This article was written in response to an article in the Guardian by Damian Carrington. – The Guardian’s head of environment – on 14 September 2011. He posed the question ‘Why are the environmental campaigners who changed the world in the 1980’s not winning the debate on global warming?’ This article seeks to answer that question. It was submitted to The Guardian in September 2011 and rejected by Damian Carrington on 10 October 2011.
How do the Greens solve global warming?
Dr Robin Russell-Jones MA FRCP FRCPath
On 14 September, Damian Carrington – The Guardian’s head of environment – asked some searching questions about the environmental movement (The Greens’ midlife move: The campaigners who changed the world must now adapt their guerilla tactics for battles ahead). Damian mentioned several campaigns from the 1980’s which marked the high-water mark of the environmental movement in the UK:
The three most famous campaigns from that era were the battle to get lead out of petrol – the CLEAR campaign, led by the master campaigner Des Wilson; the campaign against acid rain for which the most effective campaigner was Chris Rose from Friends of the Earth; and the battle to save the ozone layer for which the chief protagonist was Jonathon Porritt who at that time was Director of Friends of the Earth. In addition, there were a couple of other campaigns which were equally successful: the campaign to tighten standards of exposure to ionizing radiation within the nuclear industry – brilliantly led by Stewart Boyle, FOE’s energy campaigner in the mid eighties; and the campaign to tighten up vehicle emissions which was only possible once the CLEAR campaign had forced the UK government to adopt unleaded fuel, since lead poisons the platinum used in catalytic convertors. All these campaigns were successful and they were achieved in the teeth of opposition from the industries concerned . The question arises: why were these campaigns so successful and why can they not be replicated now over climate change?
During the 1980’s, I was very closely involved in the environmental movement, first as Medical and Scientific advisor to CLEAR the Campaign for Lead Free Air and later as Chair of the Friends of the Earth Pollution Advisory Committee. I gave up campaigning in 1989 due to my late wife’s illness but I have followed the debate since, particularly as it relates to global warming.
The CLEAR campaign was run by three people. Des Wilson, myself and Bob Stephens who was a quietly-spoken and dedicated Reader in Organic Chemistry from Birmingham University who had made the study of lead his life’s work. Bob had stored every reference to lead in the scientific literature in his garage at home. He wouldn’t leave it at work because he was convinced that the lead industry or the oil industry would burn, steal, or ransack his office. Anyway, he was like a personal Internet service in the days before the Internet existed.
So how did we do it? How did we persuade the government to introduce lead-free fuel having already committed themselves to a reduction and not an outright ban two years previously? Essentially, how did 3 individuals defeat the lead car and oil industry in just 2 years? Well we had two essential ingredients. We had credibility and we had the facts.
Credibility is like a bottle of fine wine. It cannot tolerate any impurities or it becomes undrinkable. Well that is like credibility when you are campaigning. You cannot afford to make the smallest mistake scientifically or you are sunk. And it wasn’t just the industries that were after us. We were dealing with issues that had profound public health implications: the effect of lead on children’s IQ; the effect of vehicle emissions on asthma and rates of lung cancer in urban areas; the dose response curves for ionizing radiation and different cancer types; and the impact of ozone depletion on skin cancer and cataracts. And every time you write an article for the Times or the Guardian, and every time you write a letter to the Lancet or the BMJ you were putting your own reputation and more importantly the reputation of the campaign on the line. Forget the popular image of the woolly-headed lentil-eating environmentalists beloved of the media. This was deadly serious scientific confrontation with the world experts at the highest level.
And the other thing we had: we had the facts. And a true fact, in a campaign is like a pickaxe with a diamond tip. You just keep tapping away and you just keep repeating the same fact over and over again (Des Wilson taught me that a single fact repeated 10 times is more effective in campaigning terms than 10 new facts) and initially the opposition doesn’t know how to respond, so they do nothing. Then they feel they have to respond but they mess up. Then they try something different and the media start to realise that they are confused. And you just keep tapping away until their defences start to weaken and the wall starts to crumble and then the whole edifice, no matter how high or how mighty, comes crashing down. And then you have won your campaign. We did it to the lead industry and oil industry over lead in petrol, we did it to the car industry over catalytic convertors, we did it to the nuclear industry over ionising radiation standards, and we did it to the chemical industry over ozone and CFC’s. That’s four campaigns in eight years.
As I said before, Des Wilson ran the CLEAR campaign. I fluked the car pollution campaign, Stewart Boyle ran the radiation campaign and Jonathon Porritt ran the ozone campaign. For a few brief years, we four men, young men as we were in those days, grabbed hold of these environmental issues; we held a small part of the world’s future in our hands and we gave it a nudge in the right direction. And I believe that the world today is a better place for it.
In order to buttress these campaigns, in order if you like to provide the scientific bed-rock on which these campaigns could operate, I organized 3 international conferences in London and subsequently published the proceedings. The first was Lead versus Health: Sources and Effects of Low-Level Lead Exposure published by John Wiley in 1983 and co-edited with Sir Michael Rutter Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, a man with the most formidable intellect of anyone I have ever met.
The second was Radiation and Health. The Biological Effects of Low Level Exposure To Ionizing Radiation (John Wiley 1987) co-edited with Sir Richard Southwood Professor of Zoology at Oxford University, Former Chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution but more importantly at the time of writing Chair of the National Radiological Protection Board. Again one of the most intelligent and pleasant men I have ever met.
And finally: Ozone Depletion: Health and Environmental Consequences, published again by John Wiley in 1989 and co-edited with Professor Tom Wigley who was head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. And that should ring some bells as it was the same unit that was targeted by the Russian Secret service who hacked into e-mails at East Anglia and then released them in an attempt to sabotage the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen at the end of 2009. Anyway that would never have happened if Tom Wigley had still been in charge.
So what happens next? What do the Greens have to do to solve the issue of global warming? Well it’s quite simple really, you use the science. You establish credibility. You deploy the facts. And if you do that effectively and clearly then you simply cannot lose. You point out for example that if the Greenland ice-sheet melts, then world sea levels will rise by six metres (bye bye London, New York, San Francisco and Bangladesh) and if the Antarctica ice-sheets melt (this will take longer) then world sea-levels will rise by 60 metres (bye bye human civilization as we know it).
One would think that this information might spur a few journalists into action. Not a bit of it. Take the Times and the Telegraph. They are in a complete mess when it comes to climate change. They labour under the delusion that you have to have some sort of balanced debate in order to solve the issue. So all the world scientists, and when I say all the world scientists I mean exactly that. There are no peer-reviewed papers in the scientific literature that seriously challenge the reality of climate change and no papers that seriously challenge the concept that man is chiefly responsible for it (if you don’t believe me just read the last scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with contributions from more than 2000 climate change scientists world-wide). So all the world scientists are saying that two plus two makes four. And then some old fool with no scientific credentials like Nigel Lawson comes along and says ”No it’s not. The answer is five” and the editors decide that the answer must be four and a half. But of course they do that because they employ journalists with no scientific background. They’ve all got degrees in English or History or Politics and Economics and they all lack the scientific rigour that you need to see through the bull-shit.
So what you do is raise some money (the world is awash with multi-millionaires who cannot wait to fund a campaign on global warming) and you launch a campaign called “Planetary SOS” and you set up a charitable trust called Help Rescue The Planet and then you organise some conferences. But it wouldn’t be enough to do it just in the UK – you would have to go to America and challenge the foam-flecked diatribes of Glenn Beck and other raving lunatics on Fox News. You would have to go on American Television and Radio and challenge the right-wing pundits and the candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination all of whom are rabid climate change contrarians. And you would have to go to China because it was the Chinese who were chiefly responsible for the failure of the Copenhagen summit. And if you survive getting thrown in jail by the Chinese you organize another conference in India and another one in Russia.
And what would you do at these conferences? Well you invite the opposition. You invite editors from the right-wing press and you ask them to explain their policies on global warming. You invite the police and you ask them why they feel it necessary to infiltrate environmental organisations with under-cover agents, just to spy on people who are going about their perfectly legitimate business of campaigning against coal-fired power stations. You invite Bjorn Lomborg and then people will realize that he is a complete amateur that doesn’t have a single article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal (you don’t believe me? A Google search on Lomborg and peer-reviewed articles produces a total of nine, all written by other people!!). And you invite Nigel Lawson and the media will discover that what he knows about the environment can be written on a postage stamp with a paintbrush.
So there you have it. Problem solved. All it needs is a bit of money plus people to lend their experience and their expertise.