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Climate laws and the chasm between politicians and public

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CLIMATE change is presented to us as a technical problem: science has detected the concern and has issued an injunction that society must be reorganised around the issue. Many sceptics have taken the proposition at face value and have challenged the cascade of argument that begins with the observation of CO2’s properties, and ends with your car, your boiler, your warm home, your savings and your job being taken away.

But we should recognise that any demand for the reorganisation of society is categorically ideological, whether or not it has been issued by ‘science’. Is environmentalism a remedy in search of a malady? Greens seem desperate to diagnose and cure society’s relationship with the natural world, which they argue is deeply broken. When the cure is applied, a Green Industrial Revolution will have created millions of Green Jobs, and a modest bounty of Green Growth. Or so they claim.

But notice something: Green Jobs have been promised but have not materialised. According to an unusually critical Financial Times article recently, the Brown government predicted 70,000 jobs in offshore wind by 2020, but the Green lobby’s own analysis finds just 11,000. ‘Britain is yet to enjoy a manufacturing and jobs boom,’ explains the FT’s standfirst. Only emissions-reduction targets are written in statutes, not the promises that have been attached to them.

This is significant because the very same organisations that lobbied the main political parties, each of which has been in recent government, have taken the government to court to enforce what they lobbied for. Last year the Court of Appeal ruled that the proposed Heathrow Airport expansion was illegal because it was not compatible with Britain’s obligations to the Paris Agreement. Even if you object to the Heathrow plan, you should be worried, because it has established a precedent on which any vital infrastructure plan can be obstructed, not by democracy, but by Green NGOs with bottomless bank accounts.

Nobody will be taking the government to court to enforce politicians’ claims to ‘Build Back Better’. Politicians’ empty promises to create opportunities and growth and revitalise industry are not enforceable. And worse, no party stands against the agenda, such that the voter can hold the promise-breakers to account by removing them from office.

I hope that if you were not convinced that environmentalism is ideological when you started reading this article, you are persuaded now. A political agenda has been embedded in law, which in turn has given power to an undemocratic movement, which can assert itself over the entire population merely by applying to the court. No matter the consequences, and no matter the public’s views, the Green movement has been given power of veto over Britain’s economy, industries, and people by zombie politicians’ preoccupation with the environment, and their utter indifference to voters.

The following video demonstrates the problem with just one organisation at the forefront of lawfare – the use of the courts to further an anti-democratic movement’s ideological aims. It shows that, rather than being driven by democratic will, billionaires and faded pop stars use their diminished talents and inflated net worth to engineer social values and to inflict their designs on society. For instance Brian Eno, elevator musician par excellence and trustee of legal campaign ClientEarth, expresses his palpable excitement about ‘global governance’, and the use of the law to circumvent democracy. It’s so modern . . . So science fiction, you see . . . It is his music, rewritten as legislation – the tune to which we are all forced to dance. That is what using law to enforce ideology means.

You can watch the video, Climate Lawfare in the UK, here, Climate Lawfare in the UK – YouTube and a transcript follows.  

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Narrator: One thing that climate change activists and their critics agree on is the fact that climate change policies require radical changes to society.

James Thornton, CEO, ClientEarth: ‘The law is an absolutely indispensable tool in the fight against climate change. The law is the way that a society captures what it believes we should all be bound by in any moment in time. And when it comes to climate change, we’re going to need to fundamentally change our behaviour: the way we run industry; the way we run transport; the way we make electricity. And all of that has to be captured in rules. And that’s law.’

This audio clip was taken from a BBC radio documentary series, 39 Ways to Save the Planet.

The words belong to lawyer-activist James Thornton, who founded the campaigning organisation, ClientEarth.

James Thornton: ‘ClientEarth is Europe’s leading environmental law organisation.’

ClientEarth uses the courts to challenge government policy and planning decisions that it believes are inconsistent with a green future.

But does this use of the courts really enforce ‘what society believes’, as Thornton claims, or does it represent something else?

The problem is that, as Thornton admits, climate change laws are going to fundamentally change our way of life.

People might well agree with the face-value purpose of rules.

But laws must be proportionate.

People may come to the view that advocates have overstated the upsides of rules, while the consequences – radical changes to our way of life – have been downplayed.

The way that a democratic society ‘captures what it believes’, to negotiate differences of opinion, and to make or modify or repeal laws, is by testing debates at the ballot box.

So if law is the expression of what society believes, and if society believes in the fundamental changes that ClientEarth fights for, we should see two things:

First, we should see that voters have been asked to give their view on climate change policy.

And second, we should see ClientEarth campaigns working from the basis of those democratic decisions.

Neither of these can be seen.

Britain’s dominant political parties have developed a consensus not to offer the public a choice, and not to admit that there are serious downsides to climate policy. 

And the laws that ClientEarth have tried to force governments to adhere to have not come from the UK.

ClientEarth has taken the UK government to court to enforce air quality standards, citing ‘illegal’ levels of pollution.

But these standards come from the EU, not from Britain.

Voters might agree that clean air is a good thing, which requires laws to be made.

But the public were not asked about how to find a balance between standards that may be political, unrealistic and unscientific, against the loss of mobility implied by their strict enforcement.

The law is a blunt instrument.

And the litigious approach championed by ClientEarth has allowed companies and local and national government’s decisions to be obstructed in the courts, without regard for the consequences.

Legal complainants argue that plans are incompatible with the UK’s commitments under the Paris Agreement.

It was the British government’s decision to sign the Paris Agreement.

But politicians have emphasised green growth, jobs and opportunities, rather than admitting that they would have to make trade-offs between emissions-reductions on the one hand, and economic growth and vital infrastructure developments on the other.

Law commits politicians to reducing emissions, but not to delivering promises that they and green campaigns have made.

Peter Mandelson: ‘Well the huge industrial revolution . . . Huge business and employment opportunities . . .’

Gordon Brown: ‘To create the low carbon economy we need is now a national endeavour . . .’

David Cameron: ‘The millions of jobs and billions of revenue . . .’

Chris Huhne: ‘Two hundred and fifty thousand jobs . . .’

Law commits politicians to reducing emissions, but not to delivering promises that they and Green campaigns have made.

The fact of climate litigation proves that government has lost control of the climate change agenda.

Abstract emissions-reduction targets have been set by politicians who have no idea about how to achieve them and what the consequences of setting unrealistic targets may be.

They are now being held to account, not by voters at the ballot box, but by the Green organisations that lobbied them, in courts.

So if the laws that ClientEarth wants to enforce don’t reflect society’s values, what do they represent?

One answer may be pop stars.

Brian Eno: ‘A lot of things we like are the result of global governance of some sort or another. And we want more of it. To me that seems like a very exciting project – you know, it’s the beginning of a real twenty-first century world.’

James Thornton: ‘What I want to do is to work closely with Brian and other creative artists to try and shape this positive vision together.’

Although Thornton claims that laws are a reflection of what society believes, he also claims that it is the job of artists such as Brian Eno to change what society believes, and therefore what laws people accept.

And some of the most depressing pop acts in history are of the same view.

In 2010, Coldplay became ClientEarth’s patrons, and in 2019 they held a fund-raising concert at the London Natural History Museum.

David Gilmour: ‘Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. The choice really is that simple. And I hope that the sale of these guitars will help ClientEarth in their actions, to use the law to bring about real change.’

In 2019, the guitarist and singer from Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, gave ClientEarth nearly $17million.

But what do pop stars know about the environment, politics, policymaking and governance, which makes their views more important than voters’?

Money . . .

In a recent promotional video published by ClientEarth, called ‘How to Start a Revolution’, the group explain that their benefactors’ money helped them to take the UK government to court at least nine times.

Brian Eno: ‘You know, part of the problem has been that people think the system is unreformable. You can’t . . . There’s nothing you can do with it . . . This kind of machine that trundles on . . .’

James Thornton: ‘Litigation is hand-to-hand combat. You know, it’s really . . . It’s nothing but war. If you’re focused on the goal, and you’ve got the law on your side, and you’ve got the public behind you, which we now do, then you win.’

This talk of revolution, and of a plucky charity David taking on a government Goliath, would seem to imply that the UK government and ClientEarth are opponents, standing for different things.

But in fact, between the years 2016 and 2019, the UK government gave ClientEarth four and half million pounds of taxpayers’ money in grants.

In reality, the court cases that brought ClientEarth and the government together in battle were simply performances.

They played opposing sides, but behind the curtain, they both wanted the same thing.

Like many Green campaigns, ClientEarth has never been a charity in normal sense; it has always been a political organisation, intended to serve the interests of billionaires that fund them.

The seed funding for ClientEarth was provided by Winsome McIntosh, who explained that her ‘philanthropic’ foundation had provided ClientEarth with $600,000 to replicate the American model of green litigation in the UK.

Since then, many millions from hedge fund managers has been used to circumvent the democratic process.

And the problem does not stop there.

The BBC’s documentaries have failed to ask important questions.

Despite being a public service broadcaster, the BBC believes that its role is to put the agenda of campaigning organisations, pop stars, billionaire hedge fund managers and government policy in a favourable light.

It has abolished criticism from its output, so that the public hear no questions about the influence of money and special interests, and the ideological agenda behind green lawfare.

James Thornton is wrong.

Climate laws are not a reflection of what Britain believes.

They are an expression of a huge gap – a widening and deepening democratic deficit – between the public and Britain’s political establishment. 

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Ben Pile
Ben Pile is a researcher, writer, blogger. Sceptical of environmentalism. For science, against scientism. https://twitter.com/clim8resistance

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