Liberalism has almost lost – we must act before it’s too late

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Today I learned about the ‘anti-Greta’, a 19 year old climate change denier that is being promoted by right-wing think tanks in an attempt to diffuse, equivocate and derail the traction that Greta Thunberg and her message has gained in the global press. This is a proven tactic and there is a right-wing network that is engaged in this strategy all the time. There isn’t anyone doing it on behalf of liberalism and that’s a major reason behind why we’re losing.

The recent Australia bushfire crisis is a case in point. There have been several reports that show mainstream actors like Rupert Murdoch deliberately equivocate and obfuscate the strong, science-backed narratives about how climate change increases the bushfire intensity.

I’ve been researching these campaigns too.

Within days of the first major climate-change news stories breaking, armies of Twitter bots and fake agents had coordinated behind an #ArsonEmergency counter-narrative, supported by Murdoch and the unchecked proclamations of right-wing politicians, as well as a network of spurious ‘news’ websites, supposed ‘think-tanks’ and well-nurtured right-wing pundits and commentators.

The DeSmog website shows several articles highlighting the networks of ‘think tanks’ and ‘institutes’ on the right that promote climate-change-denial and, often, Brexit and other right-wing agendas. Take, for example, 55 Tufton Street – a Westminster office address that on its own hosts a network of right-wing influencers from the Tax Payers Alliance to the Global Warming Policy Foundation and which once hosted Vote Leave and Leave Means Leave.

The process is simple: what pseudo-legitimate ‘think tanks’ say, teams of ‘news sites’ report which armies of bots and pundits then promote, amplify and normalise – then significant percentages of voters trust.

These are international networks, as investigations into bushfire misinformation showed recently and as Carole Cadwalladr showed after the Brexit referendum.

And, these networks are winning.

It’s not just Brexit and Trump’s presidency. Putin in Russia and Victor Orbán in Hungary have shown it’s the winning horse to back. Australia and Brazil are in the same league. France and Germany are in their sights. And then there is Britain, of course.

Johnson is just the latest – the Conservatives have previously sided with Orbán’s Hungary against the EU and senior Conservative influencers have spoken about how Hungary has shown the ‘limits of liberalism‘ and called for a ‘special relationship’ with Hungary post-Brexit. This global network has a clear and outspoken agenda to ditch liberalism and rule via illiberal democracy‘ – where strongman leaders control the media and information-flows, coercing and beguiling their citizens to keep voting them back in.

Do not be complacent; our current government is a key player in the global attack on liberalism.

So where is the fight to defend liberalism and liberal democracy? Do we have a strong, coordinated network of ‘think tanks’ and institutes – nope – do we have a strong network of news sites testing and nurturing supportive pundits – nope – do we have an army of online agents that can promote and reinforce our message – nope. Are we, like Sanders/Corbyn on the left and Trump/Johnson on the right, ‘international’? It doesn’t feel like it.

Liberalism and liberal democracy is facing an existential threat – globally. The opposition is far advanced in their organisation, strategy and tactics. Their technology is advancing by the day. The stakes could not be higher, with Climate Change, universal healthcare and the independence of our once famed public institutions on the table. We do not have the luxury of complaining about their tactics. We must act – fast, united and global, before it really is too late.

* Dr Rob Davidson is on the exec of the Association of Lib Dem Engineers and Scientists (ALDES) and the council of Social Liberal Forum. He founded Scientists for EU and NHS for a People's Vote and was a founding member of the People's Vote campaign. Most recently he has launched Liberation Inc, a platform for liberal startups and has helped launch the Free Society Centre and relaunch Trade Deal Watch as new liberal organisations.

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66 Comments

  • David Hewitt 27th Feb '20 - 7:49pm

    A group of Lib Dem colleagues and I have been monitoring the Lib Dem National Facebook site. https://www.facebook.com/libdems/ There have been a number of posts from climate change deniers. However they have not provided any evidence to speak of and are easily isolated by logical argument. However I agree with you that there needs to be a dedicated group of Lib Dem supporters who are prepared to gather and display this evidence on social media. My small group goes some way to do that and we are taking a stall at the Lib Dem York Conference to try and promote discussion. Stall no 9 in the entrance foyer.

  • John Littler 27th Feb '20 - 8:21pm

    The LibDems in coalition made little attempt to publicise the good measures they carried out. They could have made a list but didn’t even do that. The only narrative that remains is the hard left whinging about it and that will be going on a long time yet.

  • While I agree with you, the problem is that buying up all the mainstream media, funding the think tanks and paying for bot armies costs money. It’s a worthwhile and affordable investment for billionaires, as it pays for itself when tame Goverments take a light touch with regulation and media ownership rules, and offshore tax arrangements.

    The question is how do we fight back when we don’t come close to their levels of funding?

  • There’s always going to be a money differential between the left and right. See: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/conservatives-labour-party-donations-election-a4373381.html (for example). The right wing print media – which still shapes a lot of our discourse despite falling readership – can afford monetary losses because of the political power they wield. We also have far fewer mainstream publications of different types to begin with.

    So, if the international right has decided that liberalism has had its time, it’s going to be tough. The grassroots-style movements we’ve been seeing are probably the only real ways to compete, and if you can convince like-minded people to work internationally all the better.

  • @ John Littler. Does one have to be on the hard left to think that the bedroom tax shouldn’t be on your list, nor should Welfare cuts, universal credit and reorganisation and further privatisation of the NHS…… oh, and don’t forget student fees.

  • David, I said the hard left were banging on about those issues. Some could have been avoided, but Labour had the same level of cuts planned by Darling. We just never got to see them. The deficit had to be reduced from £188bn p.a. somehow (Growth alone would not cut it enough) and the LibDems still managed to nearly double income tax allowance (Cameron said was unaffordable), increase basic state pension by 50%, triple onshore wind energy making it cheaper than coal, introduce the pupil premium and increase the threshold at which student loans are repaid to earnings over £21.5k, so nearly 1/2 never to be repaid., Or introduce the Green Deal on making electricity bills fund home insulation, while they reduce ( cut by Osborne), or equal marriage. They also prevented other cuts to the poor measures, while preventing big cuts in inheritance tax that came later.

    If the deficit had not been cut, the UK national debt could have been approaching Italy’s dangerous levels. The Tories carried it on another 5 years which was not needed.

  • Anyone with their wits about them can see that liberalism is in retreat across the western world. Read the excellent ‘the light that failed’ to shed some light on why.

    So we should concentrate on identifying and defending our core principles – and not allow ourselves to get distracted by trying to win new battles against the tide on minority issues of relatively trivial importance, such as who goes into which sort of toilet.

  • Science isn’t liberal and climate change research is not liberal either. It’s an accumulation of data that that strongly indicates human behaviour (use of fossil fuels, industrial activity, the meat industry and so on) impacts on the climate. All sides of the political spectrum need to stop trying to claim the issue. Scientific research does not respect political beliefs. Arguing that this is a progressive v conservative issue is like arguing that physics is about ideology. To use stereo-types, a red state American conservative wanting to run a petrol guzzling car to promote Christian values is no more in the wrong than a British or European student wanting to travel the world to broaden their mind. This is because it is the activities (driving a big gas guzzling car and air travel, respectively) that cause the damage and not the beliefs of those involved in those activities.

  • John – we have no excuse after the Obama Administration has demonstrated how to reduce budget deficit slowly without screwing up the poor. And please, don’t tell me the US budget situation was not worse than the UK. Obama inherited a giant deficit comprising of Bush war debt and massive bank and auto bailouts, as well as a much worse economic condition than the UK, and after that he still managed to introduced a $800bn stimulus package AND reduce deficit. You know, I still remember Obama running around calling for other European countries to introduce more stimulus, but nobody listened. Results: AfD, Le Pen, PVV, Brexit (by the way, Trump’s victory could have been averted in 2016 had Biden, Sanders or even Warren became the nominee, because all of them would have carried Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, where Hillary is extremely despised).

    By the way, the UK controlled its own monetary policy, unlike Greece.

    It would have taken much more than 5 years for a hypothetical Labour government to achieve the same amount of cuts as the Coalition did during 2010-2015.

    Rob Davidson – Sanders is just a social democrat by European standard, or even social liberal (his platform is not more radical than the 1928 Yellow Book and the Beveridge Report, please read them again). You cannot just lump him with Corbyn (well, although I prefer Warren), when most of the policies he currently proposes are already normal status quo in Europe (universal healthcare) and Continental Europe (free college). Regarding tuition fee, the US situation is much much worse than us and middle-of-the-road solutions are no longer adequate.

  • Peter Martin 28th Feb '20 - 4:06am

    The article is supposed to be about “liberalism” but, in the first sentence, we read of right wing deniers of climate change. Later on, we have Brexit introduced into the mix, as if anyone who harboured doubts about the UK handing over sovereignty to “Europe” is of the same ilk.

    It really doesn’t follow. It’s quite possible, even likely, that human induced climate change is real and an existential threat to human life, and at the same time UK incorporation into an emerging European superpower isn’t a good thing at all!

  • Peter Martin 28th Feb '20 - 4:14am

    @ John,

    ” The deficit had to be reduced from £188bn p.a. somehow ….”

    Why?

    And presumably you mean the Govt’s deficit? If everyone else is saving, ie they are in surplus, then the Govt has, penny for penny, to be in deficit.

    Are you saying that everyone else saving is a bad thing? Maybe you’d prefer we all bought, and drank, lots of whisky to keep the Govt finances in ‘better’ shape?

  • The EU is not an emerging superpower. It is a free association of countries. It is run democratically. The U.K. has had as much influence on its development as other countries.
    I agree it is time that we had a campaign in favour of democracy. It is time to refresh our ideas.
    Let us start with our own party. What would a truly democratic organisation look like?

  • “climate change denier” is a term used by propagandists.
    One can not deny climate, or that it changes.

    Most people – even scientists – have all sorts of ideas on why the climate is changing, and by how much the climate is changing.
    Allow those discussions to take place without trotting out propagandist mantras.

  • I’d love to know how Liberalism would deal with a mutant Ebola virus that was much more prevalent and contagious, causing mass migration out of Africa into Europe that was impossible to allow because it would blight the continent with the new virus. You can see what happens to Liberal politicians like Mrs Merkel when they allow mass immigration, without any direct threat to the populace,,, You can sort of guess how Trump and Boris would react but Ed Davey?

  • Julian Tisi 28th Feb '20 - 9:21am

    @wg ““climate change denier” is a term used by propagandists. One can not deny climate, or that it changes.”
    Not exactly sure what point you’re making here, wg. There are countless people, egged on by politicians who have interests to defend, that deny the scientific consensus around man-made climate change. These are climate change deniers because there is simply no scientific debate to be had any more, it’s as accepted as continental drift or evolution. Of course scientists will debate about the level of change and things like that and such debate needs to be had openly. But there’s nothing wrong in calling out those – like Trump – who simply choose to ignore the science for their own ends.

  • The message seems to be that we need to beef up our propaganda networks to beat their propaganda networks.

    In my view, we have far too much fake news, false outrage, wokeness, virtue signalling, bias, political correctness and intolerance already. People should concentrate on the facts and common sense which usually lie somewhere between the opposing ideological positions.

  • A couple of questions for Fred West.
    1. Does Angela Merkel know she is a Liberal politician? Another explanation is that she was concerned about population decline in Germany. The simplistic answer of mass immigration might have been influenced by her upbringing in East Germany.
    2. Why is the mutant virus going to start in Africa. How about starting in the U.K.? Would there be a different response? In any case we know a lot about transmission of diseases into countries where they were previously unknown. This is what happened when Europeans arrived in the Americas.

  • Julian Tisi
    Well said. According to the evidence Anthropomorphic Climate Change is very real. It isn’t a political debate. It’s like arguing with biology or gravity and thinking there is a middle way.

  • Julian Tisi – yes, precisely.

    Most people don’t deny that the climate is changing; that’s what climate does – and has been doing for this planet’s history.
    By all means call out politicians but don’t dress it up as a religious crusade; complete with howls of ‘Blasphemer’.

    Many scientist have more nuanced views on climate change and the science – and its causes and outcomes.
    The great Freeman Dyson believes that anthropomorphic climate change is down to CO2 but is of the opinion that overall CO2 may be good for this planet’s wellbeing.

    I live in a city that until quite recently was very ‘green’ – in my lifetime I have seen thousands of trees pulled down and fields and meadows dug up.
    Why do we obsess about CO2 when we are ripping out nature and replacing it with concrete and tarmac ?
    Why do we simply ignore these other factors ?

    And that is my problem – I love nature and my environment; and it seems to me that we are ignoring its destruction and giving the destroyers a free pass – as long as the bulldozers that tear down our trees are battery operated everything seems to be OK.

  • wg – perhaps American cultural/media influence is too great. In America, climate change denial is a thing.

  • @wg – You are right. In Scotland, for example, they have cut down over a million trees to make way for wind turbines, all in the name of saving the planet.

    Climate science is far from being settled. The greenhouse effect is not in question, but the sensitivity of the climate to carbon dioxide is very controversial. The climate models cannot simulate reality. They are unable to predict cloud coverage and the uncertainty from this factor alone is 300 times larger than the CO2 warming signal they are trying to predict.

    The argument is that we must act now on the basis of the precautionary principle. The counter argument is that if we are not careful, fuel poverty, destruction of the economy and our way of life is a high cost if the precaution is misplaced.

    Taking us back to the current discussion, it is public pressure directly flowing from publicity stunts such as ER and Greta that is driving political decisions such as the impossible zero carbon target at the cost of three trillion pounds. All of that has nothing to do with science.

  • What I find annoying is seeing trees cut down and land destroyed for new housing, with the environmental requirement being met by some solar panels and a wind turbine on the nearest hill. This, apparently, counts as sustainable and green! City councils, on the other hand, seem to cut trees down if there’s more than a light breeze. I sometimes suspect that progressive politics might even be exasperating the problem by replacing conservation with arbitrary environmental tokenism. Currently, there are a lot of arguments about relaxing planning permission, when maybe it would actually be better to tighten it. Tell people no, you can’t cut that woodland down or build there. Another occasional troubling thought is that NIMBY’s are better environmentalists than council planners.

  • Peter Martin 28th Feb '20 - 11:45am

    @ Peter,

    “…..but the sensitivity of the climate to carbon dioxide is very controversial”

    But is it really? The exact sensitivity of yourself to infection by the Coronavirus, or even the Ebola virus, won’t be known until after the event. Maybe you’ll die and maybe you won’t ! You can’t see what happens in a controlled experiment, and then rewind the time.

    Is this a risk you would want to take?

    I would recommend the Sceptical Science website for anyone who really wants to know the score. They have answers to all the commonly used arguments like: Climate’s changed before, it’s the sun, it’s not bad, there is no consensus, it’s cooling, models are unreliable, the temp record is unreliable, animals and plants can adapt etc etc

    https://skepticalscience.com/

  • Climate change is not the only challenge we face. There is increasing concern about our pollution of the land, the sea and the air. We have totally altered the the ecosystems over most of our planet.
    The question really is how do we, as humans, manage this to have the planet we want. Most people do not really want the sort of behaviour that we see around us. We kill each other, exploit each other for no obvious purpose.
    My own opinion is that we will continue on the same path. No idea where that will take us, but probably a collapse of present systems. However we will continue to pretend that if only every agreed with us the world would be a better place.

  • @Peter Martin – With great respect, the site that you recommend, together with the one recommended by the author of the above article, are staffed by activists intent on providing misinformation, climate alarmism and smearing genuine scientists.

    Try Googling any famous climate scientist such as Richard Lindzen or one of the greatest physicists, William Happer, who happens to criticise aspects of climate science, and both of these sites will pop up high on the list of articles. They will explain why these scientists have got it wrong and generally try to degrade their impeccable reputations.

    Your comparison to the Corona virus is not appropriate. The current warming has been closely monitored for several decades together with the predictive capability of climate models. The results speak for themselves. The assumptions programmed into the models are clearly flawed.
    https://judithcurry.com/2015/12/17/climate-models-versus-climate-reality/

  • The largest threat to freedom and liberal democracy is from centralism and imperialism to which the extreme right wing groups wouldn’t admit they are.
    The LD party despite not being able to reform the UK system continues to support the UK centralised regime and not consider alternatives.
    Why not support the Welsh and Scottish independence movements, as you now do for Ireland. It is knowing when the UK is past its ‘sell by’ date. Throughout the coalition of 2010-15 the LD in government weren’t able to get any real reforms implemented.
    Does this say something?
    It suggests that Wales and Scotland have different political and social cultures.
    Plaid Cymru nor SNP are not hard nationalist but are a movement for national liberation and independence for their nations and to be indeividual members of the European Union. The Party Of Wales and SNP are very internationalist and environmentally concerned about the climate.
    Wales has a strong liberal tradition which is reflected with Plaid Cymru which is why PC can work with Welsh LD party; It is a shame that Welsh LD still support the UK government when they are seen to be so often working against the Welsh government.
    Surely, LD should support:
    Wales IN Europe; Scotland IN Europe; Ireland IN Europe, England IN Europe.
    The Centralised state will never serve liberalism because liberalism is about enabling people and local communities, and devolution towards the communities we all live in.

  • “Surely, LD should support: Wales IN Europe” But Wales voted for Brexit so that is the reverse of democratic then? Looks like growth is going to do a disappearing act regardless of Brexit (ok it will be even worse than if we were still in the EU) so be interesting to see where the budget squeezes out spending.

  • Thomas 28th Feb ’20 – 1:54am:
    By the way, the UK controlled its own monetary policy, unlike Greece.

    While a member of the EU we had the same Treaty obligations as Greece…

    ‘Austerity has not been a Tory choice, but an EU one’:
    https://joelrwrites.wordpress.com/2019/07/04/austerity-has-not-been-a-tory-choice-but-an-eu-one/

    These are remarkable powers for the EU to hold over its member states. The United Kingdom, as a non-Eurozone member, cannot be fined or be the subject of punitive action, as it has an exemption to Article 126. However it is obliged to comply with any recommendations issued by the EU, as a treaty obligation, and the United Kingdom is bound by Treaty Protocol No 15, which states: “the UK shall endeavour to avoid an excessive government deficit”.

    The Application of powers to the United Kingdom

    The EU has opened Excessive Deficit Procedure measures against the UK three times (1998, 2004 — 2007, and 2008 — 2017) since the Stability & Growth Pact was signed. It was the most recent recommendations from 2008 which led to all major parties in the UK promising to reduce the deficit through austerity measures.

  • @Joseph Bourke – I’m afraid you make many sweeping claims that confuse weather with climate, rhetoric with reality and ideological scare mongering with scientific fact.

    For example, draughts and bush fires have been a permanent feature of Australia and have nothing to do with climate change. Warmer weather cannot further dry wood that has been baking under a hot sun for many months. An ambient temperature of say, 46 degrees rather than 44 degrees is not capable of starting fires. Wood, when heated with a flame will combust at 350 degrees. Wood just heated will start to burn at 600 degrees. Warm weather does not start fires. Natural ignition is by lightening, the most common ignition is by humans, whether accidentally or on purpose.

    The main problem in Australia has been the build up of fuel, fallen trees, branches and other debris that is normally removed as part of good practice bush management. The good practice was made illegal years ago in response to demands by Greens who objected to control burns because of emissions and removal of debris which they claimed was a habitat for insects. High winds, did contribute to fire spreading.

  • In addition to the points about bush fires, the main difficulty with the recent fires was that the fuel densities caused much higher heat intensity. Well managed bush is considered to generate about 3kW per square metre. Some of the current fires with high quantities of debris were generating up to 70 kW per square metre, far too hot for the safety of fire fighters and too intense for fire fighting measures to be effective.

  • John 27th Feb ’20 – 9:36pm:
    …Labour had the same level of cuts planned by Darling. We just never got to see them.

    Indeed; often forgotten.

    ‘Alistair Darling: we will cut deeper than Margaret Thatcher’ [March 2010]:
    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/mar/25/alistair-darling-cut-deeper-margaret-thatcher

    Alistair Darling admitted tonight that Labour’s planned cuts in public spending will be “deeper and tougher” than Margaret Thatcher’s in the 1980s, as the country’s leading experts on tax and spending warned that Britain faces “two parliaments of pain” to repair the black hole in the state’s finances.

    The deficit had to be reduced from £188bn p.a. somehow (Growth alone would not cut it enough)…

    That was the prescription…

    ‘Austerity has not been a Tory choice, but an EU one’ [July 2019]:
    https://joelrwrites.wordpress.com/2019/07/04/austerity-has-not-been-a-tory-choice-but-an-eu-one/

    By September 2008, the EU Commission had referred the situation to the EU Council, which also demanded that the UK reduce its deficit. By the following year, The EU Council acknowledged that the UK had not taken any remedial action, and set the UK a deadline of 2015 to end its excessive deficit situation. To achieve this, the EU Council recommended a deficit reduction of 1.75% per year from 2009 to 2015. This was a large figure, not possible through growth of the economy alone. Only by cutting expenditure substantially could this ambitious figure be achieved.

  • @Joseph Bourke

    On improving relations with trade unions, the UCU has nine more days of strike action planned in the university sector for the next two weeks. Labour MPs, councillors and activists have already been strongly supportive in person on the pickets, on social media, and elsewhere – it’s not relevant to them that UCU isn’t affiliated to Labour. Not too late for the Lib Dems to start doing the same…

  • Rob Davidson 27th February 2020 – 4:56 pm:
    The recent Australia bushfire crisis is a case in point.

    Climate change has little or nothing to do with Australia’s bushfires. They are a normal feature of Australia and part of the continent’s natural ecology. This bushfire season an estimated 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres) has been burnt (as at 14th. January 2020). In the 1974-75 season the burnt area was six times larger…

    Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience: Knowledge Hub: ’Bushfire – New South Wales’:
    https://knowledge.aidr.org.au/resources/bushfire-new-south-wales-1974/

    During the summer between 1974 and 1975, Australia experienced its worst bushfire season in 30 years. Approximately 15 per cent of Australia’s physical land mass sustained extensive fire damage. This equates to roughly around 117 million hectares [290 million acres].

    While climate change might have had an indirect influence on the drought (via the Indian Ocean Dipole) there’s no evidence to support that. Australia has had similar and longer droughts in the past. Here’s Professor Andy Pitman, Director of the Australian Research Council’s Climate Change Research Centre (and a lead author for the IPCC Assessment Reports 3 and 4)…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWthVVt_irI

    This may not be what you expect to hear, but as far as the climate scientists know, there is no link between climate change and drought. Now, that may not be what you read in the newspapers and sometimes hear commented, but there is no reason a priori why climate change should make the landscape more arid and if you look at the bureau of meterology data over the whole of the last 100 years there is no trend in data. There is no drying trend. The fundamental problem we have is we don’t understand what causes droughts.

    He later clarified that we don’t know to what degree drought is affected by global warming. His assertion that there is “no drying trend” is confirmed by the rainfall data. Australia has been slightly wetter over recent decades…

    Australian climate variability & change – Time series graphs: Spring rain fall anomaly: New South Wales / ACT (1900 to 2019):
    http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/change/index.shtml#tabs=Tracker&tracker=timeseries&tQ=graph%3Drranom%26area%3Dnsw%26season%3D0911%26ave_yr%3D0

  • Rob Davidson 27th February 2020 – 4:56 pm:
    …the strong, science-backed narratives about how climate change increases the bushfire intensity.

    Science is concerned with theories and facts, not “narratives”. The scale and intensity of some bushfires was the long predicted result of decades of poor forestry management which has allowed fuel loads to accumulate…

    ‘Bushfire scientist David Packham warns of huge blaze threat, urges increase in fuel reduction burns’ [March 2015]:
    https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/bushfire-scientist-david-packham-warns-of-huge-blaze-threat-urges-increase-in-fuel-reduction-burns-20150312-14259h.html

    Forest fuel levels have worsened over the past 30 years because of “misguided green ideology”, vested interests, political failure and mismanagement, creating a massive bushfire threat, a former CSIRO bushfire scientist has warned.

    Victoria’s “failed fire management policy” is an increasing threat to human life, water supplies, property and the forest environment, David Packham said in a submission to the state’s Inspector-General for Emergency Management.

    And he argued that unless the annual fuel reduction burning target, currently at a minimum of 5 per cent of public land, “is doubled or preferably tripled, a massive bushfire disaster will occur. The forest and alpine environment will decay and be damaged possibly beyond repair and homes and people [will be] incinerated.”

    He said forest fuel levels had climbed to their most dangerous level in thousands of years.

    ‘Green ideology, not climate change, makes bushfires worse’ [March 2019]:
    https://volunteerfirefighters.org.au/green-ideology-not-climate-change-makes-bushfires-worse

    The ongoing poor management of national parks and state forests in Victoria and green obstruction of fire mitigation strategies has led to dangerously high fuel loads over the past decade.

    That means that when fires do inevitably break out they are so intense that they are devilishly difficult for firefighters to contain. As a federal parliamentary inquiry heard in 2003, if you quadruple the ground fuel, you get a 13-fold increase in the heat generated by a fire.

  • Tom Harney 28th Feb ’20 – 5:29am:
    The EU is not an emerging superpower. It is a free association of countries. It is run democratically.

    Not even the EUphiles of BlogActiv.eu consider the EU to be run democratically…

    ‘The Dictated Democracy of the von der Leyen Commission’ [September 2019]:
    https://democracy.blogactiv.eu/2019/09/22/the-dictated-democracy-of-the-von-der-leyen-commission/

    Where is the Democracy, Ursula? Is it behind you?

    The truth is: Democracy is Dictated behind closed doors.

    No public debate.
    Secretive Politburo-like manoeuvres in the European Council.
    Reducing the most important European institution of democracy to a Secretariat.
    […]

    The future is dark, unless this is quickly remedied. Europe, composed of ancient democracies, is itself controlled by an anti-democratic autocracy.

  • Of course it is democratic. The important decisions have been made by governments of democratic countries. There is scrutiny from an elected parliament.
    I read the blog suggested by Jeff. It seemed to be obsessed with the number of commissioners but not what decisions they had made which which were the subject of attack.
    In judging an international organisation of countries we need to compare it with other around the world. The only democratic one is the EU.

  • @Tom, there is no EU equivalent around the world. The EU is certainly not democratic. The laws are made by the Commission. There is no mechanism for sacking the Commissioners.

  • Joseph,
    You have been very busy. I have to say that I ignore everything that the BBC has to say since I regard the Corporation as the greatest source of fake climate news on the planet.

    “Everything we normally see as variability between a good fire season and a bad season is sitting on top of that extra 1C – and that means that the severe events will occur more frequently.”

    The above statement perhaps encapsulates everything I said before. How can one degree cause more fires or increase fire intensity to such an extent?

    Sorry, the science stands. The Australian fires have nothing to do with climate change though left wing zealots would love to prove otherwise.

  • Joseph, perhaps you can explain why 1 degree C makes all the difference between a good fire season and a bad one. I look forward to that.

    The BBC only reports alarmist nonsense. For example, the BBC will be not report anything that questions climate science by a reputable scientist.

  • I have never been to Australia, but would like to comment on the idea that an additional 1 degree in average temperature is insignificant. It all depends on how the increase is distributed. If for example the increase in temperature were only in the hottest 3 moths of the year then this would give an increase of 4 degrees at this time.
    What is being said that this is on top of normal variability. It is then a simple calculation to add the previous maximum temperatures to the additional new increase.
    You then check the frequency of bush fires with the high temperatures.
    The idea of then trying to say that the increase does or not “cause” something is not helpful. All we can do is create a model of what happens and what is likely to happen under various scenarios and feed this in to decision making process.

  • Thank you, Rob Davidson – spot on. The mind manipulators are winning and we don’t have time to sit around whingeing about their tactics. We have to get much, much more effective at combating them. The whole public debate is shifting rightwards and there’s no time to lose. It may be too late to change minds that have been exposed to misinformation for a long time. But we don’t have to change them all. We only have to change enough. We must find a way.

  • Peter Martin 29th Feb '20 - 10:18am

    It’s not just the average of 1 deg which makes a difference. The increase in temperature in the more inland areas can be higher. The other obvious factor is the relative dryness. Many once viable Aussie farms have been abondoned in recent years due to an increase in desertification

  • The writing on the wall is clear. Centre-right politics, and even wishy-washy centrism as well, are no longer viable for any non-conservative party in this country. The only way to make us relevant again is a centre-left social liberal platform with a strong emphasis on welfare state, mixed economy and government intervention. This approach is actually easier now than 2 years ago. As the debate of Brexit has been settled, there is no longer any incentive to chase after Tory Remainers, who are simply cosmopolitan right-wingers. You know, they are similar to people like Michael Bloomberg on the other side of the Atlantic, and there is nothing liberal about them. Add to the social-liberal platform a moderate dose of economic “patriotism” a.k.a economic nationalism (for all of the Tories’ Brexit and cultural nationalism, they largely remained Thatcherite free traders and thus have failed to embrace economic nationalism, thereby have given their foes an opening), then you will have a platform capable of challenging the Tories head on.

    I am really alarmed by the fact that in recent years, especially after Vince became leader, certain right-wing hacks have appeared in this page with an attempt to try to shift the debate rightward.

  • Peter,

    it would be worth your while watching David Attenboroughs Climate Change: The Facts.
    The review in the Guardian sets the scene https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/apr/18/climate-change-the-facts-review-our-greatest-threat-laid-bare-david-attenborough
    “Expert after expert explains the consequences of rising CO2 levels, on the ice caps, on coastal regions, on weather and wildlife and society itself. The most powerful moments are in footage shot not by expert crews who have spent years on location, but on shaky cameras, capturing the very moment at which the reality of our warming planet struck the person holding the phone. In Cairns, Australia, flying foxes are unable to survive the extreme temperatures; rescuers survey the terrible massacre, and we learn that while 350 were saved, 11,000 died. A man and his son talk through their escape from raging wildfires, over the film they took while attempting to drive through a cavern of blazing red trees. These are horror movies playing out in miniature. It is difficult to watch even five minutes of this and remain somehow neutral, or unconvinced.

    “… 20 of the warmest years on record happened in the last 22 years; Greenland’s ice sheet is melting five times faster than it was 25 years ago .”

    “Fossil fuel companies are the most profitable businesses man has ever known, and they engage in PR offensives, using the same consultants as tobacco companies, and the resulting uncertainty and denial, designed to safeguard profits, has narrowed our window for action. It is unforgivable. I find it hard to believe that anyone, regardless of political affiliation, can watch footage of Trump calling climate change “a hoax … a money-making industry” and not be left winded by such staggering ignorance or astonishing deceit, though it is, more likely, more bleakly, a catastrophic combination of the two.”

  • Just look at how the FDP tried to make deal with AfD in Thuringia to deny the winner (Die Linke) from forming the government, you will realize how “centre-right”, “moderate conservatives” and “classical liberals” often act when push comes to shove. Fortunately, that attempt has blown up on their face and most sensible Thuringian people are firmly behind “Never Again”. So, it’s not worth trying to invite more centre-right Tory Remainers into this party. Remember, if the right-wingers cannot win elections fairly, they will not abandon right-wing politics, they will abandon democracy.

  • Peter Martin 29th Feb '20 - 3:01pm

    @ Peter,

    I’d question whether Richard Lindzen was a “a reputable scientist”. He is closely affiliated with the industry shill front group Heartland Institute. He’s claimed that Global warming will be less than 1 degree centigrade, for a doubling of CO2 levels, even though its already more than that for an 40% increase over pre-industrial levels.

    His faculty at MIT has just about disowned him. See link below.

    He’s clearly not approaching the argument with an evidence based perspective.

    If anyone saying that it’s OK to carry on as normal and allow the concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to keep on increasing then the onus has to be on them to prove that this is a safe thing to do. We know what the earth’s climate is like at a steady state of 280ppm for CO2. This is what it has been for the last few thousand years. Why not keep it like that?

    If CO2 levels doubles there is danger ahead. Maybe we’d get away with it and maybe we wouldn’t. Just harping on about the uncertainties isn’t a valid argument. We can say the same thing about overtaking on a blind bend. BUT – It’s still a stupid thing to do!

    https://insideclimatenews.org/news/06032017/climate-change-denial-scientists-richard-lindzen-mit-donald-trump

  • John Littler 29th Feb '20 - 3:28pm

    Thomas, it is heartening to get a serious reply compared to other publications. That says a lot about the LibDems. I do agree with Keynsian demand management and investment led spending to partly tackle recessions and deficits. But Keynes did not claim they were infinite in their application. He said debt sometimes needed to be repaid and cuts made.
    If the deficit had been allowed to continue at that level, the UK’s debts could have been approaching Japan’s as a percentage of GDP.

    The American example is not the best analogy, since USA has the dollar, the default Gold Standard and top reserve currency, giving them an enormous advantage. however, I am not belittling Obama’s achievements.

    You could look at the examples of Italy and Japan that have had repeated government debt based spendings and investments to try to stimulate the economy and they have not worked. They could not spend their way out of debt. I am not disagreeing with you entirely, but the Labour Party under Darling also saw similar level cuts an essential party of beating the deficit. But it was really only needed until around 2014 or 15 according to Cable, a good benchmark.

  • Peter Martin 29th Feb '20 - 6:23pm

    @ John Littler

    ” He {Keynes} said debt sometimes needed to be repaid and cuts made.”

    Where did he say that? He would have said that sometimes an economy needs to be cooled, ie spending needs to be cut and or taxes needed to be raised. But that’s not the same thing as saying debt needs to be repaid. The creditors of the UK government don’t usually want to be forcibly repaid. If they want to swap their bonds for cash, they can do that any time they like. Why would they have swapped their cash for the bonds in the first place?

    The time to cool down the economy is when it is overheating not when it is recovering from a crash!

    The problem with cutting spending and/or raising taxes is that it slows down the economy. A slower economy means taxpayers pay less than they might otherwise.

    “If the deficit had been allowed to continue at that level, the UK’s debts could have been approaching Japan’s as a percentage of GDP.”

    So what? The Government can only run a deficit if everyone else wants to run a surplus. ie they want to save. Are you saying saving is a bad thing?

    “USA has the dollar, the default Gold Standard and top reserve currency, giving them an enormous advantage.”

    The dollar is not the same as a Gold standard and hasn’t been since the early 70s. There’s nothing special about the US dollar. There is nothing special about the pound or the yen or any other dollar. They are all IOUs of govt. The macroeconomic statistics of the USA aren’t that much different from the UK.

  • Joseph Bourke 28th Feb ’20 – 7:39pm:
    you ignore the consensus view in Australia as per this BBC report

    In this lengthy ‘report’ ostensibly about the cause of Australia’s bushfires there isn’t even a single quotation from the people who know most about them: the fire fighters who put them out. Do you not think that’s odd? If a report into the cause of the Grenfell Tower fire was to similarly omit any statement from the Fire Brigade it would be considered, at best, incomplete and uninformative.

    Here’s a real “consensus view” that has been ignored (and not just by the BBC)…

    ‘Rare agreements in Bushfire Commission’ [March 2010]:
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-03-31/rare-agreements-in-bushfire-commission/387594

    A panel of seven experts assembled by the Commission’s legal team came to the consensus view that Victoria should burn between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of its 7.7 million hectares of public forest annually – an ambitious target when you consider 1.7 per cent, or 130 000 hectares, is currently burnt each year.
    […]

    The scientists were scathing of Victoria’s current approach to prescribed burning. Fire ecologist Dr Bradstock, the director of the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong, said it was “probably better than nothing” but on a scale of 1 to 10 it only reduced the risk from a high of 10 to 9. The University of Melbourne’s Kevin Tolhurst said prescribed burning had the potential to reduce the risk of bushfire by two thirds, if done in large 1,000-hectare tracts burnt at least 70 per cent through, but he said burning at the level done by Victoria might be achieving a 1 or 2 per cent reduction.

    Nine years later…

    ‘Don’t blame fire crews or climate, it’s FUEL’ [March 2019]:
    https://volunteerfirefighters.org.au/dont-blame-fire-crews-or-climate-its-fuel

    The recent fires in Victoria were driven by big fuel loads, not by the weather.

    The fire danger index was a surprising low 16-20, but the high fuel loads resulted in predicted rates of spread of 0.5 kph and flame heights up to 10m.

    In comparison, the fire danger index on Black Saturday 2009 reached around 130 -180. The FFDI is a measure of the speed, flame height and spotting distance.

  • Joe Bourke – “It never has been possible to deliver Scandinavian levels of social welfare provision with US levels of taxation and it becomes ever less so as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age. Addressing these underlying structural shifts in the dependency ratio and the competitiveness of the UK economy, requires state-led targeted investment in productivity-enhancing infrastructure including housing and transport as well as vocational skills development” – we have the advantage that we are more willing to raise tax than the Tories, so we will have much higher spending ceiling than them.

    And for the state-led investments thing, just infrastructures, transport and vocational skills are far from enough, I will add the following, and this, not general infrastructure investments, will distinguish us from the Tories: direct investments in strategic industries as well as new ones emerging from Industrial Revolution 4.0 and rapidly expand British Business Bank to fund them, especially investments to subsidize modernization of industries via adopting energy efficiency, automation, AI and computerization on a large scale; push manufacturers to export their products as the requirement to continue to receive support from the state (pls google “export discipline” – it will be a very novel policy as well). An industrial policy involving direct investments and a change to export-focus economic model, not just indirect investments like infrastructure/education spending will make us distinct from other parties

    In addition, we must flank the Tories from the left on trade and be ready to attack their trade policy of chasing after FTAs indiscriminately, including ones with totalitarian states like China. You know, every other country will try to rip us off following a hard Brexit, not just the US and China but Australia and Canada are also ready to renegotiate to make the deals more favourable to them than they are now. “Free trade deals with free nations only” will make a strong slogan. Trade is where economic nationalism can come into play.

  • Joe Bourke – Also, be ready to renationalize public services, if not rail service, then at least renationalize prison and probation ones must be on the cars. Nobody will object to renationalize prison and probation except for right-wing nuts.

    Finally, returning to free tuition fee for British university students once more will make a strong social-liberal policy as well. It is easier to guarantee rigorous education and admission standards under a government-run university system, because there is a strong incentive to raise the difficulty of admissions, cirriculum, assessments and exams as barrier to entry to those who should not be there, e.g. rich/well-off but academically mediocre and lazy kids. The government is also incentivized to remove “Mickey Mouse” degrees from the system to save costs as well.

  • John Litter – ” I do agree with Keynesian demand management and investment led spending to partly tackle recessions and deficits. But Keynes did not claim they were infinite in their application. He said debt sometimes needed to be repaid and cuts made.
    If the deficit had been allowed to continue at that level, the UK’s debts could have been approaching Japan’s as a percentage of GDP” – I have to agree with Peter Martin here, I believe that we shouldn’t have cut spending when we was just barely recovering from the crash. You just don’t cut spending in the midst of the Great Recession. In fact, Keynes suggested that the best time for austerity is the boom time, not 2010.
    Also, I clearly said that I prefer cutting spending gradually (not keeping big spending forever), like Obama did, not like the Coalition had done during 2010-2015, or not like Premier Doug Ford of Ontario (basically the most unpopular Premier in Canada right now) has been doing since 2018.

    “If the deficit had been allowed to continue at that level, the UK’s debts could have been approaching Japan’s as a percentage of GDP” – did I said the deficit should have been allowed to continue? NO, I said we should have opted for gradual cuts pairing with higher growth from extra spending that would have been available without deep cuts, not deep spending slashes like what actually happened under the Coalition. So, under such plan, the deficit by 2015 would have been not so much higher than the historical one, but everything else would have been much better. And I still remember David Laws bragging about reducing the size of the state because government spending at 40% of GDP was too big – such statement was purely ideological. Not to mention that the Coalition still managed to cut taxes (while raising VATs) – I disagree with tax cuts, because when taxes are cut, something else e.g. education, healthcare, welfare… must be cut. Most studies found that the Laffer Curve will only come into effect when taxes reach 60-70%, and we have never been near that level for a long time.

  • Peter Martin 1st Mar '20 - 8:54am

    The OP seems to be making the assumption that “Liberalism” is synonymous with “rationalism”. Not sure about that! It’s interesting to see how those who inhabit different regions of the political spectrum react to the new economic thinking -which is undoubtably the product of rational albeit lateral thinking. So maybe others can be “Liberals” too? If that is your definition.

    One unlikely “LIberal” would be one Sir John Redwood. It’s not too long ago since he was posting about the evils of the National Debt. He was telling us all that every person in the UK was in debt to the tune of something like £30,000 and worrying all our children and grandchildren that they’d someday they would be called upon to clear the slate on our behalf. Our credit card was supposedly maxed out, and all because successive govts had spent money like the proverbial drunken sailor. We’ve all heard this stuff before.

    I think he must have been on something of a “journey”! He now tells us that:

    “UK state debt levels are fine”

    And so they are! I’d like to think that I’ve done my bit to help. I’ve told him just this often enough! He’s still got some way to go. He needs to get the silly idea of the “Laffer effect” out of his head but credit where credit is due!

    https://johnredwoodsdiary.com/2020/02/27/uk-state-debt-levels-are-fine/

  • Rob Davidson 1st Mar '20 - 4:12pm

    To my eye, the comments break down so far like this:
    5 about Brexit and whether the EU is democratic or not,
    9 about ‘the coalition years’
    12 about the state of the party and ‘liberalism’
    25 about the finer details of environmental science
    and 7 relating to the main contention of my original article.

    Addressing those that pertained to the rallying cry in my original article:
    1. Supporter-based or grassroots actions are important in this battle. Partly because they are ‘free’ and partly because they are the most authentic representatives we can have.
    2. At the same time, we should not be put off by the costs of fighting fire with fire. We do not need to rival Rupert Murdoch’s empire in order to do more than we are doing right now. The various ‘think-tanks’ at Tufton Street are skeleton organisations and the blogs and ‘news sites’ that put spin on every fact can also be light-weight (some even start up and shut down within weeks, after their work is done.) And finding and nurturing talented pundits is relatively easy when you have some decent blogs/outlets -perhaps like LibDemVoice.
    3. There is too much fake news already! I agree. I’m not suggesting an ecosystem to promote fake news but instead an ecosystem that promotes true news. Facts or ‘alt-facts’ do not fly on their own. The opposition are marketing their fake news by manipulating cognitive biases and via mechanisms such as ‘social proof’ and we should market our true news in the same way.
    4. An important step is to define ‘liberalism’ and then make the case for it, true. It’s under attack but we never seem to agree what ‘it’ is. Defining liberalism is a starting point, making the case for it is something that will evolve over time as you build audiences for this new ecosystem of outlets/commentators.
    5. There is a bit of factionalism within the Lib Dems (as some comments above may hint at) and there is a tribalism between the various parties and groups that represent liberal, open values. We do need to get over that. This may be helped when liberalism has clearer, better broadcast aims, goals and principles because it will be easier for members of different groups to see where they have affinity.

  • Rob, your article and the resulting debate have provided much food for thought. It illustrates the problem that many of the arguments on both sides are fake. Some of the opinions that you have expressed are ones I know to be fake but I understand why they are convincing and believable.
    Stepping up the rhetoric, I fear, will not solve the problem. It is a bit like both sides shouting louder at each other. As I mentioned in the comments, there are sites that specialise in spreading convincing misinformation and they are relentless, systematic and very professional. Some activists even spend their days re-writing Wikipedia.
    I know that you have in mind trying to get across the genuine beliefs that you think are right. But how do you know you are right? Why do some beliefs become polarised along political lines, even if superficially they are nothing to do with politics? All of this is part of a larger, more sinister problem to do with freedom of speech, groupthink, and suffering the wrath of the mob if you choose the incorrect opinion.
    While I don’t support your remedy, I fully support your frustration with the current state of affairs. I want to see truth become supreme, desired and respected. I want to see lies and misinformation become despised and derided. But how to achieve that in the current society?

  • “An important step is to define ‘liberalism’ and then make the case for it, true. It’s under attack but we never seem to agree what ‘it’ is. Defining liberalism is a starting point, making the case for it is something that will evolve over time as you build audiences for this new ecosystem of outlets/commentators.
    5. There is a bit of factionalism within the Lib Dems (as some comments above may hint at) and there is a tribalism between the various parties and groups that represent liberal, open values. We do need to get over that. This may be helped when liberalism has clearer, better broadcast aims, goals and principles because it will be easier for members of different groups to see where they have affinity.” – defining liberalism is crucial, because that will determine the party’s policy and campaign approach. This is because there are two lines of liberalism that only have common grounds in superficial social issues but directly contradict each other when it comes to issues that matter the most: economy, manufacturing, education, health care and social welfare. This party is either social liberal or classical liberal, you cannot have it both ways. It is clear that the pressing poverty and productivity problems of Britain currently can only be solved by a positive liberal state with strong and active government intervention. And besides, only one line of liberalism can resonate to the majority of grassroot liberals and progressives in this country and can rally them together, and it is not classical or market liberalism, but social liberalism. By the way, the majority of Libdem grassroot supporters are centre-left economically, so if the party establishment pursues a centre-right plank once more, it will lead to mismatch between supporters and leadership that once happened under Clegg (which led to our disastrous collapse in 2015). I mean, you just don’t preach David Laws’ “reducing the size of the state” to win over a social liberal or progressive.

    As an avid history reader, I notice that throughout the Western history, nations made the greatest progress when right-wingers and conservatives were shut out of the national decision-making process: case in point: Britain in 1906 and 1945, United States in 1861, 1912, 1932 and 1964, Canada throughout most of the 20th century.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Mar '20 - 12:18pm

    Until more investment is made in educating people of all ages in our democracy with more involvement, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Ultimately, public opinion is what will win the war. Perhaps our present crises will cause a change in the interest in how our democracy operates for the good.

  • Peter Hirst – “Ultimately, public opinion is what will win the war” – therefore a generic Orange Book centre-right platform is the worst possible one currently. It will not inspire and energize anyone, especially those who are less likely to vote, while being capable of actively pushing centre-leftists and progressives away.

  • @Thomas “therefore a generic Orange Book centre-right platform is the worst possible one currently.”

    On what basis do you make this statement?

    “It will not inspire and energize anyone, especially those who are less likely to vote,”

    What evidence do you have for this? And what is the likely electoral success of a programme that is designed to appeal to people who don’t vote?

    “while being capable of actively pushing centre-leftists and progressives away.”

    What is your basis for this assertion? How do you define “centre-leftist”? How do you define “progressive”?

    What is clear, is two things:

    1) – the political direction of the coalition was popular. What our FTPT system and the Labour Party meant, was that its supporters were forced largely to vote Conservative in 2015.

    This was reinforced by the moderate voice of business, in a Financial Times Leader in 2015:

    At this delicate moment, the best outcome would be a continuation of the 2010 coalition between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. Mr Clegg’s party has proved a responsible partner in government. Tough decisions, such as the reversal of his party’s stance on university tuition fees, will hurt the party. The Lib Dems would be more awkward in a second term coalition. It is also far from clear whether they will have enough seats to be kingmakers with either the Tories or Labour.

    Voters must decide not just on the party but also on the combination which would have the best chance of forming a stable, reform-minded government. The country would benefit from the countervailing force of Lib Dem moderation at Westminster. In seats where the Lib Dems are the incumbent or the main challenger, we would vote tactically for them.

    2) No party currently stands on an internationalist, pro-enterprise, economic and socially liberal platform. That is what “Orange Book” is shorthand for, and that is where the yawning gap in British politics now lies.

  • TCO – “No party currently stands on an internationalist, pro-enterprise, economic and socially liberal platform. That is what “Orange Book” is shorthand for, and that is where the yawning gap in British politics now lies” – this is a guide of how to make suicidal attempt to reduce your seat count from 57 to 8. I once saw a study (don’t remember the source, though) which showed that the “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” people is a very small group of the electorate, and most “socially liberal” folks are also centre-left to left-wing in economics as well. Your gap is just an illusion. The key is that, being genuinely “socially liberal” means you are also willing to intervene and spend money to help minorities and other disadvantaged groups, which would naturally go against fiscal conservatism.

    A refreshing and inspiring platform promising fundamental change is able to turn out people who normally do not care, and very often they are young people, or lower-income people. Obama in 2008 did not run on a moderate platform (even though he turned out to be a moderate, and this pissed off many people – he is partly responsible for Trump’s rise).

    Centre-left and progressive people, by general definition, are folks who believe in greater government intervention in the economy to tackle wealth and income inequality and to provide social safety net. They include social liberals (not to confuse with being socially liberal), social democrats and democratic socialists.

  • John Littler 15th Mar '20 - 6:25pm

    USA’s currency is in effect the nearest think to the Gold Standard because it is the main reserve currency in the world. It is also easily the biggest exchange currency in the world. Holdings in US$ are so great that demand continues for it unabated despite the USA’s enormous and growing debts and unfunded liabilities ( e.g pensions), you can see on USdebtclock. There can be no assurances that this can continue indefinitely.

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