Under the Moon: Gore's Giant Limp for Mankind

Al Gore announced his strategy for powering the USA entirely from ‘renewable’ resources -a mixture of solar and wind – by a decade from now. (Are the sun and wind ‘renewable’? How?)

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The ten-year time-span, and the ‘big project’ are borrowed from JF Kennedy’s speech announcing the plan to put a man on the moon. Gore makes no secret of it, indeed, he is overtly trying to capture the same spirit, and sense of historical moment by paraphrasing Kennedy.

But there exist many differences between Gore and Kennedy, and their speeches.

The first is that Gore is not the president of the USA. He’s making grand speeches as though he were. But merely fancying himself as the president of the USA and flattering himself with allusions to Kennedy’s great speeches does not make him either. The question has to be asked; who does he think he is? He has left politics, yet appears to be setting the agenda that even McCain and now ‘Libertarian’ Bob Barr seem to be dancing to. It is a symptom of these times that it is pressure from outside the political process which sets the political agenda. Today’s Western politicians seem incapable of setting agendas, and instead merely respond to the world, hoping that crisis (environment, terror, pandemic, etc) and being in bed with NGOs will lend them legitimacy. Those who attach themselves to the word ‘progressive’ may see Gore’s and environmentalism’s influence on the political process as a Good Thing. But the truth is that, even if they are right about the destructive power of anthropogenic CO2, the political agenda being set so comprehensively by people without mandates is not what happens in a democracy. Gore’s is not an idea which will be contested democratically. It has not emerged from the kind of political activism which used to represent people’s interests, up from the ‘grass roots’. You will notice that Gore has not taken his environmental zeal to the ballot box. If climate change truly were the problem that the world faces, and if there truly were a grass roots mass movement to stop it, the ballot box would be a good place to start ‘saving the planet’. But as European Greens have shown, even weak environmentalism – never mind deep ecology – is simply not popular. What this reveals about politics in the West is that its elites suffer from an unmitigated disconnect with the public. Barr, McCain and Obama cannot challenge Gore, not because Gore has established a transformative political vision and a powerful following, but because they too lack both. In 2005, Gore, citing the disaster in New Orleans, gave a speech around the theme of the proverb ‘where there is no vision, the people perish’. Yet Gore thrives in these circumstances. It is only through being outside politics that he can influence it. It is only by exploiting the widespread cynicism towards politics – rather than by reinvigorating it – that Gore can position himself as a key player. By attaching themselves to this cause, which they sell as ‘above’ politics, presidential hopefuls imagine that they can escape the problems that that cynicism creates for them. His campaign slogan – ‘We Can Solve Climate Change’ – suggests that the impotent political process cannot. It says that ‘by working together, we can make it a priority for government and business’. This small constituency can make a bigger noise outside politics. With hundreds of millions of dollars, rather than people, at his disposal, Gore’s small movement can amplify his message, and achieve the effect of a mass political organisation, without ever actually achieving it.

Gore is not the first to make the claim that ‘climate change is our moon-landing’. In November, 2006, Tony Blair, citing the Stern Report’s findings, told the Royal Society in a speech titled Britain’s path to the future – lit by the brilliant light of science that,

The science of climate change is the moon landing of our day. This is idealism in a technical language. The scientists and the idealists will, once again, be the same people. The discoveries in the laboratory will be matters of life and death. Nothing could be more vital, nothing could be more exciting.

Of course, even Environmentalists do not regard Tony Blair as the saviour of the climate. Their rhetoric may be identical, yet he was not celebrated as an eco-hero by Environmentalists as Gore is. Like Gore, Blair hoped to create a place for himself in history, in spite of his being one of the emptiest voids ever to occupy 10 Downing Street. For example, in one of his most vain moments, following a peace deal made in Northern Ireland, he said ‘this is no time for soundbites, but I feel the hand of history on my shoulder’. Blair’s conceited determination to be remembered as a history-maker was well out of kilter with his ability to actually make it. Lacking the means and opportunities to make history then, Blair, like Gore, merely borrows from history. The subtext of ‘climate change is today’s moon-landing’ is ‘I am today’s Kennedy’. Gore’s and Blair’s speeches, seek not to change the world, but to elevate themselves to the stature of world-changing historical figures. But in Blair’s speech, there is no sign of an understanding of why Kennedy felt that science was key to transcending the political differences which defined the world at the time; he merely uses ‘science’ to create a (bogus) imperative to do so. In other words, science is being used to set, not achieve the agenda. Nor does he offer any explanation as to how and why such idealism had disappeared from the political landscape. Nor does he offer an argument as to how it might be injected back into public life. Blair, like Gore, thought that by presenting the ‘climate crisis’ in terms of the crisis precipitated by the cold war, and presenting the ‘scientific solution’ to that crisis as the means to achieve global cooperation, he would have, like Kennedy, a safe place in the history books. A giant leap. Except that what Gore and Blair have offered is not a political vision of the future powered by science, but merely cargo-cult politics. Like the islanders described by Richard Feynman, who believed that if you performed the rituals that they observed at an air force base, you would bring airplanes loaded with goods to your improvised airstrip, Blair and Gore appear to believe that, to be remembered as a great leader, you just have to go through the motions. But they are poseurs. They put Kennedy on a pedestal, merely so that they can pretend that they should take their place beside him. In much the same way, Blair also likened Saddam Hussain to Hitler, not because he was the leader of an emerging superpower, with the means to execute a global war – clearly Saddam lacked any such power. The purpose of the comparison was to make his part in the morality play – Winston Churchill – more convincing.

The science which Kennedy wished to use to liberate the world from the geopolitics of the time sits in contrast to the ambitions of those who embrace today’s ‘scientific’ conception of the future. It is not the same future. It is a future dominated by an ideology of restraint, of lowered expectations, and of dampened ambitions. Kennedy, on the other hand, had in mind a future of plenty. Today’s politicians instead use science to justify their instructions that we REDUCE! RE-USE! RECYCLE!’ They tell us we are not to use our cars, and that flying is ‘unethical’… unless it is them who are flying, of course. Kennedy wanted to transcend the problems of the age by appealing to interests that people across the world shared, in spite of their differences.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Now, however, that pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, commerce, and our common interests are perceived as the problem. Our increasing material liberty has, according to the likes of Blair and Gore, caused the problems that the world faces. Instead of science being used to liberate, it is now to be used to restrain our ambitions, to regulate our lifestyles, and to give a new authoritarianism political legitimacy. In fact, many Environmentalists today regard the moon landing as a wasteful folly, and an environmentally-destructive waste of space.

There is one further, very significant difference between Gore’s and Kennedy’s speeches. Gore’s vision of a ‘renewable’ USA is predicated on the imminent catastrophe which awaits if we do not follow his instructions. It is the gun to America’s head. Kennedy’s plan to send men to the moon had no such basis.

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Kennedy believed that humanity’s common interests and the pursuit of knowledge transcended geo-political differences. Thus, by advancing humanity though science and the arts, and trade, peace might be achieved. In contrast, the folly of trade, arts and commerce are, in Gore’s perspective, the problem. Kennedy’s speech is an appeal to human spirit; Gore’s is a rejection of it. Environmentalism seeks to control human spirit for the ‘higher’ goal of ecological stability. It claims that our interests are, by dint of our dependence on natural processes, second to nature’s. Kennedy asked us to understand nature to use it to our advantage and advancement. Gore asks us to submit to it.

History lends today’s political players crutches to prop themselves up by. Alluding to WWII, public figures demand that we get on a ‘war footing’ to limit our consumption by ‘make do and mend’, as one British public information slogan said. To question this is to demand to be judged by that historical absolute; holocaust denial. To be a denier is, according to the likes of Hansen, to be guilty of ‘crimes against humanity’. The need for such crutches stems from the fact that today’s politicians have no legs to stand on, and environmentalism cannot produce its own history.

POSTSCRIPT:

You could not make it up… Except that someone has… As the post above was being typed, this popped into our inbox from the BBC website:

A “Green New Deal” is needed to solve current problems of climate change, energy and finance, a report argues.

According to the Green New Deal Group, humanity only has 100 months to prevent dangerous global warming.

Its proposals include major investment in renewable energy and the creation of thousands of new “green collar” jobs.

The name is taken from President Franklin D Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, launched 75 years ago to bring the US out of the Great Depression.

The search for historical landmarks by which to give gravity to the climate issue reveals its total hollowness.

Left, Right and Wrong

When we were wondering why Environmentalism is often assumed to go hand in hand with the political Left, we suggested that Environmentalism and the War on Terror had similar roots in the politics of crisis and fear. A commenter named Harry made an interesting point that we missed at the time, but which certainly needs addressing:

The editors here say that they would define the Global War on Terror as one based solely on fear. If so, (and I certainly dont buy into that), it’s a fear based on actual evidence or occurrence of global terrorism.

Balance that against the current global warming evidence and tell me which one is more likely.

Well, that’s not quite what we said, but, hey. Harry is right that there is evidence for global terrorism – the World Trade Centre was attacked, and so on.

But there is evidence that the world has been warming up a bit recently; there is evidence that human activities have something do with some of that. The problem is with the political response to that evidence. The point is that to argue that ‘there is no such thing as global terrorism’, or that ‘there is no such thing as global warming’ is to fail to take issue with the idea that evidence of global terrorism or anthropogenic global warming is sufficient argument for the execution of the ‘War on Terror’, or for ‘drastic action’ to mitigate climate change.

We don’t buy into that.

Of course, there is a reasonable expectation that those responsible for terrorist attacks will be brought to justice, and similar attacks to be prevented. But what passes for justice and prevention often has the consequence of the precise opposite. The images of a world ravaged by terrorism and global warming are both used to reign in liberties, and to limit political imaginations. Proponents of these causes use the promise of a secure future to hide the fact that they lack any idea about how to deliver a better one.

We do not think that AGW is the result of a conspiracy of communists to raise taxes, or whatever. Likewise, we don’t think the Iraq war is “all about oil”. No UK party would have stopped us going to war in Iraq. And you’ve got to wonder where John “The climate debate is over” McCain fits into a Leftist conspiracy to tax people on the pretext of saving us from Gaia’s Revenge. Rather, the War on Terror and Environmentalism are two peculiar responses to a crisis of politics in which it fails to resonate with the public. This crisis is expressed variously as moral panics, urgency for ‘drastic action’, and the conviction that a failure to respond will undoubtedly spell the end of civilisation as we know it. In other words, where you see politicians responding to a ‘crisis’, it is invariably nothing more than their inability to make sense of the world. The irony is that the politics generated by fears about terrorism and eco-catastrophe is dictated by the readings of thermometers, or by the will of terrorists, rather than by the purposeful actions of world leaders.

What's Left About Green?

Our stance on the climate debate is often assumed – with approval or derision, depending on who’s doing the assuming – to reflect a wider Conservative outlook. We wouldn’t want people <cough> to go around thinking that Climate Resistance is some sort of Conservative reply to Environmentalism. Because it isn’t.

Steve McIntyre made a similar point after that very amusing voting malarky at last year’s Weblog Awards. McIntyre usually avoids the politics, believing that the best contribution he can make to the debate is to audit the science. And very good at it he is too. We doubt that the problem is at root a scientific one. But we are certainly intrigued as to why the Left and Environmentalism are assumed go together like the Right and Denial.

Many critics of climate orthodoxy argue that Environmentalism is the continuation of various left-wing ideologies. The argument is that the Left – following the collapse of Communism – has had to find new ways and new reasons to regulate. This is true to an extent: Anti-Capitalism and Environmentalism appear to be interchangeable in the words of protesters and activists at G8 protests and the like. But just as often, the language of the protesters is the same the establishment’s. After all, it was Margaret Thatcher – no Commie, her – who put climate change on the mainstream political agenda in the UK. The current leader of the UK’s Conservative Party, David Cameron, goes to considerable lengths to appear greener than Brown, to the extent that he’d get into bed with Greenpeace. If Environmentalism were truly an antithesis to the Right, why would Greenpeace be so willing to give Cameron an edge? The mainstream political parties are hardly distinguishable from each other or from fringe parties when it comes to Green policies. The Labour Party has not gone as far as to replace its logo with a green tree, but Tony Blair was apparently quite keen to use his relationship with George Bush to get the US into line on the Kyoto Protocol. Equivalently, there are people on the Left and the Right who dismiss climate alarmism on their own terms, whilst disagreeing about the nature of capital, and the best way to proceed into the future. Left and Right simply do not define the global warming debate, but two perspectives that are struggling to positively define themselves.

Things are, of course, divided differently in the USA. It has been harder for Environmentalism to establish itself there. But it would be hard to argue that Environmentalism has not gone mainstream in a country where Al Gore wins Nobel Prizes and Oscars, and John “The climate debate is over” McCain gets the Republicans’ Presidential nomination. So, what has Environmentalism really to do with the Left?

Our view is that the rise and rise of Environmentalism is not the result of the reinvention of Red as Green, but because politics as a whole is in crisis. Increasingly, policy areas are becoming detached from the Left-Right process. Not that the Left-Right axis is necessarily worth returning to, as it is evident that it is exhausted. The problem for politicians is in defining something new. As we put it in our opening statement: “Environmental concerns are serving to provide direction for directionless politics”. The inability to define themselves in such a way as to achieve public engagement is something that both the Left and the Right struggle with in today’s world, and Environmentalism is an expression of that disorientation, not the cause of it. Challenging environmental orthodoxy is a way to address that disorientation.

Alex Gourevitch puts it all rather well in an essay in N+1 mag called The Politics of Fear:

Imagining ecological collapse as an overweening crisis demanding immediate action and collective sacrifice, with emergency decisions overriding citizens’ normal wants and wishes, is not really a politics at all, but the suspension of politics—there is no political choice, no constituencies to balance, nothing to deliberate. There is no free activity, just do or die. It seems we will have traded one state of emergency for another.

But Environmentalism is not the only expression of directionless politics. On both sides of the Atlantic, and on both sides of the political spectrum, the agenda is set by the Politics of Fear. That is to say that politics is legitimised by the terrifying scenarios that politicians promise to protect us from. We would agree with Gourevitch when he draws parallels between the climate change movement and the War on Terror as the Left and Right’s deployment of the politics of fear:

… in conditions when conventional political ideologies fail to inspire, there is a temptation to resort to the politics of fear as a way of restoring the power and authority of elites. The hope is that the quest for security, rather than anything higher, can become a unifying political principle in its own right.

Moreover, it’s very hard to draw a comparison between the philosophies of the traditional Left and Environmentalism. Unlike Environmentalism, the Left is not characterised by opposition to economic growth; its goal has been to distribute its riches more rationally amongst those who actually generate capital, rather than just those who simply own it. This new disregard – antipathy even – for production distances Environmentalism from the Left. It might sometimes be Anti-Capitalist, but it is more the kind of Anti-Capitalism that the Taliban offer, not the old Left. Furthermore, across the range of Green arguments are plenty of economic ideas which depend on the market creating the solution to environmental problems; ‘fair trade’, for example, or creating markets to encourage the growth of “new technologies” (the Greens’ very own techno fix) in renewable resources. Meanwhile, the working class – the very group that the Left aimed to rouse, so that it could realise its potential – are the object of Environmentalism’s demands that we “Reduce! Re-Use! Recycle!” – they are, according to the Green ‘left’ the unthinking consuming masses, whose pleasures are base, destructive and need to be controlled.

In summary, we are not Conservatives. But please don’t let that put anyone off.