These days a tinfoil hat is essential headwear when listening to BBC news. Conspiracy theories of the Trump-Russia and Corbyn-antisemitism type are the order of the day; while government propaganda is largely regurgitated without question.
One result is that the BBC’s flagship Radio 4 Today programme has lost more than 800,000 listeners in the past year. While playing down the causes, the BBC was forced to report the loss. The Guardian is a little less charitable:
“BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme has lost 800,000 listeners over the past year, according to Rajar figures released on Thursday. The decline in listeners came amid discussion over the direction it has taken under its editor, Sarah Sands, and whether it continues to set the political agenda.”
The Today programme –rather like its lead presenter – was at the height of its powers in the Thatcher years; when mobile phones were the size of bricks and batteries had to be loaded onto a trolley. Any politician or campaign group that wanted to get a message out simply had to get onto the Today programme in order to “set the agenda” for the rest of the day’s news.
In 2018, the power balance has changed. As Miranda Sawyer at the Observer noted last month:
“…perhaps we should consider Today’s status among politicians. Do they regard the programme with as much reverence as they did in the past? It still pulls in members of the cabinet – David Davis seems to live under the table – as well as Labour party heavyweights, though Jeremy Corbyn seems a little wary of it. However – and this would be unheard of even five years ago – there are MPs who don’t bother with it too much.”
The audience has grown old with the programme. In the social media age, Today looks dated and out of touch. However, things have grown particularly bad under the editorship of the unreconstructed Thatcherite Sands; who appears to have given the programme carte blanche to attack any political opponent to the left or right of the Tory/Blairite centre-right.
Which brings us to this morning’s microwaving of the ongoing Labour/antisemitism story; which was second in the running order behind Trump’s imposition of sanctions on Iran (incidentally, the BBC are as hostile to Trump as they are to Corbyn). This, of course, is the usual rough and tumble of political news coverage from a media outlet that is overtly hostile to the Corbyn faction of the Labour Party (despite that faction attracting hundreds of thousands of new members; making Corbyn’s Labour Party the largest political party in Europe). What makes this morning’s BBC coverage especially scurrilous, however, was that a story relegated far down the running order more or less spells the end of civilisation as we know it within a matter of years rather than decades. The new paper by Steffen, W., Rockström, et al – a group of respected climate scientists rather than the washed out climate change deniers the BBC wheel out for “balance” – examines a combination of 10 feedback mechanisms that cast doubt on the optimism of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. According to the authors, an increase in temperature to 2oC above preindustrial levels will result in what they call “Hothouse Earth”:
“Human emissions of greenhouse gas are not the sole determinant of temperature on Earth. Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2°C may trigger other Earth system processes, often called ‘feedbacks,’ that can drive further warming – even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases…
“These feedbacks are: permafrost thaw, loss of methane hydrates from the ocean floor, weakening land and ocean carbon sinks, increasing bacterial respiration in the oceans, Amazon rainforest dieback, boreal forest dieback, reduction of northern hemisphere snow cover, loss of Arctic summer sea ice, and reduction of Antarctic sea ice and polar ice sheets…
“A ‘Hothouse Earth’ climate will in the long term stabilize at a global average of 4-5°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures with sea level 10-60 m higher than today.”
Even the lower – 10 metres – sea level rise figure is well above the upper limits modelled in the largely conservative International Panel on Climate Change projections which informed the Paris Accord. Ten metres of sea level rise would wipe out most of the UK’s agricultural land – particularly the East Anglian bread basket – and would leave central London beneath the Thames estuary. In the event of a 60 metre increase almost all of Britain’s coastal cities would be under water.
Most alarmingly, the authors conclude that simply cutting greenhouse gas emissions – the opposite of what we are actually doing – is not enough. In addition to creating new biological carbon sinks – again, the opposite of what we are doing – we are going to need technologies that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Had the BBC editors had any real interest in how they (and we) are going to die, they might at this point have asked what technologies the authors had in mind, since no such technologies currently exist outside laboratories.
Given this knowledge though, the BBC might be engaged in the psychological process of denial that all of us experience when faced with unpleasant facts. Since we cannot cut greenhouse gas emissions without crashing our economy and collapsing our civilisation; and since there are no yet-to-be-invented technologies riding to the rescue; let’s all pretend that accusing Jeremy Corbyn of antisemitism is the most urgent thing we can do today.
As you made it to the end…
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