Where James Lovelock Meets BP


Billions Will Die
The Independent and the Independent on Sunday (IoS) pride themselves on their environmental coverage. No doubt their editors will indicate today’s dramatic front page as a case in point. The paper depicts the Earth from space overlaid by a dramatic headline: ‘Green guru says: We are past the point of no return.’ (Independent, January 16, 2006)

Scientist James Lovelock – who conceived the idea of the living Earth as a great super-organism, ‘Gaia’ – argues that, as a result of climate change, humanity is “past the point of no return” such that “civilisation as we know it is now unlikely to survive”. (Michael McCarthy, ‘Attempts to counter global warming are already doomed to failure, says Lovelock,’ The Independent, January 16, 2006)

In an article which he describes as “the most difficult I have written”, Lovelock predicts utter catastrophe for humankind:

“Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable… We will do our best to survive, but sadly I cannot see the United States or the emerging economies of China and India cutting back in time, and they are the main source of [CO2] emissions. The worst will happen…” (Lovelock, ‘The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years,’ The Independent, January 16, 2006)

Although Lovelock is here going beyond the scientific consensus – represented most authoritatively by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – there is evidence aplenty to support his argument. So how did we get to this point without the media even questioning the economic and political system that has now, if Lovelock is correct, pushed us over the edge of the abyss?

A clue is provided by the Independent’s online version of environment editor Michael McCarthy’s report. Here ( readers are confronted by an ad from BP: “It‘s time to listen“. Also visible is an advert for long-distance flights to the Seychelles in association with Emirates airlines. As the environment journalist who pointed this out to us today said: “You couldn’t make this stuff up!” If we are to die, it seems that the Independent would rather we die laughing.

That government and big business have perpetrated climate crimes against humanity is never news. Instead, a collective insanity of irresponsible despair or suffocating silence rules the media. This extends even to those editors, journalists and newspapers that the public has been persuaded to trust.

Readers have now, however, started challenging the Independent for accepting fossil fuel advertising revenue. IoS deputy editor Michael Williams observed last year that some readers had praised environment editor Geoffrey Lean’s reports on global warming. Alas, Williams added, “it was soured by some of you who wrote to say that it was hypocritical of us to accept advertisements from car manufacturers in the same issue of the paper”. (Williams, ‘Legal, decent, honest – but how green?’, Independent on Sunday, February 13, 2005)

The deputy editor quoted a reader who urged the paper to “reconsider the policy of accepting advertisements from the very people who are helping to create the disaster”.

Williams dismissed the idea out of hand: “I’m afraid this view is as impractical as it is naive.” He added that if a ban were placed on car company advertising, for example, “we would have to raise our cover price to more than double that of our competitors, with the likelihood that we would go out of business”.

End of argument! Much the same ’facts of life’ were deployed by editors previously reluctant to give up lucrative tobacco advertising. (Note: we have addressed the issue of media alternatives in our alerts of May 27 and June 2, 2004).

The IoS deputy editor concluded:

“For the national newspaper which has won by far the greatest number of awards for environmental campaigning over the past few years, that might be a bit of an own goal.”

To his credit, Williams has since referred briefly to the notion of “carbon rationing” – with everyone having an equal right to emit greenhouse gases – an idea that has been promoted by environmentalist Mayer Hillman. (Williams, ‘No, our green principles have not taken flight,’ The Independent on Sunday, January 15, 2006)

It remains to be seen whether the paper will link this proposal to the overarching framework of contraction and convergence (see ‘Is the Earth Really Finished’, March 1, 2005 ). Moreover, the paper’s refusal to question the planet-threatening paradigm of economic ‘growth’ is as glaring as ever.

Certainly, the IoS environment editor himself does not take kindly to being challenged on his – and his paper’s – failure to tackle the root economic and political causes of climate change. Geoffrey Lean told one reader:

“Why don’t you really read what we have been writing over the years rather than relying on media lens?” (Lean, email, February 18, 2005)

Other media professionals are equally blinkered. Observer editor, Roger Alton, for example:

“For Christ’s sake, whatever you say about Mr Blair, nobody could accuse him of not doing his bit over the complex issue of climate change. He has boosted the science budget, given much funding to climate research, and we take Kyoto seriously.” (Email, forwarded, May 21, 2004)

And Ian Mayes – the scrupulously independent ombudsman at the Guardian – responded sharply to one Media Lens reader’s criticism of the limits to that newspaper’s environmental reporting:

“you know quite well that the Guardian probably does more on the environment than anyone. Yet you continue to participate in a lobby [sic] that wilfully denies it. Why?” (Email, forwarded, May 24, 2004)

Why? Are these people mad?! When editors and journalists issue such dismissive responses with such conviction, it is indeed tempting to doubt one’s sanity. Have we in fact got it horribly wrong? Are sceptical members of the public simply deluded? Is the ‘quality‘ press really doing as much on climate change as can reasonably be expected? Green Euro MP, Caroline Lucas, accurately sums up the horrific reality:

“The mainstream corporate media all too often shares the same vested interests as the governments and businesses whose activities make up the content of its coverage… The public cannot rely on the corporate media to provide an honest and impartial view of corporate responsibility for crimes against humanity and the environment.” (Email to David Cromwell, January 25, 2005)

These are elementary truths that cannot be mentioned, never mind discussed, in any meaningful way in the corporate news media.


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. Write to one or more of the journalists and editors below. It is more effective to write in your own words.

Write to Geoffrey Lean, environment editor of the Independent on Sunday:
Email: [email protected]

Copy to Tristan Davies, editor of the Independent on Sunday:
Email: [email protected]

Write to Michael McCarthy, environment editor of the Independent:
Email: [email protected]

Copy to Simon Kelner, editor of the Independent:
Email: [email protected]

Write to John Vidal, environment editor of the Guardian:
Email: [email protected]

Copy to Ian Mayes, readers’ editor of the Guardian:
Email: [email protected]

Copy to Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian:
Email: [email protected]