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!

‘System Change Now!’ … What?

Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, announces lawsuit against 5 big oil companies, 17th Sept 2023

The book I wrote over the last couple of years was called ‘System Change Now!’ and I’m currently running a monthly discussion group with the title ‘Exploring System Change’. What exactly do I, and the millions of others seeking system change, mean?

As is all too apparent the climate is changing and extreme weather events are becoming ever more extreme, and ever more common. Countless species of plants and animals are becoming extinct or are in worrying decline. Many aspects of human health and wellbeing are deteriorating due to increasing pollution, poverty and stress. None of it has to be this way. Everything could be turned around, but that implies a scale of change inconceivable under present political and economic systems. So, those political and economic systems can and must be changed.

Changing global political and economic systems will not happen through a single manifesto or violent revolution, but it is already happening in myriad ways that interconnect into a complex ecosystem of change making.

For decades big oil has known about the likely climate impacts of burning oil, and has systematically lied to us all about it. Their objective was to keep profits rolling in, whatever the terrible consequences might be. They funded, and continue to fund, think tanks that have dominated our media and our politics, and therefore our investments and our infrastructure. They have deliberately attacked climate scientists and delayed action to reduce emissions and have prevented any meaningful debate about leaving the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. At long last this is being challenged as Californian governor Gavin Newsom has filed a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP. Much more climate litigation will follow.

Simultaneously the whole cleantech and renewable energy sector is making massive strides forwards. Now quitting all fossil fuels and moving the entire global economy over to 100% renewables for everything, (electricity, heating, cooling, transport and industry) looks both economically and ecologically the most sensible thing to do, and do as fast as humanly possible.

In last week’s discussion group Nick Sherwood cited the old adage ‘Think Global: Act Local’. I find it endlessly fascinating to read and to think about these changing global possibilities, but our ability to act is severely limited on this global stage. Haydn, connecting into the group via livestreamed social media, wanted to know about the very local issue of why Hereford is so car-centric, and provision of walking and cycling infrastructure, and of public transport, is so poor. Of course decades of politicians and planners influenced by the lobbying power of big oil has not helped. But this can be turned around. We have countless examples of cities around the world that have massively reduced car use and promoted active travel, better public transport and localized services. Dutch and Danish cities have long since led on this, but Paris is now rapidly moving in this direction. Hand in hand with this often goes to desire to improve air quality and clean-up rivers and waterways, all resulting in major gains in terms of human health and wellbeing.

The interconnection between the local and the global is well demonstrated by this example. To help improve life in Hereford we need to learn from the cities that have made this transition away from cars and pollution and toward more human-friendly urban spaces. We need to debate the possibilities, and Professor John Whitelegg with be leading such a discussion, focused on the adoption of a 20mph speed limit, at De Koffie Pot, Left Bank, Hereford, 7.00pm tomorrow evening (Weds 20th Sept). We also need better politicians, and helping Ellie Chowns of the Green Party beat the Tory Bill Wiggin at the upcoming General Election would greatly help matters, as would Diana Toynbee unseating Jesse Norman. These are all small steps in a vast and global movement seeking to change our systems; our systems of transport planning, of politics, and of pretty much everything else.

Exploring System Change

Me with my placard, ‘Change Politics not the Climate’

Exploring ‘System Change’ with Richard Priestley. Starting on Thursday 14th September at 7.00pm, St John’s Methodist Church Hall (East St entrance) a monthly series of evenings discussing concepts around creating system change.

The first session will be an envisioning exercise. If extractive, consumer-driven capitalism is destroying the world, then what is the best kind of society that would meet human needs while allowing nature to recover? How does system change occur: what role for protest, innovation and living ethical lifestyles? If we had a lot of money, how could we invest it to solve multiple problems simultaneously?

My plan is for these discussion evenings to be on the 2nd Thursday of the month, starting on Thursday 14th September, then 12th October and 9th November. We may well continue in the New Year if people want to. The idea is that the questions we investigate, and what balance we make between me giving a talk and a more general open discussion, will in large part be determined by how the participants want these sessions to evolve.

Subsequent sessions might focus on themes such as:

What kind of economy (and politics) makes sense, given the realities of the global crisis (climate/biodiversity/inequality)?

Can we feed 8 billion people, while also restoring biodiversity” The answer to this is an emphatic Yes! (With a few very big IF’s and BUT’s)

From ‘The Fossil-Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’.” This is an exploration about how we move to 100% renewable energy for the whole world, for all uses, from electricity to transport, heating and cooling to industrial processes. (Progress on this front is happening much faster than most people understand.)

 These sessions are supported by Herefordshire Friends of the Earth.

For background see my book ‘System Change Now!’ or explore this blog. If you’ve questions e-mail