What we learned this week

SSE is the first British power company to announce that it will create a ‘just transition’ strategy as it shifts towards net zero. Details to follow and I’ll report on it when they publish it. Good example of shareholder activism too, as this follows a written question to their AGM.

This is heartbreaking and highly predictable: big oil companies are lobbying US trade deal negotiators to force African countries to reverse their bans on plastic.

The National Farmers Union has warned that Britain’s wheat crop is the worst in 40 years, after extreme heat and then storms affected the harvest. The Times reports on how farmers are giving up on wheat and turning to growing soya instead in response to Britain’s changing climate.

Years ago I did some work for the long-dead climate news service Celsias on how climate change would impact sport. A lot of it was speculative then. Reading the recent David Goldblatt report Playing Against the Clock, from the Rapid Transition Alliance, it’s clear that the kind of disruption I was imagining is now real. This report also contains perhaps the first attempt to quantify the carbon footprint of sport.

I’ve been out with Extinction Rebellion this week in London and in Luton. As usual, I was on press and photography duty with my local group as we protested at the airport.


  1. If you are with XR maybe you should have a word with them. Roger Hallam suggesting people he dislikes should be shot and the XR trying to close down the freedom of the press suggests to normal people they are eco-dictators in waiting rather than anything reasonable.
    ‘It’s an emergency’ is an excuse used by too many authoritarians for clamp down on vital freedoms. Your group aren’t giving reasons to trust them.

    1. Roger Hallam doesn’t speak for XR.

      Blockading the climate denial ‘newspapers’ of Rupert Murdoch is an action that I suggested 18 months ago and I’m delighted to see it’s happened. I’d say if you’re concerned about peaceful protest, and not concerned about the decades-long monopoly of an Australian billionaire over Britain’s press, then you’ve not understood the real threat to freedom and democracy.

  2. Murdoch doesn’t have a monopoly of UK newspapers. The market is totally contestable, just his papers are better. XR can found their own rather than try to stop the public seeing things they dont agree with.

    You are putting yourselves up as the arbiters of what is right and acceptable to print. Where does censoring ‘climate denial’ end? The IPCC nows says the the RCP8.5 scenario is not at all likely and it’s wrong to call that ‘business as usual’ but XR and other climate groups still do because they want to emphasis the risk. Is the IPCC guilty of ‘climate denial because they don’t help your cause? Who decides what ‘climate denial’ is to be censored? Censoring speech is most definitely a threat to freedom and democracy. How would you feel if alt-right groups were trying to prevent the Guardian and the Mirror from being distributed. It can’t be one rule to me, another for thee.

    If you think you can only win people over by preventing them hearing opposing views perhaps you should consider your viewpoint as rather weak.

    1. It got people talking, talking about XR in not flattering terms at all. You united pretty much everyone against you.

      The symbolism that’s been taken is you wanted to censor views you don’t agree with. It was a mistake on a par with trying to stop commuters going to work in Canning Town last year.

      So should these papers be allowed to publish views XR claim are climate denial?

  3. Not having a Telegraph subscription, I can’t read that article. If you have one, perhaps you could copy and paste Greenpeace’s response. I’d be interested to read it.

    I’m a journalist by training. The first words of my first lecture as a journalism student were these: “Journalism is about truth”.

    I don’t see the truth about climate change reported in papers like the Telegraph. With extremist contributors like James Delingpole or Christopher Booker, they have not just failed to report the climate crisis, they have actively set out to undermine people’s confidence in the science, and delay government action in redressing it.

    Again, if you think that delaying people from getting their newspapers for one day to highlight the failings of the UK press is a bigger scandal than folks like the Barclay Brothers pumping climate disinformation into public debate for twenty years, then I don’t know what world you live in.

    1. From the article: Greenpeace, said the while XR’s core message was “undisputed “, “a free, diverse press and the right to peaceful protest are both expressions of free speech and the hallmarks has of a healthy democracy “.
      Director John Sauven added: “Greenpeace has been working with the news media for five decades and we know the absolutely vital role they play in informing the public, exposing environmental abuse she and holding powerful interests to account “.

      There are more quotes from other groups in the article.

      I would ask how without a subscription you can say with such great certainty what the Telegraph reports. That they have columnists who you disagree with (though not read apparently) doesn’t mean the rest of their cover is biased or factually incorrect.

      The Truth is a many faceted thing and XR haven’t always been the most factually correct but I wouldn’t stop them saying what they say. I ask you again. Should papers be allowed to publish things that XR consider ‘climate denial’?

      1. And I should add that it wasn’t just a few people who had their papers late. This cost independent newsagents a lot of money in lost sales and disruption.

        Just like in Canning Town when XR said why is anyone worried about being a bit late for work when many of those delayed would lose wages because of it your team come across as well off types unconcerned and unaware of your negative impact on ordinary people.

  4. You seem to be digging for some kind of ‘gotcha’ here. Of course papers should be allowed to publish whatever they like, that’s the point of a free press. But newspapers and their owners need to take responsibility for what they publish. The Barclay Brothers own the Telegraph and the Spectator, two popular publications in Conservative circles and both vehemently climate sceptic at various key moments in the last few years. It’s absolutely right to call them on that.

    Are there also good journalists at the Telegraph? Sure.

    If XR’s plan was genuinely to ‘censor’ the press (how on earth could they do that, incidentally?) then I’d want no part in that. Blocking the presses for one day is not the scandal here. The scandal is that the flow of information about climate change is controlled by a handful of billionaire press barons, who very much like things the way they are.

    1. Glad you are for free speech, But it’s a free market too, not a monopoly. The readership of papers aren’t sheep. If they didn’t like what the billionaires are publishing they would read papers owned by millionaires instead. So set up your own paper, take that financial risk with your own money and take all those readers away from them. Don’t fancy that? Then I guess stick with protests that make guys feel better while changing literally no minds.

      What amuses me is that XR were clear this was targeted against Murdoch papers, not the Barclays. The Telegraph was collateral damage from being printed at the same works. You clearly have a beef with the Barclays, did they sack you or something?

      1. Beef with the Barclays? I mentioned the Telegraph because you linked to it. And let me remind you that it was you who brought up the newspapers protest, not me. You’re the one who’s been needled by it. Did they hire you or something?

        Still, it’s a good thing the billionaires have someone to stick up for them.

        Also, XR changing no minds? You tell yourself whatever makes you feel better. The parliamentary citizen’s assembly reports back this week, and Britain has a net zero target. Luton has a net zero target, and Luton-based Easyjet became the first major airline to announce that it would offset its emissions. I know for a fact that XR is making a difference, nationally and locally. It won’t satisfy the hardcore of course, but it’s certainly enough to keep me involved.

        I set up my first newspaper when I was 16. I’ve seen my own newspapers roll off the printing presses. I know how much work goes into it, and I’ve chosen to put my efforts elsewhere. Of course, if you’ve inherited wealth or made your millions already, you can just buy a newspaper and that’s a whole lot easier.

        I’m not going to keep arguing about this, as we’re obviously not going to agree. As a final word from me, I’d suggest you separate out your distaste for XR from the legitimacy of the press barons for a moment. As part of my journalism degree we studied the history of the British press. The press barons have changed governments, led the country into war, covered up genocide. They have been tools of propaganda and of corporate interest. I think it’s very naive to shrug off a free market for truth.

          1. As you don’t have a subscription:
            “I have been an environmental activist for almost as long as I remember. As a student in the early Noughties, I helped establish the first green group Reading University ever had; I was involved in the (now disbanded) Camp for Climate Action in my early 20s, protesting against investment in the tar sands industry (which is used to make petroleum products). I lived and breathed an eco-aware lifestyle, and still do: based in Devon with my two young daughters, I don’t drive or fly or eat meat; our carbon footprint is relatively low.

            But no group or movement I joined seemed to be making any difference. Carbon emissions were still rising and nothing was changing. Instead, climate change was only getting worse. I was scared we were running out of time to act.

            Then, about two years ago, Extinction Rebellion – the group that last weekend blocked the printworks of several British newspapers including The Daily Telegraph – burst into being.

            It had been some years since I’d been involved with any green group, but what appealed to me about this one was that they were saying: “Don’t listen to us, listen to the scientists.” It seemed like this movement was going to be fact-driven and evidence-based, which was badly needed.

            But this summer, after almost two years of XR membership, I quit – to campaign for nuclear energy instead.

            I had joined XR in April 2018 aged 34, became founding editor of its newspaper, The Hourglass, and was soon one of the group’s spokespeople. In the years since my activism days, and after having my first child, I had gone back to university to do a Masters in Science Communication and was ready to put what I’d learned into action. Being in XR gave me that opportunity: as a spokesperson I found myself front and centre in the media spotlight, speaking to millions of people about the ongoing climate emergency.

            But when I was invited on to The Andrew Neil Show last October, I found myself forced to defend statements by one of XR’s founders that “billions” of deaths would happen soon because of climate change.

            I couldn’t defend those numbers because they didn’t have a basis in science. So I was faced with an awful choice on live TV: either I could stand up for science or I could back XR. I had to choose the former, because for me, sticking with the evidence is the most important thing of all.

            As a result, I looked bad, and was also then criticised by XR. I felt like I had been thrown under the bus and stopped being a spokeswoman for the group; in May, I edited my final issue of The Hourglass, and left the following month. Some members were supportive, but others reacted negatively – at that point, though, I felt I had no other choice.

            It all seemed so unnecessary. Members of XR don’t need to make up numbers – the truth is frightening enough. We are facing a climate emergency: food production will not be able to keep pace with climate heating, and large parts of the globe will be rendered uninhabitable to humans if we allow the temperature to keep on rising.

            But the hyperbole of some key XR people wasn’t the group’s only problem. It had grown quickly and was making organisational errors, which is understandable given the pace of events, but it has also affected the movement’s reputation.

            When activists targeted the London transport network in October last year, angry commuters were prevented from travelling to work by protesters who’d climbed on to the roof of a train at Canning Town station. At Shadwell, other activists blocked the Docklands Light Railway. This was the work of a separate climate group protesting under the broad XR banner.

            Targeting electricity-powered public transport was, of course, seen as a terrible idea for a green movement, and the backlash it provoked was inevitable.

            Many of us inside XR knew it was unwise, but there’d been little time to discuss it before the protest went ahead, and no real process for dealing with the fallout. The recent action aimed at the press has proved equally controversial. I have a lot of sympathy with those concerned about protecting freedom of speech and of the press: those are my values, too.

            XR gets heavily criticised for not appealing to more people. But they would argue they’ve achieved their aims because everyone’s been talking about it.

            I understand this ambition to force a conversation, but from my perspective it won’t change anything unless you can bring about concrete solutions. And that is the single biggest problem with most environmental groups: they don’t offer realistic solutions to the very real climate change threat.

            What they offer, if you follow their arguments to their logical conclusion, is eco-austerity: that we should all use less energy, stop going on holiday, live in colder homes and so on.

            We simply don’t have time to go on having pointless ideological debates. And even if we agree to permanent eco-austerity in Western countries, what about the developing world? There are some members of environmental groups who truly believe we should live extremely constrained lifestyles, much like people in the Punjab village my parents are from.

            I have spent time there and it was heartbreaking. In many villages in the region, they have no electricity and no infrastructure. Children die from health problems that we in the West can easily cure. Some of those who promote an eco-austerity agenda will tell you: “They live simpler lives so they’re happy.” Believe me: they are not. My parents never once looked back after leaving for the UK.

            They, like everyone, wanted the vaccines and hospitals and technology we have in the West. People who argue we need to all live with less – as I once did – should think hard about what this actually means. I am personally happy to live with less, but decades of behavioural science study has not convinced most people to take the same path. We need to accept it’s not going to happen, and look to solutions instead.

            Many within XR argue in favour of replacing fossil fuels entirely with renewables. I favour a pragmatic approach, rather than peer-group tribal pressure to stick to an outdated mainstream green line. Once you demand that all our power must come from wind and solar, you seriously constrain our options to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the timescale required. To make a serious contribution to decarbonising the UK economy, solar parks would need to cover whole counties, and wind farms to dominate most of our coastline and uplands. With less or even no nuclear energy, we would need to devote even more of our land to industrial scale renewables, leaving much less for farming and nature.

            There won’t be any space for rewilding in this scenario. This is not a trade-off that can be avoided by bluster and belief. This needs to be an evidence-based and numbers-focused debate, not an ideological one. But, unfortunately, much of the green movement, including a fair proportion of those in XR, is steeped in an anti-nuclear mindset, when any rational, evidence-based approach shows that a strategy including nuclear energy is the only realistic solution to driving down emissions at the scale and speed required.

            My values haven’t changed. I care deeply about the same issues I’ve always cared about.

            So it’s not a U-turn, but a logical next step to devote myself to looking more at solutions than shouting ever more loudly about the problem.

            Stunts and protests are a popular campaigning tool. But the environmental message needs to be followed up with real answers.”

          2. It’s a good article, and typical of the Telegraph’s approach to XR. Strongly against, and keen to point out hypocrisies, flaws and extremist views within the movement. Focuses entirely on what XR gets wrong, with no acknowledgement of the bits of it that work well or examples of success. It suits the Telegraph fine to run articles by someone who has abandoned the movement to take a job as a nuclear lobbyist. But it’s hardly going to honestly reflect the movement.

            As it happens, I don’t disagree with Lights on a lot of this stuff. I’m frustrated by many of the same things, including the extremist nonsense the founder of XR tends to spout, and some of the bizarrely misjudged actions. I also have a problem with the way many greens appeal to the science on climate change, but then reject the science on other things when it doesn’t suit them. I’m also aware that these concerns easily slip into caricature, and that the environmental movement is much more diverse than she makes out. I’m also not sure how well informed she is about the more serious studies around 100% renewable energy.

            My support for XR is very qualified and in some ways reluctant. I might write some more about that at some point. And good luck to Zion Lights in her new job – XR is not the one and only legitimate response to the climate emergency.

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