Rusbridger’s Balls

Alex Cull has recently published two wonderfully weird transcripts of podcasts at Guardian Environment, at https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/2015/20150312_gn and at https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/2015/20150319_gn They confirm something we’ve all suspected for years. The editor and top journalists of a major newspaper have gone stark raving mad. I do recommend anyone fascinated by the death throes of a once great newspaper to to read the transcripts, and even to listen to the original podcasts, which can be found at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-change under the heading “Keep it in the ground”. The first one is at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/12/find-a-new-way-to-tell-the-story-how-the-guardian-launched-its-climate-change-campaign It recounts how Rusbridger decided to celebrate his last few months as Guardian editor-in-chief with a campaign to bring climate change to the forefront of politics. It all started, (he says) with a chance meeting with climate activist Bill McKibben in Stockholm where they’d both flown to receive prizes for their services to humanity (well-deserved in Rusbridger’s case, I may add). They dined together, and Rusbridger, who admits to “being not very good at numbers” came away from the meeting with a slogan “The oil in the soil and the coal in the hole.” (As a children’s skipping rhyme it’s not bad – on a par with: “One McKibben, two McKibben, three McKibben, four…” – as a policy for one of the world’s great powers – not so much…) As I mentioned in a comment at http://theconversation.com/guardian-fortunes-appear-revived-as-leadership-contest-enters-home-straight-38563#comment_620464 “Few things in life are inevitable, except death and retirement, and Rusbridger is facing the latter. The Guardian podcast claims that Rusbridger caught “climatitis” three months ago in Sweden from meeting Bill McKibben, which is an odd claim given that in Rusbridger’s 20 years as editor of the Guardian he’s published about 15,000 articles on climate change, at least 25 of which were written by McKibben. In a debate sponsored by Greenpeace in 2012 Rusbridger was already boasting about having ten or eleven full time climate journalists, each one with three or four degrees (doesn’t he know that anything over two degrees is dangerous?) and about the same time Environment editor James Randerson told the Times of India that climate change was “official Guardian policy”. So it’s a bit odd to see a podcast headlining Rusbridger’s pet project and featuring Rusbridger himself claiming that he only caught the bug in 2014. But then his journalistic project is to change the world, not to pursue the normal journalistic ends of truth and rational argument. Which brings me to a tentative hypothesis about Rusbridger and the way the entire climate debate is conducted: when you’re faced with the inexorable, anything goes.” One of the most recent Guardian articles so far (but they’re coming thick and fast, and especially thick – as two short planks – or as two Plancks short of a Quark, to be exact) at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/16/argument-divesting-fossil-fuels-overwhelming-climate-change begins: “The world has much more coal, oil and gas in the ground than it can safely burn. That much is physics. Anyone studying the question with an open mind will almost certainly come to a similar conclusion: if we and our children are to have a reasonable chance of living stable and secure lives 30 or so years from now, according to one recent study 80% of the known coal reserves will have to stay underground, along with half the gas and a third of the oil reserves. If only science were enough.” Alas, science is never enough. 30 years or so from now, according to the most pessimistic forecasts of the IPCC, the world will have warmed about a degree or so. An intelligent person would observe that the world hasn’t warmed at all in the past eighteen years, and might wonder about the reliability of IPCC forecasts. But Rusbridger is not an intelligent person (he admits himself in his very first podcast that maths is not his strong point.) Still, even a very stupid person should be able to see that physics doesn’t actually have anything to say about how many tons of coal should stay underground. Physicists don’t dig coal. Chinamen do that. (And Poles and Australians, and a diminishing number of Britons.) Which brings me to my politico-psychological conclusion. British coal is being kept in the ground (and I remember an article – in the Guardian – that stated that there was enough coal in one deep mine in Leicestershire to meet Britain’s energy requirements for four centuries) because of one person – the late Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher, in her battle against the miners, taught the world a lesson of historic significance, which has been well learnt by a number of democratically elected leaders since – Putin and Netanyahu among others – that a democratically elected government can do anything it likes to stifle a popular movement. The left in Britain was castrated by Thatcher’s victory over the miners. Rusbridger is the living representative of that event. His shrill cries reverberate in our media – though his petition to keep the Pole in his hole and the African in his unlighted smoke-filled mud hut received a tenth of the signatures of the petition to bring Clarkson back on Top Gear. He is a force to be reckoned with – even singing soprano.

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14 Responses to Rusbridger’s Balls

  1. TinyCO2 says:

    I’m glad you’ve temporarily come out of retirement for this. The Guardian podcasts really are weird squared. I can fully understand them having these mad free thinking sessions but to record them, play them back and think ‘you know what, I’ll let everyone else see how mad we are by posting them online.’

    As you point out, he starts by lying about suddenly getting the climate bug. Either that or he hasn’t been reading the output of his journalists. Or he has had some sort of memory incident and really thinks he hasn’t ruled over green central. Whichever option, they don’t inspire admiration or confidence.

    They fail to ask even basic questions like ‘do people who invest in fossil fuels read the Guardian or care enough about being shamed by them to shy away from huge profits?’ Their pension company may be persuaded to disinvest for them but only on the firm understanding that green shares can go down as well as down a lot. The last company to go ‘ethical’ is the Co-op bank. How are they doing now?

    I’m not sure whether to rejoice or be depressed at these recordings. They demonstrate crumbling sanity. On the one side it shows a group of people with no skills to achieve their goals but on the other, it pretty much rules out them seeing sense any time soon.

  2. oldfossil says:

    Re divestment: Stock exchanges are close to being perfect markets. They operate on the laws of supply and demand. If the conscience-stricken worriers dump their shares on the market, the prices of those stocks will fall. From that it follows that the sellers will get less for their shares, thus hurting their own institutions. At the same time, those who like fossil fuel stocks will be able to buy them for less, and in hardly any time at all the shares will return to their normal market price. While all this is happening, Exxon, Shell, BP et al will worry not a whit because it isn’t hurting them in any way whatsoever.

  3. TinyCO2 says:

    oldfossil, I think even the Guardian people worked this out but they’re going to do it anyway. They decided it was easier to tackle the relatively small number of fossil fuel companies rather than the end users (ie us) because they thought the latter would be too tough.

  4. alexjc38 says:

    Could of course be wrong, but like TinyCO2 I think they’re going to go down the “sexy” divestment campaign road. If so, it will be interesting to see if their attitude in any way changes towards the Grantham Institute (and those on the Grantham payroll, such as Bob Ward), which is of course part funded with money from investments in oil companies. Here’s Jeremy Grantham, writing about asset management firm GMO and oil in the Guardian two years ago:
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2013/apr/16/jeremy-grantham-food-oil-capitalism

    “Coal and tarsands are not even 1% of a typical portfolio. Oil and gas, as one of the biggest industries out there, is huge, but coal and tarsands is negligible. Far better to nail that and send a very powerful signal.” So he disagrees with Bill McKibben, and is saying basically that divestment campaigns should concentrate on coal and oil sands, rather than targetting all fossil fuel companies.

    Could GMO’s fund managers now come under fire from the Guardian as “amoral investors”, I wonder, as per comments during last week’s podcast?

  5. Old fossil is surely right about the futility of disinvestment. Rusbridger continually makes the comparison with the anti-apartheid campaign, but when black people withdrew their custom from banks which invested in South Africa, even if the banks didn’t suffer financially, they clearly did morally. An American bank just couldn’t afford politically to be boycotted by the black population.
    But the Greens are not an exploited underclass, and Shell and BP aren’t beleaguered dictatorships.
    I’m not at all sure (pace TinyCO2) that the Guardian people have worked this out. Their campaign muddles a justifiable moral objection to the excesses of frontier capitalism with the supposed wrongs that hypothetical warming might afflict on unborn generations. The former is the long boring campaign of the left for centuries. It means fighting for civil rights, trade unions, and the rule of law in the developing economies of the Third World, and frankly, it’s not sexy. Doris Lessing – the archetypal Hampstead Thinker (Ms Dutt-Pauker with a Nobel Prize) dealt with this at length in her novels. The Guardian does this on the unread inside pages. But it’s not physics. And the self-confessed innumerate Rusbridger has got the idea that only physics can justify doing things.
    The left is in a bad way. You can read Rusbridger’s campaign as the last gasp of a failing newspaper, or as the sign of something more serious.

  6. TinyCO2 says:

    It does play a bit like a nervous breakdown.

  7. Reports of this blog’s demise were happily of the Mark Twain variety.

    “Keep it in the ground” surely cries out for a Josh cartoon featuring an ostrich. Given Matt Ridley’s point in the WSJ recently that fossil fuels accounted for 87% of world energy supply in 2003 and, wait for it, after so much straining to inject renewables, 87% in 2013.

    The rest of the imagery I’ll leave to greater brains.

  8. It’s hard to tell whether there’s an element of self-mockery in this.
    It’s almost like an episode of “Apocalypse Close”-

    “To the rescue, the fine mind of George Monbiot. He suggests a global political solution.
    First, there has to be a global recognition of the issue…
    Some people would say it’s optimistic, for the Guardian, possibly even a tad arrogant, to think they can enact this kind of change in just six months. ”

    Oldfossil’s point about divestment not achieving much is in fact in there, in Moonbat’s muddled paragraph towards the end, “because it’s not actually going to change anything.”

  9. johanna says:

    The other interesting aspect of the divestment campaign is that it potentially runs smack bang into the legal obligations of trustees.

    Things like pension funds and university endowment funds are typically constituted as trusts, and the trustees’ primary obligation, or fiduciary duty, is to maximise returns for the trust.
    “Saving da planet” or supporting political campaigns doesn’t cut it in this context. Unless they can demonstrate that trust beneficiaries will, at a minimum, be no worse off – which is very difficult to do – they can be exposed to civil and even criminal action.

    I’m surprised that nobody has taken some of the divestors to court already over this. Although, a mining company in Australia is suing the Australian National University for publicly proposing to divest from its shares because of alleged unethical/environmentally unfriendly behaviour. The company claims that the report this decision was based on is false and misleading. They don’t care about the Uni selling their shares, but do care about the damage to their reputation.

  10. jamspid says:

    Alan Rusbridger looking forward to Death and Retirement.
    But before that a nice new comfy seat in the House of Lord.

  11. Jamspid
    House of Lords first, followed much later (one hopes) by the House of the Lord.

    Discussion has taken off about this at
    http://theconversation.com/the-guardians-fossil-fuel-divestment-campaign-could-do-more-harm-than-good-39000
    with interventions by Robin Guenier, Paul Matthews, and lately by me. The Wellcome Trust has given the Guardian the thumbs down, the cold shoulder, and the finger in one magnificent gesture, as is reported in no less than three articles at Guardian/Climate Change.

  12. TinyCO2 says:

    I’m not sure I want to dissuade the Guardian from their plan. If they’re messing about with that, they’re not doing something more effective. On the to do list of campaigning the next phase is free awareness badges, followed by a poetry competition.

  13. alexjc38 says:

    Episode 3 is now out, and I’ve transcribed it, here:
    https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/2015/20150327_gn

    So far, it’s been difficult for them to find anyone actually willing to divest. Wellcome have said no, the C of E and the MPs’ pension fund don’t seem too enthusiastic, even the Scott Trust are being cagey.

    Well, at least they’ve now sorted out the layout and font.

  14. TinyCO2 says:

    Thanks Alex. I love the bit where they get round to asking where the Guardian trust is invested and shouldn’t they lead by example. They’re only just thinking about their own position. Welcome to the real world of actually making things happen rather than nagging other people to do it for you. The money lot were panicking before things have even taken off. Hee, hee.

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