Monthly Archives: February 2010

“Hurrah for the deniers!”

Publications such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express are eager to portray almost any event as proof of the end of civilisation as we know it. The sky is constantly falling. Around every street corner lurks a hooded paedo with a cancer-causing cucumber, employed by the BBC but with a hidden agenda to raise petrol prices to fund Muslim lawyers intent on forcing Britain to adopt Sharia law.

Standard, if depressing, stuff. They’re trying to sell newspapers and their tactic is to prey upon the fears of their target demographic.

But what this demographic doesn’t fear, it seems, is climate change. This demographic doesn’t believe in such a thing: it’s old enough to remember previous predictions by “so-called scientists” that failed to materialise, such as electricity “too cheap to meter” and space hotels by 2001. It also remembers how “science got it wrong”: thalidomide, Chernobyl. “Large Hadron Collider broken by bird dropping a baguette”. Those scientist fools. And French too, I bet.

When a scientist says that the evidence is clear, that there is strong consensus for man-made climate change and that we have little or no time to prevent its effects, they hear Charlie Brown’s teacher: “wah wah-wah wah wah”. They joke about how nice it’d be if Britain were as warm as the Algarve. They point to our coldest winter for thirty years as damning evidence against “global warming”.

And the newspapers, scenting sales, follow. The Daily Express now denies man-made climate change on its front page. It recently published a list of “100 reasons why climate change is natural” that has been strongly debunked by New Scientist and others. A few days ago its lead story ridiculed a report that claims the world’s had its warmest winter ever (nicely dissected at Enemies of Reason). And it presents small errors in huge reports, or general scientific rivalry, sloppiness and stupidity in email, as the entire house of cards collapsing.

Newspapers prey upon prejudices as well as fears. They feed, digest, multiply by ten, throw in a dodgy foreigner or two, and print. And the readers believe. And the cycle repeats, reinforcing those beliefs.

What does it matter? It’s the papers, not real life. Where’s the harm? The problem is that newspapers are stupidly influential. Newspapers get people on the streets hunting down paediatricians. Newspapers change government policy. In 1992 The Sun claimed It’s the Sun Wot Won It. Rupert Murdoch has the ear of David Cameron, and The Sun might win it again this year.

When a paper claims that X causes/cures cancer, for various values of X, the reader either disengages/engages with X or not: whether the claim is true or not, the world spins on. When a paper wants to Ban This Sick Filth, the reader harrumphs and turns the page, or tries to do something about it. Whether that week’s sick filth is banned or not, the world spins on. When a paper rattles its sabres at the imminent prospect of Sharia law throughout the land, they’re scare-mongering – it’s not going to happen. The world spins on.

But when a paper takes and promotes the position that climate change science is wrong, that we’re seeing natural change, that we have nothing to worry about, the consequences are serious. Politicians stop acting on climate change as it becomes a vote loser – “throwing money at something we don’t need to do while cucumber-wielding immigrant paedo bankers are on the loose”. I fear we’re seeing the start of this already: climate change is not one of the Conservative party’s “six key themes” for the election, and it isn’t front-and-centre on their web site (though there are details in the Policy section).

Broadsheet newspapers such as the Guardian and the Independent do still follow scientific consensus on climate change. But even they cannot resist the allure of the error, promoting a piss in the ocean of evidence to an acid rainstorm in a drought.

I don’t dispute that climate change scientists are on the back foot right now. But just as one fake fossil doesn’t disprove evolution, a bunch of egocentric scientists (pretty much tautological) and a couple of errors in a 2800-page report don’t undermine the remaining evidence. “I’m sorry, Miss Austen, although we very much enjoyed your manuscript Pride and Prejudice, I’m afraid we found a spelling error on page 53. REJECTED.” Small errors break space probes and computer programs: not climate science.

Perhaps the science is fundamentally wrong; perhaps not. But this is not a coin-toss. The odds are not 50-50. If you want to play the percentages, the odds are strongly in favour of the scientific consensus. There’s a distinct possibility that the sky really is starting to descend, that life as we know it will soon begin to change, and change significantly.

My belief is that, fifty years from now, the current crop of Daily Express headlines will look as bone-headed as the Daily Mail‘s 1934 Hurrah for the blackshirts! But by then all the politicians and newspaper editors involved will be long in their graves – and those not yet born will be living with the consequences of their decisions.


Leave a comment

Filed under Random

Old men, cretins and elephants

If ever further proof were needed that football is run by old men and cretins, I give you two recent items of news. And I’m not going to even mention John Terry.

First, the Confederation of African Football (Caf) bans Togo for two tournaments for the heinous crime of being ambushed by gunmen while travelling between venues at the recent Africa Cup of Nations. This ridiculous punishment was imposed because, apparently, the Togolese government “interfered” with the team: it told them to pull out of the tournament as a result of the attack.

Government interference in sport is, of course, a bad thing and not uncommon. But this letter-of-the-law kneejerk by the Caftwats betrays a bumbling level of crass insensitivity rivalled only by Kay “the entire eastern seaboard of the United States has been decimated by a terrorist attack” Burley on Sky News. It’d be like the International Olympic Committee kicking out Israel for trashing their rooms in Munich in 1972.

Second, the vague wafting of arthritic hands that supposedly constitutes action against homophobia by the Football Association. A campaign has been in development for two years. Two years. What are they doing, breeding elephants? Two years is about 49 different owners for Portsmouth. How much money has the FA spent in two years generating, approximately, FA?

Ah. The budget was ten grand. Take that, homoph- too late, all gone, spent. Ten grand is approximately half a day’s hard-earned for that fine, upstanding, former England captain John Terry (whoops, I did mention him after all). Roman Abramovich could drop ten grand on a platinum-iridium toothpick, and then drop the toothpick.

And what have those many, many thousands of pounds bought? A “hard-hitting” video – intended to go viral rather than actually, you know, get shown anywhere, because that would cost money – that the FA intended to launch this Thursday at Wembley. This launch has now been cancelled: apparently the FA wants to consult more widely and talk to focus groups before releasing it. In other words it’s got cold feet and wants to pretend the video never happened.

This video, according to John Amaechi who’s seen it, consists of 90 seconds of unchallenged homophobic bigotry in an office and at a football match, with the tagline: “This behaviour is unacceptable here [in the workplace]. So why should it be acceptable here [at the match]?”. And that, my friends, is what ten grand buys you these days. Dialogue the bigots would gleefully recite verbatim to hur-hurs from their thicko mates, and a tagline the length of Brighton pier that doesn’t even have the balls to tell people to stop doing it.

Football: where old men and cretins give peanuts to idiots to make counter-productive videos that nobody will see anyway. Ah, the beautiful game.

Leave a comment

Filed under Random