A couple of our recent posts have looked unfavourably at the BBC’s coverage of the climate debate, in particular the three part series, Earth: the Climate Wars. But it’s not all bad at the Beeb, and it’s not fair to characterise their output as entirely biased in favour of environmental alarmists.
That’s the kind of thing George Monbiot does. A year ago, we wrote about his groundless complaints that BBC’s flagship program, Top Gear – just an hour of broadcasting a week – was somehow influencing the public’s understanding of climate change. It is ‘irresponsible’, Monbiot whinges, to allow programming that features people enjoying cars. Top Gear remains one of the most popular programmes produced by the BBC precisely because it resists the boring nonsense issued from the self-appointed environmental censors.
Top Gear presenter, James May has a new series running at the moment, James May’s Big Ideas, which is a positive look at the technologies which will shape the future. So far, flying machines, robots, and energy have been explored.
The series is not a look at the climate debate. In fact, apart from a few sharp quips, it entirely ignores the prevailing misanthropic, miserable and pessimistic view of the future. So why are we talking about it here, on the Climate Resistance blog?
Because May’s positive presentation is most likely the best way to challenge environmentalism’s negativity. In the latest episode, he introduces the film with the words, ‘Welcome to the twenty-first Century…’. Welcome! The twenty-first century is, according to many eco-prophets, a dark, nasty place, where your children’s children, and your children’s children’s children will suffer plague, pestilence, famine, flood, fire, and war because of your profligate use of fossil fuels. But May offers us a different 21st century; one in which we are welcome. May continues…
… where we have more of everything we need to make our lives longer, brighter and bolder than ever before. And this will only get better. But not without the most vital and civilising commodity on earth: energy.
May reveals a sophisticated understanding of humanity that the environmental movement simply just doesn’t have. Our use of energy is fundamental to all forms of development, not just our material wealth, but also political and social progress. Of course, cynics might (rightly) argue that at a time when we are using more energy than ever before, many aspects of consumer culture also happen to be particularly shallow. And it’s not as if all parts of the world enjoy both liberty and the excesses available to us in the West. The point is that abundant energy is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for progress. Without it – whether you’re a follower of anyone between or since Karl Marx and Adam Smith – you’re stuffed. And stuffed is exactly where environmentalists want you to be. Unable to move, locked into a ‘self-sufficient’, ‘low-impact’, ‘localised system of production’. In such a world, there is no need for political oppressors, because there is nothing with which to power a revolt – you’ll be too busy knitting your own lentils to organise against the ecocracy.
Some people say our insatiable appetite for energy will destroy the world. Rubbish. We’re never gonna give it up, and we can’t get enough of the stuff. In fact, we need more. Much more.
So here’s the big idea. I want enough energy to satisfy the world’s appetite. Not just for the next fifty, one hundred, or even two hundred years. I want it never to run out.
Not easy. But fortunately, there are people all over the planet with ideas that might just make it happen.
May goes off to explore just a few of the many energy technologies which are being developed, and that will, we hope, be allowed to create the abundance that May wishes for.
In contrast to his Top Gear co-host, Jeremy Clarkson, May’s confidence about the future is quiet and unconfrontational. The problems we face have solutions in his view: us. People. The very same things that the environmental movement tell you are the problem. We are creative, and we live in a universe of almost limitless energy. The only thing that’s standing in the way of us getting it are the likes of the erstwhile UK chief scientific advisor miserablist, Sir David King, who, as we reported recently, believes that cash spent on scientific progress in the form of the LHC would be better spent on ‘tackling climate change’.
Us environmental sceptics, deniers, realists – call us what you like – should regroup. May’s optimism is a better antidote to the environmentalist’s doomsaying than mere scepticism. Instead of challenging environmentalism on its own terms by saying that the future is not going to be a tragedy, we should start building more positive versions of the future, to make convincing arguments about what it could be like.
Environmentalism has thrived in an era where such visions are absent. As we have said before, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy; it would deny us the means to solve the problems we face, leaving us unable to cope with the climate. Similarly, it is only positive conceptions of the future that can drive progress.
To face retrogressive and mean-spirited environmentalism, there needs to be more than scepticism, and questions about the scientific integrity of the IPCC, the Hockey Stick, and computer models. Exposing the self-interest and corruption of greenwashed politicians also isn’t a sufficiently complete challenge to the circumstances that have given rise to environmental orthodoxy. May makes a good start. We should follow.
Welcome to the twenty-first century…
… Bring it on.
Indeed, quite “enligthening” …
Apart from being a total petrolhead, James May has vision and intelligence supreem, his presenting style in Big Ideas has for me been uplifting and without doubt shown that not only is James talented with his knowledge about cars, but that he should be given his own show, not just a 3 part programme about the future.
James May for Tomorrow’s World.
It’s very good to know that there are people looking forward to the future with confidence and optimism. Anything to relieve the suffocating green-tinged gloom that has enveloped our political “leaders” for so long… I agree with Lorraine. Here’s to James May, and here’s to human creativity and Big Ideas of all kinds. To the future!
Sounds like James May has figured it out.
Instead of poking holes in the arguments of the enviro doom-mongers, he instead offers a better idea: one where the future is not only friendly, but a place full of limitless possibilities.
Instead of writing “here be dragons” all over the great unknown that is the future, May treats it as a blank slate upon which we can write an ideal world upon.
To really challenge a bad idea, you need to offer a better idea, and May knows this.
Welcome to the 21st century!
Sorry to always turn up like the bad fairy at the christening but .. I just don’t get it. I know “look on the bright side” is the appropriate finale to a parody on a religious cult, and I’ve got nothing against Mr May’s pop science programme – it looks fun, which seems to be the point of your article.
But the main problem of the George Monbiosphere has never been it’s miserabilism. It’s a secondary characteristic, a result of thinking we’re doomed, not a cause. The problem is its power, the influence it wields in our weird looking glass world. And I don’t see how being cheerful is going to help defeat the efforts of the UN, EU, and all the main political parties of the UK (plus the anarchists and Trotskyists, I believe) to reduce Britain and other developed countries to a third world living standard by imposing restrictions on our energy production for reasons which are demonstrably false.
Of course we must wish well to the science students featured in May’s programme, and their optimistic, life enfancing projects. But they’re not going to change the minds of our political masters or media chiefs. The real opposition is not between optimists and pessimists, but between proponents and opponents of an unproven, poorly supported scientific theory (anthropogenic global warming) which has been adopted as dogma by the entire free world. (It’s Lysenkoism without the excuse of Stalinism).
You seem to be retreating from the political activism implied by your 17 (or 16) points to something like radical Media Studies. An honourable activity, of course, but as your man said, the point is not to understand the world (or did he mean the environment?), but to change it.
It is getting difficult to follow your complaints. E.G. “But the main problem of the George Monbiosphere has never been it’s miserabilism. It’s a secondary characteristic, a result of thinking we’re doomed, not a cause” – appears to be circular.
Secondly, “The problem is its power, the influence it wields in our weird looking glass world.” How do you propose the ‘power’ can be challenged, except through better ideas?
We think you are quite wrong to say that the conflict is between two camps, each drawing from opposed scientific theories, and we’ve argued against this characterisation of the debate repeatedly.
We’re not really sure why you’re reading this site. Maybe you’d find writing your own blog more rewarding?
No, the logic of the argument isn’t circular, although I believe the psychology of the warmers is – twisted – let’s say. They believe they have scientific proof that the world is in danger, therefore they are miserable. False, I think, but not circular.
I tend to think a certain kind of person – anxious, obsessive, guilt-prone – is likely to become a warmer. (I know, I’m that kind of person – hence my St Paul-like fascination with them). But to put this forward as a criticism would be ad hominem, and you eschew psychological name-calling. Fair enough.
How to challenge the power except through better ideas? I could say, I don’t need a better idea, all I need to do is demonstrate that dangerous man-made warming isn’t happening, and leave the question of what is happening to the experts. Bad debating tactics, when you’re in a minority.
Why am I reading your site? Because I agree with you, idiots. You seem to be offering a socio-political analysis of the warmer phenomenon which goes beyond the “green is the new red” banalities of most sites, your style is entertaining (may l borrow your “lentil-knitters” remark?) and you have good ideas, e.g. “Us environmental sceptics, deniers, realists – call us what you like – should regroup”.
Fine. But how’s that going to happen if anyone who offers critical commentary is told to go away and blog elsewhere?
We take the view that the gloom and doom is prior to the science. Everybody is looking for disaster.
Take for example the 45 minute Iraqi WMD ‘threat’ and the ‘sexed-up’ intelligence. This was as good a case of the politics of fear as any other. The idea that men in caves represent the biggest threat to Western civilisation going clearly had currency – it has defined geopolitics for most of the last decade. Why? Well, when you can make claims that compare Saddam to Adolf, the implication is that you’re a Churchill. And that’s why we see initiatives like Gore’s which give him the part played by Kennedy, in using science to put men on the moon, and Caroline Lucas’ plans for a ‘Green New Deal’, which cast her as a Roosevelt, dragging the world out of depression.
These hollow pastiches, their authors imagine, will give legitimacy to their projects, and unite people. The can only sell themselves through the language of crisis.
But one explanation for the anxiety you rightly attribute to the eco-movement is that it is a response to the vacuum of ideas. At a time characterised by political apathy and cynicism, it is not surprising that people do not believe the political process is capable of responding to problems, least of all problems which exist at the scale of geography. Politicians (albeit unconsciously, or unreflectively) capitalise on this anxiety by unquestioningly turning it into a system of ‘ethics’ by which they measure themselves against their opponents. Instead of making sense of problems such as terrorism, or climate change, or bird flu, or obesity, by putting the risks into perspective, and offering ways forward, the vapid politician instead milks the sense crisis for capital.
If we take May’s view, then the problems we face become mere matter of engineering. With the emergence of solutions to problems, the ethics of life on a finite world, and the limits of our ability to respond to crises disintegrate as our horizons are broadened. And in the process, the question as to how such progress will be realised raises political and economic questions that contemporary politics just cannot answer, because the real crisis facing them is their own legitimacy. May’s optimism that there exists an alternative to the problem of shortage displaces the shrill demands for a reduction in standards of living.
That’s not to say that May has captured in one 50 minute program the answer to all the world’s problems. That would be absurd. We would most likely disagree with May about many matters relating to ethics and politics, and how best to realise the technological solutions he’s looked at as answers to the world’s problems. But we would much rather be arguing with James May of Top Gear than Lord Robert May of Oxford (former president of the RS).
Scientific scepticism is not sufficient to challenge the predominance of environmentalism. That is by no means to undermine the work of people who are doing it. It is essential in highlighting the disparity between what actually emerges from science, and the claims made by activists and politicians. You say ‘I don’t need a better idea, all I need to do is demonstrate that dangerous man-made warming isn’t happening’, but we think that the problem of environmentalism has happened because there isn’t a better idea. Environmentalism is just one expression of the failure of politics, Left, Right and Centre. Science has very little to do with it.
The “environmental” movement is entirely anti-populist, anti-middle class.
It is not about “saving the planet” — it’s about freezing the game where it is. Suburbanites are wasteful spendthrifts plunging us into oblivions. But Richard Branson, who has the energy consumption of 20,000 people and who makes his money burning jet fuel, is a knight in shining armor!
That has been my experience with academia ever since college and I thinking it makes sense. The people who fund colleges and academics are wealthy. The academics then spend their lives excoriating the middle class — who don’t give money to colleges and in fact, understand very little of what the academics do. Everything we drive is dirty. Our suburban houses ruin the planet.
But mansions or people who own half the state of Montana are saints! Or people (Al Gore) who spend 2 million on a houseboat are the 2nd coming!
The United States has 1.9 billion acres of land…but 75 percent of the population live on only 66 million acres of that land!
People: the middle class are paupers. And if any of us so much as raise a voice to say, hey, we’re just making a living, the Powers that Be will sick Al Gore and an army of well paid professors to shut us up completely.
“The “environmental” movement is entirely anti-populist, anti-middle class.”
So it’s the working class voting for it, is it?
I think John Bailo means “miiddle class” in the American sense of “ordinary people”, including the
Your point that the gloom is prior to the science: absolutely right. By proposing a reversal of the “normal” order of cause and effect, one often arrives at important insights. The science is used to justify the gloom, in much the same way as it is used to provide an “objective” rationale for the politics of low expectations (low energy consumption, eco-towns, etc.)
And your point about the way the Gores and Lucases ape their betters is likewise excellent. It’s politics as a low budget remake, by politicians whose understanding of history is limited to a “ten key historical events” vision of the world.
But in debate you have to counter the argument, not the attitude. One can’t defeat Lucas and Monbiot by pointing out how pessimistic they are, since they will justify their pessimism by appeal to science. So it seems to me that your insight about the real order of cause and effect would be ruled out of order as ad hominem pop psychology, (something I’m all in favour of, as you know). Could it be that we agree for once?
“But in debate you have to counter the argument, not the attitude. One can’t defeat Lucas and Monbiot by pointing out how pessimistic they are, since they will justify their pessimism by appeal to science.”
Only one problem with that: Lucas and Monbiot, by the looks of things, have already made their minds up about climate change and any role we had in it [or might have, or whatever]. THEIR minds are not going to be changed, no matter how much you try.
It’d take a hand-signed letter from Planet Earth to convince them [maybe].
The people you need to convince are not running for political office or writing “end is nigh” columns for your local [or national] papers.
The people you need to convince are the general public. The voters who elect the Lucases in; the people who read the Monbiots.
THEY are the ones who need persuading. THEY are the ones open to a more convincing argument. THEY are the ones who need to be given a better offer than what the high-ranking [and high-whining] Greens offer.
Defeating the Greens means showing the average person just how shallow and empty and negative their arguments are, and yes, you do that by debating these high-ranking Greens.
But the debates aren’t to change Lucas’ mind, or Monbiot’s; just the audience attending.
Not quite, JMW & Geoff, not in our view, anyway.
There’s no debate to win. It hasn’t happened. It’s not happening.
The public has not been won over by debate, ideas, nor even propaganda. It’s simply not been won over. The point of environmental catastrophism is not to persuade the public, as such. The point is to legitimise politicians, in spite of the public’s estrangement from the ‘debate’.
“The public has not been won over by debate, ideas, nor even propaganda. It’s simply not been won over. The point of environmental catastrophism is not to persuade the public, as such. The point is to legitimise politicians, in spite of the public’s estrangement from the ‘debate’.”
Be that as it may, but the politicians are where they are because we the voters put them there. We choose them, those of us who decide to vote. We give them the offices they hold [at least, in a democracy, we do].
If we [or, rather, if the voting majority] didn’t agree with their arguments, would they still hold office?
Correction: they might still sit in office, but would it be for the same reasons they currently occupy it for?
I think not.
If all the contenders for public office espouse environmental ethics, and dare not question them, in what sense have these values been tested, much less ‘voted for’?
The extent to which ‘the politicians are where they are because we the voters put them there’ is the extent to which a genuine choice – or contest – ever existed. Clearly it doesn’t.
Although environmentalism hasn’t really won the public’s attention, it not being the subject of controversy as it ought to be means that people don’t really object to it either. Yet. Of course, as soon as people start to identify the influence of environmentalism, they will surely object. The problem isn’t really that we will end up with an ecocracy, the problem is the damage done in the meantime.
You say ‘We choose them, those of us who decide to vote’. But we only choose ‘them’, but the ideas they espouse – if they espouse any ideas worth speaking of – are not the subject of the competition. We are not really being asked to engage with any ideas, just different ‘issues’, to which ‘they’ have assumed (bogus) stances.
I think that here in the UK at least, it will require a wake-up call, such as a 1979-type winter or an aggravating series of blackouts and shortages, to rouse the public. At the moment we still have electricity on tap, and our winters have been largely mild of late, so few people are particularly bothered. While the Climate Camp and the Greenpeace antics at Kingsnorth didn’t garner much public support, neither did they provoke popular anger, either. This may change, if the lights go out and people find themselves with only candles to keep the dark at bay, and their food starting to rot in fridges after the power has been cut. If and when this situation arises, there will be some political adjustment to match the public mood.
I suspect there would be three types of response from politicians if power shortages and economic hardship really started to bite. Some die-hards would never change their position – even if people started to freeze in their homes, I’m sure a few dyed-in-the-wool Greens would still be talking earnestly about the planet and our carbon footprints regardless, right to the bitter end. Some politicians such as the Conservatives’ John Redwood, who is critical of government CO2 targets, might become more prominent, and there might well be hitherto unknown anti-AGW politicians emerging to become a force. And thirdly of course, there will be those who see how the wind is blowing and do a U-turn.
At the moment, despite the banking crisis, things don’t look too bad on the whole. It’s still warm in the sunlight, there’s food on the supermarket shelves, and although gas and electricity are becoming ever more expensive, we can still flick a switch and have instant lighting and (almost instant) warmth when we want it. So people still have the luxury of supporting green measures in a small way (queuing up at the bottle bank) or tolerating all the hot air generated by the talk about CO2 targets. Five years down the line, will this still be the case?
“If all the contenders for public office espouse environmental ethics, and dare not question them, in what sense have these values been tested, much less ‘voted for’?
The extent to which ‘the politicians are where they are because we the voters put them there’ is the extent to which a genuine choice – or contest – ever existed. Clearly it doesn’t.”
I don’t believe my point is being expressed properly here.
I hear what you’re saying all right, but what I’m trying to put forth here is that the politicians we see in office are ultimately the products of the society they are from and now represent.
That if politics has no direction, then the society that produces it has no direction, either.
That a politics that justifies itself with whatever seems handiest is the result of a society that tries to justify itself in the same way.
Directionless politics is the offspring of a directionless society.
“Although environmentalism hasn’t really won the public’s attention, it not being the subject of controversy as it ought to be means that people don’t really object to it either.”
Because we have nothing to object with. No counter-arguments that the future is not some hidden demon lying in wait down the road that requires constant appeasement for it to let us pass by. Nothing.
Not yet, anyways.
“Yet. Of course, as soon as people start to identify the influence of environmentalism, they will surely object.”
For that they need counter-arguments brought forth. In debates and discussions and forums and whatever and wherever. Any place where it can be heard by the public at large.
People need to see that there’s a better proposal, and if we say there’s “no debate to win. It hasn’t happened. It’s not happening”, then they’ll never hear that argument that says that environmentalism is a bad idea. If there’s no debate to be had, what then is the point of saying that environmentalism is a bad idea [or whatever we call it] if we who criticise it have nothing to put in its place?
[Of course, we also need to cure ourselves of our collective pessimism, but we won’t be able to do that either if we don’t allow any optimism to be put forth; if we respond to pessimistic proposals with pessimism of our own.]
“You say ‘We choose them, those of us who decide to vote’. But we only choose ‘them’, but the ideas they espouse – if they espouse any ideas worth speaking of – are not the subject of the competition.”
Society at large is no better, because society at large doesn’t seem to have “any ideas worth speaking of” these days, and anyone who dares to go against such a trend is mocked for such optimism.
The politicians we see in office are just one of the many products of a society that doesn’t seem to have “any ideas worth speaking of” any more.
“We are not really being asked to engage with any ideas, just different ‘issues’, to which ‘they’ have assumed (bogus) stances.”
Because nobody bothers to. And because nobody [individually and collectively] knows what they ultimately stand for any more.
The space in our collective lives that was once occupied by our values and visions is largely empty now, and people are trying to fill it with whatever will fit in it in an effort to determine what our values and visions are/should be, including things that were never meant to [like science].
Politics has no direction because society at large has no direction.
It’s easy to blame the politicians, but we forget that they’re part of a larger whole [hole?].
Hence what I’m trying to say, that politicians are where they are because we put them there, and that the kinds of politicians we have are representative of what we as a society is, and are willing to allow to exist. We don’t know where we’re going, and it’s a little silly to think that those we decide are going to be our [political] representatives are going to be any better than we as a group currently are.
You may not see it that way, but it’s the way I’m seeing it.
[Is it any wonder why Obama is so popular in the US? To many he must surely be the only “positive” politician to have come down the the political pipe in a very long time [even if he does ultimately sound like every other twelve-step-dancing motivational speaker out there].]
JMW: I hear what you’re saying all right, but what I’m trying to put forth here is that the politicians we see in office are ultimately the products of the society they are from and now represent
As we pointed out, that can’t be true where there is a disconnect between politics and ‘society’. That is to say the extent to whch ‘society’ produces politics is the extent to which the process allows society to reflect itself in politics.
It seems that you’re trying to outline some causal relationship between politics and society, where the former is the product of the latter. Why would that be the case where the political process is failing? We might equally say that a oppressive dictatorship is the product of a society. But that argument would surely defeat itself.
Isn’t this a two-way process, in fact? On the one hand, politicians of any given flavour thrive when the conditions are right – either they’ve been canny enough to tap into the popular swell of opinion, or they get into power by default, because there are few palatable alternatives. On the other hand, once a politician is elected (or is “visible” in the media) he or she is able to define and shape popular opinion. To observers, the two might appear to be happening simultaneously – i.e., a growing mood and groundswell of opinion in the country and an emerging politician who manages to capture and articulate that mood effectively.
to JMW: I agree, we won’t convince Lucas and Monbiot. I said “defeat” meaning exactly what you mean – convince the general public. Monbiot – to his credit – has debated with sceptics twice to my knowledge – with Alex Cockburn of Counterpunch and Lord Monckton. In both cases he won on points, using the “have you stopped beating your wife?” gambit, silencing them by raising irrelevant issues which cast doubt on their credibility. Scientists like Christie, Spencer and Mcintyre he dismisses (without naming them) as critics whose theories have been disproven.
The article under discussion recognises that the BBC is not a monolith with a single point of view. I made the same point about the Guardian in a comment on “only happy …”. One day, maybe soon, our conflict-obsessed media will see the interest of a ding-dong climate battle between Monbiot or one of his avatars and some climate sceptic – who knows? – maybe Climate Resistance. The scientific debate will last five seconds – the time to show that current global temperature trends are not rising (a graph which Guardian readers have never seen – o tempora, o pravda). Then will begin the real debate, on what is to be done. And thanks to you and Alex Cull (and the editors of course) for making this site a real meeting of minds
Kind of on this subject…
This evening I watched the last twenty minutes or so of “How Do They Do It?” with Robert Llewellyn on UK’s Channel 5. The segment I saw was about how fleets of vast container ships are assembled in a Korean shipyard, like gigantic Lego constructions, quite fascinating; and vital to world trade, as 90% of goods are exported by sea. And… there was nothing about carbon dioxide, emissions, Global Warming or food miles. Nothing. Nada. Not a dicky bird.