Eco-Humanism?

At New Matilda, Sarah Burnside argues that:

The simplest and most compelling argument for addressing climate change is humanist in nature. As human beings, we must take seriously our need to care for each other, whether at the specific level of provision of universal healthcare benefits and international aid, or in the more abstract sense of societal cohesiveness. By extension, policies put forward to combat the effects of climate change need not be justified by invoking Gaia or anthropomorphising dolphins or polar bears.

This statement comes, not, as one might expect, as a criticism of the Green movement’s tendency to mythologise, or anthropomorphise the natural world, but at the end of an attack on ‘deniers’. She concludes:

Rather, progressives sensibly argue that human beings have a duty to each other, including to future generations. Humans will fail in this duty if we place short-term economic gain over the environmental conditions which will shape the lives of humanity in the future.

Arguments like these are drawn not from a “green religion”, but from a belief in humanity.

Burnside must, however, recognise that there certainly exists a ‘green religion’, or at least, that irrational ideas do operate, and achieve influence within the green ‘movement’. She must also recognise that these are the principle weaknesses of the movement she wishes to advance, and moreover, are the principle object of the ‘deniers’ arguments, and ought to be the object of her criticism too.

But as we have pointed out before, it is very hard for environmentalists to criticise their own. It is not a movement which is able to reflect critically on itself, or even its own elements. It is, so to speak, as if its ‘own parts do not smell’. But in fact we don’t need to look far to find intensely anti-human and influential currents within the Green movement that stand opposed to political and material freedoms – so much of it fails Burnside’s test of humanism, comprehensively.

So what are we left with, if we strip away all of the anti-human elements of the entire green movement? We think: nothing.

Burnside may want to disagree. In her attack on ‘denialists’, however, she gives us only two clues as to what a green humanism might consist of:

…human beings have a duty to each other, including to future generations…

and

…we must take seriously our need to care for each other, whether at the specific level of provision of universal healthcare benefits and international aid, or in the more abstract sense of societal cohesiveness.

This account of humanism doesn’t identify anything which makes it distinct. You don’t need to be an environmentalist to believe in ‘universal healthcare’, or for social cohesion, for instance. The rhetorical implication of Burnside’s article is that the ‘deniers’ she lists just don’t care about people. Burnside talks more about policy than about precepts, and reveals more about her own prejudices than her opponents’.

As we have argued here, one can understand climate change as a problem that needs addressing without believing that the problems stand as moral imperatives that demand special form of politics. We could – hypothetically – for instance, argue that an Arctic free from summer sea ice is, while in some senses regrettable, perhaps a price worth paying for the development that might cause it. We could, again hypothetically, emphasise that development offers the people who are most vulnerable to climate a better hope of both prosperity and survival than does a ‘sustainable’ lifestyle.

These propositions are, however, anathema to almost the entire green movement, who will put either the worst-case scenario or the precautionary principle in the way of such a moral calculation.

This is because there is a fundamental idea operating within environmentalism which is incompatible with humanism. It proposes that our principle relationship is not with each other, but with the natural world. Accordingly, ‘duty to each other’ exists principally as a duty to the planet, and ‘societal cohesiveness’ comes from without humanity, being predicated on a sustainable relationship with the natural world. In other words, human relationships are – and must be – mediated by the ‘environment’. These precepts operate prior to the humanist ethic that Burnside attempts to claim for the green movement: humanism is delimited by environmentalism. A failure to recognise these environmental precepts is, according to environmentalists, equivalent to wanting to destroy humanity in an environmental catastrophe.

There is no such thing as eco-humanism, nor progressive environmentalism. Environmentalism is simply anti-human by degree – the extent to which any variant of environmentalism is anti-human is the extent to which it subjects humans to environmental ‘ethics’.

Any notion which doesn’t take the possibility of global catastrophe for granted is excluded from the discussion, and so the discussion about how to organise our lives is premised on the idea that if we don’t recognise environmental imperatives, we will necessarily create Thermageddon. The problem with any such calculation is that its conclusion is its premise. It exists prior to the scientific investigation of our influence on the climate, and it exists prior to the discussion about how human society will in turn be influenced by that change, and how we ought to respond.

40 thoughts on “Eco-Humanism?”

  1. You are falling into the trap of confusing traditional environmentalism from the parasitic, anti-industry, anti-human, self-promoting pseudo-environmentalists who have managed to infiltrate green politics.

    The true environmentalist message isn’t anti-industry or anti-human. They just believe that we have a collective responsibility not to foul our own nests and though that might cost a little more in the short-term it is palpably better for everybody in the long-term. Which is basically what she is saying.

    And in thinking that CO2 is harmful she has quite naturally been influenced by those scientists who promote such beliefs. I don’t think most of these well-meaning middle-class chatterers have even considered that the unintended consequences of bad policy on the poorest could be far worse than any supposed climate change issues. Nor have they considered it may all based on poorly-supported science. They hear the talk about “mountains of evidence” and don’t know that it’s really a mountain of speculation.

    It’s easy to guess there may be impacts from warming, guess that both the warming and the impacts will get worse but to present this guesswork as “evidence” in the media is plain dishonesty. So I blame those dishonest scientists and journalists who do this, not the people who believe them.

    In fact, “policies put forward to combat the effects of climate change” implicitly assume that there are effects and that they are bad by definition. Whereas every proper look at the real data shows that storms, droughts, loss of land etc, etc, all have zero long-term trends. Someone at some point must surely realize that in order to fix a problem the problem has to exist in the first place.

    The trouble is they don’t even bother to look, preferring instead to blame every natural event on climate change and say it wouldn’t happen if we weren’t tweaking the system. They then stick their irrational fears in a misdirected model.

    One basic demonstration of this is the angst over deforestation, based entirely on models, yet we have the satellite data showing the planet has been greening up for 20 to 30 years. Another is the model-based projections of land-loss in Bangladesh or the Maldives when in fact they are both gaining land.

  2. James – ‘…falling into the trap of confusing traditional environmentalism from the parasitic, anti-industry…’

    What is ‘traditional environmentalism’? Is there any such thing? There are romantic, and variously ‘green’ currents throughout the modern era, and there are more contemporary forms of environmentalism such as neo-Malthusianism, and so on. But there’s nothing concrete – that we’re aware of – that can be identified as the ‘traditional environmentalism’. Your attempt to define it shows the problem:

    They just believe that we have a collective responsibility not to foul our own nests and though that might cost a little more in the short-term it is palpably better for everybody in the long-term.

    Nobody argues that we should foul our own nests, nor even that ‘fouling our own nests’ isn’t a problem. A definition of environmentalism, therefore, requires more than this – it needs a proposition or precept which asserts itself over the cost/benefit analysis you described.

    So I blame those dishonest scientists and journalists who do this, not the people who believe them.

    Blame isn’t necessarily the most helpful idea here. Burnside certainly fails to reflect critically on the ideas she’s propagating, as do scientists and journalists. But scientists and journalists are people too, and it’s not clear that environmentalism (in whichever form) is the simple product of dishonesty.

    We argue here that it is not clear that the science is prior to politics – the political idea of the environment and our relationship to it often exists prior to the science.

    So the extent to which one believes that the effects of climate change will be catastrophic depends substantially on the view you have of human society. If you think – for example – that we live in a closely dependent relationship with the natural world, it is easy to see why you think small changes might precipitate huge disasters. If a scientist is taken with that idea, isn’t he committed to saying what he thinks his research shows?

    However, if you think our relationship with the natural world is more robust, and substantially predicated on our own level of development, then you are more likely to think that development ought to be a political priority.

    Environmentalism – in it’s most current form – might be the result of the weakening of the latter perspective. In which case, blame lies with us, and the responsibility for making a more positive case for development lies with us. Especially if the former position is the ‘default’. The environmental movement’s inability to reflect critically on itself is therefore owed to the fact that it has nothing with which to reflect, nor even upon.

  3. I don’t see that there is much difference between your postion and that of JamesG. He thinks that there are good and bad environmentalists; you say there are certain principles we are all agreed on, like not fouling our own nests; i.e. we’ve all got a bit of “good” environmentalist in us somewhere.
    When he says: “The true environmentalist message isn’t anti-industry or anti-human” isn’t he making the same point as you do when you talk about “our relationship with the environment being more robust”? It’s perfectly possible to want to save a threatened species, and be happy to use all the resources of modern technology to do so, and celebrate the fact that the developed world is so much better at protecting the environment than the underdeveloped world.
    The fact that it doesn’t work like that is due I think to some half-conscious guilt thing in the makeup of too many Greens. Cyril Connolly said of George Orwell that he couldn’t blow his nose without thinking of the conditions of the oppressed workers in the handkerchief factory. Nowadays he’d use a Kleenex and be worrying about the disappearing forests.
    It wouldn’t matter that Greens are natural worriers, if it weren’t for the fact that Anthropogenic Global Warming has given them a supposedly infallible scientific basis for their worries, and a seemingly unanswerable moral imperative to act, whatever the rest of us think.

  4. Geoff: I don’t see that there is much difference between your postion and that of JamesG. He thinks that there are good and bad environmentalists; you say there are certain principles we are all agreed on, like not fouling our own nests; i.e. we’ve all got a bit of “good” environmentalist in us somewhere.

    Our point was that this isn’t an adequate definition of environmentalism. It doesn’t say anything unique about environmentalism.

    The point of the second part of our reply was intended to show how environmentalism is different because it has a different premise, which take it to a different conclusion.

    In much the same way, there is a difference between being an animal rights activist, and thinking that animals ought not to be mistreated. The latter perspective has no substantial consequences, so it’s not really fair to call it an ‘ism’ of any meaningful kind. The former holds a variety of beliefs which do constitute something that we can identify.

    So ‘good’ environmentalism can exist within, more or less, any conventional political framework. But as we say often, environmentalists use environmental imperatives to make an argument for a special form of politics.

  5. I promise not to do multiple posts, but really, I have to revolt at this opening phrase from La Stupida:

    “As human beings, we must take seriously our need to care for each other”

    Absolute middle class BS. As the guy in The History of Mr. Polly says: “Middle class morality; can’t afford it mate”. Nor have humans throughout their historical development into humans. Humans put themselves first; their immediate familly second; their tribe third; etc….

    This is perfectly natural. It is based upon our biological natures, something many philosphers ignore. Any successful philosophy must recognize human biological nature, or it is irrelevant and demands rediculous behaviours.

    …but I rant and haven’t even got the the second sentence yet… sorry.


    JamesG:

    The “true enviromental message” IS anti-human.

    Interesting that you would use phraseology redolant of religion – the one true religion.

    As to CO2; anyone who has taken chemistry or biology at the 13 year old school level must know that CO2 is good for life, not bad.


    geoffchambers:

    Not fowling our own nest is not a good enviromental principal; it is merely self-preservation, a matter of personal hygiene.

  6. It is based upon our biological natures, something many philosphers ignore. Any successful philosophy must recognize human biological nature, or it is irrelevant and demands rediculous behaviours.

    What is ‘human nature’, and how was it identified?

    By rooting what is ‘right’/the good life in the ‘biological’, aren’t you making exactly the same mistake as environmentalists?

    (Which is why good philosophers don’t ‘do’ biology).

  7. Like most AGW sceptics, I’ve been too busy pondering the revelations at ClimateAudit (and the exegeses at Wattsupwiththat, BishopHill, etc, not to mention Deningpole at the Daily Telegraph) to bother about the musings of la Burnside. But she is important, politically, and sociologically (and I would argue that, if the politics comes before the science, the sociology comes before the politics, in terms of explanatory power).
    Ms Burnside is a lawyer who defends the rights of aborigines. I’ve never done anything so evidently morally worthwhile in my life, which is why I am baffled by her apparent need to justify her actions by reference to some superior principle (scientifically attested catastrophic anthropogenic global warming). She’s a progressive humanist – that speaks for itself – so why does she apparently feel the need to anchor her beliefs in the scientifically weak theory of AGW?
    I think sociology holds the answer. We are seeing the rise of a new class – not the nouveau riche but the nouveau eduqué – which feels that its university acquired expertise is under-appreciated. Following the collapse, first of communism then (more mysteriously) of democratic socialism, their natural sympathy for the underdog finds no foothold in modern politics. AGW, with its veneer of scientific infallibility, provides a seemingly stable foundation for their worthy desires for social justice which organised religion and left-wing politics have ceased to provide.
    McIntyre’s demolition of Briffa (and hence of the hockeystick, and the whole AGW edifice) will put a big strain on the environmentalist movement, without necessarily destroying it. It really is religious in nature. But is it Christianity or Mithraism? Will it stifle rational thought, or quietly disappear?

  8. I refer to our “biological” nature to avoid the pitfall of “human nature”.

    Our biological nature is no different from any other biological thing. We are driven to survive, grow and procreate. This is demonstrable fact.

    Now, do not bring up the exceptional case of altruism.

  9. Robert – I refer to our “biological” nature to avoid the pitfall of “human nature”.

    But you don’t avoid it – you merely defer it to something equally nebulous – ‘biology’, as if that were all that needed to be said. And you find the problem yourself: ‘do not bring up the exceptional case of altruism.’

    It’s ‘exceptional cases’ all the way down.

    Geoff’s sociological approach is far more interesting.

    “We are seeing the rise of a new class – not the nouveau riche but the nouveau eduqué – which feels that its university acquired expertise is under-appreciated.”

    Could it be a class dividing, rather than emerging? A friend of ours observed that Monbiot’s battles with a supermarket chain looked like a good old-fashioned spat between the petit-bourgeois and the grande-bourgeois.

    Moreover, is the direction it’s moving in an ’emergence’? Or is its own death-throws? The nouveau eduqué, after all, seems to lack faith in anything but climate science; the humanities especially.

    “Following the collapse, first of communism then (more mysteriously) of democratic socialism, their natural sympathy for the underdog finds no foothold in modern politics.”

    We shouldn’t omit the collapse of the right too – it’s Western governments which are peddling alarmism.

  10. Editors,

    There is nothing nebulous about biology and the biological imperative to survive, prosper and propagate.

    I reject Geoff’s “sociological” approach because I am an expat Brit. I live now in North America (Canadian section). We do less of the sociology/class stuff here.

    It is very tempting to rant, as I do some times, on the bourgois rotting hippy middle class … etc. but it is to no avail; achieves nothing. Geoff’s sociological approach, in my view, is just more of the same class resentment crap that I left the UK for.

    Not that he’s wrong for his observations in the UK; au contraire; quite apropos. But that is Angleterre.

    The UK has to get over this obviously still chasmatic class divide. The bourgois snobs have simply moved left, in the knowledge that the common folk cannot afford to follow them.

  11. Robert – There is nothing nebulous about biology and the biological imperative to survive, prosper and propagate.

    How does anything in the non-human, biological realm ‘prosper’? The problem is not with the concepts of those imperatives in themselves, but their rather hasty application to the ‘understanding’ of society. You said:

    “Humans put themselves first; their immediate familly second; their tribe third; etc…. This is perfectly natural. It is based upon our biological natures”.

    … as a way of confronting Burnside’s humanistic impulse to ‘to care for each other’. Notwithstanding that there may be some biological component to humans putting themselves and their kith and kin before others, your answer doesn’t really explain why there is still no obligation to others remaining. ‘Biology’ you say. But you’re argument isn’t complete. Is there a biological reason why there shouldn’t be some mutual responsibility to people who we aren’t related to? Moreover, we live in groups that are far larger than families or ‘tribes’, hence we have politics. Can you really explain such a thing with ‘biology’? It seems that any attempt to will look far more like an attempt to find a basis for an ideological perspective than it will yield scientific insight.

    I reject Geoff’s “sociological” approach because I am an expat Brit. I live now in North America (Canadian section). We do less of the sociology/class stuff here.

    You seem to talk about class more than Geoff. And you seem confused about it too. At the same time as you complain about us Brits ‘doing’ class more, you seem to have left Britain because of the ‘bourgois rotting hippy middle class’. First, why would any self-respecting bourgeois be preoccupied with class analysis? Moreover, why would anyone who rejected the concept of class be preoccupied with excesses of bourgeois values?

    “The UK has to get over this obviously still chasmatic class divide. The bourgois snobs have simply moved left…”

    Is this a joke? If it isn’t, please read Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto. You might learn something about some of your ideas… comrade.

  12. to Robert Wood #11
    “No sociology please, we’re ex-pats” That’s a new one on me. I wasn’t talking class resentment, but analysis. I don’t think anyone rejects our biological nature, it’s just a matter of of whether that line of enquiry leads you anywhere.
    I personally would find it fascinating to psycho-analyse the Greens to find out what’s going on in their inner souls, but where would it get me? I might prove that they were all paranoiac, but so what? The paranoid, like the poor, are with us always. The question would still remain, why are they paranoid about CO2, and not UFOs or the Yellow Peril or universal health care?
    As for ranting about the bourgeois rotting hippy middle class, not likely, I’m part of it. The advantage of sociological analysis is that it can identify large-scale changes over time, without reference to the psychology of individuals, (and without moralising). When I mentioned the “nouveau-eduqué” I wasn’t being rude, just pointing out that, when the percentage of the population going to university increases from 5% to 30% in a generation, there are cultural effects which it might be interesting to look into. Some other time maybe.

  13. I post sometimes on CiF under the name of Roger.

    geoffchambers:
    “I personally would find it fascinating to psycho-analyse the Greens to find out what’s going on in their inner souls, but where would it get me?”

    I don’t think it is a particularly difficult task to arrive at a psychoanalytic view of the Green movement. If this was a game of hide and seek, I would say the Green ‘self’ has sublimated an appetite for sex into one for power. The mounting mix of frustration, impatience and excitement witnessed in the Green self is that of anticipation of having this engorged appetite consummated.

    But, whereas a healthy (and successful) human sexual union is dependent upon a mutual (and temporary) surrender of ‘self’ and ‘other’ for the pleasure it brings in satisfaction, the appetite for power can only be satisfied by the (permanent) submission of the other the the self’s will. That is, the pleasure promised is essentially one of sado-masochistic compliance organised between self and other – the appetite we are looking at (the genie that is out of the bottle) is, unlike a sexual union, profoundly misanthropic and dehumanising.

    It’s worth looking at what might be Sarah Burnside’s own game of hide and seek to get clue as to how a Green ‘self’ can disguise its appetite for the submission of the ‘other’ to its will. Disguise, of course, being essential for the success of the project – whether the drive is a conscious or unconscious one.

    Sarah appears to have an interest in two types of ‘man’. We could describe these as ‘pre’ and ‘post’ modern man. One exists in the form of the ‘aborigines’ she defends as a lawyer, and the other in the form of a shared Green fantasy as the “future generations” she protests a “duty” to. The usefulness of having a ‘future generation’ of post-modern man to defend is, of course, that they don’t exist. We can project onto them (as an infantile idea) anything we like – and in fact Sarah ‘wishes’ post-modern man into existence as an identical version of pre-modern, aboriginal, man… both apparently lack any appetite – or will – to develop and exploit the space (the environment) they exist in, or the objects found therein.

    In terms of her own desire – or appetite, Sarah’s seeming eroticisation of ‘non-modern’ (that is, ‘non enlightenment’) man could be put down to the sentimentality she appears to soak this merged past and future object in. But for any adult such a response is, in itself, a disguise… what makes this object so worth hankering after for Sarah is that it removes (or lobotomises) any need for her to negotiate with it. In other words, non-enlightenment man – dehumanised of the intellectual apparatus of say, Freud, Marx and Darwin – returns to being in total submission to the ‘environment’ and, by extension, to the power of Sarah – in her self-appointed role as the policer (or super-ego) of and over that shared space. The ‘good’ thing about non-modern man, of course, is you have no need of a (modern) democracy to be governed by, and to mutually surrender to.

    Playing hide and seek with a nascent tyranny is the stuff of psychoanalysis. Its obstacles to being found (or found out) are necessary to its survival – and the survival of the underlying wish or hope it wont let go of. As history has shown, we can be endlessly inventive – or reinventive – in this protection racket.

  14. PeterS
    Oof! I know I said I wanted to get into the inner souls of Greens, but not THAT far in. And, even though there are some fascinating perceptions in your analysis, I repeat my question which you quoted in your first paragraph: where does it get us?

    For a start, your concentration on Ms Benson is offensively “ad feminam”. Most decent Australians feel bad about the way the aborigines were treated, and many try to make amends. This may lead to some well-meaning politically correct posturing, but that doesn’t alter the need to have lawyers defending aborigine rights, whether Ms Benson, with the unconscious motives you attribute to her, or someone else. I resent it when the likes of George Marshall claim that my scepticism is pathological, and I’d acknowlege Ms Benson’s right to feel similarly peeved at your claiming to know her unconscious motivations.

    Having said that, your analysis of the relation between green control freakery and fascination for the primitive is interesting, as is the parallel you draw between the aborigine and the future generations. Both have to be protected, and neither have any say in the matter. If you’d expressed it in terms of a general tendency, instead of an example of Ms Benson’s unconscious erotic life, it would be readily accepted as a valid analysis of a certain psychological type to be found within the Green movement .

    There’s a lot of control freakery in the green movement, and a lot of John Bullish resistance to being bossed around on the sceptical side. No doubt many people decide which side of the global warming debate they’re on according to their own personality type, rather than by weighing up the evidence, but that’s true of any burning issue.

    It’s interesting to analyse these tendencies, and maybe a lot of patient psycho-taxonomy might eventually help us to better understand how a social movement like Environmentalism evolves from, and expresses, the unconscious psychological motivations of its members. But even if I substitute your subtle and interesting analysis in terms of sado-masochistic impulses for the simplistic example of paranoia which I gave at #13, I’m still left with the question: why should these psychological tendencies express themselves in terms of fear of CO2, and why should this particular expression of this particular psychological tendency seem to have such appeal?

  15. Psycho-analysing the Greens? No, no, no – we’ve all got it the wrong way round – it’s the vast majority who need to be psycho-analysed and then scared even sillier for our own good.

    That’s according to Professor of Public Ethics Clive Hamilton (Charles Sturt University in Australia), quoted in yesterday’s Telegraph.

    http://tinyurl.com/ybb86vs

    “Prof Hamilton said scientists now have a duty to inform the public about the risks of climate change so action is taken and people are ready to adapt their lifestyles.

    “There is a view we should not scare people because it makes them go down their burrows and close the door but I think the situation is so serious that although people are afraid they are not fearful enough given the science,” he said. “Personally I cannot see any alternative to ramping up the fear factor.””

    I like that bit about “now scientists have a duty to inform the public…” etc. What have these people been doing at nauseum and with a thousand slightly different variations for the last twenty years? What did Einstein allegedly say about madness? Doing the same thing again and again, but hoping for different results.

  16. geoffchambers

    I wouldn’t say my attempts at a psychoanalytical stab at the Green state of mind is a ‘deep’ one – only a ‘different’ one (a bit like someone putting on a John Coltrane track at a heavy metal concert). It surprises me that so little attention is given to ‘human’ nature (which we seem to know a lot about) in a debate by humans on ‘green’ nature (which we know less about).

    A Green self’s preoccupation with the perceived dangers of ‘development’ for example – and his apparent conviction that he will lose a world (or at least not be able to self-sustain it) were he to develop. Of course, another phrase for development is ‘growing up’ and he would be right that growing up (into a mature adult) results in the loss of a world… as a necessary step towards entering a new, more useful, rewarding and creative one. It’s just not the world the Green self has in mind.

    Psychoanalytical thought holds that, given a choice, no infant would opt for its own development – as the consequential loss of its world would be experienced as catastrophic. The gradual separation of the all-provident mother figure (and we can read Mother Nature here), as that which is experienced as a merged extension of the self, is essential for the self’s development into an independent being.

    When this process fails (and it frequently does to some degree) an adult is left harbouring paradise fantasies – where ‘paradise’ (unclothed of its contemporary and convenient garb) is always a demand to return to the bliss of this early infant state.

    Hence the Green self’s other grand preoccupation with ‘purity’ – the purity of himself and of his environment (and its objects). The original, infantile, environment was ‘pure’ simply because it was experienced as nothing more than an extension of the self – in Green Eden there was no ‘difference’ as an obstacle to the self’s existence. With difference (the presence of ‘other’ in the environment) comes the necessity for words and then for negotiation (or democracy). This is the real tool for survival of any adult individual – and the Green self’s enraged ambiguity at the need for negotiation (his need to string together open and honest words describing the space and his desires for its use – and to accept the same in return) quite often reveals far more about a Green self’s values – vis-a-vis humans and the space – than his ‘environmentalist’ cover story intends.

    One of the great appeals of ‘self-sustenance’ – self-feeding – is that it gets rid of any need for an interdependent and negotiable ‘other’ in the space. In other words – the long lost and incessantly demanded mother returns!

    It’s important to point out (and it can often be misunderstood) that this state of mind doesn’t necessarily render a person helpless in the space they exist in. On the contrary, a person can compensate for such an unresolved loss by developing a high level of intelligence in a specific field of interest. Many of those on the autistic spectrum (and autism could be said to be a truly premature, catastrophic and irreversible breakdown in the early relationship between mother and infant) develop a ‘super-human’ high level of cleverness in chosen field (Darwin is though to be one of these).

  17. George, I think that’s a very good question. Re the psychologists and sociologists, it could be argued that, as concerned scientists who abide by the consensus established by those in the “hard sciences”, they want people to be frightened into pressurising their governments into taking action to “tackle climate change”. But that’s exactly what governments are doing anyway, whether or not any of these actions have any bearing on what happens to the climate, and whether or not a majority of their citizens actually want them to take these actions.

    My own view is that those in the “soft sciences” stand to gain a lot if people are generally more fearful – not if they’re panicking in the streets, clearly, as panic makes people unpredictable and dangerous, but if they’re experiencing more low-level anxiety, depression, guilt and worry. Who do people turn to when they experience these feelings? More importantly, who do governments turn to if it is perceived (via studies, and who carries these out?) that there is an “epidemic” of anxiety or depression? Who gets funding and status?

  18. Surely the point is that the actions which the government is taking under the pretext of “tackling climate change” will be ineffective at that goal.

    The best way to tackle climate change would be to rapidly build more nuclear power stations, with opposition forcibly suppressed (I’d long to see anti-nuclear-power campaigners tried for crimes against humanity), so that we can get rid of fossil-fuel electricity generation. Once this was done, the next step would be to replace petroleum for ground transport (by electric cars, electric trains, or synthetic chemical fuels produced using nuclear energy).

    Why do Green pick on aviation so much (only 1.5% of global CO2 emissions, and with no practical alternatives to hydrocarbon fuels), when fossil-fuel power stations produce more than ten times as much CO2 and already have a non-CO2 emitting alternative?

    It sounds like the climate-change activists are motivated by something other than actually fighting climate change. Which groups of people would have an interest in the government taking ineffective action against CO2?

    Psychologists and sociologists seeking to keep people afraid (so as to increase demand for their services) is one possible group with a motive for this. What are the others?

    One possibility would be public-sector professionals (who want carbon taxes, but for the revenue — which they hope will boost their salaries and/or pensions — rather than to reduce CO2 emissions).

    I think we need to follow Sun Tzu’s dictum and “know our enemy”…

  19. Religion occupies itself with ethics, morality, and social relationships. So any ethical question is in the same department as religion in general. Is war ever justified, for example? You can sit at the table with a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindu, and an atheist, and you can all discuss this moral question. Most people think of religion as being about “belief” (as opposed to evidence), but there is no evidence for the moral goodness of say, having or not having an abortion. Evidence can inform your decision as to possible outcomes, but the actual judgement about which outcome is better, is not about evidence, it is about ethics. This is a very simple but key point, and I think it may be why environmentalism so often appears religious–it is religious, not in the sense of blind belief, but in the sense that it is mostly about morality. (And because morality doesn’t rely on evidence alone, it can look like environmentalists ignore evidence–which is sorta what’s happening, but specifically, it is that they are invested and committed to a new morality, regardless of whether AGW is happening or not).

    If we can keep this key distinction in play in the discussion, I think a number of other questions become simpler.

    Robert Wood said “Humans put themselves first; their immediate familly second; their tribe third; etc….” From my own brief layman experience of Zen and a few other things, I have to agree with Robert. Zen shows that if you really want to take selflessness and sharing seriously, then there is a very long project ahead. Diffusing one’s own selfishness is a seriously hard project and is often said to be the hardest thing anybody could attempt to do. So when environmentalists talk about commitment to humanity and community, I see their project as a little step forward, a little more care, a little more compassion, at best. Just consider, religions have been teaching care and compassion for thousands of years, and whilst the world today is certainly less brutal than it used to be, as a race our psychology won’t change much in the next 10 years, let alone 100. True selflessness and bonding may take thousands of years. But environmentalists have this either/or notion that you’re either a selfish consumer or a humanistic bonding sharer. That’s like the difference between 5.0 and 5.1, when the real goal is a 10.

    This brings me to Robert’s comment about human nature. We have slowly, as a race, moved from individual families 500,000 years ago, to tribal structures, 50,000 years ago, to empires, 5000 years ago, to the modern individualistic rational enlightenment, say a few hundred years ago. This has been tremendous progress. And it illustrates something about the Buddhist prayer of “extending one’s circle of compassion”. When we lived in tribes, any human from another tribe was a fair kill. When we formed empires, and laws, then you couldn’t kill someone from another tribe–tribes were united to some degree under a common empire–but other empires could be attacked. And in modern times, we are slowly moving from nation states to some sort of global system where it is not OK to attack any country. See? We have been slowly extending our circle of compassion.

    The thing that environmentalists and activists keep calling for is already happening and the process has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years. Plus what they are calling for is only a minor step forward, whereas a more radical step is certainly available, just ask any of the world’s esoteric disciplines.

    This brings us to what is a huge problem. Humanity has indeed been progressing by extending the circle of compassion, extending it so that fewer and fewer people are legitimate targets for aggression. Environmentalists may be upset about consumer society and selfishness, but these societies are nations of hundreds of millions of people living largely in peace with each other. But meanwhile, much of the rest of the world is NOT living in peace, as you can see in places like Africa and the Middle East where in parts, the social order, the circle of compassion, doesn’t extend beyond the local tribe or clan. And if you want to know how long it will take them to extend their circle of compassion to embrace all tribes, just look at how long it took Europe to do this–you know, Europe which had two major wars last century. That is what is in store for the future of the rest of the world, except this time they’ll have nukes.

    So yes, please by all means extend the circle of compassion, but you environmentalists will have to start with people where they are at, not where you’d like them to be. You can’t change people, not radically anyway. Help people go a little further–if you’re working with tribes, deal with tribal problems. If you’re working with empires, deal with problems there. Here in the first world we can talk about our problems, but the world is very big and very old, and not all of it is on the same page.

  20. Why such a desire to define environmentalism as anything other than trying to stop us from fouling our collective nest? It can all be clearly explained just by that one basic tenet. If greens don’t look too deeply into the science it is because they leave that to the scientists. If they don’t tackle the consequences of energy cuts it is because they are continually told by these same scientists that the alternative is far worse. So simple – no ulterior motives required. While it’s true nobody truly wants to foul our own nest it is only the greens who get off their backsides and try to stop it. It’s fair enough to criticize the hypocritical + smug snobs who have latched onto the green movement. But they are easy to spot since they haven’t done anything vaguely moralistic or green in their entire lives. So pick on them instead and leave the real greens alone to do their good works.

    But if we are analysing people, then what can we say about those (some here too) who see reds under every bed? Get this – communism is dead and nobody wants it to return! Socialism is not even on the increase where it exists already! Yet still the vast majority of people are vastly happier with a social safety net than without. Sure hard-line reds are still around but they have been rejected in election after election and they have the same credibility and support as the National Front. Nevertheless there has sprung up a totally irrational and almost peurile fear of a red takeover. Why not address this psychotic delusion instead? Is it because you don’t realize that you suffer from it too? To my non-partizan eyes there is far less justification for red fears than green fears.

  21. Editors and JamesG, maybe it would be simpler to bear this in mind:

    There isn’t a “thing” out there, like a rock, called “environmentalism”, like the planet “Jupiter” is a ball out there in space. Environmentalism isn’t an object.

    Rather, there are ways in which people approach issues to do with the environment. These approaches are attitudes towards issues. They are how we sit, how we gaze upon the issues, how we form maps in our minds, and the different maps that each of us draw. Environmentalism is a inter-subjective cultural process.

    And there are many cultures and sub-cultures in the world, many worldviews, and so there are many forms of environmentalism. Here you seem to be trying to argue about which is the “real” form, or the prior form, or the original form. Well, that’s academic. What forms are present today? Which ones are dominating? Which ones will cause the most trouble? Which ones will help?

    Let me illustrate with simplistic made-up examples. Adolf Hitler’s approach to the environment might be something like, we should cherish our lands, and the best way to do that is to kill the impure races. Marxists might say, we should distribute the land equally, so everyone has a means of honest production. A middle-class Westerner might say, nature is so beautiful and we’re so bored with our cities and carcinogens, we should save the polar bears (coz they’re cute) and slow everything down, because we’re tired of feeling like we’re in a rat-race.

    There is no “right” or “real” environmentalism. But if you ask a person about the environment, you could learn a lot about that person’s view of the world, their culture amongst their peers, and their outlook.

    What Climate Resistance seems to be doing, is to highlight these worldviews amongst the environmentalist discourse out there. See, the trouble with worldviews, is that most people don’t notice their own worldview–we’re like fish who don’t know we’re in water–and our own worldview really looks like “the truth” and really looks like it is how things are. Now it’s not that our worldviews are complete fantasies, but they are a filter. We tend to see some parts but ignore others, especially in our interpretations.

    So some environmentalists say we need to save the planet from devastating calamity, and when you ask them, ok, how do you do that, they answer something about promoting care and slowing things down and sending money to Africa. Obviously the two things don’t quite match up, so you know their “answer” to the problem is really their worldview.

  22. “You are falling into the trap of confusing traditional environmentalism from the parasitic, anti-industry, anti-human, self-promoting pseudo-environmentalists who have managed to infiltrate green politics.

    The true environmentalist message isn’t anti-industry or anti-human. They just believe that we have a collective responsibility not to foul our own nests and though that might cost a little more in the short-term it is palpably better for everybody in the long-term. Which is basically what she is saying.”

    In other words, your definition of “True Environmentalism™” is ultimately no different than Burnside`s. That thinking of the planet = thinking of humanity.

    Sounds like you just can`t divorce the “won`t somebody please think of the planet?” from the greens who insist upon being humanists.

    —–

    And for something not related to this post, über-green David Suzuki is going to get an “alternate” Nobel Prize. Naturally he couldn`t resist this opportunity to take a shot at the Canadian government for “not doing something about it”, “it” of course being everyone`s favourite devil-of-the-day, climate change…

  23. Whups. Make that “traditional”, not necessarily true environmentalist.

    But they still can`t think of humanity outside their green boxes.

  24. Stefan
    No your ideas are not simpler, they are more complex. I agree about people wrapping their real dogmas in a green flag but I still believe they are a vocal minority. But if you are saying that an ulterior motive is omnipresent in the green movement then that is a dogma in itself.

    What I see is that the rump of greenpeace and similar movements want us to basically move to non-polluting and renewable energy. If that were actually possible then it would be humanist. It is no more complex than that! They had singularly failed with that message so they jumped on the bandwagon of global warming, little realizing that it would bring back the spectre of nuclear power via greenwashing. Now they are stuck.

    JMW
    I wasn’t criticizing Burnside at all. Yes i think she is highly humanist as are the majority of greens. I don’t believe Suzuki is in the least green. He like Monbiot and various other hypocritical loudmouth media types are anti-human, hypocritical, luddite parasites who prosper because they occasionally make good TV.

  25. JamesG, OK, it is harder/more complex to grasp, but in the end it makes the picture simpler. 🙂 It isn’t so much an “ulterior motive” as an “alternative worldview”. I only have to talk to my greenie friends to see that they have a different take on life. They have different aspirations, values, and feelings. Think about the difference between the culture that appeared in the 60s versus the generations that preceded it.

    Now if you have a different take on life, then you’ll have a different take on how to solve problems. Think about the environmentalist who said to me that it is all about “reducing greed”. I don’t know about you, but to me the problem looks quite different. To me the problem isn’t how to reduce greed, it is about how to produce stuff more efficiently. I’m not bothered about greed, and my take on greed is different. In some circles, greed is simply a human expression of evolution itself, which continually seeks more alternatives. But no greenie know would accept that, and yet I find it perfectly acceptable.

    This brings me to the reason why greenpeace and most of the environmentalists I’ve read about, have failed. Their worldview, their take on life, already excludes an efficient and practical answer to solving pollution, because their take on it is that we’re too aggressively materialistic, greedy, and uncaring. That’s the general picture I get. Look at Greenpeace’s website—they blame “commercial interests” for the bad stuff. Well, it costs billions of dollars to build the plant that made the chip inside this computer. That’s a commercial interest. Is it “bad” ? Or maybe industry is simply doing what it can using available technology. But Greenpeace would lead us to believe that windmills work just fine, it is just commercial interests that prevent us getting them. Well, maybe it is simpler to say that the technology isn’t available, and greenies meanwhile want us all to live a more “caring” lifestyle, which in their view, means wooly jumpers and soya milk and feminist tendencies.

    Meanwhile the Evangelical take on environmental problems is to believe that we have been told by God that we must care for His Creation. See? Everyone has a take on life, a worldview, and that worldview creates the “solutions” to any problem.

    It is OK to say they have an “ulterior agenda” but it is not even that conscious or deliberate. It is like asking a nun how to be happy. She would answer something about a relationship with God. Now ask a businessperson how to be happy, and she might say something else. See?

  26. Stefan
    Now turn your attention to those who despise the greens and analyse what motivates them. If you’re honest with yourself you’ll likely find a rather more unappealing worldview than the quaint ideallism of the greens.

    Greed is natural because it’s human nature. Can it lead to good things? Perhaps. Our appetite for plastic novelties just might have brought Asia into modernity and prosperity and away from isolationism. Perhaps they will now be leading the world economy into the future. Can greed be bad? Just look at Wall street and in particular Goldman Sachs and similar avaricious bankers. Their profits are a zero sum game – they win and everyone else loses. Yet they produce nothing.

    I contrast the religious fervour for the placid mother earth with the equally religious fervour of the magical invisible hand. Neither actually exist but both are considered immutable truths – without a shred of evidence to back it up.

  27. “I wasn’t criticizing Burnside at all. Yes i think she is highly humanist as are the majority of greens.”

    As I’m seeing it, environmentalists claim that by putting the earth first, we’re putting the needs of humanity first. That by “looking after the planet” we “look after ourselves”.

    The problem here is that, in my opinion, a humanist approach puts the needs of the people first. To say that by putting the needs of the planet first will benefit humanity would have me believe that either someone doesn’t understand what humanism and humanist means, or that they failed rudimentary counting.

    How, exactly, is making the planet and not each other our first priority “humanist”? It sounds as if whatever good humans get from “putting Gaia first” will be incidental at best, because “we have to look after the planet”.

    “I don’t believe Suzuki is in the least green. He like Monbiot and various other hypocritical loudmouth media types are anti-human, hypocritical, luddite parasites who prosper because they occasionally make good TV.”

    Correction: Suzuki *made* good TV. He stopped making that years ago. The Nature of Things I used to enjoy. The Nature of Things was informative and entertaining.

    Now it’s “nature – good; people – bad”. [I’m sure there was plenty of that before, but kids aren’t very critical thinkers (grew up in the 80s), but now that Suzuki has got his head of steam…]

  28. James, you posit that a desire to avoid ‘fouling our own nest’ represents all genuine green perspectives, while all criticism of anything green represents a ‘religious fervour of the magical invisible hand’. This is disingenuous. Furthermore, you exclude form the category of ‘green’ the likes of Monbiot, so as to shift the object of criticism away from those who you would like to distance yourself from.

    As I tried to explain, the desire not to ‘foul our own nests’ isn’t sufficient to account for environmentalism. You can share that same desire without being ‘green’. The extent of environmentalism also includes the likes of Monbiot.

    Environmentalism is rather more specific than you are claiming, even if it does encompass a constellation of perspectives that are heterogeneous, or at least start with slightly different premises.

    You can’t simply exclude from the category of environmentalism corporate and venture capitalists who have engaged in greenwash just because it doesn’t suit your case. The whole point of a political movement is to reproduce itself and its ideas, principally in the form of institutions. Else, how would it assert its ideas?

    No doubt capitalists that take their ideas from Smith, Friedman or Hayek have something to say about environmentalism. But this is far from a defining characteristic of scepticism of environmental politics, ethics and science. There are a range of criticisms to environmentalism, which is after all, a range of ideas. The difference between these two ranges, however, is that the environmentalist framework consists of number a *positive* claims, whereas scepticism of those claims is by definition negative. No doubt that any instance of scepticism or criticism of environmentalism is an expression of some positive claims about the world (such as Smithism), but the observation that ‘people have ideological perspectives’ is nothing new. Yet it seems to be the case that many environmentalists will, as you have, attempt to locate their politics behind seemingly ‘simple’ or ‘objective’ claims, such as ‘let’s not foul our own nests’, and ‘the science says…’.

    It is never so simple. Few capitalists of the kind you allude to are in favour of ‘fouling our own nests’. Many of them think the free market would be a better way of creating a ‘cleaner’ and more efficient relationship with the natural world.

    Our point here in this blog is that you can take environmental problems seriously without special environmental politics, and without special institutions. Clearly, special environmental politics do exist, and it would be to deny the sense that special institutions have been created, both of which exert unusual influence over the business of politics/public (and increasingly private) life.

    So you can have your ‘environmentalism is about not fouling the nest’ if you really want it. But you need to recognise that it has become much, much more than that. It has designs on the reorganisation of the entire world’s economies and industries, and on every single person’s lifestyle.

  29. JamesG, yes, my point is that the greens have a worldview, and so does everyone, including me. As individuals, we each have our own psychology, we each have our own take on life.

    But apart from individuals, what about groups? As a whole, we can discern certain worldviews common to certain groups.

    We know about religious people, we know about people hwo vote Left, we know about people who vote Right…. but are there more worldviews than just these few?

    One model (Spiral Dynamics) has detected about 7 or 8 worldviews (detected in the sense that you can test people with a questionnaire) and these are common across the world.

    Now the question is, which worldview are the greens? However, we could then end up arguing about what is the “real” or “central” environmental perspective, or we could step back and just say that, given we know there are 8 major worldviews, then we know there are 8 major takes or perspectives on the environment.

    The number of each really just depends on the percentage of the population that belongs to each worldview.

    As it happens, in the Spiral Dynamics model, most of these worldviews despise any other worldview except its own.

    So I guess all I’m driving at, is that the Editors here may be mistaking the entire green movement as belonging to one worldview, when actually any of the 8 worldviews could approach the problem of the environment in its own way, and perhaps you’re mistaking “traditional environmentalism” for one particular worldview also.

    (Spiral Dynamics doesn’t have to be the model, there are others, but the point is that there are multiple major worldviews, and each approaches the environment from its own perspective.)

    The only perspective I’m trying to add here is that we hold in mind the existence of multiple perspectives out there. When someone says, “i’m an environmentalist”, the first question is, OK, which worldview are you (using right now) ?

    Even if someone claims they are a Humanist, the first question is, which perspective or worldview are you coming from in your approach to Humanism? Are you a Humanist because your parents were and in your worldview, you value what your family and peers and authorities say? Or are you a humanist because in your perspective, the most important thing is to provide rational arguments independently through out, and hence you chose Humanism (but could equally have chosen to join Buddhism or modern Evangelical groups)?

    See, the perspective or worldview is a layer deeper than the surface. That’s why it can seem like I’m talking about “ulterior motives”, whereas what I’m talking about is the underlying canvas.

    Sorry this is a long post again, but I think it is great that the Editors here are questioning what environmentalists say, I just think that without taking it into including questions about multiple worldviews, the debate gets messy.

    See, people with the same worldview can on the surface appear to belong to different groups, like environmentalists and evangelicals, but because they share the same underlying worldview, they’ll soon hook up and see “eye to eye” (worldview to worldview). Meanwhile, two people who each think they are humanists, could when they start talking, discover they can’t quite agree on what it means to be a humanist, because underneath they’re actually coming from two different worldviews.

  30. I’m beginning to get intrigued by Stefan’s Spiral-eyed Dynamics. (references please Stefan). Nothing could better illustrate the editors’ point that we sceptics can come to the AGW question from widely differing viewpoints than the fact that I (coming from the hardish left) find Stefan’s ideas (which appear to come from some point half way between a Tibetan monastery and the planet Zog) interesting. I particularly liked your comment at #21 “the world is very big and very old, and not all of it is on the same page”. Is that Buddha or Durkheim?

  31. For every Monbiot there is a David Bellamy or a Peter Taylor, both with far better green credentials and both opposed to Monbiot’s rank stupidity. So it isn’t just me who excludes or separates out true greens (against fouling of the planet) from obvious nutcases.

    The alternative is to pigeonhole and generalize, thereby setting up a strawman to attack. You did this in the main piece and you did it again with me: I didn’t write that everyone else is in the invisible hand mob nor did i suggest businessmen can’t be green, nor do i deride businessmen – I am one. These invisible hand cultists are merely one small vocal group of economists who have been recently very dominant in the worlds financial institutions. And look where that dogma led us: It has done far more harm than good to everyone, employees and businessmen large and small. Yes the dogma of CO2 mitigation might do the same but it’s not the only business destroying philosophy in town.

    You (and JMW) posit an idea that caring for the planet and being humanist are mutually exclusive. But this idea only exists in your minds because you are defining green as implicitly anti-industry. If instead you were to define green as making sure that industry cleans its own mess then a green planet is undeniably good for humans because we utterly depend on what the planet gives to us.

    That is not to say that individual green spokemen are always correct, or even always sane. My plea is merely that we avoid such simplistic generalisations and strawmen so we don’t end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Try and see the good in people instead and if they are misguided then try to guide them.

  32. James – ‘The alternative is to pigeonhole and generalize, thereby setting up a strawman to attack. You did this in the main piece and you did it again with me:’

    That is an especially unproductive criticism. This blog began as the UK government was constructing its climate change legislation and in response to it. The contest between the major parties consisted of language about catastrophe that bore no relationship to the ‘science’ that their arguments were putatively premised on. This blog has been intended as a project which explains environmentalism and its influencing of the political agenda. this was our opening statement:

    We believe that an unfounded sense of crisis – and therefore urgency – dominates public discussion of environmental issues. Thus, demands for urgent action to mitigate climate change thrive at the expense of genuine, illuminating, nuanced debate.

    The generalisation you seem to be objecting to appears to be our view that humanism and environmentalism are incompatible. You say in reply that environmentalism consists of no more than we ought not ‘foul our own nests’. But as we point out, this doesn’t adequately explain environmentalism, because even climate deniers don’t argue that we should ‘foul our own nests’.

    We do not, as you seem to think we do, ever claim that ‘caring for the planet [whatever that is supposed to mean] and being humanist are mutually exclusive’, we argue that environmentalism is something specific, albeit represented by a constellation of claims that are not necessarily consistent.

    Here is the key paragraph you need to read again:

    This is because there is a fundamental idea operating within environmentalism which is incompatible with humanism. It proposes that our principle relationship is not with each other, but with the natural world. Accordingly, ‘duty to each other’ exists principally as a duty to the planet, and ’societal cohesiveness’ comes from without humanity, being predicated on a sustainable relationship with the natural world. In other words, human relationships are – and must be – mediated by the ‘environment’. These precepts operate prior to the humanist ethic that Burnside attempts to claim for the green movement: humanism is delimited by environmentalism. A failure to recognise these environmental precepts is, according to environmentalists, equivalent to wanting to destroy humanity in an environmental catastrophe.

    It seems that you do not want us to ‘generalise’ the philosophical premises of the environmental movement. But if one cannot generalise, one cannot do philosophy, much less any kind of analysis. The consequence is that environmentalism has no characteristics which we’re allowed to identify – because you’d reject any attempt to locate its characteristics. Of course there are degrees to which individual arguments within the environmental movement hold with its premises. But nonetheless, humans stand in relation to their environment in many political philosophies. ‘Metabolically’ in Marx’s view. Malthus had a slightly different conception, in which humans were disciplined by natural processes. In later environmental ideas, the environment is the nexus of social relationships – moral actions are transmitted through the biosphere, rather than directly as actions, or otherwise through social structures.

    If environmentalism consists of no more than an impulse to not ‘foul our own nests’ then it is inconsequential. What is at issue is what is consequential. i.e., to what extent this impulse creates ideas about how to avoid ‘fouling our own nests’, and responds to ideas that we are fouling our own nests. Some proportionality is called for. A dogmatic conception of the impulse might come into conflict with improving our own nests. For instance, we have argued that it is possible to conceive of melting ice caps as a problem, but a problem which may better handled by adapting to, rather than avoiding – the benefits of industrial society may outweigh the costs. So what sense can we make of the desire not to ‘foul our own nests’ then? clearly, it’s not an impulse that sustains a coherent and self-consistent meaning.

    So your plea that we ‘avoid such simplistic generalisations’ seems to be turned 180 degrees. You have yourself generalised environmentalism into something completely nebulous and simplistic.

  33. Here’s some references for Spiral Dynamics:

    http://www.spiraldynamics.org/pdf_resources/SD_MiniCourse_H.pdf

    There’s a nice article in WIE magazine (I don’t like WIE, but they did do a nice article):

    http://www.enlightennext.org/magazine/spiral/content/spiraldynamics.pdf

    I propose an experiment. I just read the Sarah Burnside article whilst forgetting what I’ve heard about Spiral Dynamics. In it she appears to be wrestling with the accusation that environmentalists are religious and anti-human. She does this as if to show she understands quite well these accusations. Then she says these are “straw men”. She concludes by asserting that environmentalism is actually “humanism”.

    I missed the part where she explains why the accusations are wrong. Isn’t that really bizarre? Someone says 2+2=4 and you reply, no, it is 5. They say, wait, how does it make 5. And you say, “because it does”.

    Now here’s what I read whilst bearing in mind the model of Spiral Dynamics. (I’m no expert so please do have a good read of the linked articles, and I’ll go with it.) Sarah is obviously aware that there are many world views out there, however, the only labels she has heard of, are the usual labels like “Left”, “Right”, “Extreme Left”, “Progressive”, and so on. Sarah doesn’t seem to know what to call her own world view. But she does know that she is being called a lot of things by other people, words like “anti-human”, “religious”, and so on. Again, these labels make no sense to her, in as much as, they are all designed to try to make her look wrong.

    As far as Sarah knows, somehow, deep down, she is doing good, she is right, and the problem is simply how to stop the others from gaining the upper hand.

    In Spiral Dynamics, the worldview is called a “values system” (vmeme). The world view values its own perspective above all other perspectives. Deep down there are certain key components that exist unquestioned. Now before all the rational people go off saying this proves that environmentalism is religious, the ORANGE worldview/vmeme in SD is the one that values “progress by learning nature’s secrets and benefitting from them” (science, technology, rationality, etc.) Now feel how hard it is to believe that this worldview could be wrong, actually totally wrong. See, that’s your own values.

    People who aren’t in the ORANGE worldview, on the other hand, can quite happily step back and say, “see, these industry types keep believing they can just solve everything with a quick technical fix, but no, we can’t just keep trying technical fixes, the whole reason we got into this mess is because of technology, technical fixes are just WRONG!”

    Which worldview would say that? Well, probably any other worldview than ORANGE. However, let’s be a bit more discerning. In SD, all the worldviews/values/vmemes arose one by one, through history. PURPLE is older than RED, RED is oder than BLUE, BLUE is older than ORANGE, and so on. Whenever the conditions in life presented problems that couldn’t be solved by the then existing highest vmeme, humanity evolved a new one.

    ORANGE was the dawn of science and technology and many other very good things. The vmemes are really about culture. ORANGE said “think for yourselves”, but in order to do that, it also had to say, “because all men are created equal”. It was the beginning of the end of slavery. The old ways of Kings, and Churches, and God-given authorities, and serfdom, were dying, and in its place, democracy started to rise.

    The world saw huge advances in technology, but also in freedom for individuals.

    Fast forward to the present day, past the end of Apartheid, past the Feminist movement, to 2009 and climate change. Today, SD estimates that in the West, about 50% of people are ORANGE, but some 25% are GREEN. (IIRC) But wait, what’s the GREEN vmeme? Well, imagine your childhood, where you had everything you needed materially, you had the games console, all the latest music, you had access to great sports facilities, and you certainly were well fed. You had central hearing, air con, fridges, microwaves, even a car. You had all the benefits of the industrial rational world. But you also had a father who was never home, and you had little sense of meaning in your life, you felt like you could be a great consumer, but surely, there was more to life?

    In your search for meaning, you couldn’t go to Church, that was a long dead avenue of authoritarian power structures, so instead you went looking for alternatives, like yoga, buddhism, psychotherapy, and other cultures in general. You became more aware of the world and you wanted to travel see life outside the city, taste native cultures, and continue your quest for meaningful connection. You might also join an environmentalist group.

    I’m loosely trying to describe the forms that GREEN worldview can take. Note that the SD vmemes are meant to be deep structures, like DNA. Someone could be in Greenpeace because they are looking for meaningful bonds (GREEN). But they could just as easily be in Greenpeace because they like to turn up at protests and kick people’s heads in (RED).

    When SD theorists devised ways to test and measure people’s vmemes, they began to discover interesting things. It became apparent that anti-war protests contained more people who’s worldview was basically committed to self-preservation (they didn’t want to fight), and only a minority were genuinely of a vmeme that was committed to world peace.

    Take any group and you can find that, each individual is centred around a particular vmeme, and the group dynamics are affected by how many there are of each.

    The founder of Greenpeace could have been YELLOW, but once too many people at GREEN and RED joined, he felt he had to leave. They simply couldn’t get along any more, as the core value systems, the vmemes, were not working together.

    It seems mean to label people, but nevertheless we’re all aware that there’s lots of disagreement in the world. Deep disagreement. So we may as well have some labels that help us understand what we’re dealing with. I’d reject SD if I found something that showed me the labels were just too inaccurate. Good labels are representative labels, they are handy and useful labels. Plus, SD finds that, given 5 or 10 years, people change from one vmeme to another, pretty much depending on their life conditions. So there is still free will and individuality, but there is also a certain amount of obstinate fixation with a particular worldview. People are mostly one vmeme, but it is more like the peak of a wave, so there’s some percentage of other vmemes in there too. Overall you might find a nations population shifting up the spiral, over the decades, as those who were BLUE become ORANGE, and this has implications for party politics.

    So what about Sarah? Maybe she is GREEEN. All that talk about human bonding. Maybe perhaps. But we’d need to meet her, preferably, and find out her view on lots of things, to find out what her core vmeme really is. We’ve all been educated, so intellectually we can talk about many fine principles. People can talk all sorts of things, but that doesn’t tell you the core. People revert to the core more clearly when under stress.

    The thing I find troubling about the pice by Sarah, is that she is quite careful to list the critics, to show that she is aware of the critics and what they are saying. So far so good, that seems pretty reasonable. But then, without further ado, she dismisses it all. No explanation, no reasoning, no reply. You know what words people usually use when they do that? They use the words “FUCK OFF”.

    Suddenly Sarah’s GREEN aspirations for humanistic bonding values start looking more like a RED teenage tantrum.

    Truly humanistic values, I would imagine, have at their core a mutual respect for all humans, a respect codified into a social contract, the one where we are all capable of thinking for ourselves. So the real arbiter is not whether you have a bigger club than me (or more members in your movement, more power, or more *cough* consensus), the real arbiter is whether you can make a reasoned argument that shows me to be wrong. I don’t get to say “FUCK OFF”. That would be losing the argument.

    Those who hold themselves to that standard, who value reasoning above all else (have it as the core of their worldview) won’t compromise on it. Like the famous quote, “I change my mind, what do you do, Sir?”

    I guess what I’m saying is, my reading of Sarah’s article suggests that she is not really as committed to human bonding and respect as she might perhaps believe. The Editors here, smelling bullshit, call her up on it, and debate whether she could possibly mean “humanism” in the same way that the Editors themselves understand it.

  34. Sorry for appearing to try to get the last word but there is only a slight semantic difference between “mutually exclusive” and “inconsistent with”.

    You state baldly without any justification that environmentalism is a philosophy and that it is incompatible with humanism because “It proposes that our principal relationship is not with each other, but with the natural world.” No matter how many times I read that I cannot explain how you reached that conclusion because you just don’t say. It seems to be an idea invented by yourselves. Yet your assertion logically fails because we as a species are dependent on what we can get from the planet. Therefore caring for the planet* can easily be simply humanist self-preservation. I don’t deny that there are nutjob Earth Goddess worshippers out there who think man is a virus but the question is – are they representative of environmentalists or are they parasites** which is what i contended. You haven’t proven one scenario is more plausible than the other.

    You use your initial assumption to reach the conclusion. But was it a valid assumption or was it just another value-laden judgment that Mike Hulme warns us about? As you didn’t give any justification for it and as it fails a very basic logic test then I fear so.

    Furthermore, “even deniers admit we shouldn’t foul our own nests” is true but if we don’t actively do something to help avoid other people fouling the environment then by definition we are not active environmentalists, ie those people who try to stop large-scale pollution, dumping etc by industry and who sometimes risk prison, fines, or their very lives and who sacrifice the home comforts that armchair critics enjoy.*** So that meagre argument doesn’t support your earlier assertion either.

    I am encouraged by true environmentalists such as Bellamy and Taylor trying to combat the hysteria. I don’t think it’s productive to lump them in with the wackos, most of whom just moved onto this issue from the previous anti-globalization movements anyway.

    *[By which i mean not fouling it by industrial waste or over-exploiting or destroying a natural resource (eg fish, coral, mangroves) to the point at which it can’t easily recover]

    **[Similar to the militant tendency that attached itself to the Labour party if you want an analogy.]

    ***[Note this group doesn’t include Monbiot, Suzuki, Porrit etc but it does include Bellamy.]

  35. James –

    “You state baldly without any justification that environmentalism is a philosophy and that it is incompatible with humanism because “It proposes that our principal relationship is not with each other, but with the natural world.” No matter how many times I read that I cannot explain how you reached that conclusion because you just don’t say.”

    We do justify this view, on page, after page, after page of this blog. We ‘justify’ it in the post above, like this:

    Any notion which doesn’t take the possibility of global catastrophe for granted is excluded from the discussion, and so the discussion about how to organise our lives is premised on the idea that if we don’t recognise environmental imperatives, we will necessarily create Thermageddon. The problem with any such calculation is that its conclusion is its premise. It exists prior to the scientific investigation of our influence on the climate, and it exists prior to the discussion about how human society will in turn be influenced by that change, and how we ought to respond.

    Keywords: ‘premised’, and ‘prior’.

    One way in which the environmental argument posits a relationship between people mediated by the natural world is captured in the claim that ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’. This does indeed appear to ‘humanist’, and is given as a reason to mitigate climate change through emissions reduction. We discuss this claim at http://www.climate-resistance.org/2009/06/the-illusion-and-politics-of-necessity.html and http://www.climate-resistance.org/2009/06/the-age-of-the-age-of-stupid.html . The 150,000 deaths cited by the WHO and 300,000 deaths by the GHF fade into insignificance when it is shown that the deaths attributed to climate change are just simply n-th order effects of climate change, and are in fact principally problems of (lack of) development. Addressing those 150/300 thousand deaths as social/political/economic problems would have the effect of saving tens of millions of lives.

    Yet environmentalists stress the natural component. The implication is that poverty is ‘natural’. Accordingly, environmentalists give a naturalised account of social problems.

    For a more philosophical argument, Ben wrote a review of James Garveys ‘Ethics of Climate Change’ for the Culture Wars website last year, which is discussed here http://www.climate-resistance.org/2008/07/ethics-of-ethics-of-climate-change.html . A humanist framework exists in contrast to a naturalistic one, as is explained :

    And without that form of environmental determinism to provide him with imperatives, Garvey would find it very difficult to explain what ‘justice’, ‘responsibility’, and ‘values’ actually are. It is only in the face of a problem that he can generate any meaning to provide these terms with. He can’t conceive, for example, of an argument for equality in human terms, he needs environmental crisis in order to legitimise an argument for negative equality. He can’t conceive of an argument for justice without a crime. Not, notice, a crime against a person, but a crime against the environment, which is later visited on people by consequence. This is ‘environmental justice’. He cannot conceive of any human values without connecting humans to the environment. This empty perspective is finally shown in his appeal that we ’start small, with everyday thoughts about doing the right thing’ – he cannot conceive of big things like solving the material inequalities that allow people to suffer from the effects of climate. He cannot conceive of a genuine form of justice, where people are protected from the climate. He doesn’t value that sort of justice. He doesn’t think we have that kind of responsibility. This ‘thinking small’ mentality barely registers as even thinking at all. According to this ’small’ doctrine, justice is done, equality is achieved, and your responsibilities are met by having a shower instead of bath, recycling your newspapers, and not using plastic bags. Who would have thought that ending world poverty was so spectacularly easy?

  36. to Stefan #35
    Thanks for the link. I have difficulty with a theory which finds it necessary to colour code psycho-social types or states of mind, but that doesn’t prevent the article you link to from having some interesting common-sense things to say about us human beings and our myriad ways of disagreeing.
    The fact that Dr Graves quotes no authority in the social sciences, as if his ideas rose like Athena from the head of Zeus, untainted by any previous fruit of human consciousness, may also give one cause to reflect. (But isn’t my objection just the peer-review criticism in another form?)
    Anyway, despite the fact that I find Dr Graves’ system less than convincing, if that’s the source of your often perceptive comments, well fair play to you. We’re all here because we’re sceptics, after all. (And I’m more than a little sceptical of the editors’ dismissal of all environmentalism. My next stop is to try and engage with JamesG’s way of thinking. It’s not as much fun as slagging off warmists at Guardian Environment, but maybe it’s more useful the long run.

  37. geoffchambers, by all means—I recall the Ferengi have a saying, “hear all, trust nothing!”—it is a good way to approach things 🙂

    As for how it arose, I gather it is just another researcher using this basic method:

    Ask a group of people a question. Collect all the answers. Do any answers appear to fall into classes? Using appropriate techniques to discern distinct classes of answers, you discover they gave you 7 classes of answers.
    Now ask another group from another culture. Do you get the same classes of answers?
    Ten years later, go back and ask the same people the same question. Do you still get the same 7 classes of answers? Yes? OK, do notice anything else? Well, the people who earlier gave answer A, now give answer B. Those who earlier gave answer B, now give answer C. In no event to you find someone who earlier gave answer C now giving answer A.
    So what you have discovered is that not only do there exist 7 classes of answers out there, but that these follow a developmental sequence.

    You can apply this, assuming the questions and tests are done properly, to a number of things. In Spiral Dynamics they looked at Values.

    The resulting map that the model gives you, should hopefully be simple enough to be universally useful, but not so simple that it dumbs things down.

    Bear in mind it is only based on one type of question. Other researchers look at different questions—cognitive development, for example. A human isn’t a colour, but they have an aspect at that time in their lives that expresses that colour.

    The model uses colour codes because, as they observed, the Value systems arise in a sequence, but we don’t want to name them 1,2,3,4… as that suggests that 5 is “the best”. Rather, each colour is better suited to certain kinds of life conditions/problems. If today you moved to Iraq, it would help to learn to activate some Purple, because that’s more prevalent there.

    One of the aspects of Green that I’ve seen mentioned a lot, is that Green is very concerned with protecting those who are marginalised and powerless. It is concerned with finding and helping victims. These could be victims of racism or sexism, but it could also be polar bears. See?

    Maybe, just maybe, this deeply held value that we need to help the victims, is what’s partly driving some environmentalists to hold that a monkey or a polar bear is more valuable than a human, in the sense of, we would really rather put their interests above our own. Maybe this is what the Editors are picking up on as being basically anti-human instead of humanistic.

    I think we need to remember that Green values arose partly in reaction to the abuses of colonialism, which simply exploited native people, and made them victims of our greed. And now, in some sense, we do the same to polar bears and coral reefs.

    As I say, these 7 colours were not “invented”, they were simply what arose empirically when researchers asked the question (whether it was done properly is another issue). What’s also interesting is that their ongoing research is finding that the newest generation of kids in the West is starting to provide a new class of answer, one not seen much in the earlier research; the new answer/meme is the Yellow meme. This is a new stage arising beyond the Green stage.

    Perhaps people are already waking up to the problems inherent in the Green stage, just as Green is gaining political power.

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