I’ve got myself into trouble recently, for using words like ‘idiot’ too often. Especially on twitter. Here’s my favourite:
Am I reaching the end of my vocabulary?
James Delingpole seems equally frustrated. He’s written about “Why I am so Rude to Warmists”
It was prompted when I very vocally expressed my disgust at one of the standard phrases trotted out by Warmists and other eco-loons in these debates (as, of course, inevitably, they did again on Sunday): the one about “preserving the planet for future generations”.
You can be sure that there is very little thought behind the kinds of trite little pieties Delingpole alludes to. At best, they are nothing more than a form of moral blackmail, by individuals who have no better reason to explain to anyone else why they have a public profile. In Delingpole’s case, he was sharing a car with the person who uttered the hollow piety on the way back from a BBC debate.
As Delingpole explains,
Does anyone imagine that back in 1012 they were all agonising about how the children of the future might cope in 2012, what with all the scarce resources being used up at an alarming rate to make ships and spears and light warning beacons for the next Viking raid? Somehow I don’t think so. Yet this is precisely the kind of unutterable boll***s you hear being advanced almost every day by people like this liberal-leftie media type with whom I had my big row.
It is indeed utter, utter boll***s as James calls it.
So how to counter it? I share Delingpole’s frustration. “The answer is, of course, that there is no counter.”
He has a point. How can one reason with nonsense?
There is clearly a yawning casm — if not between climate alarmists and reality, then certainly between people who believe in the words they are uttering and people who simply don’t. The really interesting thing about the claim to be speaking “for future generations” is that it doesn’t matter how many people think you’re talking bollocks, you can claim the moral high-ground — you’re speaking for people who don’t exist yet, and who aren’t able to tell you that you’re talking complete bollocks, as well as thinking it.
In short, pretending to care for people who don’t exist is a fantastic ruse for people who don’t give a toss about people in the present.
One of my politics lecturers used to call deep differences in society ‘cleavages’. There’s an obvious pun in that, too. But it’s a good word, which describes how tensions emerge between groups of people, ultimately causing some political change or another.
Speaking of which…
I have no idea who Brian Palmer of Slate Magazine is… But he writes…
I just finished reading The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, in which Steven Pinker argues that violence in all forms has diminished over the past few centuries. That’s good for people, of course, but it got me thinking about the environment. How does war affect the planet?
I mentioned Pinker’s book a few posts ago. The pessimists of the world believe that wars are becoming more frequent, and thus we are moving closer to some kind of Armageddon. But in fact, the opposite is true, as Pinker shows. The world is far safer than it ever has been. But talk to people — especially greens, and they don’t think so. They are ever less certain about the world and the future.
So even when they are confronted with the facts, miserablists still have to search for a reason to see bad in the good. Brian Palmer’s question looks to me like such a gesture… ‘Huh, so few babies are dying and there are fewer wars… But so what… What about the trees?’
Yeah, what about the trees?
The human and financial costs of armed conflict are so vast that few people have stopped to consider what war does to rivers, trees, and elephants. In recent years, academics have been much more interested in how environmental degradation contributes to war than in how wars degrade the environment. In addition, no two wars affect the planet in the same way. The environmental devastation from a nuclear war, for example, would be difficult to estimate in advance.
Yes, we should all be really worried about the effects of war on trees.
From this side of the cleavage, I’m wondering what the hell Palmer is on about. If a couple of trees get knocked down in an exchange of nuclear weapons… Well, I really don’t care. Where is Palmer’s moral compass? Who really cares about the environment of a war zone, in which people are being killed?
And it’s not even ‘future generations’ Palmer seems to be moved about,
Armies used to defeat each other by killing huge numbers of enemies in direct battle. Today, military strategists try to undermine the enemy’s war machine with less bloodshed. That usually means occupying huge swaths of land and destroying the industrial infrastructure. In other words, as war becomes safer for humans, it may be increasingly dangerous for the planet.
This is just extraordinary bullshit in so many respects. Is Palmer’s claim that, rather than taking direct aim at people’s heads, soldiers now just blow up factories, and that this is worse? It would seem so…
One need only observe peacetime accidents to see what terror a bomb could unleash if dropped on a modern chemical factory. At the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984, water infiltrated into a tank holding methyl isocyanate. The mixture caused an explosion that contaminated the surrounding area, killing thousands. Attacks on chemical plants are entirely possible. President Clinton ordered the bombing of a Sudanese factory in 1998 precisely because he thought it was stocked with dangerous chemicals.
Apart from the fact that Palmer seems to be calling for the good old days of war, when men stood opposite men with swords and spears… It looks like he has invented a whole new form of warfare that nobody has ever thought of before: targeting industry and infrastructure to stop the enemy. Gosh… Imagine how much sooner WWII would have ended, had the Allies and Axis powers had thought of such horrific tactics… Oh, hang on a minute…
Who says it’s wrong to call environmentalists morons, idiots, and to say that they talk ‘unutterable bollocks’? Maybe we’re just not rude enough.
On the subject of “preserving the planet for future generations”, here’s James Garvey (he of “Peter Gleick lied, but was it justified by the wider good?” fame) blogging about a report called “Guardians of the Future: A Constitutional Case for representing and protecting Future People”, which was published earlier by think tank Greenhouse:
James’s link isn’t working but the report can be seen here:
The author, Rupert Read (East of England Co-ordinator for the Green Party) recommends a third Parliamentary House, with members chosen at random but “trained and supported by relevant experts”, with “duties to take the long view and to safeguard the basic needs of future generations as an integral part of the lawmaking process”. Part of a rough draft for the Guardians’ oath reads as follows: “I will work to ensure that the future people of the United Kingdom are cared for by us all, and that nothing that we in the U.K. do hurts them or prevents them from being.”
This passage is interesting:
To see the flaw in this whole idea, one only needs to imagine that this arrangement had already been in place throughout the last millennium. What strange and quirky beliefs might Guardians of any randomly picked previous century have enshrined in legislation in order to protect future generations? What would the “relevant experts” in previous epochs have advised?
I’m amused by the idea of Guardians in the year 1712 safeguarding future people 300 years hence (us!) by legislating for “a coal fire burning in every grate, and a roast beef dinner on every table”.
I’m also reminded of LP Hartley’s line: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Being ruled by a foreign country… I don’t know, that doesn’t sound particularly democratic, does it. Have Rupert and James thought this properly through? (I’m being polite!)
Like Alex in his comment above, I’d come to the GreenHouse via James Garvey, at
The author of the article Alex mentions, Rupert Read, is not only a co-ordinator for the Green Party, but also a philosophy lecturer at UEA. (What is it about East Anglia? Is it living in an area of geological subsidence that makes them all so wet?)
From the intro to Read’s article:
“Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. But the possible is not fixed. What we believe is possible depends on our knowledge and beliefs about the world”.
(cue for a song: “When you wish upon a star your dreams come true…”)
And the core idea is this:
“What future people actually need is not just a proxy voice: they need, very roughly speaking, to have a vote. They need somehow to be (as if) enfranchised in a fair and genuinely democratic system of governance. But people who do not yet exist very obviously cannot literally have a vote. I propose therefore that there should be guardians for future generations, with very strong institutional/political powers (I set out what exactly those powers should be very shortly), stronger than any yet instituted, and even than any yet to my knowledge envisaged or proposed. Only that will be enough, for democracy in its true sense: rule by all the people, including those who are as yet not with us. Rather than what we have at present – rule by an arbitrary subsection of the people: an elective dictatorship of present people over future people”.
Have these people ever heard of Ayn Rand? Orwell? Huxley? The thousand year Reich?
You say, talking about the ““preserving the planet for future generations” meme:
“there is very little thought behind the kinds of trite little pieties Delingpole alludes to…”
Little conscious thought, maybe, but the unconscious meaning cries out to for analysis. Read and Garvey want Guardians now to decide for the future unborn what the currently born should do now, for the benefit of the future unborn. Immortality by perpetual motion. Control freakery to ward off thoughts of one’s own mortality.
I share your urge to insult them, while realising that this is just another form of magic thinking, as puerile as their own dribblings. Maybe they should be locked in a room with Lewis Deane, who would read them hefty doses of Gorky and Dostoievsky until they grow up.
I meant Gogol of course, not Gorky. Never trust an insomniac.
A Guardian editorial has finally admitted that climate alarmism is not about science at all. In an article praising some crappy light show artistic installation which claims to show future water levels around London monuments, and which, according to the editorial, resembles an ultraviolet fly zapper in a kebab shop, the editors say:
“The science is not available to make accurate forecasts .. but imagining a world where St Paul’s Cathedral [is] under water powerfully makes the climate change point”.
Alex & Geoff, The Garvey/Read stuff reminds me very much of what passes for ‘contemporary political philosophy’. In particular, elements of John Rawls’ ‘Theory of Justice’. He proposes that the best way to organise society is behind a ‘veil of ignorance’: i.e. by people who have forgotten who they are, and everything about which culture they belonged to. It is only from such a position — the ‘Original Position’, he says, that you can make disinterested decisions about what constitutes ‘justice as fairness’ – the arrangement of institutions of power, and so on.
It’s a practical impossibility, of course, and it misses the most important thing about being, erm, human, which is that we do know who and what we are, and that we do have a sense of our own interests. So even as a thought experiment — in which we’re supposed to imagine what we would bargain for, so that we get the best deal when the ‘veil of ignorance’ is lifted — it’s particularly crap.
It strikes me that these neutered humans — slightly humans — is what Garvey and Read are hankering after. (If they haven’t plagiarised Rawls’ Original Position, that is.) They don’t want humans (i.e. other people) to have a say in their own affairs, and to usurp these bland, sterile, bureaucratic Philosopher Kings. So they imagine Slightly Humans who can’t speak for themselves, and pretend to speak for them.
This is exactly what I accused Garvey of when I reviewed his ‘Ethics of Climate Change’ a few years ago. He claimed that our moral actions aren’t limited by time and place, because the carbon we burn today may be visited on a poorer person, on the other side of the world, or in the future. I pointed out that this is nonsense, because we would have a very different responsibility to someone in such a condition, right there in front of us. If we saw a drowning child, we wouldn’t go home and turn the heating down 1 degree, or have a shower, rather than a bath. Garvey needs distance in order to deprive moral victims of their voice, and to make us culpable for whatever he wants to imagine.
And typically, for such a moral coward – who needs his victims voiceless and his critics neutered – he ran away when I introduced myself to him.
Rawls is one of the most boring reads possible, by the way. A telephone book of ‘political philosophy’. A completely dispiriting billion page manual on organising the world in the least exciting way. But, curiously, his advocates (at least those I have met) are single-minded, and incapable of understanding why anyone might object to it, and think everybody else is mad, for not getting it.
I’ve just ploughed through Read’s silly little pamphlet. In case you’re interested, the Guardians would be chosen by lot, like a jury. They would be “supported” by “a high-level and diverse support staff of administrators, facilitators and experts” “plus a cohort of top academic etc. advisors employed on retainers”. “One would expect them to consult NGOs, activists, the very old, the very young, etc.” but “they wouldn’t have private meetings with businessmen, for instance”.
Academic advisor on a retainer, eh? Sounds like just the job for a blog-happy philosopher with time on his hands…
The comments under Garvey’s article on Read at
are interesting. I’ve left a comment there, inviting him to join the debate here.
This is my favourite bit, from Read (in the comments)…
It’s just so unsubtle. It’s as if he can’t see himself trying to make the political argument with the ecological argument.
As for the politics…
It’s all about him. He thinks he’s taken apart this word ‘democracy’, and discovered its true, original meaning. And it means inventing people who don’t exist. He’s not just ‘giving a voice’ to people in the future; he’s giving it to people who who have been dead for thousands of years! I wonder if he does their voices, when he’s reading. Like a comedy Greek accent.
Speaking of Greeks having a say in their own affairs…
… Oh, what’s the ****ing point?!!
What’s the point indeed.
A significant percentage of these eco-zealots are demonstrable lunatics!
“I am calling upon us to rethink ‘democracy’, to return to its original meaning, in terms of Athens..”
Woo hoo! Elites! Slaves! Pedarists!
Ahh, nostalgia’s not what it used to be, you know.
What to do with people like Read, eh?
Meno – bring me his head on a Plato
The planet is sinking! Trees, ants and smallpox first!
Thanks, Geoff, (comment #2) – Sartre’s In Camera, indeed! Though if forced (for Hell would certainly be these people!), I would more likely read them Pushkin and Akhmatova.
By the way, it might have seemed that in a previous thread I was advising some kind of temporizing with these ‘moral idiots’. On the contrary, I was attempting to say, let us remain with our better virtues – rationality, ‘righteous indignation’ (in the Swiftean sense) and contempt for ‘intellectual cowardice’ but not apoplexy, that kind of ‘white heat’. But it was just an idea that I’m not so sure about now. A bit of ‘apoplexy’ might be exactly right (tactically as well ‘truthfully’) what is needed here. Though I do, also, like Steve McIntyre’s turn to satire. Laughter, ‘golden laughter’, may be equally affective – such as towards Guardian ‘representatives’ of the future unborn – why not also have representatives of the already dead? – O, of course, the House Of Lords!!
Woo hoo! Elites! Slaves! Pedarists!
That’s exactly what I thought of. A “democracy” excluding any young people, women, people born to foreigners (metics), slaves or anyone who lived out of town (e.g. farmers). But apparently they managed to include the not yet born. Of course the academics (literally, in this case) got to vote.
The lack of even a basic sense of history really annoys me about these people.
More about those future people – Haunting the Library returns with a very good post indeed about a paper by Dr Philip Cafaro at Colorado State University:
The paper itself is here:
I recommend reading Climate ethics and population policy in its entirety; it’s a fascinating window into that mindset.
Surely, Cafaro is a satarist? A baffoon of a rather middling order, a clown.
Lewis, there’s more from Prof. Cafaro; here’s his exploration of “environmental vice” (very long link, so I made it a tinyurl):
Defects, of course, that we never see in environmentalists. Especially arrogance – have you ever heard of an arrogant environmentalist? Someone given to lecturing the rest of us in minute detail about how we should live our lives? Preposterous, the very thought!
And we wonder, Alex, why some of the more obtuse ‘contrarians’ like to accuse these Academics of having a religion! Cafaro and the many, many others of his ilk, parasites, one and all, make a living from this absurd moralistic turpitude?! Perhaps they could get a new Dante (Margaret Atwood!) to write a new inferno and send us (ie all mankind) (in their infantile fantasy) to their hell! A place where we at least could still keep warm!
It’s very interesting, and somewhat disturbing, how people know zilch about history. As I say, they don’t read. Someone the other day referenced Sparta, for Aristotle and I think, if I remember rightly, Plato, the ‘Ideal’. I suggested that all philosophers have been flatterers of Tyrants – Garvey, a case in point. Always superficial. What is relevant about Sparta is the idea you can rob, kill and rape, as long as you don’t get caught. A ‘tough’ school indeed. And, if you did get caught, your own mother would ditch you over the wall. This is the new ‘Gleik philosophy’ and who knows where it will end. If lying doesn’t work…?
I’ve just read Cafaro on Environmental Vice (Alex: comment #14). It’s a sermon, screamingly boring, with quotes from Aristotle and Thoreau to balance those from Aquinas and Gregory the Great.
I agree with 99% of his practical points, which are aesthetic mainly, though he’s desperately searching for both moral and utilitarian arguments to support them. I don’t like off road 4X4s either, or poison in my drinking water or torture in Nigeria. They’re all illegal for a start. So just stop it. And leave Aristotle out of it.
One thing I learned: that the word for arrogance (“superbia”) comes from “super-bios” or “above the biosphere”. And “humility” means close to the soil (humus). Superb. I feel better about humiliating eco-freaks now. They should thank me.
Apart from the banality and the preaching, a couple of quotes from the introduction struck me:
“How human beings fail can tell us much about ourselves”.
“we are not the people we should be”.
Spoken from the point of view of … what? Aliens? The Master Race?
The weirdos promoting a voice for the unborn generations are back at
The authors are from the Club of Rome, Peace Direct, and the Oxford Research Group.
The latter is into peace and sustainable security (as opposed to the unsustainable kind?) and is financed by the Rowntree Trust, the EU, and the Norwegian Government, among others. Shirley Williams and Desmond Tutu are on board. (Shirley preferred to destroy the Labour Party rather than let it abolish nuclear weapons, so perhaps she’s their secret WMD).