Bad Climate Media Awards

Today we’re delighted to be announcing our first Bad Climate Media Awards. It’s a brand new monthly prize for the most terrible journalism about the climate emergency. This month was a very tough competition with strong contenders in Alex Massie (The Times), Chris Deerin (the New Statesman), and Iain Macwhirter (the Herald).

But this week’s winner is the Scotsman newspaper for publishing this extraordinary piece by Deirdre Michie, the CEO of Oil and Gas UK with the wonderful headline ‘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. It’s basically pumping disinformation into the public sphere, including astonishing 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.”

The International Energy Agency’s tells us that, to meet our climate target of limiting global heating to 1.5ºC, oil, gas and coal use will all need to fall rapidly to the extent that no new oil, gas or coal developments should now occur. See here. And the UN Secretary General has said that the latest report from the IPCC “must sound a death knell” for fossil fuels and that countries should “end all new fossil fuel exploration and production”.

The magnificent trophy – resplendent in code red and shimmering black gold – goes to the Scotsman newspaper for it’s terrible editorial decisions.

Do you have suggestions for really dire climate journalism? Submit your entries for next months prize here.

Extra points will be awarded for completely ignoring reality; spreading disinformation; smearing protesters; or acting irresponsibly in the climate emergency. Celebrating extreme weather; creating manels of false equivalence; joking while countries burn; or just publishing pure gibberish like the Scotsman did that ‘Drilling new Cambo oil and gas field off Shetland will help the UK cut its carbon emissions’ when we know that: the first phase of Cambo would produce up to 170mn barrels of crude oil from 2025 until 2050, with plans for a second phase of production beyond that; that’s the carbon emissions equivalent to running 18 coal fired power stations for a year; the full field development is forecasted to be 288mn barrels.

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Comments (42)

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  1. James Mills says:

    ”Ignoring reality , spreading disinformation , smearing protesters , acting irresponsibly in climate emergency , celebrating extreme climate ,
    joking while countries burn , …. ”
    You’ve just described the last 18 months of Prime Minister’s Questions from the Commons !

    1. Joe Killman says:

      Absolutely, James. Never a truer word ….. etc..

  2. Leah Gunn Barrett says:

    Why don’t you hand deliver this magnificent trophy to The Scotsman offices and get The National to cover it?

    1. We’ll be handing it over to The Scotsman and we’ll be covering it : )

      1. Mouse says:

        Why aren’t you awarding the bauble to Deirdre Michie? Or, if you want to get corporate, Oil and Gas UK (‘proud champions of the UK oil and gas industry’)? Seems to me to be misguided to target the Scotsman for publishing an opinion piece.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          But, to protect the public against being led off the path of righteousness, the Scotsman should be suppressing opinions that are off message.

        2. Because its a media award

          1. Mouse says:

            ‘Because its a media award’ is a pointless non-answer. Did you mean that it’s a newspaper award (based on one opinion piece?).


          2. No. It’s a media award.

          3. Mouse says:

            Perhaps you have a skewed idea of what the word means?

          4. Colin Robinson says:

            ‘Media’: communication outlets or tools used to store and deliver information or data.

            Mike’s right in that what information’s delivered and how it’s delivered is important to the shaping of our political reality. The way in which issues are framed establishes a particular discourse. When issues are framed in an alarmist way, for example, using inflated language and imagery of doom, can create a greater sense of urgency. But it can also evoke alienation, denial, paralysis, or apathy, making us more susceptible to demagoguery and dependency rather than to becoming actively and democratically engaged with those issues. This was how the Critical Theorists of the Frankfurt School accounted for the rise of Hitlerism and Stalinism in the 1930s.

            Mike’s also concerned that powerful corporate interests use media like The Scotsman to ‘invent’ realities, not only in relation to the issue of climate change, but also in relation to issues like that of the Union and the campaign to make the Scottish government independent of the UK government. The media award stunt is a way of publicising this concern.

  3. Gavin says:

    Steel in Sweden produced from hydrogen and renewables–due for full production in 2026. Tories desperate to open a new coal mine.
    Wind and solar winning electric supply auctions for a decade. Both reducing in cost year after year. Coal and nuclear simply cannot compete. Tories desperate to keep pumping Scotlands oil
    There is enough renewable energy waiting to be exploited that could supply the words needs many times over–politicians need to step up to get the ball rolling.
    The bad thing? I have little faith that humans will realise the seriousness of this until we are past the tipping point(which will be sooner than the forecasts).
    The good thing? There is none, but at my age I won’t live through it.

  4. Graham Ennis says:

    There is Gibberish, and there is McGibberish, which is in a class of its own.

    Firstly, oil and gas are far to valuable to burn. Its like keeping the hoose warm by burning the furniture.
    The oil and gas, if used for a non-imflammable purpose, would produce huge amounts of agricultural fertilizer,
    plus industrial plastics, cheap carbon fibre, etc, and would last about five times as long as the well field mentioned
    burning it. Very low carbon added to the atmosphere, as C02. Whats not to like.
    But hey, oil companies are facing a survival issue. So are the World population.
    Choose one.

  5. Colin Robinson says:

    I agree. Given that we’re not going to stop using oil any time soon, we might as well buy it from countries with higher emissions and less commitment to act on them rather than police our own production.

    1. Those aren’t the options, and actually we export quite a lot f it. Will lay out the facts in a new article we’re working on very soon.

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        Policing our own oil production, whether for our own consumption or for export, isn’t an option?

        I’m sure we could opt for this if we had a will to.

        1. It is an option but so too is a radical shift away from it.

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            Indeed. But given that we’re not going to stop consuming oil any time soon, isn’t policing our own production of the stuff a lesser evil?

            There’s a discussion to be had around this, Oil and Gas UK’s article is a legitimate contribution to that discussion, and The Scotsman has a legitimate role in providing a forum for it.

            In our post-truth condition, the more and the greater diversity of fora we have, the better.

          2. We have to stop consuming oil soon. We know this. You know this. And we know ways to do it rapidly.

            Why is it a legitimate contribution to the discussions to say that opening a new oil field will help the UK cut its carbon emissions, which is clearly, demonstrably untrue.

            The International Energy Agency’s tells us that, to meet our climate target of limiting global heating to 1.5ºC, oil, gas and coal use will all need to fall rapidly to the extent that no new oil, gas or coal developments should now occur.

            Not all contributions are useful. Having a quality debate is NOT just about having millions of views.

          3. Colin Robinson says:

            1. We do, indeed, know all those things in an abstract-y intellectual kind of way. But we’re still nevertheless not going to stop consuming oil anytime soon.

            I suspect this is because the sort of mediated knowledge that science produces doesn’t relate to our immediate life experience and, consequently, its prescriptions don’t carry as much authoritative weight as that experience. Our behaviour will change when those things that we merely know become real.

            2. The legitimacy of Oil and Gas UK’s contribution to the discussion derives from the principle of free speech. The appropriate response to a statement that’s demonstrably false is not to deny its expression, but to demonstrate its falsity; i.e. to falsify it.

            Not all contributions to a discussion are ‘useful’. But in an open and democratic society, they are all legitimate (providing they’re at least in principle falsifiable).

            3. Having a quality debate is not at all about having millions of views. But ‘truth’ in a post-truth age is about having a plurality of different and often conflicting viewpoints.

          4. 1. “I suspect this is because the sort of mediated knowledge that science produces doesn’t relate to our immediate life experience and, consequently, its prescriptions don’t carry as much authoritative weight as that experience.”

            I suspect its because capitalism sells us shit we don’t need.

            2. It’s a quaint idea that a wee blog is suppressing the “free speech” of the oil and gas industry to destroy the planet. I’m sure they are terrified.

            3. WE are (and have been) swamped by their disinformation. I will give you decades of examples. They have spent millions on this.

          5. Colin Robinson says:

            1. Vendors do indeed sell us things we don’t need. And we keep buying those things even though we ‘know’ that such overconsumption is bad for us. I still suspect this anomaly arises because the sort of mediated knowledge that science produces (theory) doesn’t relate to the reality of our immediate life experience. We only ‘distantly’ know that our current behaviour is harmful.

            2. No, you don’t have the power to suppress anything outside your editorship of this blog. But you are calling into question the right of The Scotsman to publish opinions that are off message, which is what I’m calling out.

            Yes, thanks to the radical deregulation of ‘truth’ and the media through which it’s communicated, we are indeed swamped by information, much of which is from some or other perspective false and/or misleading. This is part of what it means to say that ‘God’ is dead. In the resultant absence of any authoritative (God’s) truth, it’s incumbent on each of us, from his/her own perspective, to make whatever truth we can out of the dissonance that surrounds us.

          6. 2. I’m publiclly challenging the quality of their journalism and the moral judgement of their editorial choices. I’m not alone in this. The corporate media have been complicit in this for a very long time caught in an unquestioning loop of advertising and spin. I’ve been “off message” for thirty years while this was churned out.

          7. Colin Robinson says:

            Indeed, you’re taking a moral stance and judging an editorial decision from the perspective afforded you by that stance. No doubt, the editorial judgement of The Scotsman’s editors is oriented by a different moral stance. But that doesn’t change the fact that, for you, the wrongness of the decision to publish the article consists in its being, from your point of view, off message and therefore misleading. My point is that this is for the reader to decide, which s/he can’t do unless the article is published. It’s in this that, from my perspective, the rightness of the decision to publish such articles consists.

          8. Do you have a threshold to that view?

            If The Scotsman published an opinion piece from a tobacco lobbyist saying “cigarettes are really good for children” would you say “well that’s a great contribution to public debate and well worth publishing” ?

          9. Colin Robinson says:

            No. No limit can be set to freedom of expression. The claim that cigarettes are good for children is refutable and freedom of expression gives those on whose belief that claim is made ample opportunity to refute it.

            Withholding or preventing claims from being aired only guards them against criticism. We need them to be exposed.

          10. I am not (and cannot) limit the freedom of expression. I am pointing out where I think it is distorting pubic debate to the point of being disinformation.

            I cannot withold claims from being aired.

          11. Colin Robinson says:

            I’m not suggesting you can or are. I’m rather suggesting that The Scotsman is justified in publishing off-message opinion pieces and that doing so doesn’t merit a bad media award.

          12. Oh well. They’re getting it.

        2. Mouse says:

          It’s a global market, and I can’t see it doing anything but staying that way. As such, policing local production wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference, except we would be responsible for tankers steaming from the Persian Gulf.

          I think that is actually the gist of the word-soup article that Bella’s newspaper award is for.

          Tripling the price of petrol, diesel, fuel-oil, and gas through taxation would make a big difference.

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            ‘Tripling the price of petrol, diesel, fuel-oil, and gas through taxation would make a big difference.’

            It would indeed. At the very least, any party that campaigned on such a policy would be roundly defeated at the polls. There might even be rioting in the streets and oil racketeering.

          2. Mouse says:

            No doubt. But the idea that nations that are entirely dependent on hydrocarbon production would do anything is fanciful. Several of the major-player nations, prior to oil, had economies that would make Afghanistan look good.

          3. Colin Robinson says:

            It’s fanciful indeed. Even the Scottish government is reserving the right to exploit our remaining oil reserves and has explicitly excluded opposition to the matter from its power-sharing agreement with the Greens.

  6. John Monro says:

    Yes, it is the media. Oil companies, coal miners, any large commercial operation presently using fossil fuels have always promoted their ideas through the printed page or radio or TV. The main stream, commercial media, have been entirely complicit in disseminating poor science, or anti-science, scheming with their advertisers and generally behaving like the sociopaths that usually feature in their crime pages. Many such articles are actually written by the companies involved, and with minimal editing are presented to the reader as something more independent and robust. It’s propaganda, pure and simple. You are entirely right to make the award to the Scotsman. It’s quite possible they were funded in some underhand way to publish this article, though of course I’m not actually claiming they were. The cozy financial arrangements between such corporate players and the media via advertising or other forms of promotion have gone on for decades, sometimes directly, sometimes via bought off politicians or governments. Yet another excellent moral contribution, Mr Small. Thanks.

  7. John Monro says:

    Re your discussion / argument with Colin Robinson, whose arguments don’t wash. The science is really really simple. If we’re to preserve even a semblance of liveability for humanity on this planet, all presently unexploited fossil fuel reserves – oil, gas, coal, – must remain in the ground. The same injunction applies to undiscovered fossil fuel reserves, which of course means we should stop looking for them. I should point out to Colin that while the global temperature has increased by 1 deg C since preindustrial times, the land masses of the northern hemisphere have experienced almost exactly double this temperature rise. A planetary 2 deg C rise in subsequent years implies a full 4 deg C rise in land-mass temperatures, including Scotland. The IPCC tell us this, but the message is not being promoted, and I think it should be, after all the majority of the world’s population live in the northern hemisphere land masses, not in the ocean. There is now secure science that this sort of temperature rise will make parts of this planet literally uninhabitable, like the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia. That’s areas around the Persian Gulf, parts of the Indian subcontinent and very large parts of China – that’s when the wet bulb temperature exceed 33 deg C. . But even Scotland will be profoundly affected – , much of what we see now and love in Scotland’s landscape and nature will be a distant memory reserved for very old people and a cause of the most profound existential angst in the rest of the population. Almost every prediction in prior IPCC reports are noticeable for substantially underestimating the rapidity of the changes in our weather extremes, even when climate change deniers and big business were painting the organisation as alarmist. The IPCC hasn’t been alarmist enough, until this just released report. You have read it, Colin? In 2015 the prestigious journal “Science” published a peer reviewed paper – it’s conclusions were stark – of all the known fossil fuel reserves we must leave a third of all oil reserves, half of gas reserves and 80% coal reserves in the ground, to avoid a 2 deg C warming world. As we’re supposedly aiming for a lower than 1.5 deg C rise, then stating no new reserves should be developed is almost certainly an accurate reflection of reality.

    The argument you seem to be advancing is that if Scotland doesn’t develop these resources, someone else will, is a type of fallacious reasoning – which in this particular case can have various labels. But it’s well explained here:

    ………….“Is “if I didn’t do it, someone else would” a fallacy? Why or why not?”

    Not quite.

    The thinking BEHIND this statement is somewhat fallacious (assertion of unsupported inevitability), but the statement itself is simply a lie.

    There’s also an implied semi-fallacious assertion built into this: which is that whoever said it wants to pretend that they shouldn’t be held responsible for their entirely voluntary accretions, on the grounds that someone else will act if they don’t.

    In other words, they want to simultaneously say their actions are voluntary and involuntary at the same time, which is impossible………………

    Thirdly, Colin, your argument about the Scotsman bears no careful examination. The Scotsman is not published by some alien corporation in Sirius B, with no interest in what actually happens in the planet, or to humanity. The Scotsman is published by people, like you and I. They live and breath the same air as all of us. The editors and managers and owners might even have children, or grandchildren. Even if they don’t care for their own future, you’d think they’d care for their descendant’s future? Yet many probably have trust funds set up to look after their children’s interests, even when they’ve departed the planet, yet they seem incapable of actually caring for the planet on which their children will have to survive. This cognitive dissonance, along with greed, are the supreme follies of our age, almost everything now going seriously wrong around the planet can be related to these mortal sins – cognitive dissonance is my addition to the list!. Mike Small is completely correct to point this out, global warming is the existential moral question of our age. In regard to this the Scotsman has failed, failed and failed again.

    1. John Monro says:

      I think that should read “actions” not “accretions, didn’t notice til now. Also I should have said, I think, “like you and me” – Cheers.

    2. Colin Robinson says:

      I don’t see what any of this has to do with the rights and wrongs of The Scotsman publishing an off-message opinion piece.

      1. John Monro says:

        Simply put, the Scotsman is an “enabler” of a way of thinking that is literally poisoning our planet. It is not just an “opinion piece” , publishing it as it is has real consequences. How many people reading the Scotsman look to articles like this to reinforce their own misguided views about the nature of their reality, and how many just read it and accept it for what it says, because it’s published in a prestigious newspaper, ignoring that this “opinion” is actually worth no more than that of the person next door, or for that matter one of your children, actually even less than that because it is a thoroughly self-interested opinion? Perhaps Mr Small and I would be just a bit less aggrieved about the matter if this was just a one-off, but the fact is that the “mainstream” media have been the main means by which misinformation about this existential problem has been disseminated for many years, the commercial media almost totally being owned and dominated by a pro-capitalist and anti-social and environmentally ignorant ethos for far too long. I believe you are excusing the now inexcusable. And it’s not just the Scotsman, Mr Small cites remarkable and current instances of other classic examples of cognitive dissonance and specious argument in the media, flying in the face of a reality that is literally burning itself into our consciousness or drowning us in our unconcern.. But despite all this, we’re not debating the Scotsman’s “right” to publish and be damned, but you should not then be calling into question this organisation’s infinitely more moral right to give the Scotsman a metaphorical two fingers.

    3. Colin Robinson says:

      BTW. ‘If I don’t do it, somebody else will.’ isn’t fallacious because it isn’t an argument and only arguments can be fallacious.

      My beef is rather that ‘If I don’t do it, somebody else will.’ is a quasi-proposition and therefore literally meaningless. A proposition proposes a fact and can therefore be assigned a truth value (‘true’ or ‘false’) in accordance with the fact it proposes. The thing is that ‘If I don’t do it, somebody else will.’ is a counterfactual expression; there’s no fact in accordance with which a truth value could be assigned to it. It’s ‘apropos of nothing’ and can for this reason be completely disregarded.

      1. John Monro says:

        That’s fine, but it seemed to me as if this were part of the argument you were putting forward; we agree then, it’s meaningless. Which is another way of saying it’s a informally fallacious statement/justification/explanation..

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          No, it’s not ‘another way of saying it’s an informally fallacious statement/justification/explanation’. Only arguments can be fallacious. That’s what ‘fallacious’ means: the use of invalid or otherwise faulty reasoning or ‘wrong moves’ in the construction of an argument. To say that expressions of the form ‘If I don’t do it, somebody else will.’ are meaningless is to say that such expressions have no propositional content, that there’s no fact to which they correspond. Expressions of this form are quasi-propositions, which is something quite different from fallacious arguments.

          This doesn’t mean that the Scotsman was wrong to publish such an utterance; it just means that we as active readers can simply disregard it as meaningless.

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            Of course, exactly the same can be said for the expression ‘If you don’t mend your ways, the world will end.’, which we’ve been hearing a lot lately.

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