This blog has long argued that one of the forces driving environmentalism’s ascendency is mediocrity, especially in the press. Green-inkers fancy themselves in some kind of war with sceptics or deniers of what they imagine to be the ‘reality of climate change’. But in fact most responses to the extravagation of alleged journalists in (but not at all limited to) the Independent and Guardian newspapers are incredulity that somebody so thick in the head could be hired by broadsheets, not that the planet’s response to CO2 is warming.
In the wake of ridiculous articles from Geoffrey Lean, Danny Weston has an account of his interaction with former Telegraph environmental correspondent Louise Gray, over at Bishop Hill. Says Weston,
She became well known for her “churnalism” of environmentalist press releases, which were then passed off as journalism with due diligence. Unfortunately only those regularly commenting on her pieces seemed to be aware of this.
Noting ‘complete lack of critical filters on her part’, Weston confronted Gray, who, to her credit, took the matter up with him after a debate, to defend herself. Whereas most environmental journalists typically take the opportunity to run away from criticism, Gray’s mistake seems to have been honesty. Her copy was no more alarmist or absurdly stupid than anything written by Leo Hickman, Damian Carrington or Suzanne Goldenberg, but her defence was underwhelming.
Weston shows the manifestation of mediocrity at work in the copy — and it really is copied — on the green pages of today’s newspapers.
I’ve often wondered how this happened. Weston offers this explanation.
I look at the rubbish routinely pumped out by the likes of Lean and Gray and have increasing difficulty in believing that they mendaciously cling to the climate catastrophism schtick to drive their journalism as a matter of pure ideology.
Weston is right. I can’t think of a smart green journalist. They are, to a man (and woman, of course), apparently quite dim, not given to thinking even that what they churn from “scientists” and NGOs can be criticised. (Indeed, they occasionally end up working for green NGOs, Leo Hickman and Richard Black, for instance).
My theory about how this happened is this. Geography has never been a sexy subject. No newspaper would have ever willingly run stories on the Earth’s natural processes because they are usually boring to most people. But as environmental issues rose up the global and later national political agenda, correspondents with the knowledge necessary to write on the subject informatively were sought. But editors hiring staff have confused passion for a subject with knowledge of a subject. Let’s face it, activists write more exciting copy than the authors of geography textbooks.
One has to be more ignorant than most journalists are to not know that social experiments with deterministic ideas about the world have been tried before, within and without environmental debates. And one needs to be especially stupid not to be able to see climate alarmism in the context of a movement that began with population and resource-centric environmentalism championed by the likes of Paul Ehrlich. As good as such journalists are at reciting the environmentalist’s litany, they are never any good at engaging with critical reflection on it.
What holds for newspapers holds for the academy and political institutions. At some point, some bright spark asked, ‘what is the use of universities’. Knowledge as an end in itself was abandoned, and universities were increasingly made to explain their value, and so established departments and courses specifically aimed to further ‘good governance’ and to produce ‘policy-relevant’ research. Ditto, as the atrophy of political movements turned into full-blown gangrene, green hues bloomed. As left intellectuals died, became confused by age and disoriented by the collapse of their organisations, so the appeal of a planetary emergency grew. The preferred argument against capitalism that today’s leading left-wing thinkers offer is not, per left-wing intellectuals of the past, grounded in sophisticated and abstract understanding of the human condition, the workings of capital, and the identification of mutual interests, but is mere climate blackmail. Here’s Naomi Klein, introducing her latest book, ‘This Changes Everything‘, for example:
Naomi Klein bases her work on ‘a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner’. Klein’s embrace of Werner is discussed here.
“Our economic model”, says Klein, “is at war with life on Earth”. This needs to be seen in relation to the view that used to identify the left’s criticism of capitalism. Whereas Klein proposes that capitalism puts humans into an antagonistic relationship with ‘life’ (i.e. ‘Nature’), the historic left’s position was that capitalism created economic classes of people with mutually antagonistic interests.
The rights and wrongs of the historic position to the side, although Klein pitches her argument in terms of ‘building a better world’, her zero-sum-world eco-socialism is mere window-dressing for shallow apocalyptic utopianism: do as I say or the planet dies. People are not asked to come together to build the better world they want, but the world the ‘pink-haired complex systems researcher’ has designed for them. That’s what pink-haired complex systems researchers do. They aren’t good for anything else.
Klein is only the latest person to understand that mathematical models of the environment have political utility. More mainstream (though arguably no less ‘radical’) political organisations have understood precisely this since at least the late 1960s. Because, similarly, governments have found it as hard to justify themselves as atrophied left wing organisations.
The promise of mediocre individuals in powerful positions — let us call them ‘mediocrats’, and their reign ‘mediocracy’ — is to save us from disaster. But we should see this promise for what it is, an inability to either humbly withdraw from public life or to articulate anything better than mere survival. Once expectations have been set so low as to convince us all that, like some victim of a terminal condition, each day might be our last, each day becomes a gift from them.
And this brings us back to the latter-day eco-hacks — the idiot propagandists for mediocracy. Weston says,
… collective hysteria and belief in imminent doom provides a fantastic cover if you have the unfortunate combination of being incompetent, a bit dim and looking for an easy ride being employed amongst the commentariat and attending jollies. I think I’d rather have the competent ideologues to contend with, personally.
I think he does them a favour. We should not be fooled — they really are that stupid. Running away is as much as the best minds in the climate medicracy can muster. Chris will be waiting a long time for environmentalism’s competent ideologues. Take, for example, the Twitter feed of one mediocrat, Chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change, Lord John Deben, PKA, John Selwyn Gummer, on Twitter. In the face of criticism, Gummer, unlike Gray, runs away, calling his critics ‘dismissers‘. Even the Nobel Prize-winning minds at the Royal Society refuse to engage in public debate, preferring instead to snipe at Nigel Lawson. The quality of the debate does not improve as one moves away from the seemingly street-level environmentalism of Klein and Occuppiers, through the realms of the junior mediocrats like Bob Ward, up to the ranks of Stern, Nurse and Gummer, and EU and UN nutcases like Christiana Figueres and Connie Hedegaard. Environmental correspondents on national newspapers ought to be able to catch them out. But their bosses employed dullards, whereas in the past one had to be at least slightly brighter than average to catch a job on a national daily.