Paxman on the attack over BBC's 'laughable' green policy

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The Independent Online

Jeremy Paxman has accused the makers of the acclaimed nature documentary series Planet Earth of undermining their "green" message by creating a "carbon vapour" while filming across the globe.

Paxman, the presenter of BBC's Newsnight said that, although producers of the BBC series, fronted by Sir David Attenborough, went to great lengths to highlight levels of climate change taking place globally, they were creating their own carbon footprint in the absence of an official offsetting policy. He also accused his employers of being "corporate hypocrites" over their apparently unsound green credentials.

In an article for the BBC's in-house magazine, Ariel, Paxman launched a page-length broadside against the BBC's lack of offsetting policy, the shortage of office recycling bins and the corporation's tendency to keep lights and computer terminals running all night.

He also spoke of his reservations about the filming of Planet Earth. "The BBC's environmental correspondents, even the makers of series like Planet Earth, are trapped in a bizarre arrangement in which they travel the globe to tell the audience of the dangers of climate change while leaving a vapour trail which will make the problem even worse," he said.

"Maybe the BBC could even demonstrate its green credentials by planting an entire forest, and making a series about it?"

Filming for the series, which was first transmitted in March, involved visiting 62 countries and 204 different locations in four years.

Paxman went on to point out that while the BBC took a "high moral tone" against environmental damage, its methods left much to be desired. "The BBC believes people do not pay their licence fees to see them spent on offset arrangements. So correspondents ... pay from their own pockets to offset the costs of their flights.

"When I asked Yogesh Chauhan, the chief adviser for corporate responsibility, why, he replied, 'The biggest impact we can make is through our programmes'. The problem is, no one has yet worked out how to generate electricity by hand-wringing."

Paxman posed the question of whether it really made sense in terms of environmental cost to film productions such as the recent BBC1 drama Robin Hood in so-called "cheaper" locations such as Hungary.

He added "tens of millions" were being spent on the news centre at Television Centre "in which the air conditioning units have to be kept running even in the middle of January," adding "computer terminals and lights blaze away all night."

Such was the waste that the BBC's electricity bill had doubled in the past three years from almost £6.5m to £13m, he claimed.

Paxman branded the corporation's recycling policy "laughable", with a lack of bins for recycling glass, plastic and tin. He also alleged he had seen bags from green bins for paper collection "tossed into general skips on more than one occasion".

He suggested a corporation-wide policy was "urgently needed" with steps including "a commitment to reduce overall carbon emissions by at least 3 per cent each year for the next 10. No new building to be commissioned without meeting the most stringent energy standards. All BBC vehicles to be "green", staff to be encouraged to minimise air travel, and the carbon cost of all unavoidable journeys to be offset".

In response, the BBC said that while Paxman had raised some valid points, the corporation was committed to a comprehensive environmental policy to "minimise energy consumption, reduce harmful emissions, reuse, recover and reduce waste; use environmentally friendly transport and develop a corporate culture that takes green responsibilities seriously and look at ways to improve what we do - and how we do it".

On carbon offsetting, the corporation said: "If the BBC is to cover events in, and make programmes about, the rest of the world then some level of overseas travel is inevitable." But it added it will be reviewing possibilities of offsetting.