If you ever want to get in touch with the real world, try pretending to be a second world war GI. This is what I did the other weekend and it was quite an eye-opener. I don’t mean the stuff I learned about the correct procedure for debussing and advancing to contact from an armoured half-track — fascinating, obviously, though that was. I mean what I discovered about my fellow Living History re-enactors in the pub, afterwards, when we got on to the subject of impending ecological disaster.
‘Oh that? No, it’s a load of old bollocks that is,’ said my neighbour, and I did a double take. It has become something of a speciality of mine — ideological Tourette’s, my wife calls it — winding up friends, colleagues, dinner-party neighbours, anyone who’ll listen with my appalling and deeply outrageous views as a card-carrying global warming denier.
This crowd, though, clearly would be a tougher nut to crack. ‘Yeah, and another thing,’ I went on. ‘You realise “global warming” hasn’t even happened this millennium? We’ve now got global cooling?’ They did know this. They also knew that solar variation is mainly to blame, that green is the new red, that wind farms are an ugly con, and eco-taxes a terrible scam. ‘Look, I’m sorry, mate, but if you’re after an argument you’ve come to the wrong place,’ said my neighbour. ‘We all think the same as you.’
Now I concede that ten drinkers round a table in a Worcestershire pub is not a large sample. And I suppose you could argue that any man (or woman — we had those there too, serving us tea in their sexy US Red Cross outfits) who chooses to spend his weekends impersonating C Company, 82nd Recon, 2nd Armored Division, is on a different planet anyway. But what I think I might have stumbled upon here is the sort of focus group we poncy Londoners don’t often encounter. A bunch of real people. Normal people. Ones who aren’t writers or minor celebs or politicians or the sort of metropolitan bien-pensants who think tootling round town in electric cars magically negates the carbon footprint they make flying to their farmhouse in Tuscany three times a year. And what they think about the environment couldn’t be more different from the version rammed down our throats by politicians of all parties, and by most of the media too.
Pick up a newspaper, pretty much any paper left or right — though there are honourable exceptions, notably the space the Sunday Telegraph gives to the heroic Christopher Booker — and the story peddled on climate change is virtually identical: look at all those drowning polar bears/melting ice-caps/ ‘unprecedented’ natural disasters. We’re all doomed. It’s all our fault. Something needs to be done NOW!
Rarely if ever are these stories challenged, because it’s not in the interests of the in-house specialist — the environment correspondent — to do so. Scare stories sell newspapers (oh, to be an economics editor now!) and the last thing any journalist wants to do in these dark, difficult times is talk himself out of a job. In any case, the sort of person who becomes an environment correspondent is precisely the sort of person who’ll be predisposed towards the fashionable narrative of man as Gaia-raping villain responsible for all the world’s ills. They get their ‘facts’ from like-minded folk at publicity-hungry organisations like Greenpeace, from quangocrats at places like the Carbon Trust, from global warming fanatics at Defra, and from ‘experts’ like Sir David King who, though indeed a scientist, trained as a surface chemist and is really no more an expert in the causes of climate change than you or me.
That this should be so is understandable. But it does mean the climate change narrative reported in our media is decidedly one- sided. In March this year, 500 economists, scientists and politicians convened in New York to sign the Manhattan Declaration. This affirmed, inter alia, that contrary to the assertions of Al Gore there is still no scientific consensus on the causes of climate change, and that costly attempts by government to legislate on CO2 emission will slow development, increase human suffering and have no appreciable impact on the future trajectory of global climate change. Was it reported anywhere in the UK media? Nowhere, except in the Sunday Telegraph by one C. Booker.
Our media, like our politicians, are completely out of step with public opinion. According to a survey last month by Opinium, seven out of ten of the nearly 2,000 people questioned said they were unwilling to pay higher taxes to combat environmental issues, and a similar number believed the green agenda had been ‘hijacked’ to increase taxes. An earlier survey in June showed that despite the tireless pontificating of the likes of Jonathan Porritt, chairman of the government’s Sustainable Development Commission, six out of ten Britons still doubted the causes of climate change.
Said Porritt in response: ‘It’s disappointing and the government will be really worried.’ Not, we can safely infer, ‘worried’ in the sense of, ‘Well, maybe we should rethink our strategy on green taxation and carbon emissions.’ More ‘worried’ in the way the EU worries at the latest ‘No’ referendum vote from Denmark or Ireland: i.e. chalks it down to false consciousness and carries on as usual.
This cannot go on for ever. If you’re as super-rich as Zac Goldsmith or Al ‘many mansions’ Gore, you can of course insulate yourself from rising food prices (caused partly by the Greens’ misguided obsession with biofuels) and rising energy prices (around 15 per cent of which are the result of green tax levies). But for most of us, ecological righteousness is a luxury we can no longer afford.
Global warming anxiety was a Nineties and early Noughties fad — the product of a too affluent age in search of a hair-shirt religion to assuage its guilt at having had it so good. Now that everyone has something real to worry about, cutting carbon emissions seems about as relevant as the Jitterbug or the Rubik’s Cube.
So far, depressingly few of our politicians have understood this. The EU goes on railroading through its oppressive legislation on everything from waste disposal to the kind of lightbulbs we’re allowed to use. Buffoons like Ed Miliband and the head of the Environment Agency Lord (Chris) Smith continue to witter on about carbon capture and renewable energy, quite oblivious to the far more pressing and real threat of the ‘energy gap’ which will shortly lead to widespread blackouts. Conservatives who ought to know better either believe the cant because Dave does or delude themselves it’s not a voting issue.
But the tide of history is against this Green Terror and so, increasingly, are the people. We’ve had enough of its ghastly wind turbines, its fascistic recycling inspectors and its swingeing eco-taxes. We want lightbulbs you can see by, not horrid flickery yellow ones; we want weekly rubbish collections; we want countryside unblighted by vast Teletubby windmills. And we want Al Gore’s head on a plate.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated October 18, 2008