17 November 2020 — Media Lens
The Roman poet Horace famously declared:
‘Dulce et decorum est pro patrie mori.’
It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. Wilfred Owen, the great English poet of the First World War, described this phrase as ‘the old Lie’ in his famous war poem, ‘Dulce et decorum est’. Patriotism so often means ‘honouring’ those who ‘fell in service to this country’, grand ceremonies at war memorials, feasts of royal pageantry. And then sending yet more generations of men and women to fight in yet more wars.
On Remembrance Day (11 November) last week, much of the ‘mainstream’ media queued up to condemn two Extinction Rebellion climate protesters who had ‘hijacked’ the Cenotaph, the famous war memorial in Whitehall, London. At 8am that day, after undertaking a two-minute silence, former soldier Donald Bell (64) and NHS nurse Anne White (53) hung a wreath on the Cenotaph with the inscription, ‘Climate change means war: Act now’. Together with two other unnamed climate protesters, they also unveiled a large black and white banner saying:
‘Honour Their Sacrifice, Climate Change Means War’
Within half an hour, the Metropolitan Police had cleared away the protest.
The Daily Mail’s headline screamed, ‘Fury at climate fanatics’ hijacking of Cenotaph’ (print edition, 12 November, p.13), while its columnist Robert Hardman declared that the climate action was ‘a monumentally inappropriate protest’. The Mail, Sun and other papers gave prominence to Boris Johnson’s condemnation of the ‘profoundly disrespectful’ protesters.
The Daily Express declared that the action was ‘a disgrace to the fallen’ (print edition, 12 November, page 11). The editorial fulminated that the:
‘activists who staged a demonstration at the Cenotaph yesterday craved publicity but disgusted the country. Only extremists devoid of a scintilla of sensitivity would consider staging such a stunt on Armistice Day… The Cenotaph must be protected from the antics of cranks and those who would want to inflict damage at this sacred site.’
Express columnist Paul Baldwin, likewise in full splenetic mode, opined that the Cenotaph had been ‘desecrated’ and ‘those virtue-signalling gutless wonders at Extinction Rebellion’ had ‘no shame’.
The Daily Star asserted in an editorial titled, ‘Eco demo a disgrace’ (print edition, 12 November, page 6):
‘These moronic crusties have continually shown a complete lack of respect for the general public. Whether it’s interfering with everyday lives or generally being a nuisance, they are not making their point in the right way. But these hippy-dippy, airy-fairy prats have really crossed a line now.’
The editorial continued:
‘They marred yesterday’s Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph with some shameful antics. Eco-warriors – including a disgracefully disrespectful veteran – trampled over poppy wreaths.’
In fact, footage published by newspapers themselves shows that former soldier Donald Bell carefully avoided stepping on wreaths.
The Daily Star continued:
‘Their behaviour was disgustingly beyond the pale. This vital annual moment of solemnness and reflection must never be disrupted to make political points. And it will only set them back in achieving their aims. Nothing should ever get in the way of honouring our fallen heroes.’
For the Sun, the protest was ‘a new low’ and:
‘Extinction Rebellion should hang their heads in shame and disband after abusing the Cenotaph’.
The i newspaper ran with the headline:
‘Climate protest at Cenotaph condemned for “bad taste”’
and its report led with:
‘Climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion drew condemnation from across the political spectrum yesterday after it staged a demonstration at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day.’ (Print edition, 12 November, page 5)
Note the emphasis throughout press coverage on ‘condemnation’. Was there no support to quote from anywhere ‘across the political spectrum’, or did the national press just ignore it? Either way, consider what that means about a supposed broad range of views in what passes for political debate in the British media.
The response from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer indicated, once again, that he is no threat to the established order:
‘No one can doubt how serious the climate emergency is, but the protests at the Cenotaph are wrong. They are in bad taste. We do not support them.’
As one astute observer noted via Twitter:
‘Starmer wouldn’t have supported the Tolpuddle Martyrs, suffragette movement, the bus boycott & Stonewall et al except retrospectively when sanitised by history & his overleaping ambitions’
BBC News gave a brief mention to the Extinction Rebellion protest towards the bottom of its online report on Remembrance Day commemorations. The Guardian went one step further by relegating its account of the protest to a single line, buried deep in its coverage of Remembrance Day.
More was to come. True to form, the Daily Mail followed up its initial coverage by dredging up dirt on former soldier Donald Bell. Its headline shouted:
‘EXCLUSIVE – Revealed: Ex-soldier who sparked fury with Cenotaph Extinction Rebellion protest is DRUG DEALER jailed for selling heroin – and was accused of abusing his disabled wife’
The article boasted:
‘MailOnline can reveal he was jailed for four years in 2007 after being caught pushing his wheelchair-bound wife around the streets of Cambridge – while peddling heroin at the same time.’
Buried at the bottom of the Mail’s gutter ‘journalism’, was a short extract from a statement by Extinction Rebellion:
‘Donald Bell left the army with serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at a time when the illness was still not fully recognised.
‘Donald was one of those people who, like so many, made mistakes and then worked hard to turn his life around.
‘Extinction Rebellion stands by him and his right to speak out about the Government’s complicity in knowingly taking us into future wars and a 4 degree world.’
In its full statement published on its website, Extinction Rebellion noted:
‘Right now, what we’re seeing is papers like the Daily Mail, The Sun and The Express encouraging vitriol and abuse towards a veteran, a man who served his country, when PTSD, homelessness, addiction and alcoholism are the reality for thousands of people who have left the armed forces.’
If national newspapers were truly motivated to ‘honour the fallen’, they would be challenging the government repeatedly to uphold its supposed moral commitments to look after former armed forces personnel, many of whom suffer from physical injuries and mental health issues.
Indeed, if the major news media were the responsible fourth estate they claim to be, they would scrutinise government foreign policy, not least statements of benign intent about ‘defending’ freedom and democracy around the world. The media would hold politicians to account for the mass deaths of civilians in the wars and ‘humanitarian interventions’ in which the UK has participated. This would be a fitting memorial to peace, rather than the endless succession of annual ceremonies that politicians and media purport as ‘honouring’ the dead.
‘in recent years a very strange thing has happened to my trade. More and more journalists seem happy to be the mouthpieces of government, or of political parties. Worse, they attack other journalists for refusing to fall into step with the official line’.
‘If such ideas had been around in the days of Watergate, Richard Nixon would have served two full terms as President and retired with honour.
‘If it had been so in 2003, you wouldn’t know, even now, that Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction.’
Moreover, a truly ‘mainstream’ media – pursuing genuine public-interest journalism – would be exposing the utter failure of successive governments to seriously address climate breakdown. The media would hail as heroes those climate activists who are protesting peacefully to draw attention to the very real risk of climate catastrophe, global mass loss of species and of human extinction itself.
Instead, the level of media debate is often shockingly poor. On ITV’s ‘This Morning’ last Thursday, the right-winger Andrew Neil, until recently masquerading as an ‘impartial’ BBC politics presenter, lambasted Extinction Rebellion, dismissing the warning that climate change will lead to wars. ‘There’s no evidence of that’, he declared.
This was an outrageous untruth. In fact, as Extinction Rebellion (XR) correctly point out, the UK Ministry of Defence itself warned in a June 2020 report of the:
‘growing recognition that climate change may aggravate existing threats to international peace and security’
and that society should prepare for between 2.3 – 3.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. As XR said, this would bring ‘unimaginable suffering’.
In other words, the MoD has provided powerful evidence precisely justifying the kind of protest, the kind of expression of free speech, that is absolutely vital if we are to save millions, perhaps billions of lives. Is not the best way of honouring the dead to honour and protect the living, to do whatever we can to avoid yet more unnecessary war deaths in future?
And it’s not just the MoD pointing to the link between global warming and war. The US Pentagon has warned of this for at least two decades. As news agency Bloomberg noted in January 2019, the most comprehensive study to investigate the link between climate change, war and refugee flows concluded:
‘Pentagon Fears Confirmed: Climate Change Leads to More Wars and Refugees’
Later the same year, a report prepared by officials from the US Army, Defense Intelligence Agency, NASA and other agencies, warned of a more dangerous world under global warming. The effects would include increased electricity blackouts, starvation, thirst, disease and war over the next two decades. The US military itself may even be at risk of collapse within two decades.
Michael Klare, author of a new book titled ‘All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change’, summed up in a recent interview:
‘What happens when you have states collapsing, multiple wars happening in the Middle East and Africa and South America, and many hurricanes and disasters in the United States all at the same time? The US military doesn’t have enough troops or resources to both defend the United States and to address all of these foreign catastrophes. That’s what I call an all-hell-breaking-loose scenario, and the Pentagon knows very well that US forces aren’t prepared or capable to deal with it.’
Of course, from the selfish vantage point of imperial power, the US armed forces and the political and security establishment, are primarily motivated to maintain US hegemony in a warming world in which many of their military bases around the globe are threatened by rising sea levels and increased incidence and severity of storms; as well as the ‘threats’ that other countries or ‘terrorist’ groups may pose in trying to take advantage of climate change.
Indeed, the Pentagon has long viewed climate change as a ‘destabilising force’ and a ‘threat multiplier’ – increasing the risk of war in the Middle East, Africa and around the globe as food, water and other resources diminish. As long ago as 2004, a previously secret Pentagon report prepared by strategic planners warned of climate wars being waged around the world. There could even be conflict in new areas, notably in the melting Arctic with oil resources and trade routes being fought over in the region.
For Andrew Neil, a high-profile commentator who for 25 years has enjoyed a privileged BBC platform, to dismiss serious concerns about climate wars is yet another symptom of the abysmal state of climate debate in UK national media.
Climate Agreements Are ‘Greenwash’, ‘Fake’, ‘Fraud’
In previous media alerts on climate, we have elucidated the severe threats to climate stability, civilisation and even human existence posed by the madness of corporate-driven globalisation and the imperialistic grasping at diminishing resources. Rather than once again reprising a list of these threats, and the underlying destructive nature of capitalism that is fuelling these threats, consider a recent pledge demonstrating what should be the obvious, honest responsibility of scientists.
‘Science has no higher purpose than to understand and help maintain the conditions for life to thrive on Earth’, is a core statement in a recently published ‘science oath for climate’. Climate scientists Chris Rapley, Sarah Bracking, Bill McGuire, Simon Lewis and Jonathan Bamber have invited others in the scientific community to join their initiative to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. Among their stated pledges is a commitment not to be hindered or intimidated by any sense of:
‘what might seem politically or economically pragmatic when describing the scale and timeframe of action needed to deliver the 1.5C and 2C commitments, specified in the Paris climate agreement. And to speak out about what is not compatible with the commitments, or is likely to undermine them.’
This is especially relevant right now when the ‘MSM’ is selling the idea of President-elect Joe Biden as a harbinger of hope for the climate. The Guardian wrote approvingly of his supposed ‘climate bet’, namely: ‘putting jobs first will bring historic change’. Biden has pledged:
‘to clean up electricity by 2035 and spend $2tn on clean energy as quickly as possible within four years’.
While conceding a cautious note about Biden’s reluctance ‘to be tougher on the fossil fuel industry’, the Guardian declared that his plan was ‘significant and historic’ and it ‘would be just the beginning of a brutal slog to transform the way the nation operates’.
The paper even published a 16-page ‘souvenir supplement’, heralding Biden’s presidency as a ‘new start’; in much the same way as the Guardian and the rest of the corporate media welcomed Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House in 2008. Obama, of course, then went on to bomb seven Muslim-majority countries, paid lip service to the reduction of nuclear weapons (after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009), shared complicity in Saudia Arabia’s terror campaign against Yemen, as well as in Israel’s crushing of Palestinian human rights, and continued to subsidise the planet-wrecking fossil fuel sector.
We were told back then that Obama would ‘wipe the slate clean’. A ‘new dawn’ was declared. We would ‘learn to love America’ again. In reality, it was all about relaunching ‘Brand America’, so that US imperialism could continue unimpeded. Why should it be any different today, given the way the US system selects for corporate-friendly candidates?
It certainly won’t be. As Kevin Gosztola explained in an article for The Grayzone website:
‘An eye-popping array of corporate consultants, war profiteers, and national security hawks have been appointed by President-elect Joe Biden to agency review teams that will set the agenda for his administration. A substantial percentage of them worked in the United States government when Barack Obama was president. The appointments should provide a rude awakening to anyone who believed a Biden administration could be pressured to move in a progressive direction…’
Of the two presidential ‘choices’ delivered by a corrupt, corporate-financed US electoral system of ‘democracy’, Biden was the lesser evil compared to Trump, the latter described by Noam Chomsky as ‘the worst criminal in human history’ for the threat he represented to climate stability:
‘There is nothing like this in history. It’s not breaking with the American tradition. Can you think of anyone in human history who has dedicated his efforts to undermining the prospects for survival of organized human life on earth?’
But be under no illusion that Biden, representing and backed by powerful corporate and financial elites, and with a sordid record of supporting US crimes around the world, represents any kind of significant departure from business-as-usual for US power.
This grim reality has been ignored or overlooked in the overwhelmingly meek, hopelessly Panglossian reactions of the ‘policy experts’ and climate scientists canvassed by website Carbon Brief in the wake of the US election. Understandable to some extent, there was widespread welcoming of the prospect of the US rejoining the Paris climate agreement which Trump had infamously rejected.
Dr Rachel Cleetus, of the US-based Union for Concerned Scientists, told Carbon Brief:
‘President-elect Joe Biden and vice-president elect Kamala Harris’ victory marks a new day in the fight for bold, just and equitable climate policy in the US.’
Dr Maisa Rojas Corradi, Director of the Centre for Climate and Resilience Research, University of Chile, said:
‘Biden’s victory will give a tremendous momentum to climate action, a momentum that was building up after the giant Asian countries announced carbon-neutrality compromises recently. This means that in this crucial decade we will be able to tackle the climate crisis seriously.’
Dr Niklas Höhne and Dr Bill Hare, who run the Climate Action Tracker initiative, declared:
‘If president-elect Joe Biden goes ahead with his net-zero emissions pledge by 2050 for the US, this could shave 0.1C off global warming by 2100.’
The madness of having to be grateful for the feeble hope of ‘shaving off’ 0.1C of catastrophic heating needs no comment.
One climate expert conspicuously missing from the list of over twenty experts consulted was Dr James Hansen, the pioneering climate scientist who famously warned the US Congress in 1988 of the dangers of global warming. Hansen’s honesty about the politics of climate is legendary. In 2009, we asked him how much had been achieved in the decades since he and others scientists had raised the climate alarm. In particular, we asked him to estimate the percentage of required action to address the climate crisis had actually been implemented by governments. His blunt answer? Precisely zero per cent. (Email, Hansen to Media Lens, June 18, 2009). Since then, carbon emissions, consumption and temperatures have continued to soar.
In 2015, Hansen was scathing about the Paris climate agreement:
‘It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: “We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.” It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.’
In 2017, during the climate talks in Bonn, Hansen described the supposed political ambition of world leaders on climate as a ‘hoax’. He said:
‘As yet, these politicians are working more for the fossil fuel industry than they are for the public, in my opinion.’
These are the kind of direct, honest and accurate statements that climate scientists should be making. Politicians need to be confronted with their chronic lack of action to tackle today’s – not tomorrow’s – climate emergency. Scientists should be explicit in declaring that the fossil fuel era needs to end.
Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg is right to call political leaders ‘hypocrites’ and to denounce them for delivering no more than empty words and greenwash at international climate summits. She said that leaders were happy to set targets for carbon emissions decades into the future. But when immediate cuts were demanded, they flinched. When asked if there was any politician anywhere promising the climate action required, she said, ‘If only’.
‘As long as we don’t treat the climate crisis like a crisis, we can have as many conferences as we want, but it will just be negotiations, empty words, loopholes and greenwash.’
Pledges by the UK, China, Japan and other nations – including the US under Biden – to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or 2060 are largely meaningless, she believes:
‘They mean something symbolically, but if you look at what they actually include, or more importantly exclude, there are so many loopholes. We shouldn’t be focusing on dates 10, 20 or even 30 years in the future. If we don’t reduce our emissions now, then those distant targets won’t mean anything because our carbon budgets will be long gone.’
Thunberg says that there is not a single political leader on the world stage who ‘gets it’ on climate. When asked about what she has learned from meeting people in power, she has some interesting and astute observations:
‘I’ve spoken to many world leaders, and sometimes I wish I had a hidden camera. People wouldn’t believe what they say. It’s very funny. They say: “I can’t do anything because I don’t have the support. You need to help me.” They become desperate. It’s like they are begging for me to help them persuade the public that we need climate action. What that tells me is people are underestimating their power and the power of democracy and of putting pressure on people in power.’
There is hope in that message. We, the public, have strength in numbers. Politicians are not necessarily forced to do the bidding of corporate, financial and military elites. They can be made to do the will of the people. Or, if not, they need to be replaced by politicians who do represent public interests and public power. When it comes to human civilisation – human survival even – it is imperative that we exert that power.
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