Two things have become clear to me over the years regarding the putative ‘ethics’ of the Guardian’s green campaigns, copy and hacks.
First, it is a general rule that ‘ethics’ are for thee, but not for me. Second, these ‘ethics’ are intended to elevate those who bear them.
The people who bang on the loudest about ‘ethics’ are usually the least observant of these ‘ethical’ principles. It is not uncommon to find the climate Great and Good — celebs like Leonardo di Caprio and Pharrell Williams — preaching climate change to the World from the comfort of a private jet or luxury yacht. ‘Ethics’ gives a platform, from where to judge.
For the Guardian, the two limitations of its ‘ethics’ mean that it can weave an article out of nothing but the alleged infraction of an “ethic”, while in fact being in the midst of something far worse.
In today’s Guardian, Terry Macalister — the paper’s energy editor — writes
Shell sought to influence direction of Science Museum climate programme
Oil giant raised concerns one part of the project, which it sponsored, could give NGOs opportunity to open up debate on its operations, internal emails show
The article is published as part of the newspaper’s Keep it in the Ground campaign against fossil fuel companies, encouraging big capital investors to move their interests out of brown energy — ‘divestment’. The allegation is that Shell, as long-time sponsors of the Science Museum in London may have used this funding relationship to change the messages delivered by the museum’s climate change exhibit.
I visited the museum a few years ago, and wrote it up for Spiked. Read it here. Most notable, I felt, was the reflection of the times across the Museum’s different galleries. All those artefacts of historical pioneering spirit — spacecraft, aircraft, instruments and machines — were now lost to bland interactive displays.
The contrast between the space race and today’s low aspirations epitomised by Atmosphere invites a further comparison of the prevailing ideologies of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries and their propaganda. For all the world’s deep and dangerous problems that belied the optimism surrounding the Apollo programme, and of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin’s missions, they remain uplifting reminders of what is possible. The contemporary preoccupation with climate change, on the other hand, yields only joyless propaganda: an antithesis to the progress promised in the past.
Here’s some video I took of the same.
It was, as I described it, a tedious dollop of eco-propaganda. If there was any influence of fossil fuel companies’ dirty money on the exhibition, it certainly wasn’t obvious to me. The exhibition was, in spite of being sponsored by oil companies, as glib and alarmist as any propaganda issued by green NGOs.
Yet the Guardian claim…
Shell tried to influence the presentation of a climate change programme it was sponsoring at the Science Museum in London, internal documents seen by the Guardian show.
Epitomising this weird new puritanism, ex-academic and Guardian blogger, now at the failed 10:10 campaign, Alice Bell tweeted,
Neat bit of FOI digging reveals Shell tried to influence direction of Science Museum climate programme they sponsored http://t.co/ba2lav4JQU
— Alice Bell (@alicebell) June 1, 2015
Not a one off. Seen BP PR docs boasting about the role they played in the Sci Museum's Energy gallery, backed up w quotes from museum staff.
— Alice Bell (@alicebell) June 1, 2015
People have laughed at me for years for caring about this issue, so nice to see make a front page. Might even buy a dead tree copy today!
— Alice Bell (@alicebell) June 1, 2015
Exactly a year after my Spiked article on the exhibition, Bell seemed to agree…
So, exceedingly pretty as Atmosphere is, the highlight of my trip to the museum was gawping at the Apollo 10 capsule. A humble-looking object, it has actually been around the Moon. You can see scorch marks from when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.
I thought about its history, and the many times I’d stood there before. I remembered conversations I’d had with people about it. I remembered being moved to read more about the history of space travel, including the ways images from Apollo missions had inspired green activism in the 1970s, presenting Earth as a fragile, beautiful and, indeed, blue sphere in space.
Time spent quietly pondering the history of an object is an old-fashioned idea of a museum, but it still has power.
She’s wrong, though, of course. What inspired the ‘green activism’ of the 1970s was not as much pretty pictures of ‘Gaia’ as much as it was the oil shock, and the other economic and Cold War crises that developed as the postwar economic boom turned to bust. And it was not ‘green activists’ which were inspired as much as billionaires and their lackeys, who formed around the Club of Rome, and influenced the UN. Bell re-writes environmentalism’s history. Many, many many more young minds were inspired by the possibilities that the moon landing represented than were moved by the lonely image of the earth in Space. The green movement’s half-century campaign for austerity has sought to deny those possibilities to those minds.
I digress. The point here is that the Atmosphere exhibition at the science museum, clearly wasn’t some kind of fossil-fuel propaganda. Nobody taking the exhibition at face value could walk away from it as a climate change sceptic. Not even Alice Bell was complaining in 2011 that there was any hint of scepticism or denial in the exhibition. Her criticism was, like mine, that the fashion for interactive displays and the suchlike, as a way of attempting to engage minds with the ‘issues’ is probably not adequate.
The only way it would be possible to see Atmosphere as serving fossil fuel interests would be if one were to reflect on just how naff its exhibits and messages were, and what thinking and relationships may have been behind it.
Take this utterly clichéd House of Cards artwork, for instance. If we see it as an ironic gesture, then, yes, perhaps we can see that it could come to epitomise everything green: an art project that is entirely without artistic merit is commissioned by a public organisation with mixed private/public funding, as part of a broader, policy-relevant exhibition; an otherwise talentless ‘artist’ supported by a public organisation. Or perhaps the plan was simply to bore people away from the issue.
Where are the crappy paintings by climate sceptics at this Shell-sponsored exhibition? Where are the second-rate interactive media installations giving the sky-dragon version of climate change physics at this fossil-fuel industry funded show? And where are the glib ‘messages’ moderating — let alone ‘denying’ — the alarmist narratives served up at this Big Oil beano? If Shell or its PR firms intended to use Atmosphere to serve its own interests in the climate debate, it should be thoroughly ashamed of itself… Not for the shame of seeking to intervene in this way, but because it has done such a pisspoor job of it.
So what is behind the headlines? This picture of an oil company’s massive, illegitimate intrusion into the public debate on climate change, you will notice, is painted with run-of-the-mill Guardianista weasel words… “The Anglo-Dutch oil group raised concerns with the museum…”, “The company also wanted to know…”, “Emails show the close relationship between the Science Museum and Shell…”, “… a Shell staff member gives what they call a “heads up” on a Reuters story…”, “…a Shell employee [has] some concerns [that an] exhibition […] creates an opportunity for NGOs to talk about some of the issues that concern them around Shell’s operations.”
Is this the stuff of a conspiracy? Raising concerns? Are “close relationships” between major funders and beneficiaries unusual? Or is it just innuendo?
Perhaps one complaint — that “Shell’s own climate change adviser – former oil trader David Hone – made recommendations on what should be included” — might have been more interesting, had the exhibition not been, as discussed above, a virtual playground for climate alarmism. But there was no sign of scepticism of either climate science or policy on show.
Similarly, the Guardian suggests that the museum is compromised because its director criticised Greenpeace… (HOW DARE HE?!!).
the Science Museum’s former director Chris Rapley criticised Greenpeace’s successful campaign to make Lego drop its partnership with Shell.
But this, neither, passes the smell test. While this conspiracy between Shell, the Science Museum and Rapley was going on, he was penning his awful monologue, 2071, which I reviewed for Brietbart London back in November.
If you really want to know what this stage play formula is like, imagine a compulsory lecture on climate change at a low-tier university. On Saturday night. With Powerpoint. A city… no a world… of better offers exists outside. But you are trapped.
This is no exaggeration. Chris Rapley is keen to qualify his role as lecturer by professing his expertise in many things during the opening ten minutes (they felt like hours). One of those things is the cryosphere (the frozen parts of the planet), which is so-called because Rapley went there and bored entire mountains of ice to tears.
Rapley has since given up his snow mobile. Now he sits in a chair, from where, almost motionless, he freezes the brains of hundreds of people, each of whom seem to have volunteered themselves for this 70 minute ordeal of skull-crushingly dull ‘untertainment’ for up to £32 each. By the end of its ten-day run, some 3,600 individuals will have witnessed Rapley’s sedentary call to action.
Yet Naomi Klein Tweeted…
— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) June 1, 2015
If Chris Rapley is part of some conspiracy to ‘silence the climate debate’, much less undermine climate science and subvert climate policy, he has me completely fooled. I am totally and utterly hoodwinked by his clever act. I have been to the climate change exhibition at the Museum he was director of. And I have been to see his stage play. And I have seen him speak at about half a dozen debates. I remain unimpressed by his argument and intellectual depth, but I am convinced he is a believer. He has bored me to tears, and I’m sure he has done it for his own self-interest, but I am sure he believes, nonetheless.
It is perhaps significant that the Guardian article does not reveal who obtained these emails. Because reading them reveals absolutely nothing underhand at all. See for yourself. https://www.dropbox.com/s/ddz2fg9vwzt7x31/shell%20science%20museum%20foi%20-%20highlights.pdf?dl=0#
But another reason for the Guardian’s coyness is that the campaign which obtained the email exchange between the Science Museum and Shell wants to use the fact of sponsorship to embarrass the museum into dropping the sponsor. That campaign is BP or not BP, whose aim is to disrupt oil companies’ sponsorship of cultural events, as this video shows.
An interesting aside… The chap at 0:52 introduced as “Danny”, AKA Danny Chivers. Chivers appears to be the PKA Tim Lever, spokesman of the 2007 Climate Camp. Here he is, talking to Richard and Judy…
Clearly disrupting mass transport left Timmy and his pals more alienated from an unappreciative audience than they were anticipating. Better to target the luvvies, by disrupting instead subsidised and sponsored performances of Shakespeare. This demonstrates a considerable adjustment of the radical environmental movement’s ambitions over the last few years: from disrupting operations at one of the busiest transport hubs in the world… To heckling at a play, to an audience who likely already shares their values, and whose minds did not need changing.
If there is any constituency in the world that needs no encouragement to participate in a shallow Two Minute Hate ritual against oil companies, it is the luvvies — whose lifestyle choices are, broadly speaking, subsidised on the basis that they are Good Things. And it is this which most reflects the utter absurdity of the campaign. As the BP-or-not-BP campaign’s own video shows, nobody was fooled by BP’s sponsorship of the arts — its greenwashing. And so it is equally unlikely that anyone coming away from the Atmosphere exhibition would, even if they had noticed Shell’s sponsorship, have come away from it thinking about what a thoroughly decent Big Oil company it is.
BP-or-not-BP are concerned that people might not understand, you see, that companies which sponsor cultural things… Things like museums, operas, and plays… Do bad things, like producing energy for things like, erm, museums, operas and plays, as well the vehicles which take people to them, and things such as schools, hospitals and… Horror of horrors… factories where things are made. BP-or-not-BP want to rid the cultural sphere of companies like BP and Shell, not because they can point to any substantive interference intended to sway opinion in the climate debate, but because they believe that by purging the cultural sphere, the debate can be won. Think of it as Ethical Cleansing…
This brings us to why the Guardian omitted the FOI requesters… Their divestment campaign now in full swing, it would be a foolish time to admit to the world that there is something hypocritical about campaigning to ‘Keep it in the Ground‘ at the same time as being sponsored by the third largest coal mining interest in the world.
The very same Guardian writer has written articles under that very same campaign, saying that “Oil companies’ sponsorship of the arts ‘is cynical PR strategy’“. But just a couple of clicks away is the Guardian’s Anglo American partner zone section of its Sustainable Business pages, the most recent article on which was published just two days ago.
This is first-order, Class-A hypocrisy, of course. There is nothing that any Guardian journalist can say about Shell’s sponsorship of the Science Museum, or its climate exhibitions. There is no way the Guardian can continue to campaign to ‘keep it in the ground’. And there is no way it can criticise any organisation for being secretive about its arrangements, or for failing to respond to what it demands are ‘ethical’ imperatives.
So much for the Guardian’s climate ‘ethics’, then. That paper demonstrates that ‘ethics’ don’t apply to itself. Its own ethical cleansing campaign has, for years, consisted of endless stories about links between oil companies, policy-makers and public organisations, dominating the debate. But these were so many stories about next-door-neighbour’s-cousin’s-cat-who-one-knew-a-man… Take this graphic from the Guardian’s campaign. What’s missing?
The answer is the name and logo of the Guardian’s own sponsor, Anglo-American. They seem to have bought The Guardian’s silence. A bigger scandal, surely, than Shell sponsoring a climate-change exhibition.
Beyond the Graun failing to meet the standards it sets for others, though, is a sadder picture. The Science Museum’s former director, Chris Rapley, for instance, caught between a rock and a hard place. And Shell themselves, of course, trying to do the right thing in the era of corporate social responsibility.
A plague on all their houses. They invited it. Rapley chose to use the Science Museum as a vehicle for environmental politics. And Shell stumped up the ready money, for whatever ends. They wanted to champion climate change, but have been caught out and called out by the very movement they were seemingly hoping to capture. Shell, for instance, are sponsors of the Green Alliance (see their list of partners here), which coordinated the recent cross-party consensus on climate policy ahead of the recent UK general election. Where was the outrage, the direct action, and the Grauniad innuendo?
If Rapley, the scientist was worth an iota of his public profile, he would have been far more critical of the environmental movement, and he would have been critical of it long before it campaigned to get Lego to pull out of a deal with Shell. And Shell themselves, rather than lavishing money on green NGOs and lobbying outfits would have spent its money more wisely if it had spent a few quid on challenging the nonsense that its beneficiaries publish routinely… Including that daft exhibition at the Science Museum.
What are these kind of ‘ethics’, anyway? The Islamic State has ‘ethics’. The Taliban has ‘ethics’. They too seek to purge culture of infidels. And, as the Mirror journalist put it, they will brook no dissent. But behind these ‘ethics’ are naked self-serving ambitions to control society. That is what ‘ethics’ are in today’s world. They are not a form of knowledge, to which we all have access, to measure the rights and wrongs of actions, but are diktats, issued by self-appointed authorities for their own ends.