Love miles (and corporate lobbying)

Guardian Unlimited: Pundits who contest climate change should tell us who is paying them

A follow-up to George Monbiot’s three articles in the Guardian’s G2 supplement last week on global warming, all edited extracts from his new book Heat ([1], [2], [3]). In this article, he notes how sceptical writing here as well as in the US has been influenced by corporate lobby funding from both the oil and the tobacco industries, both of which have an interest in casting doubt on strong scientific opinions. One such outfit has even suggested that we just let climate change happen and then adapt - never mind the fact that those with most to lose are in the poorest parts of the world and least responsible for the emissions which cause climate change.

The third of the above linked articles is well worth a read: it’s about how the entire air travel industry is entirely unsustainable and that it’s next to impossible to make the efficiency savings which would remedy this.

Monbiot’s statistics indicate that there simply is no “technofix” to make aviation environmentally friendly, and that most of the aeroplanes in operation simply have to be grounded. This means an end to the frequent flier culture that exists in some of the wealthier pockets of our society - the shopping trips to New York and parties in Ibiza and “most painfully for me, political meetings in Porto Alegre”, and that “journeys around the world must be reserved for visiting the people you love, and that they will require both slow travel and the saving up of carbon rations” (his book explains the whole carbon rationing deal).

People fly unnecessarily, and don’t forget that a lot of people actually hate flying but do so either because everyone else is doing so or because they can’t think of any better way of getting where they’re going (if that happens to be across the Atlantic or Pacific or to somewhere like South Africa, that is basically true). I remember a family wedding I went to in Connemara (Ireland) in 2003, in which I spent the months between hearing about it and actually going dreading it and making half-hearted plans to take the ferry.

There are other reasons, however. One is the fact that land corridors have been closed because flying has become easier and cheaper, particularly because air fuel can’t be taxed - as was the case with the Orient Express, for example. In the UK, a number of rail lines were taken out of use in the 1960s, partly because of vested interests certain politicians had in road building but also because, when you could take the train or fly from, say, London to Manchester, it may have been deemed unnecessary to have two rail corridors (the other, since closed, went out of St Pancras).

The other is politics. Obviously outsiders can’t easily dictate where people who will fight wars won’t fight them (civil wars, particularly), but there are a fair number of major land routes which have been closed because the countries it passes through have a grudge against each other - India and Pakistan, for example. If air travel is to be drastically scaled down, there needs to be international treaties to open up the alternatives, allowing, for example, US citizens to travel through Iran when they badly need to get to India.

And let’s face it, the link between our Muslim communities in the west and their respective back-homes can’t be continued as easily as they are now if you can no longer get back to the old country in less than a day’s journey. This may well mean that the practice of sourcing spouses from back home has to cease, unless that country is particularly near (somewhere like Morocco), which could well mean that the language of the old country, if it’s not Arabic, becomes vastly less important. Whether this is altogether positive or otherwise remains to be seen, but as the number of British (and American) Muslims with one foot in another country diminishes, there is the likelihood that we may develop a more specifically localised Muslim identity and be seen rather less as part of a foreign land transplanted into the West.

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  • Tim

    Salam,

    I would dispute the idea that everyone who contests the concept of Global Warming does so due to corporate funding. When I studied Geography & Development Studies 1996-9 it was very common for academics to be extremely cautious about the evidence.

    For example, they would point out that we only have a climate record spanning about 150 years at most, making it difficult to describe long term trends.

    Then there is the question of cause: the sun spot activity cycle completes every 22 years with drought in dryland areas occuring just before the period of greatest activity. In other words, they would ask, what is the evidence that current trends are linked to human activity vs natural cycles. They were not rejecting either, merely saying that the evidence was not clear cut, as often presented by the media and lobbyists.

    Finally, the question of funding ties. We were aware of a paper focusing on the destruction of rainforests in Australia, where an academic pointed out that there were no such forests in that region and this was acknowledged by the author, who went on to explain that she knew this very well, but the only way to obtain funding for her research project at the time was by mentioning the keyword “Rainforest”. Many of my lecturers were understandably sceptical of “Global Warming” - another buzz word, because it was being bandied about merely because it enabled scientists to secure funding. In other words, the ties exist on every side.

    Personally I think it is wise to evaluate the way we live and use resources - but as to the “fact” of Global Warming - I believe the jury’s still out, which may be why scepticism persists - not just because it is funded by corporation “A” or “B”.

  • George Carty

    Unless it is truly extreme (late Permian levels) I don’t think global warming in itself is a major threat. In times where the earth was warmer than it is now (the dinosaur era, for example) most of the earth had similar temperatures to today’s tropics.

    In my view the only real long-term climate-related menace is desertification. (Rising sea levels are a short-term menace, as coastal settlements may need to be dismantled and rebuilt inland, but not a long-term menace.)

  • Faramir

    Salam

    I agree with Tim. I am also a Geography graduate with two years worth of Doctoral studies in Environmental Resources. I believe in climate change, and that our consumption and use of natural resources should be severely curbed. But, to use Global Warming as the keyword to lobby for this debate, well, there are scientists who are still not convinced. It is not clear from the evidence what percentage of the warming is due to the human factor. This does not mean that these scientist don’t believe that humans are drastically and deleteriously affecting the ecology of the planet, and something must be done to stop it. But on the particular case of the human contribution of global warming, they say that the SCIENTIFIC PROOF is just not enough to judge accurately. (This is even when they believe that humans are responsible, they just can’t prove it).

    Wassalam

  • George Carty

    George Monbiot advocates a 90% reduction in energy consumption. Could the present planetary population still be supported on this amount of energy?