Perhaps the most interesting thing about this programme is that it was made at all. It shows how the Green monolith has cracked. For many years, Channel 4 would not have dared devote an hour to the errors of environmentalism; or, if it had done so, it would have wrapped it in the cordon sanitaire always put round anything considered Right-wing, stating that this was a "provocative" and "personal" view.
This was no such programme. Instead, it was a platform for every sinner that repenteth. Former hippy Greens, directors of Greenpeace, the chairmen of the Copenhagen Climate Council and the like, queued up to admit error. Their reasons for doing so were interesting. None of them repudiated all their previous ideas. All continue to believe that there are serious environmental threats to the welfare of life on earth and most seem to be devoting their lives to addressing them. But, as one put it, environmentalists over the past 40 years have "failed to achieve Job One, which was to protect the planet".
At least three central reasons were identified.
Misanthropy. According to a veteran American Green, Stewart Brand, too many Greens believe "Nature good – humans not so good". This approach is ultimately unpersuasive, since it is human beings you are trying to persuade. A policy focused on preventing human activity is one which defies human nature. Mark Lynas, one of the repenters, was shown in his younger days stuffing a custard pie into the face of the environmental sceptic Bjorn Lomborg. Now, he admits with shame, he was ''motivated by a sense of righteousness'' which was self-regarding.
Exaggeration. If you say that the end of the world is nigh all the time, people start to disbelieve you. Paul Ehrlich talked utter rubbish about how the world would starve in the 1970s. A glorious clip showed a young but authoritative Magnus Magnusson explaining against a backdrop of artificial snow that "the new Ice Age" was upon us. Green activists give out the figure of 93,000 for deaths attributable to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. The figure favoured by the recent UN investigation is 65. The idea that there are only a few months or years left to save the planet is both so discouraging and so untrue that it disables the cause it is supposed to galvanise. "We have got some time," said Tim Flannery of the Copenhagen Climate Council, with heretical courage.
Damage. The most powerful part of the programme was that arguing that the Green obsession with banning and preventing things has done actual harm. The refusal to contemplate nuclear power has encouraged more use of fossil fuels and therefore – if you believe the warmist theories – more adverse climate change. The banning of pesticides has led to the deaths of millions of Africans from malaria. The obsessive hatred of GM crops led, in 2002, to the Zambian government refusing US supplies of GM food sent to relieve its people's starvation.
The "precautionary principle", upon which environmentalists say we should operate when considering scientific innovation, turns out to be one which would deny to countries like China, India or Kenya the chance to escape the poverty which the West has put behind it for more than half a century. These nations, anxious to feed themselves better, resent Green lectures. Developing countries such as these form 80 per cent of the world's population, so Green arguments are least accepted in the places where, environmentalists say, they are most needed.
Another aspect of the damage done is the effect of fear. After Chernobyl, local people, told that their children would be deformed, had huge numbers of abortions. Their levels of alcoholism and stress rose appallingly. Even in Britain, we all know people whose lives are blighted by unnecessary anxiety about the world boiling, flooding, melting down etc. It is a terrible thing to frighten people for no good reason.
Natural conservatives are always suspicious of the phrase "win-win" (so many situations turn out to be "lose-lose"), so I was not persuaded that all will be well. There is surely a conflict between economic growth and the environment which will never go away. It was in the interests of the ex-radicals, many of whom now work for businesses in the energy field, to be cheerful. But their views seemed infinitely more realistic than the orthodoxies they once espoused.
If the drift of this programme is correct, the consequences for politics will be large. All the main political parties have chosen to put their eggs in the frail, Fairtrade, hand-weaved basket of Greenery, imposing rising levies to develop "renewable" sources of power which cannot do the job demanded of them. The basket is starting to break. There will be a political prize, I suspect, for the first party which dares to put its eggs elsewhere.