Why Environmentalism is 'Unethical', Anti-Human, and Elitist

by | Nov 13, 2009

It’s not often we agree with George Monbiot.

We cannot change the world by changing our buying habits … I have always been deeply suspicious of the grand claims made for consumer democracy: that we can change the world by changing our buying habits.

But then again, it’s not because his insight is all that profound…

A change in consumption habits is seldom effective unless it is backed up by government action. You can give up your car for a bicycle – and fair play to you – but unless the government is simultaneously reducing the available road space, the place you’ve vacated will just be taken by someone who drives a less efficient car than you would have driven (traffic expands to fill the available road-space). Our power comes from acting as citizens – demanding political change – not acting as consumers.

It seems that Monbiot is against consumer democracy because it seems to rob us of our power as citizens, and requires government intervention in order to make it work.

(Actually he means ‘ethical consumerism’. ‘Consumer democracy’ means treating the voter as a consumer, whereas ‘ethical consumerism’ means treating the act of consuming or buying as an act with the potential to create change. But we nit-pick here.)

This is interesting. George rightly draws a distinction between consumer demand, and demand for political change. The former is problematic, because it requires government action.

Seems George would only be happy if the government is responding to demands from citizens, rather than from consumers. Again, we find ourselves in agreement with Monbiot here. But since when was he against government action that didn’t enjoy popular support?

Last year, following the Climate Change Committee’s report, Monbiot criticised what he felt were targets that were inadequate.

My reading of the new projections suggests that to play its part in preventing two degrees of global warming, the UK needs to cut greenhouse gases by roughly 25% from current levels by the end of 2012 – a quarter in four years. But how the heck could this be done? Here is a list of measures which could be enacted almost immediately. They require no economic or technological miracles; but they do demand that the government is brave enough to govern.

His proposals for a ‘brave’ government were

1. Immediately renegotiate the European Emissions Trading Scheme

2. Use the money this raises for:

a. A crash programme for training builders.

b. A home improvement scheme like Germany’s, but twice as fast.

3. Announce that incandescent lightbulbs will no longer be sold in the United Kingdom

4. Increase vehicle excise duty for the most polluting cars to £3000 a year (from the current £400). Use the money this raises to:

a. Start closing key urban streets to private cars and dedicating them to public transport and cycling.

b. Increase the public subsidy for bus and train journeys.

c. Train thousands of new coach drivers and public transport operators.

d. Scrap the airport expansion programme.

5. Stop the burning of moorland

6. Stop all opencast coal mining and rescind planning permission for new works.

On the one hand, George wants a mass movement of people to demand the government acts. On the other, he wants the government to act ‘bravely’, ‘top-down’, in spite of the absence of demands ‘from below’.

This is something we’ve explored a lot on this blog. The green movement isn’t really a movement at all. At best, it is a phenomenon of individuals whose only thing in common is their sense of disconnect and disorientation. At worst, it is a self-serving elitist club. Yet their shrill demands for ‘action’ count for more than the disinterest of the vast majority, and virtually the entire political establishment has been remarkably sympathetic to the green cause. Hence, the very existence of the Climate Change Committee, whose report Monbiot didn’t feel was sufficient. It was created to set the UK’s emissions targets after the fiasco of attempting to set the target politically, in Parliament, democratically. The Labour government proposed that the Climate Change Act would commit the UK to a reduction of 60% by 2050. The Conservative Party responded, by claiming that they would reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. The Liberal Democrats said that they would create a 100% carbon neutral Britain by 2050, and ban the petrol engine and ban nuclear power. Each side in this game of politics-by-numbers claimed to have the very same science behind them. Yet it produced different results. The implication is stark: climate change has very little to do with responding to crisis, and everything to do with striking a pose. To recover from this embarrassing state of affairs, the government amended the bill, so that targets would be set by an ‘independent’ panel – the Climate Change Committee. The House of Commons, recognising its own impotence, voted overwhelmingly for the bill, with barely a hint of scrutiny, debate, or questioning. Except, of course, from environmentalists, who claimed that the new legislation didn’t go far enough.

Thus, democracy in the UK defers to imperatives issued by environmentalism, even though it has comprehensively failed to capture the imagination of the mass of citizens. And where democracy does still function in such a way as to represent their wishes, you can expect Monbiot to say something quite, quite different. ‘Why do we allow the US to act like a failed state on climate change?’ he asked in the Guardian, back in June.

It would be laughable anywhere else. But, so everyone says, the Waxman-Markey bill which is likely to be passed in Congress today or tomorrow, is the best we can expect – from America.The cuts it proposes are much lower than those being pursued in the UK or in most other developed nations. Like the UK’s climate change act the US bill calls for an 80% cut by 2050, but in this case the baseline is 2005, not 1990. Between 1990 and 2005, US carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels rose from 5.8 to 7bn tonnes.

Monbiot seems to have forgotten his desire for the people to demand from the government. He forgets that the Climate Change Act and its goals – which he doesn’t think is sufficient anyway – was not produced by a democratically accountable body, and was not the subject of democratic contest. He forgets that, just as in the UK, the green movement is not a popular movement. He forgets that the bill was not produced by a movement of citizens, but a clique of US politicians. Just as with the UK’s Climate Change Act, however, Monbiot nods his approval at it.

I would like to see the bill passed, as it at least provides a framework for future improvements. But why do we expect so little from the US? Why do we treat the world’s most powerful and innovative nation as if it were a failed state, rejoicing at even the faintest suggestion of common sense?

So we can see Monbiot comprehensively in contradiction with himself. If ‘consumer democracy’ is wrong because it requires the intervention of the state in lieu of autonomous political expression, then so too must the climate change act – and anything like it – be wrong. They are not the expression of ‘the masses’ rising up to demand change. Its precepts and values have not been tested democratically. Yet Monbiot approves, although reservedly, and disapproves of the lack of bravery shown by elected representatives in their face of their electors.

In order to wriggle out of this contradiction, Monbiot must find a way of explaining environmentalism’s total failure to create a popular mandate for itself. He goes on in the same article to say:

Thanks to the lobbying work of the coal and oil companies, and the vast army of thinktanks, PR consultants and astroturfers they have sponsored, thanks too to the domination of the airwaves by loony right shock jocks, the debate over issues like this has become so mad that any progress at all is little short of a miracle. […] A combination of corporate money and an unregulated corporate media keeps America in the dark ages. This bill is the best we’re going to get for now because the corruption of public life in the United States has not been addressed. Whether he is seeking environmental reforms, health reforms or any other improvement in the life of the American people, this is Obama’s real challenge.

That is to say that environmentalism is a failure because the public have bought the message given to them by powerful propaganda machines, working on behalf of oil companies, etc, etc, blah, blah blah.

This is another constant theme of Monbiot’s writing. In December last year, in an attempt to explain the same failure, he wrote that ‘online, planted deniers drive a blinkered fiction’:

In his fascinating book Carbon Detox, George Marshall argues that people are not persuaded by information. Our views are formed by the views of the people with whom we mix. Of the narratives that might penetrate these circles, we are more likely to listen to those that offer us some reward. A story that tells us that the world is cooking and that we’ll have to make sacrifices for the sake of future generations is less likely to be accepted than the more rewarding idea that climate change is a conspiracy hatched by scheming governments and venal scientists, and that strong, independent-minded people should unite to defend their freedoms.

We wrote at the time:

Monbiot is frustrated that he has failed to convince people of his perspective. But rather than reflect on his own argument, which, as we can see is constructed out of sheer bullshit, he finds ways to show faults with people – ordinary, normal, everyday people, not just ‘bloggers’ – and damns the entire human race in the process. We are unthinking automata, objects, blindly obeying the forces that surround us. Only he knows the truth. But the truth that most people can sense is that Monbiot uses the status of scientific factoids, such as the Met Office’s dubious ‘prediction’ to convince people in the same way that a caveman seeks to persuade people with a club. Second, it is transparent to most people that Monbiot is mischaracterising the arguments of the people he sets himself up in opposition to – he doesn’t answer objections, and he makes straw men out of the flame-war battlefield that is the comments section on commentisfree instead of picking up on the arguments that are actually being made. Third, he clearly overstates the relationship between these messages and a conspiracy of vested interests. Fourth, he diminishes the moral character of anyone who takes a different perspective to him. Fifth, he diminishes the intelligence of anyone who sees things differently to him. But the biggest problem for Monbiot is that the second, third, fourth and fifth are, he seems to believe, logical and necessary consequences of the first. He seems to think that, because the Met Office ‘predicted’ the 2008 temperature record (and they didn’t), then he is right to characterise his opponents as he pleases, he is right to think that silly comments on blogs represent the influence of an oil-industry conspiracy, and so on.

In summary, Monbiot believes that the reason that the masses have not risen up to demand action on climate change is because they have been hoodwinked by a conspiracy to subvert the public understanding of the issues, paid for by vast corporate interests. The public are simply too stupid to have seen through this.

This creates a second problem for Monbiot. Now that he has explained the failure of environmentalism as the consequence of the public’s fecklessness, he can no longer make any claim to be at all interested in the public demanding anything from government. Any such political expression might be wrong – it doesn’t create, as it were, its own legitimacy by being a demand for government ‘by the people for the people’. Instead, it might just as well be the result of a corporate conspiracy. Mass action needs George’s approval before it can be considered as a legitimate expression of autonomous political organisation. He needs to check its credentials first. Meanwhile, he’s prepared to accept legislation that lacks such democratic legitimacy, because he knows what’s in the public’s best interests.

Anyway, so far this post has been something of a pre-amble. Albeit a rather long one. What struck us about the article referred to at the top of the thread, other than Monbiot’s misconception of ‘consumer democracy’, is that he points to research that apparently demonstrates scientifically that ethical consumerism does not work. Monbiot explains:

So I wasn’t surprised to see a report in Nature this week suggesting that buying green products can make you behave more selfishly than you would otherwise have done. Psychologists at the University of Toronto subjected students to a series of cunning experiments. First they were asked to buy a basket of products; selecting either green or conventional ones. Then they played a game in which they were asked to allocate money between themselves and someone else. The students who had bought green products shared less money than those who had bought only conventional goods.

The researchers call this the “licensing effect”. Buying green can establish the moral credentials that license subsequent bad behaviour: the rosier your view of yourself, the more likely you are to hoard your money and do down other people.

Then they took another bunch of students, gave them the same purchasing choices, then introduced them to a game in which they made money by describing a pattern of dots on a computer screen. If there were more dots on the right than the left they made more money. Afterwards they were asked to count the money they had earned out of an envelope.

The researchers found that buying green had such a strong licensing effect that people were likely to lie, cheat and steal: they had established such strong moral credentials in their own minds that these appeared to exonerate them from what they did next. Nature uses the term “moral offset”, which I think is a useful one.

The title of the study is “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?”. The abstract reads as follows.

Consumer choices not only reflect price and quality preferences but also social and moral values as witnessed in the remarkable growth of the global market for organic and environmentally friendly products. Building on recent research on behavioral priming and moral regulation, we find that mere exposure to green products and the purchase of them lead to markedly different behavioral consequences. In line with the halo associated with green consumerism, people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green than conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products as opposed to conventional products. Together, the studies show that consumption is more tightly connected to our social and ethical behaviors in directions and domains other than previously thought.

(Read the whole study here)

The study appears to find that if you think you’ve done the right thing – buying green products – then you allow yourself to do more of the wrong thing – taking more money for your efforts than you were entitled to.

If it is true that buying ‘ethical goods’ makes you more selfish, then surely the lesson is that there’s something wrong with environmental ethics, rather than with its application in the form of ethical consumerism. Rather than ‘moral offset’, we might be talking here about an effect better described as ‘moral displacement’.

Because if it is true that people are receptive to ideas about morality, when ethical and moral values are grounded on environmental precepts, it is no surprise that people behave accordingly. After all, what would Gaia say about taking a few more pennies than you were supposed to have? Or for that matter, what would Gaia say about creating political institutions with control over people’s lives without their consent? Of course, She wouldn’t give a hoot, just so long as the polar bears are happy, and the sea-level remains static.

After all, what is ‘democracy’, when the planet needs saving?

What’s the point of having an argument, when you already know you’re right?

What’s the point of debate, if all it is going to mean is that the wrong ideas get an airing?

Why have a free media, if all it means is that poisonous conspiracies will be allowed to infect the minds of the masses?

The environmental imperative seems to destroy any principles that preceded it.

This is the problem with attempting to locate the basis of ethics without humanity. A few posts ago, we discussed the implausibility of ‘eco-humanism’.  We argued there that the environmental conception of ethics puts the environment prior to humans – that their principle relationship was with the natural/biological order, rather than with one another. Furthermore, the prospect of catastrophe in the environmental narrative precludes any conception of ‘good’. All human action reduces to a quantity of bad, such that we can only speak about one action being less bad than another, using a carbon-footprint calculator, or something. This experiment, if it says anything at all, only shows us the redundancy of environmental ethics.

These are not, so to speak, ‘intuitive’ ethics. They are elite ethics. They are the basis of environmental politics, which constructs political institutions – organisations, laws, regulations and so on – to reproduce its objectives.

So it should be no surprise that, just as the subjects in the experiment felt entitled to lie and cheat, so it goes that politicians, journalists and other environmental activists do not feel bound by conventions and norms when they embrace environmentalism. The rotten heart of this philosophical framework allows them to act as though they were ‘above’ normal politics. For instance, environmental politics is not the subject of democratic scrutiny (e.g. the UK’s Climate Change Act, described above). International frameworks are being sought that will limit the potential of domestic politics, so that resistance – precisely the kind of ‘bottom-up’ demands that Monbiot claimed to desire – to eco-zeal can be ignored. The normal business of politics can be deferred in order to serve the greater good: ‘saving the planet’. Self-serving politicians and vapid moral warriors (Monbiot) can flatter themselves with a sense of purpose, while having nothing in fact to offer. Environmentalism really is immoral, anti-human, and elitist.


  1. Donna Laframboise

    Some very helpful stuff here. It is now standard practice for environmental advocates to diminish both the moral character & intelligence of those with whom they disagree. If a person believes they are the keeper of the ONE AND ONLY TRUTH, it appears inevitable that they (at least unconsciously) adopt the positions you describe:

    “…what is ‘democracy’, when the planet needs saving?
    What’s the point of having an argument, when you already know you’re right?
    What’s the point of debate, if all it is going to mean is that the wrong ideas get an airing?
    Why have a free media, if all it means is that poisonous conspiracies will be allowed to infect the minds of the masses?”

    Such people like to talk about democracy. Yet they clearly consider the masses too gullible to sort wheat from chaff when exposed to the ‘wrong’ ideas.

    Denigrating those who see the world differently is rude. Worse, it’s how bullies behave. If someone wants to change my opinion, they must first treat me and my views with respect.

  2. geoffchambers

    Congratulations for spotting the implications of the research.
    As you say in your last paragraph “Just as the subjects in the experiment felt entitled to lie and cheat, so it goes that politicians, journalists and other environmental activists do not feel bound by conventions and norms when they embrace environmentalism…”
    For politicians, this means: “Hey, I’m saving the world, so what does it matter if I destroy a country or two?” For Monbiot it means that he cares so much about the drowning Bangladeshi that he can feel justified in fantasising about killing airline executives. (See Monbiot’s pathetic attempt at self-justification in comments to his latest article at
    Monbiot (13 Nov 2009, 5:49PM) replying to MeLoveYouLongtime (13 Nov 2009, 5:14PM )

    The first part of your article is more questionable, since it’s about the efficient workings of democracy, a subject which goes far beyond environmentalism. It’s a commonplace that democracy works best when people don’t interfere with it too much, i.e. when public opinion is channelled via elected representatives who are free to make up their own minds. The current low standing of politicians tempts a lot of people into supporting populist moves like referenda, proportional representation, and government by opinion polls.
    This is tempting for us climate sceptics, since we happen to have public opinion on our side. Monbiot, on the other hand, needs an “activist” vision of democracy , in which power is in the hands of those who care the most. They must be numerous enough to merit the labels “public opinion” and “mass movement”, but not so numerous as to be tainted by the opposition or indifference of the silent majority.
    I frankly think it’s a difficult one to call. Though I’m happy to have the majority on my side when it comes to the crucial issue of our times, which is the overriding importance of not saving the planet.

  3. Editors

    George, our intention in the first part was to demonstrate the green/Monbiot’s incoherent conception of ‘good politics’, rather than to attempt our own definition of democracy.

  4. geoffchambers

    Editors, I hope you appreciate the Freudian significance of calling me George. Over at CommentisFree, I’ve had aspersions cast on my sexual prowess and been threatened with buggery, but not even my worst enemies have ever called me George.

  5. Luke Warmer

    You’ve identified the key point though (after the idea of post-normal science) we are entering the world of “post-normal democracy”.

    PNS was after all put forward as “appropriate for cases where “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent” (wikipedia sourced). We’re now seeing the next stages. They do want to vote out the people.

    Fascinating consumer study thanks – I wonder which area fMRI will reveal is active.

    I hope you’ll be doing an in-depth piece on today’s Times survey. The way Kirsty Walk blurred it into the Mourinho pic on Newsnight Review was peculiar. At first glance I thought the survey was good news but the more I look at it and the commentary the more I see P-NDemocracy.

    You can argue accident but there’s selective use of job titles, , for example – a quote from a “management consultant” or “company director” – read nasty person. The MC says “I don’t believe it is man made. The amount of change that Man generates couldn’t affect the planet so severely” which is hardly a mainstream skeptic position. Also Tom May (‘trainee pilot’) calling for 4x4s to be banned, ironically misses his own future unemployment.

    The survey pdf is here by the way: http://extras.timesonline.co.uk/pdfs/tthstreetpoll2.pdf

  6. geoffchambers

    Editors, Sorry. I understand why you don’t want to get into definitions of democracy. I imagine you’ll agree though that the AGW hysteria poses big questions about where our political system is going, and that the Greens are only just becoming conscious of this fact, and the power which it lends them.
    In the Times article to which Luke refers to above, there’s this quote from Mike Childs, head of climate change at Friends of the Earth: “If you are going to tackle climate change .. it means having to take difficult political decisions … There [is] little political risk in taking unpopular actions, though, because all the main parties [are] committed to tackling the issue”.
    So the Greens are offering politicians “difficult political decisions” with “little political risk”. No wonder all parties love them.
    Maybe this is what Luke means by “post-normal democracy”.

  7. Editors


    (apologies for calling you ‘George’)

    I felt the above post was getting too long. But I had wanted to include that Mandelson himself -the soon to be ‘minister of information’ – is quoted as saying that this is the ‘post-democratic era’.

    The convergence of PNS and post-democratic politics is no accident, although it’s not particularly purposive, either.

    The quote from Child’s is priceless. Do you have a link?

  8. Luke Warmer

    Theis is the source:


    Full quote:

    Mike Childs, head of climate change at Friends of the Earth, said that the continuing scepticism will make it difficult for politicians to obtain public support on measures to take climate change.

    “If you are going to tackle climate change in places like the UK it means having to take difficult political decisions when we know that what we put out into the atmosphere now will not have an impact here for 20 or 30 years,” he said. “There will be difficulty in obtaining public support for some of the challenging decisions politicians have to take in the short term.”

    There was little political risk in taking unpopular actions, though, because all the main parties were committed to tackling the issue, he said.

    Mr Childs said that there was disproportionate media coverage of the view of scientists who challenged the link between climate change and human activity. The vast majority believed that the relationship was as strong as that between smoking and cancer.

    The various Times bits are here:



    Environment section response:

    and pdf of (very limited and slightly confusingly presented survey results)

    As I commented at WuWT:

    The environment section response has a photo of smoke stacks with the caption “The Government’s message on climate change does not appear to be getting through”.

    YOUR comment about Mandy makes this even more worrying, (the penny is slowly dropping) as do calls for us to treat this as a war.

  9. geoffchambers

    The Childs quote is at
    There’s also an incoherent analysis of the poll and a scientifically illiterate Times leader on the subject.
    And I do believe they’re using the same photo I’ve already seen at Guardian Environment. Some genius has realised that if you take a snap of steam coming out of a chimney at dawn it comes out all black and smelly-looking.

    ps Is it me or the new format? I can’t see a Mandelson quote

  10. PeterS

    Interesting points all round. Luke Warmer suggests we are entering a “post-normal democracy” and I would wonder if any state which is “post-normal” is, in fact, the same as a “pre-normal” one – a fantasised future being nothing more than a past projected.

    If we can discover what so preoccupies a person about ‘environmentalism’ we can probably also find what it was about his past which he demands to re-establish. That is – what is “normal” democracy experienced as being an obstacle to? Or, in other words, what is missing from a sub-democratic space that makes it seem like such a privileged one to the ‘environmentalist’?

    The OED defines an ‘environment’, amongst other things, as being a person’s ‘surroundings’. So it may be useful to ask what the space surrounding a person contains that so convinces him (or her) that it cannot be survived? If environmentalism is little more than ‘surroundingism’ (with a themed window-dressing), what is such a person surrounded with that he wishes to be urgently rid of… and what would an experience of being unsurrounded feel like (were it possible to achieve)?

    The first (and most immediately demanding) thing that surrounds each of us, of course, is our skin. It lets us know where “I” ends and where “other” begins. As a boundary, the skin contains “me” and separates “you” – with a space in-between – and this becomes a primary human experience of what it means to be alive. An ‘environmentalist’s’ preoccupation with his surroundings, therefore, may be a concern at these boundaries (and beyond) and a conviction that the containment – of ‘self’ – they establish and demand is fundamentally against his will. If so, what is felt to be most threatened by the presence of such boundaries is not the spaces they delineate and protect, by a mutual and civilising consent, but the will of the self.

    It is the civilised (and civilising) ‘space in-between’ that becomes the vital element in this story – and, as a space, it is the one the environmentalist is attempting to get rid of and replace with a feral ‘green’ space. A space in-between any experience of separate you-ness and me-ness is where ‘exchange’ takes place… where all objects – including words and ideas – are negotiated to be given and received for use in the meeting of needs.

    A person who places no value in exchange (claiming, for example, to have arrived at a conclusion, or colluded in a ‘consensus’, and therefore any further objects will be rejected) will demand a closing down of the space in-between and will betray a rage at its continued existence and use by others. The simmering frustration that spills out of every utterance by George Monbiot, for example, is not only caused people not swallowing the words he force-feeds into the space in-between himself and them – but is a rage at having to climb-down to use that space in the first place as a means-to-an-end of getting rid of it.

    As the article mentions, when this space of exchange becomes devalued and eventually replaced with something else, the ‘environmentalist’ will see no obstacle to his appropriating the other to take whatever he wills himself to have – and enforce upon the other whatever he wills the other to submit to. If this story of ‘redistribution’ sounds familiar, it is because we have all lived through it our earliest of years – and most of us surrendered to the necessary revolution of its collapse so that we could grow into separated individuals and begin using the resultant space in-between to negotiate our needs in. It is only for those who held-out that the “post-normal democracy” promises so much of the past.

  11. Luke Warmer


    Interesting points – I hate to speculate on an issue I haven’t thought about for so long but it has parallels with drunken student ‘deep’ conversations (of which I’ve had many). The whole deep ecology debate is one I’m loathe to enter into.

    In those drunken debates there always appeared to be a factional split over the word ‘natural’ – the stuff that mankind does is almost universally perceived as unnatural. Yet if you point out that the Empire State Bdg is ‘as natural’ as a termite mound then sparks begin to fly. It’s also a bit like Christians proclaiming nature’s glory and then you point to a spider which paralyses its prey to eat gradually, or the parasites that ‘drive’ ants to the tops of blades of grass to be eaten by sheep in order to get to their livers. Nature red in tooth and claw.

    So yes, I agree individual psychology has a part to play and I think your para on rage due to space is an interesting take. But I see it the other way around – the warmists are spending as much time as possible creating that space. They proclaim we are funded by big oil, right wing think tanks, all over 70, flat earthers, creationists, denialists, holocaust deniers etc etc. We are the 21st century bogeymen.

    For example on another blog which was ‘debating’ the petition to the American Physical Society, one of the angry warmists in the midst of all the sourcewatch-fuelled ad hominems said “Well actually… this is why one has to a ‘lot’ of careful looking, because some of these people are actually ‘quite’ distinguished in their own subdisciplines.”

    You can almost smell the cognitive dissonance.They have to believe that we’re all extreme nutters, psychopathic fiddlers on the roof as the planet burns or whatever. Conversely once a good cause is created the stampede to augment your own weak self-esteem is deafening. I am reminded of the Brass Eye Pedo special:



  12. PeterS

    Luke Warmer

    Well, the type of psychology that interests me is Object Relations theory of the post-war British school. I believe the theory includes the idea of a ‘space in-between’ which is essential for all levels of relationship that is possible between a subject (or self) and that which is accepted as ‘other’ in any given environment. It is the acceptance of this space and its use (the exchange of objects) which is a personal and civilising achievement both for an emerging individual – acknowledging his (or her) own isolation in the world – and for the society he then is able to participate in.

    If the space in-between is rejected – that is, if the person refuses to accept there is anything beyond his own brooding, omnipotent will (and the like-minded will of those he finds to collude with) he will seek all opportunity to sabotage any appearance of a space in-between – and be enraged that others should invite him to recognise and use it for its purpose of negotiation.

    Your helpful reference to “big oil, right wing think tanks… flat earther” (etc) word-objects is one such classic example of this act of sabotage in action. By attacking and devaluing the ‘other’ who makes and places objects into a space in-between (and who thereby anticipates that a shared value and use will be placed on that space), the ‘self’ seeks to annihilate any need it has to enter into such an exchange. The ‘other’… and therefore the other’s ‘object’… and therefore the ‘space in-between’ is valueless and so must be closed down as having no use. Alternative takes on this include the ‘James Hansen’ variation – where the space in-between is deemed to be mortally ‘dangerous’ and the ‘Al Gore’ version – where any such space simply does not exist and therefore any ‘use’ is apparently beyond his comprehension.

    In all of these responses we can see a neat dovetaiing with the environmentalist’s preoccupation with (and preference for) ‘green’ nature and his corresponding loathing of ‘human’ nature. All nature, of course, has the options of ‘fight or flee’ (attack or run away) as a response to obstacles placed within its environment. Only human nature has the option of negotiation.

  13. Luke Warmer


    This is very interesting – “If the space in-between is rejected – that is, if the person refuses to accept there is anything beyond his own brooding, omnipotent will (and the like-minded will of those he finds to collude with) he will seek all opportunity to sabotage any appearance of a space in-between – and be enraged that others should invite him to recognise and use it for its purpose of negotiation.”

    q.v the science is settled or resistance is futile (apologies to the Eds.)

    I have purposely avoided investigating the psychological aspects too deeply so far, although one of the next books on my pile is Piaget’s Child’s conception of the world, which was recommended by Thomas Kuhn in one of his interviews (The Road Since Structure). Holy pasta, this thing is complex.

    Finally, and Freudianly, your quote “preoccupation with (and preference for) ‘green’ nature and his corresponding loathing of ‘human’ nature.” made me immediately think of Ruskin and Effie’s pubes!? Speaking of Freud – have you seen these lovely Freudian Slippers? – a good gift for Xmas:


  14. geoffchambers

    The Freudian slippers can be bought at the Freud Museum, Maresfield Gardens, London NW3. Which brings me to a thought prompted by my little spat with the editors above.
    I’ve often noticed how bloggers, particularly sceptics, are prone to making silly mistakes which reverse the sense of what they say. An interpretation would be that we feel guilty about being in opposition, and say the opposite of what we mean in order to ward off unconscious feelings of guilt.
    Now apply the same idea to ancient religions and philosophies which have shaped the world, which have come down to us in texts which are faulty or uncertain, and which seem to us incoherent or nonsensical. If their proponents, or narrators, or copyists were subject to the same tendencies as us bloggers, maybe the original message was far more coherent, but has been garbled by the fact that the messenger hadn’t read Freud’s “Psychopathology of Everyday Life”.

    I’m thinking of Plimer and his volcanoes…

    (PS This message has been retyped from memory, owing to me having lost the original and mistakenly entered the words of “You Are My Sunshine” into the C-R message box)

  15. Luke Warmer

    Interesting but I find it hard to believe that Plimer’s volcano was a Freudian slit(!).

    I mean after I saw it on TGGWS it was the most staggering fact that stood out head and shoulders above the rest.. A quick google to the USGS and I could see that it was wrong, plain and simple. It therefore never entered into my library of key factoids. It’s hardly a typo or something.

    All the continued talk about there could be more volcanoes (by others not you) ignores the fact that when I burn something or run my car it does give off CO2.

  16. George Carty

    So the Lib Dems want to make Britain completely carbon-neutral and abolish nuclear power? How the hell do they plan to do that?

    Are they going to kill of 80% of the British population, while reducing the survivors to a medieval-like subsistence lifestyle???

  17. geoffchambers

    I hope the editors don’t think we’re getting too offtopic. The article started with an experiment in the psychology of shopping, after all. Unfortunatey, experimental psychology has great difficulty dealing with any human activity more complex than shopping, so PeterS’s venture into modern psychoanalytic jargon was at least an interesting stab at taking the matter further.
    I would imagine, on theoretical grounds, you could never provide a psychoanalytical profile of a Green, only of a certain kind of fanatic – the fanatical believer in a millenarian cult for instance. But it is then up to us non-believers to prove that the Green’s beliefs are unjustified – and that can’t be done on psychoanalytic grounds. (Just as he must try to prove that we sceptics are in denial, etc.)

    Luke, you’re right that Plimer’s apparently unsupported belief that volcanoes out-perform man in CO2 production is obviously much more than a typo. The man is apparently no great debater (his letters to Monbiot showed that). Imagine a scientist who decides to step outside his specialised field and challeng the whole scientific establishment. I can easily imagine him leaving a huge hostage to fortune right in his own field, like Poe’s Purloined Letter.

    What’s certain is that Monbiot has a genius for picking off the weaker members of the herd. He’s seen off Plimer, Bellamy, Monckton, and Alexander Cockburn, and given Booker a savaging. He can’t do the science, but he likes picking round the edges of the social science (don’t we all). It’s here he makes a fool of himself, and it’s here that C-R are doing a great job picking him over.

  18. Luke Warmer

    Geoff it doesn’t take a genius to unpick a sub-par argument especially if it based on factually incorrect data that is readily available and reasonably uncontroversial. In fact, that’s not logic or rhetoric it’s just stupidity. I’m sure one day google will be able to unpick those kind of arguments automatically or at least some future wikip-google. So where Monbiot is clever is at playing to the warmist crowd – although of late though his arguments have become tired and tawdry. As I said yesterday it’s not really about logic.

    BTW this figure http://icecap.us/images/uploads/ANNUALCO2.jpg and the Joe D’Aleo story at icecap looks interesting in the light of the Plimer thing. I don’t vouch for the article’s content, just it appears that there’s low delta CO2 in the volcano years, and a high in 1998 under an ENSO warm. But I find it difficult to take that kind of pdf seriously – when I see pasted in low res screenshots and poor referencing I have to say I worry more than a little.

  19. PeterS

    “But it is then up to us non-believers to prove that the Green’s beliefs are unjustified – and that can’t be done on psychoanalytic grounds. (Just as he must try to prove that we sceptics are in denial, etc.)”

    But a Green’s beliefs may be justified. Put another way, a person may be justified in holding ‘green’ beliefs.

    If the person has reached a conclusion that his life is unliveable in the modern world, then we can expect the beliefs he chooses will justify that state of mind – rather than challenge it. It may be that his current life really is one that is not worth living… but it might be his beliefs, or his incontinent believing, that make it so.

    If this is a Green vicious cycle we can begin to see the paradox… the only thing that appears to make such a person’s life feel that it is worth living – is protesting that it isn’t!

  20. Luke Warmer


    It’s like the ‘need to have a need’ meaning that someone’s needs can never be met.

    For a live mini-case history of the ‘space in-between’ issue, see:


    where the quoted allusion is to “Republican obstructionists, anti-government extremists, and right-wing conspiracy mongers”

    The Stoat has, to be fair to him, been likened to the witchfinder general of AGW for his extensive wikpedia work so I can understand he is miffed by skeptics. However, I always found him to be very honest and willing to attack stupidity on both sides, but the conversations there and at linked blog’s like Eli’s have been so intellectually flawed in relation to expertise and scientific method that I had to comment a few times.

    I mean it should never be “whom?” (and I’m not going Lynn Truss on you) but “what?” – “stupidity and bad science” would be the short answer. So clearly there is some polarisation, however lightly we should take blogs.

    I ‘believe’ I’ve not said anything trollish – in fact I would have expected a comment for my “men who glare at stoats” link, which is genuinely funny and not linked to AGW in any way, but their policy now is to just ignore me. I wonder if there’s a kind of Turing-test for blog posts to parse them for their political leanings? If there was I think mine would all have gone undetected since I try not to make this a political issue.

    The ultimate irony was when he then posted the volcano photo, which I’d already seen and had noted had created at least 3 different ‘expert’ interpretations of the facts around a very basic ‘climate’ system.

    Finally, this paper is interesting in relation to belief:


    Imagine a debate (any debate) where people had these scans being done during it.

  21. PeterS

    A useful alternative understanding of the “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?” study referenced in the article might be found in looking at the ‘Green’ state-of-mind in the relationship (or the refusal of relationship) he has to his external space.

    Much of the content of environmental belief is centred around the conviction that the external world (the space beyond the believing self) is not good-enough for him (or her) to exist in. Indeed, pretty much all the written material produced by those who collude in the ‘environmental’ project – with its preoccupations with sustenance and endings – boils down to countless variations of this one assertion… that “the modern world (unlike the old one) is not good-enough for me”.

    This presupposes on the claimant’s part a system of measurement – if the outside modern world does not measure up to the self (and whatever his felt needs are) then it is less ‘good’ than he internally considers himself to be. And if the world is not a good-enough place for him to use – then abusing it (and the people it contains) simply becomes an outward expression of his own ‘goodness’ in this state-of-mind.

    That the modern world is a good-enough place for most of us to get by in, begs the question of what it would need to become to meet the demands of the ‘Green’ self? By submitting to his demands, would the world become too-good for anyone else to make use of? In other words, would a too-good mother-earth have the same consequences as a too-good real mother – and prevent anyone from ever growing up?

  22. Luke Warmer


    An Asimovian-type robot if running just one law – the precautionary principle – would have destroyed the stromatolites which led to the creation of our oxygen rich atmosphere.

    Cyanobacteria use water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight to create their food. The {byproducts} ‘evil pollutants’ of this process are oxygen and calcium carbonate (lime).

  23. geoffchambers

    to PeterS,
    While I find your characterisations of Greens psychologically enlightening, I would still argue that they don’t extend our understanding of how the Green movement and its Global Warming message have managed to achieve such political and cultural hegemony.

    After all, the warmist is just the newest manifestation of a well-established social type – the Glastonbury hippy, the woolly-hatted folk singer, the tree-hugging vegan – only this time waving a graph from a UN thinktank. In his previous avatars he was a much-loved, much-ridiculed component of the social scene. Now he is sitting on government quangoes planning our future for decades to come; and not a stand-up comic in the country (let alone a politician) will dare to raise a voice to question this state of affairs.

    Your “space-between” analytical framework is presumably used in a therapeutic context to treat people whose “deep-ecological” psyche has rendered them socially dysfunctional. But what if society changes in such a way that the psychically dysfunctional works only too well?

    Luke and I both coincidentally came across the same deep eco type (see our exchange at:
    This young Anglo-american found enlightenment on a Tibetan mountaintop among people whose only source of power was a parabolic mirror focussed on a sooty kettle. He’s obviously barking mad, but he’s off to Copenhagen as part of our youth delegation, before taking a PhD in Environmental Sciences at Oxford. How dysfunctional is that?
    He won’t be needing psychological treatment any time soon. Meanwhile we rationalists will be lining up to march behind Jeremy Clarkson and Delingpole of the Telegraph. Don’t we need our heads examined?

  24. Ayrdale

    “While I find your characterisations of Greens psychologically enlightening, I would still argue that they don’t extend our understanding of how the Green movement and its Global Warming message have managed to achieve such political and cultural hegemony….”

    I agree.

    With the degree of scientific uncertainty re AGW, and the failure of the climate models to reflect reality why do so many political leaders of centre right parties embrace the doomsday scenarios ? Here in NZ, (with a centre right government) where we produce 0.02% of the world’s CO2 output we are seriously considering an emmissions trading scheme.

    The conspiracy minded among us have to think that there are deep dark forces at play behind the scenes. Otherwise why spend billions of dollars needlessly ?

  25. George Carty

    “Old Labour” socialism was killed in Britain by Thatcher’s Right to Buy, which resulted in government “of the homeowners, by the homeowners and for the homeowners”.

    If mass home ownership killed socialism, why hasn’t mass car ownership killed environmentalism? Is it because socialism is only workable as a genuinely popular mass movement, whereas environmentalism can be propelled by a tiny privileged elite?

  26. Luke Warmer

    Apparently real (or at least the hack was):

    HadleyCRU says leaked data is real
    The director of Britain’s leading Climate Research Unit, Phil Jones, has told Investigate magazine’s TGIF Edition tonight that his organization has been hacked, and the data flying all over the internet appears to be genuine.

    In an exclusive interview, Jones told TGIF, “It was a hacker. We were aware of this about three or four days ago that someone had hacked into our system and taken and copied loads of data files and emails.”

    “Have you alerted police”

    “Not yet. We were not aware of what had been taken.”

    Jones says he was first tipped off to the security breach by colleagues at the website RealClimate.

    “Real Climate were given information, but took it down off their site and told me they would send it across to me. They didn’t do that. I only found out it had been released five minutes ago.”

    TGIF asked Jones about the controversial email discussing “hiding the decline”, and Jones explained what he was trying to say….

    From: http://briefingroom.typepad.com/the_briefing_room/2009/11/hadleycru-says-leaked-data-is-real.html

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