When environmentalists aren’t aping the war on terror (‘you’re either with us or against us‘, not to mention sexing up documents to generate an unwarranted sense of urgency) they can sometimes sound uncannily like the lunatic extremists that the war on terror is supposed to be against.
Last night Tony Juniper, executive director of the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth, said far more fundamental lifestyle changes were needed than had been considered by the UN group. ‘Simply replacing one set of technologies with another set of technologies won’t work, especially when there are such big downsides with some of them,’ he said. Nuclear reactors are dangerous and land clearance and chemical pesticides and fertilisers used to grow fuel crops can cause huge environmental damage, he added. ‘Structural change to the economy, behaviour change and culture change – those have to be elements in a world of decarbonisation,’ said Juniper.
What is striking about Juniper’s reaction is that he seems happy to welcome the IPCC’s ‘scientific consensus’ when it suits him, but when the IPCC starts developing technological solutions to the problem of climate change, it doesn’t suit him. For Juniper, technology is the cause of the world’s problems. In which case, how could he possibly see it as a solution to them? He doesn’t want technological fixes. After all, they only encourage the root causes of the problem – our decadence. The problem, according to Juniper, is not technical, it is ethical, so it is a point of principle that only ‘fundamental lifestyle changes’ are good enough. In fact, environmentalists are prone to argue this line to the extent that one can be left wondering whether changing the economy, behaviour and culture is a higher priority than actually ‘saving the planet’.
Compare Juniper’s view of the industrial world to that of Theodore Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber)…
The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation… But we do outline in a very general way the measures that those who hate the industrial system should take in order to prepare the way for a revolution against that form of society. This is not to be a POLITICAL revolution. Its object will be to overthrow not governments but the economic and technological basis of the present society
There are, of course, still important differences between Juniper and Kaczynski. First, Friends of the Earth aren’t trying to bomb us into submission. Also, in stark contrast to Kaczynski, Juniper calls for the government to implement the regulation of lifestyle, economics and culture that he demands. In this respect, Juniper is apparently advocating a return not only to a pre-technological society, but to political medievalism. Juniper is apparently more Taliban than Unabomber.
Just as the Taliban arrested people in possession of music, televisions and radios for their corrupting influence on society’s relationship with God, Juniper imagines engineered solutions to climate change to be corrupting our relationship with nature. This isn’t a view of humanity that can be sustained by science. Indeed, it is inherently anti-science, which is why Juniper has to drop the ‘science’ as soon as starts to challenge his ‘ethical’ perspective. In his vision, the state monitors our behaviour, regulates consumption and oversees material sacrifice.
Given that the environmentalists oscillate so easily between the rhetoric of the White House and cave-dwelling Luddites, perhaps they should go off and have a war with themselves and leave the rest of us to work out how best to proceed toward an uncertain future.