Missing the big picture

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Fiona Harvey is a journalist consistently capable of missing the big picture on climate change, once imagining that global coal use had been in long term decline until a year ago, a statement similar to a film critic saying that he had just heard of Steven Spielberg. In regular form here she is in today’s Guardian:

The government will oppose attempts to set a new renewable energytarget within the EU, in a move that could put at risk tens of billions of pounds of green investment and tens of thousands of new jobs.

But in a sop to environment campaigners, ministers will agree to tough greenhouse gas emissions targets by 2030.

So, let’s take return to basics. When it comes to climate change all that matters is the amount of greenhouse gases we dump into the atmosphere. The number of wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear power plants or whatever other kind of low carbon prime mover is pretty much a secondary issue. Yet, it would appear to Harvey that renewable energy targets are far more important than an emissions targets. Counting renewable energy, and not carbon is bad arithmetic. We keep our eye on the progress of renewables, yet the resurgence of coal in Europe gets ignored. This kind of blinkered thinking sums up all that is wrong with environmental journalism today.

The story is carbon and whether we are producing less of it, not whether the path we take suits certain people’s prejudices. Perhaps it’s time I wrote a Carbon Counter Manifesto!

And for a little more stupidity here is Friends of the Earth’s director of policy:


However at least one Twitterer has his head screwed on:


7 thoughts on “Missing the big picture

    Alan N said:
    May 26, 2013 at 8:02 am

    I agree that an emissions target is more important than a renewable energy target for 2030. But to rely on the former alone is to lock the post-2020 market into current costs. Recent studies by UKERC, Mott MacDonald and the Crown Estate all identify considerable potential for cost reduction in offshore wind, the main scaleable renewable resource in the UK. But they all suggest that the investment needed for the cost reductions to be achieved will be discouraged if there’s no specific government support beyond 2020.


      Robert Wilson said:
      May 26, 2013 at 10:18 am


      Exactly how does not having a renewables target for 2030 equal no specific government support beyond 2020? The UK does not have a target for nuclear power yet is somehow managing to support it. The reason for not having tech specific targets is that support can be targeted more effectively. A simple example are the costs of nuclear vs. the costs of offshore wind. Costs of the former are currently lower, but the latter may come down a lot. But why would you want to decide in 2013 what percentage of electricity comes from offshore wind when we don’t know what it will cost?


        Alan N said:
        May 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm

        Agreed. What’s important is that there is some specific support/encouragement that gives suppliers an incentive to make the investments which create the scale and learning effects that drive down the costs. It doesn’t have to be a tech specific target, but if it’s just left to an emissions target plus market forces, its unlikely to happen.


    Proteos said:
    May 26, 2013 at 8:13 am

    You are missing something here: Ms Harvey is not confusing means and ends. For Ms Harvey renewable energy is an end in itself, and it is the same for a lot of green organizations.

    Your assessment (that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is all that matters) is in fact disputed. For the likes of Ms Harvey, renewables are the main issue, and climate change mitigation is more of a sidekick. As you say, you should write a manifesto.


    David said:
    May 26, 2013 at 10:02 am

    All true. To be honest the renewables bias is bordering on deception – both self and of the readers. Here’s something Harvey wrote just a day or so prior: ‘Don’t delay on renewable energy, government told’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/23/renewable-energy-committee-climate-change . This of course based on the recent Committee on Climate Change report (link to press release) ‘Government commitment to support investment in low-carbon technologies would secure significant savings for UK consumers’ http://www.theccc.org.uk/pressreleases/government-commitment-to-support-investment-in-low-carbon-technologies-would-secure-significant-savings-for-uk-consumers-23-may-2013/ . I mean that’s just flat out misrepresentation. It’s capital b bad journalism. Even the Independent headline you blogged on got it righter than this.

    And it’s not just Harvey, quite a few of the Guardian enviro team exhibit similar prejudices. Perhaps they’re just drinking the ever-popular Kool Aid, but it would be nice if they were all thoroughly investigated for kickbacks. At the very least they should be strongly reminded of the importance of factual and balanced reporting.


      Robert Wilson said:
      May 26, 2013 at 10:21 am


      I’d prefer not to have discussions about whether journalists are getting bribed, unless you have some evidence.


        David said:
        May 26, 2013 at 10:50 am

        Fair enough. No allegation intended. Was thinking of ways to motivate good journalism rather than suggesting collusion.


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