The Harsh Sounds of Silence

John O'Sullivan03 May, 2020 5 Min Read
A rising tide sinks all boats.

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?

John O'Sullivan is editor-at-large of National Review, editor of Australia's Quadrant, and President of the Danube Institute. He has served in the past as associate editor of the London Times, editorial and op-ed editor for Canada's National Post, and special adviser to Margaret Thatcher. He is the author of The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World.

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