Constructing a narrative to serve an agenda has become pretty much the stuff of politics as usual the world over. It has never been easier when you have access to so many media outlets and the technology that allows messages as well as images to be curated, managed and manipulated to channel your story into the mainstream of opinion. Cherry picking facts and data only works of course when you can simultaneously manage to deny others the opportunity to deconstruct your spin.
COP26 illustrates well the disingenuousness of the cherry pickers. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Clinmate Change (IPCC), for those who took the trouble to read it, outlines a range of trajectories for current climate trends. Yet, it is the worst case scenario, which the report describes as ‘unlikely’, of a 2 degree rise in temperature over the current century and its projected consequences, that has set the narrative.
Sure, one can argue that it is prudent and responsible to focus on preparing for worst case scenarios and that is the approach we often take to other challenges in life. However, we don’t usually treat the worst case scenario as if it was as settled and certain as the next sunrise. And we certainly factor in the likelihood of it happening.
Sometimes worst case scenarios – because of their very low and contingent probability – may not even be addressed at all in our calculations. There are consequences for scaremongering, however, and we can see how the inflamed rhetoric of politicians and celebrities is fuelling panic among the young in particular and causing massively disruptive public protests. It is also playing into the hands of leftist ideologues for whom every crisis is an opportunity to argue that our systems have failed.
The IPCC has set out the worst case scenario as contingent on no action at all being taken by governments and industry. But technological innovation in energy supply is already making a difference before ever we get to environmental politics. Yet, the climate crusaders appear disinterested, to say the least, in the hope that technological innovation is offering – nor do they want to discuss how new advances in nuclear and hydrogen power might address our challenges without causing economic and social convulsions.
CARBON-CHOMPING MICRO ORGANISMS
There are many and varied extraordinary developments in emissions mitigation like chemical scrubbers that dissolve CO2 and pump it underground where it can work as a growth accelerant for plants. There are carbon-chomping micro organisms and devices that can capture methane from cows. One might expect that the Glasgow climate conference would offer a platform to the innovators and that governments would pledge to support them instead of just out-competing each other in doom mongering and unrealistic pledges to drive carbon emissions to net zero.
Why is there such a fixation on addressing climate challenges, to the extent that it lies within our power, through punishing carbon targets, taxation and the demonisation of industry ‘polluters’ to the exclusion of innovative, less disruptive options? Isn’t it strange there is such faith in ‘the science’ when it comes to apocalyptic projections but little or none in the ability of science to find remedies that make ‘business as usual’ possible again?
Setting aside the scientific arguments by climate forecasters and the suppression of counter opinion, it is far more worrying that we can’t have a discussion about alternative, science rather than politics led approaches, to addressing the problem. Nor is it easy to challenge the lack of coherence or ‘joined up thinking’ in the solutions being forcefully pushed upon us.
Why is the media so slow to interrogate even the most porous arguments for public climate policy? Why for instance is it so important for European countries to reach carbon targets when they are clearly doing so only by outsourcing emissions to less scrupulous countries? Closing down peat production in Ireland while continuing to import peat from Latvia is just virtue signalling hypocrisy and raises questions about the seriousness of any government who allows their legislation to be little more than a dead letter.
But then there is an even bigger question about double standards when a country like Canada exports coal it doesn’t want to burn at home to China, then buys back products manufactured in China’s smog-emitting factories. The fact that some of those products are solar panels, heat pumps and wind turbines makes the carbon offset look very marginal, if it exists at all, and that is before you look at the ethically compromised mining for rare metals in yet another continent that China also imports. The same countries who opine virtuously and frantically about a climate crisis continue to import vast quantities of disposable PPE which they know full well come from the same filthy power houses of production.
SETTING AN EXAMPLE FOR THE WORLD?
So the argument that we are setting an example to the world is nonsense. You don’t set an example when you are clearly talking out of both sides of your mouth, tweaking the optics but making arguably no real difference to the situation.
Would it not make more sense to incentivize the manufacturing of essential products at home ? If it doesn’t make sense, environmentally and economically shouldn’t we at least be asking why not?
There is nothing to stop European governments from levying import charges on China to allow Irish or even other European manufacturers to compete. Ah, but there’s the rub. Who wants to annoy China ? There are few governments prepared to do so, economically, environmentally or diplomatically. This raises further questions about how seriously they are taking the climate Armageddon they are happy to hype in order to raise taxes, target corporate baddies and win public plaudits from the amorphous ideological woke movement that is driving public policy across the democratic world. Helping the ideologies in no small part are the celebrity billionaires who are happy to sign up to any profile boosting opportunity especially when it comes with protection from the odium normally reserved for the rich and privileged.
When the media and political opposition fails to ask the questions that are on peoples’ minds those questions tend to lose currency over time. They become swallowed up in new narratives where data and facts continue to be cherry picked without challenge. When these narratives come with emotive it is even harder to push back. When you are shown footage of dried up river beds, marooned polar bears and newly extinct fauna it takes a brave person to raise questions.
A case in point is the COP26 nightly BBC coverage which includes film footage such as the one that covered the plight of southern Madagascar, currently suffering a sustained period of drought. Anyone who took the trouble to check the narrative would know that the problem cannot be simply and summarily attributed to shifts in global temperature.
Tourist books on Madagascar, like the 2007 Bradt travel guide, lists dried river beds among other topographical features. One of the geographic, as distinct from climatic, reasons for disappearing rivers is the porosity of the unique red soil of Madagascar. Further exacerbating the current drought as well as causing the extinction of fauna are two other key factors. The forests of Madagascar have been culled and it is estimated that only 10% of native forests now remain. It is hardly surprising that some of the lemur family are threatened with extinction and it is disingenuous in the extreme to link this directly and solely to climatic fluctuations.
The second factor is that the government of Madagascar and its super wealthy elite have pillaged the country and its landscape without thought to sustainability or the welfare of its people. These are ‘the inconvenient facts’ that the climate crusaders don’t want to hear.
While the media have drawn attention to the gross display of carbon profligacy of private jets, gas guzzling motorcades and excessively large entourages of officials evident during the last week in Glasgow, they have followed up criticism by urging people not to lose sight of the real problem by focussing on the tangential issue of elitist double standards. That however is to miss the point. How can people be expected to take a crisis seriously when its heralds and prophets clearly don’t take it seriously themselves? Asking questions that don’t fit into the neatly packaged narrative is the job of media, not bolstering the narrative by joining the cherry pickers.