The Spectator's Notes

Chris Packham’s suggestions to save the world

7 August 2021

9:00 AM

7 August 2021

9:00 AM

On Monday 2 August, the BBC Today programme offered its ‘Countdown to COP26’. For the rest of the month, Amol Rajan announced, Chris Packham would give us ‘a different suggestion’ about climate change EVERY DAY. I make that 26 Packham slots — Sunday being Today-free — on the main national news magazine programme. Chris’s Day One suggestion to address the ‘colossal, planet-threatening mess that we find ourselves in’ was that everyone should buy an alarm clock (second-hand if possible to save on emissions), set it to wake up 15 minutes earlier and devote that quarter of an hour to doing something helpful, rather as we did, he said, when we abolished slavery. This would amount, if everyone obeyed Chris, to ‘258 million days of people power’ emitted per year. ‘Come on then,’ said Amol to listeners, ‘set that alarm clock.’

Resisting the temptation to obey and gain 15 minutes to start my car and belch extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, I listened to Packham Day Two. Chris had rung his ‘friend and mentor’ Billy Bragg, he informed us, and Billy had told him ‘There’s a power in a union’. We must ‘build communities for change’, said Chris. Rather than just feeding the birds in our gardens, we should look ‘over your fences, in the places you don’t own’ and sort them out too. Last year, Covid had prevented the cutting of verges, and that had been great. But this year, there are terrible ‘images of ravaged verges’ on social media. Concerted social action could prevent this. As it happens, I favour uncut verges (though people do need to be able to walk on them); but since Packham thinks we are in ‘the most dangerous situation humanity has ever faced’, he will have to do a lot better in the 20-plus slots which remain than not cutting verges or (Day Three suggestion) getting up petitions.

Dr Johnson famously said one should not ‘waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility’; but one should ask how the BBC could possibly think it right to run this series. Can such prominence ever have been given by our impartial national broadcaster to one person’s unchallenged opinions — and not to an expert on climate change, but to an animal-rights campaigner? There is a comically thin link between Packham’s advice and the (impossible) task at COP26, which is to persuade the whole world to achieve net zero. I suppose the BBC is sticking by its belief that climate change is not a political issue, and is thus blinded to the fact that Packham’s entire approach to the animal, vegetable and human world is governed by his strongly left-wing politics, perhaps derived from his mentor Billy.

Last weekend, the phrase ‘access capitalism’ was added to the language by Mohamed Amersi, who admitted he had availed himself of its services to get close to the Prince of Wales in 2013. It is a genuine problem that people can buy their way into the company of the powerful. But one must also look at it the other way round. What sort of society would it be in which, because you gave money to the Prince of Wales’s charities, you could not be invited to dinner with him? Or, if you contributed large sums to a political party, you were forbidden to meets its leaders? It is much better for the country that charities and political parties receive large private donations because, if these functions are taken over by the state, the corruption arising from government monopoly is far greater, including the abuse of taxpayers’ money. There is also the question: what are new entrants supposed to do? If rich foreigners come to live in Britain, they will seek guidance about how to spend their money, sometimes paid guidance. That is not, in itself, wrong, though some of the guidance may be corrupt or bogus. If people welcome rather than shun the new rich, charities will get far more money than they otherwise would, because long-standing, well-established rich people tend to be much less generous. (Try getting seven- or even six-figure sums out of most dukes…) New arrivals, seeking acceptance, are prepared to pay for it by helping good causes. Their motives may or not be pure — in most cases, they are probably mixed — but the consequences are better than the available alternatives. Morally, this is a complicated area. In the case of Mr Amersi, one senses that he has told his story not because he is against access capitalism, but because he feels he did not get enough of what he thought he had paid for.

Although a lockdown sceptic, and one who thinks Boris Johnson made a serious mistake in not sticking to his earlier June release date, I cannot share the rage about the present uncertain situation. The fundamental problem has been the same throughout — that certainty is not available. Everyone who has confidently predicted Covid trends in Britain or across the world has been confounded at some point. It follows that governments have to be quite tentative, reverse some decisions, delay others and try to carry the public with them by accommodating those who are fearful of infection and those who are impatient of restriction. In 1945, there was no moment when governments could say ‘It’s all over’. Even as the western allies approached Berlin, they were aware of Soviet designs on post-war Europe. Even on VE Day, we were still fighting a terrible war with Japan. Wartime controls — though they stayed in place far too long — could not be chucked overnight. All I am really saying — I admit it is a feeble message from any columnist, since we are supposed to thrive on confrontation — is, be patient: things are slowly getting better (probably).

For some reason, working from home has become a bit of a left-wing cause, but might there be a more conservative temptation to stay away from the office? During Covid, the workplace has been taken over by diversity and inclusion zealots in HR. If you stay at home, you probably commit fewer detectable ‘micro-aggressions’ and are marginally more likely to survive.

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