Source: BBC Radio 4: Feedback programme
Date: 31/01/2010
Event: Roger Bolton discusses feedback to Radio 4's Analysis: Are Environmentalists Bad for the Planet?
Also seeJanuary 25: BBC Radio 4: Justin Rowlatt presents Analysis: Are Environmentalists Bad for the Planet?

  • Roger Bolton: Presenter, BBC Radio 4: Feedback
  • Innes Bowen: Editor, BBC Radio 4: Analysis
  • Simon Fairlie: Writer and editor of The Land magazine
  • Sheila Freeman: Facilities Officer at Friends of the Earth
  • John Gummer: Conservative member of the House of Lords, former Environment Secretary
  • Justin Rowlatt: BBC presenter and "Ethical Man".

Roger Bolton: Surfing the waves of environmental concern, the Green movement has been swamped recently by some unusually negative news coverage, from the leaked e-mails at the University of East Anglia to the revelation that snow on the Himalayas isn't now thought to be melting at the rate that the IPCC ( which stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) had said it was. Accusations continue to be made that the University of East Anglia has been concealing data - something it denies. However, there's no doubt that environmental groups have had a difficult few months. And then Radio 4's highly respected Analysis series decides to pose the question: "Are Environmentalists Bad for the Planet?" In this programme Justin Rowlatt explored the various divisions that exist within the Green movement, one of which is over the issue of nuclear power. Here's former Tory Environment Secretary John Gummer.

John Gummer : I think it's an important interim technology. It's not perfect, it's got all sorts of disadvantages. But the fact of the matter is, if you don't have it, you're going to say to people that they've got not to have the energy that they need.

Justin Rowlatt: So climate change set the nuclear debate in a completely new context. Nuclear power might be considered a kind of, admittedly a very imperfect, carbon fairy. So here's my little thought game. In the face of the catastrophic risk posed by global warming, might Greens be willing to consider the use of nuclear power as an interim technology, as we move towards a low-carbon world?

Roger Bolton: Justin Rowlatt, and before him former minister John Gummer. Sheila Freeman, who works for the lobby group Friends of the Earth, was annoyed by that.

Sheila Freeman: Why is there a persistent strand of green backlash at Radio 4? Analysis has, to use its own language, used fear of environmentalists to further [?] its own agenda - of promoting nuclear power and genetic engineering, even though both have been scientifically proven to be incapable of solving either climate change or world hunger.

Roger Bolton: It was the conclusion of the Analysis programme which annoyed Simon Fairlie from Somerset. Here it is.

Justin Rowlatt: For me, the problem comes if the fear of the consequences of climate change is used as cover to smuggle in other objectives for social and political change. That's because many people already have a sense that there's something suspicious about the campaign to tackle global warming. They instinctively distrust the science, and if they feel that the solutions people are proposing are less to do with cutting carbon than with pushing through a hidden agenda - that will only serve to confirm their scepticism.

Simon Fairlie: What really annoyed me was the concluding sentence where Justin Rowlatt suggested that this was a hidden agenda, that had been smuggled in. I mean - hidden? There are just mountains - I've got a whole pile of books in front of me - and articles, and loads of films putting forward the Green anti-capitalist philosophy and agenda, which Rowlatt made a pretence of exposing. The only sense in which it's hidden is that it just hardly ever gets represented on the BBC and other mainstream media.

Roger Bolton: Is the BBC joining in a green backlash, following a pro-nuclear agenda, and presenting as exclusive revelations that which was already widely known? Innes Bowen is the Editor of Analysis. And when I visited her in her office, I started by asking her what the aim of the programme had been.

Innes Bowen: The aim of the programme was to test the arguments of those who say, in the environmental movement, that in order to tackle climate change you have to sign up to a lot of other agendas about things like social justice and equality.

Roger Bolton: Now there's some of our listeners doubt the objectivity of your reporter. And he certainly made clear at the end, when he said "What worries me is that the political objectives of some Greens seem to overwhelm their interest in solving global warming." Some would say he had made up his mind before he began the report.

Innes Bowen: Well he certainly started the programme with a thesis, and most editions of Analysis, that's what the presenters are doing there. They're starting with a thesis and they go out to test it.

Roger Bolton: And is the danger there, you seek to find the evidence to support your thesis, and ignore the evidence that doesn't?

Innes Bowen: You do both. You go out and you look for evidence. But you also, you're forced by your producer and the editor to test your thesis as well, and in this programme Justin spoke to people he didn't agree with, spoke to people he agreed with, and he also reflected in the programme, you know, his own potential biases, the points that people he was talking to made, and which made him, sort of, step back and think: well, maybe I got this or that wrong.

Roger Bolton: So you accept he's not an objective reporter, not a person who starts with an open mind.

Innes Bowen: He starts with a thesis, which he has to test -

Roger Bolton: But not with an open mind.

Innes Bowen: I think you can start with a thesis and go out and test it with an open mind.

Roger Bolton: But it became clear during the programme that he was in favour of markets, probably almost certainly in favour of nuclear power and very sceptical about the motives, with references to hidden agendas and so on, of a lot of members of the Green movement.

Innes Bowen: What Justin was saying is that you can be somebody who thinks that tackling global warming is very important, but not be somebody who signs up to the other agendas of some people who are very loud voices in the environmental movement. What Justin was trying to convey in the programme, and I think what he finally concluded was that there are all sorts of different ways of approaching the climate change agenda.

Roger Bolton: But some detected in him a suggestion that there were sort of conspiracies going on, hidden agendas here, and a number of Greens have written to us saying "Look, a lot of us are anti-capitalist, a lot of us are anti-nuclear, we haven't hidden this, it's not a surprise, we keep publishing pamphlets about it. Why suggest that we've got some sort of hidden agenda?"

Innes Bowen: I think some Greens openly acknowledge, and are very conscious of the fact, that they are promoting other agendas through the climate change agenda. However, that isn't necessarily unpicked on a regular basis when we discuss issues on daily programmes about climate change.

Roger Bolton: Now in view of your accepting that Justin wasn't unbiased on this subject, that he had his own views clearly and indeed reinforced them during the programme, do you think that there ought to be another Analysis which presents another view?

Innes Bowen: I don't accept that it was a biased programme -

Roger Bolton: Well it was - he had a position which he kept throughout the programme.

Innes Bowen: He kept that position but he was also challenged in the programme, and he accepted some of those challenges. I mean, there's a line in the programme where he says "Perhaps I'm being a climate change fundamentalist, I'm putting climate change above all else. And yes, there are good reasons to oppose nuclear power, there are good reasons to want to buy organic vegetables and maybe I disagree with some other people because just I'm too concerned about tackling climate change." So yeah, he accepts that there's an argument here. And I think that's all he wanted to do was to raise awareness that there's an argument going on, within the Green movement.

Roger Bolton: Well, he accepted there was an argument, he accepted or put the point that he could have been naïve. But at the end of the programme, it was pretty clear that his position was as it was at the beginning. That he did think that Greens, if you like, put a lot of other issues ahead of climate change, that he did think that markets would solve the problem, he did think that nuclear power had to be part of the solution.

Innes Bowen: I think he was saying that there was a good argument for saying that nuclear power is part of the solution, there is a good argument for saying that markets could be part of the solution, and I think what Justin was trying to tackle was the claim made by some of his interviewees that you have to sign up to these other agendas about social justice and equality in order to tackle climate change.