Is a new academic network just a cover for climate activists?

Over at his BishopHill blog, Andrew Montford draws our attention to a one-day seminar scheduled for this May. Hosted by the University of East Anglia (the origin of the climategate e-mails), the event will inaugurate a new Writing and Science network. The seminar will feature:

playwrights, novelists and journalists in conversation with scientists and activists.” [italics added]

Six speakers are currently listed on the seminar’s web page. The first is Tony Juniper, whose website describes him “a campaigner, writer, sustainability advisor and leading British environmentalist.”

The second is Mike Hulme, a climate change professor at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the author of the 2009 book, Why We Disagree About Climate Change.

Over the years, Hulme’s views and attitudes have evolved significantly. But it’s difficult to forget the August 1997 climagegate e-mail (087220206) that reveals a Greenpeace employee drafting a letter-to-the-editor for Hulme to sign.

The Times had apparently run an editorial that discussed Greenpeace and BP, the petroleum giant. Behind the scenes, Greenpeace wrote a letter in response. But rather than submitting the letter itself, Greenpeace persuaded Hulme, together with Anthony McMichael, to pretend that sending it was their idea.

In other words, academia has been in the business of dressing up activist views as science for some time. The public was told, 16 years ago, that scientists were expressing these opinions – the letter contained the phrase “As scientists studying the impacts of climate change.” But behind the scenes, Greenpeace was actually pulling the strings.

The third speaker at the seminar is Tom Greaves, another UEA professor. He teaches philosophy, specializing in environmental ethics. According to his biography on the seminar webpage:

Tom is actively engaged in environmental politics, both at the level of direct action and as a member of the Green Party.

Rebecca Stott, who teaches literature and creative writing at UEA, is the fourth speaker. She’s the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction, including one that sounds genuinely fascinating: Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution.

Then there’s Ro Randall, a psychotherapist

interested in human responses to climate change. – not just the familiar, outright denial but also the anxiety, distress, despair and grief which are often hidden behind defences of disavowal, apathy, disinterest and projection.

Randall is described as a founder of the Climate Psychology Alliance, which seeks to “make a useful contribution to the task of mobilising a relevant collective response” to climate change.

The Alliance’s website tells visitors about “our major conference with Polly Higgins.” She’s the UK lawyer who thinks there should be an international law against “ecocide.” In blog posts here and here Ben Pile argues that Higgins is proposing a kind of green totalitarianism.

The final speaker at the writing seminar is Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, who teaches drama at Oxford, and who has written about how science is portrayed on stage.

Of these six speakers, therefore, one is a “leading British environmentalist,” one is a Green Party member “actively engaged in environmental politics,” and one is a psychotherapist who seems keen to apply pejorative labels to those of us who ignore – or question – climate change dogma. Two other speakers appear to be non-activist academics, and the final one is a climate change professor.

What’s missing from this list? Anyone from the climate skeptic side of the fence, of course.

Even if one considers only book authors from the UK, surely one or more of Nigel LawsonAndrew MontfordJames Delingpole, or Christopher Booker should be given an opportunity to be heard. People have been writing intelligent books of a climate skeptic persuasion since at least the late 1990s. A few have even been bestsellers.

Surely a university interested in establishing a Writing and Science network should be inviting a range of perspectives. Otherwise, it has no right to pretend there’s anything scholarly about this project.

It’s just one more example of academics dressing up activism as something else.


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