“Hot Planet”: some thoughts

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.

“The documentary was OK, but flawed. Firstly, a deliberate choice was made by the programme-makers to pull their punches, as its presenter Professor Iain Stewart in fact admitted in an interview with the Radio Times. Though there was some talk of triggering feedback mechanisms and tipping points, the discussion of effects was limited to a warming of 1-3 degrees C, which is now looking like a very, very conservative range – Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research has said we’d be incredibly lucky to limit warming to 4 degrees, for example. That’s pretty shocking – why was a decision made to simply exclude half of the range predicted in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, when its findings are if anything now looking decidedly conservative?

“Hot Planet also had almost nothing to say on the politics and economics of climate change – it jubilantly presents techno-fix after techno-fix (it even proposes artificial, lab-created meat as a potentially viable substitute for the meat we consume at present); the only other advice it offers is “change your lifestyle” – illustrated with the now ubiquitous icon of individual consumer choice, households changing their lightbulbs. Any suggestion that political action or fundamental economic change might be required was placed firmly off the agenda. Yet it’s difficult to see how any of the technological changes they suggest could be effectively employed as solutions to climate change without major political interventions and economic reforms. Without this context, we are simply presented with a set of technologies and no notion of how they might ever come to be implemented.

“Moreover, there was no apparent awareness of limits. It conveyed the impression that there was a shiny new substitute for almost every major bit of polluting consumer behaviour we now engage in, but was unprepared to countenance the idea that, say, simply substituting high-speed maglev trains, hydrogen-fuelled cars and artificial lab-grown meat while preserving current levels of mobility and consumption might itself pose profound problems in terms of energy and resource consumption. Business-as-usual resolved with a techno-fix was the basic model for every one of the programme’s solutions. That climate change might be inherently linked either to current, unsustainable levels of consumption, or a commitment to indefinite economic growth was territory the programme seemed simply unprepared to explore.”

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