What's Left About Green?

by | Mar 5, 2008

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.


  1. Anonymous

    “the kind of Anti-Capitalism that the Taliban offer”

    Even more retrograde than socialism. In fact, a Pol Pot Year Zero with moral cant.

    Robert Wood
    Ottawa, Canada

  2. Anonymous

    Enviromentalists are a bunch of lazy low lifes who have no particular talent or expertise for any real life job and who have figured out how to avoid hard physical labor by scamming a naive public out of their money. They seem to spend most of their time dreaming up spiffy acronyms for their organizations.

    Some of these groups, however, are quite sinister and run by well- known anarchists, especially in Europe.

    There is something no quite legit about them. They don’t complain too much about gold, silver and diamond mines. After all they don’t want to offend the silk-stocking enviromentalists and limosine liberals in New York City, who donate “pocket change” (for tax deductions) to large foundations of the eastern liberal establishment from which they receive welfare.

    -=-Harold Pierce Jr

  3. Talisker

    “In summary, we are not Conservatives”

    Hmm… Would you care to expand on this at all? Am I right in thinking that you are in fact ideologically aligned with the cadre of Trotskyites that once made up the so-called Revolutionary Communist Party and then, having failed to inspire mass revolution, went on to set up various front organisations (Spiked, Institute of Ideas…) through which to promote the thinking of former RCP Chairman Frank Furedi?

    For people who place such stress on the primacy of politics over science, you seem to be strangely coy about making your own political position explicit.

  4. Editors

    Talisker is mistaken.

    We are in fact ideologically aligned to a race of ex-terrestrial amphibious lizard-like space Jews who make up an interstellar conspiracy to dominate the blood-lines of the ruling classes on planets throughout the universe to form a one-universe government and to raise taxes… by blogging.

  5. talisker

    It was a straight question. How about a straight answer?

  6. Editors

    It didn’t look like a straight question to us.

    There are plenty of posts on this blog that express our political views if you want to know where we are coming from. Your comments, criticisms or questions about any posts are welcome.

  7. talisker

    I see. Readers interested in finding out more about the network of former RCP / Frank Furedi acolytes and the cynically dishonest means by which they pursue their agenda might want to take a look at http://www.lobbywatch.org/lm_watch.html.

  8. notgreen

    I am afraid the notion of directionless politics is totally wrong. If politics lacks something currently, then it is the ideology the crowd would follow like a sheep herd. Politics never loses its direction, which is more regulation, more tax, more power.

  9. Doug Halsted

    Like talisker, I think that your last sentence is incongruent with the rest of the article which spends it’s time talking about political movements. Of which you don’t identify your beliefs.

    However, I put you in the Conservative section based on your 17 statements along your sidebar and the fact that you like to use facts in your arguments rather than polls.

  10. editors

    Hi Doug,
    You seem to be saying that we must be Conservatives because you find yourself agreeing with us when it comes to Environmentalism and climate change. We obviously have a lot in common with many who call themselves Conservatives. But we suspect that we would differ on other matters – the War on Terror, perhaps, which we believe has its roots (like Environmentalism does) in the Politics of Fear. Likewise, we’re not against big government or taxes – it just depends on the kind of government and what it does with which taxes. Our point is that the Left-Right distinction is becoming increasingly blurred/redundant, and that Environmentalism does not partition neatly between the two. In which case, it stands to reason that we are unable to position ourselves on any L-R axis. We would prefer that people judge our arguments on their own merits rather than their superficial alignment with the legacies of long-since dead political movements. So we maintain that we are not Conservatives. But feel free to classify us how you like.

  11. Harry

    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.

  12. Roger

    I agree with the other poster,Kyoto means noithng without China, and I think you need to add India and Brazil to that.I still think that America and Australia will be stubborn about it, even though America has a president who seems to know what he’s doing for the first time in years.I don’t think it will be difficult as long as there are allowances made for developing nations, and by that I don’t mean China. China has experienced exponential growth in the past few years and need to recognise the effect on the planet.However,if we make economies like China slow down, who are arguably holding up the world economy, then there could be horrible economic circumstances, especially in the current economic climate. The economy and the planet need to meet half way until we’re out of this mess


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