The American Interest
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD
George Monbiot of the left-leaning British newspaper The Guardian has a must-read column in which he admits that because of a whole series of intellectual mistakes, the global green movement’s policy prescriptions are hopelessly flawed.
Read the whole piece for a thoughtful and brutally clear expose of the intellectual bankruptcy of the green movement from one of the smartest people in it. This is what I’ve been getting at for more than a year here: regardless of what is happening to Planet Earth, the green movement does not have coherent and workable solutions.
Greens like to have it both ways. They warn darkly about “peak oil” and global resource shortages that will destroy our industrial economy in its tracks — but also warn that runaway economic growth will destroy the planet through the uncontrolled effects of mass industrial productions. Both doomsday scenarios cannot be true; one cannot simultaneously die of both starvation and gluttony.
Monbiot gets it, and furthermore concedes one of the main arguments of the anti-green case. The ‘problem’ is not a shortage of carbon rich non-renewable futures. The problem is the abundance of these fuels. We are not running out of hydrocarbons; shale natural gas, tar sands and coal offer enormous reserves that can cover our needs for the foreseeable future. We have an abundance of fossil fuel. Moreover, it seems likely that for a very long time to come, fossil fuels will be substantially cheaper and more abundant that expensive renewables. (One should also note that these new fuel sources are found in places like Canada and the United States rather than Saudi Arabia and Iran.)
More, Monbiot also acknowledges the contradictory and inconsistent nature of the green solutions. He acknowledges that there is no prospect for democratic politics to impose the draconian limits on consumption and economic activity that green dogma requires. Every ‘solution’ the greens have come up with has a fatal flaw of some kind; none of it works, none of it makes any sense. As Monbiot concludes,
“All of us in the environment movement, in other words – whether we propose accommodation, radical downsizing or collapse – are lost. None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess. None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project. I hope that by laying out the problem I can encourage us to address it more logically, to abandon magical thinking and to recognise the contradictions we confront. But even that could be a tall order.”
This is an awesome admission of categorical intellectual, political and moral failure. For two decades greens have arrogated to themselves the authority of science and wrapped themselves in the arrogant certainty of self-righteous contempt for those who oppose them. They have equated skepticism about their incoherent and contradictory policy proposals with hatred of science and attacked their critics as the soulless hired shills of the oil companies, happy to ruin humanity for the sake of some corporate largesse.
Monbiot has worked his way through to a cogent description of the dead end the global green movement has reached, but he has not yet diagnosed the cause. In particular, he remains a staunch Malthusian. In his view, humanity is good at creating new ways to destroy itself, but not at finding solutions to the problems we create. Our ingenuity is magically good at finding new fossil fuels, but we have no skill whatsoever at managing the consequences of our discoveries. The unknown technologies of the future will create horrible new disasters, but they will offer no new ways to contain or manage the disruption they cause.
Economic growth is a cancer, in this view. Its bad effects are permanent and cumulative, its blessings are evanescent and ultimately trivial.
Malthusianism is a religious conviction that desperately needs to think of itself as a science. From Thomas Malthus and his mathematical certainties to Paul Ehrlich with his famine timetables and the Club of Rome with its ‘scientific’ predictions of resource exhaustion, Malthusians have made confident predictions about the future and claimed scientific authority for statements that turned out to be contemptibly silly. That is the brutal fate that often awaits people who can’t keep the boundaries between science and religion straight.
It is happening on a massive and humiliating scale to the world’s greens today. Monbiot’s sober assessment of the consequences is dead on; when the greens digest his analysis and go a bit further to ask how they got into this mess, they will be ready to join something that the world truly and urgently needs: a serious and grownup conversation about how to conserve the beauty and viability of our glorious home as the human race continues to develop the extraordinary intelligence Mother Nature has seen fit to give us.