What the Channel 4 Programme Got Wrong

Posted on November 5, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Straight away I’ve misled you with the title because I’m going to start by discussing what the Channel 4 programme got right.

It was right in highlighting the fact that climate change is happening, it is a major problem and that we have to tackle it using the best solutions available to us.  It was right in its assertion that we should not dismiss any possible solution or any technology on ideological grounds.  And it was right to point out that we cannot use climate change as an excuse to deny the world’s poor a decent standard of living.

However there was so much wrong with the “What the Green Movement Got Wrong” programme that the much shorter debate programme which followed it only scratched the surface of how the programme misrepresented the facts and the arguments.

First of all ‘the green movement’ describes a diverse range of ideas, individuals and organisations.  The programme would have you believe that we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.  It is not a religion, there is no sacred text and there is no ‘green god’.  So here’s my disclaimer; I do not represent ‘the green movement’.  The views in this blog are my own and there may be others who disagree with my views but have as much right to call themselves ‘green’ as I do.

Because that is another myth of the programme.  There is, nor should there be, an individual or organisation which has a monopoly on being ‘green’.  Can you be green and support nuclear power or GM?  Yeah, why not?  There are people who call themselves environmentalists but protest against wind farms.  I am not going to tell them they are not green.  We greens are a (bio)diverse bunch.

So the title needs to be changed to “What Some in the Green Movement Got Wrong”.  Maybe not such a catchy title but a step towards greater accuracy.

So were those who opposed nuclear power wrong to do so?  And are those who oppose nuclear power today wrong to do so?

No, and no again.  Why?

Nuclear is expensive.  From the mining of the uranium to the storage of the waste it is the most expensive way to create energy.  The only reason why nuclear power has ever been affordable is because the industry has received massive government subsidies well above the levels of investment needed for renewable energy.

Nuclear is not a benign energy source.  Again we must look at the whole process from the mining of the uranium to the storage of the waste.  The ecological impact is massive, so while the actual production of the energy might be low carbon, the overall impact of nuclear is much more significant and cannot boast the advantages of genuine renewable energies.

Nuclear power and nuclear weapons go hand in hand.  Why else do you think that the UK and American governments are so keen to stop Iran building a nuclear power station?  It is not because they suspect that Iran is actually trying to develop nuclear weapons.  It is because they know that if Iran develops nuclear power, they will develop nuclear weapons.  And what right have we to say they can’t?  We’re planning on renewing trident after all.

We do not have the money to invest heavily in nuclear and renewables so we must choose the option that give us the best return economically as well as socially and environmentally.

This week I attended the launch of the business plan for the first phase of the Green New Deal.  The Green New Deal Group brings together organisations from the business sector, trade unions and environmental NGOs.  Economy.  People.  Planet.  When you consider all three together you get a strategy for investment in energy efficient measures such as insulation and renewable energy technologies such as wind, wave and solar.  Nuclear doesn’t get a look in. 

So were those who opposed GM crops wrong to do so?  And are those who oppose GM crops today wrong to do so?

No, and no again.  Why?

GM crops will not solve the problem of hunger and malnutrition.  The problem is not that we do not have enough food in the world; the problem is one of inequality.  While the world’s poorest go hungry we in the UK have an obesity epidemic.  GM will not right this wrong.

We cannot allow a situation to arise where we have to pay for the right to grow our own food.  GM crops are patented.  What the likes of Monsanto want to do is to create a food industry modelled on that of the highly lucrative pharmaceutical industry.  We saw the lengths that African nations had to go to, to gain the right to develop their own anti viral drugs to combat HIV. 

What the Channel 4 documentary did show was the lengths Monsanto will go to, to gain access to new markets.  The Kenyan woman who promoted GM in the programme had had her studies funded by Monsanto, and is now employed by Monsanto.  We greens sometimes get accused of being naïve but it would be naïve to think that this was anything other than aggressive marketing.  We need only look at how Nestle entered the African market to see the lengths these massive corporations will go to, to create demand for their product.

So thanks to Nestle many Africans are reliant on milk formula they couldn’t afford.  We are all addicted to Glaxosmithkline’s patented drugs.   Let us not hunger for Monsanto’s patented seeds.

Does the fight against climate change prevent the world’s poor from lifting themselves out of poverty?

As I said at the start that we cannot use climate change as an excuse to deny the world’s poor a decent standard of living.  Many in the green movement have campaigned internationally for a strategy of convergence.  As countries around the world industrialise they will inevitably increase their carbon emissions.  Only if we commit to reducing our carbon emissions to sustainable levels can we ask other nations to limit their growth to these levels.  Then together we can develop a standard of living that is sustainable for us all.

What the Channel 4 programme got wrong was that it tried to present a two sided debate within the green movement.  The truth is if you got George Monbiot and Mark Lynas together they would agree on the problems which we face and many of the solutions.  They may disagree over nuclear and GM (and on nuclear they are not too far apart), but they are both part of a discussion which is evolving all the time.  While there may be some within the green movement that are ideologically driven, the majority of us continue to question our own assumptions, are informed by the science and on the balance of the arguments, are opposed to nuclear power and GM crops. 

However I prefer to define the green movement by what we are in favour of.  We are in favour of new technology; including laptops and the internet that allows me to write this blog.  We are in favour of genuine renewable energy technologies that can create jobs, reduce emissions and build long term energy security.  And we are in favour of a more sustainable way of life for all.  This is what the green movement is getting right.

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3 Responses to “What the Channel 4 Programme Got Wrong”

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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dione Todd, Steven Agnew. Steven Agnew said: What the Channel 4 Programme Got Wrong: https://littlep0int.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/what-the-channel-4-programme-got-wrong/ […]

Fair enough stephen but you’ve ignored the main premise of the programme: that the green movements are by and large regurgitating arguments which no longer apply. Not only that, but the greens are now increasingly viewed as conservative, committed to UKIP-style biscuit tin ideals of what the world should look like and disconnected from the real challenges facing the environment as a growing population becomes increasingly mobile The convincing green arguments which unleashed the great protests in the name of protecting the earth three or four decades ago no longer apply. Where is the progressive thinking among your colleagues now?

I think politically the green movement has moved beyond simply shouting from the sidelines. Proposals such as retrofitting homes with insulation may not get people out on the streets but they do get the likes of Caroline Lucas elected and are now being adopted by governments in both the ROI where a Green minister is implementing the policy and in the UK with Chris Huhne announcing a insulation scheme for England.

In NI we are a bit behind. The Green New Deal group just launched its housing fund business plan. Hopefully the governing parties are listening and not just stealing the rhetoric.

These are progressive policies that are entering the mainstream, and even where the Greens aren’t in the position to implement them we are the ones still coming up with the innovative ideas that will have a direct impact on people’s day to day lives.

The Greens introduced the Green New Deal concept and other parties are taking it on. The methods may be changing but the radicalism remains.

As for regurgitating old arguments, there’s enough of that in NI. Yes, there are dogmatists within the green movement but the Green Party is innovating. While the other parties are finally coming round to the idea that climate change is a problem, we’re working on the solutions. When the other parties catch on that there is no such thing as infinite economic growth in a finite world, we’ll be asking what kept you. When the world wakes up to the fact that oil and gas are running out, we’ll be ready with the action plan.

The conservatism portrayed in that programme is not a green movement that I recognise. It is a charicature and it is not what I see when I look in the mirror.


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