The cult of growth

January 5, 2010

George Monbiot’s article in today’s Guardian features a critique of the media’s handling of economic growth which is so spot-on it’s worth quoting in full:

“As the Guardian revealed yesterday, the British government is now split over product placement in TV programmes: if it implements the policy proposed by Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary, plots will revolve around chocolates and cheeseburgers and ads will be impossible to filter, perhaps even to detect. Mr Bradshaw must know that this indoctrination won’t make us happier, wiser, greener or leaner; but it will make the television companies £140m a year.

“Though we know they aren’t the same, we can’t help conflating growth and well-being. Last week, for example, the Guardian carried the headline “UK standard of living drops below 2005 level”. But the story had nothing to do with our standard of living. Instead it reported that per capita gross domestic product is lower than it was in 2005. GDP is a measure of economic activity, not standard of living. But the terms are confused so often that journalists now treat them as synonyms. The low retail sales of previous months were recently described by this paper as “bleak” and “gloomy”. High sales are always “good news”, low sales are always “bad news”, even if the product on offer is farmyard porn. I believe it’s time that the Guardian challenged this biased reporting.”

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A Christmas message from our sponsor

December 27, 2009

Merry *hacking cough* Christmas, y’all. (And thanks to Roger Johnson for the picture.)

More heroes, familiar villains

December 23, 2009

Mark Lynas, environmental journalist and author of Six Degrees, who was also apparently part of the delegation from the Maldives at Copenhagen, has just pitched in with his account – or rather, his interpretation – of what happened at Copenhagen. You can read it here. His own personal heroes appear to be the rich world, from the EU to Obama; his villains China, India and Sudan – a country he claims acted as a Chinese puppet – and the NGOs, who by blaming Obama and the rich world in the wake of the conference, Lynas claims, played into China’s hands, exactly as that country’s leaders predicted. The US, by contrast, “put serious cuts on the table for the first time (17% below 2005 levels by 2020), and was obviously prepared to up its offer.” Lynas concludes: “I am certain that had the Chinese not been in the room, we would have left Copenhagen with a deal that had environmentalists popping champagne corks popping in every corner of the world.”

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The heroes of the hour

December 22, 2009

Well, the COP15 fiasco is all over and done with, and a clear villain has been identified: as ever, it’s China wot dunnit. Ed Miliband certainly says so, and who are we – or the press, for that matter – to say otherwise?

Certainly, there’s some truth to this charge. China certainly appears to have stonewalled throughout the negotiations, refusing to offer anything more substantive than a cut in the “carbon intensity” of its massive, and exponentially increasing, patterns of economic growth. If you think that sounds better than nothing, it’s worth pointing out that decreasing carbon intensity has been the norm in the West and across the global economy over the past century. It may mean that each unit of economic value generated impacts more lightly on the earth than otherwise – a good thing, or we’d all be in a position even more dire than we are at present – but it takes place in the context of an economic system with an inbuilt imperative to increase the number of those units as fast as possible. Like a shark, the capitalist economy requires constant forward motion, or it begins to perish. The result has been that, while efficiency gains have been made across a whole plethora of sectors, in absolute terms we are on an exponentially increasing upward trajectory, in terms not only of our carbon emissions, but of resource consumption of all kinds. In many cases, the benefits of greater energy efficiency (or “reduced intensity”) even cancel themselves out, on account of the “rebound effect” or “Khazoom-Brookes postulate”, as it’s been variously referred to. With better insulation, you can get used to a more comfortable temperature more of the time; greater fuel efficiency in aircrafts allows more and cheaper flights to take place; and so on. China’s offer to decrease its “carbon intensity”, therefore, offers nothing in the way of real carbon cuts – and could even accelerate its economic growth still further – a major problem when that growth is being driven by fossil fuels. There’s also, it’s worth pointing out, no guarantee that its emissions will be honestly or independently accounted for.

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“Climategate”: a briefer

December 20, 2009

Now published on Climate Safety.

In the wake of the “Climategate” affair – the illegal hacking and publication of a huge number of emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit – I’ve been trying to put together some “points to remember” on the episode, along with some of the key points of evidence. Below is what I’ve managed to come up with. Owing to the story’s media profile, the volume of material out there is now pretty enormous and somewhat unwieldy. Nevertheless, I hope this at least begins to cover most the bases, and will generally be of some use.

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“Climategate”: some essential viewing

December 20, 2009

For anyone interested in understanding the issues surrounding UEA’s hacked emails, below is some of the best stuff I’ve been able to find on the whole affair.

First off, George Monbiot on The Real News Network:

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Copenhagen, “Climategate” and some political auguries

December 18, 2009

With the Copenhagen climate summit now heading towards its painful conclusion, and some of the waves created in the media and wider political circles by the “Climategate” saga still with us, it is worth taking a look over how some of the major political forces in the UK have been playing their hands in recent weeks. How has “Climategate” impacted the Conservatives and the right? How has the Government responded, and how does this response figure in their wider strategy around Copenhagen? And how are environmental NGOs responding?

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“Hot Planet”: some thoughts

December 16, 2009

There’s been a brief discussion over at Media Lens on last Wednesday’s BBC1 documentary “Hot Planet”, which focused on some of the effects of, and solutions to, climate change. Here’s (a tweaked version of) my thoughts on the programme.

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Ad nauseam

December 7, 2009

Effect and cause – via the Guardian (September 2009):

Alongside Christian Aid’s inspired and rather brilliant ad at the top of the page – which unfolds to reveal the rest of the iceberg, giving the whole the shape of Africa – is an advert for energy company Eon, the second largest carbon polluter in Europe and sponsor of the first proposed new dirty coal plant in the UK in 30 years, the Kingsnorth power station in Kent (now temporarily shelved following a concerted campaign of popular pressure). The paper, it’s worth pointing out, conducted a touchingly friendly interview with Paul Golby, head of Eon, earlier in the year.

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Credibility Fail

November 12, 2009

Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker’s new book, The Real Global Warming Disaster, seems to have been well-received in some quarters. As he writes:

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