PETER JACKSON: Why does Margaret Wente still have a job?

Peter Jackson pjackson@thetelegram.com
Published on October 1, 2014

I don’t get out from behind my desk much, I admit.

But when it comes to not getting out from behind one’s desk, Margaret Wente must surely take top honours.

This is the woman who referred to Newfoundland as a “vast, scenic ghetto” a few years ago.

This is the woman who based an entire column about the seal hunt on a conversation with Paul Watson.

And this is the woman who was caught red-handed lifting material from numerous sources without crediting them.

So it shouldn’t surprise me that Wente would write a column about Naomi Klein’s new book based entirely on what someone else told her about it.

Klein’s “This Changes Everything” is about the author’s awakening to the reality of climate change, and how our current capitalist system has stalled our ability to do anything about it.

It’s admittedly an ideological notion, but Klein is not the sort of writer to leave any stones unturned in presenting her case.

Nonetheless, Wente leads off her Sept. 23 column, “The It Girl of climate change doesn’t get it,” with a patronizing appraisal of Klein’s attire as she awaits a photo shoot for an interview with Vogue magazine — as if to say, “See how shallow this girl is?”

Then — again, without having read the book — she says Klein makes no mention of China, India or Russia, countries that emit the lion’s share of greenhouse gases but have not signed onto global efforts to mitigate the problem.

“(In) every interview, excerpt and review I’ve read about her book, Ms. Klein has nothing to say on this subject,” Wente wrote. “Talk about denial! No book on climate that ignores elementary facts like these can be counted as a serious work.”

Except that Klein does have something to say about it.

I know because I’m reading the book myself.

And a simple Kindle word search tells me she mentions China at least 30 times.

Moreover, someone posted a lengthy excerpt beneath Wente’s column of an interview Klein did with OpenCanada.org on Sept. 16. Here’s part of it:

“We often feel helpless because it’s like, ‘Well, what are we supposed to do about climate change if China is opening up a new coal plant every week?’

“Well, this is not just about us. It’s about what Chinese people think of those coal plants and there’s really been a massive amount of dissent. … When I started writing this book, there were no signs of that level of resistance in China. The governing party did not feel the need to make speeches about how they need to scale back economic growth and that they’re doing enough. They’ve just introduced a cap-and-trade system and they have a more ambitious renewable energy system than we do in Canada.”

In Tuesday’s edition of the Asian affairs journal The Diplomat, Stephen Junor notes that China is leading the way in terms of developing green technology.

“Despite China’s reliance on fossil fuels, poor environmental record, and reputation as a roadblock on the path to an emissions reduction deal, it has been a strong advocate for the development of renewable energy technology,” Junor wrote.

“This serves to muddy the waters when it comes to blaming China for potentially condemning the world to dangerous climate change.”

Junor points out that of the 39 gigawatts of solar energy capacity installed around the world last year, a third of it was in China.

“China is now the world’s largest solar market, with solar finance last year equaling that of the whole of Europe at $23.5 billion. In terms of total investment, China dwarfs most of the world at $54 billion.”

The next two highest investors are the U.S. ($36 billion) and Japan ($29 billion).

Wente is right about one thing: climate change is a complex problem.

Which makes it all the more important to stick to facts when you’re writing about it.

 

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. Email pjackson@thetelegram.com. Join him for Naked Lunch, an online forum of spiritied debate and commentary, at 12:30 p.m. Monday to Friday at thetelegram.com.