversies emerge blinking into the light, seemingly unchanged by their experience of hibernation. We’ve just had two resurrections of the climate change debate in London in the last week. And though the arguments heard in them are much the same as before, there are signs of a slight chill in the public’s response, hitherto quite favorable, to them.

The first was the blockade on Friday night/Saturday morning of the printing works that produce most of the Brits’ morning newspapers by Extinction Rebellion protesters. One hundred XR demonstrators, chaining themselves to vehicles, blocked roads to three printing sites from which the great majority of newspapers are transported to homes and newsagents across Britain. Printing then began at other sites, but most people in provincial Britain missed the papers that on a Saturday give them a vast panorama of information and entertainment on news, politics, the economy, real estate, sport, travel, movies, music, theatre, etc., etc.

Much noise was made by XR to the effect that the print works and two papers they print, the Times and the Sun, are owned by Rupert Murdoch who is a hated figure on the Left. But Murdoch’s rivals, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Financial Times are also printed at his works. And the FT is editorially friendly to the XR’s claim that climate change now constitutes an emergency.

Talk about an existential threat.

Until this happened, the public had seemed partly sympathetic, partly resigned, to the inevitability of such demonstrations. Very few people had been inconvenienced by earlier blockades, and the costs in delayed journeys or diverted routes to those who had was modest. Being deprived of a long Saturday read over coffee at the breakfast table, however, though hardly a tragedy, was nonetheless very irritating. And irritation is a favorite British emotion.

Then the XR spokesmen made matters worse for themselves by their justifications of the blockade which generally boiled down to claiming that the papers misled their readers on the urgency of dealing with climate change. Here is the choicest argument from activist Gully Bujak (27):

"The climate emergency is an existential threat to humanity. Instead of publishing this on the front page every day as it deserves, much of our media ignores the issue and some actively sow seeds of climate denial.”

It’s pretty clear that Mr. Bujak wouldn’t make a very good editor, running the same story on every front page every day, but he wouldn’t be a very good reporter either. Almost all the U.K. mainstream media, far from actively sowing seeds of climate denial, are united in their belief that climate change is a major challenge facing humanity and that we should be prepared to cut living standards in order to lower carbon emissions. That’s true not only of the leftish Financial Times but also of the hated (but widely read) Murdoch press. In fact copies of the tabloid Sun diverted or blocked by XR demonstrators were that day carrying an article by Britain’s most celebrated BBC environmentalist, David Attenborough, on how to combat climate change (because readers of the Sun think of little else.)

Occasional op-eds taking a climate-skeptic viewpoint appear in their  pages because newspapers not edited by Gully Bujak have a professional bias in favor of debate and controversy. But the mainstream media are generally careful not to stray too far from officialdom’s climate-change orthodoxy.

XR protesters, however, stray very far from that orthodoxy in the opposite direction, demanding net-zero carbon emissions within five years and more or less eliminating both holiday air travel and meat from peoples’ diets, these changes to be supervised by unelected and unaccountable “citizens’ assemblies.”

Given the puritan authoritarianism of these aims, XR’s assertion of its right to halt the distribution of newspapers because they disagreed with the opinions they expressed on climate change rang a very loud warning bell. Commentators across the spectrum condemned the blockades as attacks on press freedom. Members of the public started to ask why the police had appeared to cooperate with the protesters so that the blockades could be enforced with minimum inconvenience to third parties. Aren’t newspaper readers and printing companies, not just third parties, entitled to go about their business without deliberate let or hindrance too? (Maybe, yes: 72 protesters were eventually arrested.)

Even government ministers, who have been somewhat timid of late, spoke out firmly in defense of “a free press, society and democracy” (Home Secretary Priti Patel) and against this particular attack on the free press (“completely unacceptable,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson.)

In short there was a rare bi-partisan consensus that Extinction Rebellion had laid an egg and that in future it should no longer be allowed to run around bullying people in order to impose a minority opinion that if implemented would have grim consequences in lower living standards for the rest of us. Except, as the Daily Mail’s combative centrist columnist, D.P. Hodges, pointed out mildly, until this weekend almost all the people now fulminating had given the impression of admiring the idealism of XR protesters even if they mildly deprecated their occasional excesses. Was that now changing?

I’ve seen too many false dawns of that kind to believe so without crossing my fingers and hoping to die. But a second event makes me ever-so-slightly more hopeful. In the middle of last week it was leaked in London that the Johnson government would be asking the former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to join the Board of Trade as a senior advisor in its forthcoming drive to sign post-Brexit free trade deals with a wide range of countries, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, and, er, Australia.

Abbott: an almost infinitely complex mechanism.

There’s no doubt that was a shrewd and sensible move. Britain badly needs to accelerate its trade diplomacy not only for the sake of future deals but in order to show to Brussels that London has enough good options so as not to need to appease the European Union in the current talks—now at make-or-break time. Abbott has the experience of trade negotiations and a knowledge of the players that would improve the chances of success. As Mark Higgie—a former Aussie ambassador to the EU—pointed out in the Australian Spectator www.spectator.com.au, Abbott as prime minister negotiated free trade deals with China, South Korea, and Japan which between them covered 50 percent of Australia’s trade.

Not everyone in Britain wants its extra-European trade diplomacy to prosper, however, because they hope to limit the country’s global reach and to keep Britain even outside the EU inside the EU’s sphere of influence. That makes them especially wary of the concept of CANZUK which promises to develop a closer trade, security, and migration relationship between four of the five countries in the “Five Eyes” intelligence cooperation agreement. There’s modest but growing support for this concept—which already exists in its subordinate but important parts like security cooperation—and Abbott is sympathetic to it. From some points of view, he’s an obstacle to a closer UK-EU relationship down the road.

That’s not a point of view, however, that can be openly argued with any chance of success. So Abbott was denounced as unsuitable to the Board of Trade role because he was a misogynist, opposed in the past to gay marriage, pro-life, and above all a “climate change denier.”

None of these charges is relevant to the post for which he was being considered. Most of them describe (or caricature) legitimate opinions held by very large groups of voters, most of whom lean to the Tories. And one at least—Abbott’s supposed “misogyny”—is simply false. But the charge of being a “climate change denier,” which was probably the most damaging of the charges, is worth at least unpacking since we have some evidence in relation to it.

The first thing to be said is that “climate change denier” is not a scientific term but a political one intended to silence or blacklist anyone so described. If it is to have any clear meaning, that must be someone who denies that the climate is changing or—to be a little more flexible—that it’s rising so rapidly as to pose a serious threat to humankind that can only be countered by emergency measures of mitigation not far short of those advocated by Extinction Rebellion. Fear of being called a “denier” explains the contradiction, noticed by Hodges above, that many politicians and public figures now denouncing Extinction Rebellion have been very mild in their criticisms of it until now. They don’t want to be accused of backing XR’s aims but refusing their means and thus being a “denier” in practice.

Get thee behind me, Satan.

But this apparent contradiction is a false one and the fear it generates groundless. As the science writer and author (most recently) of “How Innovation Works," Matt Ridley, pointed out a few years ago in Quadrant magazine:

These scientists and their guardians of the flame repeatedly insist that there are only two ways of thinking about climate change—that it’s real, man-made and dangerous (the right way), or that it’s not happening (the wrong way). But this is a false dichotomy. There is a third possibility: that it’s real, partly man-made and not dangerous. This is the “lukewarmer” school, and I am happy to put myself in this category. Lukewarmers do not think dangerous climate change is impossible; but they think it is unlikely.

And the evidence is overwhelming that Tony Abbott belongs to this lukewarmer school because he delivered a  lecture to the Global Warming Policy Foundation in 2017 on this very topic:

Physics suggests, all other things being equal, that an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide would indeed warm the planet. Even so, the atmosphere is an almost infinitely complex mechanism that’s far from fully understood.

Palaeontology indicates that over millions of years there have been warmer periods and cooler periods that don’t correlate with carbon dioxide concentrations. The Jurassic warm period and the ice ages occurred without any human contribution at all. The medieval warm period, when crops were grown in Greenland, and the mini-ice age, when the Thames froze over, occurred well before industrial activities added to atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Prudence and respect for the planet would suggest taking care not lightly to increase carbon dioxide emissions; but the evidence suggests that other factors such as sun spot cycles and oscillations in the Earth’s orbit are at least as important for climate change as this trace gas – which, far from being pollution, is actually essential for life to exist.

Certainly, no big change has accompanied the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration over the past century from roughly 300 to roughly 400 parts per million or from 0.03 to 0.04 per cent.

Well, maybe someone in Downing Street was paying attention, because after a few days of ministers looking like frightened Bambis in the glare of klieg lights amid the thunder of media questioning, Boris Johnson appeared in public to state the obvious: that while he didn’t agree with everything that was said by the government’s many advisors on many topics, Tony Abbott was nonetheless a whiz on trade and that he was happy to have him on board. And as often happens when it’s clear that a prime minister really isn’t going to surrender to a media mob, the storm dispelled—and a much more convenient storm blew up over Extinction Rebellion’s candid attack on press freedom.

My optimism remains provisional, but one thing is clear and another thing is possible. Political and public opinion is growing more hostile to the claims of XR and other alarmists that their belief in climate catastrophe gives them a right to override democracy and free speech; and as more and more scientists, economists, and politicians who aren’t intellectually intimidated by fear and/or alarmism adopt a "lukewarmer" stance, the prospect increases of a more rational policy that treats climate change as a serious problem requiring a prudent mix of mitigation and adaptation in response rather than as an imminent catastrophe calling for sackcloth and ashes.

It won’t happen overnight, and there’ll never be a consensus on it. How could there be? As Matt Ridley wrote in that Quadrant article: You can’t have a scientific consensus about the future.

'Climate Change' Hysterics Seeing the Lights

One by one, prominent members of the Doomsday Cult of Climate Annihilation are beginning to defect to the side of reason and rationality. First came filmmaker Michael Moore and his heretical movie, Planet of the Humans, which castigated the "environmental movement" for selling out to corporate America. Next up was Michael Shellenberger, whose new book,  Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, is currently setting the kat among the klimate konformist pigeons by daring to argue that -- hold on to your Greta baseball caps! -- in fact, we're not all going to die and that there is a sane alternative to Thunbergianism. Among his findings:

I know that the above facts will sound like “climate denialism” to many people. But that just shows the power of climate alarmism. In reality, the above facts come from the best-available scientific studies, including those conducted by or accepted by the IPCC, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other leading scientific bodies.

Shellenberger made these points in a piece he wrote the other day for Forbes... which of course yanked it from its website within hours, thus proving Moore's point about corporate hijacking of climate alarmism. So he reposted it on the Australian-based website, Quillette; have a look for yourself:

On behalf of environmentalists everywhere, I would like to formally apologize for the climate scare we created over the last 30 years. Climate change is happening. It’s just not the end of the world. It’s not even our most serious environmental problem.

In the final three chapters of Apocalypse Never I expose the financial, political, and ideological motivations. Environmental groups have accepted hundreds of millions of dollars from fossil fuel interests. Groups motivated by anti-humanist beliefs forced the World Bank to stop trying to end poverty and instead make poverty “sustainable.” And status anxiety, depression, and hostility to modern civilization are behind much of the alarmism.

Shellenberger calls out the impractical Ludditism of the "Green Movement" Neanderthals, and offers policy recommendation that will turn the Greenies purple with rage, including a defense of clean nuclear energy:

Once you realize just how badly misinformed we have been, often by people with plainly unsavory or unhealthy motivations, it is hard not to feel duped.

Clean energy or Green energy? Your choice.

Well, as Barnum said, there's a sucker born every minute, including some very famous ones, among them chimp conservationist Jane Goodall, 86, who's moved on from general monkeyshines to weighty issue of climate, diet, the coronavirus and -- of course -- Why Everything Now Must Change:

With a background in primatology, Jane Goodall became well known in the 1960s through films about her work studying chimpanzees in Tanzania. She famously gave the animals human names. Her discovery that chimps in Tanzania and elsewhere were threatened by habitat destruction due to human activity informed her view about the interdependency of the natural world. She founded the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977, and it's now a leading voice for nature conservation.

Dr Goodall’s analysis of COVID-19 stays true to her beliefs. Speaking at an online event held by the group Compassion in World Farming, Goodall said our global food production system is in need of urgent reform. “Our disrespect for wild animals and our disrespect for farmed animals has created this situation where disease can spill over to infect human beings. We have come to a turning point in our relationship with the natural world.”

Talk about hostility to modern civilization: here we are: after more than half a century of the relentless battering of Western civilization by the likes of the Frankfurt School and their bastard children in academe, there are suckers aplenty in the West, who will go to their graves convinced that everything modern man has done to improve his life is wrong and bad, and that a prelapsarian state of nature is the way forward. Such is the suicide cult of Leftism as articulated by Rousseau and then passed down by Marx and Marcuse.

And yet, some common sense is beginning to reassert itself. In addition to Shellenberger, the Danish author and climate-hysteria skeptic, Bjorn Lomborg, the "skeptical environmentalist," has a new book out as well, False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet. As Richard Trzupek, an environmental consultant and analyst at the Heartland Institute, notes in his review:

Lomborg addresses his core mission statement early on: “[W]e’re scaring kids and adults witless, which is not just factually wrong but morally reprehensible. If we don’t say stop, the current, false climate alarm, despite its good intentions, is likely to leave the world much worse off than it could be.”

Everyone knows the meme: “Catastrophic global warming is real and it’s manmade.” It’s a simple statement of the perceived problem, one that would surely earn an “A” in Marketing 101. Whatever else it is, that simple statement is not science. The issue of climate change cannot be explained by any one statement, but must be addressed by answering a series of questions. This is what Lomborg bravely attempts to do in “False Alarm.”

And now along comes a lady with the felecitious sobriquet of Zion Lights, a spokewoman for Britain's lunatic Extinction Rebellion movement. When last seen, she was being memorably eviscerated by the BBC's Andrew Neil in October:

Today, however, she's singing a different tune.

Extinction Rebellion's spokeswoman has quit the protest group to become a nuclear power campaigner. Zion Lights, 36, has left the climate change cause, which brought London to a standstill last year, to join pro-nuke outfit Environmental Progress. The former XR communications head said she had felt ‘duped’ after being surrounded by anti-nuclear campaigners until she read more into the radioactive fuel.

Mother-of-two Zion said: ‘The facts didn't really change, but once I understood them I did change my mind.’ The switch took non-campaigners by surprise given her new role seems entirely at odds with her old position. Zion, who was born in the West Midlands and given her unusual name as a baby, said: ‘I have a long history of campaigning on environmental issues, most recently as a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion UK.

‘Surrounded by anti-nuclear activists, I had allowed fear of radiation, nuclear waste and weapons of mass destruction to creep into my subconscious. I realised I had been duped into anti-science sentiment all this time. Now, I have quit the organisation to take up a position as a campaigner for nuclear power.’

It's easy to laugh, but pay attention to the statement above: I had allowed fear... to creep into my subconscious. Fear is a hallmark of all zealous crackpotism, along with an urgent insistence that the world change right now in order to accommodate what is manifestly a form of mental illness akin to aliens sending you messages through the fillings in your teeth.

The environmentalist Left needs more people like Moore, Shellenberger, and Lights, struggling out the darkness of their former irrational anxieties and obsessions and joining the community of the sensible, and fewer deluded children like poor exploited Greta, shamelessly manipulated by the "movement" for malicious ends.

After all, who doesn't want the best for Mother Earth? There are many paths to conservation and civilization. We need not let fear prevent us from seeing the solution, and the light.

'Extinction Rebellion': Rebels with a Cause

The poet and scholar of Soviet history, the late Robert Conquest, is the author of several commonly quoted -- and misquoted --  rules of politics, the second of which amusingly holds that "the behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies." (Many sources list this as Conquest's Third Law, but the one they list as second -- "Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing" -- was actually coined by our own John O'Sullivan.) Anyone who has ever been to the DMV or had occasion to deal with, say, the Bureau of Land Management, will take his point, though it is perhaps slightly contradicted by the fact that the bad behavior of bureaucracies never seems to rein them in. Rather the opposite in fact.

In any event, it isn't only bureaucratic organizations that often seem to be run by cabals of their enemies. Hardly a week goes by these days without some group or other engaging in an officially sanctioned activity that seems to run so counter to its own interests that it really makes you wonder. A recent example of this comes from an outift that has made its name antagonizing the very people you'd think they'd be trying to persuade: Extinction Rebellion.

You might remember them from their various antics over the past few years, including gluing themselves to a DLR train in London so that everyone on the platform would be late for work, and digging up the famous lawn of Trinity College, Cambridge, for reasons which were difficult to follow. I myself happened to be giving my young niece and nephews a tour of Lower Manhattan on the day that they sprayed fake blood all around Wall Street, likely turning those horrified children into life-long anti-environmentalists.

Extinction Rebellion purportedly engage in these shenanigans -- what we used to call crimes -- in order to draw attention to the supposed "climate emergency" we're allegedly experiencing. In fact, they mainly succeed in pissing people off, so much so that even environmentalist onlookers were disturbed by the Trinity Lawn incident, and the train-gluing eventually led to frustrated commuters dragging the protesters from the tops of the trains.

As for their latest bright idea, The Mail on Sunday reports that XR are planning on aggravating the present COVID-19 related economic calamity by "staging rent strikes, halting tax payments and taking out bank loans they don't intend to repay":

Internal documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday set out plans for a ‘Money Rebellion’ involving acts of financial sabotage to ‘directly challenge the fundamental principles that govern our national and global economies’. Despite dire warnings that the coronavirus pandemic has plunged Britain into its worst recession for 300 years, the dossier details how the group – also known as XR – wants to launch a rent strike later this month....

XR hopes at least 5,000 supporters will refuse to pay their rent, adding: ‘Council tenants and private tenants alike can participate in the strike… on such a scale that it forces a society-wide conversation about our misguided economy.’ According to the documents, it will be followed by a tax strike involving 10,000 people who will sign a conditional commitment to withhold £100 of income tax. Such a move will, it adds, ‘present a dilemma to HMRC about whether to pursue 10,000 claims for £100’.

Other possible protests include a utilities strike, where activists refuse to pay their bills unless suppliers promise to switch to 100 per cent renewable energy, and plans for supporters to withhold VAT, student debt or mortgage payments.

In the United States, some 33 million people have filed for unemployment due to this pandemic and the attendant lockdowns. In Great Britain, almost a quarter of workers have been furloughed. It is likely that many more people are going to suffer from the economic effects of this crisis than know anyone who has contracted the virus. But this is good news, say Extinction Rebellion. This is the moment to bring civilization to its knees. While their previous acts of vandalism and disruption mostly fall into the category of nuisance, this proposal has more than a whiff of treason about it.

Now, I'm skeptical that they will actually succeed in bringing civilization down. Indeed, it would be surprising if they convinced enough people to engage in this scheme to have a discernible impact. More than likely they will succeed only in injuring their own credit scores (that is, if they don't get their wealthy parents to pay off their loans before there are any real consequences), while once again enraging regular Britons, who are putting up with a lot right now without having to watch spoiled children trying to tank the economy.

Hence my invocation of Conquest's law. After all, what have they to gain from all of this negative sentiment? Shouldn't they be trying to make a case for the rightness of their cause rather than disrupting the lives of regular hardworking people, all while lecturing them about their carbon footprints?

And yet, it seems significant that, most of the time, XR's disruptors get away with it. At Cambridge -- to the annoyance of locals -- the police simply stood by and looked on. At the London Underground, it was the commuters, not the cops, who dragged them off the train. Its hard to imagine that they would have acted with such passivity without a directive from above, and while I'd like to think that were they to seriously attempt to sabotage an already shaky economy during a national emergency they would be dealt with swiftly and severely, I have my doubts.

In any case,  it does seem like persuasion is the furthest thing from their minds. Rather than seeking and perhaps gaining broad support, leading to the election of politicians who agree to advance their aims, XR's tactics are aimed at giving headaches to the people in power, who fold rather than dealing with them, or else giving a pretense to the people in power who already agree with them to act according to their own inclinations.

Which is to say, perhaps they have a better sense of their interests than I do. Power, not popularity, is what matters to them. Maybe the goal of Extinction Rebellion is to become the cabal that controls the bureaucracy.

Who's to say that they haven't already succeeded?

The Harsh Sounds of Silence

Q. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to see it, did it happen?

A. That is a more complicated question than Bishop Berkeley, who first formulated it in the 18th Century, could ever have realized. Let me try to give you a full answer.

In the first place, if the person not in the forest is an environmentalist who supports strong action to halt climate change, then the tree did not fall but instead volunteered to play its full part in creating renewable energy. If the person not in the forest is Michael Moore who disputes the value of renewable energy industries, then the tree fell with a loud crash in order to alert people that it had made a contribution to climate policy. And if the person is a climate skeptic or denier, whether he’s in the forest or not, the tree did not fall because whoever heard of a tree falling without making any sound whatsoever.

And it gets clearer every day that the instinctive and sometimes preferred strategy of the climatist movement is to silence both critics and dissidents when they question the prevailing theory, rooted in IPCC reports and embraced by most Western governments, that climate change is an emergency threat to the world: either we reduce  the predicted rise in world temperature from 2.0 to 1.5 degrees by 2050 or the world will burn. Some Greens suggest that the world will burn at an even earlier date than the official IPCC-approved forecasts suggest. They include Greta Thunberg, Prince Charles, Extinction Rebellion, and Michael Moore, the last of whom has now fallen foul of climate censors to the surprise of all who have no idea how revolutions proceed.

A film made by Moore and Jeff Gibbs, Planet of the Humans, was shown to three million viewers on the internet last week, criticizing the theory and practice of renewable energy as a solution to climate change. It’s reviewed on this site by Tom Finnerty, Michael Walsh, and me, and though we differ on some points and regard the movie as mistaken in its main proposals, we all agree that it’s an important film that makes damaging criticisms of the renewables industry and that has divided the larger Green movement.

At the very least the Gibbs-Moore movie is a substantive contribution to informed debate on climate change. Ideally, it should lead to criticisms from opponents, a response from the film-maker to the critics, and a rejoinder from them to him, perhaps ad infinitum but more usually for about five exchanges on a hot topic. And that’s what we see where Tom Finnerty locks horns with Moore on The Pipeline.

But within days other climatist factions had called for the film to be withdrawn from public viewing and for Moore and Gibbs to be silenced. Here are The Guardian’s account of this, the letter from Moore’s critics denouncing the film, and Michael Walsh’s reflections on the politics of the controversy. The controversy is a window into the mind of the coercive utopian: he protects us from making bad choices.

Quite as sinister but more subtle is the approach of more “moderate” and “liberal” censors. They protect us from ourselves by simply not mentioning unwelcome stories or commentaries at all. Though Moore and Gibbs are accomplished film-makers, the film’s subject is a large topical one, and its approach has the “man-bites-dog” character of the classic news story, there has been almost no mention of the movie in forums that would usually give generous coverage to a story with those qualities —apart, that is, from reports that environmentalists want it banned.

Vladimir Bukovsky pointed out some years ago that intelligent readers in Soviet times were able to glean quite a lot of genuine news from Pravda and Izvestia by waiting for them to attack some Western claim or achievement which they had never reported in the first place. “Aha,” they would then say. Silence deprives readers of even that recourse. As the noted wit "Iowahawk" has famously observed:

In The Pipeline’s own original reviews, we pointed out that almost all of the film’s most wounding attacks on renewable energy projects echoed the arguments that climate sceptics and “deniers” (aka lukewarmers, in reality) had made over the years. And as Bukovsky would have predicted, these flaws in renewable energies came as a shattering surprise not only to climatists but to conventional bien pensant liberal opinion as well. That’s an indicator of just how effective the bias of silence has proved in keeping vital facts about climate change and climate policy off the front pages, out of public debate, and inside the corridors of power whether in the Washington Beltway or the Westminster village.

And that’s still going on.

This week, the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London published a paper titled The Climate Noose: Business, Net Zero, and the IPCC”s Anti-Capitalism by Rupert Darwall. Mr. Darwall is an economist, a former special advisor to the UK Treasury and Chancellor Norman Lamont, and the author of two books and many other works on climate change and energy policy. It’s a substantial work, and I shall be returning to analyse its reports and proposals more fully next week. For the moment, however, consider these questions it raises:

How much will it cost? The IPCC tries to sweep cost under the carpet, saying cost data on 1.5°C are scarce. The few numbers it provides imply the policy costs of net zero by 2050 are up to 61 times estimated climate benefits. 

What is the likely impact on the world’s poor? The IPCC concedes that draconian emissions reductions mean higher food and energy prices, the latter delaying the transition to clean cooking. Is there any chance of reaching net zero in 2050? Irrespective of what Europe and the US do, there’s not a chance. In less than a decade and a half, the increase in developing nations’ carbon dioxide emissions outstripped the combined total of US and EU emissions.

Above all: Why should companies target net zero when the world’s governments are going to miss it by a country mile? Unilateral net zero will make companies, their shareholders, employees, customers and local communities poorer.

Darwall does not place the total blame on the IPCC. Western governments have repeatedly endorsed the same goal of a reduction in the world temperature increase to 1.5 degrees by 2050 when any realistic analysis suggests that it’s impossible to achieve. They have repeatedly refused to impose any real cost-benefit analysis on their net-zero commitment—indeed, they treat reasonable demands for such estimates as immoral. They acknowledge that their commitment will have a serious negative impact on living standards, including those of poorer communities everywhere, through rises in food and energy prices without offering any serious idea of how to alleviate it.

Moreover, they place increasing political and financial pressure on private corporations to adopt policies that would make their investors poorer and their ability to help their economies to grow weaker. They don’t seem to grasp that the effect of this commitment on global economic relations would be to shift economic power from the West to Asia, in particular to China, at the very moment when we have become aware that Beijing is at best an untrustworthy power, and at worst an outright enemy. And they seem oblivious to the likelihood that the outcome of their approach would be an impoverished world under the aegis of a global economic regulator.

One might suppose that such a warning to the West’s governments would get at least some attention from a media supposedly committed to holding government to account. So far, however, Darwall’s monograph has not been mentioned in the main UK or US media. We would surely expect it to attract the attention of the Financial Times since its business readership has a direct interest in knowing what governments intend for them in its Green agenda.

Again, not a peep. Silence reigns today.

And tomorrow?

Will those who persist in seeing trees falling in the forest for no good reason, like both Moore and Darwall, find their next investigation being confronted by a sign that says: Trespassers will be prosecuted?

The Limits of Science

John O'Sullivan's excellent weekend column examined the work of Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the British medical journal The Lancet, and his tendency to expand the scope of his publication in order to pronounce on topics which are decidedly beyond its remit as a journal of medicine:

[Horton] argues that doctors as doctors have a professional obligation to become political activists and to engage in civil disobedience when they think that a political issue has bad medical consequences for their patients—or indeed for any doctor’s patients. His editorials have made The Lancet notorious for the range of topics, including directly political topics—inequality, for instance, or Iraq war casualties -- which they pronounce to be medical issues for which they have their favorite prescriptions ready. And on no topic has he been more fervent, more frequent, or more “authoritarian” than on climate change.

Horton's editorials in The Lancet have adopted the “worst case” scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to argue that the “climate emergency” is “one of the greatest threats to the health of humanity today” and poses “an acute danger to human and natural systems” (my italics.)  He has called on other professional journals to become “activist” (i.e., to take sides in controversial issues) as The Lancet has done -- for instance, it publishes an annual report on health and climate change that diagnoses a pandemic of climate emergencies which, however, can be cured every time by the same anti-capitalist remedy.

And he has used the journal to call on health workers to join in Extinction Rebellion’s civil disobedience protest against government inaction on the emergency last October which led to scattered acts of disruption—occupying banks, cancelling flights, and blocking bridges, roads, and traffic that included (ironically) an ambulance—by usually small groups of protesters in major Western cities.

What's disturbing to me is that we are so used to people with lots of impressive-looking letters after their names (Horton's alphabet soup, according to his Wikipedia page, is "FRCP FMedSci") speaking authoritatively on every subject under the sun that we hardly roll our eyes at the above any more. What, a few decades ago, we would have considered inappropriate -- that is, the editor of a medical journal making claims about foreign and domestic policy on the grounds that they have some imagined health component -- is now unfortunately commonplace.

Why is that? Well, first of all it is because we listen to them. When Stephan Hawking or (heaven help us) Neil DeGrasse Tyson wander away from physics and start talking about history, philosophy, art, or, really, anything else, we (well, many of us) sit and listen instead of bolting for the exit. But why do we let them? It is, ultimately, because we have, by and large, accepted science as a method for determining the meaning of all things -- something like a religion -- which is decidedly not how true science understands itself.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry of the Ethics and Public Policy Center wrote an important article awhile back examining our societal misunderstanding of science:

Everybody [says]... [s]cience says this, science says that. You must vote for me because science. You must buy this because science. You must hate the folks over there because science. Look, science is really important. And yet, who among us can easily provide a clear definition of the word "science" that matches the way people employ the term in everyday life?

So let me explain what science actually is. Science is the process through which we derive reliable predictive rules through controlled experimentation. That's the science that gives us airplanes and flu vaccines and the Internet. But what almost everyone means when he or she says "science" is something different.

He explains that the great insight of the Scientific Revolution was that the claims of science are necessarily limited by our ability to experiment and test our conclusions.

What distinguishes modern science from other forms of knowledge such as philosophy is that it explicitly forsakes abstract reasoning about the ultimate causes of things and instead tests empirical theories through controlled investigation. Science is not the pursuit of capital-T Truth. It's a form of engineering — of trial by error. Scientific knowledge is not "true" knowledge, since it is knowledge about only specific empirical propositions — which is always, at least in theory, subject to further disproof by further experiment.

This is radically different from the more popular meaning of 'science', which is often meant to convey a mental image of superior beings "wearing lab coats and/or doing fancy math that nobody else understands." Gobry argues that, for most people:

The reason capital-S Science gives us airplanes and flu vaccines is not because it is an incremental engineering process but because scientists are really smart people. [Italics are mine].

This is why various academic disciplines, the so-called soft sciences -- psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. -- feel that they need to clothe themselves in the veneer of science. The practitioners of these disciplines want everyone to know that they are very smart people too, even if they did get a 'D' in Organic Chemistry! So if they do important sounding studies (even ones whose results are irreplicable), illustrate their points with lots of graphs, and wear lab coats, people will taken them seriously. (This tendency even infects the humanities, by the way. I've always liked a comment of the mid-20th century poet and politician Charles Wilbert Snow who, explaining his decision not to seek a doctorate, said that the Ph.D. was "a German invention designed to turn an art into a science.")

Gobry goes on to point out that:

This is how you get people asserting that "science" commands this or that public policy decision, even though with very few exceptions, almost none of the policy options we as a polity have, have been tested through experiment (or can be). People think that a study that uses statistical wizardry to show correlations between two things is "scientific" because it uses high school math and was done by someone in a university building, except that, correctly speaking, it is not. While it is a fact that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leads, all else equal, to higher atmospheric temperatures, the idea that we can predict the impact of global warming — and anti-global warming policies! — 100 years from now is sheer lunacy. But because it is done using math by people with tenure, we are told it is "science" even though by definition it is impossible to run an experiment on the year 2114.

In many ways, the scientific revolution began as a call for epistemic humility: It is difficult to truly know things about the inner workings of the universe. What methods can we use to accurately demonstrate the few things which we have definitely uncovered? The almost unimaginable success of this project and the tremendous innovation which came after it is likely why we came to hold scientists in such high regard and, ironically, why we have drifted from its basic insight.

Consequently, we are left with men of science like Horton pushing public policy proposals because science is just, well, smart people being smart, and why wouldn't we listen to smart people? Appeals to a supposed "scientific consensus" on something like climate change (and scientists preferred responses to it) is just taking this a step further: Lots of really smart people think this. You want people to think you're smart, right? It is important we realize that these appeals take us beyond the strictures of science into something else entirely.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Medicalizing Climate Policy

On a recent Question Time, the BBC’s flagship debate program on current affairs, Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the medical journal, The Lancet, passionately denounced the UK government for taking too complacent a view of the coronavirus pandemic. Not long before, Dr. Horton had taken the same view -- which he should probably have mentioned -- but epidemics are among his specialties, and he corrected himself when China admitted the seriousness of the threat. And as an expert with medical credentials up to his medulla oblongata, he seemed to speak with greater authority than the politicians on the panel.

But how far does that authority go? Horton intends to expand it very considerably. He argues that doctors as doctors have a professional obligation to become political activists and to engage in civil disobedience when they think that a political issue has bad medical consequences for their patients—or indeed for any doctor’s patients. His editorials have made The Lancet notorious for the range of topics, including directly political topics—inequality, for instance, or Iraq war casualties -- which they pronounce to be medical issues for which they have their favorite prescriptions ready. And on no topic has he been more fervent, more frequent, or more “authoritarian” than on climate change.

Horton's editorials in The Lancet have adopted the “worst case” scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to argue that the “climate emergency” is “one of the greatest threats to the health of humanity today” and poses “an acute danger to human and natural systems” (my italics.)  He has called on other professional journals to become “activist” (i.e., to take sides in controversial issues) as The Lancet has done -- for instance, it publishes an annual report on health and climate change that diagnoses a pandemic of climate emergencies which, however, can be cured every time by the same anti-capitalist remedy.

And he has used the journal to call on health workers to join in Extinction Rebellion’s civil disobedience protest against government inaction on the emergency last October which led to scattered acts of disruption—occupying banks, cancelling flights, and blocking bridges, roads, and traffic that included (ironically) an ambulance—by usually small groups of protesters in major Western cities.

Though these protests continue, they seem to be having less impact the longer they last, as with previous radical protest movements. Extinction Rebellion’s larger impact—despite Horton’s high hopes for it as a “transformational”  international rebellion -- has been on the whole counterproductive. Though the police and the courts have been indulgent towards the protesters, the general public has been irritated, even angry, at being blocked and delayed. Successful protests in the past, such as the Suffragettes, triumphed because majorities or large minorities in the population thought they had justice on their side. But what XR wants doesn’t begin to meet that test, at least as laid out by Horton:

There are three demands—first, tell the truth; second, act now; third, go beyond politics to create a citizens’ assembly. A citizens’ assembly will reclaim control from a paralysed political process.

Each of these demands is more than problematic. The first glides over the difficulty that there isn’t general agreement on what is the truth—and, significantly, that is the case with almost all political questions. Climate scientists differ, and the moderate global warmers among them, including the IPCC scientists, differ strongly from Extinction Rebellion in their analyses, predictions, and remedies.

Secondly, “act now” is an abstract demand whose abstraction is a deceit. Governments could legitimately reply that they are already acting on climate, but Horton regards their actions as “inaction.” His definition of action in this context is a radical program of decarbonization and deindustrialization. All the signs are that neither governments nor electorates want to go too far in that direction. Hence, Extinction Rebellion (XR) is quite coy about its proposed reforms, but sometimes they leak out. Horton and XR have to find a way around the obstacles of political opposition and public opinion..

Hey presto! That’s demand three: creating a citizens’ assembly to “reclaim control of a paralysed political process.” But the political process he’s talking about is parliamentary democracy, and it isn’t “paralysed” at all as its current handling of the Covid-19 crisis demonstrates (even if you disagree with what it's doing.) Nonetheless, XR is demanding that new bodies be established to take control of major political decisions away from Parliament and the elected government and given to . . . well, other than that they’d be citizens, it's not clear who? Nor how? It’s all very vague and misty, but apparently the process wouldn’t be through elections since, as Horton has already pointed out, they only lead to paralysis and inaction.

All this is slightly concerning. Though the wag who asked —“why not call them Soviets and be done with it?”—probably went too far, it’s nonetheless rings a faint alarm bell when Horton writes, as he did in October, that doctors shouldn't be punished for taking part in Extinction Rebellion protests? Well and good if that means they shouldn’t be punished for voicing their opinions or putting them on placards. That’s free speech even if they use it to say “Climate change is too important to be left to democracy.”

When those words become actions, and those actions break the criminal law, however, we can’t exempt health workers—much though we admire them for the sacrifices they are currently making to keep us safe—from the rules that apply to all citizens in or out of assemblies. And since even a favorable view of Dr. Horton’s politics suggests that he favors some sort of guided democracy with a special role in politics for doctors, scientists, and other experts—especially when that view comes with the imprimatur or The Lancet—we need to remember some old and unfashionable truths.

To start with, we must briefly demystify expertise. Experts are not infallible; they can be wrong. We know that for a certainty because they sometimes differ. That’s why when a doctor gives you a diagnosis of a terminal disease or prescribes a painful cure, he’s not offended if you ask for a second opinion. Similarly, when Horton criticized Tory Ministers on Question Time over their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, he was really differing with the medical scientists whose advice they were following.

There are many questions too, especially in politics, in which no-one can be an expert because judgments on them require too many different kinds of knowledge for one kind of expert to give an authoritative view. Whether to declare war—the single most important decision a political leader can be asked to make—is one such question.

Climate change is another. Though there is said to be a “consensus” on it, there are a significant number of dissenters in what is a very various profession. Even if there were unanimity among them all, they would still have to deal with criticisms and opposing viewpoints from economists, engineers, philosophers, and as Horton proclaims, from doctors and medical scientists too. So when experts enter the political arena on such issues as climate change, they are only partly giving a professional opinion with some authority; it would be more accurate to say that they're contributing their particular insights to a debate among equal citizens, including other experts who draw on different sources of authority. Even (or especially) in their own profession, their authority is limited. For instance, since it is obvious that many doctors and scientists do not in fact agree with Horton’s view of climate change and give plausible reasons for their disagreement, they can be under no obligation to campaign, let alone break the law, to advance those views .

That’s important for reasons going beyond politics. Horton has made some serious blunders in a largely successful editorial career: over his defense of a doctor which critics contend has led to a fall in child vaccinations, his large exaggeration of casualties in the Iraq war, his publishing an open letter to the people of Gaza that falsely accused Israel of a massacre, and not least his passionate, engaged campaigning over climate change. To be fair, campaigning editors take risks to uncover the truth; they don’t always pan out; and Horton is a campaigning editor but not an infallible one. Have a look at some of the criticisms of The Lancet’s 2019 report on health and climate change that raises alarmist anxieties over the most recondite threats to health from fossil fuels when the single most relevant chart in it shows that mortality rates are falling fast worldwide.

How Horton deals with such problems when they arise therefore matters. It's a mixed record. He did retract the Open Letter to the people of Gaza on a trip to Israel--and he did so generously. But when two Australian climate scientists submitted a letter disputing an article on the precautionary principle, he overruled sub-editors who had been negotiating its publication and rejected it. When his pet political ideas are at stake, he has to be forcibly evicted from his fixed positions. Sure, editors must have the final say, but in a professional journal  the spike is not best way to advance a scientific argument, and silencing your critics is not a good exercise of professional judgment.

They are, however, the familiar political tactics of Woke ideologues—and thus a sign of the spreading blight of the politicization of professional associations and their particular ethics. We can hardly accuse Dr. Horton of such abuse, however, since he has anticipated us by proclaiming it. He does so in his editorial calling on health workers to support Extinction Rebellion, lamenting as follows:

And yet science itself is strangely reticent. The Royal Society is the UK's leading scientific academy. It is dedicated to promoting excellence in science. But its activities to scale up political action to address the climate crisis are anaemic. The Royal Society has projects on low carbon energy and greenhouse gas removal. Its policy initiatives include work on energy, environment, and climate. But the Royal Society's actions are empty of passion, devoid of campaigning, and seemingly disengaged from politics.

In Britain the Royal Society is Science and The Lancet, though independent, is its Prophet. The Royal Society is a professional body dedicated to seeking the truth of nature through observation, experiment, and argument. Horton has found the one great truth and wants to proclaim it to the world and if possible, to make it compulsory. They’re a bad fit.

The moral is clear, and the solution should be satisfactory to all. Horton wants to be a great campaigning editor in the hard-hitting style of a Hugh Cudlipp or a Harry Evans. Give him the editorship of a major left-wing newspaper. The Guardian springs to mind. It could certainly use some of Horton's energy, confidence and expertise.  He would enjoy campaigning without the dispassionate reticence of science.

Make an honest man of him. And make The Lancet an honest professional journal of medical science. They'll both be happier.

 

BP: Towards the Socialist Corporation

Some years ago when I was a media company executive, I had to spend long fruitless hours in a committee that had been given the task of writing a company mission statement. My opening suggestion that we should write “We give our customers accurate news and fair-minded commentary, the fastest, the mostest” and leave it at that was quickly sidelined as frivolous. It made no mention of stakeholders, equal opportunity, corporate giving, social responsibility to our city and region, and much else thought to be vital by the accounting department, the strategic planning department, and the religious affairs correspondent. Discussion limped on for many days over the minutiae of trivial differences until eventually the actual journalists present gave in and assented to a smoothly unmemorable paragraph. Today I can’t recall a word of it. 

My skepticism about that sort of thing was confirmed when I came across the monograph Good Companies Don’t Have Mission Statements by Digby Anderson—a sociologist, a wit, a gourmet chef, and an Anglican clergyman—published in London by the Social Affairs Unit. Dr. Anderson’s broad argument is that companies can be classified into two groups: those that know what they do, and those that have mission statements. Because those in the second category don’t know what they do (or in the case of pornographers, slum landlords, etc., would prefer not to say), their mission statements tend to the vacuous, the long-winded, the boastful, and the excessively worthy. Dr. Anderson cites many self-promoting examples, but maybe the ripest is the mission statement of BP Amoco which declared holily that we “try to be a force for good in all that we do.” Almost as if the company was God, as the Anglican clergyman noted acidly.  

Running into that quote was a genuinely pleasurable surprise, however, because I had earlier decided that my topic for this article would be BP’s latest mission statement.  To be fair to BP (formerly known as British Petroleum, among other things) and its CEO Bernard Looney who signs it, the document is technically not a mission statement but a declaration of how BP intends to lead the world into the broad sunlit uplands of a net-zero carbon emissions future. But that ambition suggests a company that doesn’t know what it does, or more charitably a company that doesn’t want to be a major oil and gas producer and is looking for some other identity.  Maybe you think I’m exaggerating? Here’s its opening line: 

BP today set a new ambition to become a net zero company by 2050 or sooner, and to help the world get to net zero. 

It then sets out two set of aims. The first five show how BP itself intends to become net-zero. They are: 

  1. Net zero across BP’s operations on an absolute basis by 2050 or sooner.
  2. Net zero on carbon in BP’s oil and gas production on an absolute basis by 2050 or sooner.
  3. A 50 percent cut in the carbon intensity of products BP sells by 2050 or sooner.
  4. Install methane measurement at all BP’s major oil and gas processing sites by 2023 and reduce methane intensity of operations by half.
  5. Increase the proportion of investment into non-oil and gas businesses over time. 

All these points are hard to reconcile with being an oil and gas producer. But with point five, BP comes out of the closet as a Green refugee from its core business. 

Turn now to the second set of five aims—those attempting the even bolder ambition of making the world net-zero. These are:

  1. More active advocacy for policies that support net zero, including carbon pricing.
  2. Further incentivise BP’s workforce to deliver aims and mobilise them to advocate for net zero.
  3. Set new expectations for relationships with trade associations.
  4. Aim to be recognized as a leader for transparency of reporting, including supporting the recommendations of the TCFD.* 
  5. Launch a new team to help countries, cities and large companies to decarbonize. 

*[The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, which "will consider the physical, liability and transition risks associated with climate change and what constitutes effective financial disclosures across industries"].

And thus with these five aims, BP becomes an evangelical missionary preaching against its core business. For if BP persuades the rest of the world to stop buying oil and gas, how is it going to make money? Renewables? Not many companies marketing wind, wave, and solar solutions can boast BP’s earning power. Most of them need state subsidies to survive. What will the shareholders make of this strategy? 

Oh, yes, the shareholders. In order to get to them, the reader has to trudge through some substantial paragraphs on plans for the corporate re-organization that will deliver this transformation of BP into a Green energy NGO. Beyond those paragraphs, he will find the following: 

No change to BP’s fundamental commitments: * to safe and reliable operations; *to delivering BP’s investor proposition, including commitments on: a) growing sustainable free cash flow and shareholder distributions over long term; b) maintaining strong financial frame and cost and capital discipline, and deleveraging the balance sheet; c) delivering 2021 free cash flow targets.  

I’m not sure that if I were a shareholder, I would find these plans very comforting. My feeling would probably be that BP’s senior management, in order to appease pressure from governments, UN and other international agencies, the environmentalist movement, including deep green extremists such as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, and advocates of “woke capitalism,” have decided to take a giant financial leap into the dark by adopting government policies that have a fair prospect of losing my money. I might look at BP not as a capitalist corporation trying to make a profit but as a socialist one trying to achieve certain political objectives—sometimes objectives that public opinion dislikes, such as carbon taxation, and that governments themselves are nervous about pursuing. 

As it happens, there’s a lot of that kind of corporate transformation going on. It’s almost a trend. So it’s worth wondering how might we legitimize the gradual transformation of the corporation from a capitalist to a socialist entity?  

The answer is surprisingly simple. It needs only one very straightforward reform. It’s a reform rooted in the orthodox capitalist theory of the limited liability company. And to add the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, the reformer can dress up his proposals in the soothing but deceptive managerial jargon of “stakeholder capitalism” (though managers should be warned that this reform will make their jargon honest.) 

The reform begins with a question: why should shareholders get their dividends? It’s an old question. Socialists have traditionally asked it, especially when the dividends were large, because they felt that a company’s profits should be distributed more equally between shareholders, management, and workers. The answer to it is that shareholders get what’s left -- “the residual” -- after the other stakeholders have already got their shares. Indeed, the shares going to the other stakeholders are guaranteed in advance—to workers in wages, and to managers in salaries, stock options and other perks. A profitable company can keep all its stakeholders happy, but an under-performing company will pay few or no dividends, and a bankrupt company will mean not only that shareholders get no dividend income but also that they lose their entire capital, their savings, as well. Dividends have been their reward for taking that risk. 

If that’s the traditional company structure, it’s not the only one. We can in principle organize companies on very different foundations. Different versions of worker control and participation have been attempted across the world since 1945. Some survive, but none have been game-changers, and mostly their results have been disappointing. The main alternative to capitalism under fire usually comes down to socialism of some kind.  

Old-style socialists want companies to be founded, funded, and managed by state managers on lines approved by government. That system has a tendency to produce failing companies that consume state subsidies and press governments to protect them against competition (often successfully because that saves ministerial faces too.) Or as the sadder-but-wiser saying goes: “If the government owns an airline, it’s really the airline that owns the government.”  

That kind of socialism has gone out of fashion even on the Left which now prefers to regulate capitalist companies so that they aim at more “socially responsible goals” than mere profit-making while still not actually going bankrupt. Ministers then get the credit for the company’s virtuous behavior, and the capitalists pay the price in reduced dividends for the “social obligations” imposed on them. That’s the socialist view of what a corporation is and how it should operate, but it’s also one that has been swallowed by corporate and capitalist titans. As the manifesto of the 2020 Davos World Forum puts it:

A company is more than an economic unit generating wealth. It fulfills human and societal aspirations as part of the broader social system. Performance must be measured not only on return to shareholders, but also on how it achieves its environmental, social and governance objectives.

Get the message?

If we look at the “re-imagining” of BP by Mr. Looney and his corporate colleagues, in which he makes the “net zero” goals of government a central purpose of BP, we can see that it fits very neatly into this paradigm.  

What makes it an unusually difficult proposition in BP’s case, however, is the radical character of the “net zero” obligations that BP has to accept as part of its re-imagining. In brief, these are seeking to reduce the market for its core products drastically, embarking on new energy industries in which it has modest expertise and which themselves will struggle to survive (let alone prosper), endorsing the replacement of the market by national and international socialist planning, and supporting general economic policies that will raise energy prices for everyone and severely impoverish Western populations -- one well-researched estimate puts the total cost of getting to net-zero carbon admissions at one-and-a-half trillion Pounds. In these circumstances, as Rupert Darwall points out in his forthcoming “The Climate Noose: Business, Net Zero and the IPCC's Anti-Capitalism,” published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, corporate executives like those at BP would be collecting their shareholders’ money and distributing it on causes which they might dislike and which would certainly run counter to their interests in very large amounts.  

As I hinted above, however, there is a simple way to legitimate this. If the senior executives of BP and other corporations with a passion for corporate social responsibility were to borrow money from banks or other institutions and buy out the shareholders, thus becoming manager-owners, they would then take on all the risks of ownership. They would have to pay interest to the banks, as with wages to their workers, out of company profits before being able to distribute “the residual” to themselves in dividends. In hard times they might have to cut or even eliminate their salaries to ensure the company’s survival. If the prospered, however, they would have a clear right to disburse company profits either in donations to favored charities or in financing “their environmental, social, and governance objectives” because they would be spending their own money in doing so. Governments might even consider making corporate social responsibility spending conditional upon this form of company structure. (They’re as about as likely to do so as manager-owners would be to maintain high levels of corporate social spending.)

All the same, I recommend this reform to Mr. Looney and his BP colleagues. I also recommend it with greater hope of agreement to their shareholders.