Now Blair Spins Climate Change
We Haven’t Seen Anything Yet!
On 29-30 April, 1991 one of history’s premier storms hit Bangladesh – 138,000 people were killed. One local woman spoke of a “wall of water” rushing towards her home:
“The ground shook and the skies split with a roar so loud that I thought I had gone mad,” she remembered later. She had just managed to wrap a rope around her three children when the wave broke over their heads. The next eight hours were spent clinging to the roof, before the house was washed away and the family plunged into the floating debris. The woman and her children survived, but her husband was lost without trace. (Mark Lynas, ‘High Tide – News from a Warming World’, Flamingo, London, 2004, p.195)
In a warming world, such ‘extreme’ events are likely to occur more frequently and become yet more extreme. Tom Knutson, a climate modeller at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, reports:
“If these predictions of future warming, with increased hurricane intensities and sea level rise are true, we haven’t seen anything yet – especially with the increase in population and development in hurricane-prone regions.” (Lynas, ibid, p.192)
Other dangers lie in store, journalist Mark Lynas explains in his important new book, ‘High Tide’. If many of the crucial Himalayan glaciers disappear, “hundreds of millions of people will be faced with moving or dying of thirst. The scale of this threat is so colossal that it almost defies comprehension.” (Lynas, ibid., p.239) A collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet (which would raise global sea levels by several tens of metres) might shut down the Atlantic thermohaline circulation, including the Gulf Stream, that warms western Europe.
The sum total of such effects could bring human civilisation to the point of collapse. And yet the corporate mass media – part of the global economic and political interests driving the problem – are locked in a world of short-term self-interest that must persuade the public to literally keep buying into the fraud of ‘business as usual’.
Blair’s Twin Deceits On Iraq And Climate
One of the roles of the media is to promote the myth that our leaders ‘speak from the heart’. Tony Blair, every inch the trained barrister, carefully crafted every word before, during and after the Iraq war to protect his version of the truth and to hide inconvenient facts.
There was nothing innocently random about it; everything was calculated with impressive, unrelenting ‘pragmatism’. In a BBC interview with Jeremy Paxman, Blair claimed inspectors were “put out” of Iraq in December 1998. When Paxman pointed out that this was “just not true”, Blair responded:
“I’m sorry, that is simply not right. What happened is that the inspectors told us that they were unable to carry out their work, they couldn’t do their work because they weren’t being allowed access to the sites.
“They detailed that in the reports to the security council. On that basis, we said they should come out because they couldn’t do their job properly.” (‘Tony Blair on Newsnight – part one’, The Guardian, February 7, 2003)
Scott Ritter, who led the inspection teams at the time, said:
“If this were argued in a court of law, the weight of evidence would go the other way. Iraq has in fact demonstrated over and over a willingness to cooperate with weapons inspectors.” (Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile, 2002, p.25)
Blair is also ‘passionate’ about climate change, according to the media, and is allowed to project his supposed ‘green credentials’, largely unchallenged, in finely-crafted speeches to the public. Shortly before the Tories were defeated in the 1997 general election, Michael Meacher, soon to become environment minister, and Robin Cook, then Foreign Secretary-in-waiting, both proclaimed that Labour would form the “first truly green government in this country” by putting “the environment at the heart of government”. (Remarks made at a meeting of the Socialist Environment Resources Association, Friends’ Meeting House, London, January 1997)
This happened in the same way that “an ethical dimension” was placed at the heart of UK foreign policy.
There is “no bigger long-term question facing the global community” than the threat of climate change, Blair said recently. (BBC news online, ‘Climate issue “critical” to Blair, 27 April, 2004)
Blair was here speaking at the launch of the Climate Group, an international campaign that includes such corporate interests as Shell, BP and HSBC. The Climate Group, we are told, aims to speed up reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, in the real world, Blair’s government is doing all it can to boost ‘economic growth’ and the profit margins of big business. For months, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has been urging government ministers to undertake a drastic revision of plans for cuts in carbon dioxide emissions of up to twenty per cent by 2010 from 1990 levels. The CBI warns that climate-saving measures “could be suicidal for manufacturing’s competitiveness”. Digby Jones, the CBI director-general, said the government “is risking the sacrifice of UK jobs on the altar of green credentials.” (‘CO2 limits suicidal for competitiveness, says industry’, David Gow, January 20, 2004, The Guardian)
Such business lobbying has paid off, once again. On May 7, the government announced it had lowered its target for CO2 emissions “in response to concerns from businesses”, the Financial Times noted candidly (Vanessa Houlder, ‘Targets for cuts in carbon dioxide emissions scaled back’, FT, 7 May, 2004). The target would be reduced by 15.2 per cent by 2010 compared with 1990 levels, rather than the 16.3 per cent target that was originally set. The Independent observed:
“The ultimate target is supposed to be a 20 per cent cut in emissions by 2010. However, Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said in a joint statement only that the Government was ‘committed to its national goal of moving towards a 20 per cent reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide by 2010’.” (Michael Harrison, ‘Government under fire after cutting emissions targets’, The Independent, 7 May, 2004)
That important phrase “moving towards” is classic subterfuge. Friends of the Earth retorted that government pledges to cut emissions by 20 per cent “appear to be nothing more than a distant dream”. (Harrison, The Independent, ibid.)
Stephen Tindale, Greenpeace UK director, said that Blair was “retreating in the face of a little light lobbying from business. On the same day new evidence of global warming is published, Mr Blair is sending out all the wrong signals.” (David Gow,’ Blair under fire for CO2 retreat’, The Guardian, 7 May, 2004)
The reality of New Labour’s performance is clear enough when we reflect that greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by between 60 to 80% by the middle of the century if the climate is to be stabilised.
Muzzling Unwelcome Climate Warnings
Tucked away in a tiny number of media reports earlier this month was the embarrassing news that the government is, in fact, likely to miss its own modest targets for greenhouse gas emissions. UK emissions are actually +rising+, according to the Sustainable Energy Policy Network, a cross-Whitehall body made up of representatives from 16 government departments and organisations such as the Carbon Trust and the Environment Agency.
Blair has also promised to increase the share of electricity from renewable sources such as wind power to 10 per cent. But the Whitehall study reports that Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 1.4 per cent last year, while the proportion of electricity generated from green sources fell from 3 per cent to 2.9 per cent. Between 1990 and Labour coming to power in 1997, carbon dioxide emissions fell by 7.3 per cent. Since then, emissions have fallen by just 0.2 per cent. (Michael Harrison, ‘Government set to miss greenhouse gas targets’, The Independent, April 27, 2004)
As part of a long-term trend in conforming to business priorities, in his autumn 1999 budget chancellor Gordon Brown dropped the so-called petrol escalator tax that was supposed to tackle rises in fossil fuel combustion. Moreover, following intense corporate lobbying, Brown scaled down the climate change levy from £1.7 billion to £1 billion.
While the government consistently heeds corporate ‘warnings’, Downing Street has tried to suppress authentic warnings from its chief scientific adviser on the seriousness of climate change.
According to The Independent, 10 Downing Street “tried to muzzle” Sir David King after he had written a scathing article in the American journal Science attacking Washington for failing to take climate change seriously: “In my view, climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism,” he wrote.
Ivan Rogers, Mr Blair’s principal private secretary, subsequently told Sir David King in a leaked memo to limit his contact with the media. “This sort of discussion”, wrote Rogers, “does not help us achieve our wider policy aims ahead of our G8 presidency [in 2005].” (‘Scientist “gagged” by No 10 after warning of global warming threat’, Steve Connor and Andrew Grice, The Independent, 08 March, 2004)
In more honest translation – alerting the public to the risks of climate change runs counter to G8 business interests.
Ironically, big business is aware that climate change could be a real threat to profit margins. The Financial Times reported recently that “four out of five of the world’s 500 largest companies believe they will be affected by the impact of climate change and related policies, [but] only half have plans to deal with this”.
Responding to the threat is typically seen by industry executives as little more than a bureaucratic headache. “Not everyone appreciates the extra form-filling”, the Financial Times notes. Climate change is regarded generally as an issue that does not deserve “to be high on companies’ agenda”. (Vanessa Houlder, ‘Swiss Re changes the climate’, Financial Times, April 27, 2004)
Media Irresponsibility Boosts The Risk
Later this month, a new Hollywood blockbuster, ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ is released. It depicts an extreme scenario of the devastating effects of abrupt climate change. No doubt the special effects will present an awesome spectacle. It is less likely that the public will be given the context of a system of global corporate capitalism that is in the process of destroying itself, and many of us with it.
The reality is that in the news media of today there is little sense of urgency of the impending climate nightmare. Nor does the media shed much light on the vast state-corporate forces that are obstructing action. In a recent article entitled ‘Beware the fossil fools’, George Monbiot notes that we should surely describe the media as “grossly irresponsible” in its failure to alert the public to the climate threat and to the vested interests largely responsible for it.
Moreover, “the journalists who have consistently and deliberately downplayed the threat”, writes Monbiot, “carry much of the responsibility for the problem. It is time we stopped treating them as bystanders. It is time we started holding them to account.” (Monbiot, ‘Beware the fossil fools’, The Guardian, 27 April, 2004)
Alas, as we recently reported, the “fossil fools” include the ‘liberal press’, the Guardian Media Group very much included.
It is indeed time that we started holding editors and journalists to account for their near-total failure to alert the public to the reality of climate disaster. More importantly, they need to be challenged to reveal how state-corporate power is relentlessly feeding a suicidal system of corporate globalisation, while fiercely resisting rational alternatives.
Tony Juniper, the director of Friends of the Earth notes: “It is difficult to overestimate the impact of the Guardian and Observer. The Guardian is certainly considered the voice of progressive and sound environmental thinking both in the UK and in Europe.” (Ian Mayes, ‘Flying in the face of the facts’, Ian Mayes, The Guardian, January 24, 2004)
If even “the voice of progressive and sound environmental thinking” is silent on much that matters, we are in big trouble.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Please write to the following editors and journalists. Ask them to challenge government ministers more persistently on climate, citing the recent study by the Sustainable Energy Policy Network showing that UK emissions +rose+ last year by 1.4 per cent. Ask them to expose Blair’s failure to tackle climate change. Ask them to give Blair’s repeated betrayals on climate – and his capitulation to business interests – the mass coverage they merit. Ask them to explore ‘alternative’ policies for reducing emissions and delivering justice, equity and sustainability, such as ‘contraction and convergence’ (see website of the Global Commons Institute at http://www.gci.org.uk).
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