‘What if I told you that solving the climate crisis is possible,” posits Kevin McCloud. Yes, the McCloud of the debonair scarves and boundless enthusiasm for houses made out of shipping containers. “This isn’t a fantasy,” pipes up Mary Portas, who rose from queen of the shops to government tsar of the high street in just three TV series. And who is this bringing up the rear? It’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the nicest posh, double-barrelled TV chef in Britain! “The good news is we have the tools,” he promises. Maybe it’s the straw-grasping stage of the climate emergency we are at, but I believe them. The question is, will our government listen?
Of course not. I suspect even if Chris Evans, Jon Snow, Denise van Outen and all the other ghosts of Channel 4 past came on board, Rishi Sunak would be unavailable for comment. Maybe it’s still worth a try.
Welcome to The Great Climate Fight, a two-part curio of the times that sounds just enough like The Great British Bake Off, The Great Pottery Throw Down and The Great House Giveaway to conjure up soothing images of Portas taking Jeremy Hunt down a peg or two, then Fearnley-Whittingstall cooking up a ribollita for the Climate Change Committee (CCC) at the River Cottage. Which it very much is not. Still, our country’s ability to churn out “and the band played on” content in Titanic-meet-iceberg circumstances is something to behold. Come 2050, when we are living in the fires of Mordor and David Cameron (PM! Again!) is guaranteeing that we will achieve net zero by the day’s end, expect to sit down with a nice cuppa to The Great British Endgame. In which, say, a far-right politician is invited to a jungle in New South Wales to slither his way back into public life. Erm, wait a minute …
The Great Climate Fight is way more principled than this – and than its title suggests. It’s also way more angry. “They are completely and utterly gaslighting us,” Portas says at one point. “We have a lying government.” Or what about the presenter of Grand Designs wearing a wire so he can infiltrate a housing AGM and politely – this is McCloud after all, not Paxman – ask the chairman of Persimmon Homes if he is still briefing the government. Because, lest we forget, 80% of political donations from the housing sector go to the Conservative party.
Meanwhile, Portas hides the sixth carbon budget – a beautifully bound tome penned by the CCC laying out the UK’s completely achievable pathway to net zero by 2050, if the government would just follow, nay, read, the damn thing – in a fake proof of a Jilly Cooper novel, then sends it to Sunak. Fearnley-Whittingstall gets up at 2am to do a spot of “not strictly legal” flyposting in Grant Shapps’ constituency. Apart from inciting a thumbs-up text from Zac Goldsmith, it doesn’t really achieve anything. The grim truth is that none of it does.
Still, each indefatigable presenter fights their battle. McCloud is irate about the fact that we live in some of the worst-insulated homes in Europe. He talks to builders constructing greener, cheaper homes, waxes lyrical about heat pumps and visits a town in Sweden on course to reach net zero in six years. Fearnley-Whittingstall calls for an end to the effective ban in England on onshore wind, one of the cheapest forms of energy. It was enforced eight years ago by the Conservatives. Enter Cameron – back into politics, yes, but also into a particularly depressing section of this documentary. “The public are frankly fed up with so many windfarms being built,” he announced in 2014, not so much reading the room as misreading the planet. And so, last year, while France and Germany installed 1,000 wind turbines between them, we installed … two. (The restrictions were eased in September, after this series was filmed.)
The Great Climate Fight is filled with horrifying stats and graphs. One climate lawyer explains that, in 2020, the UK was the only country in the world in which Shell operates where it didn’t pay any taxes. Portas goes on the hunt for Hunt to demand that he stop giving billions to oil and gas companies. Not that she can find him. “It’s bloody ridiculous,” she groans. “Like Where’s Wally!” Never one to be put off, whether trying to find a killer frock or the chancellor’s conscience, she heads to the Treasury with a megaphone. Good on her.
In a turn of events that none of us saw coming back in the days of Eurotrash and TFI Friday, Channel 4 seems to have morphed into this country’s climate conscience; the CCC of our telly networks, if you will. In September, Chris Packham’s agonising over whether it was time for him to break the law resulted in one of the most heart-rending documentaries of the year. Now, McCloud, Portas and Fearnley-Whittingstall take up what they call “the most important campaign of our lives”.
It’s true that individuals can only do so much; it will take governments and big business sorting themselves out to save the planet. It’s also true that at no point does a minister sit down with any of them. But God love this crack team of Channel 4 big cheeses for trying.
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