Oh god, not another Greenpeace guilt-trip

Green advertising campaigns are aimed at scaring adults witless and turning kids into Mao-style mum-policing spies.

Rob Lyons
Columnist

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Topics Science & Tech

‘Got oil? Is your pension invested in risky drilling?’ asks a newspaper advert currently running in Britain. The ad, featuring a smart-but-casual man with thick black tar on his hands, is promoting Go Beyond Oil, a Greenpeace campaign inspired by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. What the advert illustrates is the way environmental campaigning will happily alight on any passing fear in order to make us change our wicked ways.

The Go Beyond Oil website tells us: ‘Shell and BP are two of the key companies that our pension providers typically invest in heavily. In the past this has meant big returns for our pension funds. Before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, £1 in every £7 paid in dividends to UK pension funds by FTSE 100 companies came from BP. With about 18million people across the UK holding shares in the company or paying into pension funds that have BP shares and many more with links to other oil companies, we’ve all got a lot invested in keeping the oil industry going. But this also carries a big risk for our future.’

It continues: ‘Since the oil spill, BP has been forced to cancel dividend payments to shareholders, which will affect pension investments.’ So even if you don’t care about the planet, the oil-lacquered birds or the Louisiana fishing industry, you should pull your money out of oil anyway because things will only get worse and you’ll lose loads of money.

Clearly, we Brits are getting a bit bored of being told about all the droughts, floods, hurricanes and so on that global warming will apparently cause. So getting us to fret about an impecunious old age will just have to do instead. As investment advice, withdrawing your money from BP and Shell – the UK’s golden geese, it would seem – is pretty dumb. In a world where demand for oil is only likely to increase in the short-to-medium term, as all those Chinese, Indians and Brazilians get richer and start buying cars, putting your savings into oil shares seems like a fairly smart move. Deepwater Horizon is likely to be a four million-barrel blip.

Yet the wider justifications for this pension-shrinking policy seem even dumber. Since renewable energy sources are simply not ready to take up the job currently done very successfully by oil, the campaign should surely be renamed from ‘Go Beyond Oil’ to ‘Do Without Energy’.

If the idea of self-impoverishment doesn’t appeal, greens have in recent years simply recycled an even more cynical argument: wot about the kids, man? Like anti-tobacco campaigners, environmentalists have taken to foisting the faces of children upon us and assuring us that, even if we don’t care about our own futures, we’re leaving a ticking timebomb of tragedy for our offspring (assuming that we’ve been so utterly selfish as to procreate in the first place).

This video from three years ago – again, a Greenpeace production – manages to sum up this line of argument in less than two minutes, and all with an underlying edge that brings to mind the antics of the Red Guards in Mao’s Cultural Revolution. A young man wearing a hoodie – clearly chosen for having the most punchable face and grating vocal delivery at his stage school – hectors ‘adults’ about what they’ve done to the planet.

‘If drastic measures aren’t taken soon’, our hooded young ghoul assures us, ‘by the time I grow up there won’t be any fish left in the sea. Rainforests and clean air will be a thing of the past. The polar ice caps will be gone. Oceans will rise. Entire countries will disappear. Life will change in ways you can’t even imagine. There’ll be famine, worldwide epidemics, life expectancy will be lower. We’re not just talking about the future; we’re talking about my future.’

Admittedly, a reasonable-minded viewer may very well wish such a bleak future on this insufferable brat. But a reality check is required on this litany of eco-horror. While there has been an apparent trend for the relatively thin Arctic ice cap to shrink over the past few years, the vastly bigger Antarctic ice cap – which holds more than half the world’s fresh water – is, if anything, growing. Clean air may be at a premium in the cities of some developing countries, but London’s air is cleaner than it has been for hundreds of years, suggesting you can have wealthier people and healthier air. Oceans might rise, but insignificantly. Countries might disappear – but only tiny island states whose fate may well be more to do with geology and changing sea currents than the planet’s temperatures. And as for life expectancy… well, if it really were in decline, there would be no need to fret about those pensions, would there?

In fact, the teenage eco-terror can expect – if current trends continue – to live in a much richer world, with lots of new technology to help deal with any problems from changing climatic conditions. He’s more likely to get fat than suffer famine, while being a grumpy member of the wealthiest, most comfortable generation in human history. As a stereotypical old Yorkshireman might say, kids these days don’t know they’re born. And greens wish those kids never had been.

The really creepy thing is that it’s not some angry adolescent that wrote the words for this video, but a multinational environmentalist campaign (in tandem with its marketing advisers, no doubt). These are the self-hating words of the generation that is being attacked in the video. And Greenpeace is by no means alone in using this tactic. The cover of a 2007 book, You Can Save the Planet, tells kids: ‘WARNING: Your parent’s generation has messed up the planet, now it’s up to YOU to save it.’ James Russell, author of How to Turn Your Parents Green – who doesn’t exactly look like a teenager to me – suggests children should ‘nag, pester, bug, torment and punish the people who are merrily wrecking [their] world’.

What a fantastic effort all round to create intergenerational conflict! On the one hand, greens guilt-trip adults about the hot and humid climatic nightmare they are going to inflict on their children, and on the other hand these middle-aged eco-warriors propagandise to those same children about what a bunch of selfish, short-sighted scumbags their parents are. Now there is a pint-sized eco-spy in every home, lecturing adults on the need to recycle and turn down the heating, and a library full of green tracts in every school.

This fomenting of division between parents and children is bad enough, but it is also a desperate waste of the idealism of youth. Young people may see the world in black-and-white rather than shades of grey, but that energy and desire just to go out and bulldoze through the conservatism of mum and dad can be an extremely useful way of stirring society up and encouraging change. But green politics takes that idealism and cynically exploits it for the most misanthropic ends. Whether it’s pensions, polar bears or children in peril, green campaigners demand that we should have a conscience about what we’re doing to the planet – but they don’t seem to have much in the way of a conscience when it comes to scaring adults or manipulating children.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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