[Updated 20/7/17 with the end of the debate. I transcribed it a couple of weeks ago then forgot about it, but it’s worth reading because it shows Benoît, who is treated as the enemy by the journalist chairing the debate and the star environmentalist, running rings round them. It’s dramatic comedy worthy of a Samuel Beckett or a Martin Crimp, though I doubt whether many French viewers appreciated the fact.]
I’ve referred a few times to our esteemed French colleague Benoît Rittaud, and even translated an entire philosophic conversation in which he was roundly insulted by some professorial ignoramus on France Culture.
Tonight he was on French TV in a debate about the environment. It was originally entitled “What’s the Point of Nicolas Hulot?” (Hulot being being a kind of low grade French David Attenborough, eternal loser in the Byzantine politics of the French Green movement, and now Minister of Ecology and number three in the new government of President Macron) and was due to be broadcast last weekend, but was postponed due to the London terror attack.
We’re now in the sacred 24 hours before a parliamentary election, when any mention of politics is blasphemy, so the original title was dropped, and it became a debate about the environment, featuring Benoît the climatosceptique; a lady activist against cruelty to animals in abattoirs; a gentleman concerned about overfishing (and also about cruelty to fish, since apparently new methods of fishing by electrocution are resulting in marine introvertebrates suffering from intracerebral haematoma, which could ruin your prawn cocktail;) and Yann Arthus Bertrand (hereinafter YAB) famous environmentalist and film maker.
Benoît wisely kept off the subject of abattoirs and overfishing and so the debate was limited to one between Benoît, introduced as a “climatoréaliste,” and France’s favourite maker of somnolent documentaries about our fragile planet. The debate was directed by the delectable Audrey Pulvar, ex-mistress of the ex-Minister of Industry, ex-Great White Hope of the Socialist party, who unfortunately interrupted Benoît whenever he threatened to say something interesting. Still, at least he was allowed to appear on TV. Here are some key moments in the non-debate which he tried to have with one of France’s foremost environmentalists. I haven’t time to transcribe it all now. More when I get back from England in a week’s time.
Audrey Pulvar: You’re a member of the climate realist collective. So I’d like to start with you Monsieur Rittaud. Tell me what’s the difference between a climate sceptic, which we hear so much about, and a climate realist?
Benoît Rittaud: It’s a choice of words which is not necessarily the most important thing. We wanted to avoid the expression “climate sceptic” which has become rather suspect, so we adopted another name.
AP: So you believe in global warming, climate change?
BR: Well, Climate realist is several things. First it means looking at the real data and not confusing it with the projections made on the basis of the data. It means that when you look at the data you realise that the climate is not changing in any extraordinary way. Of course it’s changing, as it always has, but we’re not in a period of particularly significant climate change..
AP: …but you admit that man has an effect on the climate, or not?
BR: Yes at least on a local scale, that’s obvious. The main question is, do we have a major influence on a geological scale as is sometimes claimed? And that, on the other hand, has not been demonstrated, and what the climate models have suggested has not for the moment been confirmed.
AP: So do you agree with Donald Trump when he announced the USA’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement?
BR: Well, that declaration show that no-one is completely wrong, and on this subject, he’s going in the right direction, even if when you look at the details in his speech, there are certain things which are problematic and which I don’t agree with, but in general that seems to be a good decision.
AP:Anyway, thank you for having accepted our invitation, because obviously you are in a minority in this studio, the other guests defending each in his own domain the responsibility of man for climate change. Let’s listen to what Emmanuel Macron the French President said, in his address to the American people and to the entire planet, and to Donald Trump:
Emmanuel Macron (in English): I call you to remain confident. We will succeed. Because we are fully committed. Because wherever we live, whoever we are, we all share the same responsibility: Make Our Planet Great Again.
[As I said, this programme was broadcast in the sacred pre-election period, when all political broadcasting is forbidden. But that doesn’t apply to statements by Our Beloved President, who is hoping to see his Party receive an Overall Majority in the Upcoming Parliamentary Election. Praised Be His Name.]
AP: So, “Make Our Planet Great Again.” Yann Arthus Bertrand, if I listen to Benoît Rittaud, when I look at the beautiful pictures of the planet that you regularly bring back back from your travels, the planet is already “great”?
YAB: It’s true, but I tend to believe the scientists. After all, I’m rather isolated. When Nature published thaat incredible article describing the Sixth Great Extinction of Life on Earth, signed by ten thousand scientists, it makes you think, doesn’t it? I don’t want to go into details, because it’s a bit like a religion, It’s a bit like – you believe in God, you don’t believe, I don’t want to..
AP: What’s more, Donald Trump says “I believe in God, but I don’t believe in global warming”..
YAB: I don’t want to join in this debate because I’ve been fighting so long… I talk to people, I am absolutely convinced, you know, that our human activity on earth, the fossil fuels, the carbon that we’re emitting into the atmosphere, it seems to me so obvious that I don’t even want to talk about it. There. For me, climate change is happening. Obviously due to human acitivity. We can’t stop it. That’s certain. There we are. We can’t stop it, because our civilisation is base on trade and on growth, and growth requires fossil fuels, there you are, so we have to adapt, so everything we do individually, each one of us can have a mitigating effect because it’s a good idea to do it, you know it’s good. It’s too late to be pessimist. We have to fight. And what’s more I’m ready to listen to your arguments, but it’s not like that in five minutes that we’re going to agree…
[BR nods agreement]
AP: But what the main consequences of the decisions of Donald Trump for you?
YAB: First, I”ve never…Lot’s of people believe in these big COPs. I’ve been to about ten COPs in my life. It’s these great meetings. Everyone comes by plane, in these big limousines, we eat huge quantities of meat, it’s rather contradictory – and I thing the important thing is us, you know. Today (?) but it doesn’t matter because there’s a COP coming up that will solve the problem, but don’t forget that when we signed the Paris Agreement, it begins in 2020, you know, and when we talk about the money which is going to be given to the developing countries who need it, you know, because they’e going to suffer the effects of climate change which we’re responsible for, Bangladesh, Bangladesh, you know the country the most populated in the world , if you put all the world’s population in the United States you’d still have a population less than that of Bangladesh who are squashed between the cyclones below, and when you go there a country of 160 million inhabitants, the climate warming, they know about it, they say, and for them they know perfectly well that there is an increase in catastrophes. It’s true it isn’t proved, but still there’s an enormous rise, there are enormously more cyclones which are much stronger. So there, so anyway, all those problems, today, I don’t want to discuss it any more… everyone, there are very very few people who believe in climate change [to Benoît] I think you believe it. You don’t believe it’s caused by man, but when you go to Greenland in a helicopter and you talk to the pilots, they tell you that in the ten years I’ve been flying here, it’s incredible the difference. As you can see in Al Gore’s new film, which we’re going to show on the 25th at the “Good Planet” (?) Foundation -, and everyone’s welcome to come and see it – there’s a moment where he’s flying over the Ant.. – the Arctic, and you can see the ice exploding. It’s incredible – the ice deserts and you see the ice – they had never seen that before. And all the glaciologists, after all, the glaciologists know that something’s happening – you agree with me? There aren’t any glaciologists who say, no…
BR: I’d like to reply
AP: Go on
BR: There’s a lot of things.. At least we’re not so far apart. At least one thing we agree on is about the COPs. It’s something that I’d like to add about Donald Trump. That his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a good thing, but it’s above all symbolic, because the Paris Agreement is essentially meaningless.
YAB: It’s a bad signal.
BR: There we are. OK, It’s a bad signal according to your point of view but to me – for you I understand that it’s a bad thing, but…
More tomorrow if I have the courage, and the time. You can see the whole thing at http://www.cnews.fr/magazines/vendredi-samedi-et-dimanche-pulvar/samedi-pulvar-1ere-partie-du-10062017-176483
BR: There we are. OK, It’s a bad signal according to your point of view but to me… for you I understand that it’s a bad thing, but for me it’s a good thing, for you I understand that you must be rather disappointed, but we have to understand that we’ve never really done much about this global warming business. The Climate fund…
AP: Countries have promised to compensate their emissions..
BR: .. It’s not a promise. China which is always cited because now it’s going to unite with the European Union and it’s the biggest country to to make an effort, China has said clearly that it will do nothing before 2030. That’s its promise for the COP21.
AP: But China is already already doing a lot, China, which is one of the most polluting countries is also one of the countries which is going furthest on the questions linked to…
BR: There, it’s no longer a question of global warming. If it’s a question of reducing greenhouse gases, China is not doing that. It’s not doing that, and it will continue to increase greatly emissions until 2030. India has said the same thing, that is, they’ve agreed to the energy transition but during the COP21 their finance minister said that they’d need not much, just 2.5 trillion dollars, that’s all they want, so, just to give an idea, the climate fund is a hundred billion dollars a year.
AP: But countries managed to find trillions of dollars when they had to save the banking system
BR: But that’s the proof that they don’t believe in what they say.
AP: .. and that they can find trillions of dollars when they have to
BR: The climate is something which they don’t believe in. It’s a theatre…
YAB: ..can’t say that…
BR: It’s a theatre. There are peoplewho believe in it of course,
YAB: [you] are very isolated on this subject. Admit it.
BR: It’s not quite true. What isolates us climate realists, it’s true, is the “climate of opinion.” Because the climate has managed to assemble around it a whole series of typically Western fears and visions of the world: Sin; Redemption; belief in…
AP: Lots of people see in their everyday experience the results of climate change, especially in the countries which are feeling the effects today..
BR: There has always been climate change. And the only thing to do with the climate is adapt. If it rains you put up your umbrella, it’s what we’ve always done, and it’s what we have to do in the future. That’s normal..
[subject changed swiftly to conditions in abattoirs and overfishing]
AP: So Benoît you said just now that you were sceptical about human responsibility for climate chanfge. Here we’re in a different phase, a different subject about climate change, overconsumption, over cionsumptiuoin more and more numerous but especially of fish. Can you not imagine that humans are responsible, and that things must change?
BR: I don’t think we should look at the environment in a global fashion. I think it’s a mistake, and it’s rather typical. The failure of the successive COPs is partly due to that, in that they try to treat every subject together, insisting all the time that everything is linked, and therefore they can never really deal with the essence of the subject. I think one should treat the question of the climate, the question of overfishing, the question of animal welfare ..it’s too many different questions at once
YAB: It’s the death of life, the death of the planet quite simply
BR: Of course one can have a global view, but if you want to go to the root of the problem , and say things that are worth saying, you have to choose your subject. If for example..
AP: …which is what we’ve done, which is what we’ve done
BR: …For example, one can speak, you’ve spoken about the Amazon as the lungs of the planet, there was an article last year in Nature Climate Change, which is not a minor publication nor a climate sceptical publication, which compared the satellite images of the earth at thirty five year intervals, and which found that the earth is getting greener, and not just a bit. We’ve gained in 35 years the equivalent of twice the surface area of the United States
YAB: But not…
YAB: Excuse me…
BR: …mainly due to the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, which of course, is probably largely man-made We humans can have a positive effect on the planet, because more CO2 in the atmosphere is good for the atmosphere
AP: Can we agree that the fact of replacing the forest by agriculture is not necessarily the best solution for the planet?
BR: No, the Greening of the planet is happening automatically, by the increase in greenhouse gases, not because of deforestation, obviously. Which is not to say that there are hot places which are getting drier, or where the desert isn’t increasing. It’s an average, but the trend is quite significant. That’s something which nobody talks about, because the environment s something which one must, by definition, the envronment is the focus of our collective guilt, so any news which might be interpreted as good news necessarily carries less weight than a cyclone here or a [?] there
YAB: You’re right, the forest experts admit that trees are growing faster now. It’s established, that with more carbon, they grow faster. But you can’t compare a primeval fortest with a (?) for soya or palm oil. It’s greener. In the greening, you count everything that’s green, all the intensive cultivation is green.
BR: ..intensive cultivation. You have to take account of the scale of things
YAB: The scale means that each year we lose thousands of hectares of forest. It’s not greener.
BR: That’s not the problem. If you want to link everthing, you can’t make any headway. If you raise deforestation, which is a different problem, we’ll never get anywhere. There are things which aren’t right, we can agree on that, I just wanted to introduce a factual element. We should be able to talk about the environment, without being systematically in the business of attributiing guilt.
AP: There are things which are positive, of course, and which demonstrate that, if we make an effort, defining objecvtives, we can make things better, for example, there are species of large mammals in danger which are not increasing in numbers but which are more numerous today than 30 or 25 years ago because an effort ha been made to protect these populations. There are positive effects, but which result as well from the effort to combat climate change.
BR: You can’t say that
AP Is there not a need – and I put the question to all four of you – to change the model, in general? Model of over-consumption, model of fossil fuels, model based on trade, on transport in perpetual development? I put the question.
BR: Trade in general is rather a good thing. The consumption of fossil fuels is something which has frightened people for a very long time. For the past fifty years we’ve lived in fear of a shortage of petrol. Regularly we’re told that oil is running out. And the climate has allowed this thing to be recycled. Oil is seen as not an infinite resource because there won’t be any more, when in fact there will be for a a long time, but it’s become the Great Satan because it’s a source of CO2. Again, it’s a good idea to distinguish between the different subjects. Are we talking about CO2 which is bad for the planet because we need to reduce our emissions, or are we talking about finite resources?
AP: So I put the questiuon about the reduction – necessary or not? – of greenhouse gases?
BR: Of greenhouse gasses? No, I don’t think it’s good idea, because it would be extremely expensive, and bcause the effect would be at best minor. So It’s a very bad use of resources, and there are more important things to do, other means to use in terms of brainpower, in terms of diplomacy. At Paris there were – what? – forty thousand negotiators. I’d prefer that those 40,000 negotiators meet to discuss subjects like education, world health problems, those kind of things.
AP: …Yann Arthus Bertrand?
YAB: It’s staggering! It’s staggering because it’s in complete contradiction with what everybody says.
YAB: Hang on. It’s so far from what I think in my conscience, deeply, that I can’t reply. You’re from space, but at the same time I respect you. There…
AP: …a necessary change of model…
YAB: …change.. Our civilisation has always been based on trade. It’s trade. It’s growth, which everybody needs because it’s what pays for schools, pays for hospitals, pays for roads, for the civil service, we all need growth, but growth in the sixth richest country in the world, with the dwindling resources, with the statistics which we can’t any more…, that model… But we don’t have another model. With all these COPs, it’s wonderful, the statistics which everyone talks about…The main thing is ME, what am I doing? The (?) does it’s job and me, as a citizen, what am I doing? So, when I get in a plane, either I eat with respect, I respect the piece of meat that I eat, and if I can eat a bit it’s even better, that’s not, it’s in the ethics and the morality, all that…
[the abbatoir lady proposes a Copernican revolution. The fish man says we’re wasting a lot of fish and terrestial vegetables and meat]
YAB: For us it’s easy to change our model. But when you’re the boss of a big fishing boat, it’s complicated. When you have a pig farm with 150 pigs in debt up to there, it’s complicated, so they need help, I’d say, even love. I don’t hate these people who – I should stop talking…
YAB: We should respect them, they’re not the enemy those people. We need to persuade them..