Tag Archive: greenpeace


Channel 4’s “What the Green Movement Got Wrong” presents a fairly convincing and useful narrative of the problems with the green movement. The detail, however, was highly questionable, and the programme drew superficial conclusions from a good starting point.

Last night’s What the Green Movement Got Wrong told the story of an environmentalist movement too caught up in its own out-of-date orthodoxies and failing to realistically engage with the challenges of the modern world. Particularly under scrutiny were their histories on nuclear power and on GM foods. It was claimed that environmentalists had over-egged the dangers of nuclear power and of GM foods and that this was harming the people of the world by misrepresenting the realities. In the subsequent debate it was clear this caricatured the position of those under scrutiny, particularly Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Their objections to nuclear power and GM in some contexts was due to specific concerns, including the cost of nuclear and the risks of reducing crop diversity and becoming dependent on big US companies business with reliance on GM.

Environmentalists Mark Lynas and Stewart Brand, who were at the heart of the documentary, were also consistently shot down on factual inaccuracies throughout the subsequent debate by the very environmentalists they claim were ill-informed and dogmatic. In particular Greenpeace representative Dr. Doug Parr shot down Stewart Brand for claiming that Greenpeace campaigned for a worldwide ban on DDT that was later achieved. His failure to provide a source for either claim, Greenpeace’s campaign or a resulting worldwide ban, is being chased by firebrand journalist George Monbiot, who has updated his website during the day with his correspondence.

(As an aside, there was also a revealing criticism from George Monbiot, both in the debate and since on his blog, that the film suffered from being drunk on techo-fixes without widening the discussion to structural problems. While undoubtedly making a good point, this did not undermine the central thesis of the programme.)

Factual questions aside, the film set up a dichotomy between “old” and “new” environmentalists that simply doesn’t exist. Do different self-defined “greens” have a variety of views on policy issues? Of course. But the idea that a new consensus is emerging or that an old one existed is, at best, out of date: there have long been different shades of green (and I’ve written before that to my mind the most useful tool for looking at this is Clapp and Dauvergne’s definitions of market liberal greens, institutionalist greens, bioenvironmentalists and social greens.)

I’ve written recently on the report by Deutsche Bank on climate scepticism. Add to that initiatives by Ernst and Young, and Zurich Insurance and PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the oft-cited reports on abatement cost curves by McKinsey and a picture emerges of strong corporate environmentalism making a real contribution to shaping a new world. (No doubt some of the same firms are under scrutiny by other environmentalists, especially social greens, and that is a process of scrutiny to be highly praised. No doubt there are times when green action and greenwash become confused, but let us not shoot for hypocrisy the chain smoker proud of cutting back, as the chronically self-righteous are so often tempted to do. I digress, however.)

My experience is that there are tribal greens who share certain orthodoxies and for whom beliefs follow identity rather than reason. Where that is the case, there is a need for introspection and change on their part. The idea that this is blighting the environmental movement, however, is nonsense. When Greenpeace representatives speak at events, they are almost always extremely smart, specific and nuanced in their opinions and, most of all, well-informed.

Overall, the argument was not without merit. The green movement should avoid becoming an isolated group bound to its own orthodoxies, especially when the wider world is now relatively sympathetic to its beliefs about climate change and sustainability more general.

Particularly telling was Lynas’s comment “We’re losing the war for public opinion. The response of greens to that wall of public indifference is to shout louder and in some cases to exaggerate. And that of course makes you very vulnerable to a backlash.” The representative from the pollsters IPSOS Mori in the subsequent debate supported this argument, describing apocalyptic stories as “ a turn off”, a truth increasingly widely accepted by campaigners.

The recent 10:10 campaign is perhaps the clearest evidence of this. This premise, however, is not evidence enough to wholeheartedly embrace nuclear power, GM foods and geoengineering as the programme suggests. These are ongoing discussions in which Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups will continue to play a major role.

What the Green Movement Got Wrong and the subsequent debate will stay on the Channel 4 website until early December

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Sir Muir Russel, head of the latest 'climategate' enquiry to report back

On Monday days ago, the IPCC was (mostly) cleared by an enquiry by The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Yesterday ‘climategate’ was (mostly) cleared by the six-month enquiry by civil servant Sir Muir Russell. The arguments over nitty-gritty details and over motives could not be further away from the rhetoric that surrounded the Copenhagen summit, and will undoubtedly surround the Cancun summit at the end of this year.

The evidence of the new ‘climategate’ enquiry was that there was no manipulation of data or abuse of the peer-review process to prevent disagreeing scientific papers from publication. The main complaint was the UEA scientists’ defensive attitude to releasing their data, even when pressed under the Freedom of Information Act. It is clear from the e-mails that they aim mostly to hold off the sceptics by withholding their date to prevent it from being challenged. This is particularly clear in the e-mail published in the Guardian today dealing with Climate Audit, website of climate sceptic Steve MacIntyre. Scientist Phil Jones refers to explaining to ” the F[reedom ]O[f ]I[nformation] person [who] said we had to abide by the requests” why they didn’t want to provide their data , because of “the types of  people we were dealing with”. Without having met or spoken to any of those people I will reserve final judgement, but it sounds suspiciously like the demonisation of the opposition as boogeymen. (By contrast the book dealing with MacIntyre’s perspective of his work, The Hockey Stick Illusion, puts him in a very different light but is less than charitable towards various scientists implicated in ‘climategate’.)

'Hopenhagen' posters like this one by Joachim Ladefoged were on display in the run-up to the conference, adding to the mood of high expectations and high drama

Unfortunately for those of us in favour of major climate change mitigation, this discussion coincided with the Copenhagen summit. While a certain amount of gory detail crept out into some of the papers, there was a buzz of enough high rhetoric to make anyone with even a slight streak of cynicism reach for the bottle (or, in my case, the biscuit bag). We had the Mayor of Copenhagen calling for “Hopenhagen”, we had interviews with protesters talking about “saving the planet” (it’s still going to be there guys – we just might not be able to live on it) and the TckTckTck campaign film short showing us suspiciously environmentally aware children promising to change make a difference (unsurprisingly attracting accusations of brainwashing by YouTube commenters). There were liberal references to children, grandchildren, and children’s children, who are like grandchildren but more profound.

One would be forgiven for a certain cynicism at seeing Coca-Cola's 'Hopenhagen' advertising campaign

Do I disagree with the arguments of these many voices? Absolutely not. But it doesn’t take much to bring that kind of rhetoric down to earth when the difference in style and in substance between the passionate campaigners and the gory details is so pronounced.

The job of those involved in communicating climate change is to plug that mid-level gap between the four ‘climategate’ enquiries and the high-flown rhetoric of campaigners. For a start, let’s hear:

1. Why ‘climategate’ doesn’t matter on the scale of the whole science of climate change. Three or so main points, lots of evidence please

2. What the specific threats to society are from runaway climate change. Economic statistics please, not just more and more dramatic adjectives

3. Why that uncertainty is not a reason for inaction (the phrases you’re looking for may include tipping points, the precautionary principle and risk management)

Dramatic campaigns do an important job, but they are not enough to get your message across. They do well at getting the main message out “We need a treaty to save the world from climate change”. Someone needs to follow on with the sentence that comes after that, and all the rest that follow on.

One of Greenpeace's Copenhagen Posters

(Note: it is often pointed out that the precautionary principle is only used as a reason to act, never a reason not to act to safeguard economic growth. My answers to this are

  1. Tipping points – beyond largely unknown points the costs of climate change will suddenly skyrocket in ways some economic analyses may not recognise
  2. Irreversibility – if the Greenland ice sheet melts, a species dies out or the upper ocean warms enough to increase the likelihood of hurricanes. If a factory is not built, or even a hospital a road to provide key food supplies to a starving community, that can be built the next year. The impacts of climate change happen over a longer timescale

This is not to say that economic growth and other social objectives don’t matter. They do, and of course we must recognise the need to balance of mitigation costs and benefits. But that is why the precautionary principle applies mostly the one way.)

Thanks to the Bernstein & Andriulli blog for information on the ‘Hopenhagen’ adverts.