Nov 152011


What follows is a comment that Alex Cull posted on the New Statesman thread. It seems far too good to languish there:

Alex Cull Says: November 14th, 2011 at 10:29 pm Here’s a link to a very recent interview on ABC’s [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] Science Show (audio is available and they should have a transcript up within a few days) with Robyn Williams talking to Lord Krebs, zoologist, Principal of Jesus College Oxford and member of the CCC [Climate Change Committee].

Lord Krebs: How are we going to decarbonise the electricity supply? The answer is there is no one magic bullet. What you need is a portfolio of renewables – particularly, in the UK, offshore wind because we are lucky, we’ve got a very windy shoreline, some onshore wind, although the NIMBYs (the not-in-my-back-yard brigade) tends to slow that down, there’ll be a small amount of wave and tidal power, and nuclear will have a significant role to play.

No mention about the growing concerns re the cost (a minor detail, it seems – what’s a mere Mars-mission equivalent here or there, after all?) Indeed, what Lord Krebs also appears to be saying is that not only will we have to totally “decarbonise” the economy, but we will need to be persuaded to ditch the idea of economic growth as well (which raises, does it not, a double question mark over how all this massive decarbonisation is to be paid for, at the end of the day.)

Lord Krebs: …and I think we do need, in the longer term, to get used to the idea of a different model from the model of continuous economic growth for ever and ever. It just isn’t sustainable.

Robyn Williams: So that’s a question of changing people’s behaviour, which is always a challenge. How do you do that?

Lord Krebs: It’s a matter of changing politicians’ behaviour. But the politicians, at least in a democratic society, are there because the people put them there. So if the electorate sent a signal to the political classes – “We don’t want a model of forever getting richer, forever using more resources, forever plundering the environment” – then I expect the politicians would change their pitch. So it is, in the end, about changing people’s behaviour and people’s aspirations. And that’s a really difficult nut to crack. When we think of the scientific contribution to problems such as global warming or food security, we tend to think of the technological aspect of science, the biological sciences, physics, engineering, chemistry, and so on. But actually, in my view, the behavioural sciences have got a huge contribution to make, here, in trying to understand how we change people’s norms, people’s expectations, and people’s aspirations.

Notice how this shifts from changing politicians’ behaviour (we, the electorate, doing this by exerting our democratic rights), seamlessly to changing the electorate’s behaviour (but then there’s a riddle – who will need to change our behaviour, so we can then change the politicians’ behaviour?)

Lord Krebs: But going back to the fundamental question of “Can we change people’s aspiration and people’s expectation?” I think this is a really interesting area for research. The people who probably know most about it are, of course, the marketing people, because they know how to get us to expect to be able to buy new stuff, whether it’s an iPhone or a new item of clothing, because of this year’s fashion. So we ought to be able to take their skills and their knowledge and turn it to a different purpose, to get people not to expect to have the latest gadget, the latest styles of clothing but to realise they’re perfectly happy with what they’ve got.

Robyn Williams: Who would pay for that advertising campaign?

Lord Krebs: That’s a very tricky one, who would pay for it.

Robyn Williams: If it’s the government, then the old “nanny state” accusation comes in.

Lord Krebs: There’s always a risk of “nanny state”, and I think that again is really part of the problem, of who ultimately takes responsibility.

I’m wondering if Lord Krebs might have actually already provided an answer to the riddle. “So we ought to be able to take their skills and their knowledge and turn it to a different purpose, to get people not to expect to have the latest gadget…” etc. Who’s this “we”?

For those who have not come across his lordship before, he first come to public attention, and earned his ennoblement, by heading the Food Standards Agency. One of his sillier contributions at that time was an attack on the organic food movement. He is now – God help us! – chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. In real life, he is a world expert on the behaviour of birds.

That such an influential figure should seriously suggest that the same people who have managed to convince us that supermarkets sell good food and that its sensible to buy such shoddy goods that that they need frequent replacement are just the people to sell climate change – when scientists, politicians and activists have failed – is bizarre. But it is Krebs extraordinary confusion about the role of politicians and their electorates in a free society that really amazes. Is it surprising that the general public is becoming more and more suspicious about what scientists tell them?

20 Responses to “Visitor to Australia from another planet?”

  1. “We don’t want a model of forever getting richer…………….”

    I like the model of everyone getting richer………..this dude has a problem with others achieving his level of prosperity?

    Why do these politicians harbor such envy? (I assume Lord Krebs is some sort of politician).

    How do you become a “Lord” anyway?

    Are these the guys with the superior pedigree that inherited their power to “Lord” over the “commoners”?

    What a blowhard!

  2. “How are we going to decarbonise the electricity supply?”

    Just for once, I’d love to hear an interviewer ask what decarbonisation means and why it is necessary. An airing of views on the real status of CO2 in the biosphere would be very helpful, IMO. Plenty of people still get CO and CO2 confused!

  3. Reminds me of that song by harry Belafonte: “There’s a hole in the bucket” It ends up where it started, going round in a circle, like a fish in a fish bowl.

    I have to admit that Al Gore was right on one thing: The age of stupid is here.

  4. So the future is to be Brave New world more than 1984.

    The good news is he is clearly an idiot.

    The bad news is that such tactics (known as psywar) were used by NATO members funding of “Non” Governmental Orgasnisations to elect pro-western governments in Ukraine, Georgia and (with a bit of miscounting and thuggery) in Montenegro & come close to beating Milosevic.

    The good news is that it doesn’t always work – Ukraine reversed course at the next election & Belarus never fell in line in the first place.

    Still “we”, by which he means the fascists in charge, have been moderately successful; have spent years funding their ecofascist movement well enough that most people believe there must be something to it; and do know the advertising/psywar tricks pretty well. For example Presidential front runner Herman Cain is currently in the 2nd week of a sexual harrassment smear in which it has not proven possible, or necessary, to introduce any evidence at all but has prevented any discussion of the issues..

  5. Brute #1

    “Why do these politicians harbor such envy? (I assume Lord Krebs is some sort of politician). How do you become a “Lord” anyway?”

    As reformed after the war, the House of Lords wasn’t so bad. The system of Life Peers created a number of “senators-for-life” named for their services to society. They could round off a life doing good by helping make the country’s laws. (It was open to abuse of course. “Services to society” could be interpreted as “contributing to party funds” for instance).
    Then Labour Party leader Ed Miliband instituted an innovation last year, when he named an obscure young graduate running an obscure NGO “Baroness Worthington” for her services to government in helping to write the Climate Change Act, which handed responsibility for planning Britain’s future energy policy to the unelected Climate Change Committee, on which Lord Krebs sits, meditating ways to make the electors agree with the policies he dictates to governments of left or right.
    You know that you and I don’t agree on political matters. But however mad or bad or inadequate the people you choose to rule you turn out to be, at least you can say “we chose them”.

  6. When someone mentions “tidal power” you know they have already checked out of reality.

  7. Unfortunately, one of the ways the powers-that-be will try and change people’s minds to their groupthink is by feeding endless propaganda to our children and grandchildren.

  8. Talking of groupthink, I’m still trying to get my head round this…

    I wonder what Peter Martin thinks about it?

    H/t Peter Walsh on Bishop Hill

  9. Messenger

    Just to add to your concerns, I’ve linked below to something I downloaded from Radio3’ In Tune programme last night. This concerns a new production of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde (Noah’s Flood) by Mid-Wales Opera.

    For those not familiar with this remarkably jolly opus, it was written with the express intention of getting lots and lots of kids with no experience of opera to try performing one, and by so doing, perhaps, discover a whole new world of music. There is nothing earnest or do-gooding about this piece, its mainly happy tunes from beginning to end, and as a result kids who do get a chance to take part in a production never forget it. Britten loved working with children and understood them well, so he was at pains to compose music that was fun for even the most clueless to either perform or listen to.

    So here is what the producer had to say about her brilliant and very original new production. I’ve cut the excerpt from the opera considerably because, for reasons that will become apparent, someone chose to use the only slightly heavy passage, which portrays Mr and Mrs Noah’s, and all those animals, apprehension when confronted by the flood. The whole interview lasts about eight minutes and you need to listen right to the end, when I guarantee that your eyebrows will be in orbit.

  10. TonyN #9
    It sounds great fun – right up to the last minute. I won’t spoil the surprise by quoting the punch line, but, to be fair to the opera’s producer, she’s worried about deforestation, and never once mentions climate change. You do get the feeling though that any news pointing out that things are not as bad as we once feared (that forest coverage is actually going up, for example) would quite ruin her day.

    Noye’s Fludd was written and first performed in Suffolk, a few years after a dreadful flood which killed hundreds and had nothing to do with deforestation, of course.
    There’s a nice little video about the opera, with short extracts, at

  11. My terrible spelling blunder has been corrected: thanks But not the minor difference!

    But the producer certainly does mention ‘climate change’ and all the rest of what she says about deforestation flows from that (3:25 – 3:50). It appears that she is conflating deforestation, flooding, and climate change because she has no idea what the relationships between those three phenomena are. Note her little peroration about the ‘need to really care about the future’ (specifically in Wales 4:35 – 4-50). She certainly isn’t talking about deforestation in Wales; it just isn’t a problem for us.

    There is a clue to her confusion on the company’s website here:

    Supported by Size of Wales – a unique scheme to sustain an area of tropical rain forest the size of Wales as part of the national response to climate change

    The Size of Wales website is at:

    I haven’t had a look at it properly yet, but I certainly will.

    And I wonder if there is any tie-in with this very troubling story about forest protection in Africa:

  12. Sorry. My mistake, rather worse than a spelling mistake in Middle English.
    For those who can’t face listening to it, here’s the bit from the middle – (I’ll leave you to find the punch line at the end though)

    What I think is really fascinating is this sense of a translation, in the mathematical sense, that here we have a Bible story, which is then … translated by Benjamin Britten in the late 1950s as an opera, and we’ve now taken it the next stage, where we’ve taken that fabulous opera, and given it a relevance to the young people. Because it was kind of waiting to happen, because, you talk to a child and say the word “flood” to them, and they will say back to you the word “deforestation”, and it’s extraordinary, this is a generation that really debates climate change..

  13. “a generation that really debates climate change”

    And mostly thinks it’s a load of dingo’s kidneys, although they are smart enough not to say so in class. IMO, of course, but I do have a 13-year old who corroborates this…

  14. That sequence from Radio 3 is priceless, and excellent transcript material – thanks for posting. Another little piece of the insanity, to be savoured and catalogued! From various internet articles, it appears that in this version of the story, Mrs Noah has got mixed up with the “wrong sort” – hedonistic sun-worshippers lounging in deckchairs and drinking alcopops – who are clearly awful climate denialists of the most frivolous kind.

    Luckily the eco-aware Mr Noah is on hand to put things right, with his army of young helpers, as seen in this picture. Note the placard with “el carbon destruye el clima” written on it. It’s actually a Greenpeace slogan, as can be seen from this Greenpeace article from 2007 about activists blockading a coal shipment in Tarragona. “Coal” in Spanish is “carbón”, while “carbon” is actually “carbono” (according to Google Translate, anyway) so this is saying “Coal is destroying the climate”. Death trains, anyone?

    There’s also a placard with “Ein plant sydd eiddo y planed” which is Welsh and means (Google Translate, again) something like “Our children are the property of the planet” (!)

  15. Alex,
    You are a robust fellow. You actually listened to the so-called “Science Show”! I can’t bear to do so. I recently wrote an article on extreme bias on the Science show in the year to last October. (As Bob Fernley-Jones) It is embodied in a broader article covering some other ABC programmes.

  16. “One of his sillier contributions at that time was an attack on the organic food movement.”
    I think one of the themes you support is that you need a strong and robust evidence base, if you are going to adopt AGW as a hypothesis.

    where is the strong and robust evidence base that organic food is any better than normal food, in terms of health benefit ? What is silly about asking questions about that evidence base ?

  17. @Bob_FJ, ABC does appear to be following a strikingly similar pattern to the BBC – on the one hand, publicly holding the principle that they must present “a diversity of perspectives so that, over time, no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded or disproportionately represented” and on the other, having people within the organisation knowingly and blatantly bend or break this rule. And then there’s the cartoon-like depiction of sceptics. Even in fictional TV shows such as Crownies, the CAGW dissenter is depicted as an obnoxious and hateful “persistent climate denialist”, who the audience would do well to not identify with. Over here we’ve had BBC dramas like Burn Up (the OU’s Dr Joe Smith was a scientific consultant for that one) with its murderous Big Oil baddies. I think we’re meant to focus our righteous anger and ridicule on these caricatures, in a less intense way but much as citizens in Orwell’s 1984 were meant to focus their anger on Emmanuel Goldstein.

  18. Per

    People mostly buy organic food not for what’s in it, but for what isn’t. One reason we have antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA and C-difficile (the clue’s in the name!) is because livestock are routinely given antibiotics to enable them to survive intensive rearing. That doesn’t happen with organic meat, and organic vegetables are not doused with pesticides and herbicides, whose long-term effects on consumers are unknown. I see that as a definite health benefit.

  19. James P, you can imagine anything you wish, but science is about having evidence.

    “organic vegetables are not doused with pesticides and herbicides, whose long-term effects on consumers are unknown. I see that as a definite health benefit.”

    well, your idea of a definite health benefit, on its face, doesn’t even provide evidence of a benefit on health. Presumably you are aware of the over-representation of E Coli O157 outbreaks resulting from exposure to organic food ? Would that be a case where there is something in organic food (E. coli) which isn’t present so much in non-organic food, that is treated to remove such pathogens ?


  20. As far as I know, E.Coli infection is mostly the result of bad storage, handling or cooking, and is most often caused by undercooked meat, especially chicken. If it is relatively absent in factory chicken because of the antibiotics fed to the birds, that is hardly a good reason to buy them rather than well-reared animals fed on a normal diet, but maybe you think differently?

    As I recall, Krebs has expressed a liking for unpasteurised French cheese, although clearly he doesn’t want the rest of us to develop such tastes.

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