Why is ethics guru Peter Singer defending woke museum vandals?



Controversial Australian ethicist Peter Singer this month came out in defence of woke climate art vandals who targeted some two dozen world famous artworks during 2022.

“Their non-violent civil disobedience is justified,” he writes for Project Syndicate, in a piece entitled “In Defense of the Art-Targeting Climate Activists”. Excusing their showy recklessness, Singer mourns “the failure of our democracies to show sufficient concern” about climate change.

Maligned masterpieces include Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Claude Monet’s Haystacks, Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Picasso’s Massacre in Korea. Vandals have targeted the world’s most prestigious museums, principally in Europe, though the hysteria has more recently spread as far as Australia. The woketivists’ weapons of choice have included glue, oil, pea soup, and mashed potatoes.

“In all these incidents, the activists chose paintings protected by glass, drawing attention to great works of art, but not damaging them,” Peter Singer argues in their defence.

Ninety-two representatives from world renowned cultural institutions like the Louvre, the Prado and the Guggenheim disagree. In an open letter issued by the International Council of Museums, they warned that the vandals “severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage,” adding that, “as museum directors entrusted with the care of these works, we have been deeply shaken by their risky endangerment”.

Indeed, in a recent interview with Sky News, Just Stop Oil spokesperson Alex De Koning said that his group has considered following in the footsteps of the suffragettes who “violently slashed paintings in order to get their messages across”. He warned that his group will do everything they can to get the results they’re after, saying, “If that’s unfortunately what it needs to come to, then that’s unfortunately what it needs to come to.”

Hopefully the climate change activists won't be as reckless as suffragette Emily Davison who ran in front of a galloping horse during an important race in 1913 to advocate for women's suffrage. She died of a fractured skull.

Singer also acknowledges parallels to the suffragettes. He reasons that if we honour even lawbreaking suffragettes as “heroic feminist pioneers” then the climate Chicken Littles also deserve our support today in their belief they can limit global warming to 2ºC.

Singer’s argument of course assumes that suffragettes who slashed paintings went about their activism in the right way.

It also assumes that humans control the climate.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) has risen 50 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, which is a key statistic behind much of today’s climate change hysteria.

But other statistics are worthy of note. Greenhouse gases make up less than 1 percent of earth’s atmosphere. Of that 1 percent, over 95 percent is water vapour, meaning that CO2 comprises a mere 0.04 percent of our atmosphere.

Climate change orthodoxy assumes that human CO2 contributions are to blame for a global temperature increase. Yet humans contribute less than a third of CO2: the major contributors are volcanoes, oceans, plants, animals and decaying plant matter. Even if we shut down every factory, parked every car and turned off every light, we would still have no control over most of CO2 production.

Moreover, questions remain about the historic link between CO2 levels and global temperatures. The earth’s temperature dropped from the time of Jesus to the Viking era, peaked during late Medieval times, and dropped again during the “Little Ice Age” in the pre-Industrial era. No one claims that these changes were driven by human activity or lack thereof. Even in modern times, we saw CO2 emissions soar during the post-War economic boom even as global temperatures dropped for the same four decades running.

Not to mention that carbon dioxide is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, non-poisonous trace gas — and simultaneously, a chemical compound upon which all life on earth depends. If the atmosphere’s CO2 were halved, all plant, animal and human life on earth would die.

And not to mention that historically, warmer times have meant more prosperous times for humans that included increased longevity, population growth and wealth accumulation — and a greener planet.

And not to mention that fossil-fuel-generated electricity, for all its drawbacks, has helped lift almost a billion people out of poverty in recent decades, the rapid reversal of which would spell doom for the world’s most vulnerable.

Despite these important nuances, Singer peddles the worst fears of the eco-alarmists. He variously asserts that “climate change is a life-and-death issue”, that “we are the last generation able to prevent catastrophic climate change”, and that “everything we value on this planet is at stake, including the continuity of both human and non-human life”.

He even has the audacity to claim that those who will suffer most when the climate apocalypse comes are “the young and those yet to be born — both categories unrepresented in our political systems”. Both categories are also underrepresented in Singer’s own ethics, which have morphed throughout his career from abortion advocacy to outright support for infanticide.

Instead of hyperventilating over speculative climate prophecies and defending art gallery vandalism, Singer might benefit from a deep breath and peaceful stroll through one of those art galleries.


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