Category Archives: Media

The BBC and the Climate Crisis

Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s Chief Scientist, tweeted this graph from the IEA, and stated ‘Anyone would think, given their prominence, that oil companies were at the centre of the energy transition. But the numbers show they aren’t- they are peripheral, and should be treated as such until they change’

I would love to see the BBC tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis properly. So far, in all my decades of watching TV I’ve never once seen the kind of programme that I think the county, and the world, is crying out to see.

A couple of weeks ago Panorama tried to address the issues with a programme called ‘Why Are We Still Searching for Fossil Fuels?’ In it Richard Bilton looks at the expansion plans of fossil fuel companies and shows how far they exceed any safe carbon budget. We are on course for catastrophic climate change. 20 minutes and 55 seconds into the programme Richard Bilton states ‘The oil and gas companies are so enormous, they operate at such vast volumes, it is really hard to get a solution to climate change without their involvement.’ This fundamentally misunderstands the processes of change, and makes telling the more positive stories in relation to the climate and biodiversity crisis impossible to tell. Nearly all the exciting innovation is coming from new start-ups and not from the old energy incumbents. (The above pie chart shows how little of the cleantech investments are coming from fossil companies: just 1%. They are irrelevent)

In 2017 I posted a blog under the title ‘Can Companies Change?’ In it I contrasted the Danish company DONG, formally the Danish Oil and Gas Company, who gradually developed into the world’s largest offshore wind developer, sold off all their fossil fuel interests and changed their name to Orsted. They are one of the very few fossil fuel companies to make this kind of transition. Peabody, formally the world’s largest coal producer, failed to change, and filed for bankruptcy in 2016. Most of the big oil and gas companies have dabbled in renewables, but for most of them it is a tiny share of their total capital investments. Probably they have now left it too late to change. It seems ever more likely that many of the big oil and gas companies will fail to change and go bankrupt as demand for their products withers in the face of cleantech expansion.

The fast growing renewables and cleantech sector is utterly dominated by new start-ups. That is where technical innovation is happening. Social innovation is happening in many ways, often led by cities. Ecological restoration is being led by many farmers and pioneering organizations.

A number of programmes could focus on solar power. The improved performance and falling price of solar panels is rapidly expanding their deployment in most, but not all, countries. It would be good to hear more about community ownership projects like The Big Solar Co-op, the way China is massively investing in solar power, and how solar is transforming villages across Africa. Offshore wind is really taking off in many places, and it would be good to hear more about this. Surplus wind and solar power will need to be stored for times of little sun or wind, and energy storage, like solar panels, are undergoing rapid change. Recent advances in, for example, sodium-ion batteries for grid electricity storage or e-methanol for fuelling shipping are signs of profound change. In the EU primary energy demand peaked in 2006 and has been slowly declining since.* As renewables exponentially expand, the demand for fossil fuels will inevitably dwindle. Other regions, such as Latin America, are following this path, and eventually all countries will.

Many cities are decreasing car dependency through investing in walking, cycling, public transport, and also as more people work from home, cities will see their need for cars and oil decrease rapidly, and air quality and human health improve. On numerous rewilding and ecological farming projects biodiversity is beginning to recover, and to flourish. This can be done while also producing energy, more and better food and employment. I would love to see programmes about these things made and presented by the people pioneering them, not by BBC journalists, none of whom seem to have much understanding about any of these changes.

Over the thirteen years that I’ve been writing these blogs, and over the coming years, I’ll try and continue to write about some of these profound and positive changes that give hope in the face of the climate and biodiversity crisis. Many of the technologies and land use systems that so inspire me would make excellent television: they are very visual things, but I’ve never seen any of them given the coverage they deserve on television.

Wolfgang Blau, co-founder of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network, tweeted on 22nd November that ‘We are worrying too much about the climate science deniers and not enough about the much, much larger part of the population that is very worried about global warming but doesn’t hear enough about the many emerging solutions’.

I couldn’t agree more!

  • (* Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, with data from the Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy 2023)

The News

BBC’s Broadcasting House

Apparently Radio 4’s Today programme has lost a million listeners in the last year, and presenter Nick Robinson puts this down to ‘news avoiders’. This may be true of some people, but, I think, many others may be avoiding the BBC for quite the opposite reason. It fails to properly cover the news. Typically the BBC puts two opposing views on in the belief that this represents balance. Often one of these points of view is a professional lobbyist from one of the Tufton Street ‘think tanks’, that are all funded by unaccountable sources, usually foreign billionaires and fossil fuel companies. They should not be referred to as ‘think tanks’, rather more accurate would be ‘propaganda units of fossil-fuel corporations and oligarchic power’ (but that is rather a mouthful!)

This BBC belief in balance is misguided. When pitting someone who consistently lies up against someone who rigorously sticks to verifiable facts and claiming this is a balanced view seems bonkers to me. (I did write a blog on this in 2014). It is the job of journalists to speak truth to power, and the BBC and much of the media are failing to do this.

The ways in which I absorb the news has changed much over the years. In the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s sometimes I owned a TV but often I didn’t. I never regularly bought a daily newspaper but did subscribe to the Guardian Weekly, and I did listen to BBC World Service and Radio 4 quite a lot. Magazines such as Resurgence, Undercurrents, Vole, the UNESCO Courier, Ecologist and many others were very important to me. I lived and travelled in many countries and always tried to gauge how good local sources of information were, and often visited public libraries.  

I started using computers in universities and libraries in the late 1980’s and in 1996 bought my first computer and connected into the World Wide Web. The internet changed my life, or at least how I accessed information. I had long been interested in climate change, ecological destruction and the possibilities of turning these crises around through profoundly different lifestyles. I had experimented, living without electricity and visiting numerous projects working on renewables and sustainable ways of living. I had often travelled miles to visit projects. Now I could digitally access a vast number of projects and ideas very quickly. I started a long process to researching a book, then giving talks and running evening classes, and writing these blogs. Eventually I got my book written.

I joined Twitter in 2012 and it has become quite a big part of my interaction with the world of news and ideas. I could carefully select the academics, politicians, activists and journalists who I thought asked the best questions or provided the most truthful and factually accurate information. I made a point of following young climate activists from every corner of the World. I wanted to hear the voices of the poor and oppressed directly, as actors in their own right, not portrayed as helpless victims of circumstance, in need of western benevolence, as is so often the case in our media.

Since Elon Musk bought Twitter he has tried to swing it as a tool to present his own pro billionaire oligarchic views, and so is inevitably soft on Putin. He may have bought Twitter with the objective of silencing the voices of those pressing for climate action and global social justice. He may find that impossible. Twitter is a battle ground. Musk has lost a lot of money and done much damage, and he could yet be ousted. Many Twitter users would love to see the back of him.

Most of the newspapers in UK are owned by foreign billionaires and the client journalists they train then go on to be the main presenters of radio and television. I can’t see myself going back to watching TV, reading newspapers or listening to the radio unless there are some very big changes at the top of these organizations. The fact that Tory Party donor and Brexiteer Richard Sharp was made Chairman of the BBC highlights the bias of the BBC. The BBC would never make someone with my views Chair, so next week I’ll write a blog, painting a picture of the media I’d love to see, if only I had some influence over it!

Understanding Ukraine

Ever since my youthful travels in Eastern Europe in the 1970’s and 1980’s I’ve been interested in the region. I had one or two friends of Ukrainian origin, but like most British people, or like most West Europeans, I knew remarkably little about the country.

Since the full-on Russian invasion of 24th February 2022 I have been trying to follow events and to read as much as possible. Generally the British media has been very poor at covering the situation. In my book ‘System Change Now!’ I added a postscript, written in April 2022, informed in large part by a number of excellent commentators from the eastern regions of Europe. I stand by all that I said in that postscript, but since April much has happened, and many lessons are there to be learnt.

On this blog I usually single out a person of the year, and a technology of the year. For me the technology of the year has been the You Tube video: it is how experts can get complex and important messages out, when the mainstream media is obsessed with trivia and a welter of un-reflected upon events.

This blog’s person of the year award goes to Timothy Snyder whose lecture series ‘The Making of Modern Ukraine’ has helped me, and millions of others, even many Ukrainians, better understand their history and from that basis how better to understand the current war. It is a series of 23 lectures presented to students at Yale University and to the world via You Tube. Each lecture is about fifty minutes long, twenty presented by Professor Timothy Snyder and the other three by guest lecturers, so watching them all is quite a time commitment. I have watched all 23, and a couple of them I’ve watched all through a couple of times, and made notes.

I do recommend watching the whole series in order, from one to twenty-three to get the broad sweep of the last couple of thousand years, as rival empires and cultures influence events in what gradually becomes modern Ukraine. Lecture 20 in the series is presented by Professor Marci Shore and focuses on a couple of key periods, around the 2004 elections, and then the winter of 2013 to 2014 with the Maidan protests and the grassroots building of democracy. The final lecture in the series, presented by Timothy Snyder, explores why we in much of Western Europe, and in Russia, misunderstand events in Ukraine in large part by our failure to properly come to terms with our own imperial past, and how that shapes our current misinterpretation of events. Essential watching!