George's Aga Ga-Ga and the Heathrow Hoo-Haa

by | Jan 16, 2009

George Monbiot is a very confused man. A few days ago, he announced his campaign against the Aga cooker (because it uses lots of energy). This, he said ‘is indeed a class war’ – the Aga is an expensive piece of kit, and therefore, you have to be rather wealthy to own one. We thought he wasn’t entirely serious about this campaign, it was just a rather childish attempt to prove to his detractors at Spiked-Online that the Green movement wasn’t dominated by the upper classes. He might just as well have shot himself in the foot to prove that he wasn’t lame. 

I’ve lost count of the number of aspirational middle-class greens I know who own one of these monsters and believe that they are somehow compatible (perhaps because they look good in a country kitchen) with a green lifestyle. The campaign against Agas – which starts here – will divide rich greens down the middle.

George is trying to resist criticism that the environmental movement is dominated by the upper classes by committing himself to a campaign that will, according to him, divide them. In other words, it’s a nonsense that at best defeats itself. But this wasn’t a joke. Yesterday, George appeared on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show [Listen again] to talk about why the Aga is a bad thing:

there are lots and lots of ways to spread love and happiness, but starving out the people of the Horn of Africa because of repeated droughts caused by our use of Agas is not one of them 

George’s commitment to class war gets even more bizarre and questionable. Shortly afterwards, the Guardian published a comment piece, in which he announces that,

A Labour government approves the expansion of Heathrow – why, it’s almost enough to make you vote Tory

This isn’t a joke, either.

So my guilty, monstrous thought is this: why shouldn’t we vote Conservative if it’s the only remaining hope of preventing this crazy scheme from being built? What else is there left to lose? I won’t act on this impulse, but I know that plenty of others will. When these invertebrates are booted out of office, they will have no one to blame but themselves. 

Monbiot began the week calling for class war. He ends it by canvassing for the Conservatives. Eco-socialism on Monday; eco-conservatism by Friday. This reveals something we’ve been long arguing here on Climate-Resistance: that environmentalism doesn’t fit neatly into the Left-Right spectrum. Without commenting on the merits or demerits of Left over Right or vice-versa, if environmentalism’s fiercest proponents can switch ends of the political spectrum, then their claims to have put humans at the centre of their politics is entirely bogus; the fundamental principals are environmental, not human. George is willing to sell out the latter for the sake of the former. 

It gets weirder. George’s Aga ga-ga phoney class war, which followed criticism from Spiked, came in an article which attacked the Editor of Spiked, Brendan O’Neill. At the beginning of the article, Monbiot makes an issue of O’Neil’s Marxism, but by the end, he places O’Neill on the other side. 

Yes, this is a class war; and Brendan O’Neill and his fellow travellers have sided with the toffs. These Marxist proletarian firebrands are defending the class they profess to hate.

(O’Neil – who doesn’t ‘profess to hate’ any class – answers Monbiot here). 

So not only does George demonstrate that much of Spiked’s criticism is correct by his calling for a ‘class war’ against the Aga, he switches from eco-Socialism to eco-Conservatism over the course of a working week, and then accuses others of being Right, where they had, according to him, assumed to be Left! 

George emerges dizzy from his own spinning and thinks it is the world that’s confused about what direction it is moving in. And this is his fundamental problem. Everything he writes is a projection of his own inability to understand a world that fails to conform to his expectations. The ideas he uses to orientate himself fail to give him purchase on his own existential crisis; they crumble underfoot. The result is his capricious, vacillating, and incoherent column in the Guardian, with its frequent attacks on Spiked. This disorientation demonstrates beautifully, albeit unintentionally, Spiked’s broader criticism that the Left-Right axis isn’t sufficient to explain the world. Monbiot is a painful symptom of this disorientation, not a bright and leading advocate of an urgent cause. 

He is a walking contradiction – as you’d expect from a man who, as James Heartfield has pointed out, is the son of Tory politicians descended from French aristocrats, went from a famous public school, through Oxbridge, to the BBC, yet fancies himself as a critic of the establishment. The very same establishment has mirrored George’s disorientation by redefining itself according to the tenets of environmentalism. The Government has gone Green. The Labour Party is Green. The Tory Party is even Greener. The media is dominated by the environmental message. Huge Corporations rush to demonstrate their Green credentials. This makes it harder and harder for Monbiot to style himself as an anti-establishment radical – he fails to realise it, but they’ve bought the message, in spite of environmentalism’s failure to interest the wider public. Thus the few occasions where environmentalism is challenged or fails to assert itself become the battlegrounds for George’s war with the imaginary anti-environmental ‘establishment’. Hence, Spiked, one of the few critics of environmentalism become the object of his anger and frustration, and the go-ahead for the new Heathrow runway moves him to join the Conservatives, and further towards the real establishment.

You can’t blame George for this confusion, however. It is a complicated world, made more complex by the Heathrow affair. 

A staggering argument emerged yesterday, for example. John McDonnell, MP for the area where the new runway will be built, was suspended from Parliament for staging a protest about the decision about the future of the runway not being the subject of a vote

Later he told the BBC that he would not apologise for his actions because he was representing his constituents and their rights to have their voices heard.

By doing what he did, he said he was asserting the values of “democracy and the sovereignty of Parliament” stemming back “to the days of Cromwell”.

“This is about asserting the right of MPs to decide the policies of this country and not having them bulldozed through without a vote in the House of Commons.”

This is a bit rich. The concerns of residents likely to be displaced notwithstanding, environmental policies which will have adverse consequences for the entire UK population have, as we have long been arguing here, gone through the House of Commons almost entirely unopposed and without debate, yet environmental politics have never been tested by the UK democratic process. All of the parties have absorbed environmentalism, and made it the centre of their manifestos. Most recently, MPs voted for the Climate Change Bill, which became law, and allowed an unaccountable and unscrutinised Climate Change Committee to dictate what the UK’s climate targets ought to be. 

In other words, the Greening of the UK establishment, has been entirely undemocratic. 

Answering Monbiot’s war on the Aga today, William McGrath, chief executive of the Aga Rangemaster Group says,

Monbiot asks: “So where is the campaign against Agas? There isn’t one.” The reason for this is that there is nothing to attack.

There is nothing to attack, or rather, there is nothing that George can find to attack – so empty is his imagination – to sustain his image as a radical. In search of an enemy, he declares war on ovens, and gets burnt. He has only himself, and his infantile inability for self-reflection to blame. 


  1. Stefano

    It is very interesting to read about the contradictions in the environmental movement, and as exemplified by Monbiot.

    Perhaps broadly speaking, they are not really anti-establishment… and if they think they are then they have some rethinking to do.

    For whatever reason they seem to be a whole load of stuff, mixed from different sources. There is to my eye a strong Humanistic thread (we are not cogs in a machine of greedy useless consumption, we are free to be and free to live in harmony!). There is also some amount of socialist or leftist current (redistribution of wealth, of wanting to help the poor by giving to them, leveling the economic playing field), a fair amount of feminism (rooting out of oppression, in all its forms, wherever it is found, including racism and speciesism), and there is some amount of new age spirituality (what is of ultimate concern? Nature, Gaia, and the great Web Of Life, sacred and pure).

    And I’m sure there’s more. So perhaps there is not one environmental movement, but several movements. It can even be attractive to new-fascists, so that’ll mix things up even more.

    But yes, I mean, your article is great, because we do need to stop and look at these people and ask, just where are they coming from? Do they themselves even know? Apparently not, given they keep contradicting themselves.

  2. geoff chambers

    Good stuff. I wonder what would have happened if you’d chopped it into bite-sized morsels and posted it as comments to the article? It would certainly have raised the level of debate, and maybe some kind of critical mass of reasoned scepticism would tempt the Moonbat down from his perch to engage in debate. We’ve all got a second bite at the cherrypicker right now, since he’s just posted a rather thoughtful party political advert for the Tory party.

  3. Editors

    Stefano, ‘There is to my eye a strong Humanistic thread (we are not cogs in a machine of greedy useless consumption, we are free to be and free to live in harmony!).’

    Is there really a humanistic thread to environmentalism?

    Protesters have recently claimed that there is. They say that they are concerned about future generations and the poorer people in the world, who will, according to environmentalism, suffer the consequences of climate change first, and hardest.

    But the desire to ‘protect’ people is a curious way of expressing belief in humanity. When it turns out that what you are protecting them from is themselves, it is the expression, not of humanism, but its antithesis. Consider, for example, a form of feminism or a racial equality movement that made the claim that women or black people needed ‘protection’. They would be regarded as paternalistic, and probably chauvinist.

    The protesters making appearances at airports in the UK were outnumbered by people attempting to use the airports many times over. Millions of people fly, many millions more want to. But the protesters say that this desire renders the democratic process a failure. “individual choice alone cannot curb CO2 emissions if we are to stop runaway global warming”, say Climate Rush. Laws are needed to save us from ourselves, to control us to make sure our impulses don’t get out of hand.

    This is not the expression of belief in humanity. It is an expression of contempt. It says that people can’t be trusted with the freedom to make their own consumer *or democratic* choices.

    You make a different point which is also worth considering: that environmentalists claim that there is more to life than being part of some kind of industrial machine. Indeed there is. And there is a lot to criticise the bland ‘consumer society’ for. But what would environmentalists put in its place? After the demands of environmentalists were met, we wouldn’t be able to travel far. Working life would be more labour-intensive: we wouldn’t have labour saving devices. These factors would limit the potential for varied and intellectual employment, and would reduce the opportunity for cultural experiences. Horizons would draw closer. Opportunities would narrow. Rather than liberating us from our roles as ‘cogs’ in a consumerist machine, the necessity of survival in Ecotopia would likely make us slaves – both materially, and politically.

    Consumerism is limited. But it is not a necessary (nor even likely) consequence of industrial society. The critique of consumer society is very confused, and it is as much a symptom of the forces which has produced it (eg relativism, individuation, political disengagement) as its object. The criticism is the opposite side of the same coin that consumerism exists on, if you like. The important point here is that industrial society by itself isn’t sufficient to create the possibility of being ‘free to be and free to live in harmony’, but we would argue that it is necessary.

    After all, for all the blandness that industrial society has created, there is a hell of a lot of richness, diversity and opportunity that previous generations – especially those cultures celebrated by environmentalists – could not even conceive of. The fact that environmentalists don’t recognise the liberating possibility surely only reflects their lack of imagination, and their low estimations of humanity.

    In summary, the ‘consumer society’ which environmentalists criticise has been poorly defined, and we doubt it even exists in a way that could be meaningfully explained. It seems to us to be a stand in for a range of personal whines and gripes about contemporary life that don’t seem to be the expression of anything more sophisticated than a desire to be free from the influence of others, compounded by an inability to articulate it. In other words: it’s infantile – exactly the view environmentalists have of the rest of humanity.

  4. George Carty

    Isn’t it worse than that? Isn’t our present population density only made possible by the use of chemical fertilizers which require large amounts of energy to produce?

  5. geoff chambers

    While you’re right to keep on about the vacuity of modern politics and the anti-human tendencies of the greens, I feel your references to the social origins of protestors doesn’t advance the argument.
    There’s a social-historical theory which might explain the strange green phenomenon, due to the French demographer Emmanuel Todd. (He predicted the collapse of the USSR back in 1976, and the resurrection of Jacques Chirac, using sociological and demographic evidence. French intellectuals despise him because he uses statistics and scientific method; Anglo-Saxons ignore him because he’s French. So it goes).
    In his latest book – Beyond Democracy – he has a passage on the vacuity of the French Left (parallel to, but different from, that in Britain) which he explains in terms of education. Briefly; universal literacy is a formidable force for egalitarian ideas, and can be linked to revolutionary movements from the English civil war, through the French and Russian and even Iranian revolutions. Mass university education, such as we have experienced in the past fifty years, has the opposite effect.
    To simplify his reasoning; in a world where graduates form a tiny minority, this elite is obliged to interact with the rest of society. When thirty percent of the population is university educated, on the other hand, they are sufficiently numerous to form a world apart, with their own culture, concerns,and belief systems which override class divisions. The old cleavage between rulers and ruled, right and left is replaced by one between chattering classes and chavs, Guardian readers and Sun-readers.
    To cement this new social order a new ideology is required. What could possibly unite bankers and schoolteachers, millionaire pop idols and social workers, better than a struggle of the educated, socially aware, against the beastly activities of their educational inferiors? Centuries ago, the enemy would have been lust – the hoofprint of the Devil, now it’s consumerism and the carbon footprint . So it goes.

  6. Stefano

    Editors, actually that’s a really good set of points. I see a number of people who are humanistic by nature, attracted to environmental causes. I say “by nature” because they may not have actually ever picked up a philosophy book, but in their own life they’ve come to similar conclusions, perhaps some of it through personal experiences, perhaps some from what they’ve absorbed from culture. And to these people, environmentalism seems to resonate. What’s interesting is that when I point out to them that what they’re actually looking for is humanism, by spelling out what that’s about, they agree, and in the same breath, I can call into question the dogmas of global warming–the ice caps didn’t melt, the computer models are unproven, the “consensus” is actually a variety of opinions–and they don’t mind. Once we see eye to eye that what they really value is humanism, then then don’t need to cling to environmentalism. So when I say there’s a strong thread of humanism, I’m kinda wrong–it is closer to say that people who are humanistic imagine there is an affinity with environmentalism.

    Which brings me to the points you’ve made–that often environmentalism goes counter to humanism. And that is actually pretty startling. How often are appeals to authority made? How often do we hear calls for the “replacement” of democracy? Forget Humanism’s questioning of dogma and promotion of freedom–to save the planet we need more dogma and less freedom!! It really is a startling contradiction, when you consider that environmentalism is supposed to be a step FORWARD for the world.

    Now I’m really quite curious as to how this came about. I’m sure there must be a whole variety of influences, as different sorts of people got involved and they each brought their own values systems to bear on the problem. Everything including marxists, fascists, evangelists, buddhists, new agers. But nevertheless, I’m wondering about the two main schools of thought on the environment–or so I’m told–namely Deep Ecology and Ecofeminism.


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