In praise of freedom of expression…and Rupert Murdoch


This time a year ago, journalists were lining up to write glowing stories about TerraPass and other companies trying to find ways to let individuals help in the fight against global warming.

For one particular piece of coverage recently, Tom found himself having (environmentally friendly, presumably) make-up applied for a Modern Bride photo shoot. The bridal magazine announced our Chief Environmental Officer as one of the Top 25 Trendsetters for 2007 as we launched our new Wedding TerraPass.

Those with half an eye (or ear) on the world’s media must have noticed that the wind has changed a little. If you’re a fan of Fox News (I’m uncertain just how much crossover we have, but there may be a couple of you…) it seems the wind’s done a 180 and turned into a hurricane. Fox’s commentators are often to be found in the vanguard of the offset-loathers, variously describing them as “a sham” (Sean Hannity), “a euphemism for Escalade-driving environmentalists” (Terry Keenan), “a ridiculous concept that liberals are throwing on us” (Hannity again) and “a crock” (you guessed it: Sean Hannity).

OK. So maybe nobody really explained to Sean Hannity what the deal is with carbon offsets; how they can be used to stimulate the growth of renewable energy; to help small dairy farmers to reduce the environmental impacts of their farms; and to provide incentives to companies around the world to take action to reduce their emissions that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. Indeed if this was just Fox News peddling the nonsense, I’d probably kick back for an evening and raise my glass to Messrs Hannity, Keenan and O’Reilly for their advanced sense of humor. Hey! We Brits understand irony!

But alas I’m not toasting anybody. Even as I sit in my favorite Prince of Wales pub (one of the finest in South London) typing away, pint of Fuller’s London Pride close at hand. In my last few days in London before I return full time to San Francisco I’ve been surprised to read another editorial bashing away at our well-intentioned industry. The Times of London last week ran a double-page feature on a UK carbon offset company, Climate Care. The piece was accompanied by an editorial that began:

Carbon offsetting is an infant industry that has made huge claims in order to establish itself. It is rooted in an assumption, which is still contestable, that the vast majority of the global warming since the late 19th century is due to man-made activity and, furthermore, that damage to the atmosphere can be canceled by virtuous intervention.

And you thought us Brits were way ahead of the Americans in our good environmental stewardship? Apparently we’re not even all that convinced, yet.

The Times and Fox News are owned by the same man that just purchased the Wall Street Journal, Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Perhaps surprisingly, given the tone of his media outlets, Rupert Murdoch is a big fan of emissions reductions. Despite being called a “sham, “crock” and “ridiculous concept”, carbon offsetting will be a part of News Corp’s efforts to reduce or offset all emissions by 2010.

In a speech to staff on May 9, Rupert Murdoch explained how emissions would be cut across all News Corp companies and facilities. He told staff that:

… some emissions will be unavoidable. As a last resort, we will offset these emissions.

A carbon offset is a financial tool to support projects that prevent carbon from being released into the atmosphere. Done right, they will widen the implementation of carbon-saving technologies, and give an incentive to create new solutions.

Nicely put. Rupert if you’re reading this, we’re hiring.

It’s reassuring to see someone with influence and general knowledge of the way the world works take such a strong stand on commonsense environmental practices. The emissions reductions promised by News Corp are significant. Now, if only Murdoch could get his employees to agree with him and say so in his various media outlets.

But I suppose editorial independence is a good thing. I’m allowed to write here whatever I like, and you’re allowed to respond in any (reasonable) way you see fit. So I’ll raise my glass to freedom of expression and the fact that Hannity et al. are able to continue their irrational denialism in the face of overwhelming evidence — despite their boss thinking otherwise.

And then I’ll make those edits Tom asked for, and remove that bit about him needing make-up.

[Ed. — the comment about Tom in make-up can stay, but I’ve removed the pictures of him in drag.]

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  1. Nancy Bostick-Ebbert - September 5, 2007

    It is easy to be complacent or ignorant about climate change if you are over 40. You will probably not live to see the worst effects of your ignorance—and if your children or their children have to deal with your generation’s arrogant abuse of the world we all share—well, hey, you still won’t be around to witness their suffering.

    It is frightening to think that the fate of the world is in the hands of the baby boomers. Granted, this generation has given us many great things—you wouldn’t be reading this on a computer, for instance, if it weren’t for boomers. That being said, the boomers are also responsible for making unparalleled greed something to which many aspire.

    If Rupert Murdoch wants to leave a real legacy, he will start by realizing that he has enough money—what he needs now is a reality check. At this point, his legacy is of one who is throwing ridiculous amounts of money away to hire ridiculous commentators who say stupid things about topics they know too little about.

    Unless he changes direction and puts his money where his mouth is—unless he is willing to use his empire for the greater good, history will show him as a sad little man with too much money and no ambition to do what is right for the world.

  2. Sean O - September 5, 2007

    I write about this a lot on my site that covers global warming ( and I am typically very skeptical of carbon trading schemes.
    P.T. Barnum supposedly said that there was a sucker born every minute. Sometimes, when I read about carbon credits, I am not sure who the sucker is – the person buying, the person selling, or the general public for thinking it is helping!
    In order for credits to be feasible and to be more than a “feel good” gesture, we need solid accounting, accountability, and penalties. We have none of that now and this article makes this painfully clear. We cannot allow credits to be used for minor contributions to a project. The credit must go to the cost of reducing the greenhouse gas.

  3. Annie Beckett - September 6, 2007

    Nancy Bostick-Ebbert, don’t paint all of us over 40 with the same brush, please. I’m just slightly pre baby boomer and I’ve been ‘environmental’ since the ’60’s and am doing all I can to reduce my carbon footprint per global warming including offsetting what I can’t with TerraPass and writing a weekly column (unpaid), for my regional paper on what we all can do to shrink. Loads of older folks up here on the North Coast of CA are aware and ‘on it.’ But you’re right, in general super-capitalism started rising after WWII and came roaring in on the heels of sixties back-to-the-land consciousness, hypnotizing the country, and the spell is still unbroken; we’re shipping raw materials from all over the world to China where they’re made into cheap goods and shipped back to us. Have a little carbon.
    Pete, the LA Times printed an article by reporter Alan Zarembo a few days ago questioning the efficacy of offsets, don’t know if you saw it. It mentioned TerraPass, but not that TerraPass IS independently certified and DOES urge offsets buyers to do all they can and offset what they can’t. I wrote him a somewhat dismayed email wondering why it is our culture and journalism both seem to think about things in either/or terms. Either offsets are good or they’re a fraud. Offsets are good to the extent they really do prevent greenhouse gas emissions and bad if people use them as papal indulgences, bad if the seller is fraudulent, good when purchasers have done all they can to reduce their emissions and are offsetting what remains until those too can be reduced, not enough if offsetting is all you do, better if you set goals to become less and less dependent on fossil fuels and therefore have to offset less and less. We offset our home and reduced our home power use by a third last year. Now we’re going grid tied solar, so we’ll offset what we use from the grid, minus a third because a third of our supplier’s power is clean. But we’re not ready to sell our cars and buy hybrids because our cars are two and three years old and anyone we’d sell them to would be likely to drive more than we do. So we offset them and we’re providing enough solar capacity on our roof to go electric plug-in vehicles eventually. The calcs for making the best effort we each can aren’t that difficult. TerraPass is one element of our ‘shrink’ strategy.

  4. Nancy Bostick-Ebbert - September 10, 2007

    Dear Annie: I am 54 so am a boomer as well and while I am aware there are some of us attempting to address these very real problems, there are more of our generation who are not.

    Here in the West, we proudly drive trucks, SUVs and Hummers and those who can’t afford them buy the least fuel efficient car they can afford. My point is this: by and large, Americans have been building gargantuan houses for two boomers to rattle around in—while many college age students feel angst because they are infinitely more savvy than their parents whom they see fiddling while Rome burns around them.

    As for Sean’s comments, even if what you say is true (and there are many, many fine points to this debate) we need to be doing EVERYTHING we can to address these problems. As you so correctly stated, there are many facets to what is a set of complex social, economic and environmental problems that are so intertwined as to be inseperable.

    Everything that creates dialogue—including the innovative ideas offered through Terra Pass serves to educate the general population and stimulate new ideas.

    After watching the unabated rape and pillaging of our public lands for fossil fuels over the past six years, I certainly understand why so many perished in the Holocaust—they either did not believe that it could really be happening (sound familiar???) or that somehow, they would escape.

    Unfortunately, if we are not able to address climate change soon and in a significant way, there may come a time when there is no memory of human beings at all. Now there is a thought.