With the Stern report being published in the UK and Al Gore’s documentary screening everywhere, there’s been mass media coverage of climate change and a strong political consensus developing about how to tackle global warming. Every newspaper I open has something about it. And some of it is a bit irritating – especially the constant ethical and glib lecturing on what 'we have to give up to save the planet'. It seems that the near universal agreement is that the answer all lies in rationing consumption. In contrast, I’m more inclined to see the need for massive investment in efficient and clean energy supplies as a solution.
Yet despite the big issues concerned, there has been an effort to close down discussion and protect the developing (and suffocating) new consensus. This is disappointing, as the issue could open opportunities to make the world a better place regardless of global warming. But I’m watching out for any progressive intelligent discussions that dissent from the emerging consensus on tackling climate change – and you can read about these below:
Sociologist Anthony Giddens, says that we should ditch the green movement, arguing that we need more science and technology, and the greens are more of a barrier to solutions to global warming.
Giddens says that the greens are ‘essentially a romantic, conservative reaction to industrialism’ and ‘many greens are either hostile to science and technology’ at the very time that ‘Science and technology have to be a large part of our responses to climate change’. Moreover he points out (less convincingly) that it ‘wasn't the green movement that alerted us to the dangers of climate change, it was scientists’.
What’s more, Giddens says that because the greens ‘grew out of a romantic critique of modernity, it always been linked to the idea of setting limits, of cutting back, a sort of hair-shirt philosophy of everyday life’ and that instead we need to develop solutions that are not based on self-denial. Instead, Giddens (who is not a Marxist) quotes Marx saying ‘human beings only set themselves such problems as they can resolve’ meaning that ‘when there is an acute enough sense of a crisis, the full weight of human ingenuity tends to be brought into play to resolve it’. Pressure for innovation will push ‘breakthroughs in energy technologies’.
Daniel Ben-Ami continues in this vein of innovative technological solutions, saying that ‘the proper response to climate change is a massive expansion of energy supply rather than Scrooge-like curbs on demand’, and therefore we should be considering building nuclear reactors in Africa. Obviously, ‘Nuclear power and hydroelectric power could potentially provide plentiful energy without greenhouse gas emissions’. And carbon sequestration could also be a significant answer. He’s rather optimistic, saying that ‘The challenge of climate change could be turned into an opportunity to transform the world into a better, richer place.’ Ben-Ami says:
rapid economic growth would be enormously beneficial to the Third World, as well as bolstering its ability to tackle climate change. Economic growth would enable Africans, Asians and Latin Americans to share the benefits of prosperity that we in the West take for granted. It would also give them the resources to reduce their vulnerability to climate change.
In contrast to this expansionist approach, Ben-Ami says the developing climate consensus advocates two broad market solutions: 1) an individual level response whereby ‘green taxes’ are imposed to make driving and air travel less attractive, and 2) a larger scale response of introducing ‘carbon trading’, to reduce business and public sector greenhouse gas emissions. Both of these solutions will often result in a reduced quality of life, which is even admitted in the Stern report. Yet as Ben-Ami says, it should be unacceptable ‘that humanity should continue in its present state of widespread poverty. This in a world where more than a billion still live on less than one dollar a day, and 2.7 billion live on less than two dollars’.
Similarly, Mick Hume writes that the new climate consensus is just part of ‘the new politics of behaviour’ whereby ‘the job of government today is seen not as formulating any grand vision of how to run society and shape the future, but telling people how to run their lives’. He elaborates on this:
the ‘debate’ remains all about how best to restrict our personal consumption rather than finding bigger and better methods of producing what we need. When politics is about altering lifestyles rather than changing societies, the authorities have seized global warming as a tool with which to connect with people and urge us to conform to a new moral code, an eco-etiquette under which green taxes will punish our sins and reward our virtues.
Hume criticises – correctly in my view – that the government and other doomsayers can’t have it both ways in saying on the one hand that the problem is huge but on the other hand, suggesting only minor trivial answers are required. They don’t want any major central planning relating to people’s needs, which might ensure that we have an economy that produces goods that are environmentally sustainable, but instead wants to fiddle around the edges:
They cannot lecture us about the coming apocalypse to be caused by man-made global warming, yet insist that the ‘solution’ rests upon such petty little measures as getting us to sort our leftovers into recycling bins, or to pay an extra few quid in tax for a weekend flight to Europe.
Clearly, Hume points out, we need a very different solution. He says ‘History would suggest that it is through the further advance of economic and social development that humanity can equip itself to cope with what comes next.’
Meanwhile, in the UK, Rob Lyons is amused that the New Zealand Green Party is asking British greens not to support an environmental campaign against NZ lamb and dairy exports, suggesting that greens are tying themselves up in knots in their attempt to ‘balance a myriad of ethical issues’ in this trivial solution to climate change.