17 March 2015

Will the Guardian hand back the loot it made from fossil fuels?


I love the Guardian. Ok, that’s not entirely true. I was raised reading the Guardian and while my views on politics and economics have “evolved” considerably in the last twenty-five years, I still have a residual respect for the place, despite the way in which it seems to have come to despise the newspaper and its readers in favour of its website.

Even so, beyond the dotty North London leftist drivel and eco-friendly Hipsterish nonsense that has sullied the Guardian, a good deal of its straightforward news reporting is still excellent. It has very punchy political coverage from one of the best teams in the business. And it has Ian Jack, the greatest and most entertaining columnist in Britain.

Jack, the former editor of Granta, writes every Saturday about whatever takes his fancy. It might be the history of marmalade, or nuclear weapons, or the changing face of India, or cakes, or the Profumo affair, or a contemporary tabloid scandal. Whatever he writes, I could read it until the print falls off (as the old newspaper saying goes).

That should indicate that what I am about to say is not motivated by any malice, or not much.

It is quite simple. The Guardian’s latest campaign – a swan song for the outgoing editor and trainee pianist Alan Rusbridger – is making the Guardian look especially silly.

This week the paper is petitioning two of the largest global charitable foundations, the Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, urging them both to stop investing in companies engaged in the production of fossil fuels. Sixty-Thousand Guardianistas have signed the wretched petition. It states:

“Your organisations have made a huge contribution to human progress and equality by supporting scientific research and development projects. Yet your investments in fossil fuels are putting this progress at great risk, by undermining your long term ambitions. Climate change poses a real threat to all of us, and it is morally and financially misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding and burning more oil, gas and coal. Many philanthropic organisations are divesting their endowments from fossil fuels. We ask you to do the same: to commit now to divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years and to immediately freeze any new investments in those companies.”

Put to one side the arguments about climate change. (Is it happening? Don’t know, probably a bit. Is it all our fault? Doubt it. Is the world about to end? No. Will a big government response cost too much money and probably not work? Yes. Have you ever heard anyone on either side of the argument say, after a fight about climate change, that they have had their mind changed by said fight? No.)

As I said, put all that to one side. I read the details of the Guardian’s fossil fuels campaign and something jarred. And then I remembered the truth.

The Guardian loses a lot of money. But the operation is propped up by a massive cash pile. That cash pile came from the sale last year of its stake in Trader Media Group, publisher of AutoTrader. The Guardian made £600m from the sale, enough to support the titles for three decades, it is said.

That’s great, but AutoTrader is a publishing business based on selling… cars. What do the Guardian team think those cars run on? Organic, fair-trade pomegranate juice? No, the cars that AutoTrader advertised when the Guardian owned it need petrol. For the avoidance of doubt, petrol is a fossil fuel.

In this way the Guardian lectures others about fossil fuels while living off the proceeds of a business that made its money from fossil fuels.

If I was in the shoes of Bill Gates or the Wellcome Trust I would simply respond by saying that they will get rid of their investments in fossil fuels on the day that the Guardian takes its AutoTrader cash and gives it all, every penny, to the United Nations to “fight climate change.”

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX.