Infinite Regress

In a recent post, we looked at some of Green MEP Caroline Lucas’s arguments for action on climate change. One of them has stuck with us as especially absurd, and merits further attention:

this planet has finite resources. You cannot go on growing indefinitely on a finite planet. 

This appeal to ‘physics’ pops up frequently in environmental debates. Interestingly, it’s a tactic also popular with Creationists and their ilk, who cite Newton’s second law of thermodynamics to suggest that evolution contradicts fundamental physical truths. In each case, a woolly argument about how the world should be is patched up with sciency-sounding facts, figures and laws. This is not the tactic of groups confident about their political position; it is a sign of the desperation of groups that are failing to capture the imagination of the world’s population.

In Lucas’s world, the appeal to physics is used as an argument against economic growth and technological development. It is principally a criticism of capitalism, which requires growth and is, therefore, inherently environmentally destructive. It is worth repeating a point we made at the time. The objection to capitalism on the grounds that it contradicts physical laws is a departure from prior objections to capitalism from the Left and is not a criticism of the kind that we would expect the Left to produce. Instead of offering a description of social problems – for example poverty – arising from the social relations produced by capitalism, Lucas seeks to explain social phenomena in terms of geological and biological processes. This is similar to James Garvey’s claims in The Ethics of Climate Change, which appeals to scientific authority to make a case for environmental determinism. In Lucas’s argument, there is a causal chain, from capitalism, via the natural world, to social problems such as poverty, which can be described ‘scientifically’.

Lucas might argue that she could hold both positions simultaneously. But if that were the case, why would it be necessary to emphasise the environmental aspect, let alone mention it at all, given that the social, human-centric perspective is a lot more powerful? The major reason is that the two perspectives are irreconcilable. One looks at social problems as the product of social relations, the other looks at social problems as the consequence of exceeding ‘natural’ limits – ‘unsustainability’. They are further contradictory because we can conceive of non-capitalist growth which is, in the green lexicon, ‘environmentally unfriendly’, but which produces a social good – we could build dams, relocate cities away from coasts, reclaim coasts, create ways for the developing world to have much cheaper access to energy and industrialise agricultural production, and so on. We can also conceive of capitalist growth that is environmentally destructive and yet produces a social good. After all, it’s not as if cars and labour-saving devices and all that stuff have no utility and have been foisted upon people against their will. And it’s not as if economic and technological growth has occurred against a backdrop of lower living standards and declining indicators of social progress. On the contrary, things have got better and better. Lucas – who is unable to make the argument that things are worse in order to challenge capitalism – needs to make the argument that things are about to get worse, and that development of any kind is necessarily environmentally destructive, and so creates a haunting spectre of ‘unsustainability’ and imminent social, ecological and economic collapse.

In this respect, Lucas does not offer us a principled objection to capitalism – she claims that it is wrong in the same way that arguments against gravity would be wrong. Whatever your thoughts about capitalism happen to be, and even if you still believe that environmentalism is a continuation of socialism, it is worth recognising environmentalism’s distance from the traditional Left. It highlights the Left’s political exhaustion, and the environmental movement’s intellectual bankruptcy.

On a similar note, it is not true that notions of sustainable development are antithetical to the economic Right or capitalism. After all Malthus, on whose ideas Lucas’s are based, was a classical economist, whose ideas were debunked by Marx himself. More contemporary conservatives have also embraced the rhetoric of ‘sustainability:

The Government espouses the concept of sustainable economic development. Stable prosperity can be achieved throughout the world provided the environment is nurtured and safeguarded. Protecting this balance of nature is therefore one of the great challenges of the late Twentieth Century 

The second problem with Lucas’s argument is that her conception of ‘resources’ is itself flawed. Malthusians – especially environmentalists – misconceive resources as ‘substance’. In a finite universe, never mind a finite world, all substances are of course finite. If our ‘dependence’ on Earth’s resources are ‘unsustainable’ because they are finite, then so too would our much more real dependence on solar, wind and tidal power, be ultimately unsustainable. They are not merely unsustainable in the sense that one day the sun – which drives all renewable sources – will collapse, they are also unsustainable because continued and increasing dependence on this form of energy itself cannot be sustained against growing numbers of people – there is only a limited amount of recoverable energy entering the system at any time. According to environmentalists, this is why we must therefore limit the number of people and ration the amount of energy they are entitled to. We are in favour of some of the large projects which have been conceived of as part of a ‘post-carbon economy’ for their own sake, particularly the idea of large, solar energy collecting arrays. Covering the uninhabited land of the Sahara with solar panels, for example, might provide 50 times the power used currently across the globe. But such projects, including hydro-electric, are met by environmentalists with anxiety about the environmental destruction that large scale developments necessarily cause. And, as we have seen, Environmentalists are against environmental destruction, even where it produces a social benefit.

And anyway, development itself is not intrinsically bad for nature. First, as economies develop, they are inclined to pay increasing attention to the environmental effects of development as wealth allows. Compare the once filthy development in the West to the comparatively cleaner industries of today. Even the destructive process of open-cast mining reinstates wilderness. Indeed, yesterday’s open cast mines are today’s nature reserves. They are clean ecological slates on which Mother Nature can work her magic of colonisation and succession, and are often home to rare, specialist species that are not found elsewhere. Similarly, landfill sites are recovered and repopulated with trees, and what’s more, nobody would want to develop on top of them, whereas nature hardly cares. Second, technological development allows for the possibility of moving away from a dependence on natural processes, resulting in a reduced industrial footprint as both science and economics permit. It would not require a leap of imagination to consider the shifting away from rural agriculture, to an indoor process, under perfect conditions. The reason for not doing that now is that ‘solar power’ makes using fields for crop production far cheaper. But a more abundant form of power would render such forms of production obsolete and inefficient. Of course, organic food faddists would baulk at the idea of lentils grown indoors. But such a step would create the possibility of safer, healthier, more plentiful food, protected from pests and other natural problems, and, of course, would be environmentally non-destructive. This would be a ‘green revolution’ second to none, as agricultural land would be freed up for other uses, including, if we so wished, nature conservation. What environmentalists should be calling for is a world-wide push for new ways of producing more and more energy, and more wealth, not arguing that it should be rationed and limited. Rationing is a guaranteed way to cause environmental problems. That they don’t reinforces the idea that Environmentalism is less about saving the planet per se and more to do with a discomfort with human aspirations.

Access to substance and its existence in sufficient quantities are only part of what constitutes a resource. The remainder is intellectual. Lucas herself must recognise this to some extent, because, as she knows only too well, methods such as domestic solar panels are not currently economically viable alternatives to centralised, fossil-fuel power generation. She argues that huge investments and massive infrastructural changes are needed to develop technology, and for the economics to be adjusted to make alternatives viable. So in this respect, solar energy and other renewables are not yet the ‘resources’ that she hopes them to become. So Lucas’s argument for renewable resources to be exploited in place of fossil fuels is predicated on a transformed relationship with a substance, and the development of the technology to make that exploitation possible. She cannot deny, then, that politics – as much as physics – are what determines which substances are resources.

Back to Lucas’s blind faith in the laws of physics… 500 years ago, oil was not a resource. Neither was uranium. People around at the time didn’t know how to use them. Things that weren’t resources became resources. Our ability to use new resources made old resources obsolete. Now, no home in the UK needs to burn wood for heat, for example. Or, as Bjørn Lomborg has put it, the Stone Age didn’t come to an end because we ran out of stones. What Malthusians forget is that development begats development. After all, you don’t make a jump from rubbing twigs together to atomic energy. Critics of this perspective on this site suggest that this represents some form of contemporary Lysenkoism – that blind faith in science’s ability to rescue us from future resource depletion is a dangerous, politically-motivated folly. They argue that science will not be able to continually provide ‘techno-fixes’ to the problems which emerge from our ways of life. We must come up against some ceiling sooner or later, the logic goes.

But anxiety about ‘growing indefinitely on a finite planet’ forgets that our abilities to make use of the finite space and finite resources increases the effective space and amount of resources that are available. And there is a colossal amount of space, and an abundance of resources out there. For example, we hear a lot about the looming ‘water wars’ that are to be fought because of apparent shortages. A quick look at any map will reveal that the Earth isn’t running out of it any time soon. The problem is simply technological. Instead of concerning themselves with how to provide for a growing population by coming up with desalination, distribution and irrigation schemes, the environmental movement instead uses the prospect of conflict to arm its arguments in favour of restricting development and of rationing what water comes our way through natural processes. What better way could there be of guaranteeing a ‘natural’ disaster than limiting the supply of resources – super abundant resources, never mind oil – to human populations? Environmentalists simultaneously warn of shortages, yet stand in the way of developing any alternatives that might not last ‘indefinitely’. There is only one way out of the resource-depletion scenario that is presented, they say, reduce the number of people, and the amount of resources they are entitled to.

What environmentalists refuse to consider is what a resource- and energy-abundant society might be like. What if stuff in the world just got cheaper? What if access to water and energy wasn’t an issue for anyone in the world? Perhaps, just perhaps, it is this very democratisation of resource use that the environmental movement is a response to. The possibilities that are opened up by technological development for our way of life and our politics are the real locus of anxieties about the future.

Environmentalists demand an impossibly high standard. Nothing the human race has ever done to improve its conditions has been ‘sustainable’. As technologies have changed our lives, and created new problems, so too have new politics arisen out of these changing conditions. If this process had been stalled during any era on the basis that it was unsustainable, we would still be living in stone-age conditions, with stone-age politics – at least, that is, until we really did run out of stones.

$IR NI¢HOLA$ $T£RN

Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the famous Stern Report, which underpins many an argument in favour of climate change mitigation, is behind a ‘carbon credit reference agency‘ launched today.

“If we are to attract the levels of finance necessary to make this a mainstream market and have a strong impact on emissions reduction, risks must be clearly understood, articulated and managed. A detailed ratings system is a vital tool to bring greater clarity, transparency and certainty to the market,” he said. 

Of course, where there’s muck, there’s brass.

The agency, run by the IdeaCarbon group of which Lord Stern is vice-chairman [he is in fact vice-chairman of IDEAglobal], said it would offer investors a guide to the quality of credits and the likelihood that they would be delivered. Sellers of carbon credits would have to pay to have their products rated, while buyers would also pay to gain access to the ratings. 

IDEAcarbon sell themselves accordingly:

IDEAcarbon is an independent and professional provider of ratings, research and strategic advice on carbon finance. Our services are designed to provide leading financial institutions, corporations, governments, traders and developers with unbiased intelligence and analysis of the factors that affect the pricing of carbon market assets. 

Other group directors include:

Ian Johnson – Chairman
Ian joined IDEAcarbon following a distinguished career at the World Bank. For eight years he was the Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development overseeing its work on climate change and carbon finance. Prior to that he played a major role in negotiating the establishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and managed its day-to-day operations for six years. Ian is presently an advisor to Globe, G8+5 and to the UNFCCC. 

and

Samuel Fankhauser – Managing Director (Strategic Advice)
Sam served on the 1995, 2001 and 2007 assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He also gained hands-on experience in the design of emission reduction projects as a climate change economist for the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank. Sam joined IDEAcarbon from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, where his most recent position was Deputy Chief Economist.
 

Now, just imagine the fuss that would ensue, were some figure who was depended on for his impartial advice to make public statements on climate change that weren’t in accordance with the ‘consensus’, and it turned out that that person had a financial interest in the public’s perception on matters that he advised about? Might there not be some protest? After all, it’s not as if his advice is subtle:

Lord Stern, the former World Bank chief economist whose landmark report on the economics of climate change warned the world risked plunging into economic depression if action was not taken urgently on greenhouse gases, said carbon trading was a “key plank” in dealing with climate change. 

It is often said that ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’. Well, it turns out that it will be great for the rich. As a December ’07 press release shows, there’s plenty to be positive about climate change:

“By 2020 the global carbon market could be worth EUR 240-450 billion” says Lord Nicholas Stern, Vice Chairman of IDEAGlobal Group, in the inaugural issue of CARBONfirst 

He’s no fool, Sir Nick. This gives the lie to the claims that environmentalism is the continuation of anti-capitalism – there is clearly room for capitalists at the fair-trade, organic, global warming beano.

Just shouting about hypocrisy gets nothing done, and doesn’t change anything. But how does this happen? Why isn’t Stern embarrassed about this? Why don’t we see an equivalent to Exxonsecrets.org, showing the monied interests buzzing around the global warming issue? Why is it that this kind of barefaced conflict of interests is largely overlooked, while people like James Hansen call for oil company executives to face trials for ‘high crimes against nature and humanity‘, allegedly for distorting the public perception of climate change for profit?

What this shows is that ‘the ethics of climate change’ allow for financial and political interests to be overlooked for the ‘greater good’. The fact that Stern has been instrumental in creating the idea of mitigation serving that greater good must, by the very standards demanded by the environmental movement, surely raise questions about his profiting from it. Yet don’t expect outrage, because, as we have seen before, the ethics of climate change only apply one way. To challenge Sir Nicholas’s apparent profiting from his report would be to undermine the very foundations of so many environmentalists’ arguments. For example, one of our favourites, Sir Bob May, former president of the Royal Society, in his review of the Stern Report and George Monbiot’s Heat, cites Stern as an authority on ‘the facts’ which we are expected to ‘respect’.

Despite the growing weight of evidence of climate change, along with growing awareness of the manifold adverse consequences, there remains an active and well-funded “denial lobby”. It shares many features with the lobby that for so long denied that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. […] Whoever got things started, this is a ball which ExxonMobile picked up and ran with, shuttling lobbyists in and out of the White House as it did so. Following earlier talks and seeking to exemplify its centuries-old motto – Nullius in Verba (which roughly translates as “respect the facts”) – the Royal Society recently and unprecedentedly wrote to ExxonMobile, complaining about its funding for “organisations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change”, and more generally for promoting inaccurate and misleading views – specifically that scientists do not agree about the influence of human activity on rising temperatures. 

 

Something old, something blue, something borrowed, something green

Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher, asks in the Yorkshire Post (H/T Benny Peiser):

In the election for London’s Mayor, the Greens got just over three per cent of the vote. Leaving aside such misguided places as Norwich, where the Green Party gained three seats, they struggled elsewhere to poll anywhere near that. […] Yet Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Nationalists dance slavishly to the Green tune. […] Why do we put up with this “green” extortion to so little purpose? That’s the real mystery.

We have asked this question before. Environmentalism is a political ideology, yet its influence on policy decisions is not challenged politically in this country, and barely anywhere else. How come?

The closest thing to a challenge are the scientific discussions offered by ‘sceptics’, ‘deniers’, ‘realists’ or whatever you want to call them. Of course, these challenges are waved away by many as ‘politically-motivated’ – as if Environmentalism was above that sort of thing. And there’s the rub. ‘Politics’ has become a dirty word, and Environmentalism fills the void, because, with ‘scientists’ backing it, it is presented as a ‘value free’ set of imperatives that we must all respond to. Environmentalists will tell you that it’s not a question of political values, it’s a matter of material fact, scientifically established by the IPCC. But the truth is that the unchallengeable measurements that the movement depends on do not exist. Instead, science only lends Environmentalism credibility through the ‘precautionary principle‘; it is superficially plausible that anthropogenic CO2 will cause global catastrophe (given a substantial number of mainly political assumptions), therefore it is worth treating the possibility of a nightmare as a certainty, according to this doctrine.

From here, Environmentalism easily becomes a religious world view: we start to see disobedient countries through this prism (Burma and its missing mangrove swamps being the latest example); we start to judge the actions of others through green-tinted spectacles; and we start to do the things that are demanded of us, ‘for the sake of the planet’ – not for a genuine conception of a ‘greater good’, but just the mitigation of a worse bad.

Back to Ingham’s question: the Tories (as any party would) will explain their recent success at the polls as a consequence of their taking green issues more seriously. For example, last Friday, on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions, Chairman of the Conservative Party, Caroline Spellman, said of the successes her party had enjoyed the previous night,

Our council candidates campaigned very simply on following policies that would deliver a cleaner, greener, safer country, one that is more family friendly, and one that gives tax payers better value for money. That is a very simple message, it’s one that the electorate like, that is why they have returned conservative governments – in local government – because they like what they see.

Spellman’s words offer no political vision whatsoever; just a promise of better management of public (and, most likely, private) life than the Labour Party – which is exactly the basis on which Blair took power from Major in 1997. The vote did not reflect an ideological shift among the public, nor Blair’s resonance with the electorate. But contrast Spellman’s words to those of Sir Bernard’s former boss. Whether you agreed with her or not, Thatcher’s aim was a political transformation of the UK, if not the world. She went Green as that vision was running out of steam, in spite of its success (and she closed far more coal mines than any environmental protest could wish for).

Surely, if anyone knows how that played out, and consequently, why the world seems to have gone green, Ingham does?

Disagreeing that politics is dominated by a green consensus is the Independent‘s Andrew Grice, who complains that “nobody is talking about climate change” anymore.

We might just look back on May Day 2008 as the moment when the power of green politics peaked and went into reverse. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it. The reaction of the two main parties to the elections was instructive. Desperate to prop up his own position after Labour’s rout, Mr Brown needed to toss a few bones to the voters and jittery Labour backbenchers. So it suddenly emerged that he was about to dump the so-called “bin tax” – allowing councils to charge householders who do not recycle their rubbish. Downing Street didn’t confirm it, and five token pilot schemes will go ahead, but it’s clear the bin tax has been binned.

A temporary halt to the progress of a law demanding that people recycle, or face punishing fines means that climate is off the agenda, apparently.

Grice goes on to complain about the possibility that a 2 pence rise in petrol/diesel tax will be scrapped – even though the current high price of fuel makes these entirely unnecessary, as the Inland Revenue already takes VAT (17.5%) of the sale price (~£1.108) on top of ~£0.50 a litre of petrol. A genuinely ‘anti green’ policy would surely make fuel cheaper, rather than allow it to get much more expensive. Grice continues:

Mr Brown was not alone in relegating the environment to the back burner. David Cameron, the wind in his sails after the elections, held a prime ministerial press conference in which he set out his priorities for government. Significantly, the words “environment” and “climate change” did not appear in his 1,200-word statement.

It is indeed a rare thing when David Cameron utters 1200 words, none of which are green. These seem to be the ones Grice is referring to. Here is another speech Cameron made shortly before that one:

If Cameron has indeed abandoned the environmental cause, he has done it very suddenly. But there’s nothing in the later speech which contradicts it, in spite of Grice’s claims.

Of course, 1200 is a small number of words. If, perhaps, green was ommitted from Cameron’s speech, it was because the cause has been fully embraced by all of the parties. Why mention it? Likewise, does the fact that we can find 1200 words uttered recently by Caroline Lucas that include no reference to the environment mean that our favourite Green Party MEP has also turned her back on Mother Nature? As is the case with most shrill environmentalists, Grice confuses omission with opposition. It is what Cameron didn’t say which upsets him. A bit like a failure to say Amen after a prayer, or to say grace before a meal; it offends religious sensibilities. So Grice treats it as a statement that the Tories have dropped all green policies, and are to stand against them in the future.

No such luck. And, as is clear from the past, the Conservatives have been key to establishing environmental orthodoxy in the UK.

The reason there is no challenge to Environmentalism is that there is nothing to challenge Environmentalism with. Instead, Environmentalism, and the senses of crisis and urgency it generates, are useful vehicles for policies for the sake of policies, and for the purfunctory policy initiatives that masquerade as ‘progress’. Historically, for example, it has been sufficient to announce programs to build new homes on the basis that places for people to live are a good thing. New towns, however they turned out, were planned on the premise that it would make life better, and society more rewarding. Now, homes themselves are problematic. The very idea of housing developments upsets people. They use up resources and roads. They change the view. They are the manifestation of the idea that ‘hell is other people’. Environmentalism is on hand to furnish ways in and out of that problem. For those wishing to resist new developments, instead of making selfish objections to the planning process, they can appeal to the ‘greater good’, and claim that the principle of environmental ‘sustainability’ has not been given due attention. Developers, in reply, can greenwash their proposal, to claim that the greater good is being served. Never mind that homes are supposed to be all about people.

Politics today, whether it be Cameron’s or Grice’s, needs crises – real, or imagined – in order to maintain their relevance to an increasingly disengaged public. These appeals to catastrophe are wrapped up in the language of political change. But claims to be about radical change for the sake of “SAVING THE PLANET” belie an exhausted political perspective on the world that increasingly fails to connect with the public in any other way than through high drama, and struggles to distance itself from its opposition.

The current success of the Conservative Party follows the descent of the Labour party, whose 1997 success followed the descent of the Tories, who had enjoyed, since 1978, success at the polls after Labour’s problems in the 1970s. It seems that rather than winning elections, parties loose them. We punish their embarassing yet inevitable failure to connect with the public and reward their increasing mediocrity. This is the environment that Environmentalism has thrived in.

Critics of Environmentalism from the right claim that it is the reincarnation of failed socialism. Clearly, that criticism is incomplete. Critics of Tory policy, such as Grice, claim that ‘vote blue, go Green’ rhetoric is nothing more than spin; empty gestures to convince the public that it is responding to their fears. This too misses the point that that is also the very nature of the environmental movement, which has, like conservative ideologies of the past, used such fear to stand in the way of progress and harked back to traditional ways of life and natural social orders, lest unintended consequences of change cause upheaval.

Challenging environmental orthodoxy will take more than not mentioning it. That is not because Environmentalism is a powerful political idea, but because it exists as a consequence of the inability of political perspectives – Left and Right – to reflect on their own collapse.

Bottom Feder

A link to this article came our way…

Procreation is killing the planet, and traditional religion is to blame, Global-Warming cultists insist. First the industrial revolution had to go. Then it was to the wall with oil company executives, those malignant Carbon Interests. Next, SUVs were declared enemies of the planet.  

Hmmm. This is the first time we’ve heard the claim that environmentalists blame ‘traditional religion’ directly for environmental degradation. Noticeably, the claim is not actually attributed to the environmental movement in general, but to an individual, an Oliver “Buzz” Thomas, who asks in a USA TODAY article, “Might our religion be killing us?”. Thomas argues predictably that religious doctrine encourages people to have more babies, thereby creating a greater environmental impact through ‘overpopulation’. Yawn.

You may be wondering why we, the editors of a site that intends to challenge climate orthodoxy, are sceptical of the claims made by Don Feder in his GLOBAL WARMING — LEFT’S LATEST EXCUSE FOR THE WAR ON THE FAMILY. The reason is that it’s difficult to establish which is worse, the intellectual poverty of the environmental movement – as Thomas exhibits – or the intellectual dishonesty of Feder in this article. The fact of the former should make the latter unnecessary. What are we to make of Feder, then?

Notice that Thomas is no atheist, but is in fact a Southern Baptist minister. And notice too that there is no real substance in his article that one could fairly attribute to the ‘Left’. Yet Feder appears to maintain that Thomas’s remarks are evidence that the left are trying to attack the family, and religion.

As we have argued before, Environmentalism and conventional religions are strikingly compatible. But this is not just some dispute about different interpretations of biblical texts, Feder – who is allegedly a political consultant, seems to be absurdly ignorant of political theory. He tells us that

For 200 years, the left has been fixated on an imaginary overpopulation crisis. In 1798, Thomas Malthus warned that wars, famine and plagues were needed to reduce the “surplus population” else we would soon inhabit Planet SRO. 

But Malthus’s ideas had no currency in the Left. Quite the opposite. Lenin – about as left as lefties ever got – said of them that they were “an attempt on the part of bourgeois ideologists to exonerate capitalism and to prove the inevitability of privation and misery for the working class under any social system”. Indeed, Tomas Malthus, the classical economist, was in fact a keen fan of Adam Smith – the ‘father of capitalism’. To claim that Malthus is key to the development of the left is as sound as claiming that a pope was instrumental in the development of the ideas in Darwin’s “origin of the species”. A key assumption for Malthus was that poverty is the consequence of the poor’s moral shortcomings rather than unequal structures of society. Again, where’s the socialism? Nonetheless, Feder continues,

In his 1969 book, “The Population Bomb” (the prequel to “An Inconvenient Truth”), Paul Ehrlich forecast worldwide famine by 1975. Natural resources would be severely depleted and arable land exhausted in a futile effort to keep up with the population explosion. 

Neither was Paul Ehrlich ‘Left’. He was on the board of advisors of the Federation for American Immigration Reform until 2003 – “The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization in the United States that advocates changes in U.S. immigration policy that would result in significant reductions in immigration, both legal and illegal.” And the Left has never been about submitting to ‘limits to growth’, thereby arresting progress; it’s goal has been to distribute the fruits of that progress among those who actually produce stuff, rather than those who merely own it.

It’s not as if Feder doesn’t know that he’s talking bullshit…

If Global Warming didn’t exist, the left would have to invent it. In fact, they did. As Nigel Calder, former editor of the British magazine New Scientist explains: “Twenty years ago, climate research became politicized in favor of one particular hypothesis, which redefined the study as the effect of the study of greenhouse gasses. As a result, the rebellious spirits essential for innovative and trustworthy science are greeted with impediments to their research careers.” 

… If he knows that climate research was politicised twenty years ago, he would know that it was politicised by the then UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher – a Conservative, and friend and ally of Ronald Reagan. Her administration – a right wing administration, arguably farther right than the party’s tradition – found the ideas of Paul Ehrlich and Malthus expedient. They were communicated to the PM by the likes of neomalthusian (he admits to the term) Sir Crispin Tickell, a senior British diplomat at the time.

And on the subject of ‘traditional religion’, and the ‘left’s attack on the family’, Marx – again, a fairly leftish kind of lefty – says this of Malthus:

Although Malthus was a parson of the English State Church, he had taken the monastic vow of celibacy — one of the conditions of holding a Fellowship in Protestant Cambridge University: “Socios collegiorum maritos esse non permittimus, sed statim postquam quis uxorem duxerit socius collegii desinat esse.” (“Reports of Cambridge University Commission,” p. 172.) This circumstance favourably distinguishes Malthus from the other Protestant parsons, who have shuffled off the command enjoining celibacy of the priesthood and have taken, “Be fruitful and multiply,” as their special Biblical mission in such a degree that they generally contribute to the increase of population to a really unbecoming extent, whilst they preach at the same time to the labourers the “principle of population.” It is characteristic that the economic fall of man, the Adam’s apple, the urgent appetite, “the checks which tend to blunt the shafts of Cupid,” as Parson Townsend waggishly puts it, that this delicate question was and is monopolised by the Reverends of Protestant Theology, or rather of the Protestant Church. With the exception of the Venetian monk, Ortes, an original and clever writer, most of the population-theory teachers are Protestant parsons. [Capital, Ch 25, note 6] 

Marx’s point here, like Feder’s, is that Malthusianism is used to coerce the working classes, not for the benefit of the Left, as Feder claims, but for the capitalist elite. Malthusianism is just good, old-fashioned fear of the uncontrolled masses. Too many of them is a problem, you see, for capital. They start demanding things. And they start becoming a viable political force, rather than merely a useful source of labour.

The left must have its scapegoat. This is absolutely essential. For Marx it was the bourgeoisie. For the ’60s New Left, it was America — spelled with a “k.” White males are the villains of multiculturalism. Now, it’s babies and retrograde churches that are destroying the planet. The environment has assumed the role of the proletariat, the Third World and racial minorities in earlier models of damnation and salvation. 

If it wasn’t so utterly dishonest, it would be funny that Feder should talk of scapegoating in an article where he attacks the ‘left’, which isn’t left, for characteristics of the right, in defence of the poor and the oppressed at the hands of the bourgeoisie!

The left has always worried about the reproductive patterns of certain people. As Jonah Goldberg explains in his book “Liberal Fascism,” from the beginning, racial eugenics was a project of the left — or progressives, as they called themselves then and now. H.G. Wells, a hero of pre-World War II progressivism (a socialist who wrote science fiction, much like Al Gore), said that in order for humankind to move to the sunny uplands of utopia, “swarms of black and brown, and dirty (lower class) white and yellow people” would have to be discouraged from breeding — or physically eliminated. Moreover, Goldberg explains, “The foremost institution combating eugenics around the world was the Catholic Church.” 

In fact eugenics was as much an orthodoxy prior to WW2 as climate change is today. Both the left and the right bought into it. Many US states had programs of compulsory sterilisation, and there’s probably no point in raising that little matter of racial segregation in the southern states up until… oh, well after eugenics was unfashionable. It is only with tunnel vision that Feder can make the point. Indeed, he cites just one prominent socialist. But it wasn’t simply Wells’s socialism which made him keen on eugenics, but his scientism. Indeed some religious movements have stood in the way of eugenics, but arguably, only because reproductive technologies threaten to undermine their influence, by separating our behaviour from its consequences, or otherwise undermining religious orthodoxy. What appears to be a positive stand against the evil of eugenics also stands in the way of life-saving, and life-enhancing medicine and research. Feder is not speaking about anything positive. We agree that it is a bad idea to campaign against families after the fashion of the Chinese one-child-per-family policy. But on the other hand, it is bad to coerce people into families through orthodoxies. Whether you want states or ‘traditional religion’ to maintain the family, the idea that the family unit is both right, and natural, and is the bedrock of society is undermined; it is still a claim that families can only exist with such forms of intervention. Why would families need a religion or a state to exist? What is more, how can Feder honestly claim that the traditional church does not worry about ‘the reproductive patterns of certain people’? It’s not as if the church doesn’t speak about sex before marriage, gay relationships, contraception, and all that stuff.

There are plenty of things to criticise the old left for. But no need. Because it no longer exists. Feder misses the point that Environmentalism is perfectly compatible with right wing, religious as well as ‘liberal’ perspectives. Indeed, it’s more at home with the old right in that, ultimately, it serves to maintain elites and class structures. There’s no problem making rubbish up about Environmentalism if all you want to do is score points here and there against political (or even religious) rivals, as Feder seems to want to do. It’s not fine if you think Environmentalism is a dangerous idea that needs challenging. And it does need challenging. There is plenty of scope for people on the right and left to have interesting conversations about what’s wrong with Environmentalism. But the intellectual dishonesty of Feder’s article is no way to challenge the intellectual poverty of Environmentalism. Please, let’s raise the standard.

Who Are the Real Climate Criminals?

If there’s one thing that’s supposed to annoy us British about Americans, it’s their environmentally unfriendly ways. And not just George Bush and his Exxon-funded cronies. It’s the whole lot of them – as highlighted by the recent ABC News poll where “global warming” scored a big, fat zero (see page 6) in the US public’s list of priorities.

Contrast with London’s Mayoral candidates all battling to save the planet. The “central pledge” of New Labour’s Ken Livingstone to his electorate includes: “London will tackle the great environmental problems, above all climate change, to ensure that our success is sustainable.” And the whole thing is only one sentence long. Boris Johnson (Conservative) pledges “a ban on bottled water, a ban on internal flights, recycling, green procurement and sustainability”. Both claim to be against Heathrow’s third runway on environmental grounds. And there’s still somehow room for a Green Party candidate. Politics: available in any colour, as long as it’s… well… Green.

But is our superciliousness towards the green credentials of the USA really justified? Are we really that different here in the UK? Not according to an Ipsos Mori poll last year, which indicated that more than half of us are not convinced that the science of climate change is robust enough to justify a Green revolution. Despite the vast sums of cash available to the environmental PR machine to keep the looming ecopalypse at the front of our minds, nobody’s really that interested, it seems.

Funnily enough, environmentalists like to blame their failure to capture the public’s imagination on oil-funded “deniers” (whose budget is a fraction of Greenpeace’s alone). Or they’ll blame the selfishness of the public itself, who need to be hectored into making “ethical” consumer choices… and taking fewer baths.

But is there another reason for our complacency? Could it be that we have a better nose for eco-friendly bullshit than Livingstone’s “London will tackle the great environmental problems, above all climate change, to ensure that our success is sustainable”, or Boris’s “a ban on bottled water, a ban on internal flights, recycling, green procurement and sustainability” give us credit for? Both look like nothing more than attempts to convince us that they’re taking armageddon seriously, rather than serious attempts to make the world a better place.

So why, given the public’s lack of interest, isn’t there a candidate with the balls to stand up and challenge Environmentalism? Where is the candidate who thinks a third runway is a good thing? It’s not as if Londoners don’t want to use airports. Or who thinks there aren’t enough roads? Or that a new desalination plant is a better idea than saving water by hectoring Londoners with “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down”?

Perhaps it’s because green policies can’t actually do any harm. We might be ambivalent, but we’re hardly going to vote against saving the planet. Which is perhaps why everyone from the BNP through to Socialist Worker are striking a green pose. Environmentalism is attractive to unimaginative politicians precisely because it’s seen as inoffensive and uncontroversial.

Except that it is offensive. And it should be controversial. Just ask Gareth Corkhill, the father of four who was fined a week’s wages by Copeland Borough Council and slapped with a criminal record for overflowing his wheelie bin by 4 inches. (And environmentalism is supposed to be ‘progressive’!). Once authorities get it into their heads that human concerns can take second place to a higher purpose – saving Mother Nature, Gaia, or whatever you want to call her – no reason exists for them to imagine that they owe the public anything, or are even accountable.

Environmentalism isn’t the left-wing conspiracy that those whom it accuses of being a right-wing conspiracy are wont to accuse it of being. It’s just very convenient, that’s all. Public servants can become policemen; they can suddenly make life more difficult in the name of saving the planet. Eco-Proles can be farmed out to Eco-Homes in Eco-Towns that lack flushing toilets and where the only water you are allowed to use is that which falls on your land. And to complain is to have the blood of future generations on your hands, or to be a bin-abusing ‘carbon criminal’. Environmentalism turns the purpose of government and public service on its head.

Environmentalism is all very convenient – for everybody except real, live human beings. So who’s more in tune with their electorate on environmental matters? Copeland Borough Council? Boris? Ken? Or George Bush Jr?

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.

How the Marxists Have Fallen (For It)

Over at Political Affairs, which promises “Marxist Thought online”, an article published today warns that, according to the latest IPCC report,

Mass extinction of species is likely within 60-70 years, on a scale larger than most of the five major extinction events that have occurred in the earth’s history.

But neither of the reports issued so far this year say anything of the sort. The only mention of extinction in either of the reports are in Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability – Summary for Policymakers, Working Group II:

Approximately 20-30% of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5°C.

and

There is a risk of significant biodiversity loss through species extinction in many areas of tropical Latin America.

These largely unquantified statements are so far removed from the alarmism in Political Affairs that there seems little point going into any greater depth about the article’s scientific merit.

We can safely assume that this kind of alarmism is the way the magazine thinks the masses will be roused. But as we pointed out yesterday, there is little difference between the ways in which the left and the right stretch scientific reports beyond recognition. So what is the difference between the establishment and the revolutionaries?