Tuesday, 23 July 2019

RSPB: Climate Hypocrites

‘This upper Thames valley, well-wooded and abundantly watered, is a land of birds,’ J.W. Mackail writes in his Morris biography; and in a similar mood of ornithological enthusiasm a few years back I dutifully filled out my direct debit form and joined the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The RSPB certainly says all the right ecological things in its quarterly magazine.  Here, for instance, is Chief Executive Mike Clarke in the current issue: ‘If you know how to read them, the signs of worldwide environmental breakdown are all around us; from insect declines and the effects of air pollution on our soils, to more and more weather extremes’.  After sounding this dire warning note, he offers some modest hope; for ‘there are solutions that work with nature not against it … We can choose to have more personal impact now, and you can read ideas on p.28 about lifestyle actions we can take.  Individually these are small steps, but collectively we can make a difference at scale’.

No problems with p.28 and its green suggestions, but what about all the other pages in this issue which are devoted to organised bird-watching holidays in far-flung corners of the globe?  £6,995 for 12 days in Namibia anyone?  Or £16,595 for a little jaunt to the Antarctic?  The middle-class exclusivity of these absurd prices is despicable enough in the England of foodbanks, child poverty and benefit sanctions, and the environmental consequences of all this travelling completely contradict the Chief Executive’s pious statements.  Just four pages after his own remarks, we come across a full-page advert for ‘Road Trips round the Natural World’, which offers ‘a tremendous variety of fly-drive holidays in some of the world’s most beautiful places’.

Flying and driving – in the year of Extinction Rebellion, David Attenborough’s documentary about global over-heating, and various political declarations of ‘climate emergency’!  These aren’t the self-contradictions of a complex organisation whose left hand doesn’t know what its right hand is doing; they are just good old-fashioned hypocrisy on a quite remarkable scale.  Chief Executive Clarke is stepping down, apparently, and with the fat salary he will have been earning from all that advertising revenue I expect he’ll be able to go on a few fly-drive holidays of his own in his retirement.  Let’s hope that incoming CEO Beccy Speight will restore some environmental honesty and intellectual self-respect to the RSPB.