Bloomberg, 22 December 20222) Coal, no longer shunned, keeps Europe’s lights on
The Wall Street Journal, 22 December 2022
3) Europe must exploit its fossil fuel resources or face economic relegation to second world status
Net Zero Watch, October 2022
4) Energy cost crisis threatens to bankrupt Green Britain
The Guardian, 21 December 2022
The Guardian, 22 December 20226) Stephen Moore: Green energy nightmare before Christmas: Coal is now world’s top energy source
7) UN Secretary-General António Guterres falsely claims weather disasters have increased 500% in 50 years
The Daily Sceptic, 22 December 2022
Spectator Australia, 21 December 20229) Costică Brădățan: Power has poisoned academia
UnHerd, 21 December 2022
1) Germany returns to coal as energy security trumps climate goals
Bloomberg, 22 December 2022
Germany is set to boost its reliance on coal as it battles an unprecedented energy crisis — even at the expense of its ambitious climate goals.
Europe’s largest economy is burning the fossil fuel for electricity at the fastest pace in at least six years, data compiled by Bloomberg show. It’s also poised to be one of the few nations to increase coal imports next year.
Across the globe, highly polluting — and relatively cheap — coal is making a comeback as countries seek to prevent soaring energy costs from triggering an economic meltdown. In Europe, the crisis is acute, after Russia curbed natural gas supplies in the fallout of its war in Ukraine. Germany is now trying to balance the short-term priority of bolstering energy security with the longer-term goal of net-zero emissions.
“Everyone is keeping their climate targets, but it’s true that when you face the dilemma to keep the lights on or decrease carbon emissions, the choice is to keep the lights on,” said Carlos Fernandez Alvarez, the acting head of gas, coal and power at the International Energy Agency.
Germany plans to phase out coal use by 2038, but the ruling coalition is pushing for an even earlier target of 2030. To weather the current crisis, the country has temporarily brought back some coal plants that were offline. In most countries, a limited amount of coal power capacity is returning to service. “Only in Germany, with 10 gigawatts, is the reversal at a significant scale,” the IEA said in a report.
Germany now generates more than a third of its electricity from coal-fired power plants, according to Destatis, the federal statistical office. In the third quarter, its electricity from coal-fired generation was 13.3% higher than the same period a year earlier, the agency said.
“The coal phase-out ideally by 2030 is not in question,” a spokeswoman for the German Economy Ministry said in a statement. “Against the backdrop of the crisis situation, the most important thing is that we have apparently succeeded in consuming significantly less energy in 2022, especially natural gas.”
Germany’s power-market interventions that have led to an increase in emissions are limited in time, and the country has accelerated the development of renewable energy, she said.
The German coal revival has two main causes: fuel switching away from expensive natural gas, and rising power demand from France, where electricity generation has been hobbled by nuclear-reactor outages.
European gas prices spiked to record levels over the summer and remain about twice the five-year average for the time of year. Earlier this year, companies including power generator Steag GmbH brought back coal capacity due to soaring gas prices. Automaker Volkswagen AG also shelved a plan to switch away from coal at its Wolfsburg facility in Germany.
While both gas and coal prices have declined recently, it’s still more profitable to burn the dirtier fuel to produce electricity.
“Coal is coming back as a baseload generator,” said Guillaume Perret, who leads energy consultancy Perret Associates Ltd. “We think it will be less seasonal than it has been – with more coal-burning in summer, spring and autumn, as long as coal remains so much in the money versus gas and there remains a gas shortage.”
It’s possible that Germany’s emergency coal stations could be kept online as far into the future as December 2024, nine months after the government’s planned closure date, Perret added. He noted that the European Union and Turkey are the only major energy users worldwide expected to increase coal imports in 2023 compared to 2022.
This year Germany will also likely be a net exporter of electricity to France, the first time that has happened in record-keeping since at least 1990, according to Destatis.
At times this month, German electricity became as polluting as power produced in South Africa and India, after lower wind speeds curbed renewable generation and coal consumption spiked, according to Electricity Maps, an app that aggregates grid data.
There are some bright spots for Europe that may help it avoid burning coal. Gas prices have slumped as previously mild weather pushed back the start of the heating season, and the region has seen record levels of liquefied natural gas imports recently. Gas inventories remain above the seasonal average.
Burning More Coal
In addition, nuclear power in France has started to return. While some delays continue, reactor availability is now at about 68%, grid data show. That compares with about 50% in early November. Germany also plans to keep its three remaining nuclear plants online until at latest mid-April, beyond their original retirement date.
While Europe’s imports of coal are likely to rise, exactly how much of it is actually burned for power production is unpredictable, especially if hydropower increases in the region. Germany also increased its renewable energy generation by 2.9% on an annual basis in the third quarter of this year, according to Destatis.
“The acceleration of renewables deployment is the linchpin for both achieving energy sovereignty in the middle of this decade and our 2030 climate targets,” said Fabian Hein, project manager for EU policy at think tank Agora Energiewende.
The Wall Street Journal, 22 December 2022
European demand, especially in Germany and Poland, is one reason why the world is on track for record coal consumption in 2022
Europe passed its first winter test without Russian energy, keeping the lights on through this month’s cold blast. The secret to its success: burning more coal than it has in years.
Consuming large amounts of coal represents a difficult choice for European nations that had promised to ditch the carbon-intensive fuel to contain climate change. Russia’s cut to natural-gas supplies after invading Ukraine and outages at French nuclear plants have spurred the revival.
European demand is one reason why the world is on track for record coal consumption in 2022, the International Energy Agency said this month. “Coal will continue to be the global energy system’s largest single source of carbon-dioxide emissions by far,” the intergovernmental organization said, adding that it expects global demand to flatline before falling after 2025.
The effects of war have turbocharged coal’s comeback. But a flaw in Europe’s approach to the transition toward renewable sources of energy has also played a role.
The continent has invested in wind and solar energy while closing dozens of coal-fired power plants over the past decade. When it is cloudy or the wind is low, and demand is high, Europe doesn’t have the capacity to maintain electricity supplies from clean sources.
At that point, power prices rise to encourage utilities to fire up fossil-fuel plants. Gas mostly filled the gap in recent years. But coal has taken the lead of late—partly because Germany and other countries brought plants back online, and partly because gas is so expensive that it is more profitable for utilities to burn coal.
“Whenever there’s higher power demand, you ramp up coal as much as possible and it jumps into the system before the gas plants,” said Paweł Czyżak, analyst at Ember, a think tank that aims to expedite the shift away from coal.
Coal use rose this month when icy, calm weather quieted wind farms and strained the electricity system. The European Union generated 22% of its power with coal and its sister fuel lignite, also known as brown coal, in the first two weeks of December, said Mr. Czyżak. That is up from 17% in the same period last year and from the 15% average for the whole of 2021.
In Europe’s interconnected market, coal power flowed across borders.
At times, Great Britain meets more than half its power demand with wind. On Dec. 11, that fell to less than 4% just as demand jumped, according to National Grid ESO. The power-grid operator ordered two standby coal units to warm up in case they needed to generate power the next day.
National Grid stood the generators down after high U.K. prices pulled in power from the continent and Norway along subsea cables. Some came from France, which passed on power it had imported from Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Italy—and in particular Germany, where coal and lignite plants were running full throttle.
In the first two weeks of December, Germany generated 49% more power with coal and 6% more with lignite than in the same period a year ago, according to EnAppSys Ltd.
“It’s a security of supply issue across Europe and the Germans had some plants that they could bring back, so that’s what they did,” said Jean-Paul Harreman, a director at the data analysis and consulting firm. “If the Germans didn’t deliver, then the French would have a problem.”
Wind speeds and temperatures have since picked up while several French nuclear reactors have come back online. But finding ways to meet demand when renewables flicker is one of the biggest challenges facing governments and companies over the next decade, energy executives say.
Neither hydrogen nor batteries, which could store power to be released when wind speeds drop, are ready to be produced or deployed at scale. “I find it hard to say at this point which is the likely winner,” said Pieter de Pous, program leader for fossil-fuel transition at think-tank E3G. Building more grid connections so renewable power can be funneled across borders is also key, he said.
Europe was on track to consume more coal for the second year running before the recent freeze. It has imported the fuel from far-flung producers including Colombia, Indonesia and South Africa after banning Russian coal as part of sanctions on Moscow.
Poland’s pro-coal government, in particular, has touted the fuel as a way to keep the economy running while war rages in neighboring Ukraine. The country accounts for more than 40% of EU hard-coal demand, and has clashed with Brussels over its desire to stick with coal plants and mines.
In April, after Russia cut gas supplies to Poland, the government dropped a ban on burning lignite and poor-quality coal at home. At an election rally in September, Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, encouraged voters to “burn whatever was necessary to keep warm, except for tires.”
Meeting demand is difficult because Poland no longer imports Russian coal. Prices for the fuel leapt, prompting the government to cap energy bills for 2023. Analysts say pollution levels will worsen if coal prices keep rising, encouraging people to turn to alternatives to warm their homes.
“Whether or not Poland will have sufficient amounts of coal really depends on how severe this year’s winter will be,” said Robert Tomaszewski, an energy analyst at Polityka Insight.
Across Europe, industry is leaning on coal, as well as oil, to keep operating at a time of high gas and power prices. Evonik Industries AG extended the life of the coal-fired power plant at its factory in Marl to March 2024 after the invasion of Ukraine. The German chemicals maker had planned to close the plant, which mainly generates steam for chemical processes, in the summer of 2022.
3) Europe must exploit its fossil fuel resources or face economic relegation to second world status
Net Zero Watch, October 2022
As Europe faces its worst energy crisis in living memory, Net Zero Watch has warned ministers and MPs in London and Brussels that they have a choice between exploiting Europe’s untouched fossil fuel resources or inevitable relegation of the continent to second world status.
It is matter of real concern that most MPs and ministers still oppose drilling for gas and oil in European waters and the North Sea, and even more importantly, still reject shale gas exploration, blocking a vital energy resource for Europe’s and the UK’s future.
Europe’s fossil fuel resources are the subject of a new paper published today by Net Zero Watch. The paper surveys the scale of resources and concludes that they are large enough to make a significant difference to both price and energy security, opening up the path to a more secure future.
Europe’s energy resources are far from trivial, with coal reserves amounting to nearly 13% of the global total, sufficient to support current levels of production for nearly 300 years.
According to the European Commission, technically recoverable shale gas resources in Europe amount to some 14 trillion cubic metres, between four and five times greater than the proven reserves of natural gas. In other words, shale gas would be sufficient to support current levels of European gas production for more than 50 years.
In 2014 the European Commission concluded that ‘the volumes produced will not make Europe self-sufficient in gas, but could help to reduce prices’. That conclusion is obviously correct, and applies with equal force to coal, oil, and conventional natural gas resources.
Dr John Constable, the report’s author, said:
“Europe’s fossil fuel resources will not deliver self-sufficiency – for that we need nuclear energy – but they reinforce our energy security and promote the economic prosperity that we require to move towards a high energy nuclear future.
It is alarming that there are still parliamentarians who believe that more renewable energy is the solution, when this will only deepen the current crisis and make recovery still more difficult. Only the physically superior energy from fossil fuels is able to help us out in this desperate situation.”
4) Facing an energy crisis, Germans stock up on candles
NPR, 20 December 2022
It’s a great time to be a candlemaker in Germany.
“Candle demand is very strong right now,” says Stefan Thomann, Technical Director of the European Candle Manufacturers Association.
The candle boom began during the pandemic, after the government imposed lockdowns and Germans began spending a lot more time at home. The industry expected the boom to end once the nation opened back up, Thomann says. “But then the war (in Ukraine) started.”
Prior to Russia’s invasion, Germany was getting more than half of its natural gas from Russia. It was Russia’s biggest natural gas customer in the European Union, and many Germans used this gas to heat their homes, generate electricity, and power their factories.
After the war started, though, Germany began reducing its imports of Russian natural gas. But the German economy was pretty dependent on Russian gas, and politicians were reluctant to completely cut off the flow.
However, this summer, Russia cut gas flows to Germany, claiming a major gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea needed maintenance work. Then, in September, parts of that same pipeline mysteriously exploded. Officials are still debating how and why that happened. Whatever the reason, the spigot of Russian gas into Germany has now been shut off almost completely.
Germany is now on a mission to transform its energy economy and reduce its gas consumption. The nation is making real progress on that front. But our sources make clear that many Germans remain anxious about high energy prices and the possibility of shortages and power outages. Their response to this has included — apparently — buying lots of candles.
“The fear was, at the beginning of the year, that this kind of reduction in gas consumption would lead to, I think some people used the word ‘meltdown,’ of German industry,” says Guntram Wolff, director and CEO of the German Council on Foreign Relations.
The German government has been working to reduce gas consumption and diversify its energy supply. Early this fall, it enacted new measures aimed at reducing gas demand and helping Germany make it through the winter, when power use is higher. Germans are now being encouraged to do things like use less hot water; switch off the lights on advertising billboards past 10pm, and on public monuments; turn off the heat in private swimming pools; and lower the temperature in many public buildings.
“There’s regulation for all public buildings. You don’t heat the floors anymore, lecture halls and so on,” says Moritz Kuhn, an economics professor at the University of Bonn. His university even handed out thermostats to professors to monitor the temperature of their offices. Kuhn gets to keep his office’s temperature at 19 degrees Celsius, or 66.2 degrees Fahrenheit — the maximum temperature that offices are now allowed to be heated.
5) Energy cost crisis threatens to bankrupt Green Britain
The Guardian, 21 December 2022
Government support for households and businesses with energy bills, and higher interest payments pushed UK public borrowing to a record £22bn in November, the highest level for the month since records began.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the state spent more than it received in taxes and other income, meaning it had to borrow £13.9bn more in November than a year earlier, taking borrowing to its highest level for the period since monthly data started being issued in 1993.
Public sector borrowing was also higher last month than during the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, when the government launched huge spending schemes to support consumers and businesses during successive lockdowns.
Cost of living payments to help people and businesses with soaring energy bills were largely responsible for increasing assistance payments to £13.2bn, which was £3.3bn higher than a year earlier.
The Guardian, 22 December 2022
Hospices, which are intensive users of gas and electricity, have reported facing energy bill rises of up to 350%.
Hospice charities providing end-of-life services in partnership with the NHS have warned they will have to shut beds and sack staff because of the catastrophic impact of rising energy bills on their day-to-day running costs.
The UK’s network of independent, mainly voluntary-run palliative care providers said hospices were experiencing a perfect storm of soaring costs and rising demand just as revenues from traditional public fundraising methods are collapsing.
They have also warned that many patients who receive palliative care at home are struggling to maintain optimal care standards because they can’t afford to run central heating and the electrical medical equipment used in their everyday clinical care.
Hospices, which typically rely on charitable donations for 70%-80% of their running costs, and which are intensive users of gas and electricity, have reported facing energy bill rises of up to 350%.
7) Stephen Moore: Green energy nightmare before Christmas: Coal is now world’s top energy source
Fox News, 20 December 2022
The left’s foolish war on fossil fuels is driving consumers in countries around the world to switch from clean natural gas to coal
It looks like Santa will have plenty of lumps of coal to put in the stockings of members of Congress this Christmas.
If you haven’t heard the news yet here is the eye-popping conclusion of a new International Energy Administration (IEA) report on energy use:
Global coal demand is set to rise in 2022 amid the upheaval of the energy crisis.
According to the analysis:
“In 2022, high natural gas prices led to significant fuel switching to coal in electricity generation in Europe, although both gas and coal generation increased as the growth of wind and solar was insufficient to fully offset lower hydro and nuclear power output.”
Coal power generation will rise to a new record in 2022, surpassing its 2021 levels. This is driven by robust coal power growth in India and the European Union (EU) and by small increases in China – and it comes despite a decline in the United States.”
In simple English, what this profoundly embarrassing report is telling us is that because of the left’s mindless war on the production of natural gas — one the cleanest and cheapest forms of electric power generation — the price of natural gas surged in 2022 in almost all parts of the world.
As a result, “a wave” of businesses and homeowners in Europe and elsewhere moved away from clean burning gas to more competitively priced alternatives — chiefly, coal – even though coal is dirtier.
Coal use is also up because the left also hates nuclear power, which emits close to zero greenhouse gases.
In other words, despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars subsidizing fringe energy sources like wind and solar power, the world is nevertheless burning record amounts of coal.
There you have the baffling results of the green energy revolution in a nutshell. It’s as if the green movement picked up the football and sprinted into the wrong endzone.
But the sheer stupidity of the “green new deal” energy strategy doesn’t end there. At the insistence of the climate change industrial complex, the Biden administration has now moved America even further to the left than even Europe on climate change.
As a result, one of the only major countries in the world using less coal today is the U.S. — and yet we have more and cleaner coal than virtually any nation on the planet.
The absurdity of what is going on doesn’t end there. China now accounts for half the world’s coal consumption. Chinese coal consumption is expected to surge in 2023 now that President Xi’s Zero COVID Strategy has come to an end.
Yet America’s gullible climate czar John Kerry keeps flying around the world assuring environmentalists and politicians about how fully committed Beijing is to fighting global warming. He manages to say that with a straight face.
The IEA, which has been all in on fighting climate change and has, for the past decade, regularly and erroneously been predicting lower global coal usage, assures is that global coal use will drop next year. This must explain why China is building more than a dozen new mega-coal plants right now.
8) UN Secretary-General António Guterres falsely claims weather disasters have increased 500% in 50 years
The Daily Sceptic, 22 December 2022
Last September, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres claimed climate, weather and water-related disasters had increased by 500% over the last 50 years. According to the political and environmental science writer Professor Roger Pielke this is “pure misinformation“. He goes on to suggest that “you will never find a more obvious and egregious wrong claim in public discussions from a more important institution”. Matters were made even worse, in Pielke’s view, because the false notion was “legitimised” by none other than the World Meteorological Organisation (WHO), one of the founding bodies of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Pielke refers to the graph above based on figures from CRED EM-DAT, the same database the WHO and Guterres based their false claim on. Of course 2022 is not fully complete, but total disasters will be around the 330 mark, and this will be similar to the average for the last decade. Compared with the 2000s, the numbers are about 10% lower.
Based on these data, said by CRED to be reliable since 2000, Pielke notes there is no evidence that the number of global and climate disasters is increasing. “That means that – undeniably – there is no evidence to support another false claim by the UN that, ‘The number of disaster events is projected to reach 560 a year – or 1.5 each day, statistically speaking – by 2030’.”
Preliminary estimates suggest that around 11,000 people lost their lives this year as a result of weather and climate-related disasters, a figure around the average for the last decade. The overall death rate was about 0.14 people per million, and was one of the five lowest annual death rates since data were compiled. Pielke ventures that the figure is the lowest in all recorded human history. Just two decades ago, the figure was 20 times greater at 2.9 per million. The diminishing human impact of disasters is a science and policy success that is “widely under-appreciated”.
In fact, as the Daily Sceptic has repeatedly shown, such inconvenient facts are largely ignored in most mainstream media, as individual weather events are relentlessly catastrophised in the interest of upending society, via the Net Zero political project. Weather catastrophisation is now the main climate propaganda tool since global warming went off the boil over two decades ago. Pielke noted that he had spent 30 years working to understand trends in disasters. “Along the way, I’ve observed a concerted and successful effort by climate advocates to create and spread disinformation about disasters, knowing full well that virtually all journalists and scientists will stay silent and allow the false information to spread unchecked – and sometimes they will even help to amplify it,” he wrote.
“I am curious. When are journalists going to start reporting the facts about disasters, and call out disinformation,” he asked.
Don’t hold your breath just yet Professor, might be the reply. On September 14th, the Daily Sceptic reported that four leading Italian scientists had undertaken a major review of historical climate trends, and concluded that declaring a ‘climate emergency’ was not supported by the data. Our report went viral, was viewed over 25,000 times, retweeted over 9,000 times, and eventually made its way into other media outlets.
It led to the inevitable ‘fact-check’. State-owned Agence France-Presse reported that “top climate experts” said the paper “cherry picked” data. One of the experts was Friederike Otto who works out of Imperial College London, and is at the forefront of the pseudoscientific ‘attribution’ of single weather events to humans allegedly causing the climate to change. She said that “of course” the authors were not writing the article in good faith. “If the journal cares about science they should withdraw it loudly and publicly, saying that it should have never been published,” she said.
As a result of this pressure, the publisher of the paper Springer Nature made the following announcement:
“Readers are alerted that the conclusions reported in this manuscript are currently under dispute. The journal is investigating the issue”. Of course all science is “under dispute” (except, it seems, the ‘settled’ science of climate change), but that is not the reason why this shameful announcement was made. It remains on the paper to this day.
Pielke concludes that planet Earth is a place of extremes. Hurricanes, floods, drought, heatwaves and other types of extreme weather are normal and always have been. The ability of societies to prepare and recover from extreme events is a remarkable story of policy success – deaths related to disasters have plummet from millions per year a century ago to thousands per year over the past decade.
“Unfortunately nowadays, every weather and climate disaster becomes enlisted as a sort of ‘poster child’ for climate advocacy. Every extreme event and associated human impact is quickly turned into a symbol of something else – such as failed energy policies, rapacious fossil fuel companies, evil politicians, or callous jet-setting billionaires. It is a simple and powerful narrative, and one that is also incredibly misleading,” he concluded.
Spectator Australia, 21 December 2022
Having signed up to the climate change cult, museum directors should not be surprised when terrified members of the cult respond by vandalising their collections.
It is probably fair to say that the last few months in the life of the average gallery attendant has become a little more challenging than usual. A role that ordinarily requires spending hours on end in largely silent rooms has transformed into a job in which a willingness to engage in virtual hand-to-hand combat with climate change catastrophists is a prerequisite. Rather than standing on street corners wearing, ‘The End of the World is Nigh!!!’ sandwich boards, these modern-day doomsayers are gluing themselves to Goyas and throwing mashed potato at Monets in the misguided belief that somehow their actions will make it less nigh.
In Australia, hands have been affixed to Picasso’s Massacre in Korea, and Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in London, real soup was thrown over both Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers housed in the National Gallery, as well as Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in the Netherlands. Poor old Gustav Klimt’s Death and Life was doused with oil in Vienna, while in the Louvre, visitors were treated to a Monty Pythonesque spectacle in which a man disguised as an old lady leapt up from his wheelchair and attempted to smear the Mona Lisa with cake.
Understandably, the establishment is extremely worried about this spate of vandalism. In early November, over 100 of the world’s top museums directors, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Uffizi, the Louvre, and the British Museum, penned a joint statement condemning the damage being inflicted upon their collections.
‘The activists responsible for them [the acts of vandalism],’ they wrote, ‘severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage. As museum directors entrusted with the care of these works,’ they continued, ‘we have been deeply shaken by their risky endangerment.’
But it is what the directors did not say in this statement that is noteworthy. They failed to say that we are not hurtling towards an eco-catastrophe. At no point did they propose that human activity has limited, if any, effect on the weather and they certainly did not condemn the protesters as wildly deluded and deeply unhinged, which they clearly are. The directors did not say any of these things because a great many of them have been energetically promoting the ideology of the very activists who are now running amok in their institutions.
Take Hartwig Fischer and Tristram Hunt, who are the directors of the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum respectively. Hartwig, who has been busily decolonising the museum’s collection in the name of inequality and discrimination, has also ensured that the British Museum develop a ‘Sustainability Ethos’ which states unequivocally that: ‘Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing our society.’ Last year, as part of COP26, the museum co-hosted an event called, Unlocking Climate Solutions: From the Pacific Islands to the Arctic, why Indigenous knowledge must take centre stage.
Meanwhile, under Hunt’s watch, the Victoria and Albert has gone into full doomsday mode and now boasts a Sustainability Plan inspired by both the Paris Agreement and the UN’s Sustainability Goals. The museum believes that its mission ‘at this current time of climate and biodiversity crisis’ is to ‘bring together art and science, and use our ingenuity and imagination, to avoid catastrophe and build a sustainable future for all’. Though not a signatory of the statement, the director of Canberra’s National Gallery, Dr Nick Mitzevich might as well be. Mitzevich has thrown his hat into the climate apocalypse ring by overseeing the implementation of the ‘National Gallery Environmental Sustainability Action Plan 2022-2024’ which also takes its cue from the UN.
In 2019, the Prado took fearmongering to new heights by partnering with the WWF on a project entitled ‘+ 1.5ºC Changes Everything’. Together they came up with the brilliant idea to digitally alter a selection of the gallery’s paintings in order to depict a future of rising sea levels and drought. We see Velazquez’ King Philip IV and his horse looking petrified as the water threatens to subsume them, and Joaquin Sorrolla’s Boys on the Beach transformed into Boys on the Mudflats surrounded by Dead and Dying Fish. Most grotesque of all however, is Francisco de Goya’s The Parasol in which the happy young couple have been transported to climate change refugee camp, the abject misery written, or rather painted, all over their faces.
If this wasn’t bad enough, these dystopian nightmares were almost impossible to miss. They were installed on billboards across Madrid and posted on social media to specifically target younger people, most of whom already believe this nonsense anyway. With propaganda like this, it is no wonder that ‘eco-anxiety’ is a real thing among young people across the West. In a 2021 global study of 10,000 children across ten countries including Australia, researchers found that 59 per cent of respondents were worried about climate change, and that more than 50 per cent that they felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. The report also revealed that this anxiety was negatively impacting their daily lives, with 75 per cent claiming that they are frightened of the future, and 83 per cent claiming that mankind has failed to take care of the planet.
It is then, difficult to feel sympathy for those directors who find themselves ‘deeply shaken’ by recent events. Having signed up to the climate change cult, they should not be surprised when terrified members of the cult respond by vandalising their collections. Activism is all well and good when it’s a sustainability plan or a carefully curated exhibition to be reviewed in The Art Newspaper, but when it pierces its nose, dyes its hair blue, and glues its hands to your priceless Vermeer, then that’s another thing altogether.
Scholarship is now a form of activism
UnHerd, 21 December 2022Much of today’s humanistic scholarship is not just about politics, it is itself a form of political performance: it generates and increases power, it creates and maintains hierarchies, it splits the scholars into camps, tribalising the humanities and turning them into a power-charged field.
In the spring of 2017, the journal Hypatia published an article titled “In Defense of Transracialism”, in which the author, Rebecca Tuvel, argued that “since we should accept transgender individuals’ decisions to change sexes, we should also accept transracial individuals’ decisions to change races”. Shortly after publication, following a social media campaign, an open letter was sent to Hypatia’s editor requesting the retraction of the article because its “continued availability causes further harm”.
Precious few details were given about that harm. The signatories, comprising eventually more than 800 scholars, offered some perfunctory scholarly reasons for their demand, but it was clear that the article’s main shortcoming, in their view, was of an extra-scholarly nature: its conclusions went against the political sensibilities prevalent in today’s mainstream humanities, in whose name they were writing. Rather than a scholarly document, the letter was a rallying cry built around such conspicuously political terms as “privilege”, “harm” and “erasure” — which feature abundantly in the current discourse of the Left.
Separately, some of the journal’s associate editors apologised on social media for “the harms”, stating that “clearly, the article should not have been published”. Both Hypatia’s editor and its board of directors, however, stood by the journal’s initial decision to publish Tuvel’s article, which is still available online.
In another section of Anglophone academia, a team of three scholars, Peter Boghossian, James A. Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose, were perpetrating what they ultimately called the “grievance studies affair”: over two years, they jointly wrote several hoax papers, and submitted them, under assumed names, to mainstream journals in the humanities. Even though these articles advanced blatantly absurd claims, and sometimes made little sense, some of them were accepted for publication — often enthusiastically. In “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon”, for example, published in Gender, Place & Culture, the authors claimed that “dog parks are ‘rape-condoning spaces’ and a place of rampant canine rape culture and systemic oppression against ‘the oppressed dog’ through which human attitudes to both problems can be measured and analysed by applying black feminist criminology”.
How did papers of no scholarly merit pass, sometimes with flying colours, the crucial test whereby a scholar’s subjective opinion becomes reliable knowledge: the peer-review process? Because the authors understood how important conformism to the dominant ideological orthodoxy is in the academic humanities. The hoaxers didn’t need to place any real knowledge in their submissions, only the recognisable markers of belonging to the same camp — dazzling buzzwords such as “rape culture”, “queer performativity”, “systemic oppression” — which mesmerised both journal editors and the external reviewers. (When the hoaxers came out of the shadows, the journals retracted the papers.) These two stories reveal, each in its own way, the outsized role that extra-scholarly factors play in scholarship — and, therefore, the extreme overall fragility of the quest for truth in today’s Anglophone humanities.
Almost a century ago, in La Trahison des Clercs (1927), Julien Benda warned against what he considered one of the greatest dangers of his time: the “betrayal” committed by intellectuals who, instead of defending les valeurs éternelles et désintéressées, chose to put themselves in the service of intérêts pratiques associated with specific ideologies, militant causes, social movements, and political parties. These intellectuels engagés pretended to seek universal values, while in fact advancing the specific agenda of one group or another.
Max Weber’s theory of “value neutrality”, earlier in the century, had similarly argued that researchers need to keep their own values and personal biases in check if they are to truly understand what they are studying. Not to do so would be to fail as a scholar. Both Benda and Weber were writing at a time of intense ideological battles, not unlike ours. And yet they thought the way out of the crisis was not more politicised knowledge, but less — preferably, none. […]
Karl Marx’s bon mot, in Theses on Feuerbach (1845), that “Hitherto philosophers have sought to understand the world; henceforth they must seek to change it”, was not the beginning of a political liberation, then, but that of a great intellectual confusion. How can one change a world one does not understand?
Almost 100 years after La Trahison des Clercs, Benda’s “betrayal” has become the norm in the academic humanities, especially in the English-speaking world. Nowadays if a piece of humanistic scholarship doesn’t broadcast, or at least allude to, the author’s political views and ideological mindset, it is seen with suspicion by her peers. Weber’s “value neutrality” appears as an aberration. Indeed, to write in its defence, as I am doing here, may be construed as positive proof of — God forbid — the author’s un-leftist views.
For not only are we supposed to wear our politics, visibly, on our scholarship, which is bad enough, but we also need to hold only certain views, which is plainly absurd. As has been observed, over the last few decades academia has progressively shifted to the Left. This has translated into an increasing lack of viewpoint diversity, which has compromised “the ability of scholars to seek truth, and of students to learn from a broad range of thinkers”, as two commentators recently noted. Ideally, there should be no politics at all in our scholarship. Failing that, there should be a variety of political views involved, in the hope that they will cancel each other out.