Environmentalism’s Divergence Problem

I noted in a previous post a surprising fact about the coverage of the Amazon fires: that several media outlets normally only too happy to spread any alarmist rubbish that would aid the catastrophic climate change narrative were publishing articles which contradicted the normal propaganda. I mentioned the BBC, Bloomberg, the New York Times and the Guardian. Jaime and Paul added references to Forbes and (via Steve McIntyre) the Ontario Globe and Mail, and other commenters provided examples of other corrections to the catastrophic narrative. Something seemed to be happening. The Amazon was burning, and many of the normal suspects were behaving suspiciously – refusing to adopt their normal catastrophic position.

This was not a sudden, Damascene conversion of the whole environ-mentalist press. Despite the reasonable, common sense evidence presented in a previous article, the Guardian and its sister paper the Observer continued to preach catastrophe in subsequent articles. This one by Jonathan Watts, the Guardian’s global environment editor, in Sunday’s Observer continued to speak of “Ecocide” and evoke the “language of sexual violence” (attributed to Bolsonaro, but well in evidence in Jonathan’s article (“rape of the natural world;” “Bolsonaro … like a wife-battering husband”…)

Some Guardian readers have noticed the divergence. An article by Brazilian opposition congressman David Miranda puts the blame squarely on Bolsonaro and his toxic brew of radical ideology, political corruption and banal greed,while carefully avoiding making false claims. Nothing about the biggest/worst firesever, but, more carefully:

The magnitude of these fires, and the severity of the dangers they pose to the world, have been widely demonstrated over the last week… the National Institute for Space Research documented that it “had detected 39,194 fires this year in the world’s largest rain forest, a 77% increase from the same period in 2018”

though it does repeat the doubtful claim that “the Amazon … currently provides 20% of the world’s oxygen.”

Among the comments (567 so far) to Miranda’s article were several which pointed out the divergence problem in the Guardian’s treatment of climate change:

NASA say these fires are slightly below average for the year and meteorologists say the smoke in Sao Paulo is coming from Paraguay, not the Amazon basin. So whose really being uneducated and angry on these comment pages?

Well what you say is the exact opposite than what Nasa says on it’s own website. So why are you lying?

This actually false. The Earth is a greener place than it was 20 years ago. Mostly thanks to the massive tree planting programmes of India and China.

Unfortunately, the figure of 20% – very widely cited – is most likely wrong. It’s even more disturbing to find this figure quoted in the Guardian, because the same outlet also published this rebuttal a few days ago:

Although some reports have claimed the Amazon produces 20% of the world’s oxygen, it is not clear where this figure originated. The true figure is likely to be no more than 6%, according to climate scientists such as Michael Mann and Jonathan Foley.”

Bolsonaro is a reckless imbecile but he’s not to blame for these fires. These fires have been happening for decades. The current fires aren’t even record fires. The only difference this time is the huge coverage & strangely that is because Bolsonaro is so repulsive, so an easy target for Western media.

As of August 16, 2019, an analysis of NASA satellite data indicated that total fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average in comparison to the past 15 years.

Halfway through the comments I found a link to a video dated 30 May 2019 from an organisation called Double Down News by one George Monbiot called “Bolsanaro and the Apocalypse: the Most Dangerous Man on Earth.” 

Monbiot has lived in Brazil (he claims to have learned his politics there from the efforts of poor people to self-organise) and in this 6 minute video he provides a brief history of modern Brazil, from the military dictatorship, the opposition represented by the liberation theology of Cardinal Romero (assassinated by a right wing death squad in 1980) who led a radical movement suppressed by the Catholic church itself, which (according to Monbiot) led to the Brazilian poor rejecting Catholicism and turning to evangelical Christianity, with its message of an apocalyptic end of the world, and hence (following the corruption scandals surrounding the leftwing governments of Lula da Silva and Mrs Rousseff) to the election of Bolsonaro.

Monbiot is a decent man and knowledgeable about areas of the world you and I wouldn’t dare visit. He was expostulating (is there another verb for staring intently into a camera on Youtube? Why don’t they write what they’ve got to say, like normal human beings?) about Bolsonaro and the coming apocalypse back in May, long before the burning season.

Monbiot has a follow-up video, a 2 minute rant called “Earth is Burning and run by Psychopaths, but there’s hope…” in which he says:

There’s no aspect of our civilisation that is not threatened by climate change. I mean, we’re already seeing its huge impacts on the natural world. We’re seeing it in the forest fires sweeping across southern Europe, South America, in Siberia even […] This is going to come closer and closer to home. […] You can say two different things about the global response to climate change. One is that the response of the nation states has been pathetic. But on the other hand, you’ve got this amazing mass movement of people, loads of people, especially young people, who can see their futures being destroyed in this way and are not putting up with it. Who are trying to stop the entire destructive industry which is literally putting a match to our future and just cooking us alive in the global cauldron which they’re turning the planet into.

Climate change isn’t an accident of the system. Climate change is the product of the system. The key thing we need almost everywhere is a change of government. We’re currently governed by a psychopathic class who don’t share our interests, who in fact don’t seem to share human interests in general. What appear to be hopeless situations actually are not hopeless at all. All you need to do is to imagine a better future and then put that imagination into practice. Political failure is at heart a failure of imagination. A failure to see what can be done when very large numbers of people mobilise; what can be done when you don’t leave politics to the politicians alone […]

Double Down for principled reasons does not run adverts. So it relies instead on your help. You can become a patron, provide monthly donations, small, large, enormous. Help this to become the future of broadcasting that I think it is destined to be.

The words: “..amazing mass movement of people, loads of people, especially young people”are illustrated with pictures of the Climate Rebellion weirdoes dressed in red robes like senior Ku Klux Klan members, plus the inevitable Greta. The words:We’re currently governed by a psychopathic class…”are illustrated with images of Trump, Pence, and Bolsonaro.

This video was posted on 22ndAugust. By the 23rd, stories of the burning Amazon were everywhere, although the official Brazilian burning season started on August 10th. It wasn’t Monbiot’s video that did it, that’s for sure, since total views are less than five thousand. Whatever the cause, the story of the destruction of the Amazon forest took off, Bolsonaro became an arch-villain overnight, and the mainstream media were suddenly behaving strangely, passing up the opportunity to blame climate change in favour of a political message blaming populism in a far off country.

Whereas Monbiot’s May 2019 video on the history of Brazil proposed a simplified but possibly valid history of this complex country, informed by an experience on the ground and based on solid historical facts, the 22nd August one presents nothing but the gibbering of a hysterical loon. George has always been barking, but this time, in identifying some very ordinary forest fires as a good reason for régime change, he’s definitely up the wrong tree.

But he has the support of President Macron. The Amazon fire story exploded in the middle of what promised to be a rather boring G7 meeting hosted by the French President, who immediately started spouting about the lungs of the planet and accused Bolsonaro of lying. Bolsonaro and his entourage replied, insulting Macron and his wife, and Macron, during the official final press conference, expressed the opinion that Brazilian women would no doubt be ashamed of their president (not improbable) and hoped that Brazil might soon have a more acceptable leader..

Oi oi oi. Elected heads of state don’t normally talk like that about other elected heads of state. But Macron is different. Brazil was meant to host the next COP thingy, but Bolsonaro refused, and the COP job passed to Chile, and so Macron invited the president of Chile to Biarritz, but nobody noticed, just as no-one noticed his attempt to put the textile industry (i.e. South Asia) in the dock for trashing the planet. So only a fuss about the Amazon would do to put the climate back on the front page, and only a spat with Brazil would do as an excuse to renege on the EU’s Mercosur trade agreement with South America which threatened France’s highly subsidised sugar beet industry and one-cow-per-field livestock rearing policy.

The big Brazilian burn, announced in advance, started on August 10th. The successful campaign to make it the climate story of the year seems to have only started twelve days later, catching some major media like the BBC, the New York Times and the Guardian on the hop, leading them to rely on NASA and other scientific sources for factual material about forest loss, oxygen balance, etc. Extremist claims about suffocation, the imminent disappearance of tropical forests, and the extinction of everything are being countered and corrected by some of the very same media which have been most active in promoting them.

Monbiot, on his new media outlet, Double Down News (views in Double figures, Down at the bottom of Alexa ratings) is having none of it. He’s going with popular opinion, the Oxford Circus shamans of Extinction Rebellion, and Greta. While the Head Leveller ties himself in plaits on his video fireside chats, leveller heads in the Green Blob no doubt realise that that way lies madness and loss of subsidies from governments and green philanthropists.

Could this be the beginning of the Great Schism? At least that would demonstrate that environmentalism has truly arrived as a world religion.


  1. The public persona of George Monbiot does not, in my book (my video, even) come over as decent by any measure and I have no desire to watch his YouTube ramblings. I’m therefore obliged to ask if there were two left-leaning Cardinals Romeros.

    The one I remember vividly and with considerable respect was Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez who, to précis Wiki, was a Catholic prelate in El Salvador who served as the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador. He spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture and was assassinated by a far-right gang on IIRC the steps of his cathedral in 1980.

    San Salvador is, the Internet tells me, 6,450 kM from Rio. ‘Liberation Theology’ was of course an important movement at the time with an international dimension but a Brazilian Cardinal Romero is a new one on me.




    Any suggestion that Oscar Romero was Brazilian is my error and not Monbiot’s. That’s the problem with videos. You make assumptions that you can’t check without playing back the whole thing. That’s why the written word is superior to anything else for rational discussion. That’s why Mesopotamians invented the clay tablet. Dunno how we’re going to convince several billion i-phone users of its advantages though.

    I think Monbiot’s thesis that liberation theology played a role in defeating the military dictatorship remains true. His further jumps in reasoning – that the suppression of Romero’s movement by the Catholic church led to the rise of Evangelicanism, whose apocalyptic message led to the success of Bolsonaro, is open to objection. My point is that in his first video, about Brazilian history and the rise of Bolsonaro, Monbiot reasons like a normal human being. In his second video he doesn’t. He wants a popular movement, and that means supporting Greta and Extinction Rebellion, whatever.


  3. The Romero version of the Catholic church (liberation theology) is a left wing version which is not acceptable for conservative christians, the alternatives are conservative protestantism (e.g. USA baptism) but also conservative catholicism, see William Briggs as example of the latter.


  4. The South Americans have be vacillating between Left leaning progressive (Reform) and Right leaning authoritarian (Conservative) governments as long as they have been separate countries.

    Basically the entire 19th Century history of Mexico is that, until the PRI managed to be authoritarian whilst superficially Left, and lock in for the 20th century and more or less stop politics there.

    My reading on the other South American countries is less deep, but they seem to have followed the same pattern. They have a word for the Right wing leaders — Caudillo, which suggests it isn’t exactly uncommon.

    Nothing about Bolsonaro is remotely unusual for the region. Attributing it to Liberation Theology, a very old movement now, is just plain stupid. The more reasonable explanation is that the previous Left leaning goverments in Brazil just weren’t very good.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Monbiot is a hard left activist, that will smear and use all their usual tactics to bring down an opponent.. his treatment of David Bellamy a particular nasty example.. he was president of a group with a deniers Hall of shame, and instrumental in pushing climate denial narrative in the guardian and making it an equivalence to holocaust denial.. he is a complete s###

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Monbiot: Climate change is the product of the system.

    He has no clue whatsoever if he believes such empty-headed propaganda.


  7. “Monbiot is a hard left activist, that will smear and use all their usual tactics to bring down an opponent”

    Come, come – less of the “activist” bit. Yes, he’s a total shit (the Bellamy case you properly remind us of being a typically nasty example) but you’re not going to see him any day soon on hard-graft campaigns on the likes of Scotland’s drugs epidemic or the social cleansing of London council estates. The lower orders must look after their own – we public school/Oxbridge types have loftier roles.

    I think Geoff is being way too kind. Essentially, Monbiot is one of those writers who rants about whatever he thinks will win him an audience even if it mostly comprises an ever-dwindling band of Grauniadistas and means that innocent people get hurt by his demagogy.

    Those speculations about Bolsonaro’s political roots are IMHO a case in point. As CD notes, left-right swings are nothing new in Brazil but the country’s recent rapid economic development, the emergence of BRICS to rival the established international order and the notorious corruption of the Workers Party certainly are. Liberation Theology is about as pertinent to understanding that as, er, a couple of pine trees high up a Californian mountain.

    I also agree with Geoff about YouTube as a viable medium for debate though, in Monbiot’s defence (did I really say that?), it may be that his recent battle with cancer has made writing difficult. My advice under those circs? Just keep quiet.

    Gawn, Georgie – give it a try.


    Agreed; South America likes a strong leader, whether of left or right. It’s worth noting that both Bolsonaro and Maduro in Venezuela were legitimately elected. My interest is, as always, less in the situation on the ground, about which my opinions are worthless, than in the interpretation put on the facts by our own media in the west. British attitudes to South America echo attitudes to Spain and Portugal going back maybe to Good Queen Bess and the defeat of the Armada or at least to our grabbing Jamaica and other goodies from them in the 17th century. History repeats itself, but not as Marx said, first as tragedy, then as farce, but, like Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap, on and on for ever, unchanging as some folk ritual whose origins are lost in the mists of time.

    I find Monbiot interesting precisely because he is not a typical fair weather lefty spouting sympathy from his ivory tower. He really did go to East Timor, where the Indonesian military junta murdered hundreds of thousands in their colonial conquest; and to Africa, where he witnessed the aftermath of a drought-induced massacre, and apparently to Brazil. (At least, I believe he did, because he says so, and there are limits to the mendacity of even a Guardian journalist.)

    His treatment of David Bellamy (and of Alexander Cockburn, a far more important- to Monbiot – sceptic, because of his impeccable leftwing credentials) is interesting because of its merciless nature and its effectiveness. Monbiot has always claimed to be a believer in the “gold standard” of peer-reviewed science (up to the day he swore to follow Greta wherever she might lead, that is.) Yet he has never criticised, or even mentioned, I believe, the many scientists who might challenge his belief in catastrophe. The words “Lindzen,” “Curry,” “Spencer” or “Pielke” have never crossed his lips.

    Bellamy was a different matter. Like many prominent and therefore potentially influential media personalities in the early days of climate catastrophism, he had his doubts. Which he expressed, without carefully checking his sources, which led him to say some silly things, which Monbiot could pounce on. The fact that Monbiot was right and Bellamy was wrong on some detail of glacier melt or whatever is less interesting than the fact that Monbiot found it so important to be right, about Bellamy (as about Moncton, Cockburn, Plimer, Booker etc.) In this Monbiot resembles Lenin (and possibly Boris Johnson.) You can criticise his intensity of purpose, but he’s been incredibly good at what he does for a couple of decades now.

    In my opinion, deserting the hard road of demolition of one’s opponents’ arguments and swearing allegiance to a pre-pubescent nerd and the red-robed dervishes of Extinction Rebellion is a bad career move – but we shall see.

    I don’t see how a recent treatment for prostate cancer makes writing more difficult, and launching a new media outlet designed to overthrow the existing media régime easier. Views of his latest video are up to 5500 – respectable – not far off views of one of our articles over a similar period – but not world-shattering.


  9. Hi Geoff
    partial quote from your Monbiot link –
    “But on the other hand, you’ve got this amazing mass movement of people, loads of people, especially young people, who can see their futures being destroyed in this way and are not putting up with it”

    conspiracy alert –
    when I watch the MSM coverage from Hong Kong (the police get the bad guy image, the petrol bombing young activists/thugs are on the side of democracy) I wonder if the MSM hope (give aspiration) to see something like that happening in the UK (they love to show protesters shouting & waving banners as they deliver the unbiased news)


  10. probably seen before – H/T bias bbc – never heard this story on the MSM – did I miss it?

    with this scathing comment to the post from –

    Chris Wall
    And this, ladies and gentlemen, is an example of the unbelievable stupidity of the climate change deniers. I could explain why but I doubt you would be able to understand.

    “climate change deniers” again!!! grow up please.


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