Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Archive for the ‘conservatism’ Category

If I cannot blog I will Tweet

with 12 comments

I am struggling to make time to blog so may have to investigate getting Tweets to appear here automatically.  In the meantime, there is this…

David Cameron at PMQs last Wednesday (Guardian/Press Association)

To mark Australia’s return to the anti-science wilderness!

with 35 comments

It looks like Australia is just about to elect the most anti-science government outside of North America:  ‘Tony Abbott to win Australian election, final polls show’ (i.e. on UK’s Telegraph website).

To mark this latest ‘victory’ for those duped by conspiracy theory explanations for climate science in particular (and the stupidity of libertarian ideological blindness in general), I have decided to reproduce below my response to my most recent reality-challenged follower, called ‘freedomfan’, who has suggested that Richard Lindzen’s beliefs are a good reason to think humanity is not sleepwalking into an environmental catastrophe.

Richard Lindzen may be a meteorologist but he is not well-respected. He shredded his scientific credibility a long time ago as a result of being willing to appear as an expert witness for tobacco companies trying to dispute the reality of inconvenient science. Sadly, he learnt nothing from doing this and has repeated his mistake with the fossil fuel industry.

For someone who is gambling the future habitability on low climate sensitivity (when every time the issue is revisited the consensus view is that Lindzen is wrong), you seem remarkably confident in your own wishful thinking. This seems even more ill-judged when you consider that the International Monetary Fund, the International Energy Agency and the US Department of Defense all agree that anthropogenic climate disruption is happening; and that it is significant, bad, and worth preventing. Are they all in on the conspiracy to perpetuate scientific research funding; and/or justify higher taxes and authoritarian government? Quite frankly, it is more likely that the Moon Landings were faked (e.g. that flag was blowing in a breeze after all, right?).

If there is no positive feedback mechanism (and/or massive inertia in the climate system), why have the glaciers, ice caps, ice shelves and sea ice all continued to melt? If there is no positive feedback mechanism, why is the Keeling Curve a curve (rather than a straight line)? Positive feedback mechanisms are everywhere in Nature (very few things are linear); because Nature is biological – and we are part of it.

Here are 10 positive feedback mechanisms, which Guy McPherson has identified, that all need to be “disappeared” before your ambivalence towards the veracity of climate science becomes anywhere near being anything other than ideological blindness:
- Methane hydrates are bubbling out the Arctic Ocean.
- Warm Atlantic water is defrosting the Arctic Ocean.
- Siberian methane vents are increasing in size.
- Amazonian drought/fires released more CO2 than USA in 2010.
- Peat decomposition in boreal forests is accelerating.
- Methane is now being released from seabed in the Antarctic.
- Wildfires are increasing in frequency and scale.
- Increased CO2 is accelerating glacier disintegration.
- Exposure to sunlight is accelerating the thawing of the permafrost.
- Arctic drilling is being fast-tracked by Western governments.

For links to data sources, see: What on Earth are we doing (19 February 2013).

Anyone in any doubt about Lindzen, should read the large number of posts on this blog in the ‘Lindzengate’ category.  However, anyone in a hurry should start with:  Lindzen is either negligent, incompetent, or deceitful (6 July 2012).

Conservatives for conservation (of a habitable planet)

with 4 comments

Whilst I am aware of – and have previously quoted – Lord Deben (i.e. leader of of the Committee on Climate Change – the advisory group David Cameron and George Osborne are ignoring so studiously), I was not aware of the campaign he is heading on Twitter.  Thanks must therefore go to John Havery Samuel for alerting me to James  Murray’s Are the Green Tories preparing a fight back? article on the BusinessGreen website.

As a child, just about everyone in the UK will probably remember learning about the story of Elijah humiliating the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel (i.e. as recounted in 1 Kings 18 in the Old Testament).  However, not all may recall the crisis of faith that followed this tremendous victory (see 1 Kings 19).  Although I have never really had the moment of victory, I often feel that I have sure spent a long time having a crisis of faith.  However, once you appreciate that I am a socially-conservative environmental realist (see links below if you don’t believe me), I think my persistent feeling that I am in an extreme minority becomes entirely understandable.

I would very much recommend that you read the entire story (i.e. of Green Conservatives preparing a fight back) on James’ blog.  Hopefully these opening paragraphs will encourage you to do so:

One of the bright spots in an otherwise pretty dispiriting summer for the UK environmental movement has been the unlikely emergence of Tory grandee John Gummer as Twitter’s latest eco-warrior. Now known as Lord Deben, the former Environment Secretary and current chair of the independent Committee on Climate Change has provided a beacon of centre-right common sense on matters environmental – and all in 140 characters.

He has argued that fracking may be useful, but will never provide a silver bullet for the UK’s energy crisis; repeatedly challenged “climate deniers and dismissers” to provide one example of a credible institution that supports their crackpot theories; and taken numerous pot shots at ill-informed anti-green commentators and several of his climate denying colleagues in the Lords. All because, in his own words, “no reasonable person would ignore expert opinion and wager his children’s future on the contrarian views of people who are not peer reviewed”.

It has been a breath of fresh air and a useful reminder that not all Conservatives have signed up to the reckless vision being relentlessly promoted by Lord Lawson and the Murdoch press – a vision whereby fracking miraculously saves the economy and climate change is either not really happening or left to look after itself. They may not have access to the media foghorm enjoyed by their less progressive colleagues, but there are some Tories who still understand the existential threat posed by climate change, the value of the green economy, and the relationship between conservation and Conservatism. The big question for the UK’s green political scene is whether or not there are enough of them and whether they can wrestle back control of a narrative that Lord Lawson and his friends have recently steered in their own direction.

For those that would challenge my assertion that I am (or can be) ‘socially conservative’, I can only refer you to things I have written on this blog previously:

A brief history of mine (12 March 2012).

Why I am not a socialist (25 June 2012).

Why I am not [just] a capitalist (26 June 2012).

Similarly, for those that would challenge my assertion that I am an environmental realist, I can only refer you to the following:

The problem with inverting reality (31 January 2012).

Conserving mass, water and energy (11 July 2012).

Entropy – an unauthorised biography (7 September 2012).

Why I am not a Socialist

with 31 comments


…and other things “sceptics” should bear in mind!

In responding to the amazingly erudite blogger who is Patrice Ayme, on the subject of how we should treat all other life-forms with which we currently share this planet, I recently found myself explaining some very basic stuff regarding what makes me tick:

I also think you are right to point out the job creation potential of finally beginning to live in harmony with nature (i.e. being good stewards of it) rather considering ourselves to be superior to it (i.e. going forth, multiplying, and ‘subduing’ it). We have indeed lost our way, but were we led astray; or are we all equally guilty? Personally, I believe the blame lies within each and every one of us. In essence, this is why I cannot be a socialist. Socialists (and liberals) believe that humans are essentially good and capable of creating Utopia if the right conditions are provided for it to emerge. Conservatives accept that humans are essentially imperfect; and therefore rely upon received wisdom and tradition to optimise reality. By embracing moral relativism, socialists and liberals have made the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas – and the cynical rejection of all authority figures – a very powerful and corrosive aspect to modernity itself. It is the reason climate change scepticism is proving so hard to dismantle.

Given that I am not a socialist, and do not seek worldwide authoritarian government via the UN, I cannot be a Watermelon. On the contrary, I believe in David Cameron’s Big Society; and I believe in small government and generally low taxes. However, I believe that the cost of everything should reflect the damage done to the environment if we buy it or use it. I therefore believe, for example, that flying should be expensive.

————-

Are you really tying to tell me you think everyone who says that climate change is a serious problem is foolish? If so, I should really like to know what logical, historical, and/or scientific evidence you have to defend that argument. To me, such a position is only sustainable by dismissing what I presume you consider to be climate change “alarmism” as political and scientific conspiracy: One that would make those invoked by people who doubt the reality of 9/11 and the Moon Landings seem small by comparison.

————-

I will conclude by repeating the 3 questions I never got to ask Professor Richard Lindzen (because I first tried to address his failure to present relevant information to an already-prejudiced audience) when he came to London earlier this year peddling his conspiracy theory nonsense (i.e. he accused just about every climate scientist on the planet of being deceitful [or stupid and/or incompetent - but just how likely is that?]):

1. Concern over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is based on the study of palaeoclimatology, not on computer modelling. However, models have helped to predict the atmospheric response to greenhouse gas emissions; and any uncertainties in model predictions have been due to uncertainties in emissions projections. Therefore, when reviewed retrospectively (choosing the most appropriate emissions scenario that reflects what actually happened to emissions), the models are demonstrably very accurate (if they include all climate forcings). Given all of this, why is it that you maintain that we have no reason to be concerned?

2. What is your answer to Utah-based Professor of Geological Sciences, Barry Bickmore, who recently suggested that today’s so-called climate “sceptics” are not like Galileo because, rather than fighting against one, they are fighting for an obscurantist and anti-intellectual Establishment, in an attempt to perpetuate the burning of fossil fuels for as long as possible?

3. Given the findings documented in Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s book, Merchants of Doubt, can you please tell me why, having fought for so long on behalf of the tobacco industry to prevent legislation to minimise the harmful effects of smoking, you have apparently focused instead on helping the fossil fuel lobby deny that anthropogenic climate disruption is happening?

For the record, even after emailing these questions (and many others) to Lindzen, he still did not answer. No doubt, he would claim I was rude to him but, even after I apologised for any offence caused by my bluntness, he still did not answer any of my questions. This is because he could not answer them without making it very clear that he has been prejudiced against taking any and all environmental problems seriously – if addressing those problems would limit the freedom of business to put profit before sustainable development. Unfair criticism? I don’t think so. With my thanks to Lionel A Smith (for some of these links), here is the evidence:

If Richard Lindzen shows up at your door, slam it!

Is Richard S. Lindzen deliberately lying, or just deluded?

Why does tobacco keep cropping up in discussion of Lindzen’s history of prejudice?

http://www.skepticalscience.com/Lindzen_Illusions.htm

http://www.skepticalscience.com/lindzen-london-illusions.html

http://www.skepticalscience.com/lindzens-junk-science.html

What’s wrong with a meritocracy?

with 33 comments

In a word – Everything!

In essence, a meritocracy is in conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and, I feel sure, it is not what the founding fathers of the USA had in mind when they formulated the United States Declaration of Independence (USDI).

Some will say that the UDHR was and is part of a global conspiracy to achieve worldwide socialism but, have you ever wondered why libertarians attack the UDHR for being a piece of Socialist propaganda? Well, if you haven’t worked it out, see if you can spot the difference between these two sentences:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (sic) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” [USDI]; and
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…” [UDHR].

Did you spot it? The difference is that the latter includes an important word – Justice.

In essence, the USDI asserts rights only, whereas the UDHR incorporates responsibilities as well.

Libertarians are all over rights like a rash, but will do anything to abdicate their responsibility for everything. As has been made clear by the recent disclosure of confidential documents from the Heartland Institute, this would appear to include seeking to abdicate responsibility for potentially making the Earth uninhabitable. Thanks to DeSmogBlog (DSB), line-by-line textual analysis has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the 2-page Strategy Document is genuine. The document itself purports to have only been circulated to certain Board Members and, as DSB says:

This would create a powerful incentive for the author to deny this document’s authenticity: the implied insult to Board members that Heartland treats as second-class could be more damaging to Heartland than the public embarrassment of its inflammatory subject matter.

The exposure of the Heartland Institute’s finance, motives, attitudes, and strategies; including the corruption of the minds of those who will bear the greatest burden of adverse consequences of inaction – namely the upcoming generation of children – deserves to be a game-changer for the public perception of the problem of anthropogenic climate disruption. But will it be so? I think that only time – and some expensive litigation – will tell.

Meanwhile, I am getting seriously off-message… What is wrong with a meritocracy; and with what should we seek to replace it? Well, in a nutshell, the battle cry of the French revolutionaries was correct (even if their methods were not) because it included liberty and justice – the threefold principles of liberty, fraternity, and equality. However, it seems that for many it is the principle of equality that is the problem. Whilst many might have no problem with granting to all equality of opportunity; they would balk at demanding – let alone – granting to all equality of reward.

I have some sympathy with this because I am not a Socialist. I do not demand Maoist uniformity (especially if it involves the majority being controlled by an autocratic elite). But I am, nonetheless, very discontented and disturbed by the meritocracy of globalised Capitalism – which grants to all the universal right to suffer if you can’t help yourself. No wonder people like the present UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, talks about a need for “Compassionate Conservatism”. I agree, this is what we need… in more ways than one: We need compassion and we need conservation. The idolisation of self-determination (i.e. selfishness and greed) leads to only one thing – Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons – the privatisation or over-exploitation and/or pollution of all resources. If privatised – equality of opportunity is denied. If not privatised – development is inevitably unsustainable (because restraint by some leads to advantage being taken by others).

So what is to be done? How do we cut this Gordian Knot? This is where Environmental Justice comes in – justice that is extended to all life – human and non-human; those that are alive now and those that are to follow after us. If we recognise these rights, we would be inevitably driven to stop the acquisitiveness that results in deprivation for others; and replace it with consensual restraint that will ensure the preservation of a habitable planet for future generations.

I think the time has come for humanity to decide which future it is going to embrace:
Use it up and wear it out; or
For what we have received may we be truly thankful.

How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change

with 11 comments

Barry Bickmore is Associate Professor of Geological Sciences at Brigham Young University (Utah, USA). His research specialties are low-temperature geochemistry and geoscience education. In this 40-minute presentation (appended below), he discusses how he moved from being a climate change “sceptic” to being an outspoken advocate of mainstream climate science. He then discusses how it is that people like him can so effectively avoid the truth about climate change. This is the best presentation I have yet seen of all the reasons why so-called climate change “sceptics” are, in point of fact, nothing of the kind… But first, used with permission, here is Barry’s own introduction, as quoted from his own WordPress blog on 11 Nov 2011:

I gave a talk called “How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change” for the College of Science and Health at Utah Valley University. For those of you who aren’t familiar with me, I am a Republican and a geochemist who, until a few years ago, was quite skeptical about the idea that humans are causing significant climate change.

In the presentation, I briefly talked about how I had made the transition from being a climate change “skeptic” to being an outspoken advocate of mainstream climate science. I then discussed how it is that people like me can so effectively avoid the truth about climate change.

Please pass this video along! I am actually writing a book with the same title, but there’s no way I can get it published before the Republican primaries. Hopefully this kind of thing can influence a few people toward the center on this issue.

Does anyone have CCPI?

leave a comment »

CCPI – Climate Change Protection Insurance – Does anyone have it? Of course they don’t. However, we are all going to pay for it – because Insurance companies are not charities!


According to representatives of Munich Reinsurance America Inc. and the Insurance Information Institute, insured losses worldwide in 2011 were $105 billion (topping the 2005 record of $101 billion), with about half of this record-breaking total being due to the Japanese tsunami and the Christchurch (NZ) earthquake. (As reported in Biloxi-Gulfport and South Mississippi’s Sun Herald newspaper last Wednesday).

As 2010 and 2011 have shown, the worldwide cost of insurance claims arising from natural disasters looks set to increase – steadily or otherwise – on a year-on-year basis, simply because humanity has failed to read the warning signs over the last three decades: 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record, the 1990s were the second warmest, and the 1980s the third warmest…

Anyone who dismisses this as merely an unlikely consequence of natural variation is guilty of wishful thinking. However, this is exactly what denialists do when they continue to insist, by drawing a line between an unusually warm year and an unusually cool year, that despite all this, global warming is not happening. It is for this reason that people like John Cook insist on accusing so-called “sceptics” of having their heads in the sand.

Nevertheless, given the confidence and/or desperation of less developed countries that yielded a last-minute agreement (albeit wholly inadequate) at the COP17 talks in Durban at the end of last year, it must yet be hoped that the world will soon call “Time” on the organised campaign of misinformation and obfuscation that has been waged for so long now by those whose only goal is policy inaction (James Hansen).

In the USA at least, 2012 is certainly going to be a critical year for the politics of climate change because, unless or until there is an outbreak of scientific and intellectual realism in the Republican Party, it is going to be essential that Obama wins a second term in the White House. However, if nothing changes and he loses, I think the whole Planet is doomed because, with such an ideologically-blinded bunch of anti-intellectual and anti-scientific fools at the helm, it is hard to see how the World can make the required changes in collective action actually happen.

In the meantime, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the Republican Party candidates for being voted the most outstanding proponents of climate change misinformation in 2011, beating Fox News and the Murdoch empire into a very respectable second place. See Climate Crock Denial of the Week’s 2011 Climate BS* of the Year Awards (5 January 2012).

*Bad Science – What did you think it meant?

Written by Martin Lack

9 January 2012 at 00:02

A letter to the (right-wing) Editors

with 6 comments

A transcript of my recent email to the Editors of the Daily Express, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph newspapers here in the UK…

Dear [x],

Please don’t let your newspaper become anachronistic

Please forgive the unsolicited email, which I hope you will read and consider carefully as your future may depend upon it. I do not wish to alarm you but, with regard to climate change “scepticism”, I think it is fair to say that your newspaper is in danger of backing a loser.

I am therefore writing to you, as Editor of the [x] newspaper, because I value both the freedom and the balance of the British newspaper media. However, I believe that both these things will be in danger of being severely eroded by the increasingly self-evident ideological prejudice and selective blindness of leading commentators in our right-wing newspapers. I therefore fear that, if these people are not denied a platform soon, an entire section of our newspaper media is in danger of becoming anachronistic and irrelevant.

In these momentous times in which we live, I believe that we need newsprint journalism – and indeed all media – to hold our politicians to account; to highlight issues where special interests retain undue influence upon those politicians; to educate the general public on key subjects of common interest; and to campaign for a more representative and participatory form of democracy in this country. In your key role, I would hope that you share these aspirations. However, if you do, I would hereby wish to put it to you that such goals are not served by continuing to paint anthropogenic climate change as any or all of the following: a hoax, a new religion, a politically-motivated conspiracy, a scam, environmental alarmism, not a problem, not certain, not significant, and/or not worth fixing.

There is much I would like to say but in the interests of brevity, and in the hope that you will therefore read to the end of this letter, I will just say this: The temperature change over the last decade (or absence of it) is utterly irrelevant in the context of 7,000 years of stable climate and stable sea level. Similarly, the fact that the Earth has been much warmer than it is today in its distant past is utterly irrelevant in the context of the conditions to which all life on Earth is currently adapted. As I said on my blog recently: There is simply no evidence for your left-wing conspiracy to over-tax and over-regulate people (so as to make everyone poorer). Whereas, there is a great deal of evidence for a right-wing conspiracy to under-tax and under-regulate industry (so as to make a few people richer).

Therefore, if you do not change course, I believe that your newspaper – along with the Republican Party in the USA – will become an anti-scientific, anti-intellectual joke. I therefore hope that you will not let this happen; because we need a sensible alternative to unfettered socialism and/or a return to the financial irresponsibility of the last Labour government.

I should like to conclude by saying that I hope you will not see this letter as antagonistic but, rather, receive it as a piece of constructive criticism – and as an appeal to reason – from someone who would like you to join with me in being part of the solution to – rather than an obstacle to solving – some of humanity’s most pressing problems.

The banner image on my old Earthy Issues blog

The banner image on my old Earthy Issues blog


——————
UPDATE 17 December 2011 (1500 hrs): For the record (i.e. Delingpole readers feel free to save this comment for posterity), it will be a bitter-sweet moment when I am proved right. However, any vestigial smugness will be completely eclipsed by annoyance over the consequences of climate change denial – the prevention of timely action to minimise the impact of AGW.

How can we be held to ransom like this?

with 3 comments

Given the perilous state of the EU and the world economy as a result of Italy now being at the mercy of a very small number of individuals within credit rating agencies and money-lenders (whom even entire Governments cannot control), I am re-posting this item from my old Earthy Issues blog (on 28 July 2011):

Is global Capitalism heading for bankruptcy?
You will have to take it on trust that I am no Marxist, because Marxism is just industrialism without the free market economics; and what Karl Marx called “money fetishism”, Herman Daly called “growthmania” and, whereas Marxism prioritises production; Capitalism prioritises consumption (Goodin). Therefore, both result in the unsustainable consumption of finite resources.

It is not Rocket Science but...

... can we reach Escape Velocity?


However, for the sake of argument, even if we ignore the Limits to Growth issues, we still have a problem because debts cannot be repaid without growth and, make no mistake, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, debt is a problem: Global Capitalism may be the dominant social paradigm – and it may be generally held to be beyond reproach (Jacques) – but that does not change the fact that, as Harvard economists have pointed out, when debt gets above 90% of GDP, it limits growth and promotes inflation.

Let’s face it; the debt crisis in the USA is not going to be solved in a week, a year, or even 50 years: How can any country pay back a debt bigger than its GDP? Again, ignoring the possibility that perpetual growth within a finite system may be our ultimate problem (Daly), at a modest level of 2% growth a doubling of income will take 35 years. However, only a fraction can go towards debt repayment; hence clearance of the debt is a very distant prospect indeed. Therefore if the USA has a problem, then that of Greece, Ireland, Portugal etc must be even worse.

The apostle Paul once said that “the love of money is the root of all evil” and, you have to say, he chose his words well: Money is not the root of all evil; but the love of money is… Money was invented to make exchanging goods easier but, when money is robbed of its inherent exchange value and, instead, pursued solely for its instrumental value (as an end in itself rather than a means to an end), take it from St Paul, you are in big trouble.

Therefore, Government exercises to try and determine what makes us happy are a complete waste of time: Even if we could eliminate mass media advertising (which makes money out of making people feel dissatisfied and unhappy), what we really need is prosperity without growth. However, unless and/or until Countries learn to balance their budgets in the same way that households do (or at least should); such a sustainable solution will remain a utopian fantasy. Unfortunately, that does not make it any less necessary to guarantee a future for anything like the Earth’s current human population; and the avoidance of mass extinctions of non-human species.
——
References:
Goodin, R. (1992), Green Political Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Jacques, P. (2009), Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life. Farnham: Ashgate.

The ecological challenge for Conservatism

with 7 comments

A Review of ‘Conservatism’ by Roger Scruton, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R. (2006), Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge (pp.7-19), Cambridge: CUP.

This book is a collection of essays looking at the challenge of the environmental movement from a variety of political perspectives; and investigating how that challenge impinges on a range of political concepts. As such, this chapter by Roger Scruton is the opening gambit presented by the editors; possibly designed to dispel any complacency the modern-day environmental student might have that he or she already knows what the book is going to say. Similarly, Scruton, almost immediately unsettles the reader by claiming that the “appropriation of the environmental movement by the left is… a relatively new phenomenon”. This may come as a bit of a surprise to the typical student of environmental politics today, in Europe at least, who has probably grown-up with very little in the way of green issues being discussed by mainstream politicians and, when they have been discussed at all, with radical anti-nuclear weapons, anti-roads, or anti-airport protestors being those that generally get seen and heard the most.

Moving swiftly on, lest you have time to challenge this assertion too much, Scruton then states why he feels so many fail to recognise the environmental credentials of conservatism in the UK today. Scruton says this is because “…environmentalists have been habituated to see conservatism as the ideology of free enterprise…” (p.7); and thus spends much of the chapter trying to distinguish conservatism from capitalism (which is founded upon liberal free-market economics).

Leaving aside for the time being the question as to whether this central argument is effectively made, it does not take long for his motivation to become clear; hostility towards the centrally-planned – and deeply environmentally destructive – Marxist economies of the former USSR and Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe. However, if one is going to seek to distinguish conservatism from capitalism, would it not also be reasonable to distinguish socialism from Marxism? This is something that Scruton singularly fails to do because – with reference to the aforementioned countries – he posits them as evidence for “the ecological catastrophe of socialist economies” (p.8).

This hostility to Marxsm explains why he chose to counter William Morris’ News from nowhere dream of utopia (circa 1890), in News from somewhere: on settling (Scruton 2004). Scruton is, first and foremost, a philosopher; and is certainly not a defender of modernity. Several years ago, therefore, he moved from suburbia to the Wiltshire countryside in search of a slower pace of life; and it is this experience he describes in News from somewhere. However, in reviewing the book for The Independent newspaper, Adam Nicolson commented that he felt it was:
“…one of the most unsettling and unsettled books I have ever read on rural England. Its surface is continually agitated, its tone somehow radically dispossessed… News from Somewhere is not even a dialogue between the settled and unsettled. It is a struggle between them and describes not a solution but a predicament: once you have left the silence of Eden, there is no going back” (The Independent newspaper, 04/05/2004).

Clearly then, in Nicolson’s opinion at least, Scruton did not find peace in his solitude. In effect he appears to be saying that, “you can take the man out of modernity but you cannot take modernity out of the man”. However, even if we cannot un-invent the wheel, or return to a pre-industrial supposed golden age, Scruton is certainly not beyond claiming that the highly inequitable distribution of wealth that characterised those times was in fact a legitimate means of safeguarding our common heritage: Citing it as “Burke’s model of inheritance”, Scruton asserts that the aristocratic monopoly on land ownership “…removed assets from the market, protected them from pillage… and… withheld land and natural resources from exploitation…” (p.13-14).

To agree that such a means to an end is legitimate, is surely to stretch Goodin’s “Green Theory of Agency” to breaking point? Scruton goes on to point out the breakdown of this monopoly by the Settled Land Acts, led to a “…vast increase in the wealth of Britain, the first steps towards social equality, and a century of environmental destruction” (p.14). One might assume that the second item mentioned is seen as a good thing. However, this is not at all certain because Scruton doubts that sustainability and social justice can be combined (Scruton p.15).

Whilst Scruton is clearly no libertarian ideologue, believing that it is “as obvious to a conservative that our reckless pursuit of individual gratification jeopardises the social order as that it jeopardises the planet” (p.9), he also states very plainly that he is in favour of the status quo (however inequitable) because he believes that conservatism seeks the “maintenance of the social ecology” (p.8). I find this quite troubling because, whereas I have some sympathy with the view that human beings are inherently selfish, (hence Scruton characterises all our environmental problems as “the triumph of desire over restraint” (p.11)), I am not so willing to be an apologist for social injustice. I feel certain that Scruton will lose the sympathy of many originally-ambivalent readers at this point.

Another surprising target for Scruton’s anger is non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace, whom he says are “threats to social equilibrium” because they paint all environmental challenges as zero-sum games (or conflicts) between themselves and the corporate or political enemy (p.18). On the contrary, Scruton points out that nothing should be made that simple; and that we are all to blame. However, is this not another unfair characterisation? If nothing is that simple, then surely NGOs cannot be all bad?

Finally, Scruton appeals to what he feels is our innate defensiveness towards protecting our “home”, which he believes is best conflated with our “national identity”. Here, I have more sympathy with Scruton’s critique of supra-national initiatives such as any attempt to build a monolithic European Union, or the politics of globalisation. However, I would want to balance this against a need to avoid isolationist and or protectionist policies at national level. In the final analysis, global problems need global solutions, mutually agreed upon, and collectively pursued.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 296 other followers