2007 - 2021

Launch of our Bad Climate Journalism Awards

The Scottish press is used to back-slapping award ceremonies and self-congratulatory dinners. These awards are a bit different. For the first of our special awards for dire media coverage of the climate crisis we have four wonderful contenders.

First up we have Iain Macwhirter writing in the Herald (‘We won’t save the planet by going Green. Economic growth is the only way’).

In a very strange column Macwhirter proclaims: “We are told by Prophets of Green that we have to reverse economic growth, grow vegetables, lock ourselves in our homes and await doom, which is our punishment for the sin of population growth.” None of this really makes any sense. He seems confused.

Macwhirter writes: “The press has been filled with apocalyptic visions straight out of the Book of Revelation – a world destroyed by fire and flood. People see these hell-fire headlines every summer and promptly forget about them.”

She won’t:

Her name is Ritsopi Panayiota, she is 81, she is reacting to the fire reaching her home in the village of Gouves in Evia. The photo is by Konstantinos Tsakalidis.

You know what she’s experiencing Iain? A a world destroyed by fire and flood.
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As Craig Dalzell commented: “Iain Macwhirter in the Herald today with a bunch of anti-environmentalist strawmen and the opinion that the cure for the consequences of growth-based disaster capitalism is more growth-based disaster capitalism.”
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For Macwhirter: “If you throw growth into reverse, as advocated by the Green economist Kate Raworth on Newsnight this week, we will simply get mass unemployment, poverty and more pollution.”
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It’s a dead certainty that Macwhirter has read none of the many works on degrowth or post-growth or wellbeing economics by, say Jason Hickel or our own Katherine Trebeck.
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It’s writing so crass and stupid and privileged it stands out. You wonder what the Herald thinks its doing publishing such awful clickbait garbage.
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Second we have Alex Massie who shares Macwhirter’s confusion about basic terms and concepts. Writing in his column in The Times he wails: “Nicola Sturgeon’s new Green allies are dangerous extremists!

He goes on: “There is no nobility in poverty and no virtue in national impoverishment. As cannot be repeated too frequently, the Scottish Greens believe economic growth is the road to ruin.”

Now getting really confused he writes: “We are too rich and we must consume less, make less, do less. Growth is not everything, but it remains a large thing nonetheless. For the alternative to growth is steady impoverishment.

These writers have positions of responsibility – pulpits in national newspapers and magazines – and yet write with great authority and supreme confidence about subjects they know nothing about. Even when presented with the most crystal clear evidence of dire emergency their collective response is “More!” They cannot conceive of a different way to work and assume that the capitalist economy that has brought wealth and privilege to them and their families is a universal good.

Third up we have Chris Deerin over at the New Statesman who is similarly triggered – where he describes the Scottish Greens as: “radical, aggressive, socialist agitators”. The Green policies that trigger an extraordinary diatribe include: a millionaire’s tax; a frequent flyer tax; an end to new licenses for oil and gas exploration and development; a publicly owned rail network; the creation of publicly owned services for freight and passengers to continental Europan; and the reintroduction of rent controls.”

These modest progressive ideas are a trigger for Chris who declares them “not a sensible programme for government” they are he whines: “radically socialist, Big Brother-ish …and unserious.”

As Chris, somehow the Scottish editor of a supposedly left-wing magazine, polices politics according to his own Ultra Centrist brand of lobbyist/journalism it turns out his attitude to climate crisis is astonishing. He calls the heatwave “useful” and writes: “The price for a Mediterranean climate in northern Europe appears to be drought, wildfires and other ecological disasters in the toastier zones.”

That’s astonishing and offensive journalism as parts of Italy and Greece are being evacuated.

But this weeks winner is the Scotsman newspaper for publishing this piece by Deirdre Michie, CEO of Oil and Gas UK (‘Drilling new Cambo oil and gas field off Shetland will actually help the UK cut its carbon emissions‘).

In the week of the IPCC report the Scotsman publishing this is an act of reckless and disgraceful irresponsibility. This is Doublespeak. It’s basically pumping disinformation into the public sphere, including sentences like:

“Projects like the Cambo field are part of a low-carbon journey that will support energy security, jobs, the economy and the net-zero future that everyone wants to see.”

It’s been a very competitive week – and condolences to the other contenders – but the first award for dire media coverage of the climate crisis goes to the Scotsman. We’ll be presenting the award to Neil McIntosh, the papers editor later in the week.

Comments (22)

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  1. Tom Ultuous says:

    Might I suggest the award be a model of Jacob Rees-Mogg stretched out on the commons sofa.

  2. Cathie Lloyd says:

    As an antidote to these confused men, try Mark Harvey’s Climate Emergency. he uses Polanyi’s idea of the sociogenic to think through the causes of the climate change and to offer some solutions .

  3. Mouse says:

    Mr McWirter’s extensive proclamations on brexit were biblical. He’s quite silly.

  4. Jacob Bonnari says:

    I haven’t read Deerin or Massie but I did read MacWhirter.

    The idea that what he wrote is post truth journalism is the expression of someone who didn’t read the article closely enough.

    In the article, MacWhirter agrees:
    – Global warming is real
    – There’s a need to limit temperature increase to 1.5C.
    – The Dogger Bank Offshore Wind Project is fantastic
    – That offshore wind has been a great success and is far cheaper than anybody expected.

    What he takes issue with is the idea that degrowth is a concept that can be sold to the Western public. Degrowth is a theory which if implemented in the way that you want will deny Chinese, Indians and Africans the same standard of living that you presently enjoy Mike. Your mobile phone, your house, your electricity, your clean water, your heating all of it was made possible through growth and extraction. Giving that to those in developing countries will require further extraction.

    All MacWhirter is saying is that in order to control the scale of global warming that we need to avoid listening to the ecofascists.

    To be clear on my own views:

    – Cambo shouldn’t be developed at this time, Nicola Sturgeon is feart to say so for political reasons, and the Greens shouldn’t make a deal with the SNP unless the SNP oppose Cambo publicly and sincerely.

    -The idea that creating a state controlled company in Scotland to develop and build the energy transition within a 20 or 30y time frame is a fantasy. Scotland has no remaining industrial infrastructure, nor design capability in solar, wind or hydrogen. These would have to be grown (a bad wording your mind) and we’d have to import the materials to build them (steel, copper, rare earth metals). Scotland will be dependent upon external privately owned companies to build the energy transition infrastructure.

    1. Hi Jacob

      thanks for your comments, I’d suggest reading the other articles because they’re a set.

      ” Degrowth is a theory which if implemented in the way that you want will deny Chinese, Indians and Africans the same standard of living that you presently enjoy Mike. ”

      I think you’ve got this the wrong way round. The idea that seven or eight billion people can hold the lifestyle of the privileged west/north is fanciful.

      Then you say: “Your mobile phone, your house, your electricity, your clean water, your heating all of it was made possible through growth and extraction. Giving that to those in developing countries will require further extraction.”

      Will it aye? So that”s the goal, is that right? And in our pursuit of that dubious idea of progress we’ll destroy the planet, that will be a good thing. Is that right?

    2. John Monro says:

      Interesting – who exactly are “ecofascists”? The use of this word devalues your contribution. It’s just a slur, invented by the smug and entitled, like “nanny state”, who use a generalised ad hominem instead of engaging with rational argument. It would also be helpful to define what we mean by “degrowth”. And I confess, whilst the idea that continued economic growth of the sort we’ve been chasing is delusional in a finite planet and with burgeoning populations, I have yet to full comprehend what degrowth might mean. But it might be a start to see what wealth we might be able to actually share around, rather than continue killing the planet by creating more. If Scotland is anything like New Zealand, my present home, where the top 5% own around a quarter of a trillion (NZ) dollars worth of trust protected assets, and where the bottom 50% hardly own any assets at all, then a programme of wealth distribution might be a good start. But Mr McWhirter’s article is hidden behind a paywall, so I am unable to usefully comment further. Except to add that it’s illuminating that the claim “growth is good” apparently applies only when under foreign control – the idea that Scotland might want to grow its own intellectual and manufacturing know-how is a growth that obviously doesn’t count. As with all right wing neoliberal ideologues, they can’t help in selling their countries so short. Shame.

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        Well, yes and no.

        ‘Ecofascism’ was coined by the social ecologist and environmental historian, Michael Zimmerman, in 2005 to denote ‘a totalitarian government that requires individuals to sacrifice their interests to the well-being of the ‘land’, understood as the splendid web of life, or the organic whole of nature, including peoples and their states’. Some writers have since used it in this scientific sense to refer to the hypothetical danger of future dystopian governments that might resort to illiberal means in order to cultivate and address our environmental fears.

        But it has also since become a pejorative term too, used not to enlighten but to smear. As such, it’s up there with the pejorative use of such terms as ‘English’, ‘Tory’, and ‘Westminster’.

        1. milgram says:

          The term “ecofascist” predates that. The earliest use I know of is 10 years earlier, Janet Biehl’s Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience. Edinburgh and San Francisco: AK Press. 1995. ISBN 1873176732.
          I’d also point out that it’s always been a perjorative term. By definition, you can’t have a good / positive use of “fascism”. (And if you think you *can* then, well….)

          1. Janet Biehl and Murray Bookchin were certainly using the term from the early 1990s/

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            Indeed, this earlier coinage was used by social ecologists like Bookchin in his 1987 ‘anti-communist’ sectarian rant at the 1987 National Gathering of the US Greens to smear the ‘ideological toxic dump’ of deep ecology.

            But Zimmerman’s is the first coinage I know that seeks to give it a more precise scientific sense.

            And both ‘fascism’ and ‘ecofascism’ CAN be used in either a pejorative sense, as Bookchin used it, to smear others you don’t like or in a scientific sense, as Zimmerman used it, to pick out a specific historical phenomenon.

          3. Fun fact, I studied with him for 1 year and a half.

  5. Donald Canavan says:

    None of these folk appear to have read “Prosperity without growth” by Tim Jackson, who, ten years ago was much further down the road to understanding this situation than these folk seem today. I’d be embarrassed.

  6. Wul says:

    The idea that we need more growth and more “stuff” is insane.

    I am surrounded here by large villas, each one “pimped” out with the latest in home fashion trends, two new, huge SUVs parked on each mono-blocked, remote security-gated (new trend) driveway. When I walk around the streets of an evening, there are no lights on in the empty front living rooms. Everyone is sitting in their massive, white, kitchen-lounge extension at the back of the house watching a 6ft wide TV.

    The alternative to growth isn’t poverty. It is just being content with “enough”. Let us aspire to what George Monbiot called “Public luxury: private sufficiency”. That way rich and poor can enjoy and share a pleasant environment.

  7. Tom Ultuous says:

    There’s an article by Robert McAlpine https://commonweal.scot/?p=6971&vgo_ee=6dnY8bLbSusCL6NIliuJW735hO7C%2FF3J%2FgQB9Uu3XAY%3D that a few on here should read. In it he (apologetically) quotes Henry Ford “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”.

  8. Islander says:

    The idea that the world is going to fall into line just because an anthropologist wrote a book about degrowth is laughable. The world does not care what Hickel or Bella Caledonia or the Greens or even what the U.K. Government thinks.

    Sturgeon is or was backed by an extremely broad coalition and appears to have calculated that she will retain the throne for longer by siding with the Greens and those that want to change the world over those who mostly just wanted to be free of the humiliation of Westminster rule and halt our relative decline.

    The 1970s offered up the prospect of an oil powered social democracy. The 2014 white paper relied on oil revenues to reassure voters that few sacrifices would be necessary to regain independence.

    The current vanguard of the Yes movement seem to think offering radical change while closing our biggest industry simultaneously and forgoing Westminster financial guarantees is a winning proposition. It’s utterly delusional.

    Telling us we are all going to die and it’s basically our own fault doesn’t help either.

    If solving the climate change problem requires radical social change then it won’t be solved. Criticism of journalists who understand this reality is pointless.

    I would suggest a focus on genuine solutions rather than pointing the finger would be more use than shouting about how wrong and complacent people are.

    Perhaps the real problem is that most activists are not very practical and are more at home indulging in theorising and rhetoric as a comfort blanket to meet their own psychological needs.

    1. Given the scientific consensus and the trajectory laid out by the IPCC, what “genuine solutions” do you recommend?

      1. Islander says:

        There are some good policies that wealthy countries might adopt (carbon taxes etc) but they would involve calm discussion of costs and benefits instead of infantilising your audience with the latest climate porn.

        1. Is that what the IPCC do?

      2. Colin Robinson says:

        Indeed, given that the genuine solutions being proposed by the experts are politically unworkable, there’s little else to do but point the finger and gammonise the public.

        But not to worry; Scottish independence is the road to salvation. It’s all ‘their’ fault, the situation we’re in. Vote ‘Yes’ or you’re for the Big Fire.

    2. Wullie says:

      Rhetoric like Nicola Sturgeon sitting on a throne for example. Silly you!

      1. Islander says:

        Sturgeon is an excellent politician which is why she is tip toeing around the Cambo issue for example. Perhaps the Bella audience is comfortable with being poorer in exchange for the right to import oil from Saudi and make our hypocrisy less obvious, but governments from Canada to Norway think otherwise.

  9. Judith Brennan says:

    “If solving the climate change problem requires radical social change then it won’t be solved.”
    This says it all. If any social change can be labelled ‘radical’, and a scientific report can be called ‘pornography’, then there really is no hope.

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