My concern in this article is once again with regard to the worrying trends in reporting all things climate-related. Nothing that follows is new to Cliscep readers, having already appeared by way of comments on other articles or at Open Mic. In many ways it is simply a follow-up to “Losing the Plot”i. However, I thought it would be useful to draw together some threads, rather than leave them scattered about the website in an unconnected way. I mentioned in one comment that when giving evidence in Court, the oath taken by witnesses obliges them to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. What follows are a couple of examples of Guardian and BBC stories which tell the truth, but which omit details that I think are interesting, salient, or vitally important, and which thereby, in my opinion, create a misleading impression.
Why is life on Earth still taking second place to fossil fuel companies?
This is the title of an articleii written by George Monbiot, and which appeared on the Guardian website on 19th August 2021. In the article Mr Monbiot expresses a number of opinions in terms which read as facts. I try hard to make it clear when something I write is opinion rather than fact, though I may not always succeed, so that is not really the essence of my issue with the article. The article also uses the tactic of embedded links in support of claims made, which creates the impression that something substantial backs up the claim. Yet frequently they are simply links to another Guardian story. I see that as being like a climate scientist who cites his own work time and time again, without citing the work of anyone else in support of his/her claims. That, however, is another minor quibble. Again, my problem is that the article makes statements which are, strictly, true, but which nevertheless omit qualifying details – we are given the truth, but not the whole truth, and the result is that a more strident picture is presented to readers than I think is justified by the facts. For instance, we are told:
Astonishingly, it is still government policy to “maximise economic recovery” of oil and gas from the UK’s continental shelf.
A link is offered up in support of this claim, and this time it is not to another Guardian article, but to the Oil & Gas Authority Strategy documentiii, an unimpeachable source, especially as it is dated 2021 and was “[p]resented to Parliament pursuant to Section 9G of the Petroleum Act 1998”.
It also says, just as George tells us, that a central obligation is that:
Relevant persons must, in the exercise of their relevant activities, take the steps necessary to secure that the maximum value of economically recoverable petroleum is recovered from the strata beneath relevant UK waters.
So, what’s my problem? It is that the central obligation doesn’t stop there. It goes on to say that in doing so, relevant persons must
take appropriate steps to assist the Secretary of State in meeting the net zero target, including by reducing as far as reasonable in the circumstances greenhouse gas emissions from sources such as flaring and venting and power generation, and supporting carbon capture and storage projects.
It is my contention that the additional words which form an integral part of the central obligation are directly relevant to the words which were quoted in the Guardian article, and that they massively qualify the words quoted. One can argue about the extent of the difference the qualifying words make, but that they do make a significant difference is, in my mind, unarguable. So why were they omitted from the Guardian article? By providing a quote from a paper with a link, it is clear that Mr Monbiot has read the document. My guess is that if they were included, and the whole truth was made known to Guardian readers, rather than merely a partial truth, then the article would have been much less punchy – more than that, the central tenet that
as our house burns, the government sends in the tanker trucks to spray petrol on the flames
is more than a little harder to sustain if the whole quote is before the readers of the article.
The article also tells us:
An analysis by conservation charity WWF suggests that, while the last UK budget allocated £145m for environmental measures, it dedicated £40bn to policies that will increase emissions.
Again a link is offered, but this time it’s to another Guardian articleiv. I searched in vain for a link in either article to a report or analysis by the WWF that would back up the claim. The other article, linked to in George’s piece, does, however, say this:
A spokesperson for the Treasury said the government rejected the WWF analysis. “These misleading claims fail to recognise the £12bn we already pledged to spend in support of our 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. The budget built on that with further funding allocations and ambitious plans on green finance, and the UK Infrastructure Bank, which will help finance green projects across the UK.”
One can argue about whether the Treasury’s claims are more accurate than those made by WWF. In the interests of balance, however, George might have mentioned them.
This was the title to an articlev written by the BBC’s Scotland Climate Change reporter, Harriet Bradshaw, and which appeared on the BBC’s website on 21st August 2021. It struck me as not being in any way “news”, but simply propaganda ahead of COP 26. However, that’s my personal opinion only, and others may well legitimately disagree. What troubled me about the article was that it opened by referring to pressure on accommodation in Glasgow for those attending COP 26, then said:
But climate activists are having to look to a network of city residents to help them out.
Tami Pein is charging just £5 a night for the use of a spare room in her flat in the south of Glasgow….Tami, who describes herself as a “passionate community organiser and climate activist”, says she feels like COP26 is the most important negotiation of her lifetime.
For her, it is important that people from around the world who are affected by climate change can afford to be represented in Glasgow. …
…Tami does not yet know who will be staying in her room but she will be using the Homestay Network, set up by the COP26 Coalition campaigners, which will allow her to chat with people who might need her spare room.
“I completely understand the concerns about welcoming in a stranger into your home but, for me, we have bigger fish to fry,” she says. “We’ve got climate change to tackle here.”
So far so good. But who is Tami Pein? So far as the BBC report is concerned, we’re simplytold that she is a city resident and that she “describes herself as a “passionate community organiser and climate activist”.” No further information is supplied. This, to my mind, is an example of the BBC telling us the truth, but not the whole truth. For the whole truth is that although Tami is indeed a Glasgow city resident and a passionate community organiser and climate activist, she is also more than that. It was the work of a few seconds on the internet to discover that Tami is a COP Events and Venues Officer who has worked for Stop Climate Chaos Scotlandvi for more than a year now:
Tami joined Stop Climate Chaos Scotland in April 2020 to work on coordinating events and managing the Climate Hub for the COP26. She has a degree in Environment and Business Sustainability from Leeds University. Since graduating she has worked as a climate change educator, chess and DJ teacher. Tami is an events enthusiast and has organised Leeds’ largest activist gathering, a 200 person food waste banquet and sustainable arts festival.
Does it matter? Perhaps not, but I think it does. The BBC article creates the impression that Tami is a resident of Glasgow who is sufficiently concerned about climate change to be an organiser and activist and who therefore is willing to let out a room to a complete stranger attending COP 26 out of the goodness of her heart for a mere £5 per night. However, the reality is that her job is co-ordinating events and managing the Climate Hub for COP 26. She is heavily invested (in more ways than one) in the success of COP 26. In order for readers to reach an informed view about this part of the story, I think they should have been told what Tami’s job is. I think it’s inconceivable that Harriet Bradshaw was unaware of this highly relevant background. So why didn’t she mention it?
The article then moves on to talk about another Glasgow city resident who is opening his home up to climate activists attending COP 26:
Martin Johnstone gave me a virtual tour around his third-floor tenement flat and the twin room that has been snapped up by two German activists – whose purse strings, like many younger people, are tighter than most. [Not so tight that they can’t afford to travel to Glasgow from Germany, however].
“It is vital that those who come from the poorest countries [Germany? Poor?] in the world and those who represent the youngest people on our planet have a voice,” he says.
“They couldn’t afford to be here unless people were actually willing to open their homes to them.”
“The cost of accommodation in the city for those two weeks of COP is astronomical if you are going to hotels or guest houses.,” he says.
And that is all we’re told about Martin. A few seconds on the internet, however, led me to another websitevii, where I found this:
A Church of Scotland minister has been appointed by Glasgow Churches Together – the ecumenical forum for churches in Glasgow – as their ambassador to the UN climate change conference CoP26, which comes to the city in November.
The Rev Dr Martin Johnstone will work with member churches, ecumenical organisations, civil society groups and the Scottish and UK governments to seek transformational outcomes from the high profile summit.
Dr Johnstone, who also served in a number of high-profile roles at the Church’s administrative offices in Edinburgh, said he was ‘humbled’ to take on the role.
He added: “Our churches, alongside many others, have a vital role to play in ensuring that those who will make planet-defining decisions in Glasgow this November know that they must be bold and courageous. As well as calling for change, as followers of Jesus we must demonstrate that change both in what we do in the months leading up to COP26 and in the decades following it.”
Happily, both websites include pictures of Martin, and I’m pretty confident that they are one and the same person. So Martin isn’t simply a concerned Glasgow resident – he too is heavily invested in COP 26. Funny Harriet didn’t mention it. Did it slip her mind?
Those who write about climate change in the Guardian and at the BBC website are well-informed individuals. They are pushing an agenda in which they obviously sincerely believe. They might even be right (though obviously I don’t think they are). However, they are very good at writing articles that reveal only a partial truth, and in so doing create an impression which an objective person might think is misleading. If their case is so strong, why do they omit relevant details that detract from it?