The sad tale of George Monbiot and climate ‘journalism’ gone horribly wrong

George Monbiot, journalist for British newspaper, The Guardian. Photo: The Guardian. 

The energy transition has begun. Resistance is futile. So is half-baked carping by climate journalists

Last month, influential British journalist George Monbiot published a criticism of the media’s role in the global “climate crisis” that illustrates why climate radicals should just shut up already.

Energy-transition-2Monbiot – and the salon-bred intellectuals like him who populate the environmental movement – are dangerous. They are romantics in a technological world. They love nature with a capital N and imagine that the only impediment to saving Nature from greedy corporations (e.g. Big Oil) and the politicians they own (e.g. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but not Bernie Sanders) is political will.

And the romanticism of thinkers like Monbiot is intoxicating to youth. Witness the Berniebros who almost brought down the Clinton empire during the Democratic primaries.

In his column, entitled “The climate crisis is already here – but no one’s telling us,” Monbiot makes three key points:

One, some really bad, hot weather is irrefutable evidence the climate crisis predicted for the second half of this century is already upon us.

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Two, both Clinton and Trump have sold out to corporate power and cannot be expected to lead the global economy out of the aforementioned climate crisis.

Three, the media is deeply complicit. Not only does the institution that writes Monboit’s paycheque minimize what he assumes are self-evidently the signs of climate crisis (e.g. wildfire storms across America), but the media also grants social license to the – oh, what shall we call them? – corporate rapers and polluters and their political stooges.

“If humanity fails to prevent climate breakdown, the industry that bears the greatest responsibility is not transport, farming, gas, oil or even coal. All of them can behave as they do, shunting us towards systemic collapse, only with a social licence to operate. The problem begins with the industry that, wittingly or otherwise, grants them this licence: the one for which I work,” he concludes.

Many books have been written about climate change and I have no desire to write another one. So, I’m going to grant him points one and two for the sake of brevity: yes, the climate crisis is here and yes, the new American president will be largely ineffectual to affect change.

But Monboit’s criticism of the media is dead wrong.

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Western media consumers are assailed each and every day with climate change information, arguments, science, debate, and even the odd fact, I suspect, until they are sick of them. Most Americans and Canadians accept that climate change is real, and that it will affect their lives, though a minority still don’t believe humans have played a role in global warming.

Welcome to democracy, not everyone agrees.

And who says media “grants” social license (think of that idea as legitimacy, the authorization by citizens for governments and corporations to operate in society)?

How does Monboit account for the horrible pollution of China and Russia, which don’t have independent media? Who granted social license to the carbon spewers of Saudi Arabia and Iran?

You know who grants social license to “transport, farming, gas, oil or even coal”? Consumers, that’s who.

Consumers like fresh food and reasonably-priced goods. They like gasoline for their cars and natural gas to heat their homes during a bone-chilling winter.

Consumers buy energy-intensive goods and services all day, every day and complain bitterly to their elected representatives when prices rise too high or availability falls too low.

Every time Monbiot flicks on the light switch or gas ring in his London flat he also votes for the social license of existing energy technologies.

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But here is the good news Monbiot and the many wooly-headed environmentalists like him ignore: those energy technologies are changing.

Turns out, politicians and corporations do take climate change and global warming seriously. Markets do respond with new, less GHG-intensive goods and services. Entrepreneurs do innovate and develop thousands – maybe millions, I don’t know that anyone has ever counted accurately – of new or improved technologies that will underpin the future environmentally sustainable economy.

And as a member of the media that regularly reports and writes about energy technologies of all kinds, I want to assure Mr. Monboit that the many experts I interview for my news stories and columns say the world has begun the “energy transition” he so shrilly clamors for. Every one. Economists, engineers, utility managers, Big Oil executives.

Every. Damn. One.

You just need to know where to look. My guess is that Monboit – like the many eco-activists I encounter on social media – is so consumed with confirmation bias that he’s not looking very hard.

If Monboit and his column were an outlier, my column wouldn’t be needed. But his outlook is reflected in so much traditional media and alt-media (which is probably far more influential in his world than mainstream media, anyway) that it deserves comment.

The world is changing for the better. And in a hurry. Monboit just has to read the right media (I’d argue that North American Energy News qualifies) to better understand the energy transition that is set to usher in his clean energy utopia.

Probably not until his great grandchildren’s generation, mind, but as noted author Vaclav Smil is fond of saying, energy revolutions arrive at a crawl.

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