Richard Ingrams’s Week: It takes all kinds to get involved in the eco debate

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The Independent Online

As the great debate about global warming grinds on, it is as well to bear in mind that there is more than a fair share of nutters on both sides of the divide.

The death this week of Teddy Goldsmith, brother of the late Sir James and Uncle of David Cameron's green adviser Zac, is a useful reminder that lunacy often of a quite advanced kind is never far away when the talk turns to climate change or population control.

Teddy Goldsmith, founder of The Ecologist magazine, was a pioneer in the field. As long ago as 1970 he produced with the help of his friend John Aspinall – another nutter – a paper called Blueprint for Survival prophesying the eminent collapse of industrial society and advocating the need for smaller self-sufficient communities relying on natural energy powered by sewage, etc.

Launching the paper, Aspinall appeared to welcome recent floods in Bangladesh which had swept away thousands of surplus human beings. It would be a great mistake to think that such people were just harmless eccentrics whose views would not be taken seriously by the scientific community. Goldsmith's Blueprint was later republished by Penguin Books and endorsed by a number of distinguished scientists such as Sir Peter Medawar and Sir Julian Huxley.

Likewise, in our day one should not be surprised to find Sir David Attenborough and scientists like Professor Chris Rapley calling for a two-thirds cut in the world's population. None of these respected pundits would dare publicly welcome floods in Bangladesh, but in private they must be tempted to think along the same lines.

Not everyone joins in the uproar

A few weeks ago a schoolmaster hit the headlines when he was charged with attempted murder after assaulting a boy in his class with a lead weight. It was reported that the man in question had previously suffered a stroke brought on by stress and should never have been re-employed by his school. The public reaction was one of shock and horror as it always has to be these days over any assault on a child.

But in staff common rooms throughout the land, I would imagine that the response was very different. Anyone who has ever taught a classroom of boys – and I myself was briefly employed at a prep school – will be familiar with the almost uncontrollable feelings of rage which can be fuelled by the frequently extreme provocation on the part of the vicious pupils. Today, when far more teachers are assaulted by their pupils than vice versa, it would not be surprising if Professor Hunter (the man accused of murder) were to be regarded by his fellow schoolmasters not as a vicious sadist who should be locked up but as something of a hero and role model.

Much the same kind of reaction might be expected in the case of company director Neville Hill, the man accused of killing his neighbour's yapping terrier with a hoe. We may not know the rights and wrongs of this particular incident but anyone familiar with yapping terriers – and once more I speak from personal experience – will know the murderous thoughts that they can give rise to. But again, when cruelty to animals is thought of as even worse than cruelty to children, you can't say that sort of thing in public.

It's the only way to act in a civilised world

"The civilised world recoils in disgust," wrote the Daily Mail's Richard Littlejohn, "from the early release of the only man convicted of the worst ever atrocity on British soil."

He was referring of course to the so-called Lockerbie bomber Mr Abdul al-Megrahi (top left). And it was true. Only the other day I came across a fellow commuter waiting at the local railway station. He looked pale and edged away from me as though I were a victim of the swine flu.

"Are you all right? Can I do anything to help? Could I fetch you a glass of water? You look as if you have seen a ghost."

"If only I had," he replied with a shaking voice. "No. I am recoiling in disgust at the early release of the only person convicted of the worst atrocity ever committed on British soil."

In France, Germany or Japan, wherever you went in the civilised world the story was the same: everyone was recoiling in disgust at the news. A party held to celebrate England's victory in the Ashes broke up when the news of Mr al-Megrahi's release was announced. "And that was it," said one of the merry-makers. "The drinking and the singing came to an abrupt end. Flintoff's brilliant run-out of Ponting was forgotten and everyone began to recoil in disgust."

In the whole of the civilised world I could find only a single exception. He was trembling and clutching a copy of the Daily Mail.

"It's Megrahi isn't it?" I said. "You are recoiling in disgust along with the rest of the civilised world." "You can call me a recoiler all right," he replied, "but it's not Megrahi. It's that Richard Littlejohn. I am recoiling in disgust at the thought of the Daily Mail paying him £850,000 a year to write this disgraceful rubbish."

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