Not surprisingly, in these days of rapidly rising prices, barely affordable energy (with prices subsidised by those yet unborn, who will have to foot the bill) and chaotic governance, people are taking to the streets to protest. The problem with the protests, however, is that much of it is itself chaotic, if the BBC’s reporting of protestors’ unhappiness and demands is to be taken seriously.
The BBC reported on the protests in its increasingly semi-literate manner (“Protests held over climate crisis and energy rises”). Of course, it means that people are protesting about energy price rises. Reporting on yesterday’s events, we are told by the BBC that:
Protests have been taking place across the UK on a day of action highlighting issues including the increased cost of living and the climate crisis…
…Members of Extinction Rebellion (XR), Just Stop Oil and the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) were also among those marching in London on Saturday….
Then we move to some specific complaints by individuals, singled out by the BBC to be interviewed:
A woman called Meg, a member of Doctors For Extinction Rebellion, who was taking part in the march said: “This is a climate emergency and people are already dying, more are going to die from the effects of climate change.”
The problem I have with Meg’s complaint is that it simply isn’t true, at least not in terms of the bigger picture. Climate/weather-related deaths are around 1% of their levels 100 or so years ago.
And, as I noted in Losing The Plot, a study published on the Lancet Planetary Health website, and titled “Global, regional, and national burden of mortality associated with non-optimal ambient temperatures from 2000 to 2019: a three-stage modelling study” demonstrates (despite the contrary spin given to it when the Guardian reported on it) that 8.52% of “deaths related to non-optimal temperatures” were explainable by cold temperatures, and 0.91% were explainable by hot temperatures. A human inhabitant of planet earth is almost 10 times more likely to die of cold than of heat. Furthermore, the:
study also explored the temporal change in temperature-related mortality burden from 2000 to 2019. The global daily mean temperature increased by 0·26°C per decade during this time, paralleled with a large decrease in cold-related deaths and a moderate increase in heat-related deaths.
In other words, climate change, in the form of warming, from 2000 to 2019 saved a lot more lives than it cost.
On the other hand, it is true to say that a lack of face to face GP appointments is costing lives. Another story this week on the BBC website, which is sadly not an isolated occurrence, is headlined “Dying patient should have been seen in person” and we are told
NHS officials ruled a man who died after his ear infection was not picked up in GP telephone consultations should have been seen face to face, a BBC Newsnight investigation has found.
David Nash, 26, had four remote consultations over three weeks during Covid restrictions but was never offered an in-person appointment.
His infection led to a fatal abscess on his brainstem.
…David first spoke to the practice on 14 October 2020, after finding lumps on his neck.
He sent a photograph but was never examined.
With David worried the lumps might be cancerous, the GP asked a series of questions about his health and reassured him that while she could not rule it out completely, she was not worried about cancer.
She suggested he booked a blood test for two to three weeks’ time.
In those three weeks, David would go on to speak to another GP and two advanced nurse practitioners but never face to face or via video call.
That tragic case occurred during the first year of the covid epidemic, when there was a particular reluctance on the part of health professionals to see their patients. Since then, the NHS has decided that saving the planet trumps patients’ needs when it comes to face-to-face appointments.
And then there’s the astonishing number of GPs who don’t work a full week. My local GP practice has thirteen GPs. Of those, five work a two-day week; one works a two and a half day week; three work a three-day week; and four work a four-day week. None work a five-day week. No wonder it is so difficult to see a GP. No wonder accident & emergency wards in hospital are so busy – they’re full of people who can’t see a GP.
As for Meg, a member of Doctors For Extinction Rebellion,the lady doth protest too much, methinks.
A man, giving his name as George, criticised the Conservatives’ record on fossil fuels and their financial record.
“No government can run if it’s spending more, like vastly more, than it’s bringing in,” he said.
Perhaps it’s unfair to pick on George, since it’s difficult to get across the full complexity of one’s views in two lines, but it does seem strange to criticise a government for not doing enough to reduce fossil fuel use (given that the process of swapping fossil fuels for renewables is extraordinarily expensive) and then go on to criticise it for spending more than it’s bringing in. If George had his way, the government’s financial position would be even more parlous.
Retired Army officer Mike Grant, 62, said: “The climate crisis hit the UK with a vengeance this summer. The science has been clear for years but now we are seeing what that means in reality.”
Unfortunately the BBC reporter didn’t go on to ask him what that reality is. I assume he’s referring to the hot dry summer just gone that wasn’t as consistently hot or dry as the summer of 1976. Yes, the drought might have caused some problems for farmers and crops, but it certainly wasn’t all bad news. While on holiday in Wales in August my wife and I met some farmers from Cambridgeshire. They were perfectly philosophical about the weather, telling us that their sugar beet crop had suffered greatly, but that their wheat harvest was spectacularly good, so that one balanced out the other. And the winery we visited in south Wales had enjoyed a bumper year too.
And architect Simon Clark, also 62, said: “The fossil fuel industry has openly enslaved our society, allowing it to create havoc in the environment whilst making record profits with complete impunity.”
Well, Mr Clark is entitled to his opinion, of course, but talk of the fossil fuel industry enslaving society seems more than a little over-done. On the contrary, I would suggest that the fossil fuel industry (whatever else it might or might not be responsible for) has facilitated an unprecedented improvement in living standards and quality of life all over the world. The good it has done to humanity exceeds the harms it has undoubtedly caused along the way. Enslaving society? Liberating it, more like.
Record profits with complete impunity? That would be renewables companies you’re think of – they trash the environment, earn windfall profits from constraints payments and by enjoying market prices instead of taking up cheaply priced contracts for difference, and don’t pay any windfall taxes, unlike fossil fuel companies in both the UK and the EU.
I am proud that I live in a country where people are free to protest, and I am concerned that constraints on those freedoms seem to have been slipping in recently. Long may the right to protest be upheld. But I do wish people would understand what they are protesting about before they go out there and shout. It would be nice if BBC fact-checkers had educated us about the claims made in the protests, instead of simply parroting them.