AS the third season of Succession kicks off, it’s worth revisiting one of the most memorable quotes from season two. The quote springs to mind as COP26 approaches. But first some context for anyone not familiar with the series.

Succession is about who will succeed the ageing Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox, in running the family business. The Roys are in the media business, but any resemblance between the characters, and the plot, to Rupert Murdoch’s family and its shenanigans is purely coincidental as they say. One can’t imagine, for example, that the Murdochs see the world almost entirely through the metaphor of sexual practices between key players as they swan around the world in private jets, superyachts and a convoy of black SUVs. In Roy family dialogue there are more f**ks per episode than beads on a rosary. 

So media mogul Logan Roy’s News Corp, sorry, Waystar RoyCo, is run by this competitive dysfunctional family that often disagrees over company strategy and especially about who should take over when Logan retires, or becomes incapacitated, or dies. The action focuses on Logan’s children from various marriages and the grandson of Logan’s brother Ewan. The grandson, Greg, is employed by Waystar, much to the disapproval of Ewan who is not directly involved in running the business but who does sit on the company board. Greg is in line to inherit $250m when Ewan dies but must live with the constant threat that Ewan will leave the fortune to Greenpeace. 
In episode eight of season two, Ewan tells Greg what he thinks of his “morally bankrupt” brother and “this empire of shit”, the Waystar corporation: “He’s a nothing man who may well be more personally responsible for the death of this planet than any other single human being. In terms of the lives that will be lost by his whoring for the climate change deniers, there’s a very persuasive argument to be made that he’s worse than Hitler.” 


This is, of course, fiction. But there is more to Ewan’s attack on media power and climate change denial in this scene than meets the eye. These lines would never have been written if the actor who plays Ewan had not insisted that he would only participate in the series if his character took a moral stand against Waystar. Before signing up for Succession, James Cromwell (now 81 and whose roles include LA Confidential and The Green Mile) sat down with writer Jesse Armstrong and convinced her that the part of Ewan had to be re-written to reflect Cromwell’s own politics. Given that fictional Ewan’s backstory includes a stint in the Vietnam war, this would have changed his view of the world, making it different from the rest of the family. And so the part was changed. 

Amidst reports that Boris Johnson’s government is having difficulty deciding how much to spend on green transition, it is worth remembering that it will never be enough because their financial backers, and the interests they represent, want to slow down any undermining of fossil fuel assets. 

Ewan’s character now bears some resemblance to James Cromwell’s own oppositional politics. Because Succession is an approximate portrayal of the Murdoch dynasty, Cromwell argues, it is essential that the series exposes rather than justifies gross power and wealth: “It’s a criminal enterprise,” Cromwell told The Guardian. 
One of his film roles was in Babe (1995), about a piglet who can communicate with other farm animals and ends up herding sheep. Cromwell, already a vegetarian, became vegan after making this film. He was deeply influenced by the civil rights movement, actively opposed the Vietnam war and was a member of the Committee to Defend the Black Panthers. More recently he has become an environmental activist and been imprisoned for anti-fracking protests. 


He is not alone among the cast in opposing the type of wealth and power wielded by the Murdochs. Brian Cox, who plays Logan in the series, is a self-professed socialist but distances himself from the “antiquated socialism” of the current British Labour Party in its support for the union: Cox is pro-Scottish independence. In a recent New York Times interview that he was asked if he had sympathy for the problems of ultrawealthy families like the Roys. He answered: “I see the wealthy all finally getting hoisted by their own petard. When you look at somebody like Richard Branson saying we should have more spaceships – we don’t need more spaceships, Richard. We have a problem down here called global warming.”

Both actors are rightly focused on the climate emergency and the role of the super-rich in defending fossil fuel interests. Twenty companies are responsible for a third of global emissions; 100 companies account for more than two-thirds. This is the real challenge of COP26: will the host country set a shining example by winding up its off-shore oil industry, ending tax breaks for oil and gas exploration, and extracting its foreign policy from supporting the interests of BP, Shell and other fossil fuel companies? To do so would be to face up to historical responsibility for emissions which must be central to arguments over climate justice.
The problem for Britain is that it is more responsible for the pickle the planet is in than most countries because of the coal-based industrial revolution and the empire’s practices of resource extraction, deforestation and bio-diversity destruction throughout the past two centuries. Britain is neck and neck with the US when it comes to historical emissions – around 1,200 tonnes of CO2 per person.  

These days, Britain’s role in supporting fossil fuel interests is mainly through finance and off-shore banking facilities. According to a joint study by the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace (The Big Smoke), British financial institutions are responsible for almost double (1.8 times) the CO2 emissions produced domestically. If the financial institutions were a country, “they would have the 9th largest emissions in the world – larger than Germany and Canada”. 
Amidst reports that Boris Johnson’s government is having difficulty deciding how much to spend on green transition, it is worth remembering that it will never be enough because their financial backers, and the interests they represent, want to slow down any undermining of fossil fuel assets. Rishi Sunak has a personal fortune of £200m, overshadowed somewhat by his marital partner Akshata Murthy’s pile of £480m. Sunak does not break bread with people on Universal Credit; he dinner-parties with finance, hedge funds and Tory party donors.