Don't shoot the messenger: Dismissing climate advocates misses the mark, writes Natasha Devon

2 January 2024, 14:36 | Updated: 2 January 2024, 14:37

Don't shoot the messenger: Dismissing climate advocates misses the mark, writes Natasha Devon
Don't shoot the messenger: Dismissing climate advocates misses the mark, writes Natasha Devon. Picture: Getty
Natasha Devon MBE

By Natasha Devon MBE

If the tabloids are to be believed (spoiler alert: generally, they aren’t) the entire country was incandescent with indignation two days ago, when ITV aired a two-minute message on the climate emergency during their National Lottery New Year's Eve Big Bash.

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The video featured actors including Idris Elba, Olivia Coleman and Glenn Close reading the words of King Charles, who then briefly popped up himself at the end.

It implored us to consider what our answer will be when future generations ask us what action we took on the environment. Completely uncontroversial, common sense stuff, you might think.

Not so for half a dozen angry social media users who branded the entire thing ‘woke’* and whose sentiments were recycled endlessly in the following days’ papers. The implication was that they were representative of the entire viewership.

*Just a quick note here on the word ‘woke’. You know you won’t stick to your new years resolutions about going to the gym or drinking two litres of water everyday so instead, may I implore you learn the actual definition of the word (it’s an African American term meaning ‘to be alert to injustice in society, particularly racism’) and only use it when that is what you actually mean. Thanks in advance.

What’s peculiar about this is that polling consistently shows the majority of British people understand the urgency of climate change and support measures to tackle it, including the introducing of net zero targets.

This applies to approximately 70% of the population, regardless of political affiliation, which would suggest that the UK has (mercifully) not been quite as successful as the US in dragging climate change into the culture wars.

So, I wondered aloud on my LBC show last night, is it less that we object to hearing about the topic and more that the messengers were wrong, in this instance?

The perception is that wealthy celebrities have a massive carbon footprint, that they are always taking private jets, that they have homes with swimming pools requiring constant heating.

Whether or not this is true, you can see perhaps why it sticks in the craw to be told by someone with at least the capacity to live that lifestyle that you – yes you, over there, just trying to survive the cost of living crisis – need to do more to save the planet.

What quickly became apparent throughout the course of the hour of conversation that followed is that, in fact, no one is considered to be a credible spokesperson on the issue.

With the possible, notable exception of Sir David Attenborough. But he is only one man and the window for action is closing rapidly so he needs some allies.

Greta Thunberg was, according to one caller, ‘too young to be trusted’. Celebrities are ‘too privileged’. Civilian protesters are ‘too annoying’. Our government aren’t doing enough themselves to have the authority to tell citizens what they should be doing. Other world leaders need to understand that Britain ‘contributes less than 1% of carbon emissions’**.

**A further note on this line, which if I hear one more time might genuinely cause me to implode with frustration. Firstly, there are about 200 countries in the world. You therefore don’t have to be Carol Vorderman to work out that most countries contribute less than 1% to global carbon emissions. If we all follow the percentage logic, no one will ever do anything. Secondly, we export so much of our industry to other countries, thus contributing to their emissions. People who reflexively shout ‘China!’ during climate conversations really need to check the label of their clothing to see where it was made.

All of this made me realise something important – discrediting the person speaking truth on the climate emergency is part of the strategy of those who don’t want you to hear that truth. This mythical person who has never eaten a burger, or owned a car, or had a child, or gone on holiday by plane, or done any of the myriad other perfectly ordinary things which are offered up as evidence of ‘hypocrisy’ does not exist.

If we wait for the perfect messenger, it’ll be too late to heed the message.