Climate change

Why won’t Chris Packham have a real debate on climate?

On Sunday, the BBC did something unusual. It invited Luke Johnson, a climate contrarian, to join a panel with Laura Kuenssberg to discuss net zero. As followers of this debate will know, the BBC’s editorial policy unit issued guidance to staff in 2018 saying: ‘As climate change is accepted as happening, you do not need a “denier” to balance the debate.’ Although it did allow for exceptions to this rule: ‘There are occasions where contrarians and sceptics should be included within climate change and sustainability debates.’ Presumably this was one such occasion. I can’t help thinking Packham’s ‘devastating put-down’ would have been more effective if it had been true The

In the grip of apocalypse angst

You have to love a book about the end of the world in which the first two references are to Saul Bellow’s Herzog and the HBO series The White Lotus, a high/low combo that preps us for authorial omniscience. In the next few paragraphs we get Marc Maron, Sally Rooney and Frank Kermode. Buckle up, kids, a cultural whirlwind is coming! The day of judgment is at hand, and the all-knowing Dorian Lynskey, who seems to have doomscrolled through every card catalogue on the planet, is just the person to provide live commentary. A capacious cultural history of ‘apocalyptic angst’, his Everything Must Go will make you happy to be

I’ve found the cure for climate anxiety

A new documentary, Climate: The Movie, by the maverick filmmaker Martin Durkin, is becoming a phenomenon, though it’s received almost no publicity in the mainstream media. It rejects the idea that we’re in the midst of a ‘climate emergency’, so that’s hardly surprising. But it has already racked up millions of views online and been translated into ten languages. I watched it on YouTube on Monday and can confirm it’s a dazzlingly entertaining film that distils the case against climate alarmism into a succinct 80 minutes. One of the reasons it’s so hard to challenge the narrative about climate change is because it supposedly reflects the ‘settled’ scientific consensus. We’re

In defence of cows

‘They’re going to have to stop cows,’ said my mother, looking doubtfully down at her plate as we tucked into a roast dinner. It was not like her to come over all veganistic, but she had been watching the BBC where she had got hold of the idea that cows might have to be banned because ‘they can’t stop them breaking wind’. Put the entire working population on veganism for a week and see what happens And nor should they, said I, cutting off a juicy slice to push into my mouth, the builder boyfriend and my father also chomping away as we sat around my parents’ dining table. I

Who fact checks the fact-checkers?

Last week, a retired physics professor called Nick Cowern said it was time to get tough with ‘climate denialists’. ‘In my opinion the publication of climate disinformation should be a criminal offence,’ he posted on Twitter. He was ridiculed, but what sounds ludicrously over-the-top today could easily become the norm tomorrow. At least four EU member states have made it a criminal offence to spread disinformation – Hungary, Lithuania, Malta and France – and others including Ireland are preparing to do the same. In the UK, the Online Safety Bill will introduce a new false communications offence. I have a dog in this fight since I run a news publishing

Ben Lazarus

Keep calm and carry on having kids: the UN’s climate chief on eco-anxiety

Jim Skea has just taken on the most important job in climate science. As the new head of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he is now in charge of the organisation that has done more than any other to build the international consensus that climate change is an existential threat to humanity. ‘I’m very conscious that constant drip-drip anxiety messages could have a paralysing effect on climate action’ In the weeks since his appointment, however, the 69-year-old Scot, a former professor at Imperial and a founding member of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, has set out to strike a very different tone by casting doubt

The world is ablaze – yet climate chaos still takes us by surprise

In the light of recent fire emergencies on the Greek islands and in the wider Mediterranean, this book has just acquired even more relevance. It centres on another catastrophe in May 2016, a Canadian inferno nicknamed the ‘Beast’, which has become the most expensive natural disaster in the country’s history. Within three weeks, Fort McMurray’s blaze had incinerated an area the size of Cumbria Within five days of its discovery, the blaze had forced the mass evacuation of 90,000 residents from the city of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province. In just three weeks, egged on by an El Niño cycle as well as fierce winds and record temperatures across America’s

Our future life on Earth depends on the state of the ocean

When we observe the ocean we rarely peek beneath its surface. As Helen Czerski shows in her lively and engrossing account of the physics of ocean spaces, we would not see much anyway. Sounds travel well in water, and blue whales talk to one another across thousands of miles; but light soon disappears, apart from the glow emitted by luminous fish. Historians of the oceans (myself included) have looked at how, when and why people have crossed the surface of these spaces, uninhabitable except in the security of a boat or on islands, such as those in Polynesia with which Czerski begins her book. But we need to dive deeper.

Meet the Bristol Tyre Extinguishers

If the world really does face a climate emergency, what ought you, personally, be doing about it? Should you, as increasing numbers of young people are doing, roam the streets at night letting down the tyres of SUVs? The fast-growing movement that calls itself the ‘Tyre Extinguishers’ thinks this is an effective approach, and has targeted thousands of SUVs in cities around the world. My home town of Bristol – always quick to espouse a green cause – has seen at least 200 SUVs ‘extinguished’ in recent weeks. Though they claim to be leaderless, the Extinguishers have a Twitter account where you can keep up-to-date with their latest ‘hits’, and

The inconvenient truth about France’s forest fires

Montpellier Last month the Prime Minister of France, Elisabeth Borne, visited the south-west of the country to offer her support to firefighters tackling a series of large forest fires. It was also a good opportunity to broach a subject close to her heart. ‘More than ever,’ she warned, ‘we must continue to fight against climate change and to adapt. A new plan for adapting to climate change will be put out for consultation at the beginning of the autumn’. Borne isn’t alone in connecting the forest fires that have ravaged much of France this summer to climate change. Newspapers such as Liberation have also linked the two. Last week the

How did climate doomsters get the Great Barrier Reef so wrong?

We are, of course, in the midst of a ‘climate emergency’ and the ‘sixth mass extinction’ of life on Earth. It is just that one of the iconic victims doesn’t seem to be playing ball just at the moment. As recently as May, environmentalists were warning that the Great Barrier Reef, the 1,500-mile coral structure off the coast of Queensland, was being doomed by warming seas. It was reported to be suffering a ‘mass bleaching’ – where the plants which live on the reef and provide food for it die off. The blame was put on warmer seas. Worse, this was the first mass bleaching event to occur in a

Everything’s burned to a crisp – and the horses are suffering

Everything is well and truly burned to a crisp, and we are piling through hundreds of pounds of hay a week. When the sun shines relentlessly and it never rains, keeping horses gets awfully expensive. The poor gee-gees themselves are bored stiff. We heave mountains of hay into the fields but they miss the ability to mooch about foraging and munching the greenery. There is no greenery. Everything is brown and white. I don’t think I can recall ever seeing the fields white before. When the grass first burned off, the paddocks went a taupe colour. But after weeks and weeks of relentless sun and no more than the odd

There are almost no animals left – but we’ve been here before

Laikipia You know things are bad when the zebras are thin. Even during most droughts, zebras are like matrons at the gym in stripey spandex stretched around plump buttocks. Pastures vanished long ago and our plains resemble Sudan’s Batn-el-Hajar – the Belly of Stones desert – so that I cannot even recall what they were like when they were last thick with green grass. The zebra foals are dying, the elephants are thin, while the buffalo disappeared a while back. The dry has killed quite mature trees which now shudder with the sound of termites and crash to the ground. To the north of us, horned skulls and dried carcasses

Fact check: Is Sadiq Khan right about fires?

Will global warming condemn Britain to more fires? Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has been widely quoted this morning comparing recent fires around the capital to the Blitz. ‘Yesterday was the busiest day for the fire service in London since the second world war,’ he said – climate change caused the heatwave which ‘led to the fires’. He added that he was dismayed that the Tory leadership contenders were not discussing this ‘elephant in the room.’ So is this right – or misleading? As so often, it’s a mixture. Khan is correct to say that the number of calls to London fire brigade was a record high: it received more

What the new GCSE in global warming should teach

For years, environmentalists have campaigned for children to study global warming as a subject rather than simply as a part of geography. Their wish has now been granted in England with a new GCSE in natural history, starting from 2025. We know nothing yet about the syllabus but it’s quite the opportunity to ask what our planet’s problems really are, and how effective the net-zero agenda is as a solution. Rather than be scared to death about the future of the planet, pupils should instead be encouraged to take a rationalist approach. They might ask whether the obsession with climate change in recent decades has taken attention away from the

BlackRock is right to abandon eco-activism

Is this the end of climate activism from pension providers and other institutional investors? BlackRock, which manages $10 trillion in assets, has toned down its enthusiasm for blocking company boards that are not sufficiently committed to a carbon-free future. In January 2020, BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink shook up the world of investment by writing an annual letter to the CEOs of companies in which he invests, warning them that in future BlackRock would take a more critical view of their climate change policies. He wrote on that occasion: Last September, when millions of people took to the streets to demand action on climate change, many of them emphasised the significant

We must all become Doctor Dolittles and listen to the wisdom of animals

One day the writer and artist James Bridle rented a hatchback, taped a smartphone to the steering wheel and installed some webcams in order to make his own self-driving car. Armed with software cut-and-pasted from the internet, his aim was to collaborate with the AI he’d thus devised and travel to Mount Parnassus, sacred to Dionysus and home of the Muses, ‘to be elevated to the peak of knowledge, craft and skill’. Just try telling that to the traffic cops. This batty project had a serious point. Bridle wanted to subvert the idea that we cede control to our dismal robot overlords every time we plug co-ordinates into the GPS.

It’s time to clamp down on militant protesters

The right to protest against the policies of the government of the day, the system in general or even just to ‘stick it to the man’, as 1960s radicals used to put it, is fundamental to a free society. But when the freedom to protest is deliberately used by activists to take away the freedom of others to go about their normal lives then we reach an ethical crunch point. One man’s freedom has then become, as it were, another’s suppression and the law must adjudicate between the competing claims. So it is with the campaign tactics of various climate alarmist groups that have sprung up such as Extinction Rebellion,

Our children are at breaking point – and it’s our fault

I think it’s time we stopped scaring the children. I think they’ve had enough. They’re at breaking point now, every generation more anxious than the last – and anxious younger, too. There’s a record number of British children diagnosed with anxiety, and a record wait – two years – for therapy, though I’m not at all sure the therapy as it is helps much. The usual idea is that if the kids are troubled, it’s the world that’s to blame: smartphones, Instagram, the constant comparing; Trump, Putin, the existence of Tories; Covid, global warming. No wonder they have the heebie-jeebies. But I think in fact that we’re doing it to

Is global warming really more dangerous than Putin’s nuclear threats?

Having just dusted down my Geiger counter and argued with the family about whether or not there is room for our dog, Jessie, in the cellar fallout shelter, I thought I would check in with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to see how long we’ve got before our recently acquired small paddock sprouts its first crop of Cobalt-60. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was begun in 1945 by the physicists who, having devoted several years of their lives to the Manhattan Project, suddenly realised that their striving might not be, in the end, exclusively beneficial for the human race. As the most lionised of them, J. Robert Oppenheimer,