In yesterdays Guardian, George Monbiot tells us that,
A powerful novel’s vision of a dystopian future shines a cold light on the dreadful consequences of our universal apathy
Oh, God! What is this novel that tells us about the dark, horrid abyss of the human condition?
It is not Silent Spring, Small Is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world. Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot.
We were equally worried about an attempt to overthrow democracy throughout the universe, and to install an evil emperor who practiced dark arts, until we realised that what we were watching was just a series of films by George Lucas, not a documentary.
Seriously, though. George tells us that apathy is going to destroy the biosphere – just like in the novel. But then he tells us that,
On Saturday … I went to a meeting of roads protesters in Birmingham. They had come from all over the country, and between them they were contesting 18 new schemes: a fraction of the road projects the British government is now planning.
He can relax, for if it is true that people are apathetic, then these roads will not get built.
Did we say seriously? Okay, maybe not. George continues…
Who will persuade us to act? However strong the opposition parties’ policies appear to be, they cannot be sustained unless the voters move behind them. We won’t be prompted by the media. The BBC drops Planet Relief for fear of breaching its impartiality guidelines: heaven forbid that it should come out against mass death. But it broadcasts a programme – Top Gear – that puts a match to its guidelines every week, and now looks about as pertinent as the Black and White Minstrel Show.
George needs to put the sci-fi back on the shelf, and get with the program. BBCTV 1 and 2 broadcast 24 hours a day. BBC3 and BBC4 for around 9 hours. On top of this, BBC radio 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7, and the world service, not to mention the vast web site. These all are dominated by exactly the environmental gloominess Monbiot wants us to see and hear; program after program, after program telling us that we must reduce our CO2 emissions, or we’re doomed. Top Gear is but an hour of broadcasting a week, and perhaps the only show from the network which does regularly challenge the cultural pessimism offered by environmentalism. And yet it remains one of the most popular programs ever conceived of, and often achieves an audience larger than the rest of the network combined.
George’s problem is not that people are apathetic. Nor is it that culture is dominated by messages which tell people to consume at the expense of the environment. Many corporations bombard the consuming masses about their green credentials; even ice cream and bottled drinks now come in packaging which urge people to consider their environmental impact. And even the most tabloid media – Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV for example – feature seasons of documentary films on “combating climate change”. There are Hollywood films about catastrophic climate change, there are plays, pop-songs, T-shirts, magazines, consumer and lifestyle guides, all of them ramming home the same message. So why isn’t this enough for George? Why is it that just one hour of broadcasting a week is so popular it leaves George feeling as though it’s just him and his sad novel in a mad, mad world?
George’s problem is that the culture he wants us to be part of is entirely negative. In contrast to this cultural pessimism, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May celebrate human achievements – however shallowly, and appear to risk their lives for their passions, while Monbiot considers us to be a destructive plague on the planet. Clarkson is a hero, and Monbiot is a chicken. Clarkson bumbles his own way into making history by doing dangerous things like driving to the North Pole, while Monbiot twitches behind his curtains, tutting about what other people are getting up to. Clarkson, for all his faults, is full of spirit, letting bad things bounce off of him. Monbiot dwells on the fantasy dystopia he’s read about. The irony here is that while the things that Top Gear represents are somewhat coarse, it is Monbiot’s dark dark narrative which creates apathy. The only reason he can think of for organising our collective efforts is that if we don’t, we will all drown. What George needs to realise is that people don’t drive cars because they watch Top Gear, they watch top Gear because they love cars and the positive things that cars represent. Environmentalism offers us nothing positive.
If things were better, Top Gear would be just another program. But they aren’t, and it’s not. If we want to know why Clarkson is the last bastion of resistance to dull orthodoxies such as environmentalism and political correctness, don’t watch Top Gear, read Monbiot – but don’t take his word for it. It is relentlessly bleak, shrill and hollow. The cultural norms that environmentalism wants to establish have been established within the political and cultural elite, yet he continues to whine that the masses will not march to his command. Monbiot will tell you that people don’t want it because they are influenced by the cultural dominance of Top Gear, but the truth is that people have a much better understanding of their own interests, and a better nose for bullshit than he gives them credit for. They are not blindly following the doctrine of Clarksonism, and shame on Monbiot that he thinks they are. People are resistant to Monbiotism precisely because they are not blindly obedient.