Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Simon Hoggart: Advocate of Eco-Crime

Regular readers of this blog, if there is such a thing, know that I am often stimulated to comment by things written in 'The Guardian' newspaper. I am typical of many British liberals in that I get my information from it and the BBC News, these days usually online rather than watching television. However, this does not stop me being irritated by the things it says. If I pick up a copy of the far more right-wing 'Daily Mail' or 'The Daily Telegraph' then I get even more irritated, but such a high level of irritation is probably not healthy for me and there are not enough hours in the day for me to blog about them all. I suppose one issue is that with the centre ground of British politics having shifted so far to the right since 1976/9, that me, Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill let alone Sir Stafford Cripps, Aneurin Bevan and Tony Benn are left looking like left-wing extremists. I know Churchill was strongly opposed to the Socialists, but if you look at his policies these days they would seem to be of the extreme left-wing variety: a mixed economy plus a strong welfare state. Partly that comes from the fact that the Labour revolution of 1945-51 was more Liberal than Socialist in its outlook.

Anyway, we are getting off track. So, 'The Guardian' is the daily newspaper which sits closest to me politically though these days the gap is quite wide. I have also noted that too often it allows weak analysis into its articles which with a little sub-editorial work would have been picked up. However, as the 'Bad Science' column of that very newspaper constantly shows, actually stopping and thinking about things, digging below the attention grabbing headlines, is something that very few people do these days. They want shocking, easy answers rather than ones that involve real thinking. I was recommended to check out the new movie 'Idiocracy' (2006). I have no idea why I have never come across this before. However, it is about a man from present day who is put into suspended animation for 500 years and awakes in a world in which everything has been 'dumbed down'. It is a satire on current US society, but you can really believe it when you see what is written and broadcast without giving any thought to it.

On this basis I come to the columnist Simon Hoggart. He was recently selected by John Prescott to represent the essence of British middle class people. He has a very nice job, he churns out a column in 'The Guardian' on Saturday which aside from being far shorter, is really little different to this blog. The major thing is of course he gets paid for it. He pokes some gentle fun at middle class mores such as the round-robin letters sent at Christmas and recounts his life as he goes on innumerable holidays and for dinners and so on. However, there is a very dangerous thing about Hoggart and this is why I have invented the new crime of 'advocacy of eco-crime'. I accept that aside from fining people for dumping hazardous waste, eco-crime as a branch of the law is not overly developed, but I imagine that will change in the future. The advocacy element of my charge comes from legislation we do have in the UK, introduced in 2005 to punish people who whilst they may not take part in terrorism, encourage terrorism or justify or glorify it, not just in the UK but anywhere in the world.

Why do I feel that Hoggart should be charged with 'advocacy of eco-crime'? It is his incessant attacks on wind turbines. He represents these as the 'cathedrals' of what he sees as the 'religion' of environmentalism. He neglects to comment on the other 'religions' of our modern society, in particularly the highly damaging cult of consumerism which, generally unchallenged, has been setting the agenda for government policies and public behaviour certainly since the 1960s if not longer. It has 'cathedrals' in every town centre and out-of-town retail park, but I see no complaint about the rubbish and pollution these generate in vast quantities. On the basis of seeing concerns with the environment as a damaging 'religion' he simply portrays the environmentalists as misguided, foolish and to some extent dangerous. His particular gripe is with wind turbines which he feels are ugly, generate a minimal amount of electricity, wear out too quickly (despite lasting as long as a coal, oil or nuclear fuelled power station) and thus drive people away from the areas where they are introduced wrecking the tourist economy. I have seen a single wind turbine power a whole village and a factory without emitting any smoke. I do not need any more convincing of the need for them. Hoggart forgets that in the early 19th century before the country began filling with smog, air and water pollution many English counties had 200-400 windmills, to the extent that it was difficult to be anywhere without seeing one. For some reason, windmills which were a great fire hazard (due to the flour in the air you could not light a candle inside one and any spark could cause an explosion), are seen as attractive and useful but wind turbines are somehow evil. Given the strange concern about the appearance of wind turbines many are now being built out to sea, but this is still not enough. In Dorset I came across a campaign to prevent wind turbines built 16Km off shore. Would they rather have a coal-fired power station on Portland Bill instead? One advantage of wind turbines that Hoggart and others forget is that if you take them down you can erase all trace of them, but the site where a power station has been is contaminated for decades, just look at the site of the Millenium Dome built in South London where a gas-fired power station had stood. It took months to clean up the site before it was safe to build anything on it; nuclear power stations leave an even greater legacy.

Hoggart is a man of double standards. He seems delighted that some environmentalists have now seen nuclear power as the quickest way for the world to reduce its CO2 emissions. Hoggart sees this as vindication of his attacks on environmentalists (in this case Stephen Tindale, former director of Greenpeace and Chris Goodall a candidate for the Green Party) and that there should have been no opposition to nuclear power in the 1970s and 1980s, as if it would all be fine by now because we would have loads of nuclear power stations. He argues their switch in opinion demonstrates that environmentalists cannot be trusted, suggesting that we should never listen to them again. Again, this simply is derived from Hoggart's bile rather than thinking through the actual developments. The environmentalists are no big fans of nuclear power they know the risks it brings (anyone who lived through the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 is aware of this; the mutations among children born affected by it are absolutely horrific even more than twenty years on), but they see it as numerous Pacific nations are on the verge of disappearing beneath the sea as the lesser of two evils. If the UK had embraced nuclear power in the 1970s to the scale that Hoggart feels is necessary, then we could be looking at a large area, say of Cumbria (location of Windscale/Sellafield plant) and neighbouring counties around that would be uninhabitable; as it is the sea off there has major ecological damage to creatures. The UK is tiny compared to Belarus and more densely populated; 4000 people died after the Chernobyl disaster in the UK it would have been many times more.

If the UK government had not dilly-dallied over alternative sources of energy and got down to developing these in the 1970s when the oil price rises were an impetous, the UK would be in a far better position now. UK scientists were at the cutting edge in wind and wave power but a lot of their projects were under-funded or allowed to go abroad. Almost forty years have passed and Britain is only slowly making use of alternative energy. We are in a different world now, the policies of the 1970s whether from government or environmentalists would not fit in the late 2000s. Hoggart complains about the religion of environmentalism and yet he also wants to punish the 'believers' for not being sufficiently dogmatic in their views over a 40-year period. He conveniently edits his memory. I read a copy of the children's magazine 'Look and Learn' from 1964 and it outlined the damage CFCs from aerosol sprays were doing to the environment and it took thirty years to begin eliminate them from products. The environmentalists were right about that, yet to Hoggart they must be wrong or he forgets it.

Thus, I charge Simon Hoggart, columnist with the crime of advocacy of eco-crime. He has abused his influential position to glorify dangerous policies towards energy in the UK. He has sought to persuade influential people to adopt approaches that will halt the growth of much needed wind turbines and so is contributing both to the shortage of energy in the UK but also to air and water pollution and the rising of the world's average temperature. He has sought to ridicule those going about legitimate business in promoting a more thoughtful development in these areas simply on the basis of them responding to changing circumstances. He has allowed those arguing his line not to be challenged on their inconsistencies and simply often irrational behaviour to these issues.

Hoggart's punishments will be to move to the Wittenham Clumps in South Oxfordshire and every morning open his curtains to see how the vast towers of Didcot power station to the North-West blights the entire landscape of this otherwise beautiful part of England. He will be to house a family from a Pacific island which has gone under water because he has persuaded people not to move to methods of providing power that cost others so much in terms of their homes and identity. Of course he will be forced away from his column. He has had a free hand to whine on incessantly about his own, perverse perspective on things for too long; 'The Guardian' should be embarrassed to keep on employing him and should relieve him of his duties and allow more rational, thoughtful people into his place.

P.P. 22/3/2010: This weekend I noted that Hoggart, clearly out of wind turbines to complain about has now turned to cyclists, portraying them as being 'dangerous' when transported on trains.  What he failed to note in his complaint against cyclists using public transport is that even a decade ago cyclists and other passengers were not compelled to mix; us cyclists simply lifted out bicycle into the guards van and stood with it all the way.  It is the removal of these that has forced bicycles to mix with other passengers.  Even so, bicycles on trains are no more hazardous on trains that the pushchairs, skis and snowboards, let alone the vast luggage, that Hoggart seems to have no problem with.  Has he set himself a mission of trying to curtail any form of activity which will help reduce air pollution and eke out our fossil fuel supplies?

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