Environmentalism According to Lucas

Over the last year, we have looked at some of the words and ideas coming from the environmental movement through the Green Party’s MEP for SE England, Caroline Lucas. With her breathless, urgent catastrophism, Lucas epitomises Environmentalism and its hollow vision, shallow intellect, and deep misanthropy. In these respects, Lucas never disappoints us.

However, we are never very successful at getting Lucas or her press office to account for anything she has said. Luckily, she was on BBC TV’s Question Time last week, and has been appearing at a number of public events of late. So here is another opportunity to subject Lucas’s political ideas to some scrutiny.

The Question Time panel were asked if the Labour Party were suffering from a leadership crisis, to which Caroline Lucas replied that Labour’s problem is that it lacks values, that it no longer knows what it stands for, that it has abandoned its traditional values such as equality, and that Gordon Brown is a man who doesn’t know what he wants.

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We agree with Lucas that the Labour Party is in crisis because it doesn’t know what it stands for. As we say in our first ever post, “Environmental concerns are serving to provide direction for directionless politics”. That is why Blair and Brown were keen to be seen to be acting on climate change, and that is why, in response to that action, the Tories committed themselves to a policy of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, against Labour’s 60%. And that is why, not to be out-done, the Liberal Democrats upped their bidding to a 100% reduction by 2050. But are Lucas and the Green Party offering anything so different?

As we have also pointed out, Environmentalism thrives in this atmosphere of political vapidity, not because it represents an alternative, but because it captures the nervousness caused by a lack of political direction. Environmentalism nurtures a general sense of doom with ideas about societal and ecological collapse. Without that sense of doom, environmentalism would be nothing.

As political movements across the political spectrum have increasingly found it difficult to generate ideas through which to connect to the public, so they have had to turn to other ways to achieve their legitimacy and authority. As Lucas points out, the Labour Party is suffering from a ‘crisis of direction’. But Lucas and the Greens have not found a direction by locating a new political vision to steer towards, but a nightmare to claim to be steering away from. Lucas attacks Brown for having no values, yet her arguments for social and economic change are not formed out of her principled objections to the way in which people relate to one another through social and economic structures. Instead, Lucas’s philosophy depends on a conception of humanity’s relationship with nature. She is, in terms of values, as poverty-stricken as any of those she attacks. Lucas doesn’t have some great store of values, with which she can create a positive view of how the world could be. Here is Lucas, speaking at a recent debate held by the World Development Movement, setting out her case for carbon rationing, trading and ‘equality’ and selling her argument for ‘equality’ in such (pseudo) scientific terms.

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Notice that, in that speech, Lucas is using the word ‘resources’, not in the sense of stuff that we have, but in terms of the biosphere’s ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

It seems that, in order to make a case for equality, Lucas needs there to be a finite world, as if, were there no such limits (to the absorption of CO2 by natural processes), there would be no case for equality. This prevents her from conceiving of a world in which equality is achieved, not by rationing and people having less, but by people having more, and having their expectations raised. Lucas doesn’t have ‘values’, and hides the fact behind science. ‘Science’ is being used in place of values. ‘Science’ is Environmentalism’s fig leaf. It is being used to create the idea of limits, so that Environmentalism doesn’t have to commit itself to providing anything more than less and less. And just as science is used instead of values, doom is a stand in for political vision. If we don’t do as ‘science’ (environmentalism) says, then catastrophe awaits. Here, for example, Lucas tells us that unless we put up with high fuel prices and tax, we wont adjust our behaviour, and society will collapse.

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It is an ‘interesting’ argument that says we need to artificially keep oil prices high because… err… the days of cheap oil are over because… err… of peak oil. For someone who lectures us about ‘science’, the logic of the causal world seems to have escaped Lucas’s understanding. Scarcity would do Lucas’s work for her. Obviously, what is at issue is not rescuing humanity from a looming catastrophe, but the legitimacy of a political movement bent on creating a behavioural and cultural change for its own benefit, on the premise that only it can save us from the terrible chaos that awaits us.

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As much as Lucas tries to make her ideas sound positive, they are underscored and sold by a vision of catastrophe. She may talk of progressive ideas such as ‘equality’, ‘justice’, and ‘liberty’, but all of these ideas are mediated by, and through the environment. Our freedom is limited, not guaranteed by the environment. Equality is measured in environmental, pseudo-scientific terms of resource distribution. Social justice, according to Lucas, is equivalent to ‘environmental justice’. But what a pale imitation of justice that is; it doesn’t right any wrongs, or create the possibility of a better standard of living. And where Lucas promises that there will be less unemployment under a Green Government, it is because a ‘zero carbon economy’ is far more labour-intensive than its fully-powered counterpart. In such an economy, the job that oil did will be done by people. Fancy a job as a serf? How about a career as a treadmill operative? This will be the ‘equality’ and the ‘social justice’ that Lucas has designed for us.

The use of science to limit political possibilities, and lower our horizons by constructing plausible catastrophic scenarios is the everyday language of environmentalism. But, surprisingly, the failure of this unremittingly negative view of the world hasn’t escaped Lucas’ attention.

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What? Caroline Lucas is against climate alarmism? The same Caroline Lucas who, in July last year, compared climate scepticism to holocaust denial? The same Caroline Lucas who said in July last year that,

… if you look at the implications of climate change, of runaway climate change, we are literally talking about millions and millions of people dying, we are literally talking about famines, and flooding, and migration and disease on an unprecedented scale. And so yes, I know these are sensitive words that I’ve used, but I feel so strongly that we urgently need to wake people up and stop this march towards catastrophe that I very much feel that we’re on.

Is the Caroline Lucas who is now against catastrophism the same Caroline Lucas who said in November,

… when you hear scientists say that we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change, I don’t think what the public actually want is cautiousness, what they want is real leadership, and that is what
the EU is promising to give, and yet that’s what we’re failing to do here.

Is it the same Caroline Lucas who said in February,

Around 75 per cent of all cancers are caused by environmental factors, mainly chemicals…

Is the Caroline Lucas who doesn’t believe that alarmism works, the same Caroline Lucas in this video?

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Lucas appears to be very confused about what she is selling, and how she is selling it. She claims that we must change the way we live, to expect less, and to make do and mend, but that, somehow, this will make us all happier. She claims that she doesn’t depend on catastrophic visions to connect with the public, yet without it, there is no imperative to give her ideas a second thought. She claims to be part of a democratic movement, yet demands that the state regulate our behaviour. She claims to speak on behalf of the poor, yet would deprive the poor of the material means to change their lives; cheap goods, fuel, and mobility. She claims to have science on her side, yet she campaigns against the benefits of science; she is against animal research, and against evidence based medicine, favouring instead ‘alternative’ therapies; she campaigns against the use of agricultural and industrial chemicals; and she campaigns against anything which might have the charge of ‘unsustainable’ thrown at it. She claims to be against the coercive influence of big business, but in its place, she would put an authoritarian government that would regulate your freedom to travel, to buy things, and coerce you into observing an ‘environmentally friendly’ lifestyle.

A loss of values in politics is a bad thing. But the Green Party is far far worse. Give us disorientation over deeply confused misanthropy, any day.

The Independent – Where the Sun Never Shines

Prof. Philip Stott ponders the decline of the Independent newspaper…

Well, I never like the loss of media and debating outlets, but I have to say that the demise, if that were ever to happen, of the Indie would bring fewer tears to my eyes than most. As a purveyor of gloom and doom, it has been second to none. 

Indeed. There is an interesting relationship between doom and demise. That other sinking ship, for example, the UK’s Liberal Party has in recent months sought to secure its future by attempting to demonstrate that it is taking the global warming issue more seriously than its rivals.

But let’s not single out the Liberals. It’s not as if the rest of British Politics is enjoying any kind of renaissance, either. It’s sinking ships all round. Low turn-outs… Cynicism… Disengagement… Distrust… No difference of substance between the parties… Historically low party membership…

Whinings about global warming are the noises made by institutions in their death-throws. It is a profound lack of imagination and a poverty of ideas that drives them to this course of action. Pretending to be the only way to “save the planet” at “one minute to midnight” is the most desperate way to demonstrate relevance to an increasingly disinterested public; to terrify them into engaging. But what the likes of the Liberals and Independent don’t seem to realise is that nobody is buying it because it’s too easy to see that the crisis is at home, not in the sky. The politics that the Independent espouses is especially tired. Hence, they attempt to make the biggest noise about the “crisis facing the planet”. If they want to know why they are failing, they should look in a Mirror. (Or a Sun).

Emissions Policy Policy Omission

Hilary Benn, Environment Secretary, son of Tony, successor to David Miliband, announced on Monday that the target of 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 set by his predecessor may not be enough. This comes in the wake of the Tories trumping the 60% figure, with 80%. This has been trumped in turn by the Liberal Democrats, who announced their plans for a zero carbon Britain.

This latest development isn’t yet the promise of a carbon negative Britain we have predicted, and there’s not much wriggle room after the Lib’s 100%. So how does Benn answer the other parties’ offers?

The changes to the draft Bill, set out in a Command Paper entitled ‘Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill’ published today, include:

  • As announced by the Prime Minister in September, asking the Committee on Climate Change to report on whether the Government’s target to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 should be strengthened further;
  • Asking the Committee to look at the implications of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in the UK’s targets as part of this review;
  • Strengthening the role and responsibilities of the Committee on Climate Change, including by requiring the Government to seek the Committee’s advice before amending the 2020 or 2050 targets in the Bill;
  • Strengthening the Committee’s independence from Government, by confirming that it will appoint its own chief executive and staff, and increasing its analytical resources;

… (our emphasis).

In other words, the latest policy is that there is no policy. Emissions targets in the future will be determined not by politicians (you know, those people we elect once every few years to make decisions), but deferred from politics, to a committee. According to the DEFRA website,

The Committee will be comprised of 5-8 members including the Chair, supported by a standing secretariat of staff to conduct in-depth analysis into the issues being considered.

To ensure its credibility, it is important that the Committee is able to clearly and rationally present the economics of the costs, benefits and risks of abatement decisions. This means that the Committee’s members should be experts in their field, rather than representing specific stakeholder groups. The following list provides an indication of the types of expertise that will be desirable in the overall composition of the Committee:

  • business competitiveness;
  • climate change policy in particular its social impacts.
  • climate science;
  • economic analysis and forecasting;
  • emissions trading;
  • energy production and supply;
  • financial investment; and
  • technology development and diffusion.

If passed, the Climate Change bill will force the government to “explain its reasons to Parliament if it does not accept the Committee’s advice on the level of the carbon budget, or if it does not meet a budget or target”, but won’t let us challenge the decisions made by this committee democratically. This is because, according to DEFRA:

The debate on climate change has shifted, from whether we need to act towards how much we need to do by when, and the economic implications of doing so. The time is therefore right for the introduction of a strong legal framework in the UK for tackling climate change.

When did the UK ever have a debate about “whether we need to act”? And when was it settled? Over the last ten or twenty years, the “debate” has been dominated by climate orthodoxy, not by differences of opinion. Political environmentalism has never been challenged by any UK party, let alone the climate science questioned. But this is because dissenting views have been excluded from debate far more than they have been invited, not because a debate has been had. We can tell this is the case because of the disparity between statements made by politicians, and statements made by scientists. Furthermore, this orthodoxy has thrived and gone mostly unchallenged because of a profound lack of defining political ideas across the political parties. As we have pointed out before, fears about climate change serve to provide a direction for directionless politics, and the sense of crisis evoked by alarmism provides political parties with legitimacy. With no crisis to manage, politicians face an existential crisis – “why am I here? What is my purpose?”. That is why we see this policy which misses something… politics. Even though what we decide to do with scientific evidence is ALL about politics.

But this move to put decisions which affect us outside of politics is not new. One of Gordon Brown’s first acts as Chancellor of the Exchequer was to put the Bank of England outside of political control, giving it responsibility for setting interest rates. As soon as a “debate” or an issue becomes inconvenient or just difficult for the government, it simply prevents it from being a political matter. So why not simply manage the country by committee? What is the point of politics? Don’t ask Mr Benn.

Carbon Neutral Policy Surfeit

Apologies for being off-line recently. It’s been summer, we’ve been busy, and there’s been less news around. Now that the Summer is over (did it ever really begin?), we’ll be back with more regular postings.

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The Liberal Democrats announced last week their plans for a ‘zero carbon Britain‘ – including banning all petrol cars from UK roads by 2040, and the end of atomic power. As they tell us,

The measures, which will be debated at the party’s conference in Brighton next month, strengthen the Liberal Democrats’ position as the only major political party with specific proposals designed to face the challenge of climate change.

This indeed trumps the Labour Party’s 60% cut of CO2 by 2050, and the Tory’s 80%, and even the Climate Camp protesters’ 90%. All you need to be radical these days is to add a few percentage points more than you opponents. But this is politics by numbers, and is better explained not by some new-found commitment to environmental politics or even the consequence of scientific research, but a need to find a new niche in the face of poor ratings. There are no ideas, no principles, no philosophy, and no matters of substance separating these parties. And there are barely any differences of approach to what the Lib-Dems are calling ‘the number one challenge facing the world today‘.

If the parties only offer differences of degree, all citing the same “science” (Stern, IPCC, Tyndall – none of which are “the science”), what science can they possibly be deferring to? Where is the science which tells us what percentage cut of CO2 will save the planet? How can four readings of the same research produce such “different” policies?

The answer is, of course, that the science has little to do with it. And in spite of this being ‘the number one challenge facing the world’, as we reported before, 56% of the UK public don’t seem to see things the same way. Perhaps that’s because, in spite of the poll’s authors’ contempt for them, the public are fairly good at spotting nonsense. Which is a problem for the Lib Dems, and the political parties generally, because in their bids to out-do each other, none dare to challenge the consensus or the political orthodoxy , but attempt to demonstrate that they better represent it. What appears to be the most radical figure – the 100% – is in fact the most cowardly. The Lib-Dems are, after all, yellow.

Which party will be the first to offer a carbon negative UK? Place your bets, it’s only a matter of time, and it’s the only way to go for the exhausted party politics of “the mother of all democracies”.

Lib Lab Lip Service

Yesterday, the UK’s third political party – The Liberal Democrats – launched their Climate Change Starts at Home campaign.

Menzies Campbell unveiled bold proposals that demonstrated how upgrading Britain’s homes could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by millions of tonnes, save energy, and lead to significant cuts in energy bills.

Last week BBC2’s Newsnight featured a review of a journalist’s gruelling year-long attempt at ‘ethical living’ which reduced his family’s ‘carbon footprint’ by two tonnes. But as Bjorn Lomborg pointed out on the program, if that reduction were to be acheived by families nationwide, the saving would postpone the effect of global warming by a mere seven hours by the year 2100.

‘Millions of tonnes’ sounds big, and makes good copy, but it doesn’t change the planet at all. This leaves Menzies with only the claim that insulation, paid for with ‘Energy Mortgages’ secured on homes, would shave hundreds of pounds a year off consumers’ energy bills. But with an added risk of losing that home on top of having to pay back the loan, it seems unlikely that this scheme will make much of a difference to anyone for whom £300 a year makes a difference.

Away from home, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is due to take the issue of climate change to the security council on the basis that ‘the cumulative impacts of climate change could exacerbate these drivers of conflict, and particularly increase the risk to those states already susceptible to conflict.’[DEAD LINK]

Perhaps this is a case of Blair attempting to secure his legacy by getting the world to move on climate change. Indeed, it’s not like him to be against things that ‘exacerbate the drivers of conflict’. Or perhaps it’s just an attempt to offset all that carbon used in the Gulf war…