Archive for the ‘Garrett Hardin’ Category
We’ve done it again – more good news!
European politicians voted overwhelmingly in favour of radical, progressive reform of our fishing laws. A “victory for citizen power” is how Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s environment analyst, described it. So, well done citizens!
Together we set out to achieve what seemed like an impossible challenge: to reform the infamous Common Fisheries Policy – the package of broken laws that have depleted our fish stocks and devastated fishing communities across Europe.
Previously, huge industrial interests have held our seas to ransom, emptying our waters for profit. But then thousands of us stepped in to help. Cooperation between campaign groups, fishermen, champion politicians, retailers, and celebrity chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, all made sure that our MEPs could not ignore what we wanted: real change to protect our fragile seas.
So what’s in the new measures? A ban on discards: the cynical practice of throwing dead fish back into the sea to meet fishing quotas. The changes also reward responsible fishing and set catch limits in line with the best scientific advice. Importantly, new rules to improve the behaviour of European boats wherever they fish, anywhere in the world. Now, we stand a real chance of achieving a fish-filled future.
There are more hurdles ahead. The next stage will require agreement from European fisheries ministers (and that could take months). But let’s take a moment to enjoy this, and reflect on how much we have achieved.
Let’s keep going!
Nic and the whole Greenpeace community
PS There is more work to do. Unsustainable industry players won’t give up easily. So please consider donating to help safeguard the future of our seas and our fishing communities.
To mark the occasion of our World leaders converging on Rio de Janeiro this week, the BBC’s Science Editor, David Shukman, has visited the World’s largest iron ore mine, Carajas, in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil.
See: Forests and caves of iron: An Amazon dilemma (includes an iPlayer video of the yesterday’s news item).
I was very interested to see this for at least two reasons: (1) I first heard about Carajas while doing ‘A’ Level Geography at school in 1981-82; and (2) I spent over 2 years working at the Mt Whaleback iron ore mine in Western Australia in 1987-89 (the biggest in the World at the time).
I must say that the Vale (pronounced “Var-lay”) mine at Carajas does look incredibly impressive now and, whilst I do not doubt the mining company’s sincerity in wishing to be as green as possible, there is a much bigger issue at stake than site restoration. As Shukman discovered, Vale are working with local ecologists to survey the caves to determine what lives in them; and ensure that populations of species (including bats) can be moved prior to the destruction of their homes, but this too ignores a much bigger issue than enforced migration. The questions not addressed in Shukman’s piece are these: Would we cut down the entire rainforest if it was all underlain by iron ore; and what will we do when can find no more to dig up? The questions are partly rhetorical; but I believe they raise important issues…
Although the lifetime of the mine will be several decades, the fact that Vale have promised(!) to backfill the hole (with all the overburden taken out) and re-plant native trees (already being grown from seedlings) removes the first problem of long-term habitat destruction. But, how do we put a value on the Amazon rainforest; and will the ecosystem services it provides (sustaining a habitable planet) ever be recognised as being greater than the instrumental value of either its trees or what may lie beneath them (Brazil is rich in mineral resources)?
We will have to recycle metals when there are no more left in the Earth to dig up; so why not get used to the idea now – maximise recycling and minimise mining? The answer is of course twofold: People need gainful employment and our Politicians need economic growth. It is no wonder, then, that some environmentalists describe what humanity is doing as “raping and pillaging” the Earth; literally slashing and burning it in some cases… But, if everyone is going to be allowed to aspire to and attain the comfortable lifestyle enjoyed by inhabitants of the developed world then, I guess, we may have to accept that the exploitation of the Earth’s resources will only ever accelerate (until they run out at least). And by the time they run out, we must just hope that technology will have come to our rescue; that human ingenuity will have come up with alternatives for all those rare metals in our smartphone circuit boards (etc).
However, let’s get back to the here and now; and to a real problem we need to face: If iron ore mining is going to continue because of an insatiable demand for steel… and if coal must be used to manufacture that steel (must it?)… Is this not just yet another very good reason why coal should not be used in other processes where there are ready-made alternatives? On the subject of sustainable development (you may not have realised it but I am), when will we have enough cars, televisions, or supermarkets? To what should people in poor countries aspire – 2, 3, or 4 cars per household? How about televisions? How many supermarkets does a town of 100,000 people need? (Especially if the shops and their car parks just get bigger and bigger?) Will we ever have enough economic growth; how much would be too much? To many economists today the answer seems to be ‘No’. However, despite the fact that the 1987 Brundtland Report tried to deny it (as in “Growth has no set limits in terms of population or resource use beyond which lies ecological disaster” on page 45), you cannot argue with things like The Law of Conservation of Energy and The Second Law of Thermodynamics. Therefore, perpetual growth (of energy consumption) within a closed system (a finite planet with finite resources) is not sustainable indefinitely. Similarly, the quantitative growth in consumption of economic resources or food production is not sustainable indefinitely either.
Given all of the above, we need to face the harsh reality that sooner or later we must achieve qualitative development without quantitative growth. However, even then we will have a problem: Jeremy Bentham‘s hedonistic goal of “the greatest good for the greatest number” is unachievable because, unless we acknowledge that there must be limits to desirable growth, one person having more than they need will mean that someone else does not have enough… Must we allow growth to continue until we are all living like subsistence farmers? That will be no less than the ultimate Tragedy of the Commons outcome that Garrett Hardin warned about in 1968.
So then, what can be done to avoid this doomsday scenario? To be honest, I am not sure. Everyone aspires to better themselves; but this just ensures that resource depletion accelerates. If you have some clever answers, I would like to hear them.
However, in the interim, I will return to the specific problem posed earlier (regarding mining of coal and iron to produce steel)… Assuming that the link between burning fossil fuels and climate disruption is not in doubt (mainly because it isn’t), coal mining and/or turning it into steel is not a problem (not yet anyway); but using coal to generate electricity when we do not have to is simply insane. However, this is the real world, remember, not an ideal one. Therefore, coal-fired power stations are going to continue to operate in certain countries for decades to come. However, as I think I have said before, this is yet another reason why the rest of us should close them down as soon as possible.
We should stop talking about substitution; and start putting it into practice.
I have something important I want, on behalf of Bill McKibbin’s 350.org, to ask you to do today: The idea is that for a 24 hour period—starting at 8AM UTC/GMT today, folks around the world create a Twitterstorm by sending thousands upon thousands of tweets all with the same hashtag: #EndFossilFuelSubsidies.
But first, to get you in the mood, I hope you will read this:
If you ever find yourself in a business meeting playing a game of bull***t bingo, and don’t have the phrase “going forward” on your card, prepare to lose. However, last week, whilst pondering the notion of “sustainable development” (or rather its absence), my attention was caught by someone on TV combining the two into a wonderful sound byte: Apparently, the maintenance of 3 Accident and Emergency hospitals in one County is “not sustainable going forward…” It was then that it hit me! People use this excuse all the time: Whenever, a company wants to make lots of people redundant, end a manufacturing process, close a factory, or liquidate a business… they always cite the fact that any other course of action would be unsustainable. In other words, it would make a loss; it would be uneconomic; because the costs of doing so would be greater than any potential benefit. In short, it would be illogical; it might even be insane!
Leaving aside for a moment that companies seem perfectly capable of sustaining massive losses and yet remain in business (it’s called “being too big to fail” and “getting bailed-out by the taxpayer”), it is important to note that cost-benefit analysis is everywhere; we do it all the time; it is part of everyday life. That being the case, why do we not apply it to life itself?
A multi-disciplinary team of scientists based at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) have been trying to do just that; and they recently published the findings of their research in the journal Nature. Only an abstract may be viewed online without a subscription (i.e. free of charge). However, thanks to Christine over on 350orbust.com, I have been able to read a substantial summary of their work on the UCB website. The opening paragraph reads like this:
A prestigious group of scientists from around the world is warning that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth toward an irreversible change in the biosphere
The publication of their research findings may well have been deliberately timed to coincide with the G20 and Rio+20 Summits this week; and – if not deliberate – it is very fortuitous. However, one thing it is not is new. This message is at least 200 years old. The Rev Thomas Malthus was the first to point out that, unless food production can keep up with demand, perpetual population growth must ultimately lead to increasing numbers of impoverished and/or starving people. Needless to say, even 200 years ago, this message was not well received by those who had a financial interest in maintaining a happy productive workforce (and saw Malthus as being a dangerous and subversive distraction).
Over the last 50 years, numerous scientists (mostly biologists) have published articles, research findings, and books on the subject – including Garrett Hardin, Paul and Anna Ehrlich, William Ophuls – but the most well known is probably the team of researchers based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), originally led by Dennis Meadows, that produced the first Limits to Growth report in 1972. Unfortunately, like everyone that has gone before – and everyone who has come along since then – they were immediately lambasted on the basis that Malthus had been proved wrong; they were accused of ‘crying “wolf”‘; and/or denounced as doomsayers, anti-progress, anti-Western, Communists, even misanthropic. Not only is it important to remember that the moral of the story of the boy who repeatedly raised the alarm is that the wolf eventually turned up (thanks Christine); it is also important to ask yourself why so many people (who are mainly economists not biologists) seek to dismiss this message?
The former World Bank economist, Herman E Daly (yes him again), once lamented that:
“Anyone who asserts the existence of limits is soon presented with a whole litany of things that someone once said could never be done but subsequently were done”; but insisted that
“Continuing to study economies only in terms of the [exchange value of money] is like studying organisms only in terms of the circulatory system, without ever mentioning the digestive tract.”
I am therefore inclined to think that the reason economists attack biologists who insist that limits to growth are a real threat is this: Attack is the best form of defence. However, denying the reality of limits to growth does not mean that they cease to exist. As it says on my About page:
“The driver of an accelerating car about to hit a brick wall might well say ‘so far so good’ – but that does not mean that the wall is not there!” (John Dryzek, 2005)
Denial is not a river in Egypt; it is an ideologically-prejudiced refusal to accept scientific facts that challenge the entire business model of this Carbon Age (which cannot last forever).
Like I have said before, the burning of fossil fuels has only become a problem because of the rate at which it is being done. When there were only 1 billion people on Earth chopping down trees and burning them to farm the land and keep warm, anthropogenic CO2 emissions were not a problem; but now that we are digging up fossilised carbon and putting it into the atmosphere 1000 times faster than it can be geologically recycled it is a very big problem indeed. Thus the unnatural climate change we are now causing is a limits to growth phenomenon; and the money that we must now spend to mitigate it and/or adapt (or else be annihilated) is just one of many costs incurred as a result of denying, for the last 40 years, that limits to growth exist.
I therefore make no apologies for again referring to The Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update (2005), wherein the authors repeated their warning that if we put off dealing with limits to growth we are more likely to come up against several of them simultaneously. With regard to the revised computer modelling undertaken, they observed that in most cases the simulations ran out of the “ability to cope” when too much industrial output has to be diverted to solving problems; and concluded: “Growth, and especially exponential growth, is so insidious because it shortens the time for effective action. It loads stress on a system faster and faster, until coping mechanisms that have been adequate with slower rates of change finally begin to fail.” (Meadows et al 2005: 223).
This is exactly the message of the UCB team of researchers. We have reached the point predicted by Meadows et al. Moreover, nowadays it is not just biologists that are admitting that we have reached the point where further delay will not be cost-effective; in fact it could well be deadly.
Above all else, we need a level playing field. That is why we must end the subsidies paid to fossil fuel companies that enable them to keep exploring for hydrocarbons that are becoming ever more costly to extract (whatever happened to cost-benefit analysis?). Therefore, I implore you to join the 350.org 24-hour Twitterstorm campaign, starting at 0800hrs UTC/GMT today (Monday 18 June 2012).
Find out more and sign-up at http://endfossilfuelsubsidies.org/twitterstorm/.
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.
On the day after it was announced that unemployment has reached a 17-year high in the UK, I hesitate to complain about the fact that Morrisons has promised to open 25 new supermarkets in the UK next year and create 7000 new jobs. However, when, if ever, is someone going to decide that we have got enough? Or is this yet another example of Garrett Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ (cunningly disguised – in this instance – as aggressive competition for increased market share)? Will it only be accepted that there are enough when everybody works in a shop; and we all spend all our time buying and selling each other stuff we don’t need?
It is not quite a year ago that the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme entitled ‘What Price Cheap Food‘ containing the startling revelation that, in the two years between 1 November 2008 and 1 November 2010, town planners approved applications for at least 577 new supermarkets across the UK. Can it really be necessary, or sustainable, for 5 new supermarkets to open every week?
According to government statistics, there are approximately 90 thousand grocery stores in the UK. Given a current UK population of say 63 million people living in approximately 27 million households, this equates to 1 store for every 700 people and/or 1 store for every 300 households. So I ask again, when will we have enough?
May be too much choice is one of the reasons more and more people are becoming obese? Seriously though, if we are all eating and or consuming roughly the same amount of stuff, what is driving the demand for all these new stores? Is it justified by the rate of population growth? Well, let’s see: Net migration to the UK in 2010 was 252 thousand. Based on the above statistics, this would have justified the opening of 360 stores but only if all existing stores were operating at full capacity. I know no-one likes to wait in line to pay for their shopping but, be reasonable, this does not justify the perpetual opening of new stores does it?
No, I’m sorry to say it but, I think this is just one example of what Herman Daly called growthmania; and the success of Capitalism appears to depend upon it. Capitalism demands perpetual growth to pay dividends to shareholders; and guarantee that we all get a reasonable pension when we retire. Therefore, whether we like it or not, we are all slaves to the machine and the machine (although not working very well at present) is economic growth. Where and when will it all end? Will shareholders and pensioners still be happy when, as people like Tim Worstall would have us believe, quantitative growth has been replaced by qualitative development?
As Daly once said, “The Earth may be developing, but it is not growing!“. Remember that next time you go into a new shop looking for a bargain, won’t you…?
And so the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks in Durban have ended with yet another decision to put-off necessary decisions for anything up to 8 years.
This is yet another vindication of Clive Hamilton’s 2010 description of climate change as “a failure of modern politics” (p.223 of Requiem for a Species). However, Garrett Hardin described the problem perfectly in his seminal 1968 article entitled ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. Hardin used the example of medieval common land (not owned by anybody but used by everybody) to make the point that, unless collective action can be agreed by all, no individual will chose to act alone to prevent over-grazing because to do so would be to disadvantage oneself: “Ruin is the destination to which all men rush, each pursuing his own interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons“…
Therefore, it does not matter whether the global resource considered is the oceans or the atmosphere; we seem destined to over-fish one and pollute the other – simply because we cannot agree that everyone should simultaneously stop taking the restorative capacity of the environment for granted! This prophecy has now been conclusively proven to be valid because, despite being unequivocably told that time is running out, our schizophrenic politicians have decided that what the scientists are telling them is necessary (i.e. that we must stop burning fossil fuels) is politically unacceptable. James Hansen would also appear to be right – they are lying to themselves and us. If not, then they must be relying on the dangerous myth of Carbon Capture and Storage as means by which the fossil fuel lobby would have us believe we can carry on burning fossil fuels and achieve emissions reductions. If so, this may well prove to be the last and most ill-considered Faustian Bargain in human history.
Meanwhile, Sir David Attenborough is apparently being attacked for just stating facts – i.e. the climate is changing. For example, by highlighting the astonishing retreat of glaciers in South Georgia since they were photographed over 90 years ago by Ernest Shackleton’s expedition. However, as Attenborough says, the reason we should be concerned is because most of the melting has occurred in the last 30 years: See The final episode of the BBC’s Frozen Planet series (view from 32 minutes and 03 seconds).
On page 248 of Storms of my Grandchildren, James Hansen describes the actions of our current generation – and the political and business elites who claim to act in the best interests of society in general (when in fact their motives are entirely selfish and self-serving) as “a gross case of intergenerational injustice”…
To summarise all previous posts on this subject, the basis of Hansen’s assertion is as follows:
– All attempts at emissions reductions have failed because even those involved in the UNFCCC process are in denial about the urgency of the need for radical change in the way we meet our global energy demands.
– Nothing will change until politicians free themselves from the influence of big business in general; and oil money in particular.
– Unless we phase out coal-burning by 2030 and choose not to develop all unconventional hydrocarbon sources (coal bed methane, oil shale, tar sands, deep sea oil, etc), we have zero chance of meeting international agreements on emissions reductions.
– If we do not make these rapid reductions in our emissions then, within the lifetime of children born today, we are very likely to induce humanly-irreversible climate change on a scale the Earth has not experienced in tens of millions of years (if ever).
To be sure, when people can no longer deny that change is happening or that we have a problem (to which I am inclined to respond like the archetypal child in the back of a car by saying “are we there yet?”); I suspect they will continue to protest about the cost of taking effective action but, how dare anybody say that the cost of preventing such catastrophic change in the future is too expensive? Since when did it become socially acceptable to leave your house to your children and then defecate in every room before you are wheeled-off to your retirement home?
In 1987, the Brundtland Report gave us the most-commonly cited definition of sustainable development as that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. However, in stark contrast to this, what our current political leaders are doing is acquiescing in the face special interests that are “treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation” (Herman E. Daly). This is not only unsustainable; it is unbelievably short-sighted and selfish: A global problem needs a global solution, but this will not be possible unless or until people stop invoking the selfish “if we don’t burn it someone else will” argument. To do so, merely proves how prescient in 1968 Garrett Hardin was to write ‘Tragedy of the Commons’: Our current crop of world leaders would do well to read it; and act accordingly.
Is it little wonder, therefore, that all around the world, large numbers of possibly predominantly younger people (who have been educated in an era when the reality of the problem has been difficult to ignore) are resorting to acts of public protest and civil disobedience?
But, just how bad could things get; and how fast? This is the “sting in the tail” I mentioned yesterday: You see, because I have been posting stuff on my blog in real time (i.e. I did not read the book from cover-to-cover and then start blogging about it), I may have given the impression that catastrophic change may not happen for decades and that it may take thousands of years for its effects to be fully realised. However, at the end of his book, Hansen finally comes clean and says what he thinks could really happen, how soon it might happen and, most worrying of all, that, it might actually not stop happening. Therefore, tomorrow might well be the last item I post regarding the book (i.e. because I will have reached the end)!
Apart from Graham Stinger (a former chemist) – and Classics graduate Lord Monckton (who has turned climate change scepticism into an art form) – all sceptical UK politicians have a background in economics and/or business. As it is the economic arguments against taking action to address ongoing climate change that seem most resistant to being repeatedly debunked by people like Sir Nicholas Stern, I suspect this is not a coincidence. Furthermore, apart from Graham Stringer, all but one of the openly-sceptical MPs in the UK is a Conservative Euro-sceptic as well (more on this tomorrow).
The only other non-Conservative is the Democratic Unionist Party’s Sammy Wilson MP, who is also a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Since Wilson is clearly very intelligent, and a very dedicated and successful politician, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that his sceptical views on climate change have been prejudiced by his acceptance of these economic arguments. Indeed, his faith in the rightness of his own judgement is clearly very strong but, just as we cannot all be better-than-average car drivers (Ben Goldacre), so at least 49% of us must have worse-than-average ability to be objective. Here is his story:
Sammy Wilson’s autobiographical entry on his website makes it clear that he has an economics background; and entered Parliament after a short but very successful career in the Education sector (and first entering public service as a Belfast City Councillor in 1981).
In June 2008, Wilson became Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister and, right from the start, was not afraid to make it clear he was “sceptical that all climate change is caused by CO2 emissions” (BBC News, 10 June 2008). Within months, not surprisingly perhaps, he was in trouble with green campaigners for describing their view on climate change as a “hysterical pseudo-religion“; adding that he believed it occurred naturally and was not man-made. However, he also said he believed that resources “should be used to adapt to the consequences of climate change, rather than King Canute-style vainly trying to stop it” (BBC News, 5 September 2008). On New Year’s Eve that year, despite ongoing criticism, he was still adamant that: “Spending billions on trying to reduce carbon emissions is one giant con that is depriving third world countries of vital funds to tackle famine, HIV and other diseases… I think in 20 years’ time we will look back at this whole climate change debate and ask ourselves how on earth were we ever conned into spending the billions of pounds which are going into this without any kind of rigorous examination of the background, the science, the implications of it all” (as reported in the Belfast Telegraph [emphasis mine]). Wilson, is clearly a believer in the UN/WMO/IPCC conspiracy theory of Fred Singer, Andrew Montford, and many others…
As evidence of how the Internet enables comments by public figures in local government to be seized upon as legitimising propaganda by those with vested interests anywhere in the world, within a week, this interview was reproduced in full on an American website (i.e. the West Virginia Coal Association). However, within weeks, Wilson was also facing a vote of no confidence in the Northern Ireland assembly (BBC News, 12 Feb 2009); although the DUP leadership declared their continuing support for him. However, within months, Wilson had been moved to the Ministry of Finance and Personnel (BBC News, 22 June 2009).
One could be forgiven for thinking that Wilson just likes being controversial but, if so, surely he would have at least toned-down the rhetoric after being removed from his post as Environment Minister? However, quite the reverse is true. For example, in a New Year’s message to readers of his blog in 2011, he began by confusing weather and climate (as many others like Christopher Booker have also done); claimed that global warming has stopped (as trumpeted by numerous sceptical organisations in the US); and claimed that this “has caused the Global warming fanatics to hide, change and make up data to back their increasing threadbare theories of world climate”. Furthermore, his website retains a very full and frank summary of his views on the subject:
“Our climate is changing; there is little doubt that global warming had taken place in the last 30 years of the 20th century. However actual evidence (not forecasted computer models) now shows us that the earth has actually been cooling since 1998. I dispute the theory, and it is only a theory, that the world is warming due to CO2 emissions and other human activity. Throughout the history of the earth temperatures have fluctuated, and we know this due to records which state that grapes used to be able to be grown in Scotland during Roman times and ice skaters could be seen on the Thames during the Victorian era. We have witnessed a period of global warming towards the end of the 20th century and we are now entering into a cooler period. These have occurred due to the natural variations in the temperature of the planet, not because of human activity.”
This is almost a verbatim repetition of the views of Dr S Fred Singer in Unstoppable Global Warming but, it does not matter how many times they are repeated, they are still wrong: What is now happening is not like anything that has happened before; because we humans are pumping at least 100 times more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the world’s volcanoes combined.
I think the main thing we can learn from all of this is that Wilson – and many others like him – is imprisoned by his own ideology; his adherence to Adam Smith’s free market economics (despite the fact that we do not live on the frontier to a New World of boundless opportunity) prejudices him against accepting that Garrett Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is unfolding in front of our eyes (because, in the absence of a New World frontier, the utopian fantasy of pursuing perpetual growth cannot have a happy ending).
A Review of ‘Socialism’ by Mary Mellor, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R. (2006), Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge (pp.35-50), Cambridge: CUP.
In the first two chapters of Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge, the contributing authors, Roger Scruton and Marcel Wissenburg, attempt to challenge the orthodoxy that says one cannot be concerned for the environment and be a conservative or a liberal respectively. Conversely, the third chapter by Mary Mellor seeks to challenge the orthodoxy that says all environmentalists must be socialists; or at least explain how and why it is not as simple as that.
First of all, a few words about long words. Yet again, I have caught myself using the latter without adequate explanation (but then long words are just that – shorthand for complex ideas). Green politics is awash with long words and complex ideas, so I apologise; I really am not trying to put readers off!… Concern for the environment can either be focused on the needs of humans (i.e. “anthropocentric” [environmentalism] – such as movements concerned with nature conservation and the wise use of resources); or it can be focused on the needs of nature as a whole (i.e. “ecocentric” [ecologism] – such as movements concerned with wilderness and biodiversity preservation). Furthermore, if, rather than seeing these as two polar opposites, you think of them as an anthropocentric – ecocentric spectrum along which a number of positions is possible, then you may begin to understand why there are so many differing views on environmental matters: It all comes down to whether you perceive of nature as having instrumental, inherent, or intrinsic value? That is to say, is it valuable to you only for what you can do with it, because you like to look at it, or because it just is valuable (and would be even if we were not here to observe it)? All this, and much more besides, is explained in Neil Carter’s excellent 2007 text book, The Politics of the Environment (2nd Edition).
So then, back to what you might now call James Delingpole’s Watermelons question, “are all environmentalists just socialists in disguise?” Or is it more complicated than that? Well Mary Mellor is in no doubt that, far from being a challenge, concern for the environment (in any form) “greatly enhances the case for a redefined and refocused socialism” (p.35). However, as have many others, she points out that Marxism and Capitalism have one thing in common, the central aim of progressing via the industrialisation of the means of production (p.36) (i.e. Herman Daly’s ‘growthmania’). For example, whereas Jack Goody accepts that Capitalism has been “…connected with the growth of rationality and of secularisation; more recently with urbanisation and industrialisation”, he also notes that for Marxist regimes “…modern meant industrialisation without capitalism” (Goody 2004: 6). In this context, Robert Goodin identifies Capitalism as consumer-focused and Marxism as producer-focused; but neither is that concerned about nature per se. However, Goodin’s “green theory of value” is distinct from both of these because the value-imparting properties are neither those of the consumer or producer – they are “natural resource based” (Goodin 1992: 23-6). If so, Capitalism and Marxism are equally misguided.
Thus Mellor identifies environmental concern for sustainable development and limits to growth issues as a challenge to both Capitalist and Marxist orthodoxy (p.38-41). Furthermore, whereas Capitalism favours the privatisation of the means of production (including natural resources), Marxism favours state-ownership (p.41-3). Arguably, the only difference is that the capacity for protest is limited under the latter. However, either way, the environment is exploited ruthlessly.
Mellor reminds us that Marx coined the term ‘money fetishism’ for the Capitalist tendency to focus on the exchange value of money in abstract terms (p.41-45), which Daly correctly predicted would ultimately result in the paperless economy that caused our recent financial meltdown. It is in resisting this trend that Mellor is convinced lies socialism’s greatest potential to benefit from environmental concern (p.46). But even if all socialists were environmentalists (clearly they are not), this would not mean that all environmentalists are socialists. Delingpole’s Watermelons hypothesis is patently nonsense, as is his suggestion that Communists all became environmentalists after the fall of the Berlin Wall (view from 07:20 in this video). On the contrary, after the demise of the “red menace”, neo-Conservatives in the US had to find a new enemy to attack, so they chose the environment instead… and we are still dealing with the consequences today. This is just another denialist inversion of reality but, for the record, his Man-Bear-Pig exists but it is not climate “alarmism”; it is the blind pursuit of “profit at any cost” (i.e. without any regard for the environment).
In pages 46 to 49, Mellor then concludes her appeal for a new “invigorated socialism” by highlighting its tendency to focus on equal rights for all (humans at least); and its determination to avoid unhealthy concentrations of wealth (even if not always power). However, this raises important environmental questions about the “global commons” (i.e. things that cannot or should not be in private ownership). A good example of this is the way we humans fight over – and over-exploit – many of the world’s marine resources (i.e. fish). Without any form of collectively agreed and enforced restraint, this is inevitable (i.e. Garrett Hardin’s classic 1968 article entitled ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’). The privatisation of such things is highly controversial but, arguably, results in conservation via means of self-interest. Arguably, too, it is already happening by stealth in many cases.
In the final analysis, as was hinted at earlier, I think Marxism and Capitalism are equally flawed; and neither has an answer to the challenge presented by the Environment and our self-evident human propensity to despoil it. Furthermore, although as Crocodile Dundee once famously remarked “humans arguing about who owns the land is like fleas arguing about who owns the dog”, we must find a solution to managing our “global commons”; also known as common pool resources (things that we can use or eat) and common sink resources (things that can assimilate our waste).
Since there is no time to waste, it is a great shame that those that would deny the existence of environmental problems are conspiring against humanity to do just that – waste time. Therefore, Peter Jacques hit the nail on the head, when he said that such people need to be exposed as acting “in violation of the public interest” (see About).
Goodin, R. (1992), Green Political Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Goody, J. (2004), Capitalism and Modernity: The Great Debate. Cambridge: Polity Press.
This is the third and final part of my mini-critique of the school of environmental thought known as Ecological Modernisation.
Newsflash: Today is Earth Overshoot Day for 2011. This was a genuine coincidence (i.e. I did not know this when I decided to do this 3-part story). See paragraph 2 below…
Where are we now?
In his seminal 1968 article on ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, Garrett Hardin had observed that it was not possible to achieve Jeremy Bentham’s hedonistic goal of “the greatest good for the greatest number” because, at the level of the individual, to do so would require food and/or energy to be used for subsistence purposes only (Hardin 1968: 1243). In 1977, William Ophuls agreed that the optimum population is not the maximum possible, which appears to imply that, if necessary, artificial limits to growth should be imposed. Furthermore, he explicitly stated that, “…this optimum level… may be as little as fifty percent of the theoretical maximum…” (Ophuls 1977: 28).
Mathis Wackernagel et al have recently provided “…evidence that human activities have exceeded the biosphere’s capacity since the 1980s. This overshoot can be expressed as the extent to which human area demand exceeds nature’s supply. Whereas humanity’s load corresponded to 70% of the biosphere’s capacity in 1961; this percentage grew to 120% by 1999.” However, the authors also pointed out that, if… “12% of the bioproductive area was set aside to protect other species; the demand line crosses the supply line in the early 1970s rather than the 1980s” (Wackernagel et al 2002: 9268-9)(emphasis mine).
In laboratory-controlled studies, the size of a population of, say, fruit flies can be shown to depend on the scarcity or abundance of food; and the presence or absence of predators. However, in 2005, Meadows et al pointed out that a growing population “…will slow and stop in a smooth accommodation with its limits… only if it receives accurate, prompt signals telling it where it is with respect to its limits, and only if it responds to those signals quickly and accurately” (Meadows et al 2005: 157).
This pursuit of the resulting “S-curve” is sometimes referred to as the demographic transition of an increasingly affluent society through three stages: (1) high birth and death rates; (2) high birth rate but low death rate; and (3) low birth and death rates. However, in a section entitled ‘Why Technology and Markets Alone Can’t Avoid Overshoot’, Meadows et al also pointed out that if we put off dealing with limits to growth we are more likely to come up against several of them simultaneously (ibid: 223).
Even though no-one seems to want to talk about population control today, neither Hardin nor Malthus was the first to raise this contentious subject because, as Philip Kreager has pointed out, this dubious honour goes to Aristotle’s treatise on Politics within which, “…population is a recurring topic, extensively discussed and integral to the overall argument…” (Kreager 2008: 599). Furthermore, according to Theodore Lianos, although Aristotle was thinking at the scale of a city rather than a country, the great philosopher recognised that there was an optimum population size, which depended on the land area controlled by the city (for food production purposes), which could be determined by, “the land-population ratio that produces enough material goods so that the citizens can live a wise and generous life, comfortable but not wasteful nor luxurious” (Lianos 2010: 3).
It has been demonstrated that dematerialisation alone cannot deal with the problem of resource depletion unless the increase in unit efficiency is greater than the increase in scale of production (i.e. something that cannot be sustainable indefinitely).
Furthermore, whereas it may be possible to partially decouple environmental degradation from economic growth, pursuit of this as a sole objective is a dangerous strategy. This is because to do so is to remain ambivalent about the existence and significance of limits to growth; indeed it is to deny that growth itself may be the problem.
In the final analysis, the only thing that will be sustainable is progression towards the steady-state economy proposed by Daly and others; combined with qualitative development instead of quantitative growth. Therefore, the only form of modernisation that could be ecological is one that places the intrinsic value of vital resources such as clean air and clean water – and the inherent value of a beautiful landscape – well above the instrumental value of money or precious metals.
Hardin, G. (1968), ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, Science, 168, pp.1243-8.
Kreager, P. (2008), ‘Aristotle and open population thinking’, Population and Development Review 14(34), pp.599-629.
Lianos, T. (2010), ‘Aristotle’s Macroeconomic Model of the City-State’.
Meadows D, et al (2005), Limits to Growth: the 30-Year Update, London: Earthscan.
Ophuls, W. (1977), Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity, San Francisco: Freeman and Co..
Wackernagel, M. et al (2002), ‘Tracking the ecological overshoot of the human economy’, Proc. of the National Academy of Sciences [USA], 99(14), pp.9266-9271.