Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Is Justin Rowlatt an Ethical Man?

The BBC's 'Ethical Man' Justin Rowlatt asks on Radio 4 if the environmental movement is bad for the planet. Listen here. Transcript here.

His theme is that green campaigners have political objectives that go above and beyond decarbonising the atmosphere.

He starts with Solitaire Townsend who runs a city PR firm, which specialises in communicating

She comes up with a thought experiment: A Carbon Fairy comes along with a magic wand that can abolish the laws of physics, so that humans could burn CO2 without damaging the atmosphere's greenhouse properties, and then would environmentalists be happy? They vote no, presumably because they have difficulty with the magic, and because of all the other green issues such as resource depletion, species extinction, overpopulation, traffic congestion and 1001 other concerns. Townsend is angered because of their vote, and Rowlatt carries on to substantiate that anger.

He challenges the precautionary principle, because it is against GMOs and nuclear power. Nuclear power is good in Rowlatt's view, because it is low carbon energy. He passes over the other nine drawbacks to nuclear power, namely
  1. Electricity Produced by NP is not CO2 free
  2. Conventional NP offers an insignificant contribution to world energy needs
  3. Fast Breeder technology means uncontrollable nuclear weapons proliferation
  4. NP possession now implies Nuclear War later
  5. NP is not economic - and is not insured
  6. Routine discharges cause cancer
  7. Nuclear Power Stations are vulnerable to terrorist attack
  8. The waste problem is not solved
  9. Nuclear power stations are vulnerable to flooding as sea levels rise
  10. NP would suck funding away from the real longterm solutions which are energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The "ethical man" suspects that greens' lack of willingness to embrace nuclear power is based on a prejudice against the high technology. Jonathon Porrit gives the lie direct to this idea, and blames the growth economy, and rightly points to the fact that consumer economy does not make people happy. To which Rowlatt asks why than does the whole world want to migrate to Western lifestyles, cognitively and geographically. "They think it will make them happier".

But is it really fair to say that less individualistic societies care more about the planet? He wheels in John Gummer whos sets up and knocks down the straw man of communism as the only alternative to individualistic capitalism, which is the only economy that can provide the solution to global warming. Only not free market capitalism, because the true cost of carbon has to be created by legislation. Which we can agree with, so it's not all bad. Jonathon agrees too; it is necessary but not sufficient.

JP "I want ...to go further than that and look to a different kind of economy, a different kind of society - one which I believe would be better for far more people than is the case today"

[I have just copied an pasted this in, despite the fact that it says at the beginning of the BBC transcript "Please note that this is BBC copyright and may not be reproduced or copied for any other purpose". I just have to hope no-one reads this]

At this point the "Ethical Man" clambers aboard his hobby horse, getting in on with his "angle".

Journalists always have to have an "angle" on a topic, a point of view, a bias, in the strict sense, and his angle is this: Greens don't really want to save the planet, they just want to force their lifestyle onto us. Knitted muesli sandals &c.

Sounds familiar? I have been meeting that deep thought being put to me by journalists for three decades. Previously it was just to mock us. Now it is our evil intent to force everyone to wear beards.

ROWLATT: A different kind of society? This seems to be getting into a debate about who we are, about the nature of humanity. More like a theological discussion than a practical plan for cutting emissions because moving to a different kind of society implies changing people’s values....

But at root, what you’re trying to do is change individuals which is a very radical project
isn’t it? Changing who we are...the identity campaign that Tom Crompton, a strategist for
the conservation charity WWF UK champions carries a whiff of social engineering about
it – it seems to imply an almost evangelical approach with green missionaries like Tom ...

Here we go. Evangelical and missionaries. A challenge to the sanity or otherwise of the growth economy has stimulated discussion of social engineering, (nasty word that, involving welding and rivets being driven into people), which rapidly morphs into Changing Human Nature.

Time to wheel in a theologian, Martin Palmer, who is a UN advisor on climate change and world religions.

PALMER: In the 70s and 80s the environmental movement believed that if it put the scientific facts –the data – in front of us, we would all wake up and we would reform ourselves and create a utopian, happy world. What then happened is the classic collapse of that utopian hope and you move into stage two and stage two is the apocalyptic. So for example, the world is going to be swamped by floods, struck by fire, destroyed by plague, everything will collapse,
society will fall apart. it’s that use of fear that is the main indicator of this.

In short, because the man in Oxford Street with the End of the World is Nigh sandwich board was mad, humans are incapable of having any serious deleterious effect on the global environment. At least, I think that's what he is trying to say.

PALMER: I hate to say this – but there is a very strong –it’s very small – but there is a very strong green fascism in much of the environmental world. I’ve heard it said at meetings I’ve been at – that climate change is so important - democracy has to be sacrificed.

Why, yes, I've heard this too. From one person, out of all the hundreds of people that I correspond with over these matters. I responded that fascism or dictatorship always ends in conflict and war, and war is not good for the environment.
HULME: Some of the deep green movement would  buy into this - that actually climate change is the best opportunity that we have got in order to get our political goal of a more egalitarian, localist, less consumer driven society onto the table. And we’ve seen over 40 or 50 years different tactics I suppose from some of these deep greens, eco-socialists if you like, to drive forward this idea and climate change is the latest and is an opportunity.  

So there we have it. Greens are "quite cynical" - using climate change as a tactical device. It’s almost as if climate change is a sort of convenient truth to put through their "hidden agenda".
And the hidden agenda seems to be - wait for it - eco-socialism.

Some, like my beloved interlocutors on the Daily Mail discussion board, would go further than Rowlatt. The hidden agenda is not just eco-socialism, but World Government and 100% taxation. And population reduction, probably through forcible sterilisation without an anaesthetic and death camps, and being forced to eat raw uncooked babies, ripping them apart with their bare teeth. OK, I made that last bit up, and they are never said 100% taxation, just high taxation.

More, they believe also that there is a Great Green Conspiracy that has actually somehow persuaded the world community of climate scientists to falsify all their data, frightening the world into believing that there is a problem with global warming when there isn't.

But that's the Daily Mail readers for you.
Back now to the Ethical Man. He has his angle on the situation, has been given the opportunity to bend the ear of the Radio 4 listening public for 30 minutes, and there is no right of reply. He can interview deep thinkers like Porrit and Simms, who have given their lives to the study of these matters, and can take one paragraph of what they say and suggest to us that they have a hidden eco-socialist agenda.

There's only one word for it :


Rowlatt poses the question "Are Environmentalists bad for the Planet?"
The answer he suggests is "Yes"
This blog poses the question "Is Justin Rowlatt really deserve to call himself the Ethical Man?"
The answer I suggest is, "Whatever. Do we, like, care?"
Another question: "Does Justin Rowlatt have a hidden agenda?"
Answer: "Maybe. Maybe not".
Another question: "Is there a grain of truth in what he is saying?"
Answer: "Yes. But this blog is long enough already, so I will come back to the question of whether Green is a religion in a later blog".


Jim Jepps said...

I heard this too. It seemed like a deeply uninformed programme masquerading as something that could have been quite interesting.

There have been a few bits and bobs recently coplaining that the green movement are a bunch of comunists rather thanb just sticking to what recycling you can put in which box.

When the inevitable revolution comes they'll all be up against the wa... I mean it's a fair point which deserves further exploration.

StuartM said...

Thanks for this link Richard, very interesting. In the middle there is almost a sort of debate, but your right, Justin steers towards a conculsion which was decided before the programme started. Veiwing the transcript this becomes quite obvious.

Phil said...

Rowlatt posted this on Twitter a few days ago:

"Does water vapour explain why the world hasn't warmed for the last decade? http://tinyurl.com/yerhyv6 "


How wrong can he get? The answer (totally wrong) is here:


And today, Sunny Hundal asks in The Guardian why "Our licence fees pay for climate denial":


Including a mention of some of Rowlatt's nonsense.

DocRichard said...

Hi Phil
I love your minimalist blog.
Thanks for the links. The water vapour data is interesting, consistent with the property of water vapour in following and amplifying changes from other factors.
The NASA link shows that in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year since modern records began in 1880. Second warmest year overall. Well, well. No wonder the Express didn't splash that on their front page.

Sunny Hundal lists several BBC climate deniers. I had a go at the BBC about this a couple of years back, and they said "If you only knew the pressure we get from the other side to put the skeptic POV".

I'm glad i knocked 1p off my license fee for their not showing the DEC appeaal. Maybe it should have been 2p.

Good links, thanks.

Simon said...

Given he has been doing the show for sometime now his ignorance on these matters is appalling. What could have been an interesting show nosedived pretty quickly. Having said that there were some grains of truth in there.
Ironic that the same exact skepticism/cynicism could be thrown back in his face about the basic premise of his show. I wonder how he would take being thought as a hippie/pinko because he is taking about eco ethics at all.

www.tabletpc-shop.info said...

To my mind everybody have to glance at it.