Dear Mum and Dad,
You've both said to me many times that there are 'two sides to every argument'. That is, of course true. But eventually, unless a person wants to spend a life in permanent indecisiveness, the time must come to weigh the evidence offered by each side and reach a verdict, a best guess perhaps, but one based on enough to stand up to some scrutiny.
That's why it bothers me more than ever that you still buy the Daily Mail. It's bad enough that the paper is happily promoting travel to Burma, one of the most brutal countries on the planet, in direct contravention of the call by democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for a tourism boycott. The travel companies that the paper publicises are on the Burma Campaign UK's Dirty List, which seemed to matter little to the Mail reporter Mark Palmer. There's two sides to every argument, of course, so presumably he went ahead and ignored the advice he had been given by those in the know on the basis of some other unspecified evidence - and not just for the free holiday.
But what really, really bothers me is the Mail's coverage on climate change. Here the newspaper has form. According to research by Max Boykoff and Maria Mansfield of the University of Oxford, the Daily Mail has a track-record of being more divergent from the scientific consensus on climate change than any other tabloid newspapers, particularly in its heavy reliance on 'contrarian' views that claim that humanity's role in climate change is negligible.
In its editorials recently, the paper has been at pains to argue that there is (here we go) “more than one side to this hugely complex argument - although anyone listening to the BBC or to any of our three main political parties might be forgiven for thinking otherwise.” Like some sort of dissenting missionary pamphlet, it has revelled in the recent leaked e-mails, the so-called 'Climategate' scandal, asking whether “the pernicious culture of spin and deception which ruined our belief in politicians has now infected the world of science”. It has been prepared to reluctantly accept that “there is compelling evidence that average temperatures have been rising over recent years” but has qualified this by suggesting that “there are many respectable scientists who believe questions still remain about the causes”.
Who are these 'respectable scientists'? We're not told. Instead the Mail relies on the likes of Christopher Brooker, a man who brings his history degree to the science of climate change and who also, incidentally, denies the overwhelming evidence on passive smoking. It also provides ample space to the thoughts of former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson, whose scientific background is limited to a PPE from Oxford but who is chair of the climate change denial group, The Global Warming Policy Foundation. If all else fails, the Mail resorts to scare stories about rising costs of flights attacking ordinary families or the threat of a climate 'stealth fuel tax'.
My point is this – the Daily Mail may talk about there being “more than one side to this hugely complex argument” but it only ever reports one side.
To find another perspective, it's always necessary to look elsewhere. One place might be the Met Office's website, which on Thursday produced a statement signed by scientists from all over the country expressing their “utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities.” The statement is followed by an impressive list, I think you'd agree. So who to believe? I'm not a scientist either. But if the choice is between those who talk about the “traceability of the evidence and support for the scientific method” or a newspaper whose coverage has been further than from the comprehensive scientific consensus than any other, one that provides a platform solely to the 'sceptics', then I know how to best weigh up the evidence and reach a verdict.
Until there is compelling proof to cast genuine doubt, I think the overwhelming evidence points to the fact that climate change is man-made, that it can therefore be tackled and that it is not beyond our ability to take the steps to do so. Now I know that in offering solutions, some environmentalists can seem particularly pious and annoying sometimes, especially when they seem to go on and on about polar bears, but climate chaos is fundamentally about the plight of people – in the vast majority of cases, the poorest people on the planet. And I know you raised me to be absolutely clear what side I stand on when it comes to defending those who are excluded from power.
So please, if you want to know what I want for Christmas, I'd really like you to stop reading the Daily Mail. I know there are two sides to an argument but it genuinely upsets me how the paper's immoral ambivalence keeps creeping into conversations with those I respect and care about more than anyone.
I'll see you in the New Year!
Your loving son,
Saturday, 12 December 2009
Dear Mum and Dad,