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?)
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.
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.