It’s time for those who hate the greens to stop issuing death threats – to me and others.
By George Monbiot. Published on the Guardian’s website 21st January 2011
Those who hate environmentalism try, in the spirit of throwing everything they can at it, to associate it with violent tendencies. These attempts are generally desperate. For example, a persistent fable, spread across hundreds of climate change denial sites, is that I would like to drown the executives of the airline companies.
Here’s what I said in 2006:
“There was one proposal in Sir Rod Eddington’s report to the Treasury with which, when I first read it, I wholeheartedly agreed. He insists that “the transport sector, including aviation, should meet its full environmental costs”. Quite right too: every time someone dies as a result of floods in Bangladesh, an airline executive should be dragged out of his office and drowned. Reading on, I realised that this is not exactly what he had in mind.”
As anyone who isn’t being wilfully stupid can see, this comment was ironic. My point, as I went on to explain, is that the costs of global warming are not simply financial, and that spending money doesn’t buy back human lives. My article was prompted by a concern for human life, rather than a desire to end it.
But the opposition is so short of genuine examples of greens advocating violence that this is repeatedly cited as evidence that we’re advocating mass murder. It plays well because it reinforces another story: that environmentalists are anti-human – they love the natural world and hate the people who infest it.
There are a few like that, but only a few. The great majority of greens are powerfully motivated by a concern for social justice, and recognise that if we don’t defend our life-support systems, humanity will suffer grievously. It seems to me that it’s the other side, which refuses to recognise that humans need certain resources and that those resources need to be sustained, which is anti-human. Its philosophy presents a far greater threat to people than anything the greens advocate.
But the most obvious example of the inhumanity of many anti-environmentalists is their willingness to advocate violence in support of their cause. While they desperately scramble for genuine examples of the greens’ murderous tendencies, theirs are displayed on a daily basis. I’m painfully aware of this, as scarcely a month goes by in which I don’t receive a death threat.
I’ve never taken them seriously. Most appear to come from the other side of the Atlantic and generally involve hastening my demise by inserting some oversized hardware into a secluded part of my anatomy. Why this should be I don’t know, but psychologists would probably find it interesting.
But now I do have a concern. This is partly because the threats originate in the UK, and partly because they are linked to a series of public events I’m running, where I will be engaging freely with the audience.
Beginning in mid-February, I’m launching a series of debates, in various parts of the country, in which people are invited to come and have an argument. In each case I’ll start the evening by briefly explaining my position on a topical issue, then I’ll invite the audience to take issue with it. In the second half of the evening, members of the audience suggest the topics, and I engage with their arguments. Anyone can come, and everyone gets an equal chance to speak.
Readers of the website Pistonheads picked up on the debate tour, and responded as follows:
audidoody: “Glocks are plastic and impervious to metal detectors aren’t they?”
Tsippy: “Molotov Cocktail?”
pilchardthecat: “I do hope some crazed yokel turns up and shoots the —- in the face. If he could pop ’round to Toynbee’s house on the way home and beat her to death that would be doubly awesome.”
“tinman0 said: No.
“Um .. it wasn’t meant to be taken literally. As any fule kno, Glock’s are made from a high-strength nylon-based polymer invented by Gaston Glock and called Polymer 2 and that this plastic was specially formulated to provide increased durability and is more resilient than carbon steel and most steel alloys. My one-liner was a veiled reference to the event in Tucson. Oh, never mind.”
thinfourth2: “Baseball bats are made of wood. And are more satisfying.”
Yes, these are people exchanging ideas on a forum, and they aren’t proposing, as far as I can tell, to carry out this violence themselves. But a lot of people read Pistonheads, and, to judge by the torching of speed cameras and other actions its forums have encouraged, take their cue from it. My concern is that these comments help create an environment in which violence is felt to be a valid response to unwelcome ideas.
Damian Carrington made a similar point last week:
“in issues such as climate change there is an active fringe of people deploying violent rhetoric and hate mail against those with whom they disagree. Could that tip the balance between thought and action in the mind of an unstable individual? It’s a worryingly plausible thought.”
Unlike the US, we don’t yet have a culture of grassroots political violence, so I’m only slightly concerned. But I’m writing this article so that, in the unlikely event that something does happen, you’ll know where it started.
I have a couple of other observations. These are events designed to allow my opponents as well as my supporters or anyone else to speak. People who contribute to the Pistonheads forum are as welcome as anyone to come and have an argument – as long as they leave their weapons behind. But it seems that they don’t want a debate. They want to silence those with whom they disagree, and they fantasise about doing so by killing them.
It’s also worth noting that these comments were made on Monday, and they have not been taken down. Do the people who run the Pistonheads site endorse them?
And this discussion, as one of the contributors reminds us, took place in the wake of the politically-motivated massacre in Tucson, Arizona. Perhaps the people who made these comments missed the appeals by all sides to tone down the violent rhetoric, because of concerns that it had encouraged the gunman to carry out his killing spree. Perhaps they didn’t.
In either case, I’ll repeat the appeal. Let’s debate the issues and argue over the facts. But let’s drop the vitriolic abuse, and stop suggesting that those with whom you disagree should be hurt or killed.