Of all the mainstream media the Guardian is probably the most fervent in its espousal of the cause of catastrophic climate change, (or “Global Heating” as its journalists are obliged to call it) and, since its conversion into an international on-line medium covering the US and Australia, possibly the most influential. And the person who converted the once rather staid centre left newspaper into a hub of hysterical handwringing climate porn was Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor from 1995 to May 2015.
Rusbridger joined the Guardian in 1979 and was successively the Diary writer, Royal reporter, and TV critic for the Observer (now integrated with the Guardian as its Sunday edition, but then a separate newspaper.) He launched the paper’s Weekend Supplement and became Features Editor before being elected editor-in-chief by his colleagues.
During his period as editor the Guardian had two notable scoops, publishing Edward Snowden’s revelations about illegal US and British government surveillance in 2013, and above all Wikileaks’ Iraq War logs in 2010. The latter was one of the biggest scoops of recent decades, but Rusbridger’s Wiki entry has just this to say:
In the film “The Fifth Estate” (2013), about The Guardian‘s former association with the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Rusbridger was portrayed by Peter Capaldi.
Given these two radical blows for freedom of information aimed at the Military-Intelligence complex, it is surprising to find that Rusbridger is anything but a radical, and is described by colleagues as “apolitical.”
In an interview with Rob Brown in the Independent in 1997 Rusbridger declared:
“The process of modernisation on The Guardian has reflected the process of modernisation in the Labour Party. We’ve reached the same conclusions by separate routes… the old Guardian, like Old Labour, opposed lots of things the Tories did which we’d now think weren’t terribly bad in retrospect … I mean, a lot of the trade union stuff doesn’t seem as horrendous now as it seemed at the time.”
and went on to say that in the late eighties the Guardian was “stuck in a very Old Labour mindset and basically pissing in the wind. Now we are read by the people in power”.
(By “trade union stuff” he presumably means Thatcher’s closure of the coal mining industry in order to destroy the power of the National Union of Mineworkers. A British commenter at WattsUpWithThat, the excellent site of the politically conservative Antony Watts, once stated that his father, whose job involved visiting coal mines, knew which mines were due for closure by the stocks of pit props. By putting expensive pit props on the books of a mine the government could declare it economically unviable and therefore close it. O Homewood, O Montford – where are the accountants when we need them?)
Where was I?
Rob Brown sums up:
The Guardian … was a quite different paper when Jim Callaghan was in Number 10. Once sombre and grey, it has lightened up and broadened its appeal considerably. Rusbridger himself now openly mocks the“brown bread and sandals brigade”who formed the bulk of the paper’s readership back then. The twenty-somethings who today increasingly dominate New Guardian’s newsroom, he points out, “are proud of working for what they see as a rather hip metropolitan paper”.
Fifteen years later, an article by Peter Wilby in the New Statesman comes to a similar conclusion about Rusbridger:
Though he is assumed to share the values (or prejudices) of metropolitan left-liberals, he doesn’t often venture a political opinion. While reading English at Magdalene College, Cambridge, in the early 1970s, he … did not join the university paper because, he says, it was too political. When I asked him to define his political position, he described himself as “progressive”, a label also claimed, as I pointed out, by the Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips. [a conservative journalist, and climate sceptic.]
…the very left-wing Richard Gott, a historian of Latin America who was then features editor … recalls: “I thought him very, very middlebrow. He had no political interests of any kind. When he was a writer, I asked him to investigate Amnesty International and where it got its funding. He came back with a wishy-washy piece that had nothing about its funding. He went to New Zealand when it was in the throes of Rogernomics [Thatcherite policies introduced by Roger Douglas, a Labour finance minister]. He rang up and said there was a Gay Pride march on. That was his level of interest in things.”
On one subject, Rusbridger has proved to be in the forefront of radical thought, and that’s catastrophic climate change. So how did it happen that the Guardian became the world’s most fervent media promoter of climate hysteria?
Unfortunately his blog is no help. (I’ve come across some zombie blogs in my time, but this was the first one I’ve seen with 29 posts, no comments, and just two “Likes,” one of which was mine when I clicked on the other one to find out who it was.)
Almost all the posts are about music (Rusbridger is a passionate amateur pianist) the exceptions being the two latest, two years ago, one of which was a plug for his book “Breaking News:” The article – a “summary of the book’s arguments” – does mention climate change twice, but without enlightening us as to Rusbridger’s passionate espousal of the subject:
In a world of fake news and information chaos, we need more journalism…I started sketching it out in 2016 against the backdrop of the most consequential referendum in modern British history: the in-out decision over the U.K.’s membership in the European Union. Like the crisis with our weather systems, this is a crisis in the climate of information. In its own way, it has the potential to be just as deadly.
[Really? Under Rusbridger’s editorship the Guardian has assured us that “the crisis with our weather systems” will kill millions and produce hundreds of millions of climate refugees. Brexit hasn’t been quite that bad, surely?]
After a short rant about the Brexit vote he goes on to identify climate change as: ”the other momentous issue of our times, never far from our minds.”
Let’s suppose that global warming is the most important issue of our generation. It dwarfs all others if only because, assuming the overwhelming majority of scientists are even approximately right ,excessive warming has the potential to be a calamitous, even existential, threat to our species. That’s a big story, however you look at it.
He then laments the lack of coverage given to climate change in the media and says:
Meanwhile, on social media, I can and do find authoritative voices talking good sense on Brexit and climate change — and by “good sense” I don’t just mean people who share my opinion. I find … scientists, European academics, economists, and environmental thinkers in constant debate. Their tone tends to a conversation rather than a lecture. Unlike many journalists, they listen as well as talk. They respond to each other. They supply links and sources. Their modus operandi is not “take my word for it,” but “here’s my evidence.”
“…in constant debate. Their tone tends to a conversation…”What debate? What conversation? What social media is he talking about? Not the many climate related websites with which the Guardian has been associated, like Carbon Brief, where there is absolutely no debate.
At the time of writing their five latest blog posts published over the past six days have garnered zero comments. Our last five posts have garnered 170 comments. But then our blog isn’t written by professional blogwriters whose salaries are paid by dead American billionaires.
Rusbridger was more forthcoming about his enthusiasm for climate catastrophe back in 2012 in his role as chairman of a debate entitled “Is our journalism up to the debate over energy and climate change?” held to launch Greenpeace’s Energydesk website, in association with theFrontline Club. Fifteen hours of my life disappeared transcribing this world-shattering event for Alex Cull’s excellent site MyTranscriptBox.
I just looked up Greenpeace Energydesk, which ended up being hosted by the Ecologist magazine. Its last post dates from February 2017. Their Twitter account, which had eleven followers, announced in 2017 that Energydesk is now Unearthed. Eleven followers is three less than the number of people who spoke from the platform at their opening gala.
TheFrontline Clubis a tiny charity with an expenditure in 2019 of hardly more than a third of a million pounds.
During the year the Honorary Chief Executive of the Charity was Vaughan Smith who was also the original settlor of FCCT. He is also 100% Frontline Television News Ltd and has a sole trader business called Ellingham Land. Vaughan Smith, his wife Pranvera Smith and Mario Armani are joint owners of The Frontline Club Ltd. Vaughan Smith and Mario Armani are considered Key Management Personnel of the Trust.
Henry Vaughan Lockhart Smith (born 22 July 1963) is an English restaurateur, sustainable farmer, and freelance video journalist. He ran the freelance agency Frontline News TV and founded the Frontline Club in London. The Guardian has described him as “a former army officer, journalist adventurer and rightwing libertarian.”
[the link to the Guardian article embedded in that quote leads us into fascinating territory. Anyone who on hearing the word “sustainable” feels like reaching for his Browning should hold his fire in the case of the estimable Mr Vaughan Smith. Anyone who thinks that Syria, Assange, Trump and everything else we ruminate upon in these pages is not relevant to climate should not click on that link.]
Mario Armani, as you might expect, is into fashion:
With over 30 years experience in hospitality, I assist creating, building & delivering commercially successful brands. Looking after the Corrigan Collection: Bentley’s Swallow Street, Corrigan’s Mayfair, Bentley’s Harrods. His consultancy portfolio includes: Sports Invest; Kia Joorabchian Football Manager restaurant Collection; Director Sakenohana Mayfair & Hakkasan Ltd Evgeny Lebedev (Evening Standard) Frontline Charitable Trust, London Journalist Club, Ellingham Hall & farm; Founder – Vaughan Smith.
Swallow Street, Mayfair, Harrods, Lebedev…
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, that I love..
…the stink of P.G.Wodehouse territory. The bookshops and art galleries of W1 and SW1 that greet you obsequiously even if you’re obviously skint. “I can’t define civilisation” said Lord Clark, introducing his TV series on the subject, “but (indicating the Paris skyline) I know it when I see it.” I feel the same about South Moulton Street and points south. God rot it.
Where was I?
I do recommend my transcript of this event as a work of comic faction of the highest order. Rusbridger was hired to chair this Greenpeace event, and so dominated the proceedings that he left hardly any time for the other participants to get a word in. For a fan of Chopin and Debussy he sure is gabby. This is the first third or so of his introductory remarks on that memorable evening (my bolds):
Alan Rusbridger: Good evening, can everybody hear me? Are these mikes working? Thank you all for coming to this debate. The subject of the discussion this evening is whether journalism is up to the debate about energy and climate change. I was very happy to come along and chair this when asked to do so, and I was happy to do so, not because I know an immense amount about the subject – I don’t –I’m a very generalist editor of a very generalist paper, but I do think it is probably the most important question of our age.
And when Angus asked me, coming up the stairs, “Is this a sort of area of special advocacy?” my answer is: it feels as though it has been, in terms of the resources that we’ve put into this on the Guardian.About ten, twelve years ago we had one science correspondent and one environment correspondent, and I would look at the resources that we put into covering Westminster or football or culture, and I thought: this is somehow all wrong. And I think we’ve now got – I’m looking at James [Randerson] -but we’ve got about 8 to 10 people who now cover science and environment. They’re all staggeringly bright, they’ve all got two or three degrees.We’ve built an environment side which is now very large, it has about 2.4 million users a month. It’s growing at about 20% a year which is very nice. You don’t often hear about growth in newspapers these days– and the way we’ve done that is to step outside our own comfort zone and link up with 20 other, 28 other experts, blogs, networks, of people who really know about the environment on four continents, and we’ve now built up a really sizeable body of people who cover it for the Guardian, and we’ve got about 100,000 followers on Twitter, so in terms of the investment that we put into it, it feels like a large investment.
But at the end of the summer I went to see – did anybody else go and seeTen Billionat the Royal Court? [Silence in the room. Nobody did] Which was this extraordinary evening that really shouldn’t have worked at all. It was Stephen Emmott, a scientist, who is – I hope he wouldn’t mind me saying – not a brilliant speaker. It was on the stage of the Royal, the Upstairs Room at the Royal Court, with a minimal set, it was just his study had been recreated on the set, and it’s not a very interesting study. He didn’t have very interesting props, the graphics were so-so, and it was basically just a lecture. And yet it was the most gripping and enthralling and frightening thing that I’d seen all year.And it roamed around land and population and water and warming, and although it was only a tiny audience – there were only about ninety people in the theatre each evening, it really packed a punch – and the critics came out saying this was the most disturbing thing they’d seen all year, and reached an audience that maybe had become a bit immune to it. And I think that, I went back to work the next day feeling a bit depressed because often it takes things like theatrical productions or films – the Al Gore film – to find fresh ways of dealing with this subject. And so the question is really a challenge to journalism tonight – what is it, if it’s true that journalism is not quite failing to, to achieve the impact that this subject should have, why is that?
“they’ve all got two or three degrees.” Hasn’t he heard that anything above1.5 degrees will destroy the planet?
On Stephen Emmott, I recommend this by Alex Cull and me (not currently available while Ben updates his site)
and this, at WattsUpWithThat
Emmott, a loony doing blue sky thinking for Microsoft, charmed not only the editor of the Guardian, but the BBC, Penguin Books (Science) the Science Museum, the Royal Court Theatre (with a grant from the European Union) the Carnegie Council and the Avignon Theatre Festival with his message that we’re fucked. Fucked I say. Yes, well and truly fucked. It’s a scientist that says so. Emmott ran pentabytes of microsoft data through microsoft computers and every time he message came back that we’re FUCKED. Which message Penguin (Science) published in BIG LETTERS the same size as they used for their recent tomes by loony adult prodigy Greta Thunberg and loony ex-Royal Court Thespian Climate Scientist Professor Chris “Cry me a Cryosphere” Rapley.
Last time I was in London my ex-favourite bookshop next to my old university featured a special stand with their favourite climate titles next to the cash desk. Of which Thunberg’s and Rapley’s works, published by Penguin Science, both of which are written in BIG LETTERS, four or so lines to a page, like a Noddy book.
(As a kid of five years old I loved Noddy Books. I wanted to own them all. But I grew up, as kids do, and ten years later I used to sometimes invest my pocket money in Penguin science books, which were then called Pelicans. There was no computerised stock control in those days, so W.H. Smith stocked everything, so I could read Medawar on evolution, or E.P. Thompson on Marxism, and no-one could stop me. That ended when Penguin was bought by a Canadian paper magnate who increased the size of the paperbacks so they no longer fitted in your pocket, and reduced the quality of the paper, so they fell apart before you’d read them. And W.H. Smith discovered computerised stock control, so a nerdish adolescent could no longer be tempted by anything more challenging than the latest instalment of Lord of the Thrones.. or Greta Spanks Noddy for his Consumption of Fossil Fuels..)
Where was I?
There’s a lot more one might say about Rusbridger and global climate freaking out and wetting yourself. Somewhere (and alas I’ve mislaid the reference) Rusbridger explains:
“In environment, we’ve created a network of experts who are very happy to sit on the Guardian website because they get international exposure. We get a more comprehensive account of environmental matters, they get a bigger audience, and we share the revenue. It’s a kind of mutualised relationship.”
I have a comment to make on this statement. It involves Animal Farm and Pigs and Humans and maybe Rusbridger and Schubert and Julian Assange and Luke Harding and … But it can wait.