Watermelons: How Environmentalists Are Killing the Planet, Destroying the Economy and Stealing Your Children’s Future

Watermelons: How Environmentalists Are Killing the Planet, Destroying the Economy and Stealing Your Children's Future
James Delingpole
Biteback, 240pp, £12.99

I'm glad I don't live in James Delingpole's world. For this cut-price Telegraph blogger, everything exists in stark black and white, clearly delineated between good and evil - where "evil" is a sinister, UN-based, left-wing conspiracy to destroy industrialism, and "good" is represented by the efforts of a ragtag band of right-wing libertarians and climate-change deniers to beat the environmental communists/Nazis before they can take over the world. It is a schoolboy vision, deluded and naive, of a topsy-turvy world in which the Royal Society and other august scientific bodies are peopled by "liars, cheats and frauds", while the little guy surfing the internet (Delingpole himself) who courageously disbelieves the white-coated "expert" elite is always right in the end.

Delingpole says he is a Second World War enthusiast and I can't help wondering whether an early life spent poring over endless comics has somehow affected his brain. I lost count of the number of comparisons to Nazis: environmentalists are Nazis, scientists are Nazis, UN officials are Nazis, and we must fight them on the beaches and never surrender to their dastardly intellectualism and cunning, elitist plans. This is a strange and myopic Little Englandism of the internet age and I imagine reading Watermelons is akin to having dinner with Melanie Phillips - the reader is subjected to an endless barrage of unsubstantiated opinion; every case is overstated and everyone else is a Nazi.

In case you don't know what the "watermelons" of the title refers to, this is a pejorative term for environmentalists - the idea is that they are green on the outside but red on the inside. Green activists, in this view, are the new commie menace and anyone yearning for the simplicities of the cold war age can feel reassured that nothing has really changed. This is the kind of comfort blanket that appeals to ultra-reactionaries - mental reassurance that everything is as it has always been. The Bond villain or Nazi scientist is still in his fortified castle, though it is now known as the UN and the man inside stroking a white cat is some sort of environmentalist. But rest assured, the brave hero will beat him in the end and the fantasies of the thousands of ageing British schoolboys (and their American cousins) who have found a home in Delingpole's corner of the blogosphere will be fulfilled.

In Delingpole's world, the "climategate" affair, which erupted in late 2009, was the defining moment. It was supposed to have been a massive scandal that he claims to have discovered or, at the very least, amplified using his tried and trusted technique of lazily recycling hearsay on his blog. This, Delingpole asserts, was when the mask slipped, when a shadowy network of climate modellers, writers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and their lackeys in the "mainstream media" were exposed as Nazis or communists. And all this before the agents of the conspiracy could swoop down and - with three "whitewash" reports that exonerated all involved - ensure that the brief rip in the matrix could be repaired.

The problem is that Delingpole gets even the basics of climategate wrong: within the first 30 pages, he has confused the Hadley Centre (a division of the Met Office) with the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit and utterly mangled an attempted explanation of the "hockey stick" palaeoclimate furore that preceded climategate.

Things go downhill from there. Data is dispensable for Delingpole - that's for the hated elite with their clipboards, computer models and lab coats. We should rely instead on ideology-based assertion, simple common sense and the ever-trusty anecdote. The "medieval warm period", now agreed by palaeoclimatologists to have been a minor regional phenomenon, is resurrected by repetition of the hoary old tale of grapes being grown in England and Norse colonies being established in Greenland. (Both of these happened but hardly count as defining proxy markers for higher world temperatures.)

How do we know that sea levels aren't rising around the Maldives? Not because of confounding data from tide gauges or satellites (which show clear rises, incidentally) but because a single tree on the shoreline of one islet somewhere survived being eroded until it "was destroyed by an Australian sea-level team of climate-change activists funded by the IPCC". Moreover, the supposedly disappearing Arctic sea ice "staged a massive comeback in the winters of 2008 and 2009". Odd that - why should sea ice reappear in the winter? I just can't understand it. Somebody, somewhere must be engaging in a conspiracy.

Unfortunately, we have to wait until page 200 before the conspirators are revealed. Being shadowy, we still don't know quite who they are but they certainly have some influential members, including obvious evil-doers such as Bianca Jagger, the Dalai Lama and some former prime minister of Belgium. It was all cooked up either by the Club of Rome in the 1970s (of The Limits to Growth fame) or at the 1992 Earth Summit. It's not clear which but the latter produced the infamous Agenda 21 document, which is in reality the founding constitution of a putative new world order.

The weasel word "sustainability" is code for a plan to sweep away democracy and capitalism. I am still not clear how these "watermelons" can be both Nazis and communists but apparently they are. Unelected NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are "massively powerful eco-thugs" who share the "fascistic impulse [of] Hitler's Brownshirts".

Delingpole is so deluded that he misses the real story. It is true that there is a lot wrong with environmentalism. Most greens do reject perfectly eco-friendly technologies such as nuclear power or GM crops and their Luddite prejudices are as unscientific as Delingpole's right-wing ranting. And a minority of environmentalists are indeed fools who indulge in fantasies usually involving back-to-the-land romanticism, peculiar obsessions with obsolete technologies such as scythes and a hatred of the very industrially derived comfort that feeds them and affords them the cyberspace in which to spout their nonsense.

In other words, some are "watermelons". I believe that capitalism and democracy sometimes need defending from the more deluded greens, and the environmental movement as a whole is far too much a creature of the political left. Delingpole, however, is not the man to make this case, because doing so would involve some original research.

I must end with an admission. I did not finish Watermelons. I think I deserve some credit for getting two-thirds of the way through before throwing my Kindle down in disgust. After 200 pages of fart jokes, matey non sequiturs and polemical gibberish, I had had enough. This is like Jeremy Clarkson but without the wit. If you want to know what happens at the end, you will have to read it yourself. But don't pay for it, for God's sake. You might encourage Delingpole to write another. And that is something we should all be spared.

Mark Lynas is the author of "The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans" (Fourth Estate, £14.99)

Mark Lynas has is an environmental activist and a climate change specialist. His books on the subject include High Tide: News from a warming world and Six Degree: Our future on a hotter planet.
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A simple U-Turn may not be enough to get the Conservatives out of their tax credit mess

The Tories are in a mess over cuts to tax credits. But a mere U-Turn may not be enough to fix the problem. 

A spectre is haunting the Conservative party - the spectre of tax credit cuts. £4.4bn worth of cuts to the in-work benefits - which act as a top-up for lower-paid workers - will come into force in April 2016, the start of the next tax year - meaning around three million families will be £1,000 worse off. For most dual-earner families affected, that will be the equivalent of a one partner going without pay for an entire month.

The politics are obviously fairly toxic: as one Conservative MP remarked to me before the election, "show me 1,000 people in my constituency who would happily take a £1,000 pay cut, then we'll cut welfare". Small wonder that Boris Johnson is already making loud noises about the coming cuts, making his opposition to them a central plank of his 

Tory nerves were already jittery enough when the cuts were passed through the Commons - George Osborne had to personally reassure Conservative MPs that the cuts wouldn't result in the nightmarish picture being painted by Labour and the trades unions. Now that Johnson - and the Sun - have joined in the chorus of complaints.

There are a variety of ways the government could reverse or soften the cuts. The first is a straightforward U-Turn: but that would be politically embarrassing for Osborne, so it's highly unlikely. They could push back the implementation date - as one Conservative remarked - "whole industries have arranged their operations around tax credits now - we should give the care and hospitality sectors more time to prepare". Or they could adjust the taper rates - the point in your income  at which you start losing tax credits, taking away less from families. But the real problem for the Conservatives is that a mere U-Turn won't be enough to get them out of the mire. 

Why? Well, to offset the loss, Osborne announced the creation of a "national living wage", to be introduced at the same time as the cuts - of £7.20 an hour, up 70p from the current minimum wage.  In doing so, he effectively disbanded the Low Pay Commission -  the independent body that has been responsible for setting the national minimum wage since it was introduced by Tony Blair's government in 1998.  The LPC's board is made up of academics, trade unionists and employers - and their remit is to set a minimum wage that provides both a reasonable floor for workers without costing too many jobs.

Osborne's "living wage" fails at both counts. It is some way short of a genuine living wage - it is 70p short of where the living wage is today, and will likely be further off the pace by April 2016. But, as both business-owners and trade unionists increasingly fear, it is too high to operate as a legal minimum. (Remember that the campaign for a real Living Wage itself doesn't believe that the living wage should be the legal wage.) Trade union organisers from Usdaw - the shopworkers' union - and the GMB - which has a sizable presence in the hospitality sector -  both fear that the consequence of the wage hike will be reductions in jobs and hours as employers struggle to meet the new cost. Large shops and hotel chains will simply take the hit to their profit margins or raise prices a little. But smaller hotels and shops will cut back on hours and jobs. That will hit particularly hard in places like Cornwall, Devon, and Britain's coastal areas - all of which are, at the moment, overwhelmingly represented by Conservative MPs. 

The problem for the Conservatives is this: it's easy to work out a way of reversing the cuts to tax credits It's easy to see how Osborne could find a non-embarrassing way out of his erzatz living wage, which fails both as a market-friendly minimum and as a genuine living wage. A mere U-Turn may not be enough. 


Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.