Comment is NOT Free

by | Jan 13, 2009

Over at Comment is Free, George Monbiot attempts to rescue the eco-movement from the criticism that they’re a bunch of toffs by launching a campaign to ‘ban the aga’. “This is indeed a class war,” he says. 

So where is the campaign against Agas? There isn’t one. I’ve lost count of the number of aspirational middle-class greens I know who own one of these monsters and believe that they are somehow compatible (perhaps because they look good in a country kitchen) with a green lifestyle. The campaign against Agas – which starts here – will divide rich greens down the middle.

(For those readers hailing from lands without them, an Aga is a very large, solid and heavy cooker, which is ‘always on’, and was a much-coveted lifestyle/status symbol in the eighties.)

George is keen to demonstrate his readiness to split the green movement following criticism from Spiked-Online that its membership is almost exclusively or disproportionately people with middle and upper class backgrounds.

Edited by Brendan O’Neill, it concentrates on denying the existence of social and environmental problems, and attacking protest movements with a hatred so intense and disproportionate that it must contain an element of self-disgust.

Monbiot imagines that the failure of the UK’s environmental movement is the fault of Spiked and its associates. But what’s even weirder than this conspiracy-mongering is George’s plan to distance himself from Spiked’s criticism, and to reveal Spiked as the ‘real’ friend of the rich. 

Yes, this is a class war; and Brendan O’Neill and his fellow travellers have sided with the toffs. These Marxist proletarian firebrands are defending the class they profess to hate. Bosses of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your planes.

Mark Lynas, author of Six-Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, tried to make a similar argument in reply to Spiked earlier in the year after a poll of voting behaviour, in his view, revealed a greater interest in environmental issues amongst working class people. 

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?

But as we showed, Lynas’ treatment of the raw statistics was, erm, bad statistics. Furthermore, Lynas’ claim to be onside with the poor of the world is undermined by his comment to Red Pepper magazine in 2004, 

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

…which is exactly the sort of thing which Spiked criticise him for. Similarly, Monbiot argued in August, that his eco-socialist and eco-anarchist comrades risked undermining his efforts to save the planet

Stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim.

Which is curious, because just a few years ago, George himself was a staunch anti-capitalist, arguing in 2000 that 

The struggle between people and corporations will be the defining battle of the twenty-first century. If the corporations win, liberal democracy will come to an end. The great social institutions which have defended the weak against the strong – equality before the law, representative government, democratic accountability and the sovereignty of parliament – will be toppled.

Monbiot accuses Spiked of ‘moving to the Right’. Yet Monbiot, 8 years after his attempt to mobilise the masses against global capitalism… gives up, and calls for people to abandon politics, or the world will end. 

He and Lynas struggle hard to reply to the criticisms made by Spiked. And that is why they need to use words such as these…

[LM (prior to Spiked)] campaigned against bans on tobacco advertising, child pornography and the ownership of handguns. It denied that genocide had taken place in Rwanda, or ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. It provided a platform for writers from the hard-right Institute for Economic Affairs and Centre for the Defence of Free Enterprise. Frank Furedi started writing for the Centre for Policy Studies, which was founded by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher. He and the LM writer Tony Gilland wrote to the supermarket chains, offering – for £7,500 – to educate “consumers about complex scientific issues”.

… in an effort to throw muck at their critics. It is only by turning Spiked into advocates for genocide, child pornography, laissez-faire capitalism, Smoking, murders and evil-supermarkets that Monbiot can elevate himself and his fragile argument. 

But Monbiot’s is a shallow, weird, and infantile argument, for which he takes a drubbing in the comments. One of which, from James Heartfield, author of Green Capitalism: Manufacturing Scarcity in an Age of Abundance, was deleted by the moderators.  

Is George Monbiot being a bit sensitive about being called a toff? But then his ancestors were French aristocrats, the Ducs de Coutard, his parents leading Tory Politicians who sent their little boy to Stowe Public school and Brasenose College, Oxford, before George got a job at the BBC, trolled around the anti-roads protests for a while, sponsored by career diplomat Sir Crispin Tickell, then landing his current job as Guardian columnist. (

George thinks air travel the equivalent of child abuse, except when he is doing it to ‘promote his book’. Climate changes gives George the intellectual justification for refusing to share his flights with the great unwashed.


  1. Gooner2008

    I left a comment on this at CiF, but I’m alarmed to see that JH’s comment was removed by the moderators. For what possible reason?

    It seems GM has shifted from braying about ‘the science’ and painting apolocalyptic visions, to attacking those who he feels are responsible for mass rejection of his doctrine.

    The anger and frustration is showing, and really, if Sp!iked and the ordinary Joes and Josephines posting on CiF, and few other bloggers, are undermining ‘the consensus’, then it really wasn’t very robust to being with.

  2. Bishop Hill

    Ha! I put a pointer to this post on the new Brendan O’Neill thread on CiF. They deleted that too!

  3. Gooner2008


    not only has my response been removed, but they’ve banished all trace of the post having been there to begin with.

    I’ve posted another response asking for an explanation, but it certainly seems, and has done for some time, that as the title of this entry argues: Comment is NOT Free.

    It is an absolute disgrace.

  4. geoff chambers

    It’s a peculiar article. It reads like a magician’s patter designed to distract your attention from something which he doesn’t want you to see. There’s a sideswipe at the carbon footprint of middleclass Aga owners; a defence of Greens against the accusation that they’re an overwhelmingly middle class movement; and a rather pathetic attempt at a class breakdown of Ryanair customers, before getting down to the main issue – an attack on Spiked and its principal contributors for their agnostic position on global warming. The ad hominem part is typical Monbiot, attributing to his opponents caricatural views, hypocritical shifts of opinion, and guilt by association with right wing groups and personalities. But the core criticism of the Spiked writers is the attribution of motives. He says:
    But if … you refuse to accept that man-made climate change is real, you must show that the campaign to curb it is the result of an irrational impulse. The impulse they choose, because it’s an easy stereotype, … is the urge to preserve the wonders of the world for the upper classes.

    Well of course. if believers in catastrophic AGW are unwilling or unable to give rational support for their belief, we non-believers are bound to try and find motivations, the better to understand and counter their movement, which we consider loony and dangerous, just as they consider us sceptics. Spiked’s criticism, far from being “an easy stereotype” is interesting, since it goes against a lot of the popular imagery of Greens as humble peasants tilling the soil.
    Though I agree that Monbiot’s argument is shallow, weird and infantile, I don’t feel either you or any of the many critical bloggers have got to the heart of it. Part of the problem is the unhealthy symbiotic relation between him and the “comment is free” format. The latter provides the Guardian with a handy alibi (see, global warming deniers are free to express themselves) which allows Monbiot to ignore substantive criticism and concentrate on Savonarola-like moralising. His insufferable pose of infallibility (Trust me, I’ve read the peer-reviewed science, which I don’t need to bore you with) coupled with his prosecuting attorney’s talent for the vicious (irrelevant) detail, makes him an interesting and dangerous opponent. Of course, if the whole global warming thing melts away, the Guardian will give him a column about how to save hedgehogs, and we can forget him. Until then, keep up the criticism.

    Excuse the punctuation. Apostrophes and inverted commas on my French laptop don’t seem to cross the Channel .

  5. Eric Smith

    Monbiot is an old fashioned anti globalisation minimalist anarchist. He probably doesn’t care too much about the environment, it has merely given him a route into the mainsteam.

    He has shot himself in the foot because AGW has completely obliterated anti globalisation. He is also a liability to the green movement. He is too emotional, his seething hatred of consumer capitalism gets the better of him and he loses the plot far too often.

  6. Robert Wood

    “Class War”?

    Is Moonbat a grown-up?


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