Polls Apart

One of our major gripes with Environmentalism concerns the claims made by its adherents that it is some sort of popular, grass-roots movement. Time and again, polls suggest otherwise. And yet these polls are rarely, if ever, reported in terms of the undemocratic nature of Environmentalism as it is foisted upon reluctant electorates. Rather, they are presented as evidence that the public are unthinking, selfish morons brainwashed by scheming ‘deniers’.

Of course, everybody – ourselves included – will jump on a poll that can be used to support their own position. Which is why Green activist and winner of the Royal Society’s prestigious prize for popular science (fiction), Mark Lynas, picked up on last week’s ICM/Guardian poll. Writing in Comment is Free, he suggests that, in contrast to previous polls, it

shows that a clear majority favours government action on the environment v the economy, while an even larger majority supports the introduction of green taxes. 

And it does, if you believe that the answers to such leading questions as ‘Generally speaking would you support or oppose the introduction of green taxes, designed to discourage things that are harmful to the environment?’ tell you anything at all about public opinion.

But, his main point is that the poll dispels the myth that concern about climate change is a luxury of the middle-classes:

perhaps the most fascinating result of all emerges from the small print of the different social classes of the ICM survey respondents. Environmentalists are constantly accused of being middle-class lifestyle faddists, who don’t understand the day-to-day financial pressures faced by “ordinary” working people. But the number of people who thought that environment should be the government’s priority rather than the economy was substantially higher (56%) among the lower income, less well-educated DE demographic than among the better-off ABs (47%). Lower-income social groups also have a much lighter environmental footprint overall: only 42% of DEs took a foreign holiday over the last three years, whilst 77% of ABs did. Better-off people also own more cars, as you might expect – only 5% of DEs have three or more cars, whilst 15% of ABs do. 

So perhaps anti-environmental class warriors like the editors of Spiked need to find a new cause to champion. The working-class people who they claim “can’t afford to be concerned about climate change” actually care more about the future of the planet than the rich – and are doing a lot less damage to boot. So next time you hear someone defending motorway expansion or cheap flights on behalf of the British poor, ask yourself the question: whose side are they really on?

Environmentalism might not be popular, you see, but at least it’s equally unpopular across society. Lynas’s view of the “working-class people” has more to do with the idea of the Noble Savage than solidarity with those at the bottom of the social pile. In his world, poverty is something to aspire to rather than alleviate. It’s as if they cause ‘a lot less damage’ as a result of a desire to live in harmony with nature rather than the fact that they are, by definition, less able to afford the luxury of foreign holidays and cars.

Not that we should be surprised. After all, this is the same Mark Lynas who believes that alleviating poverty should be put on hold until the planet has been saved:

The struggle for equity within the human species must take second place to the struggle for the survival of an intact and functioning biosphere 

Moreover, Lynas’s attention to the ‘small print’ was not as attentive as it could have been. Otherwise he could not have reached the conclusion that he did. Yes, the responses of DE and AB respondents are comparable across the survey, but the demographics of the two groups suggest that there are good reasons for that that have little to do with social class per se. For example, 50% of the DEs were retired, as opposed to 24% for ABs. Only 18% of DEs were working full time, as opposed to 56% for ABs. And 67% of DEs were not working at all (ABs = 30%). In other words, a much higher proportion of DE respondents are unlikely to be affected by environmental tax hikes.

Lynas’s true sentiments about the masses are evident in his reply to commenters who dare to challenge his latest rant against climate change ‘deniers’:

Well I have to say that most of the comments this piece (and many of my others) has attracted simply prove my rather depressing conclusion that a lot of probably very decent people have swallowed the line pumped out by industry-funded US conservative think tanks. Almost ever denialist argument I’ve ever seen first made an appearance courtesy of them – there’s very little in the ‘denialisophere’ (apologies) which is in any way original. 

None of the citations of course mention the peer-reviewed literature, where there isn’t any discussion of whether anthropogenic global warming is real or not, because all the systematic data shows that it is. But it’s pointless to go on digging trenches – and personally I’ve got better things to do than engage with entirely close-minded people. This is a political debate, not a scientific one, and has been for a long time.

Those ‘very decent’ yet ‘entirely closed-minded’ members of the public get the blame whenever polls suggest that they are not giving environmental issues the attention they should be. For example, we reported on last year’s Ipsos Mori’s poll, which found that the majority of people are not convinced that the scientific argument for action on climate change is clear-cut. Report author Phil Downing described the results as ‘disturbing’ and ‘frightening’:

Given the actual consensus and the reality if the situation, it is a particularly disturbing statistic and does suggest one or two things. Firstly the impact of contrarian and negative messages, for example, Channel 4’s great Global Warming Swindle are having an impact. Secondly, if the public is ambivalent, and you have a disconnect between what you believe on the one hand, and how you act on the other. The easiest thing is to change what you believe, rather than how you act. 

We thought these sounded more like the words of an opinion former than an opinion pollster.

A couple of weeks ago, Ipsos Mori produced another report along similar lines, which was reported exclusively by the Observer newspaper:

The majority of the British public is still not convinced that climate change is caused by humans – and many others believe scientists are exaggerating the problem 

And whose fault is that?

There is growing concern that an economic depression and rising fuel and food prices are denting public interest in environmental issues. Some environmentalists blame the public’s doubts on last year’s Channel 4 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle, and on recent books, including one by Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor, that question the consensus on climate change. 

We spoke to Downing, on the phone and by email. He told us that, when he used words like ‘frightening’ or ‘disturbing’ after last year’s poll, he was speaking from the perspective of the government who had commissioned it. He also said that any mention of the Swindle and Lord Lawson in the Observer article did not come from him. And anyway, he only mentioned it last year because several poll respondents cited the Swindle when talking about their doubts over the government line.

Phil Downing: [W]hen we released the report last year, we did comment that we had started to note in purely qualitative terms that people were making reference to that programme, or had picked up on some of the secondary press […] So we were saying this might be playing a role because this was the first time we were picking it up. But we see it as more of a correlation in time rather than a causation. We have no evidence of a direct link between The Great Global Warming Swindle, or any other programme for that matter, and what is driving people’s views […] We have no quantative data on the extent to which it is driving it. No one has commissioned research to gauge the impact of The Great Global Warming Swindle or An Inconvenient Truth and how the public are making sense of these different messages. 

Regardless of who made that argument in which year, however, it boils down to the point that it is democracy itself – a free press, debate, and the need to win legitimacy for political ideas by contest – that has beset the environmental movement’s intentions. Never mind the vast resources available to the Greens to push their own agenda. The fact is that the Observer can count on the fingers of two fingers the number of public challenges to environmental orthodoxy, yet Environmentalism is pushed down our throats from nearly every Government department, local authority, NGO and charity, every current affairs program on every TV channel, in every school, and, according to this article in the Shields Gazette, by Downing himself:

Keynote speaker Phil Downing, head of environmental research for Ipsos Mori, will be encouraging councils to ‘think global’ but ‘act local’ and use the regional advice and support available to inspire their communities to help tackle climate change. 

So the question is whether Phil Downing and Ipsos Mori are activists or researchers, opinion pollsters or opinion-formers. We doubt that were he taking such a side on a party-political issue he would be allowed by his employers to make such statements. It suggests that environmental orthodoxy has been established within a certain influential strata of society, who believe it to be ‘above’ politics, as though environmentalism weren’t a political ideology.

Downing told us that the line between pollster and activist is one that he is careful not to cross. And that the Shields Gazette got it wrong – he was there simply to deliver an analysis of public opinion on climate change. If anyone out there happened to attend the event, we’d love to hear from you.

Climate Resistance: Do you have strict guidelines at Ipsos Mori about not crossing that line? 

PD: Yes, it’s something that is strictly frowned upon, if you go into something contributing to one side of a debate and not the other […] there are stringent quality control procedures in place to ensure impartiality at Ipsos MORI – this extends both to the way the questions are asked as well as any material we release into the public domain. A specific and in-house team is required to sign off survey materials. As well as the interpretative text we have published the results in full on the website.

Readers can make up their own minds as to whether Ipsos Mori, in blaming a contrarian tv documentary for the public’s divergence from the government line while failing to consider the possibility that the government’s line just isn’t very convincing, should perhaps have another look at their guidelines.

CR: Is it not more likely that the reticence of the public to take up the governmental line on climate change is the result of an unconvincing governmental message? 

PD: Well, you’re more than welcome to commission a poll from us.

CR: What would that cost?

PD: Depends. If you’re looking at 1000 people, nationally representative, you’re looking at something like £700-1000 per question.

You could almost understand – if not excuse – the failure to consider the strikingly obvious if, say, the government had commissioned it, because, apparently, you get what you pay for with these things. But, intriguingly, the latest poll was not actually commissioned by anybody. Downing said that Ipsos Mori conducted it off their own backs to shed light on the complexity of the public’s attitudes and beliefs towards climate change. And yet, all it has achieved is to restate the fact that the public is ambivalent, and spawn newspaper articles that seek simplistic excuses for that finding.

To a large extent, there’s little point complaining. Everybody knows that polls are not to be taken seriously; that they are frequently spectacularly wrong; that busy people are keen to fob pollsters off with the answer that is expected of them, etc etc. And, to repeat, we are as guilty as anybody of jumping on poll results when it suits us. When push comes to shove, there’s only one type of poll that counts, and that’s the type that is conducted at the polling booths. And elections demonstrate quite clearly how unpopular Environmentalism is with the masses. The Green Party has no MPs in the UK Parliament, and the Green contingent of MEPs voted into seats in the European Parliament comprise just 5% (and the European elections have a notoriously low turn-out).

But even more telling is the spectacular decline in the number of people actually bothering to vote:

Funny how turn-out plummets as awareness of the ‘most pressing challenge of our time’ goes through the roof.

Forget the opinion polls. Contrary to the claims of Environmentalists, few people have really bought into their world-view. If anything, most people are slightly irritated by it. Environmentalism persists only because few people object vehemently to it, and because it’s as good as impossible to vote against it.

Off the Grid: Microgeneration – the Spark of Endarkenment

John Vidal, Guardian Environment Editor, claimed yesterday that

British buildings equipped with solar panels, mini wind turbines and other renewable energy sources could generate as much electricity a year as five nuclear power stations, a government-backed industry report has shown.

It wasn’t news. The other green-activist newspaper, the ‘Independent’ On Sunday leaked the report ahead of its publication, to create the idea that it had discovered a choice between a “Brown future” (a reference to the Prime Minister) illustrated by a dirty, industrial landscape, and a “Green future”, illustrated by a picture of some low-profile solar panels under some fluffy clouds in a deep blue sky.

The government-backed report, to be published tomorrow, says that, with changed policies, the number of British homes producing their own clean energy could multiply to one million – about one in every three – within 12 years.

It seems unlikely that there are only 3 million homes in Britain. Anyway…

These would produce enough power to replace five large nuclear power stations, tellingly at about the same time as the first of the much-touted new generation of reactors is likely to come on stream.

In his most pro-nuclear announcement to date, the Prime Minister indicated that he wanted greatly to increase the number of atomic power stations to be built in Britain. And he met oil executives in Scotland to urge them to pump more of the black gold from the North Sea’s fast-declining fields – even though his own energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, admitted that this would do nothing to reduce the price of fuel.

The equivalence to “five nuclear power stations” isn’t mentioned in the report. We looked hard for it. What were we missing? Where had it come from? We decided to ring Element Energy, the group who were commissioned to write the report, to see where the figure in the Independent had come from. Director Shane Slater told us that such a comparison was “outside the scope of the study”, and that it was an “unhelpful comparison”, with which he wouldn’t necessarily agree.

So where has the figure, published in both the IoS and Guardian come from?

The factoid is also mentioned in a press release from Monday, by Micropower, a group established by Liberal Democrat Lord Ezra to “represent the whole microgeneration sector”.

The report concludes that as many as nine million microgeneration installations could be in place in the next twelve years with an ambitious policy support framework. If this was to happen, microgeneration could produce as much energy as five large new nuclear power stations and by 2030 we could be saving as much carbon as if we were to take all HGVs and buses off our roads.

The IoS article predates press release, but we thought they might know where the figure came from. We spoke to them, and were told that “it wasn’t in the report”, which we knew already, but that it had “come out of the steering committee press release”, which said,

With ambitious policy measures, up to 9 million microgeneration systems could be installed by 2020, producing as much energy as 5 nuclear power stations. This would require an estimated cumulative cost of at least £21 billion

According to them, a comparison in a press release was intended to be illustrative, rather than make a case against nuclear energy. The calculation was achieved by adding together the equivalent gigawatt hours heat and electricity generated under this theoretical scenario, and dividing it by the output of a large nuclear power station. [Report]

But the result is that a headline that bears no relation to the study, and which has been picked up uncritically by many others:

Home-made’ energy will match output of five nuclear plants.

An injection of 21 billion pounds ($41.22 billion) over the period could see nine times as many installations in place by the same time and generating as much power as five nuclear power stations, the independent report said.

A report backed by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has claimed that microgeneration could prevent the need for new nuclear power stations if enough people adopt the technology.

The study, which was compiled for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, found that technology such as solar panels and wind turbines on buildings could produce as much energy a year as five nuclear power stations.

The report concludes that microgeneration through the likes of solar panels or mini-wind turbines for homes could produce enough energy by 2020 to generate as much output as five nuclear power stations.

Microgeneration could rival nuclear power, report shows

Would 9 million microgneration installations, which would cost upwards of £21billion for 1% of our energy needs, even be equivalent to 5 nuclear power stations?

No. for a start, 9 million microgenerators would require millions of man-hours of maintainence a year. The Independent continues,

Even more embarrassingly for the embattled Mr Brown, the report closely mirrors policies announced by the Conservative Party six months ago to start “a decentralised energy revolution” by “enabling every small business, every local school, every local hospital, and every household in the country to generate electricity”.

Here is the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, announcing that ‘decentralised energy revolution’.

But when was a ‘revolution’ ever about a mere 1% of our energy needs being met at an astronomical cost of £21 billion? What kind of ‘revolution’ is it, where instead of centralised power, we rely increasingly on what comes our way ‘naturally’? That’s only a revolution in the sense of going full circle and ending up where you started.

Speaking of which… In the same edition of the Independent On Sunday, in a story about the discovery of a previously isolated tribe, the headline told us:

Road to oblivion: new highway poses threat to Brazil’s uncontacted tribespeople

The article carried a picture of two, painted members of the tribe, attempting to fire arrows into the aircraft of the photographer. The caption warned that

…tribes face danger from ‘civilisation’.

Notice the scarequotes.

The Independent – and perhaps many others – have forgotten that civilisation is all about roads and centralised power generation. They free up our time, and allow society to become more sophisticated. They create the possibility of liberation from mundane existences, scraping a living from what nature provides. Yet the fashionable desire for off-grid living supposes that it is more rewarding, or more ‘ethical’ – to live as primitive, isolated an existence as possible. Both the romantic fantasy that the Independent routinely concocts out of primitivism, and the nightmare it constructs out of mis-interpreted press releases are fictions. If this fiction remains unchallenged, going off-grid will represent not a neat, efficient idea, but the first steps back into basic lifestyles and lowered horizons. What the Independent seems to want is an endarkenment.

"I'm Dreamin' of a White Easter"

It’s spring. And you can tell, not by the chirping of birds in the trees, or the frolicking of lambs in the fields, but by the whining and bleating of journalists in the Independent and Guardian newspapers about how spring is coming earlier every year, and how this means a catastrophe is just around the corner.

In ‘How the blurring of the seasons is a harbinger of climate calamity‘, Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor of the Independent, writes,

According to documented observations throughout 2007 and 2008, events in the natural world that used to be key spring indicators, from the blooming of flowers to the appearance of insects, are now increasingly happening in what used to be thought of as mid-winter, as Britain’s temperatures steadily rise. 

The problem for McCarthy is that much of the UK is set to be covered in a blanket of snow this Easter Sunday. Hardly a ‘key indicator’ of spring.

But what is a ‘key indicator’ anyway? And in what sense does Spring ‘exist’, such that it has scientific meaning? Is there an objective measure of spring, so we know that it has sprung in the way that we can know what time sun-rise and sun-set are?

To be fair, Paul Evans in the Guardian is far more circumspect than McCarthy.

Despite its stops and starts and the recent wild and extreme weather, all the signs point to this being one of the earliest springs Britain has had. But can we rely on the traditional harbingers to announcespring’s arrival, or should we be looking for new signs as the seasons become more complicated with the effects of climate change?  

After listing some anomalies of some species behaving in spring-like ways before they are ‘supposed’ to, Evans gives an interesting account of ‘phenology’.

Phenology is the study of such natural first events, and the Nature’s Calendar website, run by the Woodland Trust, is bulging with early sightings of frogspawn, tadpoles, nest-building birds, butterflies, catkins, celandines and snowdrops from 5,000 volunteers around the UK. “The natural world is giving us clear year-on-year indications that things are changing,” says Kate Lewthwaite, phenology manager at the Woodland Trust. “The timing of natural events is one of the most responsive aspects of the natural world to warming, so it is an important indicator of change.” 

McCarthy tells us something similar,

The changes and many others have been monitored in detail because in Britain there has been a renewal of the old discipline of phenology, or the study of the timings of natural events, which was favoured by the Victorians but largely abandoned by the 1950s. It has been revived by an environmental statistician, Dr Tim Sparks from the Monks Wood wildlife research centre nearHuntingdon, part of the Government’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). Dr Sparks set up the UK Phenology Network, which has been taken over by the Woodland Trust, a charity which runs it in partnership with CEH as Nature’s Calendar, with 40,000 people from all over Britain contributing records.

Thing is, now that there are thousands of volunteers, listing this kind of thing, with more leisure time than ever before, and new forms of communication being opened up by the Internet, it is likely that there are more opportunities for spotting such anomalies. The earliestphenologists would have been rare, eccentric rich people, rather than dog-walking amateur wildlife spotters. And early signs of spring are likely to have been regarded previously as simple anomalies, whereas now, the hunt is on not only for ‘harbinger of climate calamity’, but also attribution to a single causal factor. In other words, when we’re on the lookout for climate change, anything will suffice as evidence.

The razor-sharp John Brignell of Numberwatch has, over the last few years posted some interesting thoughts on Spring madness. He is especially sceptical of phenology as a method of detecting climate change.

BBC: Spring 2006 couldn’t have been more different from 2005. Weather always varies from year to year but with climate change it is the long-term trend that is it important. What this year’s “cold” weather allows us to do is show very clearly how timing of events closely reflect temperature. Given that the average temperature for January – April was 1.5 C lower than last year, all events (average dates) were later than the same events in 2005.

Brignell: What would have been the opening paragraph if events had been earlier? It is inevitable that these embarrassing moments for the phenologists will keep recurring. Will even their media allies eventually lose patience?

The assumption made by phenologists is that spring is an ‘event’ that happens to, or in the world that we can establish by better and better measurement. But is there really a definitive measure of spring? An old English proverb tells us,

Cast not a clout till May be out. 

Spring has always been variable. And, let’s face it, so is the UK’s summer. Environmentalists look for order which has been upset, without testing the idea that order ever existed in the first place.

McCarthy continues his doom-saying.

Although many people may see the changes as quaint or charming – butterflies certainly brighten up a January day – they are actually among the first concrete signs that the world is indeed set on a global warming course which is likely to prove disastrous if not checked.

In fact, the blurring of the seasons in Britain is now as serious a piece of evidence of climate change as the rapidly increasing melting of ice across the globe, in glaciers and in the land-based and marine ice sheets of the Arctic and the Antarctic.

The phenomenon shows that a whole range of organisms is already responding actively to the greatest environmental change in human history, in a way that people – and especially politicians – are not

It is undeniable confirmation that a profound alteration in the environment, the consequences of which are likely to prove catastrophic, is already under way.

It is happening so quickly, and without people realising its true significance, because, in Britain, the major effects of climate change are initially being felt as less cold winters, rather than as hotter summers.

Did you get that? In case you missed it AN EARLY SPRING MEANS WE’RE DOOMED, AND WE’RE GOING TO DIE! Yet McCarthy can’t even get his facts straight…

Last month, that shift produced its most remarkable image yet – a photograph, taken in Dorset, of a red admiral, an archetypal British summer butterfly, feeding on a snowdrop, an archetypal British winter flower.

The Snowdrop is not an archetypal winter flower, but a spring flower, as Evans in the Guardian points out, quoting botanist Ray Woods:

The cues that trigger bloom in spring flowers are complex. “Snowdrops this year are not particularly early,” Woods says. “The reason for this is that the cue for snowdrop flowering is the temperature of the previous autumn, not the current spring. If autumn is mild, snowdrops flower later in the following spring; if it’s cold, they flower earlier. 

And the red admiral is not a summer butterfly, but in fact famous for being the last butterfly of the autumn, and earliest in the year. As the Wikipedia article on the Red Admiral tells us:

In northern Europe, it is one of the last butterflies to be seen before winter sets in, often feeding on the pale fire of ivy flowers on sunny days. The Red Admiral is also known to hibernate, re-emerging individuals showing prominently darker colourings than first brood subjects. The butterfly also flies on sunny winter days, especially in southern Europe.

Being on the Southwest coast, in the path of the warm currents, the Dorset climate itself is especially mild, and the sunniest region of the UK.

What McCarthy believes to be a harbinger of death is in fact barely even an anomaly. But why let facts get in the way of good climate change story? Butterflies and snowdrops aren’t ‘archetypes’ of a confused climate on the brink of catastrophe, but McCarthy’s article is an archetype of poorly-researched, ignorant, opportunistic and alarmist climate activism, dressed up as journalism.

Sustainababble

Writing in the Guardian this week, John Vidal says,

The government is in danger of losing credibility on climate change because more than half of all its departments are failing to reduce their carbon emissions enough to reach levels that the nation as a whole is expected to meet.

This data is from the Sustainable Development Commission, who are, they tell us,

the Government’s independent watchdog on sustainable development, reporting to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. Through advocacy, advice and appraisal, we help put sustainable development at the heart of Government policy.

The fact that there is a public institution watching over the other public institutions to make sure they are ‘sustainable’, might have once implied some kind of economic auditing process in the public interest. But this quango is more worried about the UK Government’s carbon footprint than the uncorrupted delivery of public goods. The Commission’s website front page says,

Carbon emissions from offices have fallen by 4% since 1999, however nearly two thirds of departments are still not on track to meet the target of reducing carbon emissions from offices by 12.5% by 2010. The sixth annual assessment of government operations finds that, despite encouraging initiatives, government is still not on course to meet targets and urgently needs to raise its game.

But who gives a toss what the UK Government’s performance in delivering ‘sustainability’ actually is? Did anyone vote at the last elections for the concept of ‘sustainability’? Governments are supposed to deliver public goods, and the level of ‘sustainability’ of that process bears no relation to the utility of those services, the legitimacy of delivering services to particular end users, or the diligence of the civil servants engaged in delivering services. As long as services are being delivered, then it’s not as if anyone is being robbed.

Words that used to mean something in political discourse related to human experience; ‘Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternitie’. We know what these words mean, even if we might enjoy the expression of them in different ways. Similarly, once the influence of Churches and accidents of birth no longer had so much pull on the direction of society, political ideas were about how society might be more legitimately organised so as to best realise those values.

Today’s green buzzwords are instead designed to bridge the chasm between Environmentalism’s objectives and human values. Like ‘balance’ (as in ‘the climate is out of balance’), ‘sustainability’ in fact has very little meaning. Your house is not ‘sustainable’ – it is, at some point, going to fall down, or be knocked down. You are not sustainable – you are going to die, at some point. Nothing material is ‘sustainable’. The political currency of these words has not been achieved by the prospect of them making the world a better place, but by capturing anxieties about the security of the future. The values of ‘sustainability’ and localism reflect a breakdown in the belief in society and its ability to improve life through industry and democratic organisation. Indeed, industry becomes an antithesis to Environmentalism, and pesky democracy just gets in the way of ‘ethical’ lifestyles.

Environmentalism’s attempts to justify itself on a rational basis by using ‘science’ belie its mystical foundations; ‘sustainable’ lifestyles which are ‘balanced’ or otherwise in ‘harmony’ with ‘nature’ are designed well before any scientific evidence exists that they will have any effect whatsoever. Hairshirt lifestyles and Gaia worship existed before the Gaia hypothesis. Now it’s trendy, not because the world has been brought up to speed on the science, but because the ‘ethics’ are so appealing in our ethically disorientated world. In other words, being ‘sustainable’ is not about one’s actual ‘impact’, but about distancing oneself from the chaotic, immoral world in favour of the comforting morality of natural orders.

Vidal is wrong, the Government may be embarrassed by it’s performance, but this will not undermine its credibility, because no one cares. In setting up the quango, it set itself up to be embarrassed, but this embarrassment will not make any difference because only a small group of people believe that ‘sustainability’ actually means anything.

Why Monbiot is so Miserable

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.