Philippe Sands and climate dissent.

Canadian investigative journalist Donna Laframboise has been publishing on Big Picture News, her blog, a series of articles showing how the international establishment is working to silence free speech on the subject of climate change. The latest of these articles, Silencing Dissent via the Courts, described a lecture by Philippe Sands QC at the UK Supreme Court last week. Laframboise suggests with some justification that Sands is seeking to make it internationally unlawful for anyone to express an opinion on climate change that is contrary to the Establishment line.

Personally I am alarmed that lawyers get involved with the expression of any opinions – particularly scientific ones. If someone wanted to question the existence of gravity, for instance, I’d be outraged if a court tried to stop him.

In the case of climate change this lecture looked to me like just another precursor to the attempted United Nations power grab that the December climate conference in Paris will represent. If the proposed treaty goes through the world will, for the first time, have an unaccountable global supranational power ruling over it. And that’s not a crackpot theory, but documented under UN imprimatur. Climate change has been an extraordinarily convenient instrument with which the UN has been able to crank up its grip on world affairs over the past twenty years. That is why politicians and prelates pronounce their conviction at a volume that varies in inverse proportion to the validity of the evidence. The UN is become the fountainhead of authoritarianism.

Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming began as a tenuous theory, backed up by little more than computer models making predictions. The globe has refused to cooperate with those predictions. You would be hard pressed to find a single one that has been realized by actual events, even though we are already a long way beyond the computers’ projected timetables. Taken from official data, there has been no increase in global temperature for nearly nineteen years, no abnormal rise in sea levels, no reduction in net polar ice, no increase in severe weather patterns, and five times as many polar bears as when I was a boy. That is not to say that the theory is necessarily wrong, but it does increase what have always been serious doubts. Let us see to what extent Philippe Sands QC acknowledges those doubts.  He begins at 8:05

If you are a lawyer you may find this riveting. If not you may not. I am not a lawyer. The etymology of the word ‘lecture’ decrees it to be a reading. This is a reading. The quality of Sands’ delivery notwithstanding, the people in the room seem to be staying awake; but I would rather be at home with a good book – or even a bad one.

After some preliminary niceties he begins with an account of some meeting some years ago in the UN whereat the islands of Palau were making a noise about imminent submerging under rising sea levels. Interestingly, although he does discuss in detail the legal ramifications of all this, he never actually tells us whether sea levels were rising or have since risen or whether the islands have in the mean time gone on their own sweet way. Having just googled them I can tell you that the indications are the last.

And this sets the tone for the entire lecture. Nowhere does he actually supply any hard evidence to support the climate change theory, merely protesting in impenetrable legalese that international courts have no proper influence over the matter.

The nearest he comes to evidence is an extended argumentum ad verecundiam beginning around the 17 minute mark. He extensively quotes the IPCC. As far as I could tell he quotes no actual data.

The Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change was founded in the ’90s under the auspices of the UN. Let us note the words ‘climate change’ in its name. Why is that significant? Because if there is no climate change there is no IPCC. Its existence and a large number of taxpayer-funded jobs depend upon a presumption encapsulated in its name. Over the years several venerable scientists have left it, protesting that they have been misrepresented. Nevertheless, though independent organisations sent in to audit its work have been critical of its being a political rather than a scientific body, the IPCC has produced five assessment reports, each accompanied by a summary for policymakers. The latter begins life as a draft produced by the IPCC and is then for several days subjected to phrase-by-phrase editing by a huge international panel of political beings ensuring that the summary follows the political narrative they wish to pursue. Therefore what began as a political bit of purported science becomes further politicised out of all recognition. And that’s the authority that Sands quotes. Again I say argumentum ad verecundiam, and pretty shoddy verecundiam at that.

At 43:00 Sands says, “the room for real doubt has disappeared”. He is a Professor of Law. I wonder what terminology he would deploy to tell a student, whose research was as shallow as quoting a single and interested source, that he’d been inexcusably idle.

He continues till 56:22; and essentially he has called for the International Court of Justice via the evidence of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be granted extraordinary powers over matters of scientific opinion, in order to facilitate the signing of a treaty in December which would give the UN unaccountable powers that no body – elected or otherwise – has ever had before.

Both the ICJ and the IPCC are UN bodies. All are impervious to the wishes of any electorate. What was it someone once said about absolute power?

Brendan O’Neill upholds the duty to offend.

On 5 March The Oxford Union held a debate on the motion “This House Believes the Right to Free Speech Always Includes the Right to Offend“.

If you yearn to watch all the speeches in the debate in the order they were delivered you can do so here. I may well explore more than one of the speeches in the fullness of time, but today I shall examine the first. It comes from Brendan O’Neill.

I have been looking back through the blog at O’Neill’s speaking, and my comments on it, since this post here. The improvement is startling. Since I first came across him he has been a fine writer but the standard of his speaking used to lag far behind, not least because he appeared not to see the huge difference between the two communication media.

I see him now and it is clear that he not only understands the difference but that he has worked at this medium. I want to cheer, because he has so much sense to articulate. He has shown himself to be a fierce and uncompromising defender of free speech, and that is why he is here.

He is out of the starting blocks at a sprint. He hurls at his audience a succession of blockbuster examples across history of people, later revered, whose opinions were held to be offensive to the orthodoxy of their time. He shows that those doing the offending were usually the giants of their generation, and those who tried to silence them were always the pygmies. They showed themselves to be pygmies by trying to silence the contrary view rather than engaging with it and out-arguing it. It’s a wonderful speech that makes me want to cheer.

There’s seems to be a widespread view that says that all opinions held in the past were primitive, naive and wrong; but that those we hold today are correct. We’ve reached the finishing line. All history of all things pointed to this moment of total enlightenment. Now finally we’ve got it right. The science is settled. The debate is over. If you disagree with us you are wrong – by definition – and a bad person.

What I find puzzling about this is not just the pitiful arrogance, but the imbecility of it. It’s a philosophical position that has been repeatedly adopted for thousands of years, and always collapsed. Yet still it has its adherents – principally among the intelligentsia. You have to be an intellectual to be quite that stupid. I feel I want to pat them gently on the head with a soothing, “yes dear”, and offer them a mug of warm cocoa.

O’Neill on the other hand wants to show them how idiotic their position is, and as a speaker he does it very effectively. He has almost reached the point at which he would trust himself enough to be rid of paper. Indeed so seldom does he glance at his notes that he could now afford no longer to do it surreptitiously. It is acceptable quite openly to glance at notes to remind yourself of your next argument, as long as you then shoot it from the hip. O’Neill is very close to that level and it makes him almost as formidable on his feet as he is on paper.

His final sentence rocked me. It was supposed to. It made the whole speech memorable. It neatly typified his whole argument.

Daniel Hannan: aiming for the wrong target

Earlier this year a European Students for Liberty Conference in Berlin was addressed by MEP, Daniel Hannan.

He has graced this space many times, and with good reason. He is very good, in fact one of the best. Not wanting him to monopolize the blog I watch probably ten times as many of his speeches as I cover here, and I’ve decided today to air a concern for him that I’ve been suppressing for a time. The concern was triggered by something he tweeted some months ago.

Outstandingly good though he is, I fear that the way he is heading will not make him any better, but could easily make him less effective on the speaking platform. He has his sights on the wrong target.

I have mentioned before – here, for instance – that Hannan has a tendency to swallow syllables or sometimes words or even occasionally whole phrases. It’s not idleness: he is doing it on purpose for dramatic effect. He varies the tonal colour of his speaking, making it sometimes loud sometimes soft – though those too adjectives don’t nearly cover the myriad nuances that he finds. Though I feel he tries too hard I can’t quarrel with any of that as such, except for the technical detail that he isn’t accomplished enough vocally to be heard when he is at his softest, so bits go missing.

But that is merely a symptom of what concerns me.

At 4:26 there is a high shot from the gallery,which pans from Hannan to the audience. Out of interest I paused the video at random and found that out of 34 visible audience members 9 were engaged in something other than paying attention to Hannan.  I can go into ecstasies at how well Hannan speaks, but if more than 25% of my sample of his audience – his market – fails to be rapt we have another symptom that gives cause for concern.

Fifty years ago I devoured all the James Bond novels, and there was one recurrent detail in them that I have never forgotten. When describing the beauty of Bond girls, Ian Fleming always highlighted flaws. The nose was a little too straight, the eyes a little too far apart, etc. He had observed that desirability comes from imperfections. So what has this to do with Dan Hannan?

There is no doubt that Hannan has worked very hard on his public speaking, and continues to do so, but his mistake is that he is a perfectionist. The trouble with perfection is that it is flawless, sterile, boring. I prefer excellence. Most dictionaries declare the two words to be virtually synonymous, but I arbitrarily choose to make the distinction that excellence embraces the idiosyncrasies that make you unique and display your character – in short your flaws.

When striving for perfection you tend to be a slave to the nuance of every syllable, listen intently to yourself for the right modulation, etc. That is misdirected focus. You should be concentrating only on your message and whether the audience is getting it; and you should be enjoying the liberty of not giving a damn about yourself. When striving for perfection you don a speech-mode mask and give a performance, whereas the most engaging, persuasive and interesting you can be is your own, real, flawed self. That is true of everyone, but not everyone is already good enough to let go and unwind as much as Hannan could.

He doesn’t realize that some of his syllables and words are inaudible, because he can hear them. He can hear them because he is listening to himself. That is also symptomatic of his being a slave to perfection.

So what was this tweet that I mentioned at the end of my second paragraph? He was paying tribute to a mentor who had stopped him uttering ‘um’ and ‘er’. That set my alarm bells ringing, because I have satisfied myself over many years that audiences don’t ever notice such things unless you are boring them. And the converse is that if you obsess over that sort of detail there is a very good chance that you will bore them.

This speech is immensely important, brilliantly conceived, excellently reasoned, but delivered by one who is “as smooth as a kitten’s wrist”. Yes, I have described him that way before, and now I believe he would do himself a favour if he permitted some  unsmoothness to show. He can do it: he’s already looser on some of his video pieces to camera, but he can beneficially loosen further still.