I was intrigued by Tony Thomas’ recent article (Tim Flannery’s Latest Climate Triumph) and Phil Clarke’s comments on it. Tracking down apocalyptic warnings and showing them (or attempting to show them) not to have been borne out has long been a favourite activity of climate sceptics, while showing (or trying to show) that the warnings have been taken out of context (or been misquoted), or time isn’t yet up, or that they have been justified after all, are favourite activities of climate alarmists and apocalypse apologists.
That’s a well-trodden path, so I see no point in replicating it, but it did occur to me that as a Guardian reader all my adult life, the trend towards the appearance in that newspaper of increasing volumes of climate scare stories as time has gone by, is such that it might be a bit of fun to take a look at some of them. What follows doesn’t try to prove anything, and isn’t based on any particular criteria. I simply carried out an internet search using the terms “Guardian” “warning” “climate” and “years”. Reading through the articles this threw up suggests that certain themes are recurrent. Perhaps Bagdikian’s Law applies (thanks to John Ridgway’s recent article for making this offering seem more relevant than might otherwise have been the case).
Climate change warning signals ‘at red’
This was the heading to an article published in the Guardian on 12th May 2000. The UK Round Table on Sustainable Development and Sir Tom Blundell, chairman of the Royal Commission on Pollution were both cited. The main messages were that the UK government was complacent, that its policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions were not nearly ambitious enough, and that “the world is still proceeding at a reckless pace towards disaster”. Even 21 years ago, the government was being urged “…to take vigorous measures to promote the necessary changes in behaviour”.
Some things don’t change. In April 2021 the Guardian was still reporting:
“The UK business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is considering a “full vegan diet” to help tackle climate change, saying people will need to make lifestyle changes if the government is to meet its new emissions target of a 78% reduction on 1990 levels by 2035.
But how much difference would it make if everyone turned to a plant-based diet? Experts say changing the way we eat is necessary for the future of the planet but that government policy is needed alongside this. If politicians are serious about wanting dietary changes, they also need to incentivise it, scientists and writers add.”
Twenty one years of trying to insist that the government needs to take measures to persuade the population to change its behaviour. Perhaps the population would change its behaviour voluntarily if it really thought it were necessary?
Why vegans were right all along
On Christmas Eve 2002 the Guardian published a piece by George Monbiot under the above heading, sub-titled “Famine can only be avoided if the rich give up meat, fish and dairy” (why only the rich, I wonder).
Within as little as ten years, George earnestly assured us, the world would be faced with a choice. Arable farming would either have to feed the world’s animals or it would have to feed the world’s humans, but it couldn’t do both. Vegetarianism wouldn’t cut it. It was veganism or nothing. If everyone who ate beef were to eat cheese instead, that would only delay the inevitable famine; it wouldn’t prevent it. Worse, since dairy cattle are fed fishmeal, anyone who consumes dairy products is a fish-eater, and they might actually be contributing to the acceleration of the date when the inevitable famine occurs.
Well, that period of ten years came and went nine years ago, but as we’ve seen, the attempt to foist veganism on us continues.
Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us
Although I didn’t specifically select the above article, which appeared on the Guardian’s website (it was actually an Observer report) on 22nd February 2004, it surely ranks up there with the best of them. Sub-headings to the article were truly apocalyptic:
“Secret report warns of rioting and nuclear war”
“Britain will be ‘Siberian’ in less than 20 years”
“Threat to the world is greater than terrorism”
It might be argued that the Pentagon report shouldn’t be taken seriously, on the basis, perhaps, that the threats it mentioned were just possibilities that had to be considered, along with a whole host of other threats that might not happen but which should nevertheless be included in the planning process, as a matter of prudence. Unfortunately for those who seek to dismiss the report on that basis, that’s not how the Observer reported on it – far from it.
As early as “next year” (i.e 2005) widespread flooding caused by sea level rise “will” (no conditionality or doubt in that word) create major upheaval for millions, we were solemnly assured. Leading scientists didn’t seem to be rushing to caveat these warnings. On the contrary, the article assured us that respected scientists criticised the Bush administration for cherry-picking science to suit its own agenda and suppressing studies it didn’t like. Suppressing the Pentagon report for four months was a further example of the White House seeking to bury the threat of climate change. The firm implication is that respected climate scientists supported and agreed with the Apocalyptic contents of the Pentagon report, and that the reader should be scared witless too.
Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former IPCC chair was quoted at great length, stressing the importance of the document and the need to take it seriously, as was Sir John Houghton. It’s difficult to pretend that the climate establishment didn’t jump on this document and use it to push its agenda.
Ten years to change our ways, warns UN report
On 27th November 2007, the Guardian followed up the above heading with the dramatic opening sentence:
“The world has less than a decade to change course to avoid irreversible ecological catastrophe, the UN warned today”.
The methodology might by now seem familiar. The report, which ran to 400 pages, was commissioned by the UN Development Programme, and was timed to appear just one month ahead of the climate summit (COP) in Bali, where the plan was to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto protocol. A cynic might say that we’re witnessing the same thing in 2021 ahead of COP26 in Glasgow.
James Lovelock: ‘Enjoy life while you can: In 20 years global warming will hit the fan’
Despite the Apocalyptic heading, however, this piece, from 1st March 2008, rather goes against the grain of constant Guardian campaigning for action against climate change before it’s too late. Among other things, Lovelock is quoted as claiming:
- It’s too late. Things like “sustainable development” are just words that don’t mean anything.
- Carbon off-setting is a joke. Paying money to plant trees probably makes things worse. Far better to pay an organisation like Cool Earth to pay native peoples not to cut down their forests.
- He doesn’t restrict the number of flights he takes.
- Recycling is almost certainly a waste of time and energy.
- “Green” lifestyles amount to little more than “grand ostentatious gestures”.
- Ethical consumption is a scam.
- You won’t get enough energy from wind to run a society like the UK.
Nevertheless, the central message is pretty much that we’re all doomed.
The shape of British summers to come?
On the back of a few rubbish summers in the UK, this piece saw the light of day on 8th August 2012. Based on that, presumably, it warned that the claims of a Mediterranean climate were probably wrong, and that melting Greenland ice might be leading to a change in the jet stream, bringing more low pressures and cool, wet weather over the UK in the summer.
In fairness the article did include the caveat that it was too soon to make any claims with certainty, but it’s quite amusing to see the attempts to link any temporary weather change to climate change and to try to scare the reader. It’s also amusing to observe the BBC just seven and a half years later (ironically after a run of hot, dry summers following on from the Met Office’s warning of the likelihood of cool, wet summers) running an article with this heading:
“Dry, hot summers could become ‘common’ in Scotland”.
Appearing on 3rd February 2020, the BBC article reported on a report prepared by the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford and the Met Office. Melting Greenland ice and moving jet streams, with runs of low pressures tumbling across the UK in summer were no longer on the agenda. Instead, summers are going to be hot and dry. And, just as the wet cool summers were the fault of climate change and should scare us, so the hot, dry summers are the fault of climate change and should scare us. A small number of positives were mentioned in the report, but the whole gist of the piece is negative and scary – water shortages, pests, reduced crop yields, impact of grouse numbers, wildfires, buckling rails causing train companies problems, roads melting, coat and jumper sales suffering, distilleries closing due to water shortages.
Ice-free Arctic in two years heralds methane catastrophe – scientist
Published on 24th July 2013, this refers to the famous Peter Wadham’s paper in Nature. It features one of the Guardian’s favourite tactics (one beloved of the BBC, too) – a scary headline, and opening paragraph, with a much more nuanced story following on. In this case, the opening paragraph warns of the potential destabilisation of the climate system as a result of a massive methane pulse from the thawing Arctic permafrost. In turn, this could result in costs as high as the world’s GDP. It might happen over 50 years, or it might happen catastrophically fast.
We have 12 years to limit climate catastrophe, warns UN
This story was published in the Guardian on 8th October 2018. It was sub-headed “Urgent changes needed to cut risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty, says IPCC”.
Even that wasn’t scary enough for some people. Bob Ward was quoted as saying that the final document was “incredibly conservative”. Why? Because it didn’t mention the “likely” rise in climate-driven refugees or the danger of tipping-points.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that this attempt to ramp up concerns took place just two months before COP 24 in Katowice. Sadly for the Guardian, Katowice is generally regarded as a failure, with many difficult questions postponed to COP 25.
This article hasn’t attempted to prove anything. The only conclusions I can draw are that the Guardian (and it’s far from alone in this, of course) has run a consistent campaign to generate fear around a concept of climate apocalypse. Much of what it does is legitimate – for instance, it always reports on third party comments and reports. The problem, to my mind, isn’t with the science behind all this; rather it’s with the way in which the science is used to put the worst possible spin on anything to do with the climate, and to shoehorn climate apocalypse into almost any story about almost any subject). I also sense, rightly or wrongly, a definite attempt to ramp up pressure in the run-up to COPs, an attempt which has intensified and commenced much earlier than usual in the UK media in the run-up to this year’s event in the UK. Things (and I’m not talking about the climate) are, I fear, only likely to get worse.