Sunday, March 23, 2008

OK Commuter

Writing for this blog way back in 2005 I criticised Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke for not making much of an impact whilst appearing on a TV News discussion about Climate change and the British governments’ inaction up until that point.

Thom Yorke had been invited onto the programme as a representative of
Friends of the Earth, an organisation he has had an association with since 2003. During the discussion he was clearly ill-at-ease and made little effort to hold the then British Secretary of State for the Environment, Margaret Beckett, to account for the government missing its own climate targets. At the time I saw this as a missed opportunity and declared myself not impressed with Thom's muddled responses. However, I've since realised that his confusion about the issues at the time was shared by many. Knowing how best to lobby to make a positive impact in the battle against Climate Change is not always as straight forward and as clear cut as it may seem.

Since that appearance Thom Yorke has been as much in the public eye (in the UK at least) for his Climate Change campaigning as for his band Radiohead. His advocacy for Friends of the Earth and more specifically their
'Big Ask' campaign has lead him to guest edit the highly influential 'Today' programme on BBC Radio 4 and make efforts at improving the green credentials of his band, including ruling them out of attending this years Glastonbury festival due to concerns over the availability of public transport to the site.

The latest stage of Mr Yorke's assault on Climate Change has involved him being asked by the Observer Newspaper in the UK to 'guest edit' it's Sunday magazine. Under his editorial control Yorke requests an interview with the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, asks for a feature on the German town of Freiburg (which has been labelled 'the worlds' greenest') and oversees several other green features culminating in it being called the
'Climate Change Issue'.

His interview with the London Mayor hardly turns out to be a grilling, more an amicable chat, but then Yorke's no journalist and his candid manner is perhaps more successful in getting a response from Livingstone, that others would struggle to illicit. They talk on the Velib cycle system and the chances of a similar scheme implemented in London. Yorke wonders aloud at the level of resistance to change by big business and finance institutions in London and their attitude to helping the environment. He even wants to know if the UK is pressing ahead with Nuclear Power because the Prime Ministers' brother works for EDF, a major French power company which is behind many Nuclear new builds. Does he expect the Mayor to answer this following Gordon Brown's recent show of support for Mr Livingstone bid for another term in office? It is this style of questioning that allows us to hear (qualified) support for Tory leader David Cameron from the mayor and an insight into the complexities of working with people and organisations who in the past you may have criticised but whose partnership is now crucial in order to take action on the environment.

In his candid editor's letter Thom reveals that although he was pleased to support Friends of the Earth he did have reservations because, as he puts it, "I’ve based my life on touring and the rock industry is a high energy consuming industry". This might be in anticipation of criticism when groups like Friends of the Earth use high profile spokespeople whose lifestyles it may seem at first run contrary to the organisation's aims. However it seems that it was the unwillingness of FotE to be "holier than thou" and not wanting to preach, which led them to ask this otherwise high-carbon-emitting rock star to join their ranks.

This surely should be the point. Thom Yorke doesn't have to have the answers and can be as unsure and as confused with many of the often conflicting points about Climate Change as the rest of us. The article he requests on the green town of Freiburg, for example, turns up as many complications and questions as it does answers.
By his own admission he doesn't know what is always the best route to take, hasn't made much of an effort to speak to many politicians and is only latterly realising how his lifestyle and work contribute to changes in the Earth's climate. He is, then, just like all of us, and full of the questions and uncertainties that many of us hold when faced with a problem as big as Climate Change.

The battle to curb Climate Change is one primarily of education, awareness raising and activism. To this end, Civil Society - including Friends of the Earth with Thom Yorke - has played an enormous role in the lobbying of Governments and big business, in rasing awareness, and provoking action.

Thom Yorke's position, it seems, is that of a man without all the answers but who has a clear passion and commitment. He has made affirmative action in relation to his own profession and lifestyle, all solid and commendable commitments to lowering his personal impact on the environment.

Let us hope that it is because of his activism that Yorke is an optimist on the subject of climate change - "unlike pessimists such as James Lovelock, I don’t believe we are all doomed” he says. It is his belief in human behaviour - being able to be the the solution to climate change as well as the instigator - that is both endearing and commendable about Yorke. As he writes;

“...isn’t it funny how in the space of a year we went from listening to sceptics who denied this was happening to suddenly say we’re all doomed – how interesting that both scenarios demand that we do nothing. That can’t be right. You should never give up hope”.

Right on Thom!
[Blogging by Dan]


A Citizen said...

Ummm...Good piece, with the exception that Thom was misquoted about Glastonbury. They aren't playing there because they have seen enough of Radiohead over the years, not because of the lack of transportation.

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Bill Austin said...

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