Why I want balance on climate change coverage

Debate versus "debate".

I want balance in my reporting on climate change. I need to be exposed to views different to my own, to get the facts required to be able to defend my views when they’re right, or reassess them if they’re wrong.

I want balance between people who say aviation can be made clean, and those who say it is inherently unsustainably polluting.

I want balance between people who say nuclear capacity can be increased in time to aid the short-term cuts to emissions, and those who argue it is too slow and expensive to build.

I want balance between people who view carbon reduction as the only priority for green politics, and those who maintain that it is one problem in many. Between the people who would barrage the Severn for clean energy, and those who would burn dirty fuel to save endangered species.

I want balance between those who think CCS can capture enough carbon to matter, and those who don’t.

I want balance between the technological utopians and the people who argue every facet of our lives will need to change.

I want balance between the photovoltaic cell manufacturers, the wind turbine machinists, the nuclear physicists, and the myriad other sources of carbon-neutral energy.

I want balance between people who argue for 80 per cent reductions by 2050, and those who say that needs to happen 20 years sooner.

With some of these debates, I take sides. With a few, I think the other side is dangerously wrong. But, as much as a might wish otherwise, these are discussions we need to have. 

What I don’t want, or need, is balance between those who argue climate change is a problem, and those who argue it isn’t. Between those who want to do something to stop it, and those who want to save their money and spend it on mopping up the bodies later.

These are not questions on which there is confusion, on which there are strong arguments on both sides where concerted debate is necessary to sort out competing claims. These are questions which are settled, and which have been settled for years. Absent compelling new evidence, there is no point in repeating the historical debates. And that evidence the sort likely to be supplied by climatologists, not Telegraph bloggers -

I have no interest in arguing with these people. I don’t need to hear their viewpoints, or learn ways to rebut them, because I don’t plan on wasting my time talking to them about it in the first place, and doubt they plan on being convinced any time soon. They don’t want debate, they want uncertainty, doubt and, above all, delay. 

So when the BBC is revealed to have consulted a range of voices on guiding its climate coverage, from members of the IEA and CBI, through industry groups like NPower and BP, to organisations like Greenpeace and Tearfund and academics from Oxford, Imperial and Harvard universities, I am cheered. But the fact that they didn't feel the need to hew to false balance, to invite people to rekindle quenched fires for no reason other than their own desire to do so, is even better news.

Are wind farms the best way to cut carbon? Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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A rape-able sex robot makes the world more dangerous for women, not less

Eroticising a lack of consent is no answer to male sexual violence. 

On Wednesday, the Independent reported a new setting had been added to the personality range of a sex robot made by the company True Companion. Called “Frigid Farrah”, the setting allows men who own the robot to simulate rape. If you touch it in a “private area” when it is in this mode, the website explains, it will “not be appreciative of your advance”.

True Companion says the robot is not programmed to participate in a rape scenario, and the idea is “pure conjecture”. Nevertheless, the news has reopened the debate about sex robots and their relationship to consent. What does a rape-able robot say about our attitudes to consent, sex, violence and humanism? Do sex robots like Frigid Farrah eroticise and normalise male sexual aggression? Or does allowing men to “act out” these “most private sexual dreams” on inanimate objects actually make real women safer?

The idea that allowing men to “rape” robots could reduce rates of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. Sex robot settings that eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, coupled with male aggression, risk normalising rape. It sends a message to the user that it is sexually fulfilling to violate a woman’s “No”.

It’s important to remember that rape is not a product of sexual desire. Rape is about power and domination – about violating a woman’s body and her sense of self. Raping a robot is of course preferable to raping a woman, but the fact is we need to challenge the attitudes and sense of entitlement that cause violent men to rape in the first place.

There is little evidence to back the claim that giving men sexual “outlets” reduces violence. The research that exists is focused on whether a legalised sex industry can reduce sexual assault.

Studies on Dutch “tippelzones” – spaces where soliciting is legal between certain hours – claimed the areas led to a reduction in sexual violence. However, the research lacked precise data on incidents of sexual violence and abuse, and the fact that sex workers themselves can be victims. As a result, it wasn’t possible to determine exactly how the number of rapes and assaults fell in the population at large.

Similar claims made by social scientist Catherine Hakim also failed to prove a causal link between legalised prostitution and reduced levels of sexual violence – again, because low reporting means a lack of accurate data.

Other research claims that access to the sex industry can in fact increase incidents of sexual violence. A 2013 report by Garner and Elvines for Rape Crisis South London argued that an analysis of existing research found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in non-experimental studies”.

Meanwhile, a 2000 paper by Neil Malamuth, T Addison, and J Koss suggested that, when individuals considered at high risk of acting sexually aggressively are studied, levels of aggression are four times higher among frequent consumers of pornography.

However, just as the research fails to find a causal link between access to the sex industry and reducing violence, there is no research proving a causal link between violent pornography and gender-based violence.

Instead, we have to look at the ethical and moral principles in an industry that creates models of women for men to orgasm into. Sex robots are, at their heart, anti-humanist. They replace women with plastic and holes. They create a world for their owners where women’s voices and demands and desires and pleasures – and right to say no – are absent.

That should trouble us – we are creating products for men which send a message that the best woman is a compliant and silent one. That the best woman is one who lies back and “likes what you like, dislikes what you dislike”, to quote the True Companion website, who is “always ready to talk and play” but whose voice you can turn off whenever you want.

“By transferring one of the great evils of humanity from the real to the artificial, sex robots simply feed the demon of sexism,” says Professor Alan Winfield of the Bristol Robotics Lab. “Some might say, 'What’s the problem – a sex robot is just metal and plastic – where’s the harm?' But a 'fembot' is a sexualised representation of a woman or girl, which not only invites abusive treatment but demands it. A robot cannot give consent – thus only deepening the already chronic and dangerous objectification of real women and girls.”

What research does tell us is that there is a clear link between violence and the perpetrator’s ability to dehumanise their victims. That, and a setting designed to eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, suggest that Frigid Farrah will have no impact on reducing sexual assault. Rather, it creates a space where rape and violence is normalised and accepted.

Instead of shrugging our shoulders at this sexualisation of male violence, we should be taking action to end the belief that men are entitled to women’s bodies. That starts by saying that rape is not an inevitable part of our society, and the danger of rape cannot simply be neutralised by a robot.

Sian Norris is a writer. She blogs at sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com and is the Founder & Director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival. She was previously writer-in-residence at Spike Island.