George Monbiot on Junk Science, Rational Thought, and The Tragedy of Giving Up Nuclear (Podcast)
TreeHugger: You’ve gotten quite a bit of blowback, and the columns you write in The Guardian get hundreds and hundreds of comments. How intense has the blowback been as far as climate change issues?
George Monbiot: Well, it’s pretty vicious. But then, the internet isn’t gentle. And while there’s a particular viciousness with climate change when that comes up as a topic, the viciousness seems to be fairly well distributed. The internet has somehow made us all very rude, and we say horrible things to each other which we would never contemplate saying to people face to face. And it’s particularly the case I think where there are powerful vested interests at work.
Going back a bit now to 2005, 2006, and before, up to that point, most of the vituperation came from people who were paid to do it, effectively. You know, people like Steve Malloy at JunkScience.com (a very well-named website where he claims that everybody else is practicing junk science when he’s the worst perpetrator of all). You would honestly believe looking at what he was writing that he absolutely hated you and all the other people he was criticizing.
But then when you look at the range of what he is doing, basically, he hates anybody he is paid to hate. It’s not personal. This was just what he was there to do. To ferment hatred and to whip up anger towards people like myself who are representing the mainstream scientific position. And we’ve seen from the tobacco archives and also from the funding he’s received from Exxon Mobil and others that he’s being paid to do exactly that.
But over the past few years, that message has been very effectively propagated by the people who are paid to put it out there. And people who aren’t paid to put it out have picked it up in the same way, as the tea party rank and file has picked up many of the talking points of Americans for Prosperity and the other Koch-backed groups.
Similarly, people who feel angry, disenfranchised, or that the world is slipping away from them have been quite effectively recruited by corporate-backed campaigns which say, “Hey, the problem isn’t corporations and the ultra rich. It’s those damn liberal lefty elitist academic scientist types who engineered a global conspiracy to create a new world order and usher in communism.” This includes some cases I saw in which they claimed that they were ushering in communism via George Bush’s government.
It’s crazy stuff, but it’s been very effective. Thomas Frank has successfully anatomized, I feel, the way in which this is being done: people who should be angry about the way in which the one percent has deprived them of much of their income, security, healthcare, benefits, and many of the things which made their life worth living, have instead been recruited by the one percent to attack the people trying to make things better.
TH: Is the Occupy movement still relevant in your eyes? Is it something that has had a significant impact, and is it continuing to have a significant impact? What do you see as its legacy?
Monbiot: I think it’s still very much a live movement here in the UK. In fact, just today, the court ruled in favor of the corporation in the city of London which is trying to evict the Occupy protesters from outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’ve pledged, and I hope many others will, too, to be there to defend them and to try to resist the eviction.
I think it’s one of the most hopeful signs there has been on either side of the Atlantic over the past few months. There’s also a brilliant group here called UK Uncut which has been fighting some of the government programs to destroy what we call the welfare state, which defends the poorest and weakest people, as well as much of the environmental protection and the other key protections and regulations which make life worth living.
These groups are highly relevant, and in fact, they’re the only real source of hope that we might successfully challenge the one percent and those who are destroying the prospects of people who are alive today, and the prospects of people who are not yet alive.